Phillies Notes: Harper, Outfield, Nola

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently made an appearance on Philadelphia radio station WIP-FM, with Alex Coffey of the Philadelphia Inquirer relaying some of his comments on Twitter.

One key storyline for the Phillies this year will revolve around Bryce Harper. The star outfielder was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in May of last year, which prevented him from throwing but allowed him to serve as the designated hitter. His continued presence in the lineup helped the club earn a Wild Card berth and eventually make it all the way to the World Series. After that, he did finally undergo Tommy John surgery in November, with the club announcing at that time they expected him to be out until the around the All-Star break.

Everything with that plan still seems to be in order, with Dombrowski saying that Harper’s rehab has gone well up to this point. Harper is expected to start swinging a bat around the end of March and could be back in the lineup around the time of the All-Star festivities, as initially projected.

One fallout of that Harper situation is that the Phils will have an open designated hitter slot for the first half but Harper will take it over once he’s able. The club could theoretically look outside the organization to find another bat to fill the void, but they apparently feel good enough about their internal candidates that Dombrowski doesn’t anticipate a “big acquisition”. He listed Alec Bohm, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto as candidates to take over some time in that slot.

Bohm and Hoskins are set to man the corners in Philly just as they’ve done in previous seasons. However, neither is considered an especially strong defender. Bohm has logged 2,280 2/3 innings at third base in his career but has accumulated -36 Defensive Runs Saved, -11 Outs Above Average and a -2.8 score from Ultimate Zone Rating. Hoskins, meanwhile, has 4,195 innings at first base with -7 DRS, -12 OAA, though a positive 5.4 score from UZR. Backup infielders Kody Clemens, Edmundo Sosa and Dalton Guthrie could get some extra time in the field while Bohm and Hoskins get some DH at-bats. Clemens has played both corners and second base in the majors thus far while Sosa has played the three positions to the left of first base and Guthrie has played second and third. Realmuto is considered an excellent defender but catchers can’t crouch behind the plate every day. Since he’s also a great hitter, it makes sense to use the DH spot to get him into the lineup more frequently.

In the outfield, the everyday regulars figure to be Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Brandon Marsh. Neither Castellanos or Schwarber are considered great defenders on the grass, which would make them DH candidates as well. Even if that does end up coming to pass, Dombrowski feels good about the depth they have, mentioning Guthrie and Jake Cave. Given they feel good about their depth options, Dombrowski says they’re “basically set” while adding that further depth could always be added via a minor league deal.

Looking to the future, the Phillies have a great unknown in their rotation since Aaron Nola is now in the final year of his contract. “It’s something we’d like to do,” Dombrowski said about a Nola extension. “We want Aaron to be in the organization for a long time, no question. We love him. We love his abilities. I know he likes it in Philadelphia. So that’s something that will be in our mind… It’s never easy to be able to get done but we’d love to keep Aaron in the organization for a long time.”

Nola, 30 in June, is about to begin his ninth MLB season and so far has a 3.60 ERA through 1,288 1/3 innings. He’s struck out 27.5% of batters faced while walking 6.5% of them, and he’s kept the ball on the ground at a 47.9% clip. Since his 2015 debut, his 29.9 fWAR is the sixth-most of any pitcher in the league. It’s no surprise then that the club would like to keep him around, since he’s one of the few true aces in the league. Of course, that excellent work also means he won’t be cheap. Some recent free agent deals for excellent starting pitchers have gone well into nine-figure territory, with Jacob deGrom recently getting $185MM and Carlos Rodón $162MM. It doesn’t sound like anything is particularly close between Nola and the Phillies, but if they truly want him back for next year and beyond, it will surely require adding another hefty contract to their books.

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