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Bryce Harper Jersey

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It’s irresistible to wonder how Harper’s absence contributed to the Nationals’ World Series run and how he felt when they won Game 7. But perhaps his former team’s success liberates him from having to be a villain.
By Katie Baker Oct 31, 2019, 6:25pm EDT
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Bryce Harper always makes things too easy, which is why it’s so hard to look away from the guy. He is easy to love and easy to loathe and easy to watch play and extremely easy to project oneself upon. He is a modern athlete but a timeless human. As a kid, he already played baseball with the simple mastery of a big leaguer; as a big leaguer, he still sometimes carries himself with the earnest wretchedness of a teen. When he’s happy, he preens; when he’s not, he sulks; when he speaks, he misspeaks; and when he connects with the baseball in the right way, everything else—just for that instant—is forgotten, because did you see that? And then he does a Fortnite dance or whatever, as he did when he hit a double for the Philadelphia Phillies in his first return to his former team in Washington D.C. and reacted with a smirking wave, and then everything is remembered again.
From the contours of his hair to the sweep of his career, Harper is a walking broad brushstroke: the wannabe hero, the natural villain, the guy who left a team that immediately went on to win the freaking World Series. On the surface, he is not only a new example of the decades-old Ewing Theory—an archetypical framework once developed by Bill Simmons’s buddy Dave Cirilli that suggested teams can actually benefit from losing their top player—but perhaps even more of a manifestation of the idea than Patrick Ewing himself. (After all, even the Ewingless Knicks couldn’t take home a trophy.)

Related
The Nationals Spent Big and Won the World Series. Will Other Teams Follow Suit?
The Nationals’ World Series Win Was More Than a Decade in the Making. It’s Also a Window Into Their Future.
The Astros Should Remain Contenders With or Without Gerrit Cole—for Now

“I can’t wait to bring the title back to D.C.,” Harper accidentally said this spring during his introductory press conference in Philadelphia, where he had signed a $330 million free agent contract that lasts through 2032. This botched, cursed wish was granted: This season, Harper’s Phillies not only did not make the playoffs, they instead struggled so badly that coach Gabe Kapler, only in his second year, got the boot. Meanwhile, the Nationals not only did not lose in the first round of the postseason, as they historically always have, they instead won a title for the first time in franchise history on Wednesday night, in a Game 7, less than a year after losing their biggest-name player.

The tenets of the Ewing Theory are twofold: (1) “A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest,”—check!—“and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).” Check, and the parenthetical isn’t even needed! A little bit trickier, however, is (2): “That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency, or retirement)—and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.” That wasn’t quite the case with the Nationals.
From the contours of his hair to the sweep of his career, Harper is a walking broad brushstroke: the wannabe hero, the natural villain, the guy who left a team that immediately went on to win the freaking World Series. On the surface, he is not only a new example of the decades-old Ewing Theory—an archetypical framework once developed by Bill Simmons’s buddy Dave Cirilli that suggested teams can actually benefit from losing their top player—but perhaps even more of a manifestation of the idea than Patrick Ewing himself. (After all, even the Ewingless Knicks couldn’t take home a trophy.)

Related
The Nationals Spent Big and Won the World Series. Will Other Teams Follow Suit?
The Nationals’ World Series Win Was More Than a Decade in the Making. It’s Also a Window Into Their Future.
The Astros Should Remain Contenders With or Without Gerrit Cole—for Now

“I can’t wait to bring the title back to D.C.,” Harper accidentally said this spring during his introductory press conference in Philadelphia, where he had signed a $330 million free agent contract that lasts through 2032. This botched, cursed wish was granted: This season, Harper’s Phillies not only did not make the playoffs, they instead struggled so badly that coach Gabe Kapler, only in his second year, got the boot. Meanwhile, the Nationals not only did not lose in the first round of the postseason, as they historically always have, they instead won a title for the first time in franchise history on Wednesday night, in a Game 7, less than a year after losing their biggest-name player.

The tenets of the Ewing Theory are twofold: (1) “A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest,”—check!—“and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).” Check, and the parenthetical isn’t even needed! A little bit trickier, however, is (2): “That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency, or retirement)—and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.” That wasn’t quite the case with the Nationals.
Harper may have been the most well-known baseball player in Washington, but whether he was the best player on his team is a point of dispute; in the seven years he spent in Washington, he only led the team in WAR once, in 2015. (Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer each posted the top WAR twice during that span.) And going into this season, it wasn’t really a fringe belief to think that the Nationals would be fine without Harper; plenty of baseball analysts looked at the team’s mix of promising youth like Juan Soto and their new acquisitions like pitcher Patrick Corbin and felt the team had the weapons to move on quickly. Recently, Harper himself retroactively made this same point.

In mid-October, speaking with The Athletic’s Jayson Stark, Harper pointed out that the Nationals’ situation was, in his words, “kind of the perfect storm.” Their outfield trio of Soto, Victor Robles, and Adam Eaton cost collectively less than $10 million this season. The financial flexibility they obtained by failing to keep Harper allowed them to go after better pitching. Reading about Harper going on in this way was a reminder that he is not just a baseball player; he’s also a baseball mind, and a baseball nerd, and a baseball fan, not unlike so many of the passionate people who were out there in their doctored Harper protest jerseys, booing their former favorite into oblivion, because he continued to make it so easy to do.
In his interview with Harper, Stark asked the question that pretty much everyone has been thinking since the Nationals turned their season around after a slow start and began their championship ascent: How does it feel to watch, in absentia, while his former team thrives? “Jealousy isn’t good,” Harper said (maybe too?) quickly, adding that both he and the Nationals had made their decisions, and that he had made the right one for his growing family, and that being in Philadelphia had “made me love the game of baseball more than I ever have.”

That last part stuck out a bit, though, because loving the game of baseball has never seemed like an area in which Harper has been deficient. If anything, it has felt like the opposite. For years, Harper’s lifelong obsession with the sport has sucked all the air out of the room, making him come across more like a persona than a person, as more of an avatar than an athlete. There has always been a genuine purity to Harper’s competitive spirit, but this makes him particularly susceptible to being considered a tortured soul. As a reporter (speaking of tortured souls) who wrote about Harper during spring training, I thought I’d be in for some dramatics or at least some bro-ing of clown questions. But he wasn’t playing a caricature; he was just being himself. The only clowning in sight was the laughter of Harper and his new Phillies teammates around the clubhouse breakfast table.

Related
Washington, D.C., Takes a Joyous Turn in the Winner’s Circle
The 2019 World Series Defied Everything We Know About Home-Field Advantage
Stephen Strasburg May Have Just Pitched His Last Game As a National—and Become a Playoff Legend

Still, as a Mets fan (speaking of tortured souls), I not only understand the base and basic gut reaction to Harper; I have lived it, even as I objectively know better. It’s possible that the Ewing Theory has endured all these years not because it is about teams or the WAR of athletes who leave them, but because it is about the fans who remain: fans who are petty and loyal and overly invested, fans who are walking contradictions just like Harper himself, fans whose lives are filled with daily indignities and embarrassing jealousies and who seek escape by contemplating the social chaos of others. It’s an act of self-preservation to view Harper in Ewing Theory terms, to relish in the idea of addition by subtraction, to wonder how it must feel to be him, to guess that it must really suck. It turns out a World Series win by a divisional rival can be palatable, even delicious, when it happens right in the face of a longtime pesky adversary like him, a total villain like him.

