Philadelphia Phillies: Those Winter Meeting tea leaves

Even if Harper holds out until spring training, the Phillies could still sign him. Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images.
Even if Harper holds out until spring training, the Phillies could still sign him. Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images. /

The speed of the winter meetings seems to mirror the slow Phillies offseason. But has it really been that slow?

Like every other MLB team, the Philadelphia Phillies seem determined to make baseball’s Winter Meetings as tedious as the entire month of November for fans. Team partisans are left to appreciate the wisdom (read, obviousness) of commentary such as “if you’re a Phillies fan, this is the offseason and the winter meetings you’ve been waiting for.” And that’s if you’re reading a pretty decent writer.

Or maybe we’re being too hard on a team that has already signed an All-Star, Jean Segura, while subtracting players who weren’t working out, one of whom was preventing the team slugger from playing his best position.

However, the Winter Meetings are chugging toward their midway point, and basically everyone is still reading tea leaves.

Here and there those tea leaves can be a little interesting, especially while the Phillies angle for one of the two biggest prizes in this winter’s free agent market, Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

For example, it might be interesting to know which of those two players Phillies manager Gabe Kapler prefers, and especially if he finally gets his way. According to veteran writer Jim Salisbury, Kapler seems to prefer Harper, but Dec. 10 sort-of-kind-of tried to hide that opinion behind the smoke screen equivalent of “hey, they’re both great.” Amid hundreds of Kapler words scribbled or recorded by writers in Las Vegas, there was arguably only one specific remark on this debate: “Now, when [Harper’s] going good, he’s one of the more difficult players to get out in the game.”

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It is hardly surprising that Kapler, a true analytics wonk, knows that of the two superstars fishing for $350 million this winter, Harper likely will reach base a bit more than Machado in the foreseeable future – particularly if Harper moves to the Phillies and continues to face NL East pitching that he largely knows.

Last season Harper was tenth in MLB in OBP with a posting of .393. He did this despite batting only .249 because he walked an otherworldly 130 times. This should be given a minute to sink in. Meanwhile, Machado had an OBP of .367 while batting .297 and walking a respectable 70 times.

The counterargument here would be, “So what? Manny likes to swing the bat. I’ll bet some of those hits he had, while Harper was walking, were extra base hits, or drove in runs. How many RBI did Harper pick up on walks? And let’s talk about defense.”

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In the end, it may not matter. The Phillies will hire one or the other or neither, depending on the players’ demands. And they will still need to keep in mind the old adage that “good pitching beats good hitting.” The Phillies will still need, arguably, a left-handed starter and a right-hander starter who are better than two of the last three pitchers in their rotation in 2018.