CLEARWATER, Fla. — All eyes in Clearwater are on Bryce Harper, owner of the richest contract in the history of American team sports. He spent Monday’s off day by taking indoor batting practice at Spectrum Field, moving one day closer to Saturday’s expected spring-training debut.
The Phillies are three weeks away from boarding a flight home to start the regular season. The attention, rightfully so, is on Harper. But there are issues for the team to iron out before it heads north. Here are their three pressing concerns.
The Phillies are without four players — Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, and Tommy Hunter — projected to begin the season on the 25-man roster. And it remains unclear when any of those four will return.
Herrera and Hernandez are projected starters on opening day, Quinn was expected to fill a key bench role, and Hunter would have a large role in a bolstered bullpen. Quinn’s oblique injury seems to be the most serious, but Herrera still has not played in a Grapefruit League game despite the team’s continuing to downplay the severity of his hamstring injury.
If the Phillies are without Hernandez, Scott Kingery will start at second base. Herrera’s absence in the outfield could be filled by Nick Williams, who would play a corner while Harper or Andrew McCutchen manned center. The Phillies added three relievers this offseason, so they could mask Hunter’s absence if he is not ready by the end of the month. Quinn’s injury would open up a spring-training competition for the last spot on the bench.
Williams, out of the lineup thanks to Harper’s arrival, can still provide value off the bench. He was excellent last season as a pinch hitter (10-for-28 with three homers and a .419 on-base percentage) and would play a needed role on a team with playoff aspirations. He also would provide good depth with Herrera and Quinn already nursing injuries.
If the Phillies opted to move Williams, perhaps in a trade that would bring a starting pitcher, their next best outfielders would be Aaron Altherr and Dylan Cozens if Quinn and Herrera went down. The Phillies will have to decide what has more value: Williams off the bench or the return they could get in a trade.
The Phillies upgraded their lineup, their defense, and their bullpen this winter. They even added to their coaching staff. The only area that seemed to go untouched was their rotation.
And now the Phillies are beginning to get their first looks this spring at what they have. Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta pitched over the weekend. Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta will pitch Tuesday, with Vince Velasquez pitching Wednesday.
The Phillies, unless they add a pitcher before the end of camp, will enter the season with the same rotation that stumbled last season down the stretch. It was a vote of confidence from the front office to stay out of the pitching market after being outbid for Patrick Corbin. We’ll find out if that confidence was right during the regular season, but the final weeks of Grapefruit League play could provide an indication.