Take off the NL East goggles, however, and Harper-as-villain doesn’t quite check out. At any rate, the more intriguing Ewing Theory candidate is Harper-as-self-aware. He knows Nationals fans are derisively duct-taping their old Harper jerseys. He hears the boos from Nats and Phillies fans alike. He remembers with clarity every at-bat in Washington that could have ended triumphantly and then didn’t. (He rattled off a list of them to Stark.) He’s not one of those athletes who insists, truthfully or not, that they don’t watch the playoffs if they’re not in it; he is proud to say that he scrutinized every second. He also has a competent new manager in Joe Girardi going into next season, and maybe even something that he’s never had before in his baseball career: a weight off his back.

I have no doubt Harper is being completely honest when he says he was thrilled for his former Nationals teammates throughout their championship run. I also have no doubt that he wishes he could be completely honest when he says that he didn’t envy them. What human wouldn’t? But there I go again, projecting my emotions onto Harper, pretending I have any idea what it feels like to be him, this enraging and engaging star professional athlete who continues to be so easy to judge and so impossible to resist.

Jay Bruce Jersey

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Jay Bruce loves to hit, and he loves to talk hitting. He’s good at both. The veteran outfielder has a well-earned reputation for being thoughtful and engaging, and the numbers he’s put up over 12 big-league seasons speak for themselves. Bruce has 649 extra-base hits in 6,500 career plate appearances, including 312 home runs.

A first-round pick by the Reds in 2005, Bruce debuted three years later as a 21-year-old and went on to spend eight-plus season in a Cincinnati uniform. The native of Beaumont, Texas has since bounced around, hopscotching from the Mets to the Indians, back to the Mets, from there to the Mariners, and last summer to the Phillies. At age 32, he’ll head into 2020 in the final year of his current contract.

Bruce sat down to talk hitting when the Phillies visited Fenway Park in mid-September.
———

David Laurila: How have you evolved as a hitter over the years?

Jay Bruce: “As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, a lot has happened in the game in terms of information and hitting philosophy. Numbers have started being attached to thoughts, or assumptions. I definitely pay attention to that. But I wouldn’t say I’m of the launch-angle revolution, or whatever you care to call it. I’ve always hit the ball in the air. I have a problem with hitting the ball on the ground.

“If your fly balls are your misses, that can cause some BABIP issues — there are issues that could potentially zap parts of your game. But if you have power, and are hitting the ball in the air, you’re giving yourself more opportunities to produce a positive outcome. That should be obvious.

“The thing I probably do the most is pull the ball in the air, and that’s one of the, if not the most, successful ways to hit a ball. So for me… I think the outside philosophy of hitting has changed a little bit. When I came up, you were taught to use the other side of the field. Stay up the middle. Even hit the ball on the ground sometimes.”

Laurila: Evan Longoria told me earlier this season that groundballs up the middle aren’t hits anymore.

Bruce: “They’re not. That’s completely changed. I can smoke balls as hard as I want up the middle, and it’s an out. Every single time. There will be someone standing right behind second base, so… the numbers have changed with the shift, and the hitting philosophy has changed for a lot of people because of the shift. You hear a lot of stories about guys who have changed the paths of their careers by buying into launch angle, and swing path. For me, that’s just not the case. Not one time in my career have I ever set out to change my swing path, or my launch angle.”

Laurila: Are there things you have changed?

Bruce: “I’ve changed my stance a little bit, here and there. When I was younger, I stood a lot taller. In 2016, I got more into my legs. And really, this year I started standing taller again. That’s partly because pitchers are pitching differently now. You have to be able to extract the most athleticism out of yourself that you can, in the box. Especially these days. Pitchers are pitching up more.”

Laurila: That’s been the case for a few years now, has it not?

Bruce: “Yes, but it’s really taken off. Velocity is also up more than it’s ever been. And while I’m not sure what the numbers are, it feels like there’s more breaking stuff. Nowadays, pitching is a little less precise, and more about stuff.

“Everyone talks about the doctored baseballs. I don’t know, one way or the other, if that’s true or false. But I do know that higher velocity, and lesser-quality pitches in the zone, are going to create better outcomes when it comes to the power department. So while everybody is getting caught up on the balls being juiced, we also need to look at what type of pitches are being thrown, and where they’re being thrown. Higher velocity is going to produce more exit velocity. In my opinion, anyway. I’m not a scientist.”

Laurila: How is standing more upright helpful to you?

Bruce: “I feel that it’s harder for me to get to the pitches that are farther up in the zone if I’m more cropped in my legs. Especially as I’ve gotten a little older. The athleticism I have — and I’m not calling myself one of the best athletes in the game, not by any means — needs to be optimized to allow my swing to work the best it can. I need to be able to ‘counter-punch’ the opposition, so to speak. Again, guys are pitching with higher velocities, up in the zone.”

Laurila: Do you want to swing at elevated fastballs, or is that a pitch you’re better off letting go?

Bruce: “The short answer is ‘no’ — it’s a very hard pitch to hit when it’s where it’s supposed to be — but there’s also a fine line. If it’s two balls lower than where they want to throw it, that’s a great pitch to hit. I want to have as many options as I can. I don’t want to be one-dimensional when it comes to the types of pitches I can hit.”

Laurila: Are you always taking the same swing, regardless of the pitcher or the location?

Bruce: “The same swing, yes. A swing, in general, is very hard to master. But with two strikes, my thought process changes a little bit. I’ll choke up. I’ll focus on letting the ball get a little deeper. Regardless of the idea that strikeouts don’t matter, they matter to me. I had a tough time [in 2018], but one of the silver linings is that I had one of the highest walks rates, and one of the lowest strikeout rates, of my career.

“If I can be around that 20% range, that’s going to lead to some success. I’ve never been a guy who strikes out 27-28% of the time, but I have been in that 23-24% range. It’s not something I’m proud of. I definitely don’t think it’s a make-or-break thing. You can strike out a lot and still be successful. I won a Silver Slugger striking out 185 times. But the way my swing works, and the way my talent plays… I don’t feel that I have to sacrifice quality of contact.”

Laurila: The way you view strikeouts has changed somewhat…

Bruce: “I’d say that I understand more clearly how I should go about making contact more often. When I was younger, my goal was to just not strike out. That’s not going to work.

“My whole career, I’ve wanted to strike out less. It’s been, ‘What can I do to strike out less?’ Well, I feel that when I started focusing less on striking out less, and more about ending at-bats when they should be ended, it got better. When I get a good pitch to hit, I need to have a swing ready to put that pitch in play, with quality. That’s when the at-bat needs to be over. Fouling it off, or missing it, is how you get to worse counts, and to statistically less-successful outcomes.”

Laurila: Does striking out less require having more than just an A-swing? There are going to be plate appearances where none of the strikes you see are good pitches to hit.

Bruce: “To me, the question would be, ‘What is an A-swing?’ What I tell myself is that the swing I practice in the cage is the swing I want to take to the game. A lot of times, what changes the swing you take from practice to the game is adrenaline. Being a competitor, being a baseball player, when you get to a 2-0 count, you want to crush the ball. You want to hit one to the f-ing moon, so you take too big of a swing and foul the ball off. What I want to do is practice a swing that is repeatable, and under control. You’re right about at-bats. You get good pitches here and there, but after seeing that pitch, it’s not often that you get too many more.”

