The Houston Astros, the Chicago Cubs, the Atlanta Braves — these are all rebuild success stories that have received quite a bit of acclaim from the national media. It probably should be argued that the Philadelphia Phillies could also justifiably hold down a spot on that list. Their route from bottom-feeding to setting the bar in the NL East was a non-traditional one, but their a real threat every time they take the field.
The team has been on a veritable roll lately, taking four of their last five games, and is in first place in the NL East. Their roster is loaded, with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. In other words, things aren’t looking so great for the offensively-challenged Detroit Tigers in their upcoming two game set in Philadelphia to finish up their road trip.
We talked to Evan Gusz, a staff contributor at The Good Phight, SB Nation’s excellent Phillies community, about contracts, prospects, and the upcoming series in Philadelphia as well as how the two organizations compare.
Bless You Boys: Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Here’s your chance to talk about that Bryce Harper deal.
Gusz: The city was somewhat split, if I had to put a number on it I’d say 70/30 in favor of signing him. The 70% wanted him at any and all costs. The 30% wanted him on a good deal. We all won as it turned out to be a pretty reasonable contract, especially in terms of AAV. Personally I was in the 30% “don’t break the bank” department — so much so that I wrote an opposition piece on it. Let’s face it, he’s been a very good player but save for one year he hasn’t been a record-breaking contract guy. The potential is and always has been there but he’s only lived up to that hype the one MVP season.
I’ll say this — he has turned EVERYONE in this city into his corner. He has done EVERYTHING right from a marketing standpoint and he’s produced enough in red pinstripes so far that we are ecstatic about him — especially at his price. He’s publicly lobbied for our hero Trout, He tweeted to Antonio Brown to come to the Eagles, he’s rang the bell at the Sixers game, he’s worn Phillie Phanatic cleats, he said “First off, Go Sixers” at the All Star game announcement press conference; if there were a book about how to ingratiate yourself as a star athlete into a new city it could be written on what Harper’s done since coming here. And this is NOT an easy town to win over. I’ve been to a few games so far and the amount of Harper jerseys in the crowd is absolutely astounding. When he comes to the plate everyone stops what they’re doing and they watch. Even the concourse stops moving and people go to a sightline to see what happens. It’s remarkable.
The Scott Kingery extension that seemed genius (or maybe insane) a year ago looks pretty run-of-the-mill today, so how can we use it to learn about this type of deal going forward?
A lot of people still feel that deal is going to work out. The team did it because they know him — how he plays, how he practices, how he handles his business — and they’re confident that by the end it’ll have been a good deal. If you guys or any team has “that guy” in their system they should go for it with him. It’s a deal that at worst will be a minor inconvenience because it’s just so cheap (big picture) but has a ton of possible upside.
I’d like to point out that even with his really awful year last year we were in first place pretty much right up until they replaced him with a “proven veteran.” Then it changed. Now, correlation does not equal causation, but it did happen that way.
He had a real nice start to this season before he got injured so we’ll see. For what it’s worth, he’s been a slow starter at every level he’s moved up pretty much and he was learning a new position in Shortstop last year.
Hiring Gabe Kapler to manage the big-league club was a high-risk, high-rewawrd move - is that working out like you hoped?
He had about as bad a start as you could have to a MLB manager career last year with taking Nola out of game 1 prematurely and going on to lose and then calling for a non-warmed up bullpen guy a few games in but he brought it around. He got A LOT out of that team last year and we all kind of acknowledge that; it gives him a fair amount of cred this year. We’ll see how it pans out this year, where he now has to manage some superstars along with a guy he actually played with in Sean Rodriguez, but really it’s “so far so good.”
The Phillies farm system seems pretty diminished from a year ago, so which under-the-radar prospect should we be watching this season?
While it is fairly diminished a big reason for that is because a lot of it is either on the field or been moved for slightly shorter term but more proven competitiveness. We loved Alfaro and had high hopes for Sixto Sanchez but JT Realmuto is paying off NOW. We loved/were all set to love JP Crawford but Segura has made us all forget. Look at those Phillies moves and notice that common theme of giving up financial control and potential for mid-range money (which we have) and proven talent. No one is complaining about what was maybe “lost.”
He’s maybe only “under the radar” because he’s so young but Luis Garcia (the shortstop, not the pitcher) is the one to watch. He hasn’t made any top 100 lists yet but I suspect he will soon. He’s only 18 and in his second minor league year but he looks really promising. He’s a good hitter with a great eye and some pop playing a premium position.
One last thing on the farm system — it’s loaded with arms. 14 of their top 25 prospects are pitchers and that’s with a major league rotation that has three guys still under team control for a few years and a bullpen with a majority of really young home-grown arms.
How do the Tigers and Phillies compare from an organizational standpoint?
The Tigers have been on a very similar trajectory as the Phillies over the last 10 or so years, just a few years back. The Phillies had a run of dominance through 2007-2011 that included a couple World Series appearances and then the Tigers had a similar run from 11-14. Both teams got themselves involved in some not great contracts with aging players during their runs and both teams traded away most of those deals for young talent when the runs ended. The Phillies are just coming out of the other side of all that and the Tigers are right behind that point.
I’m not sure if that’s totally accurate to you but I think about it every now and again, We were very fortunate to exit that run with a parade in it, something I’m sure sucks from your end.
Which Tigers player are you least looking forward to facing in this series?
Miguel Cabrera. The guy kills us…but I guess he kills a lot of teams, right? I looked it up and he’s a career .337/.409/.608 hitter against us. He even hits well at CBP, about exactly what he hits a his home park in Comerica. I see he’s heating up a it too. Great. The guy is and always was one of those players who could single-handedly beat you.
I should mention Castellanos too. I didn’t look up his numbers but I’m fairly certain he hits us hard whenever we play him.
Look into your crystal ball — how will this series turn out?
I have to go Phillies 2-0. Velasquez has been very good this season and Nola showed somewhat a return to form in his last outing. Tyson Ross hasn’t been great at CBP and the Phillies as a team love to walk and while Spencer Turnbull has been really good so far I think the veterans like Cutch, Segura and Harper will be the difference. Besides that, I’m a homer!
That being said, Cabrera and Castellanos could EASILY make it go Phillies 0-2 just by themselves.
Once again, a huge thank you to Evan and the rest of The Good Phight’s staff for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure to check out The Good Phight all season long for the very best Phillies news coverage and analysis around!