PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have little time in an unprecedented environment to settle on a host of issues before Opening Day on July 23 or 24.
Many are the same issues they had in March before Spring Training got cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because it has been a while since Phillies fans discussed roster battles, prospects, injuries and contract negotiations, here is a refresher about some of the things that will need to be covered and potentially addressed before the end of next month:
1. Realmuto’s contract extension
Yes, there are lineup questions, rotation questions and bullpen questions. But the 60-game season will be finished in the blink of an eye. If the Phillies make the postseason for the first time since 2011 or if they find themselves watching October baseball from home again, the offseason will be here before we know it. It means the Phillies do not have much time to sign J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension.
No deal is imminent.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak discussed the situation on Monday.
2. The rotation
Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Ranger Suarez battled for the No. 5 starter’s job before Spring Training got cancelled. It will be interesting to see how the Phillies pick a winner for the job, although they all seem likely to pitch frequently early because of innings limits on the entire rotation. In fact, there could be an open spot in late July because Zack Wheeler’s wife is expected to give birth to their first child around that time.
“I have talked to his agent a few times,” Klentak said. “The plan right now -- and this is up to him, obviously, it’s not up to us -- but when it comes time for his wife to give birth, he’ll take some time to be there, but we don’t think it’s going to be an especially long period of time, not much longer than the typical paternity leave list time. It’s subject to change, but right now we’re not anticipating an extended absence.”
3. Is McCutchen ready?
If you follow the Phillies, then you know how important Andrew McCutchen was in the leadoff spot last season before he tore the ACL in his left knee on June 3. He slashed .256/.378/.457 with a 115 OPS+ in 262 plate appearances before the injury. He posted a 1.6 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Phillies leadoff hitters ranked second in baseball with a .379 on-base percentage and fifth with a 123 wRC+ through June 3, according to FanGraphs. They ranked 29th with a .295 on-base percentage and tied for 29th with a 79 wRC+ the rest of the season.
“McCutchen, as far as we can tell, is 100 percent and ready to go,” Klentak said. “He completed his rehab and actually went home to Pittsburgh. I think that’s reflective of the fact that he’s feeling good and ready to go. That doesn't mean that we won’t give him an occasional day off or utilize him in the DH role to give him a little rest, but he’s feeling as good as we could’ve hoped so that’s great.”
The Phillies do not expect to name a full-time designated hitter. Jay Bruce could get some of those at-bats. Top prospect Alec Bohm could see time there, too. But the Phillies also can get McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper and Realmuto off their feet, while keeping their bat in the lineup.
“We’re probably going to rotate guys in and out and use that as a way to give our guys rest,” Klentak said. “With 60 games and I believe only six off-days and a short three-week Spring Training, I think the rest period will be helpful and probably welcomed for these guys.”
It will be a surprise if both do not make their big league debuts in 2020. Bohm can hit, and the DH is an excellent opportunity for him to see big league pitching. He also can play third base or first base. The Phillies planned to limit Howard’s innings this season, but that no longer is a consideration. Neither prospect is expected to make the Opening Day roster because of service time considerations, but both should get the call eventually.
“We talked a lot about the need to manage [Howard’s] workload, just given the limited workload he had a year ago and not wanting to push him too much, too soon this year,” Klentak said. “With COVID being what it’s been the last few months, he’s obviously had a chance to rest. I think the fact that he is part of this 53-player group should reflect that we view him as a candidate to compete for us in our 60-game season. I think Bohm’s the same way. I don’t think we were looking to limit his workload to the same extent, but I think the fact that Bohm is on this roster is also reflective of the fact that we are hopeful that he will be able to contribute for us this year.”
5. Could the Phillies bring back Odúbel?
Police arrested and charged Odúbel Herrera in Atlantic City, N.J., in May 2019 on a charge of simple assault of his girlfriend. The charge was dismissed, but Major League Baseball suspended him 85 games for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy. The Phillies removed Herrera from the 40-man roster in January, first designating him for assignment and then outrighting him to Triple-A.
The Phillies said they considered placing Herrera on their 60-man player pool, which means he could rejoin the team at some point this season.
“He'll continue to gain consideration,” Klentak said. “The 53 that we named is not going to be the only 53 we see all year. Obviously, we have seven to work with right now. I mentioned some replacements that'll likely be coming this week, and I think as we get toward the end of Spring Training, there'll probably be a second wave of players that join that could include somebody like Odúbel. It could include more longer-term prospects to get some development time. But again, we didn't want to make those decisions three weeks before we have to because there's just so much that can happen in the next three weeks. It's really almost four weeks because we don't start until Friday. We just want to give ourselves some room to breathe and adjust if we need to before we make too many decisions that cannot be unwound.”