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MLB Winter Meetings Preview: 3 Phillies Storylines to Watch



Odubel Herrera (left) and Andrew Miller (right) are two names to monitor during the MLB Winter Meetings. (Ian D’Andrea, Erik Drost)

You win some, and you lose some in the MLB offseason. The Philadelphia Phillies have been reminded of that over the last 10 days.

They were able to acquire two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura from the Seattle Mariners – while unloading the $40 million that Carlos Santana was due over the next two seasons – but perhaps missed out on making an even bigger trade with the Mariners (more on that later). General manager Matt Klentak, president Andy MacPhail and managing partner John Middleton were probably wise not to match the six-year/$140 million deal that two-time All-Star lefty Patrick Corbin received from the Washington Nationals, though in the meantime, a division rival did just get much better.

From Dec. 9 to Dec. 13, the baseball world’s attention will shift to Las Vegas for the MLB Winter Meetings. Las Vegas, perhaps not coincidentally, is the hometown of six-time All-Star free-agent Bryce Harper, who along with Manny Machado, is one of the more attractive free-agents that the game has ever seen. Neither of the two appear especially likely to sign during the MLB Winter Meetings, though things are fluid at this time of the year, and the Phillies could leave Nevada with a better idea of what their chances to land either of the superstars is.

Independent of Harper and Machado, there are quite a few intriguing storylines to monitor during the MLB Winter Meetings.

How Will The Phillies Proceed In Center Field?

There are quite a few moving parts on the Phillies roster. The Phillies 2018 right fielder may not be on their roster right now. Though we think we have a good idea of who the Phillies starting second baseman will be to open the 2019 season, there’s three players on the roster that theoretically could fit that bill. Jorge Alfaro will probably be the Phillies Opening Day catcher, but Wilson Ramos was excellent in his brief stint with the club and the Phillies are reportedly interested in Miami Marlins All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Klentak and Phillies brass still have quite a few things to sort out before the 2019 season. One of those things is the center field position, though you get the sense that either Roman Quinn or Odubel Herrera will be the team’s starting center fielder next season. Which one is anyone’s guess.

If Quinn is healthy, he may have an edge. He stole 10 bases and provided a spark to an otherwise stagnant Phillies lineup in 50 games in 2018. He pushed Herrera – who saw his defensive metrics fall off a cliff in 2018 – to left field late in the season, after Herrera had started every game of the first three-and-a-half seasons of his major league career in center field.

The problem with Quinn is that he’s rarely been healthy. He flashed his high ceiling in 15 games for the Phillies in September of 2017, but was limited to just 45 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2017. Quinn missed over five weeks early in the summer of 2018 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley due to a torn finger ligament on his throwing hand. Even when he finally made it back to the major league level late in July of 2018, he didn’t put together two completely healthy months. Manager Gabe Kapler had to monitor a broken toe and nagging hamstring injury that Quinn had as the Phillies playoff hopes waned.

The amazing part about Quinn is that when he’s on the field, he doesn’t seem to have taken a step back athletically. He has world-class speed, which makes him a threat on the basepaths and able to cover quite a bit of ground in center field. It’s just a matter of staying on the field. And given his track record, it would seem irresponsible for the Phillies to enter the 2019 season with Quinn as a starting outfielder without a legitimate backup plan.

And that insurance option, which you almost certainly will need to use for large stretches of the season, will likely be Herrera.

Herrera’s 45-game on-base streak to open the 2018 season made him an early MVP candidate. But by the All-Star Break, Herrera’s average – which peaked at .361 on May 17 – had plummeted to .275. After the All-Star Break, Herrera hit just .214 with a .622 OPS. This coincided with the aforementioned decline that Herrera had in center field in 2018, after grading out as the fourth best fielding center fielder between 2015 and 2017.

