Philadelphia Phillies: Beyond signing the mega-star

Neris and Hoskins celebrate a victory, and this scene may be common in 2019. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images.
Neris and Hoskins celebrate a victory, and this scene may be common in 2019. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images. /

Everyone is talking about the Philadelphia Phillies and the two “big names” in free agency, but there are other concerns to address.

Right off the bat the reader here is warned this will have little to do with the two highest-profile free agents the Philadelphia Phillies will pursue this off season, that guy with the hair who used to be a Washington National and the other one who turned into a Twitter hashtag joke because he misbehaved in every way possible in the postseason besides stealing candy from that proverbial baby. Instead this will be about the rest of the Phillies who will have to play with the guy making $30 million next season, or the two guys possibly making $60 million, or maybe even with neither.

Baseball is a nine-man game, defensively.

At the end of this past season, it seemed only two Phillies were total locks to return to the team although at least one writer felt four have to be brought back. Even if management believes, however, only four players are literal locks for roster spots, obviously some other players from 2018 will at the least be invited to spring training (read, make the team).

Pressing Needs beyond a Big Star: A Starter

A month ago it was easy to say Aaron Nola should return to the Philadelphia Phillies. It still is. He finished the season 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.975 WHIP. It also seemed sensible to keep Jake Arrieta because, after all, he finished with a sub-four ERA and a 10-11 record, the latter mirroring the team’s 80-82 posting, and he is expensive. Why pay someone else to play him if he isn’t “finished”? With better defense his won-loss record likely would have tipped into positive territory. (He gave up 17 unearned runs, the highest figure of his career.)

Beyond these two starters, however, the Phillies have a problem that’s little different at the end of 2018 than it was at the beginning. First and foremost, they need a left-handed pitcher who is a solid no. 3, a need emphasized by team president Andy MacPhail. Simply put, Patrick Corbin is the best, youngest choice out there. As noted by’s Matt Breen, Corbin’s xFIP figure, the advanced metric preferred by Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, was the second best in MLB in 2018.

This suggests that, instead of signing both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the Phillies might do better with signing one or the other and Corbin.

Pressing Need No. 2: Deciding What to Do with Rhys Hoskins

The Philadelphia Phillies next most pressing need beyond creating a 60% solid rotation is deciding what to do with slugger Rhys Hoskins. This, of course, would be affected by signing either of the two mega-stars noted above, but’s Todd Zolecki has had an intriguing idea about this:

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“When the Phillies have a fly-ball pitcher on the mound, they could play [Carlos] Santana at third base and Hoskins at first base. When ground-ball pitchers like Nola and…Arrieta start, they could play Hoskins in left field and Santana at first.”

Now, assuming the Phillies were to “buy the wisdom” of this argument, signing Machado could become a very big fly in the ointment of the plan, but more so in regard to Santana if Machado were talked into playing third. Santana may have to go, but playing Hoskins at least half the time at first base would be preferable to what they did with him in ’18, giving him only spot starts there outside of a couple handfuls at the end of the season.

Final Big Idea: Setting a Closer

The final point here surely won’t be written in stone by anyone on the Philadelphia Phillies this winter. The team should, however, consider breaking spring training camp with one pitcher designated as the closer. This doesn’t mean the closer designated at the end of March will be the closer in every game, but some thought should be given to this. The team has three pitchers who are candidates – Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris and Vince Velasquez. How about a good, old-fashioned competition in Florida?

Next. Underestimating an aggressive Phils GM. dark

Modern analytics allows a baseball management staff to mix-and-match nearly every single pitcher-batter match-up in the eighth and ninth innings of every game. That doesn’t make that the right idea. If they have three pitchers with “closer’s stuff” and some experience just pitching, if not closing, why won’t the Philadelphia Phillies allow them to compete for the job?