Laurila: Being neither a top-shelf athlete, nor someone with elite bat-to-ball skills, you need to hit home runs to provide value. Is that accurate?

Bruce: “There wouldn’t be a lot of use for me, especially if I’m not getting on base at an above-average, or elite, clip. Over my career, I’ve basically been a league-average on-base guy. That and above average in slugging. You could ask 20 people whether they thought run-producers are a thing, or not a thing, and depending on when they were born, you’ll probably get a different answer. Coming up, I was taught that there was value in being a run producer — driving in runs, hitting for power, being an impact bat in the middle of a lineup.

“So, yeah. I have to hit for power. Period. Obviously, the way game is evolving, there’s more of a premium being put on defense, and on value that can be derived from other parts of the game. But I think that however you slice it, the most important part of the game is always going to be offense. That’s when it comes to non-pitchers.”

Laurila: When did you start choking up with two strikes?

Bruce: “Probably in… 2015? And there are times I’ll actually choke up for the whole at-bat, depending on who I’m facing, how I’m feeling, and things like that.”

Laurila: Is that a Joey Votto influence?

Bruce: “Yeah. There was some of that.”

Laurila: You’ve probably been asked about Votto a thousand times…

Bruce: “I never mind being asked about him. He’s one of the best, if not the best, hitter I’ve ever come across. His numbers, and his level of success, speak for themselves. But yeah, there was some influence there. It’s not something where he was like, ‘Hey, you should choke up.’ That’s not how he goes about things. He’s an open book when it comes to talking hitting, but he’s… I’ll put it this way: If Joey Votto is choking up, then Jay Bruce can choke up.

“Even if it doesn’t help me physically, mentally it’s a little check point within that at-bat. It kind of gets me into that mode of, ‘Hey, let the ball get a little deeper, and actually see the ball.’ I know everyone says ‘see the ball,’ but for me, when I get to two strikes, that’s what it is. ‘See the ball.’

“I’ve hit a lot of home runs with two strikes, sometimes while choking up. I’m not so much letting the ball get deep as I’m thinking, ‘Let it get deep.’ I haven’t seen my power go down while choking up.”

Laurila: As prolific as he is, Votto has been accused of not being enough of a run-producer.

Bruce: “He’s dealt with that a lot in Cincinnati.”

Laurila: Is that fair?

Bruce: “No. Joey is an elite hitter. I mean, you talk to some people who think his thought process is a little flawed. It’s ‘Hey, he’s the best hitter on the team, so he should be driving in more runs.’ Blah, blah, blah. But how can you argue with… I mean, this guy has led the league in on-base percentage seven or eight times. And when I say, ‘led the league,’ I mean by like 40 points. It’s not even close.

“That’s the name of the game. Right? At the end of the day, it’s about not making outs. Not making an out is the best thing you can do, and Joey has been the best at not making outs for essentially his whole career.

“Watching him is something I’ll always appreciate. I don’t take that for granted. But we’re different. My bread and butter is derived from power. Period. Do I wish that I was able to hit for power, and also get on base at an elite clip? Of course. I’ve done things to try to improve certain facets of my game, but at the end of the day, you are what you are.”

Laurila: Are you and Bryce Harper similar hitters?

Bruce: “I think our power profiles are probably close. He’s clearly a better hitter than me, though. He’s better at not making outs. Maybe not to Joey’s level, but more so than I am.”

Laurila: What about in terms of approach and mechanics?

Bruce: “I’d say we’re similar there, although when it comes to mechanics, Rhys Hoskins is more similar to me. Bryce is a torque-y, powerful hitter. I’m more contact point and leverage. I don’t feel like I’m ever swinging as hard as Bryce is swinging. He’s more rotational, while I’m more directional and wrist-y.

“Rhys never looks like he’s swinging hard, but the ball still goes out. I’d say I’m more in that realm. But as far as the product of balls off the bat, Bryce and I are similar, for sure. Again, both of those guys, Rhys and Bryce, are much better at getting on base than I’ve ever been.

“Now, can you have… there’s space in the game for a lot of different players. I feel I can be an impact hitter on a championship-style team, because teams like that are sequenced correctly. You have guys who get on base, and you have guys who drive them in. You find a way to stretch the lineup, and make it work.”

Laurila: You signed out high school in 2005. Who is most responsible for you being the hitter you are today?

Bruce: “When I came up — we touched on this earlier — it was hammered into me that I had to hit the ball the other way, had to hit the ball the other way, had to hit the ball the other way. I believe there’s a fine line between hitting the ball the other way, and taking your best swing, over and over again. My best swing is simply not to the opposite field. I have power to left-center, but my success comes more to right-center.

“I’ve had a lot of great hitting coaches throughout my career. Alonzo Powell was probably the first person to teach me about a routine, a plan. That was in Low-A, when I was 19 years old, and it really stuck with me. Not his specific plan, but having one, and being committed to it. Back then, I was just a kid. Before that, there wasn’t much thought involved. I was just hitting. I needed to understand what it took to groove a swing, groove an approach, and practice it with intent every day.

“I really learned how to work, and prepare, from Joey, and from Scott Rolen. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate the time I got to spend with them. And Dusty Baker was great. He was a big RBI guy. He taught me a lot about what it takes to drive runs in. Brook Jacoby, Don Long, Kevin Long… all of these guys helped me. Kevin Long kind of got me back on track when I got to New York. He helped me use my legs a little more. Pat Roessler was good, too.

“But really, the person who is most responsible for the hitter I am, is me. I came up as a very young player who’d had a lot of success in the minors. I’d never struggled until I got to the major leagues. I had a lot of fact-finding missions, where I had to figure out things on my own. I’ve had to evolve as the game has evolved.”

Laurila: As we touched on earlier, hitting analytics haven’t changed you, but they have impacted the way you think.

Bruce: “They have. I’m a big believer in analytics. I really am. They tell a story. I feel there needs to be a marriage between the eye test — the old-school thought process — and the information that’s coming in. I’m an advocate of gathering information and using it to make myself better. That said, you can’t just take information and mold yourself into a player you thought up in your head. For the most part, you are the player that you are. But you can become more efficient. You can use what you have, better. That’s what I’m trying to do at this stage of my career.”
——

Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Matt Chapman, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Daniel Murphy, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.

Jean Segura Jersey

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Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Our Phillies free-agent targets series continues today with Didi Gregorius, who has been connected to the Phils in recent days.
The vitals

Gregorius is a solid defensive shortstop who can hit for power and for average. From 2016-18 with the Yankees, he averaged 24 homers per season and hit .277 with an OPS eight percent above the league average.

He did benefit from the short porch at Yankee Stadium, but that short porch can work both ways, also playing tricks on homer-happy hitters. It stands to reason that in another park, Gregorius’ batting average and doubles would increase while the homer total would decrease slightly.

Gregorius will play the 2020 season at age 30. He underwent Tommy John surgery in October 2018 and missed half the season in 2019. He hit just .207 with a .250 on-base percentage after Aug. 1, but he did go 4 for 10 with a homer and six RBI in the ALDS win over the Twins.
Why he fits

The Phillies need a better defensive shortstop with more range. Jean Segura committed 20 errors last season, but beyond that, his waistline grew throughout the summer and it wasn’t a defensive season that could have inspired much confidence from the Phillies as he ages.

