The winter meetings come to a close today in San Diego, and they seemed to be much busier than last year’s event in Las Vegas when the baseball world waited for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to make their decisions.
The Phillies did not land Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon, but neither did their rivals. They officially signed Zack Wheeler on Monday morning and came to an agreement Tuesday with Didi Gregorius. That could be it for the Phillies this winter when it comes to major moves.
They’ve improved last season’s 81-win team, but it’s hard to say if they improved enough to be a playoff contender. But the offseason is still far from over.
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Odubel Herrera is costing the Phillies this offseason
Odubel Herrera had played just two major-league seasons, but he showed enough promise in his first 306 games that the Phillies considered him a piece of their future. Herrera reached the majors in 2015 without ever playing in triple A, was an All-Star in 2016, and had the sixth-best batting average and on-base percentage among National League center fielders over his first two seasons.
So how did the Phillies react? They jumped to sign Herrera to a five-year contract, covering Herrera’s three years of salary arbitration and first season of free agency. The Phillies thought they were a step ahead, believing they smartly signed a future star at a bargain price.
“This is an exciting day for the Phillies,” general manager Matt Klentak said three years ago this month at a news conference to announce Herrera’s $30.5 million deal.
Instead, it’s a day the Phillies regret. As they build their roster for 2020 while trying to steer clear of the luxury-tax threshold, the Phillies must carry Herrera’s contract despite knowing he will likely never play again for them. Klentak said this week in San Diego that Adam Haseley is the team’s starting center fielder, with Roman Quinn coming off the bench and Jay Bruce backing up Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper in the corners.
Herrera, Klentak said, will have to earn a role. But the Phillies certainly understand how the fan base would react if Herrera played at Citizens Bank Park this season after being suspended last season after an arrest in Atlantic City for a domestic violence incident. Even before his arrest, Herrera had regressed into a below-average offensive producer, far from the star the Phillies thought they were signing. The Phillies seem ready to move on.
But they will find it difficult to move on from Herrera’s deal, which is costing them $6.1 million this season against the luxury tax. The Phillies could trade Herrera before the season, but they would likely have to consume most of his salary. And if they release him, they would still be on the hook for the money. The Phillies have roughly $6 million to spend this offseason before reaching the luxury tax, which they have never paid.
The Phillies could use that $6.1 million toward finishing their starting rotation or addressing their bullpen. They instead have to use it for Herrera, who played himself out of a starting role before he was arrested last May. If the Phillies never extended Herrera after the 2016 season, they could have walked away from him in November by not tendering him a deal the way the Cubs did with Addison Russell, who was also suspended last season for domestic violence.
It seems awfully difficult to imagine the Phillies’ filling all their remaining needs and staying below the tax. But perhaps that could have been a bit more manageable if Herrera’s contract were off the books. Once considered a smart move, that deal is now a costly mistake.
The Phillies might be done building their starting rotation, which, Bob Brookover writes, puts even more emphasis on Jake Arrieta to live up to expectations. Arrieta had surgery last August to remove bone chips from his elbow, is said to be recovering well, and is expected to be fully healthy for the season. The Phillies will hope the pitcher’s health makes all the difference.
Haseley will enter spring training as the starting center fielder, Scott Lauber writes. Klentak anointed Haseley the starter on Wednesday, putting to rest any debate about who would join Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper in the outfield. Haseley held his own in center last season and posted a .741 OPS as a rookie.
For the third straight year, the Phillies will extend the protective netting along the baselines to increase protection for fans at Citizens Bank Park from foul balls. The netting will extend to Sections 137 and 138 down the left-field line and Sections 109 and 110 on the right-field line, Lauber writes.
Apologies in advance that this is not a Phillies story, but The Inquirer’s Mike Jensen traveled to Michigan for a fantastic profile of former St. Joe’s basketball coach Phil Martelli, who is a first-year assistant for the Michigan Wolverines. It was my favorite story of the week.
Today: The winter meetings conclude with the Rule 5 Draft, noon.
Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
Feb. 17: First full-squad workout in Clearwater, Fla.
Feb. 22: Phillies open Grapefruit League schedule vs. Tigers, 1:05 p.m.
March 26: Opening Day in Miami, 4:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
The Phillies must have been happy Wednesday night to see former Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon leave the National League East by signing a $245 million deal to join the Angels.
Over the last three seasons, Rendon has driven in the most runs and hit the second-most homers against the Phillies among opposing players with at least 100 plate appearances. His OPS against them (1.061) is the second best, and his average (.337) ranks fifth. But the Phillies still have to worry about Rendon for three games, because the Angels will visit South Philly in July.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: I know there was talk about the Phillies trying to extend the contract of J.T. Realmuto and then it seems like that talk has given way to the Winter Meetings and who the Phillies will get in Free Agency. Do you know where those talks are at and the implications on how the Phillies will proceed in Free Agency? — Brian G. via email.
Answer: Thanks, Brian. The Phillies still plan to extend Realmuto, and there’s no doubt from either side that a deal will happen. It’s just a matter of when.
The Phillies would prefer that Realmuto’s extension not affect their luxury-tax predicament, meaning they would first agree to terms for 2020 (the MLB Trade Rumors site projects Realmuto to earn $10.3 million in arbitration) and then sign an extension that begins in 2021.
The White Sox signed Yasmani Grandal this offseason to a four-year deal worth $73 million. Realmuto is nearly three years younger and was named Wednesday as baseball’s best catcher. It’s safe to say that he’s looking for a contract bigger than Grandal’s.