Didi Gregorius sat between Joe Girardi and Zack Wheeler and explained why a top-10 shortstop would finally reach free agency and be willing to sign a one-year contract.
"I didn’t really have a good year, so just [wanted to] take it one year at a time,” Gregorius said Dec. 16 during his Phillies introduction at Citizens Bank Park. “We’ll just go from there, see what happens in the next couple of years.”
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Five months later, nobody would blame Gregorius if he’s anxious about his decision.
Baseball, like all industries across the country, is being affected by COVID-19. But while everyone involved in the game -- owners, players, executives, managers, coaches, scouts, umpires, and on and on -- wants to get out of the house, restart spring training, and see some semblance of a season, some must be feeling a greater urgency than others.
Nobody’s circumstance is exactly the same. So, as Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association negotiate an initial return-to-play proposal this week, the stakes for a 2020 season would seem to be higher for Gregorius, who will re-enter the free-agent market this winter, than for Bryce Harper, who is locked up through 2031.
Here, then, are other Phillies who have the most riding on a season that likely will be chopped in half -- if it can be played at all.
Realmuto likes playing in Philadelphia; the Phillies regard Realmuto as the best catcher in baseball. This should have been the easiest negotiation of a multiyear contract ever.
But it seems the window for an agreement is closing.
MLB froze all transactions after halting spring training in March. Even if the Phillies were allowed to continue extension talks with Realmuto, it’s unclear that they would have given the uncertainty of market conditions in a post-virus baseball economy.
Nor is it certain that Realmuto is open to an extension given his proximity to free agency and the opportunities that abound. In an open market, for instance, Realmuto’s agent could pit the Phillies against the rival Mets, who tried to trade for the 29-year-old All-Star after the 2018 season.
But if the free-agent market is depressed this winter -- a possibility considering teams could lose as much as 40% of their revenues if fans aren’t allowed into ballparks -- Realmuto might have a hard time getting his price. It’s believed his camp eyed St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year, $130 million deal as a basis for an extension.
Regardless, Realmuto’s best chance for maximizing his earning power would come from playing as many games as possible over the next few months.
Here’s the list of players who had a minimum of 1,600 hits, 225 home runs, 150 stolen bases and an .850 OPS through their age-32 season: Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, Jeff Bagwell, Carlos Beltran, Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, and McCutchen.
We bring this up not to argue that McCutchen is a future Hall of Famer but to note that it wouldn’t be inconceivable for the Phillies left fielder -- a five-time All-Star and the 2013 National League MVP -- to enter the conversation with four or five more big years. He’s under contract through next season with a $15 million club option for 2022.
Missing out on at least half of this season won’t help his case, even though McCutchen did stand to benefit from a few additional weeks to recover from major knee surgery last year.
When Arrieta wades into free agency in November, he will be four months shy of his 35th birthday. In last year’s (pre-virus) market, pitchers in that age range received one-year contracts (see: Homer Bailey with the Twins, Cole Hamels with the Braves, and Gio Gonzalez with the White Sox).
It took until the middle of March in 2018 for Arrieta to secure a multiyear deal from the Phillies. It’s possible, then, that he will have to go year to year regardless of how many starts he’s able to make in 2020. But his value is going to be tied largely to his ability to prove he’s healthy after surgery last August to remove a bone spur in his right elbow.
If Arrieta doesn’t get to pitch this year, and if the offseason market is depressed, it isn’t crazy to think he might have to settle for a minor-league deal.
Despite accruing 13 years of major-league service time and making $62.7 million in his career, Liriano signed a minor-league contract and attended spring training looking to make the Phillies’ roster. Fellow relievers Bud Norris (nine years of service time), Anthony Swarzak (eight years), and Drew Storen (seven years), and infielders Neil Walker (nine years), Logan Forsythe (eight years), and Josh Harrison (seven years) did the same.
Not all would have succeeded if the season started on time. But with expanded active rosters and the likelihood that teams will carry a taxi squad, too, their odds of sticking around would improve exponentially.
If there isn’t a season, though, it’s possible that at least a few saw the flicker of their big-league careers go out when spring training got called off.
In Klentak’s four seasons on the job, the Phillies have evolved from the early stages of a down-to-the-studs rebuild to a team with a $203 million payroll (calculated for the luxury tax) and expectations of making the playoffs.
But they still haven’t had a winning season.
A shortened schedule might help. The Phillies had bigger problems in the final 81 games of each of the last two seasons than they did in the first 81. But their realigned 10-team division would likely include the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox, in addition to NL East rivals such as the Mets, Nationals, and possibly the Braves.