Gregorius is the best shortstop on the market. He could push Segura over to second base, thereby creating an everyday spot for Scott Kingery at either third base or center field. For all the hand-wringing the last two years at the Phillies’ use of Kingery all over the diamond, Kingery’s flexibility has created flexibility for the Phillies, who are not boxed in to upgrading a specific position.

Signing Gregorius could also make Segura a trade candidate, but how much value would the Phillies get for him? Segura has approximately $43 million remaining over the final three years of his contract and is coming off his worst season in five years. In this scenario, it probably would make more sense for the Phillies to hold on to Segura in hopes that he rebounds to hit over .300 as he did each season from 2016-18.

Gregorius’ left-handed bat would help balance out a Phillies lineup that has Bryce Harper but no other lefty power threat currently projected to start.
Why he doesn’t fit

Do the Phillies really need to sign a shortstop? Even if they’re skeptical Segura can handle the position moving forward, they could simply move Kingery to shortstop and find another starter to play third base or center field.

Josh Donaldson, for example, is a better hitter than Gregorius. Offensively, the Phillies would probably be better off (at least in 2020) with Donaldson at third and Kingery at short than with Gregorius at short and Kingery at third.

Mike Moustakas? The Moustakas vs. Didi comparison is pretty close, with Moustakas providing more power and less of an injury history and Didi holding the advantage in speed and athleticism.

There aren’t many worthwhile free-agent options in center field, the Phillies’ other position of need. Thus, you’d figure the position player upgrade will come at either third base or shortstop.
Scout’s take

“He’s a leader on and off the field and a quality player offensively and defensively. He looked more and more healthy as the season went on and his arm was almost back to full strength.”

Hitting the road this week, or wasting away on the couch in a food coma? The perfect time to binge your favorite NBC Sports Philadelphia podcast! Click here for more.

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At a news conference announcing his appointment earlier this week, new Phillies manager Joe Girardi talked about the importance of filling the open pitching and hitting coach roles with the right people.

The Phillies locked down Bryan Price as pitching coach. He’s been pitching coach with Seattle, Arizona and Cincinnati — he also managed the Reds — and is about as highly regarded in baseball circles as they come.

It’s not known who the Phillies are targeting for hitting coach, but here’s a thought:

Kevin Long was hitting coach for much of Girardi’s time as manager of the New York Yankees from 2008 to 2017. Girardi has admitted publicly that he is a fan of Long’s work.

It’s doubtful that the Phillies could orchestrate a Girardi-Long reunion in Philadelphia. Long just completed his second season as Washington Nationals hitting coach by raising the World Series championship trophy over his head. No way the Nats let him go.

But how about his assistant?

Joe Dillon is the Nats’ assistant hitting coach and he’s gaining recognition around the game for marrying new-age science with old-school principles in coaching hitters. Long, in fact, has called Dillon “the best assistant hitting coach in the baseball.” Anyone of that distinction, coming off a World Series title, would seem to be in line for advancement in the game.

Would Long talk up his trusted assistant to his old pal Girardi for an opportunity in Philadelphia?

You never know. Maybe something to watch.

• It’s remarkable that just two years after hiring first-time manager Gabe Kapler and one year after hiring first-time pitching coach Chris Young, the Phillies have done a complete about-face and hired a manager and pitching coach who are both loaded with big-league experience.

General manager Matt Klentak said experience was prioritized in hiring Girardi because, “We’ve reached a place where it is time to win … and that lends itself to a guy who has done that … and that’s by and large why we placed such a premium on prior experience.”

The Phillies improved by one game from 2018 to 2019 to finish .500 and in fourth place in the NL East. With their lack of top starting pitching and overall lack of starting pitching depth, it’s difficult to envision them competing for the division title next season — barring a major upgrade in pitching this winter, which we would not rule out given owner John Middleton’s hefty checkbook and desire to improve.

Regardless, the Phillies’ sudden obsession with experience in important field-level leadership roles seems to be tacit acknowledgment that previous hires were viewed as mistakes.

The firing of Kapler was engineered at the ownership level and Klentak was against it. He admitted that he was a big fan of Kapler at that remarkable press conference announcing the manager’s firing. The mandate to seek experience in the new manager clearly came from above, and it appears two other significant hires this offseason were encouraged from above, as well. Pat Gillick, who owns a small piece of the team and still serves as an adviser in the organization, is a big believer in Price, who was the Mariners’ pitching coach when Gillick was that team’s GM. Sources say Gillick pushed for Price. Girardi and Klentak were very much on board with the hire, but it is notable that Gillick flexed some influence.

Earlier this month, the Phillies hired Brian Barber for the important position of amateur scouting director. Barber, a top scout with the Yankees for many years, beat out in-house candidate Greg Schilz, who had seemed to be in line for the position when he came aboard as the No. 2 man in the department in the fall of 2016. Passing over Schilz was a surprise to many observers, but in this case the Phils went outside the organization and, again, appeared to rely on experience, or at least experienced eyes, in making that call. Word is Barber came very highly recommended from well-regarded Yankees front office man Jim Hendry. Hendry is very close with Phillies president Andy MacPhail. The two were together in Chicago when MacPhail was president of the Cubs and Hendry was GM. In fact, Hendry was mentioned as a candidate for the Phillies’ GM job after MacPhail joined the organization in 2015. Ultimately, the Phillies, at the behest of an ownership group looking to move into baseball’s new world, targeted a GM with more of a background in analytics.

That ended up being Klentak. His job is now on the line and he needs these new hires to help save it.

• Sources have confirmed multiple reports that infield coach Bobby Dickerson is headed to San Diego, where he will become bench coach. It’s not a surprise as Dickerson was a personal mentor to Manny Machado when they were together in Baltimore.

Dickerson’s departure is real loss for the Phillies. He’s an outstanding baseball man and tireless worker.

In other coaching matters, Young had a year left on his deal when the Phillies dismissed him as pitching coach. He was offered a chance to stay in the organization in another role, but sources say he will move on.

• Curious to see where Maikel Franco ends up. The Phillies will need spots on the 40-man roster soon and Franco’s time is clearly up in Philadelphia. A team like Texas, Baltimore or Detroit could look to acquire Franco in a deal. The Tigers scouted the Phillies extensively over the final weeks of the season, making you wonder if something possibly bigger could be brewing between the two clubs.

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manager
Local Sports

Nov 26, 2019
Mitch Rupert
Sports reporter
[email protected]

SUN-GAZETTE FILE Williamsport Crosscutters manager Pat Borders speaks with members of the media during media day in 2016 at Bowman Field.

Pat Borders will return as manager of the Williamsport Crosscutters for the 2020 season, the team confirmed Monday. It will be the former World Series MVP’s sixth season at the helm of the Cutters, the longest tenure of any manager in franchise history.

Borders is scheduled to be in Williamsport on Jan. 15 for the Crosscutters’ annual Hot Stove Banquet. He will be appearing at the event along with ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian and former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Greg Luzinski Kurkjian is returning to the banquet for a second consecutive season.

No other member of the Cutters’ coaching staff has been announced.

