T-minus seven days.

Yes, it’s that time of year. The Super Bowl is over. The NBA trade deadline is hours from passing. And the Phillies are packing equipment — not to mention 10,000 12-ounce Powerade cups, 12 sets of golf clubs, and one Phanatic hot dog launcher — into a 53-foot truck that on Friday will pull away from Citizens Bank Park bound for spring training in Clearwater, Fla.

Pitchers and catchers must report by Tuesday, and next Wednesday mitts finally will be popping with the sound of cowhide hitting leather.

Baseball is nearly back.

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— Scott Lauber (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Top Phillies prospect Spencer Howard is expected to be ready for the big leagues at some point in 2020.
George Youngs Jr. / Reading Phillies
Top Phillies prospect Spencer Howard is expected to be ready for the big leagues at some point in 2020.

Phillies would be better with Bryant, but not at expense of Spencer Howard

After 106 wins last year, back-to-back World Series appearances in 2017-18, and seven consecutive division titles, the Dodgers almost certainly will be the National League’s best team again. What, then, does trading for Mookie Betts make them?

Peerless? Unbeatable? Invincible?

Quite possibly all of the above. But just in case the coming season isn’t merely an exercise in futility for the rest of the NL, another superstar is available. The Cubs are open to trading third baseman Kris Bryant, and he could be a difference-maker in the NL East.

Take a gander around the division. Anthony Rendon left D.C.; Josh Donaldson no longer plays in Atlanta; the Mets intend to use Jeff McNeil at third but probably prefer to move the All-Star utilityman around the field.

Then there are the Phillies. They love top prospect Alec Bohm, but questions persist about his defense. While they wait for Bohm to graduate from triple A, Scott Kingery is the likeliest opening day third baseman, even though his best position is second.

So, Bryant makes sense, right? Sure. Add in that the 2016 NL MVP is BFF with Bryce Harper and it’s almost too perfect, if only Phillies managing partner John Middleton would agree to push the payroll beyond the $208 million competitive-balance threshold.

But while the luxury tax is a hurdle in Bryant-to-the-Phillies talks, the biggest obstacle would be if the Cubs insist on getting Spencer Howard in return.

To get Betts, the Dodgers gave away a big-league outfielder (Alex Verdugo) and starting pitcher (Kenta Maeda to the Twins for pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol, who was sent to Boston), and took on reportedly half of the $96 million owed to David Price over the next three years. The price for Bryant figures to be even steeper since he comes with one more year of club control than Betts, who will be a free agent after this season.

Trading Bryant now only makes sense if the Cubs land controllable pitching. But starting pitching is the Phillies’ biggest need. And one year to the day after shipping out Sixto Sanchez in the J.T. Realmuto trade, Howard represents their best hope for a high-impact, homegrown starter.

Maybe the Phillies can hook the Cubs on Zach Eflin or Nick Pivetta, or pitching prospects Adonis Medina, Francisco Morales or Erik Miller, to package with Bohm and perhaps Kingery or centerfielder Adam Haseley. In that case, adding Bryant — a 28-year-old who has slugged at least 25 homers with an .850 OPS or better in all but one of his five big-league seasons — is tempting. Imagine his right-handed bat in the middle of an order with Harper, Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins.

But the Phillies need Howard to reach the big leagues this season, and they need it to be with them. The idea of trading him, even for Bryant, must be a nonstarter.

The rundown

I caught up with Andrew McCutchen the other day and asked if he will be ready for opening day after major knee surgery last June.

The Phillies will retire No. 34 for Roy Halladay on May 29, the 10-year anniversary of his perfect game, as Matt Breen writes.

Bob Brookover talked with ex-Phillies manager Pete Mackanin about being asked by Joe Girardi to attend spring training as a guest instructor.

To get you ready for spring training, a few stories from earlier in the offseason on two important new staff members: pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

Oh, and Pete Rose has filed another request for reinstatement to the commissioner’s office.

Important dates

Tomorrow: Truck Day! Phillies equipment truck leaves for Florida.

Wednesday: First workout for pitchers and catchers in Clearwater, Fla.

Feb. 17: New manager Joe Girardi oversees the Phillies’ first full-squad workout.

Feb. 22: Grapefruit League opener vs. Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., 1:05 p.m.

March 26: Opening day vs. Marlins in Miami, 4:10 p.m.

Veteran infielder Neil Walker will compete for a spot on the Phillies' roster after signing a minor-league contract last month.
John Minchillo / AP
Veteran infielder Neil Walker will compete for a spot on the Phillies' roster after signing a minor-league contract last month.

Stat of the day

When veteran relievers Anthony Swarzak and Blake Parker signed minor-league deals this week, the Phillies’ spring-training roster increased to 69 players. The list features 29 players who aren’t on the 40-man roster, including several longtime big leaguers who are trying to extend their careers by winning jobs on the bench and in the bullpen.

If they wanted, the Phillies could field almost an entire “B-team” of players with major-league experience. The lineup could look like this:

2B Logan Forsythe: .246/.327/.370 in 958 games (Padres, Rays, Dodgers, Twins, Rangers)

RF Josh Harrison: .273/.313/.401 in 878 games (Pirates, Tigers)

CF Mikie Mahtook: .235/.292/.405 in 291 games (Rays, Tigers)

1B Neil Walker: .267/.339/.427 in 1,288 games (Pirates, Mets, Brewers, Yankees, Marlins)

LF Matt Szczur: .231/.312/.355 in 363 games (Cubs, Padres)

3B Ronald Torreyes: .279/.308/.370 in 236 games (Dodgers, Yankees, Twins)

SS Phil Gosselin: .263/.312/.355 in 320 games (Braves, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Rangers, Reds, Phillies)

C Christian Bethancourt: .222/.252/.316 in 161 games (Braves, Padres)

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

If the Phillies do make an offer for Kris Bryant? They’d need to clear salary to do that deal, so whom besides Alec Bohm could be involved? Love the updates in my email, Thanks so much! — Joe Leader (@JoeLeader4) via Twitter

Answer: Thanks, Joe, for the question. Let’s not confuse the luxury tax with a salary cap. Teams are permitted to go over the $208 million threshold. They just pay a surcharge (20% on every dollar for first-time offenders) for doing so.

At present, the Phillies’ payroll estimate is $205 million for luxury-tax purposes. Bryant will make $18.6 million this year, so it’s difficult to imagine them trading for him and staying below $208 million. That’s hardly a deal-breaker, though — unless Phillies ownership wants it to be.