Ready or not, baseball is back.
It’s the eve of the Phillies’ first training-camp workouts -- “spring training 2.0,” if you will -- and for the first time since the middle of March, Phillies players and staff have come together for the 2020 season, coronavirus-permitting.
- Depth, discipline crucial to Phillies’ success in coronavirus-shortened MLB season | Scott Lauber
- Phillies, J.T. Realmuto likely to resume extension talks, but baseball’s uncertain economy could complicate a deal
- Tough regional schedule might be ‘reality check’ for Phillies’ playoff ambitions | Scott Lauber
Speaking of which, players are undergoing “intake screening” for COVID-19. The process involves temperature checks, saliva and/or nasal swab tests, and a blood test for antibodies. Major League Baseball will disclose data about the rate of positive tests but doesn’t plan to reveal the identity of the infected players, citing medical privacy law.
Want to catch a glimpse of training camp? Citizens Bank Park is closed to the public. But you can head over to nearby FDR Park, where roughly half the roster will work out daily beginning Friday.
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— Scott Lauber (email@example.com)
First, a disclaimer: What is about to happen -- a baseball season in the midst of a pandemic -- hasn’t been attempted in more than 100 years. The immensity of the undertaking falls somewhere between a “challenge,” as Phillies general manager Matt Klentak undersold it this week, and a house of cards.
But for the purpose of this exercise, let’s think (wishfully, perhaps) of an opening day in which the Phillies roster is fully healthy, free from injury and infection alike. If manager Joe Girardi gets his pick of 30 players from a roster of 54 at the outset of camp, whom might he choose? Whom should he choose?
Let’s split the candidates into a few categories:
The locks (20): starting pitchers Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Eflin; relievers Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, and Victor Arano; catchers J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp; infielders Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Didi Gregorius, and Jean Segura; outfielders Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn, and Jay Bruce.
Not much explanation required. If healthy, each of these players has a spot.
The probables (6): pitchers Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin, and Deolis Guerra; outfielder Kyle Garlick.
Back in March, Pivetta, Velasquez, and Suarez were competing for the fifth-starter job, with the losers bound for the bullpen or triple A. Well, there is no triple A this year. Because starters won’t be stretched out at the outset, there’s room for all three (and Irvin, too) in multi-inning roles.
Guerra is on the 40-man roster, giving him the inside track on a bullpen spot. Garlick likely would have made the team in March while McCutchen was still recovering from knee surgery. Even with the latter ready to roll, a bench spot remains for the former.
The prospects (2): pitcher Spencer Howard; infielder Alec Bohm.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Remember the spring-training concern about managing Howard’s workload after an injury-shortened 2019? That’s not an issue in a 60-game sprint. And with the designated hitter coming to the National League, there will be at-bats for Bohm.
If the two prized prospects aren’t on the opening-day roster, it’s only because the Phillies are manipulating their service time to maintain an extra year of club control. That’s no small thing.
But delaying their major-league debuts by even one week could be costly in a nine-week season. If the Phillies really believe “it’s time to win,” as Klentak said in October, Howard and Bohm can help right away.
The non-roster veterans (2): reliever Francisco Liriano; infielder Neil Walker.
Before spring training, the Phillies signed several longtime major-leaguers to minor-league contracts in the hopes that one or two might win a job. There’s enough room on an expanded opening-day roster to carry four or five.
But there would be luxury-tax implications, too. Although players will collect only 37% of their salaries in a 60-game season, full-season salaries still count against the $208 million luxury tax. The Phillies are only about $4 million below that threshold, not much wiggle room to add players to the 40-man roster.
Girardi might have to choose, then, among Liriano and relievers Anthony Swarzak and Bud Norris, and infielders Walker, Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, and others. Liriano is a lefty; Walker is a switch-hitter with positional versatility. That might give them the slightest of edges.
You’ve got questions about “spring training 2.0,” Matt Breen has answers.
Joe Girardi’s odyssey to becoming Phillies manager, as told to/by Bob Brookover, is a must-read before training camp.
The Phillies don’t anticipate any players opting out of the season, a la longtime Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. They do, however, expect their player pool to be ever-changing.
If, somehow, MLB crosses the finish line on this 60-game season and playoffs, the eventual World Series champion will be defined by two characteristics: depth and discipline.
Service time, shmervice time. Howard and Bohm should be on the Phillies’ opening-day roster, as Brooky writes.
Of all the Phillies’ concerns about training camp -- and there’s a loooooong list -- Jean Segura’s move to third base isn’t one.
Meet pitcher Connor Seabold, the most unlikely player in Phillies training camp.
With the DH coming to the National League, pinch-hitting could go the way of the dodo bird. Matt Breen caught up with one of the best pinch-hitters in Phillies history: Matt Stairs.
Friday: First day of Phillies training camp at Citizens Bank Park and FDR Park.
Saturday: Happy Fourth of July! (First year without baseball games since 1981.)
July 23 or 24: (Re-)opening day.
Aug. 31: Trade deadline.
When MLB and the Players Association were unable to reach a new agreement on terms for the 2020 season, the sides reverted to the March 26 accord that stipulated the players would receive pro-rata pay based on the number of games played.
Practically speaking, Bryce Harper would make $10,199,430 if the Phillies are able to play 60 games, 37% of his full-season salary ($27,538,462). At the other end of the pay scale, Rhys Hoskins would make $224,074. His full-season salary is $605,000.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: So now that we know the season will be 102 games shorter than usual, what can we expect a starting rotation to look like? Do you need 5 starters, or can a pitcher go on less rest since they do not need to be “saved” like they would during a normal season? Better yet, how about no pitch counts?
--Mark F., via email
Answer: Hey, Mark. Thanks for the question. Sorry to disappoint, but alas, even in a 60-game season, there will be five-man rotations, pitch counts, load management, and other things that Old Hoss Radbourne would consider a nuisance.
Although most pitchers worked out on their own throughout the hiatus, access to fields and mounds was limited. They also will have only three weeks to ramp up for the season. It follows, then, that most teams will be cautious in building arm strength. I doubt you will see many starters getting beyond the fifth or sixth innings for a while. They certainly won’t be pitching on short rest.