In five seasons leading the Philadelphia Phillies’ short-season Class A affiliate, Borders has accumulated a 191-185 record and is the franchise’s career leader in managerial wins. In 2019, Williamsport finished 32-43, but was tied for the league’s best record over the season’s final 38 games. The Cutters also finished third in the league in team ERA.

Five former Cutters under the tutelage of Borders have gone on to play Major League Baseball — Adam Haseley, Seranthony Dominguez, Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez and Jacob Waguespack.

In his first season with Williamsport in 2015, he guided the Crosscutters to the league’s best regular-season record and a Pinckney Division championship. His 46-30 mark that season is the third-best record in club history. It was the team’s first division title since 2001.

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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal predicted that it would be the Phillies, not a West Coast team, that would ultimately land top free agent Gerrit Cole.
Gerrit Cole is the top free agent available this offseason. (Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

On MLB Network’s “MLB Now,” Rosenthal addressed the notion that Cole would ultimately end up in Los Angeles, saying, “The reason I’m predicting [Cole to the Phillies] is to make a larger point that the assumption that Gerrit Cole will go to a West Coast team is just an assumption. He’s going to go to the team that offers him the most money and the Phillies last year offered Bryce Harper the most money. They spread it out over 13 years, and that’s how they got Bryce Harper.”

Like Harper, Cole is a Scott Boras client and is reportedly seeking a contract north of $300 million, which would shatter the record for the biggest contract given to a starting pitcher. The Phillies would likely have to go over the tax for Cole, with roughly $42 million in room and plenty of other holes to fill. But he is the kind of player worth entering the tax for, and owner John Middleton said that they would have no problem entering the tax as long as it was to make the team a World Series contender.

Cole, 29, just narrowly missed out on the AL Cy Young Award in 2019 but is coming off an incredible season. In 33 games, Cole went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and struck 326 batters in 212.1 innings. He was absolutely dominant and is the best starting pitcher available in free agency in recent memory.

In 2019, the Phillies rotation ranked 23rd in baseball with a 7.6 fWAR. Cole alone had a 7.4 fWAR, and would serve as a massive upgrade. He and Aaron Nola would immediately become one of the best tandems in baseball, and the Phillies would instantly become a contender in the NL East for the years to come.

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Last offseason Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton famously said his team was planning to spend money, and “maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” That led the Phillies to Bryce Harper, who inked a 13-year contract worth $330 million. The end result was an 81-81 season and an eighth consecutive October spent at home rather than in the postseason.

Harper did his part — he smacked 35 homers with approached 5 WAR — but ultimately the disappointing season cost manager Gabe Kapler his job. The Phillies replaced him with veteran skipper Joe Girardi, the surest sign the team is ready to win and win big. You don’t sign Harper or hire Girardi when you’re going through a rebuild. Those are win-now decisions.

“I am truly excited to be here. This is a special place,” Girardi said at his introductory press conference. “… I know the importance of winning here. This is what we all want to accomplish. We want to win here.”

The .500 record and fourth place finish suggest the Phillies need more than a few tweaks to contend for an NL East title next year, or even just a wild-card spot. They do have a strong core in pace though, and that’s a good start. Here’s a primer on Philadelphia’s upcoming offseason.
2020 Payroll Situation

Philadelphia is one of the largest markets in the sport and we know this team can support a high payroll because we’ve seen it happen. Their Opening Day payroll was in the $170 million range every year from 2011-14. Last year it was $140 million. Here’s what the Phillies currently have on the books for next season:

Guaranteed contracts (9 players): $109.275 million (via Cot’s Baseball Contracts)
Arbitration-eligibles (9 players): $46.8 million (via MLB Trade Rumors projections)

Jake Arrieta has already exercised his $20 million player option and there’s a good chance Cesar Hernandez (projected $11.8 million) and especially Maikel Franco (projected $6.7 million) will be non-tendered or traded this winter, freeing up even more cash.

Right now the Phillies have about $156 million tied up in 18 roster spots, Hernandez and Franco included. That has them well below the $208 luxury tax threshold and suggests they have real money to spend this offseason, even if they don’t push payroll right up to the threshold.
Biggest Needs
usatsi-135833011.jpg
The Phillies have a new manager and lots of needs this offseason. USATSI

Truth be told, the offseason shopping list is longer than it probably should be for a would-be contender. First and foremost, the Phillies need pitching, both starters and relievers. Their current rotation and bullpen:

Aaron Nola
Jake Arrieta
Zach Eflin
Vince Velasquez
Nick Pivetta

Key relievers: Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Seranthony Dominguez

Not great! David Robertson, last offseason’s big free agent bullpen addition, will miss 2020 as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. Dominguez rehabbed a ligament tear of his own and is trying to avoid Tommy John surgery, so he’s a bit of an uncertainty. Pivetta and Velasquez were both demoted to the bullpen this summer. There’s a clear need for multiple arms here.

The Phillies also need to figure out third base this offseason. Franco has played himself out of a job — since his 2015 breakout he’s hit .247/.299/.427 in more than 2,000 plate appearances with subpar defense — and Scott Kingery is best used as a super utility guy who plays all over. Finding an everyday third baseman should be on the agenda this winter. The Phillies may also need to bring in a second baseman depending on what happens with Hernandez.

GM Matt Klentak and his staff will focus this offseason on bolstering a pitching staff that needs at least one and likely two starters, and possibly as many as five relievers. Revamping the infield around first baseman Rhys Hoskins and shortstop Jean Segura may be in the cards as well. Lots to do. Lots and lots to do this offseason.
Trade Chips

Baseball America ranked Philadelphia’s farm system 25th in baseball following the trade deadline. Top prospects Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard are presumably off-limits — Bohm is the third baseman of the future and Howard could join the rotation at some point in 2020 — but others like righty Adonis Medina, shortstop Luis Garcia, 2019 first rounder Bryson Stott, and fading 2016 No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak are presumably in play.

Franco and Hernandez are non-tender candidates and that means their trade value isn’t all that high. Hernandez is a solid player and he might fetch a decent prospect or two, but teams know he’s a non-tender candidate, so they’ll want to see whether they can simply sign him as a free agent in a few weeks rather than trade a prospect(s) for him now. Franco? Forget it. No team is giving up anything of value for him at this point.

Kingery is part of the solution, I believe, but he’s also not someone who should be a dealbreaker in a potential trade for an impact piece. If there’s a chance to bring in, say, Kris Bryant, are you really going to say no to including Kingery? Of course not. Odubel Herrera has no value coming off his domestic violence suspension, and guys like Velasquez and Pivetta are change of scenery candidates more than trade headliners.

The best trade chip the Phillies have right now is money. They should be — and I’m sure they will be — very willing to trade some good ol’ American dollars for free agents. That allows them to keep their best prospects, Bohm and Howard specifically, while strengthening the roster.
Possible Targets
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What about a possible Cole Hamels reunion in Philly? USATSI

Last year the Phillies chased after Harper and Manny Machado. They dived right into the deep end of the free agent pool. My guess is they will try to do it again this year. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are the top free agent starters, and beyond them there are other solid options like Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. What about a Cole Hamels reunion? Giving him a one-year deal to be the third starter would be a perfectly fine move.

