CLEARWATER, Fla. — Within the last week, the Phillies reduced their spring-training roster from 71 players to 59. In the coming days, there will be more spirited debate among club officials, additional cuts, and tough conversations with players who don’t make the team.
“I told them I was going on paternity leave for three days,” said manager Joe Girardi, the bearer of bad roster-trimming news. “We have a new puppy.”
All kidding aside, the Phillies have several difficult choices to make before they are scheduled to break camp on March 23 — and in many cases, because of opt-out clauses, retention bonuses, and other contractual language, before then.
A day off Wednesday felt like a good time to size up where things stand with a few of the more intriguing spring competitions:
Never mind the tepid fifth-starter derby. Consider Girardi’s answer Tuesday when asked whether Adam Haseley is still in line for the majority of the playing time in center field.
“I mean, that’s interesting,” Girardi said. “I think it’s an evaluation there, too, right?”
Girardi, like Gabe Kapler before him, is tantalized by Roman Quinn’s potential. It isn’t so much that Quinn is lighting up the Grapefruit League (he’s only 4-for-20 with one stolen base in nine games). It’s that he’s actually healthy, at least for now.
A spate of injuries — torn quadriceps, torn Achilles tendon, strained elbow, torn ligament in a finger, concussion, broken toe, strained oblique muscle, strained groin — limited the luckless outfielder to a grand total of 566 at-bats in the majors and minors over the last three years. But when Quinn is able to play, his speed makes him a disrupter on the bases, his defense an asset in center field.
Haseley had a nice rookie year after being rushed to the majors in June and was all but anointed the center fielder in the offseason by general manager Matt Klentak. But he is 3-for-21 with nine strikeouts this spring, and the door is open more than a crack for Quinn to steal playing time as efficiently as he does bases for as long as he’s able to stay on the field.
"Maybe it's possible you're mixing and matching them, setting up their strengths against pitchers' weaknesses," Girardi said. "They both bring some strengths to the table. Roman, his asset is his speed and the chaos that he can cause. On-base is important for those two guys. We're not asking them to hit 20 home runs. We'll continue to evaluate those two."
Eventually, the Phillies will need to choose between No. 5-starter candidates Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and Ranger Suarez. They just hoped to have more clarity on the situation by now.
Velasquez struggled in his last start after pitching well in his first two; Pivetta has flashed glimpses of improvement, including five solid innings in a simulated game against minor leaguers on Tuesday, but has hardly been lights out; Suarez, a lefty who pitched mostly in relief last season, has generally looked good in three starts but struggled in his third inning on Saturday.
In a perfect world, a front-runner would exist by now, enabling the Phillies to either transition one of the other two pitchers to a bullpen role or stash both in triple-A for depth. Instead, the competition lurches on for another turn through the rotation.
"They've all had starts that weren't so great," Girardi said. "It will still continue. I think we'll start meeting a lot more to talk about things, try to iron this out."
With left fielder Andrew McCutchen set to open the season on the injured list and a 26th player added to every roster, three bench spots are available beyond backup catcher Andrew Knapp and either Quinn or Haseley.
That bodes well for at least two of the big-league veterans who are in camp on minor-league contracts. But what criteria — spring-training performance or track record in the majors — will Girardi use to pick between Logan Forsythe, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, and perhaps Phil Gosselin?
"I think you have to pay attention to what they're doing [in spring training]," Girardi said. "I think that's one of the fair ways to evaluate them. But obviously they do have a past. You look at both things. Some of it may be based on need, what we need. There's some decisions that we'll probably have to make there that I'm not looking forward to."
Forsythe, a right-handed hitter who plays primarily second and third base, is having a better spring (8-for-20, three homers) than the others. Walker, a switch-hitter who had success as a pinch-hitter last season with Miami, can back up Rhys Hoskins at first base. Harrison has speed and infield versatility; Gosselin went 10-for-32 (.313) as a pinch-hitter for the Phillies last season.
It may come down to this: Forsythe and Walker can opt out of their contracts next week, and Walker, for one, said he won't go to triple-A. Harrison and Gosselin can opt out at the end of camp, but both have opt-outs later in the season, too. If the Phillies can talk them into going to the minors, they won't risk losing them as quickly.