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Phillies Beat with Destiny Lugardo

When Bryce Harper began to feel fuzzy about the Phillies’ outlook


At the beginning of December, the Philadelphia Phillies lacked cohesion in their front office and future outlook. Interim general manager Ned Rice took over for Matt Klentak, but the team’s highest-ranking officials, managing partner John Middleton and president Andy MacPhail, spent the first two months of the offseason sending a slew of perturbing signals hinting at the team’s somewhat bleak financial picture.

Bryce Harper is in his third season as a Phillie. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Harper grew worried. He decided against contacting managing partner John Middleton because he knew he was searching for a new president of baseball operations, but he began to wonder if the team was committed to keeping his word.

What exactly is “the word?”

“Sign the free agents when we could and get the guys when we could,” Harper said.

This offseason in particular was a chance for the Phillies to show Harper that they are serious about building a team around him. Teams around the league were cutting costs and as a result, the supply of second-tier free agents outweighed the demand. The Phillies were able to put together a decent team at a reasonable cost, but it seemed as though they were more contempt with taking a step back for a good part of the offseason.

“I think it was December when I had no idea what was going on,” Harper said Thursday on a Zoom press conference. “We were kind of sitting there trying to figure out what we wanted to do as an organization: How we wanted to approach this offseason, what was going on, payroll, things like that. That was my sense of ‘Man, what do we got going?'”

Shortly after, Middleton finally landed Dave Dombrowski after just about every highly-touted executive turned down the opportunity to jump ship to Philadelphia.

Everything began to fall in place. Dombrowski re-signed J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius and completely remodeled the bullpen following a season in which the unit will forever be remembered as one of the worst to ever exist. The Phillies are also heading into the 2021 season with the least top-heavy roster they’ve had since Harper arrived.

“I thought: ‘Wow, here we go. This is the start. This is the start of our offseason. This is what we’re going to do,'” Harper said. “I said the other day, you don’t bring in Dombrowski unless it’s a win-now kind of move.

“I think Dombrowski has done a good job at bringing in the guys that we were able to bring in. We have a lot of competition in camp right now and I think that’s good for us. …Getting the bullpen that we have for the amount of money that we spent, I thought he did a great job of that.”

Of course, Harper couldn’t go without specifically mentioning Realmuto.

“I think a lot of these pitchers too, that have come into our staff or came into our bullpen understand what J.T. does for them behind the plate,” Harper said. “Pitchers like throwing to a good catcher and I think J.T. does that behind the plate for these guys.

“The way that Dombrowski works, I don’t even know if he’s done yet. …[I’m] just very fortunate to play for an organization that is ready to go, ready to win and made the significant moves that we needed to this offseason.”

How many games could Andrew McCutchen play?

Much is talked about the gaping hole the Phillies have in center field, but what if Andrew McCutchen isn’t able to play left field on a consistent basis? June marks two years removed from his second ACL tear and the best-case scenario for the Phillies would be for McCutchen to regain his pre-injury form. He slashed .256/.378/.457 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in 59 games in 2019 and looked like one of the better corner outfielders on defense.

So does Girardi think McCutchen is closer to his 2019 self?

“I think so,” Girardi said Thursday. “To be fair, I have not seen him run around a lot. I have not seen him run the bases yet. The little bit that I’ve seen, it looks much different than it did last year when I saw him. I feel pretty good about where he’s at. Obviously, I want to see him run the bases and track down fly balls, but all the reports I’ve gotten, it’s much better.”

Prior to 2019, McCutchen started in at least 146 games for nine consecutive seasons. He has yet to start in more than 59 games a season in his Phillies career. Most likely, we’ll see more of McCutchen than we’ve had the past two seasons combined. Could he hover around 140 games played? As always, Girardi sounded cautiously optimistic.

“I would not put that past him. I think he has that ability, yes.”

Quick Hits

  • The Phillies announced Thursday that their spring training facility formerly known as Spectrum Field will now be called BayCare Ballpark. The financial terms of the agreement are not yet known to the public.
  • Girardi was asked if he could shock the world and name standout rookie Connor Brogdon the closer come Opening Day. He smiled and offered some high praise for the 26-year-old: “I’m not putting that type of pressure on Connor. I think he definitely has the ability to be a closer one day.”
  • Didi Gregorius and a ton of Phillies are getting much closer to finally arriving in camp. Gregorius will begin his intake process on Friday while catcher Christian Bethancourt (non-roster) began his Thursday. Pitchers Ranger Suárez and Francisco Morales (minor-league minicamp) begin intake on Saturday while Mauricio Llovera will start Sunday. The Phillies are still not sure when outfielder Simon Muzziotti (minor-league minicamp) and pitcher Neftalí Feliz (non-roster) will arrive in the states. Intake screening consists of a mandatory five-day quarantine as well numerous COVID-related tests.

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