Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

With pitching, Larry Bowa thinks Phillies can compete with ‘the big boys’ in 2020


The one thing you don’t have to worry about when you’re listening to Larry Bowa is whether he’s giving you his honest opinion.

Monday, after the Philadelphia Phillies introduced Joe Girardi as the 55th manager in franchise history, Bowa – who has played, coached and managed for the Phillies – said that he loved “every word” of Girardi’s press conference. He called Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker “good baseball guys,” but also said he thought Girardi separated himself during the interview process.

Bowa, who was inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame in 1991, appeared keen on the hiring of Girardi. What about the team that Girardi is inheriting, which went 81-81 in 2019?

“We’ve got a bunch of guys now that aren’t rookies,” Bowa said Monday after Girardi’s press conference concluded. “We’ve got a pretty good nucleus in the lineup. We need pitching…I mean everybody knows that, it’s not saying something that’s a hidden agenda – we need pitching. If we get pitching, we can compete. I don’t mean just compete, I mean compete with the big boys.”

So Bowa thinks that the Phillies can compete with the likes of the Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees in 2020?

“Yes,” Bowa said emphatically. “If we get pitching, yes.”

Larry Bowa is a staple in the Phillies organization. (Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire)

Of course, bolstering the Phillies pitching staff may be easier said than done.

After Game 7 of the World Series, Houston Astros RHP Gerrit Cole, the likely American League Cy Young Award winner, sounded fairly certain he would be departing. But while the Phillies certainly figure to be in on Cole, ESPN’s Buster Olney spoke to Astros teammates that believe Cole will ultimately sign with a team from California, with Olney citing the Los Angeles Angels as the team that those around baseball think the 29-year-old will wind up with.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg will likely opt out of the $100 million remaining on his contract, though Mark Feinsand of MLB.com has previously reported that the belief in league circles is he’ll ultimately re-sign with the Nationals. Anyway, for as great of a season as Strasburg had, he’s a 31-year-old veteran of Tommy John Surgery that’s likely to get at least five years. Would that be a wise investment for the Phillies?

This market won’t be short on available starting pitching. Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Hyun-jin Ryu, San Francisco Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner, Minnesota Twins RHP Jake Odorizzi, Boston Red Sox RHP Rick Porcello, Chicago Cubs LHP Cole Hamels, Atlanta Braves LHP Dallas Keuchel and New York Mets RHP Zack Wheeler can all become free-agents this offseason. While signing potentially two of those options would certainly improve the Phillies rotation, it probably wouldn’t even make them the favorite in the National League East.

Beyond the starting rotation, there’s little certainty in a bullpen that Girardi admitted Monday needs to stay healthy in 2020. The Phillies declined Pat Neshek’s $7 million option for 2020, and have decisions to make on Blake Parker, Mike Morin and Jared Hughes in the coming days and weeks. Juan Nicasio and Tommy Hunter almost certainly won’t be back in 2020. Seranthony Dominguez didn’t pitch after early June, and though it’s been repeatedly determined he doesn’t need Tommy John Surgery for his UCL injury, until he’s back, there will be uncertainty. David Robertson spent most of 2019 on the injured list, and may miss all of 2020 after having Tommy John Surgery in August. Adam Morgan also finished the season on the injured list.

Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez appear like locks to be in the bullpen on Opening Day 2020, but the Phillies need a lot of other things to break their way in the bullpen. They need younger arms like J.D. Hammer and Edgar Garcia to take major steps forward in 2020. They need a healthy Dominguez. It wouldn’t hurt if one of Nick Pivetta or Vince Velasquez came into their own as a reliever. And still, the Phillies may need to hit on someone like New York Yankees RHP Dellin Betances in free-agency, and their recent track record on acquiring veteran relievers leaves you skeptical of that happening.

The Phillies lineup isn’t a finished product either. There’s uncertainty in the middle infield, third base and center field. But with Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto in what should be their peak years, the hope that Andrew McCutchen will return from a torn ACL an All-Star caliber player and the potential for bounce-back years from Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura, you can at least see a scenario where the offense is ready to compete with “the big boys” in 2020.

Even in that best-case scenario for the Phillies, pitching remains a major hurdle to clear this offseason.

From Bowa’s perspective, there’s little doubt that he believes what he says. And it may be true that with the necessary pitching upgrades, the Phillies have a lineup capable of competing for the World Series. But if their pitching staff wasn’t good enough to seriously compete for the playoffs in 2019, general manager Matt Klentak has his work cut out trying to get it ready to compete for the World Series in 2020.

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