Give the Phillies a truth serum and this is what I think they would tell you want to do this winter:

Plan A: Sign Cole or Strasburg and one of Bumgarner, Ryu, Wheeler, and Jake Odorizzi.
Plan B: Sign two of Bumgarner, Odorizzi, Ryu, and Wheeler.
Plan C: Sign one Bumgarner, Odorizzi, Ryu, or Wheeler and either Hamels or Dallas Keuchel.
Plan D: Sign Hamels and Keuchel.

The Phillies need a second impact starter to pair with Nola. That’s what they thought they were getting with Arrieta, but that didn’t work out. They need someone who could slot in alongside Nola atop the rotation, and someone to push Arrieta and Eflin down into fourth and fifth spots, and Velasquez and Pivetta into depth roles.

As for the bullpen, even if the Phillies were willing to spend huge on a closer, there is no one to spend that money on. Will Smith is the best free agent reliever available and he’s not going to command Craig Kimbrel money. Rather than spend big on one reliever, the Phillies could spread the money around and sign multiple relievers to smaller contracts. Think Steve Cishek, Chris Martin, Craig Stammen, and Pedro Strop rather than Smith and Will Harris. Four $5 million relievers over two $10 million relievers.

On the infield, the two big names are Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, and either would look spectacular at third base. May I present an alternative: Mike Moustakas and Didi Gregorius. Put Gregorius at short, slider Segura over to second (a position he’s played in the past), install Moustakas at third, and the infield defense improves tremendously. Also, it adds two low strikeout hitters to a lineup that had a little too much swing-and-miss at times last year. Consider the possible lineup:

LF Andrew McCutchen
C J.T. Realmuto
RF Bryce Harper
1B Rhys Hoskins
3B Mike Moustakas
2B Jean Segura
SS Didi Gregorius
CF Odubel Herrera

That’s a real deep lineup with power and left/right balance. Girardi knows Gregorius from their time with the Yankees and Sir Didi could be looking at a one-year prove yourself contract after missing half of 2019 with Tommy John surgery. Moustakas has taken one-year contracts the last two offseasons and I see no reason to think that will change. He’s the same player except older.

If the Phillies are willing to splurge for Rendon or Donaldson and the pitching they need, great. More power to them. That seems unlikely though. Gregorius and Moustakas would be affordable infield stopgaps — Moustakas on a one-year deal would leave third base open for Bohm long-term — and also ensure the Phillies have more than enough money to spend on pitching.

Beyond possible additions, the Phillies would also benefit greatly from their current players taking a step forward, something that didn’t really happen this past season. Kingery was good and Eflin was solid, but Velasquez and Pivetta becoming reliable would help, ditto some relievers having staying power in the bullpen. This should be another busy offseason for the Phillies. Girardi was only the start.

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It was the team’s first division title since 2001.
The Phillies added four pitchers to their 40-man roster on Wednesday night, including Cristopher Sanchez, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sanchez, 23, is a 6-5 left-hander from the Dominican Republic who pitched mostly at the Single A level in 2019. The Rays were out of room on their 40-man roster and believed Sanchez would be lost in next month’s Rule 5 draft so they peddled him to the Phillies for infielder Curtis Mead, a 19-year-old from Australia who played in the Gulf Coast League last summer.

Sanchez will come to big-league spring training camp in February, but he needs more development time in the minors as he has pitched just 1⅓ inning above the Single A level. Sanchez’ fastball can reach 97 mph. The Phils might have something if the lanky lefty can put it together.

The Phillies also added JoJo Romero, Garrett Cleavinger and Mauricio Llovera to the roster. Romero and Cleavinger are both lefties and Llovera is a power-armed right-hander. All three could figure in the big club’s bullpen picture at some point in 2020.

Romero, 23, was the Phillies’ fourth-round draft pick in 2016. He struggled as a starter at Double A and Triple A in 2019 but pitched well out of the bullpen in Arizona Fall League, giving up just one earned run in 10⅔ innings.

Cleavinger, 25, was a third-round pick by the Orioles in 2015. The Phillies acquired him for Jeremy Hellickson in the summer of 2017. Cleavinger has strikeout stuff — he punched out 83 batters and allowed just 32 hits in 51⅔ innings at Double A Reading in 2019 — but control is an issue as he walked 34.

Llovera, who turns 24 in April, has long impressed club officials with his power arm. He struck out 72 in 65⅓ innings at Reading in 2019.

Players added to the 40-man roster by Wednesday’s deadline cannot be selected in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings next month. The Phillies’ roster stands at 39.

The Phillies left a couple of notable young players unprotected. Catcher Rafael Marchan and power-hitting outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz will both be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. If selected by another club, they must spend the entire season in the majors. Both Marchan and Ortiz will play at 21 next season. Neither has played above the Florida State League and both are in need of more development time so the Phillies stand a good shot of hanging on to both.

Ortiz made headlines in the summer of 2015 when the Phillies signed him out of the Domincan Republic for $4 million. He has big power — 19 homers at Single A Clearwater in 2019 — but contact is an issue. He has racked up 297 strikeouts in 835 at-bats while hitting just .212 the last two seasons at the Single A level.

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The base set is has a total of 200 cards. Vets and rookies combine for the first 150 cards.

2019 Topps Gallery Fernando Tatis Jr. RC

The final 50 are short prints, several of which are retired stars. These are 1:5 monster box packs.

Rather than photos found in most sets, 2019 Topps Gallery Baseball has paintings, drawings and artistic renderings.

Parallels start with color-based Green (/99), Blue (/50), Orange (/25) and Red (1/1). Different configurations have exclusives as well. Monster boxes are where you’ll find Private Issue (/250) versions while each blaster has foun Artist Proofs.
Autographs and Inserts

Insert themes are largely carryovers from 2018. These include Hall of Fame Gallery, which has 20 cards. And, as you might guess by the name, all are Cooperstown inductees.

Heritage has a large 40-card checklist. These use the 1965 Topps Baseball design to create cards of current players.

Other inserts in 2019 Topps Gallery Baseball include Masterpiece and Impressionists, both of which have 30 cards. Of the regular inserts in 2019 Topps Gallery Baseball, Impressionists are the toughest. They also don’t have any parallels. Monster box-exclusive Oversized Base Card Box Toppers also return with 50 cards.

New this year is Master and Apprentice, which has ten pairings of players from different generations. All of these come from the same team except for the father-son combo of Vladimir Guerrero and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Most of the product’s signatures come in the form of Base Autographs. More than 100 cards from the main set have upgraded versions.

Select Hall of Fame Gallery, Masterpiece and Impressionists cards also have autographs.

The first glimpse at 2019 Topps Gallery Baseball came in specially marked National Baseball Card Day packs of 2019 Bowman Platinum Baseball. These had specially stamped preview cards.