You started to get the feeling down the stretch of the 2018 season that while the Phillies were able to ride out the hot-and-cold streaks of Herrera when they weren’t contending, it would be difficult for them to do the same in a pennant race. And yet, this feels like the least opportune time to trade Herrera, who will turn 27 later this month. FanGraphs says that his production was worth $23 million in 2017, but just $7.5 million in 2018. His contract also is extremely team-friendly – he’ll earn just $5 million in 2018. The financially flexible Phillies could afford to keep Herrera on the bench when he’s cold, but ride him to wins when his bat is scorching-hot or Quinn is injured.

But you can bet the Phillies will listen to trade offers on Herrera at the MLB Winter Meetings – and it won’t be the first time they’ve done so. The guess here is that he’ll be with the Phillies in 2019, but not as their Opening Day starting center fielder. Then again, he wasn’t the team’s Opening Day starting center fielder in 2018, and it propelled him to a historic start to the 2018 season. Perhaps Quinn will start in center field – assuming health, which perhaps shouldn’t be assumed – and Herrera will shift to left field on a regular basis.

After Failing To Land Edwin Diaz, How Will Phillies Upgrade Bullpen?

At the New York Mets introductory press conference for closer Edwin Diaz Tuesday, the team’s COO Jeff Wilpon said he felt a sense of urgency to complete a trade for the 24-year-old All-Star closer because if they didn’t, the division rival Phillies would. Indeed the Phillies did have serious discussions with the Mariners regarding the closer, with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic noting that No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez, who has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez, was at least discussed before the Phillies ultimately just worked out a deal for Jean Segura.

Of course, the 2019 Phillies won’t be any better because their front office seriously pursued an All-Star closer. That closer will instead finish games for a division rival that appears to have made themselves significantly better thus far this offseason. The Phillies employ an extremely talented righty with closer-type stuff of their own in 24-year-old Seranthony Dominguez. But they prefer to use Dominguez in whatever the highest-leverage situation is between the starting pitcher exiting the game and the closer trotting in from the bullpen. That’s fine, but it means they can no longer enter the season counting on Hector Neris, Luis Garcia, Edubray Ramos or any of a rotating cast of characters to pitch in the ninth inning. Some of those names may remain part of the bullpen moving forward, but the Phillies need an established closer.

Perhaps the most accomplished closer in the game, Craig Kimbrel, is a free-agent fresh off of winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox. Kimbrel did convert on 42 of 47 regular season save attempts in 2018, but ran out of gas for Alex Cora in the postseason, posting a 5.91 ERA. Jon Morosi of MLB.com did report nearly a month ago that the Phillies had interest in Kimbrel, but with Kimbrel’s starting asking-price reportedly at six years, the 30-year-old isn’t a fit at this juncture.

Lefties Zach Britton and Andrew Miller, both of whom have postseason experience and experience pitching in a variety of bullpen roles, are perhaps better immediate fits. Rosenthal reported in early November that the Phillies had checked in with the representatives of both free-agents.

From their time in Baltimore, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail are familiar with Britton, and reportedly attempted to acquire him this past July before he ultimately landed with the Yankees.

Miller, who you could make a case has been the most valuable reliever this decade, has largely been used in the role that the Phillies currently use Dominguez in during his time with Cleveland. However, the 33-year-old had 36 saves for the New York Yankees in 2015, so he’s certainly capable of pitching out of that role. He was limited to just 37 games in 2018, with shoulder and knee injuries likely costing him significant free-agent money. He did see a slight drop in his velocity in 2018, but more concerning is that his hard-contact rate increased from 24.4 percent in 2017 to 41.4 percent in 2018. For any team to commit to Miller for multiple years, they would have to believe that any decline in 2018 was due to him not being healthy and that he’s completely healthy now.

Other veteran relievers that are available in free-agency are David Robertson, Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, Joe Kelly, Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria.

What Does The Future Hold For Cesar Hernandez And Maikel Franco?

There’s a good chance that both Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco have played their final game in red pinstripes. But it’s not set-in-stone.

