It’s Mike Schmidt Day in Phillies camp.
Schmidt has been coming to spring training for several years as a guest instructor, and the Hall of Fame third baseman and greatest position player in franchise history is expected to meet once again with the team before today’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field. As manager Gabe Kapler told our Matt Breen, the Phillies asked Schmidt to discuss “what it’s like to win in Philadelphia, what it means to be a great teammate, and what leadership characteristics look like.”
Beyond that, Bryce Harper is scheduled to be in the lineup today, tomorrow and Sunday. Through three Grapefruit League games, he’s 0-for-2 with three walks.
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Need pitching? These arms could be Phillies trade targets
Unless Dallas Keuchel opts to suddenly end his protracted free agency by settling for a one-year contract, the Phillies will enter the season with their starting rotation from last year.
And they will cross their fingers.
Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin took steps forward last season, and the Phillies’ hope is that all three will continue to progress as viable big-league starters. But here’s the reality of the development of pitchers: It rarely follows a straight line. If one or two of the Phillies’ young starters take a step forward, there’s a decent chance that one or two will take a step back.
It’s possible, then, that the Phillies will be seeking a midseason rotation upgrade. And since Major League Baseball and the players’ union are poised to agree on a rules change that will eliminate August waiver trades, the July 31 deadline will represent the last chance for contenders to make external upgrades. The result could be a busier-than-ever trade season.
The Indians are flush with starting pitching and thin in the outfield, which could make them a match for the Phillies. The Diamondbacks would love to move Zack Greinke’s enormous contract but will have an easier time peddling lefty Robby Ray. The Rangers could revive offseason talks with the Phillies about lefty Mike Minor. The Mets might dangle Zack Wheeler, but would they make a deal with a division rival?
Here are three pitchers who could be available to the Phillies before July 31:
Madison Bumgarner, Giants: The lefty will turn 30 on Aug. 1 and could celebrate his birthday with a new team. He has made only 39 starts and missed fewer bats over the past two seasons than during his peak as an ace workhorse. But if Bumgarner stays healthy and pitches well, the rebuilding Giants could extract a top prospect from a contender that wants to rent him for two months before he reaches free agency.
Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: In time, Toronto might have to choose whether to give a contract extension to Stroman or fellow right-hander Aaron Sanchez. And Stroman is getting antsy. He recently expressed disappointment over a lack of traction in negotiations. He’ll turn 28 in May, he finished eighth in the 2017 Cy Young Award voting, and he can become a free agent after the 2020 season. If the Jays are going to move on from him, this summer might be the time.
Trevor Bauer, Indians: The talent is undeniable. But the 28-year-old right-hander can be a handful for more than just opposing hitters. He’s as outspoken as it gets in baseball and utterly unafraid to voice his opinion, especially on social media. Whether the subject is pitching or politics, Cy Young voting or drone flying, he doesn’t shy away. But Bauer isn’t the right flavor for every team, and the Phillies would have to decide if his top-of-the-rotation potential is worth the headaches that can come with it.
Shane Victorino conquered problems with focus and effort en route to a 12-year major-league career in which he won two World Series. As a guest instructor in spring training, the Flyin’ Hawaiian is working closely with Odubel Herrera to help him overcome similar issues, as Marcus Hayes writes.
A chance to watch 18-year-old shortstop prospect Luis Garcia made the drive to Bradenton worthwhile yesterday for Matt Breen.
The latest on some of the rules changes that are being implemented by MLB and the players’ union.
“We need him to be great" — Reggie Jackson, speaking to Marcus Hayes, about Harper.
Harper is drawing a crowd wherever he goes. Fortunately for the Phillies’ new star, he has been getting this kind of attention since he was a teenager, as Matt Breen writes.
Herrera and Cesar Hernandez are expected to be ready for opening day after dealing with minor injuries early in spring training.
Listen to Extra Innings: The Podcast
Extra Innings isn’t only a newsletter. It’s a Phillies podcast, too. And in the latest episode, Matt Breen and I answered reader questions and discussed what Bryce Harper adds to the defense. Listen here.
Today: Harper is expected to play vs. Blue Jays in Clearwater, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola gets a tune-up vs. Astros at Spectrum Field, 1:05 p.m.
March 25: Phillies host Rays in Grapefruit League finale, 1:05 p.m.
March 28: Opening day vs. Braves at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.
April 2: Harper returns to D.C. to face Nationals, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Amid all the attention that has been paid to the signing of Harper and the trade for J.T. Realmuto, it has been easy to overlook another high-impact Phillies acquisition: Jean Segura.
Segura is actually among the most underrated hitters in baseball. Consider this: Since 2013, he has more hits (981) in fewer games (856) than Mike Trout (978 hits in 886 games), Nolan Arenado (975 hits in 876 games) and Freddie Freeman (970 hits in 864 games).
And at a time when strikeouts are on the rise, Segura usually puts the bat on the ball. He had the fifth-highest contact rate (88.3 percent) among all hitters last season, including 95.1 percent on pitches in the strike zone. Carlos Santana, who was packaged to Seattle in the Segura trade, had the highest contact rate of any Phillies hitter (82.6 percent) last year.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Answer: Thanks for the question, George. Before the season starts? No, I don’t think so. At this point, with Roman Quinn (oblique strain) likely headed for the injured list, both Williams and Aaron Altherr can make the opening-day roster.
In time, the Phillies will have a decision to make. Altherr, in particular, is out of options and can’t go to the minors without being exposed to waivers. For now, though, I think they hold on to their spare outfielders and perhaps package one in a midseason trade, likely for a pitcher.
Answer: Hi, Greg. Thank you for the question. Lots of Vince Velasquez angst on Twitter this week. Here’s where I remind y’all that Velasquez posted a 3.12 ERA and held opponents to a .196 batting average during a 15-start stretch from May 5 through Aug. 3 last season. And he will turn 27 in June.
In other words, there’s reason to believe he will keep getting better. Anderson recently turned his slider into a cutter and has looked terrific this spring. On his merits, he deserves to be among the first pitchers to get called up. But the Phillies aren’t ready to give up on Velasquez, and they shouldn’t be.