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June 25, 2020

What they're saying: Which Phillies benefit from short season? How will Joe Girardi manage? Bryce Harper for MVP?

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Rhys-Hoskins-Phillies-spring-training_021520 Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports

Rhys Hoskins knows he must find his swing again in 2020.

We've already spent some time acknowledging how weird the 2020 baseball season will be. New rules, a shortened schedule with a limited number of opponents and the pandemic that is causing this all will each play a role in shaping what will be, if nothing else, an extremely entertaining summer.

Just reading a list of features for the agreed-upon season is one thing. Projecting how they will actually impact Major League Baseball, specifically the Phillies, is another thing entirely.

And that is where we will dive right in, as we take a look at many of the interesting things they're saying about the Phillies right now:

Pitching... it's complicated

MLB Network

Wednesday night, Phillies manager Joe Girardi appeared on MLB Network and gave frank answers to questions about how he intends to handle his team in 2020. Expanded rosters and the threat of injury in many ways — from COVID-19 to inevitable soft tissue injuries due to lack of ramp-up time — will play a huge role. And with only 60 games, every single one will be hugely important. Here's what Girardi said (and an excerpt below, for those of you who don't like watching two-minute videos):

"If you hurt someone and they go on the DL for 2 to 3 weeks that could cost you your season. Yes, we are going to manage a little bit differently but you better be really smart about it... You basically have another group of starters who are ready to go on the same day of your other starters in case someone gets sick or goes down. There is more thought that has to go into this than ever before." [MLB Network]

That sounds extremely complicated. It sounds like one strategy is to literally have a shadow pitching staff that can handle a potential missed start due to a positive COVID-19 test. The world is weird right now...

MVP?

Buster Olney | ESPN

From one TV appearance to another, ESPN's baseball guru Buster Olney appeared on SportsCenter Wednesday and was asked about his choice for NL MVP. He didn't pick new Dodger Mookie Betts, Rockies stud Nolan Arenado. Nor did he voice his endorsement for top contenders Christian Yelich or Cody Bellinger. He picked Bryce Harper, who he says is "chomping at the bit" to come back.

“I got Bryce Harper winning the MVP and putting up big numbers," Olney said during his brief set of remarks before moving on. 

Harper might be a really, really good bet. According to covers.com, which updated their NL MVP odds Wednesday, Harper has the sixth-best odds at +1,500. It's clear, with a shortened season, the odds are all pretty long. Still, that's some payout:

PlayerOdds
Christian Yelich+375
Mookie Betts+600
Ronald Acuna Jr.+700
Cody Bellinger+950
Juan Soto+950
Bryce Harper+1,500
Nolan Arenado+1,900
Javier Baez+1,900
Fernando Tatis Jr.+2,100
Freddie Freeman+2,100
Kris Bryant+2,100


Million Dollar August

Marcus Hayes | Inquirer.com

The shortened schedule could mean, well, basically anything. Any player can get off to a hot start, and any player can have a slump that completely decimates their ability to contribute over a season less than one third the length of a normal one. But there are only a handful of players on each team for whom a hot streak could carry an entire team. Hayes took a look at five players on the Phillies who stand to benefit the most from the abridged schedule, and we'd like to highlight one of them here: Rhys Hoskins.

The Phillies’ first baseman is 27. He needs to get paid sooner than later, but he’s not arbitration-eligible until after 2020. This didn’t seem like it would be an issue after his first 150 games, when he shredded big-league pitching with 40 home runs, 120 RBI, a .265 average, and an .938 OPS. It has become a big issue, because Hoss can be a big star, but he needs a big year. He’s hit a more modest 41 homers with 109 RBI and a .239 average in his last 213 games. This led him to overhaul his approach. We need to see that overhaul.

We need to see the evolution of his new stance, with his hands lower, his leg kick modified. We need to see his new attitude, fewer pitches taken, more aggressive at-bats, less self-reproach upon failure. We need to see his willingness to use right field and trust his massive, untapped power.

Hoss rakes in April: His OPS is .994, the best of any other month. August is the new April. A hot August would mean millions for Hoskins. [Inquirer.com]

Service time decisions

Meghan Montemurro | The Athletic

We mentioned in an earlier article that the inclusion of the DH for NL teams could be a recipe for top prospect Alec Bohm making the team "out of camp" and starting his rookie season earlier (well, relatively) than expected. But even though the season to come is just 60 games, there is still a huge service time incentive for the Phils' front office to hold Bohm back for a bit to retain an extra year of control over him. The broken system will continue for at least one more year. 
For more on this, here's The Athletic's Meghan Montemurro: 

It’s unclear how service time for potential prospect call-ups will work, but it’s likely to still include the typical parameters. That means teams would be incentivized to keep their top prospects in the minors for a short period to ensure the organization retains an extra year of control. But with only 60 games, a poor start could doom postseason chances. So, if you’re the Phillies, do you wait a week or two to promote Bohm and right-hander Spencer Howard to the active roster or could they be the difference between getting into the playoffs for the first time since 2011 or missing out again? 
Teams can have 30 players on the active rosters to open the year; that number reduces to 28 on the 15th day of the season and decreases again, to 26, on the 29th day for the remainder of the season and postseason. Howard was expected to help the club at some point in 2020. He wouldn’t get any game action at the alternate training site, like he would have for the IronPigs in a normal season, and an innings limit isn’t much of an issue in a severely shortened season. 
It’s easy to envision Howard and Bohm helping the Phillies win games by opening the season on the big-league team. But the choice might not be as easy from the Phillies’ perspective, thanks to the service time issue. [The Athletic]

Have Mercy

Scott Lauber | Inquirer.com

One more quick stop at Inquirer.com, as their Phillies beat writer delves into the abyss that could be the Phillies' 2020 schedule. It is unfair, it is loaded, and it could be their undoing.

Any day now, Major League Baseball will release the commissioner-imposed 60-game schedule for this pandemic-shortened season. To minimize travel in the midst of the coronavirus, teams will stay within their geographically defined region, playing 40 games against division rivals and the remaining 20 against the corresponding division in the other league.

For the Phillies, that means 10 games apiece -- or half of the schedule -- against the World Series-champion Washington Nationals, two-time defending NL East-champion Atlanta Braves, and talent-rich New York Mets. In an ordinary 162-game season, those teams would comprise 35% of the Phillies’ schedule.

Depending on how the interleague portion of the schedule is divided, the Phillies could play as many as 12 games -- 20% of the season -- against the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox. The pitching-rich Rays won 96 games last season; the Red Sox, a shell of their 2018 World Series-winning team but hardly pushovers, 84.

Mercy. [Inquirer.com]

End of the freeze

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philly

A quick hit to end our round-up, but a positive one. According to NBCSP's Jim Salisbury, who appeared on a special that aired on the regional sports network Wednesday, the MLB's transactional freeze will be ending Friday, paving the way for the Phillies to finally nab J.T. Realmuto to that extension he's been eyeing.

Realmuto, of course, will be a free agent next season if he is not extended. He lost a high profile arbitration case a few months ago and will earn (a prorated) $10 million this season.


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