The Phillies value Hernandez, who led the team in walks from 2015-2017 before posting a career-high in the category (95) in 2018. Hernandez perhaps swung too far in the direction of seeing pitches in 2018, as his batting average dipped to .253 after consecutive seasons hitting at .294. But Hernandez is still just 28, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t have a bounce-back season in 2019, and it would come with an increased ability to drive the ball.

The Phillies don’t value Hernandez so much that it kept them from acquiring Jean Segura, who is likely to play shortstop. Segura playing shortstop likely means that Scott Kingery will slide back to his natural position of second base, where Hernandez has been the regular since the Phillies traded Chase Utley to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August of 2015. But that doesn’t mean the Phillies will move Hernandez, who remains under team control for two more seasons, for a warm body.

At the outset of the 2018 season, the Phillies planned to have Hernandez start at second base and to use Kingery in a Ben Zobrist-type super-utility role. Injuries to J.P. Crawford at shortstop kept the Phillies from really getting to live that experiment out. While it’s possible that they will return to the experiment in 2019, there is something to be said for the idea of using Hernandez in that role. The Phillies have the financial flexibility to carry Hernandez in 2019 – Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects that he will make $8.9 million in his second last season of arbitration – and he has experience, albeit limited, playing shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions.

As they have the past two years, the Phillies will be willing to listen to offers for Hernandez at the MLB Winter Meetings. They’ll perhaps be even more motivated to move him. But they aren’t going to give him away, and there are a ton of free-agent second basemen: Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, D.J. LeMahieu, Daniel Descalso, Daniel Murphy, Josh Harrison and Brian Dozier, among others. Coming off of a season in which he saw some regression, this may just not be the time to move Hernandez.

Franco, meanwhile, is consistently hard to evaluate. Still just 26, Franco carried the Phillies in July, slashing .330/.378/.593 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs. Unfortunately for him, that one month wasn’t indicative of his total season. He hit 22 home runs, drove in 68 runs and saw his batting average increased 40 points from the disappointing .230 mark that he hit at during a disastrous 2017 season. But he has yet to become the consistent offensive force that many thought he would be when he hit .280 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in an 80-game stint in 2015. He’s young enough that he could still develop into that, though it is fair to wonder if 2018 wasn’t the perfect synopsis of what Franco is: someone that will have six weeks every year where he flashes star potential, only to revert into being a replacement level player the rest of the season.

One thing that can’t be taken away from Franco: he’s worked his ass off in an attempt to reach his potential. Something that doesn’t show up even when looking over advanced statistics is his increased ability in 2018 to take a pitch on the outer half of the plate and drive it into right field, rather than beating it into the ground in the direction of the third baseman. His body type makes him a better fit to either be a DH or a first baseman – and defensive metrics bear that out – though he’s got a very strong arm and doesn’t take plays off at third base.

Still, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported just prior to the Phillies acquiring Segura that the Phillies would love to pair Segura and Machado on the left side of their infield. That would likely require Machado accepting a transition back to third base – something he said he wouldn’t do when he visited Philadelphia in early July – though a $300 million check could ultimately change his mind. Or the Phillies could sign Machado to play shortstop, which would lead to either Segura playing third base or Segura playing second base and Kingery and/or Hernandez playing at third base.

Even if the Phillies don’t ultimately sign Machado – or elect to spend on Harper instead – you get the feeling that it’s unlikely Franco will be their starting third baseman in 2019. Mike Moustakas is a free-agent option that the Phillies reportedly had some level of interest in prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Villar are two possible trade options who could play third base, but have flexibility to move around the infield, something the Phillies value.

The danger in trading Franco is that he could break-out somewhere else, meaning the Phillies would have stuck through some of the leaner years, only for another team to get the payoff. But that’s a risk the Phillies are likely to take this offseason, with the guess here being that he won’t be with the team next Spring Training.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Bauer, Grandal, Brewers, Cards, Harper, Mets - MLB Trade Rumors

  2. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Bauer, Grandal, Brewers, Cards, Harper, Mets – mrwilliamjobrien

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