Nothing says baseball is near quite like shoveling snow steps on the 11th of February.
The Phillies equipment truck has arrived in Clearwater, the Phanatic’s hot-dog launcher has been unloaded at Spectrum Field, and spring training is finally ready to begin. The Phillies have not signed Bryce Harper or Manny Machado yet, but they have still provided a dose of excitement before camp opens by adding J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies think he’s the best catcher in baseball, and they are right.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the Phillies season and on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings during spring training. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @matt_breen. Thank you for reading.
— Matt Breen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
So how much is Bryce Harper or Manny Machado worth?
According to Baseball Prospectus, signing one of the two superstars would be enough to project the Phillies as a playoff team. The website released its annual PECOTA projections last week and listed the Phillies as the third-best team in the National League East with an 84-78 record. It was a four-win improvement from last season.
Baseball Prospectus expects four NL East teams — the Phillies, Braves, Mets, and Nationals — to finish with at least 85 wins and Washington to win the title. Just one team, the 90-win Braves, finished last season with more than 82 wins.
A few hours after the first projections were released, they were already outdated. The Phillies traded for catcher J.T. Realmuto, and their projection improved to 86-76. The Phillies remained in third place, but Realmuto was enough to put them in the hunt for the second wild-card spot. A superstar, Baseball Prospectus projects, would be enough to push the Phillies past Washington’s 89 wins for the division lead and the second-best mark in the National League.
Harper, Baseball Prospectus projects, would be worth 4.6 wins. Machado would be worth 3.8. Nick Williams, who Harper would replace in the lineup, and Maikel Franco, who Machado would replace, are both projected to be worth less than one win. The Phillies still expect to enter the season with Machado or Harper, yet nothing seems imminent as spring training nears. But the upgrades are obvious.
The Phillies haven’t signed Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but neither has anyone else. Mike Sielski writes how the Phillies still have time to spend their stupid money.
What’s Brett Myers up to? John Smallwood talked to the former Phillies pitcher, and C.C. Sabathia aggravator, about his music career. “I’m a redneck. A lot of people say redneck is a bad term, but it isn’t. We’re just hard-working people trying to make a living.”
The Phillies believe they are contenders again, and Bob Brookover writes how the team has reached that point without several players they expected would help them get there. “When you’re at the early stages of a rebuild, one of the hardest things is to close your eyes and visualize what the roster is going to look like when you get back to the playoffs,” Matt Klentak said last week. “It’s hard. You don’t know."
Tomorrow: Phillies pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
Wednesday: The pitchers and catchers hold their first workout of spring.
Sunday: Position players report to spring training.
Feb. 18: The Phillies hold their first full workout.
Feb. 22: Grapefruit League opener at Rays, 1:05 p.m.
J.T. Realmuto led all catchers last season in OPS, but did you know he also was the fastest catcher in baseball according to MLB Statcast’s sprint-speed metric?
Realmuto was measured to run at 28.6 feet per second, the 85th-fastest time among all major leaguers. The metric, according to Statcast, measures “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.”
Don’t expect Realmuto to steal many bases, but it’s a good indication of the type of athlete he’ll be behind the plate.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: OK, Extra Innings, I agree that it seems the asking price was too high for two seasons with Realmuto, and the Phils ignored us and made the deal anyway. But what if they are able to sign Realmuto to an extension beyond 2020? Assuming he performs even a bit below expectations, would that make it a better deal? Will his addition attract other players to Philly? - Larry E., via email
Answer: Thanks, Larry. I would be surprised if the Phillies are unable to extend Realmuto after the 2020 season as long as he continues to produce. The only players they have signed past 2020 are Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera, and Scott Kingery. Even if Aaron Nola is signed by then to a long-term deal and the Phillies are paying Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, they’ll have plenty of resources left to sign Realmuto. They have tremendous payroll flexibility.
I thought the price was steep for Realmuto. The Phillies gave up their best pitching prospect in 15 years. But they did it because they think they have a shot to win now instead of waiting for Sixto Sanchez to develop.