The Philadelphia Phillies‘ motto for the coming winter now appears to be: “What to do? What to do?” However, after an uninspired season featuring only two more wins than losses, a reality seems to be surfacing that everybody is dancing around – Bryce Harper is very politely “signaling” that he’s not entirely pleased.
The first inkling of this, a whiff of discontent from the superstar three years into a 13-year contract, was detected Oct. 3, three days after the Phillies technical elimination from the playoffs.
It came in an interesting, somewhat oblique remark. “We need our minor leagues to be better,” said Bryce Harper. “We need guys to come up from the minor leagues and be successful, not have to go up and down.”
No one really would have faulted him if he had invoked a line from a 1988 baseball film most fans are familiar with, but even the following might have suggested more discontent: “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball.” The Phillies had trouble with all three this past season, particularly the first two.
Harper didn’t say that, however.
To translate the right fielder’s comment about the Phillies, knowledgeable fans know that he’s basically referring to about five (or six) players, four (or five) of whom have played in South Philly, and at least one who hasn’t but could be important to the team’s future (Bryson Stott).
Keeping Bryce Harper happy is the biggest need for the Phillies
That isn’t so important right now because no one knows how the allegedly always-failing Phillies MiLB players will ultimately do, even an infielder who appears to be able to really hit like Stott. What Harper knows is that there’s definitely not unlimited money to spend on improving the team through trades and free agent acquisitions for ’22.
To belabor the obvious, Bryce Harper has been promised a lot of the money.
However, a consensus is following on the heels of a remark by Phillies president Dave Dombrowski to the effect that someone in the middle of the order who can hit and protect Bryce Harper is task number one: “We’ll pursue every avenue that we possibly can – free agency, trades, any way you can do those things.”
(And what this says quietly is maybe that protection isn’t the recently repaired Rhys Hoskins, who established himself as streaky before it became evident that he’s also unlucky with injuries, or injury-prone – take your pick.)
MLB. com writer Todd Zolecki followed Dombrowski’s lead and declared such protection for Harper is the team’s first problem to solve.
Before Dombrowski even spoke on the matter, though, Inquirer.com writer Scott Lauber suggested that protection might be Alec Bohm, but…well, go back and read Dombrowski’s remark.
Bohm, who last season helped clarify the term “sophomore slump,” is Exhibit A among those lamented by Harper for going up and down to the minors.
What does this all boil down to? Best case scenario: The Phillies need to find the money to sign Nick Castellanos at minimum, or find a decent fielder who can really hit for the shortstop slot – ideally, Corey Seager.
But keep in mind Bryce Harper’s diplomatic remark. The Phillies probably won’t spend the money for both of these specific players, or two equivalents. They really need to pick the one right guy.