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September 30, 2019

Paul Hagen: Burning questions for the Phillies as intriguing offseason begins

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Phillies-Realmuto-Segura_082019_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto is congratulated by shortstop Jean Segura after hitting a home run against the San Diego Padres.

There’s no offseason in baseball. Just the part of the year when games are being played and the part when all teams are idle.

Now that we’ve moved into the latter phase of the calendar, we’ll begin to find out if the Phillies have 2020 vision.

We still don’t know exactly who will be part of the decision-making process, whether an industrial-sized push broom or a little umpire’s whisk broom will sweep through Citizens Bank Park in the next few days or weeks. In a way it doesn’t matter. The issues that must be addressed – and addressed correctly to avoid a replay of the disappointment that ended Sunday – remain the same regardless of who sits in the executive suites and the manager’s office.

Full disclosure: I won’t get a vote. But if managing partner John Middleton asked me to run the org meetings, here are the answers he’d get to the most pressing questions confronting his franchise:

What’s at the top of the wish list?

That’s easy. Ranked in order of importance (also alphabetically, left to right and top to bottom) the priorities are 1. Pitching 2. Pitching 3. Pitching 4. Pitching and 5. Pitching.

The difficult part, of course, is filling in the details. Names. We need names.

The free agent starter who will be at the top of almost everyone’s list is Astros righthander Gerrit Cole. And, yes, you can be sure that the Phils will seriously consider the 29-year-old. And, yes, he’d look great at the top of the rotation.

But. . .

The Phillies dropped out of the bidding for lefty Patrick Corbin after the Nationals agreed to add a sixth year. That certainly turned out to be a miscalculation in the short run, although it remains to be seen how it works out through 2024. So I’d be willing to pay a higher average annual value, between $25 million and $30 million a season, for four years. Probably even five. But I’m not sure that will get it done.

Also, for what it’s worth, Cole has a 5.40 earned run average in three career Citizens Bank Park starts. A small sample, but still.

In the next tier of starters are lefties Hyun-Jin Ryu and Madison Bumgarner and righthander Zack Wheeler. All are in their 30s. All would be an upgrade. And, in each case, the number of years will probably be the most important number in the negotiations.

Bringing Cole Hamels back on a short-term, team-friendly contract would be a popular move at a time when appeasing fans has to at least be part of the equation. And you could do worse for a back-of-the-rotation starter than Drew Smyly, 3-2 with a 4.45 ERA since coming to the Phillies in July.

The Phillies may not hit the jackpot here. But they need at least one above average starter and another solid arm to fill in behind Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta with Zach Eflin also in the mix.

What about the bullpen?

This is a tough one. Beyond Giants closer Will Smith, there aren’t many exciting free agent options. And relievers can be inconsistent from year to year. The best move here may be to add a few bargain arms and hope for full, healthy seasons from some of those who spent time on the injured list including Serranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos, Victor Arano, Juan Nicasio and Adam Morgan. Throw in guys like Ranger Suarez, Edubray Ramos and Edgar Garcia. And, depending on how the rotation takes form, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta could also be available to pitch out of the pen. We’re looking for quality out of quantity here.

Is Middleton still willing to spend stupid money?

Well, it worked out pretty well last year, at least if you look at the two most expensive acquisitions. Bryce Harper had a pretty darn good season on the field and brought some attytood off it. Andrew McCutchen was making an impact before suffering a season-ending torn ACL. And while there are a lot of reasons why the Phillies faded again after a fast start, this is a fact: When he was hurt, the team was 33-26 (.559) and in first place. After that, they were 48-55 (.466) and finished fourth.

The suspicion here is that while no team wants to go over the luxury tax threshold, that won’t be a red line if the right players are available. But they also have to factor in wanting to extend catcher J.T. Realmuto, who can be a free agent after next season. That’s probably going to cost at least $100 million. And the one pitfall to be avoided at all costs is suddenly becoming on old, expensive team.

So should the Phillies go after Anthony Rendon to play third?

Again, they would be derelict not to pursue it. Again, he would instantly make the lineup better. And, again, there are factors to consider beyond dollars.

Alec Bohm, the organization’s No. 1 prospect, is primarily a third baseman. So the question is whether the Phillies would be better off in the long run to show some patience and save their financial firepower for a greater need down the road?

I’d say no. Bohm may end up being great. But Rendon, who doesn’t turn 30 until next June, is a proven hitter whose lowest OPS at Citizens Bank Park over the last three seasons was .995 in 2017. And the Nationals play a lot of games here.

Once more, the length of the contract could be a sticking point but an AAV of around $25 million shouldn’t be. As for Bohm, maybe he becomes a trade chip. Or maybe, if he turns out to be as good as the Phillies think he can be, he could move to first, another position he’s played.

First base? Does that mean Rhys Hoskins could be traded?

I wouldn’t, mostly because you’d be moving him when his value is low. It’s hard to get better that way. On the other hand, the Phillies can’t just go out and buy everything they need. They don’t have a ton of depth in the system and they certainly don’t want to empty the cupboard. So they may have to trade everyday players.

Are there any untouchables?

Harper, Nola, Realmuto. I’d actively shop Jean Segura. Not that he had a bad year, but there was so much focus on his tendency not to run hard all the time that a change of scenery might be in order. Scott Kingery could play short of he doesn’t end up at third. Our old amigo Freddy Galvis is a free agent.

Iwouldn’t be as anxious to trade second baseman Cesar Hernandez as some are and would be willing to start the season with Adam Haseley in center.

Every winter is interesting in its own way. This one will be more intriguing than most even after the front office drama is settled.

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