PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For an eighth straight season, it will be another October with no postseason baseball for “entitled” Philadelphia Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars in “stupid money” to reshape the roster, the Phillies wasted one of Bryce Harper’s prime years – and they can’t let that happen again.
Despite a slow start, Harper carried his fair-share of the load this season. Harper has over 30 home runs and doubles and has a career-high in RBI in his first season with the Phillies, is approaching 100 runs and 100 walks heading into the last few games, and even had an epic walkoff grand slam against the Chicago Cubs that sent Philly into a frenzy.
BRYCE HARPER, YOU ARE THE MAN!
— MLB (@MLB) August 16, 2019
Harper easily showed that he was worth the $330 million that Phillies owner John Middleton shelled out for him.
“As it is, this is his third-best season, trailing only his MVP season of 2015 — which he’ll never duplicate — and 2017, when he was on track to be the MVP before a September injury knocked him out. He’s played well above average defense, been a terror on the bases and the power has really come on in the second half,” John Stolnis, a writer for SB Nation’s The Good Phight and host of the Phillies podcast Hittin’ Season, told CBS Philly. “Hopefully moving forward, he can start off a little quicker, make adjustments a little faster and sustain his second half over a full season. I think there’s a little more in there, but a .505 slugging percentage, good defense, and 34-35 home runs is a pretty good year, and that should be what we expect of him throughout his prime.”
KYW Newsradio sports anchor and reporter Matt Leon believes the best is yet to come for Harper.
“He was as advertised. His defense was a pleasant surprise. As good a year as he had, I think he will be even better next year,” Leon said.
In a bit of irony, the Washington Nationals, Harper’s old team, officially knocked the Phillies out of the playoffs this week while they clinched a Wild Card spot themselves.
Injuries to key players and the bullpen put the Phillies in roster flux for much of the season, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for underperforming. The New York Yankees suffered key injuries to some of their star players but are still heading to the postseason because others stepped up.
The most egregious mistake the Phillies’ front office made was not upgrading the rotation — not signing pitchers like Patrick Corbin or Charlie Morton or Dallas Keuchel, and counting on the likes of Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. That decision helped cost the Phillies at least a Wild Card spot.
Stolnis tells CBS Philly that “it’s a fair question” to wonder if general manager Matt Klentak can “put a functional team around Harper.” However, some of it comes on the players, too.
We haven't talked much about Jean Segura's huge drop-off this year, but it's been a killer.
2016-18: .308/.353/.449 OPS+ 115
2019: .279/.323/.423 OPS+ 91
— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) September 25, 2019
“The Jean Segura trade should have worked out, but Segura didn’t have anywhere close to the kind of season in 2019 that he had from 2016-18. Andrew McCutchen being healthy and effective should help, but it’s really going to come down to acquiring pitching. It’s easier for a GM to go out and offer a huge contract to someone, but what Klentak hasn’t been able to do is find pitchers that don’t cost big money. At some point, the money runs out. So yes, Harper’s contract shouldn’t stop the Phils from adding more talent around him, but questions about the development of young players in the minors, the current coaching staff, and the returning players certainly leave a lot of unanswered questions heading into 2020,” Stolnis said.
Leon echoed Stolnis’ sentiment, saying the front office’s track record has not been good.
“I think only about half this roster is contender quality. Matt Klentak has had four seasons and right now you are looking at a starting rotation that goes one deep and two, maybe three legitimate bullpen arms. That’s alarming,” Leon said.
The front office has a tall task on its hands in rebuilding a starting rotation and bullpen, inking All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to an extension, and getting another power hitter for the lineup.
“Their first priority is to sign J.T. Realmuto to an extension and keep the only other high impact bat, and the best defensive catcher in the business, with the team long term. Second is to improve the pitching staff. They need to add two starters this offseason, with one of them hopefully being an impact starter, like Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg — if he opts out of his contract. Third, they need to find a way to shore up the bullpen and gets some people who can miss some bats. Finally, they need to see if there’s a way to add another high impact bat in the lineup, because Rhys Hoskins cannot be counted upon as the clean-up hitter on a playoff team. At least, not yet,” Stolnis said.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this season has been the regression of Hoskins. In the first half, Hoskins smacked 20 home runs and 59 RBI, and was hitting .263 with a .931 OPS. However, in the second half, Hoskins plummeted to a .183 batting average, .695 OPS and only nine home runs and 25 RBI heading into Thursday night’s game.
“Hoskins may have been the most disappointing Phillie this year. He is likely to finish hitting in the .220s, which is disturbing. He is part of a larger trend that I think is the most alarming about the franchise — players don’t get better. And in some cases they regress. That’s a big reason why the roster is in the shape it is,” Leon said.
Stolnis believes it’s too soon, though, to be putting Hoskins on the trading block.
“The Phils are not going to sell low on him, especially as his future is likely going to be as a designated hitter. He doesn’t bring you anything aside from walks and power, and the power disappears when he’s in one of his funks. And there’s no guarantee that, if you trade Hoskins, that Alec Bohm is going to be any better. I think it’s too early to give up Hoskins, but I’d move him down in the order and try to add a big bat at third base, like Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas,” Stolnis said.
Stolnis added that if the Phillies do add a power-hitting third baseman, Bohm, one of the Phillies top prospects, would be a better trade candidate than Hoskins.
“If they do get a third baseman upgrade, Bohm likely becomes better trade fodder than Hoskins, because Bohm is younger, can play more positions, and hasn’t shown the tendency to go into a massive tailspin like Hoskins. Getting Hoskins fixed has to be job No. 1 for the next hitting coach, whoever that may be,” Stolnis said.
Harper’s signing meant a new era for Phillies baseball, but it didn’t come to fruition this season as the team is struggling to finish above .500 once again. It’s now up to the front office to make sure to build a championship-caliber team around Harper and not waste another stellar year from their $330 million superstar.