2019 Topps Gallery Preview Ken Griffey Jr.

Although an exact release date for 2019 Topps Gallery Baseball hasn’t been announced, Walmart’s website is showing a November 20 delivery date. Retail products don’t always show up locally on the exact date like most hobby products do. That said, some collectors started to find them around November 15.
2019 Topps Gallery Baseball cards at a glance:

Cards per pack: Monster – 5, Blaster – 4
Packs per box: Monster – 20, Blaster – 7 (plus 4 Artist Proof parallels)
Set size: 200 cards
Release date: November, 2019
Shop for 2019 Topps Gallery Baseball boxes on eBay:

Monster Boxes

2019 Topps Gallery Baseball Checklist

Please note that only monster box odds are currently listed. We’ll do our best to add other configurations as they become available.
Base
Base Set Checklist

200 cards.
Short Prints – #151-200

2019 Topps Gallery Baseball Pete Alonso RC

Parallels:

Artist Proof – (4 per blaster)
Player Private Issue – /250 (1:14 monster)
Green – /99 (1:99 monster)
Blue – /50 (1:174 monster)
Orange – /50 (1:349 monster)
Printing Plates – 1/1 (1:2,164 monster; each has Black, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow versions)

1 Willians Astudillo RC
2 Nate Lowe RC
3 Clayton Kershaw
4 Lance McCullers Jr.
5 Austin Riley RC
6 Shane Bieber
7 Juan Soto
8 David Peralta
9 George Springer
10 Nolan Arenado
11 Ramon Laureano RC
12 Bryan Reynolds RC
13 Brendan Rodgers RC
14 Trevor Story
15 Javier Baez
16 Harold Ramirez RC
17 Justin Upton
18 Rowdy Tellez RC
19 Myles Straw RC
20 Xander Bogaerts
21 Jon Duplantier RC
22 Jalen Beeks RC
23 Jonathan Villar
24 Pete Alonso RC
25 Shohei Ohtani

26 Michael Kopech RC
27 Albert Pujols
28 Austin Meadows
29 Kris Bryant
30 Bryce Harper
31 Taylor Ward RC
32 Aaron Judge
33 Carson Kelly
34 Daniel Ponce de Leon RC
35 Mitch Keller RC
36 Brad Keller RC
37 Mike Foltynewicz
38 Nicky Lopez RC
39 Heath Fillmyer RC
40 Josh Naylor RC
41 Jake Bauers RC
42 Yu Darvish
43 Jon Lester
44 Brandon Lowe RC
45 Jeff McNeil RC
46 Kolby Allard RC
47 Matt Chapman
48 Pablo Lopez RC
49 Justus Sheffield RC
50 Francisco Lindor

51 Khris Davis
52 Adam Cimber
53 Keston Hiura RC
54 Pedro Avila RC
55 Kevin Newman RC
56 Fernando Tatis Jr. RC
57 Nicholas Castellanos
58 Dakota Hudson RC
59 Blake Snell
60 Michael Chavis RC
61 Max Scherzer
62 Christian Yelich
63 Trevor Bauer
64 Zack Greinke
65 Jacob Nix RC
66 Chris Paddack RC
67 Joey Votto
68 Kohl Stewart RC
69 Corey Kluber
70 Lane Thomas RC
71 Jose Berrios
72 Gary Sanchez
73 Josh James RC
74 Josh Hader
75 Touki Toussaint RC

76 Josh Donaldson
77 Bryse Wilson RC
78 Ronald Acuña Jr.
79 Kyle Freeland
80 Christin Stewart RC
81 Justin Verlander
82 Dawel Lugo RC
83 Andrew McCutchen
84 Whit Merrifield
85 Reese McGuire RC
86 Steven Duggar RC
87 Ozzie Albies
88 Matt Carpenter
89 Sean Reid-Foley RC
90 Mike Clevinger
91 Alex Bregman
92 Willson Contreras
93 Noah Syndergaard
94 Byron Buxton
95 Trey Mancini
96 Cedric Mullins RC
97 Kyle Wright RC
98 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. RC
99 Jake Cave RC
100 Salvador Perez

101 Jacob deGrom
102 Mike Yastrzemski RC
103 Will Smith RC
104 Merrill Kelly RC
105 Mike Trout
106 Rhys Hoskins
107 Max Muncy
108 Carter Kieboom RC
109 Shaun Anderson RC
110 Anthony Rizzo
111 Chance Adams RC
112 Elvis Luciano RC
113 Domingo Santana
114 Danny Jansen RC
115 Buster Posey
116 Yusei Kikuchi RC
117 Mookie Betts
118 David Fletcher RC
119 DJ Stewart RC
120 Dennis Santana RC
121 Kyle Tucker RC
122 Ryan Borucki RC
123 Luis Severino
124 JD Hammer RC
125 Garrett Hampson RC

126 Ryan Helsley RC
127 Aaron Nola
128 Cole Tucker RC
129 Jose Altuve
130 Kyle Schwarber
131 Paul Goldschmidt
132 Luke Voit
133 Nick Senzel RC
134 Trent Thornton RC
135 Luis Arraez RC
136 Freddie Freeman
137 Jose Ramirez
138 Cavan Biggio RC
139 Miguel Andujar
140 Chris Sale
141 Dustin Pedroia
142 Patrick Wisdom RC
143 Manny Machado
144 Framber Valdez RC
145 Miguel Cabrera
146 Thairo Estrada RC
147 Eloy Jimenez RC
148 Rafael Devers
149 Mitch Haniger
150 Yadier Molina
Short Prints

1:5 monster box packs.

151 Ichiro
152 Rickey Henderson
153 Cal Ripken Jr.
154 Mark McGwire
155 Frank Thomas
156 Chipper Jones
157 Nolan Ryan
158 Babe Ruth
159 Derek Jeter
160 Jackie Robinson
161 Hank Aaron
162 Stan Musial
163 Ted Williams
164 Lou Gehrig
165 Ken Griffey Jr.
166 Joey Gallo
167 Lorenzo Cain
168 Charlie Blackmon
169 Starling Marte
170 Giancarlo Stanton
171 Robinson Cano
172 Ernie Banks
173 Adrian Beltre
174 Felix Hernandez
175 Stephen Strasburg

176 Evan Longoria
177 Eric Hosmer
178 J.D. Martinez
179 Carlos Correa
180 Gerrit Cole
181 Cody Bellinger
182 Andrew Benintendi
183 Josh Bell
184 Trea Turner
185 Marcus Stroman
186 Michael Conforto
187 Gleyber Torres
188 Chris Archer
189 Miguel Sano
190 Amed Rosario
191 Corey Seager
192 Walker Buehler
193 Victor Robles
194 Yoan Moncada
195 J.T. Realmuto
196 Willie Mays
197 Tony Gwynn
198 Roberto Clemente
199 George Brett
200 Johnny Bench

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Not a lot of people know this, but every baseball diamond is carefully balanced on a fulcrum and tilts in the direction of chaos. A ball is misplayed, a runner trips over a base, a swarm of wasps is unleashed from within a rolled-up tarp. A cat or squirrel runs onto the field in a precocious moment of levity that only later do we realize is the start of an ancient curse (this happens quite often in baseball). Whatever occurs in the game slants the playing field in a new direction, which is why baseball, a very normal, very boring activity, is always quietly teetering on the verge of going quite wild.

Your toughest opponent isn’t an eerily calm Mike Trout or a possibly rabid Max Scherzer; it’s the sheer volume of variables that can scatter even the most strategic and well-laid plans. You can stare at a spreadsheet until your brain melts before yelling “Aha!” with an index finger in the air, believing you’ve uncovered the formula to prevent strained hamstrings, but there’s no accounting for the back-up catcher tapping into some as-yet untapped power, or one of the teams recreating the musical “Stomp” only for it to be revealed that this is actually a highly technical form of cheating.

