The Philadelphia Phillies are a couple of weeks into their 2020 spring training process already, with the club having gone 8-3-1 over their first dozen Grapefruit League contests. New manager Joe Girardi is hoping to erase the memories of two straight seasons where the club collapsed down the stretch to miss the postseason after promising starts.
As the Phillies ended their eighth season without playoff baseball in 2019, general manager Matt Klentak looked to the free agent market over the winter in hopes of finding a couple of gems with which to improve his ball club. The signings of starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius appear ready to provide a boost to both their rotation and everyday lineup.
Phillies fans need to remember, however, that baseball is a marathon and not a sprint. If the team wants to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, these newcomers are going to have to preform well over the next six months. With that said, lets take a closer look at this pair of exciting newcomers.
The Phillies inked Wheeler first, agreeing to a five-year, $118 million contract back in December. Wheeler went 44-38 over his first five seasons in Major League Baseball with the New York Mets. The right-hander boasts a career 3.77 ERA and 1.294 WHIP over 749.1 innings pitched, with 726 Strikeouts and an 8.7 K/9 rate.
Wheeler has demonstrated that he can compete strongly at the big-league level. He gets his fastball up over 95+ MPH consistently with command, something the Phillies haven’t gotten out of a starter in a long while. He appears to be the perfect #2-starter for the Phillies rotation, which the club has lacked behind their young ace Aaron Nola.
If Wheeler can provide roughly the same stats as he has delivered over the last two years then he will surely be money well spent for the Phillies. Wheeler is currently 30-years-old, so expecting those types of numbers for the next three seasons is entirely realistic.
After the Winter Meetings had drawn to a close the Phillies and Gregorius agreed on a one-year, $14 million contract. The 30-year-old “Sir Didi Gregorius” has played eight years at the big-league level: one with Cincinnati, two years with Arizona, and then five with the New York Yankees.
Over 3,382 plate appearances, Gregorius has produced 816 hits, including145 doubles and 110 home runs. He has a career .264/.313/.429/.742 slash line with 417 RBIs, striking out 481 times with 201 walks.
If Gregorius can remain healthy and reach any of his career high numbers in production he would help improve the Phillies lineup in many ways. He’s a big left-handed power bat that will be interesting to watch in this line-up.
With Andrew McCutchen ruled out for Opening Day, Gregorius could potentially take the leadoff spot in Girardi’s batting order. He is also an above average defender at shortstop. Gregorius had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and missed much of the last season because of that procedure. He’ll look to bounce back and prove that he can still compete at a high level.
Gregorius took the one-year deal in Philly in hopes that he can re-set for another run at free agency next off-season. He will be playing for a bigger contract in 2021, and it will be interesting to see whether the Phillies try to extend him should he prove healthy and productive. I am 100% ready to hear TV broadcaster Tom McCarthy call Didi’s first career home run with the ball club.
While these two aren’t the only deciding factors for the Phillies to make the playoffs they are certainly being counted upon to bolster the lineup and rotation respectively. The biggest concern, as with most players, is health. If these two stay healthy and perform at their best we could see a big difference in the team from the 2019 fourth-place .500 finishers.
Wheeler was offered the standard qualifying offer of 17.8 million dollars by his old team, the Mets, which he declined. Gregorius wasn’t offered any sort of contract at all with the Yankees. In fact, they hardly talked to him at all during the winter months.
The decision to come play in Philly probably wasn’t that difficult of a choice for Gregorius, particularly considering his connection to former Yankees skipper Joe Girardi. These two are going to be names to watch in the 2020 season. New hitting coach Joe Dillon with Gregorius and new pitching coach Bryan Price with Wheeler will be looking to these new players to help fix the potholes.
Again, it’s a long marathon of a season. We’ll have to wait and see what is in store for the Phillies in 2020. How do I see it shaking out? Will Gregorius and Wheeler enjoy success, helping to lead the Phillies to the playoffs for the first time in nine years? My answer is a resounding “YES!”
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