In his first year out of D.C., Bryce Harper watched his former team, the Washington Nationals, win the first World Series title in the history of their franchise. In his second year out of D.C., Harper thinks that his current team, the Philadelphia Phillies, has a chance to make noise in October.
Harper touched on a variety of topics Sunday, as he reported to Clearwater for his second Spring Training in red pinstripes. As much as he appreciates the talents of Kris Bryant, Harper sounds excited for both Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard, the organization’s top two prospects, to make their major league debuts in 2020.
Part of the reason Harper is so excited for Bohm and Howard to join the major league club is that he believes Matt Klentak’s front office did enough this offseason for the Phillies to compete in the National League East and National League as a whole.
“My wife actually asked me that question the other night,” Harper told the collective media, including MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki. “You know, I believe we did. You’re able to get Wheeler and Jake Arrieta back. You know, Jake at full strength, he’s a Cy Young contender and everybody knows that. Having the 1-2-3 that we do … and then whoever it’s going to be in that fourth and fifth [spot in the rotation]. Everybody talks about our bullpen, we need to add, we need to add. Héctor [Neris] was really good for us and then we’re getting back guys that were not healthy. … I think there’s guys out there that we were able to go get and able to spend the right money and do the things that we were able to do. … We’re going to score runs, we were able to do that last year, and if our bullpen can hold and our starters can as well, I think we’ll be OK.”
“I think we should be excited,” Harper added. “I think we should be pumped with what we have right now. … We do have a chance of getting deep in the playoffs.”
The Phillies inked Zack Wheeler to a five-year/$118 million deal to lure him away from the division-rival New York Mets. He’ll pair at the top of the rotation with Aaron Nola, who he’s tied with for the ninth best fWAR among starting pitchers over the last two seasons. After that, there’s not a whole lot of certainty.
Harper seems high on Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, but nothing he’s shown in his first two years with the team suggest he’s capable of pitching at that level anymore. In two seasons with the Phillies, Arrieta has posted a 4.26 ERA, and has dealt with a meniscus tear and bone spurs in his pitching elbow. As he enters the final guaranteed season of a three-year/$75 million deal, there seems to be as good of a chance of Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez or Zach Eflin taking a major step forward in 2020 as Arrieta returning to pitching at the level he did during his final three seasons in Chicago.
While questions about what the Phillies bullpen will look like further cloud the picture of the team’s pitching, it would be incorrect to say that the Phillies didn’t improve this offseason. Wheeler wasn’t here a season ago. Neither was shortstop Didi Gregorius. Andrew McCutchen is returning from a torn ACL. There’s reason to think Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura will have better seasons than they did a year ago. It’s hard to imagine the team’s bullpen being crushed by injuries in the same manner it was a season ago.
The biggest question facing the Phillies at the outset of Spring Training isn’t whether they are a better team than the one that finished at a disappointing 81-81 mark in 2019. Instead, the 2020 season will answer whether the Phillies have improved enough to win a National League East with four legitimate postseason contenders, or one of the two National League Wild Card spots in a league where there only appear to be four teams that you can rule out from possibly being a contender in 2020.
For his part, Harper seems to think the Phillies are in pretty good shape as he enters year two of a 13-year pact.
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