To possess the agility to evade poor luck and the skill to barrel through outside factors to achieve a moment of perfect balance in this silly game is the rarest of accomplishments. But on September 13, 2007, Martín Prado would do so.

I don’t know enough about how science works to say whether what happened during his at-bat was in line with or against physics. But what we do know is that what happened never happened again, and after a casual amount of research, we can say that it probably never happened before, either. And in baseball, that alone makes it an exceptional anomaly. This is a sport that loves to repeat itself, and having existed for so long, everything we see appears to be a repetition to the last time it happened.

Not this one.

To see a bat do that is clearly an abomination to the natural order of things, and, though he assembled a career spanning 14 seasons, with a slash line of .287/.335/.412, 103 wRC+, and 20.3 WAR, it may be one of his defining moments. Word is that Prado is nearing retirement, and so we can look at his career as a whole and wonder: did he ever achieve a level of balance in this unbalanced game nearing that of his bat on this fateful day?

To be a player like Prado, who was consistently good and then consistently not good, who was versatile on the field and inspirational off of it, and who can act as a counterweight to an imbalanced sport even if he’s only an All-Star one time in a decade and a half, is an accomplishment. Prado will be remembered as an everything-but-a-center-fielder, who once led the league in giving himself up so a teammate could score (nine sac flies in 2012) and then another time led the league in bringing teammates down with him (24 GIDP in 2016). He will not be remembered as a legend or an icon or as having Baseball Reference page festooned with colorful accolades. He played in exactly one postseason game, the 2012 NL Wild Card game, in which he had exactly one hit, a single to left, that no one will remember because the Braves lost and everybody threw garbage on the field.

Prado played a long career, achieving spikes of success along the way. His solid foundation meant that when he did eat his Wheaties (or in his case, got pulled into the p90X cult one off-season and lost 14 pounds), his numbers would go from acceptable to dominant. This occurred in 2010, when he came to camp feeling a bit more wily and produced an All-Star season at the plate (118 wRC+, 3.8 WAR) in his first chance at regular playing time. His defense wasn’t as sparkling (2 DRS, -2.0 UZR), but it didn’t need to be when his bat balanced it out.

Prado shot up in 2012 as well and had an even better season than in 2010 (117 wRC+, 4.5 WAR), stealing 17 bases for some reason. This was the only time in his career he would have double-digit numbers in this category. Hell, it was the only time he’d have more than five. I can’t find an explanation for this. Perhaps that’s to Prado’s credit, though; he was not a player known for his speed, but it didn’t rattle people that he had suddenly stolen a significantly higher amount of bases. They just mentioned it along with the rest of his stats when he was traded to Arizona, as though yeah, sure, we buy this. An uptick in any offensive category may not be routine for him, but it’s certainly not implausible. Let’s just assume one of those wasps from the tarp got in his shoe that year and move on.

Moments, months, or nonconsecutive seasons of dominance were within Prado’s scope. But what players outside of the Trouts or the Scherzers shoot for most of the time isn’t dominance, per se, but more what eludes so much of the sport: Finding a way to provide some kind of consistency, some kind of impact, some kind of balance over the course of a 14-year career.

The key to being known in baseball is very simple: be good at many things for a long time. It’s the dream of the modern front office to have a team of players with no true position. We all love watching sluggers mash, but we like a lot less watching them flail and struggle and answer questions about their mechanics as we wait out the ludicrous extension to which they were signed. We all love watching a defensive whiz dash around the infield spearing grounders, but we like it a lot less when he once more drives a pitch into the ground with the bases loaded, continuing his grotesque spree as a serial killer of rallies.

Prado debuted in 2006, with two walks and a rally-sparking triple in his first game in place of an injured Marcus Giles, the seventh player ever to make the jump from Double-A Mississippi straight to the big club in Atlanta. Giles shook the bone chip out of his finger and returned the next night, so the Braves shifted Prado over to third, where he balanced out his previous night’s success by going 0-for-3. The next big league pitch he would see would be in August.

Prado managed to find that balance for the middle chunk of his career, playing the majority of his time at second and third base, shifting into left field in 2011, being slotted into every infield position in addition to left in 2012, and settling back in at third as his career wound down. A healthy sprinkling of first base is in there as well, and he even got dropped into right a few times. So Prado had the versatility to tingle the nose hairs of a GM in 2019. Did he have the output?

It certainly felt like he did, if you were a fan of an NL East team he didn’t play for over the last 13 years. He hit .295 with 109 wRC+ and 6.2 walk rate against that division over the course of his career, during which he played in the East for parts of 12 seasons. Since 2009, when he started getting regular playing time, his BABIP has zigged and zagged over and under the league average, leaving it at a just about even .310 for his career.

He even balanced out the balance issues of the Braves’ own creation from 2009-2012. “We were so left-handed dominant over the last number of years,” GM Frank Wren told reporters in November 2012. “Now to be able to better balance our lineup left and right, that was something we felt could really enhance our team.”

Of course, this was shortly before Wren would deal Prado to the Diamondbacks in favor of Dan Uggla at second base. When the team had brought in Uggla to play second in 2011, Prado slipped into the outfield. His first year getting regular reps in left field, the Braves got negative production from the position (-0.9 WAA), but in 2012, through 495 PA, Prado contributed to its 1.3 wins above the league average. Meanwhile, with Uggla manning second base, the Braves got -2.7 WAA.

If we prune off the first three and last three years of Prado’s career, when he wasn’t getting a full season’s worth of playing time due to being too green or too hurt, we’re left with his prime years. That’s where we’ll measure his worth. I’m not a big believer in subtracting a guy’s poor numbers to fluff him up a little, but in this case, we’re talking about Prado’s most effective season, and 2009-16 was when he was least hindered by injury or rookie-ness or not doing enough P90X. And in that period, he finished seven out of eight seasons with a wRC+ higher than league average, and 15 points higher than league average four times. That’s not a cluster of success, either; it happened in 2009-10, 2012, and 2016. In addition, he finished with an OBP (and an OPS) higher than league average seven out of eight times, and at least 15 points higher six times. And he was worth an above average number of wins every year from 2009 to 2016 (except for 2011, which has been the outlier in all of these), for a total of 13.1 WAA from 2009-16.

I’m not telling you this because it’s incredible. It would be silly to sit here and tell you that Prado is some sort of baseball wizard because he’s played multiple positions over the course of 14 years and was once named the “Chas Roberts Air Conditioning & Plumbing Cool Play of the Game.” But when we look back on Prado’s career, we see a man who provided a consistent counterweight to the pull of baseball’s madness. A manager could look at him and know what he was going to get: double digit home runs, 20-30 doubles, not a lot of strikeouts, okay defense. Sure, you could say that about a lot of guys, but the difference here is that from Prado, you would actually get it.

Any power he had left was zapped by Marlins Park; his versatility was murdered by age. But on the last day of the 2019 regular season, the last one Prado will ever play, his career home run total stood at 99. He’d homered in high leverage situations and complete garbage time. He’d homered off everybody from Roy Halladay and Max Scherzer to Brett Oberholtzer and Kyle Kendrick. His 1,000th career hit was his third career home run off Kenley Jansen.

In his last at-bat, he smashed a ball to deep left off the Phillies’ Edgar Garcia, his 100th career home run: Perfect balance in at least one stat column. And when he left the field, lifted in the ninth, Martín Prado exited baseball to a round of applause.