Phillies Mailbag: Stassi, Gomez, and the Impact of Kendrick and Saunders
Here is this week's edition of the Phillies mailbag, which you can find weekly on 973espn.com. We will discuss it on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill at 2:30 every Tuesday, so tune in, either on your radio dial, or streaming live at 973espn.com.
Does Brock Stassi have a legitimate shot to make the Phillies this year?
For the second year in a row, first baseman Brock Stassi is invited to big league Spring Training camp. Last season, Stassi was coming off an Eastern League MVP season. This season, Stassi has a full season at Triple-A under his belt and has come into camp on a mission. At age 27, this is likely Stassi's last chance to make the Phillies. Stassi is making an early statement.
In 14 plate appearances, Stassi is batting .583 with a double, two home runs, and a 1.810 OPS. Besides hitting, Stassi has undertaken something that will help him win a job: playing the outfield. With right-handed Tommy Joseph set to start at first base, the Phillies probably cannot afford to carry a left-handed bench bat who can only play first base. So, Stassi has been playing the outfield so he could serve as a fifth outfielder and backup first baseman.
Having Howie Kendrick on the roster means the Phillies will have extra infield depth and can afford to have only one backup infielder in Andres Blanco. Odubel Herrera could also play some second base in a pinch. This benefits Stassi, as the Phillies might feel more comfortable choosing Stassi over the likes of Chris Coghlan,who can play second base.
Also helping Stassi's cause is that he is under Phillies control. If the Phillies decide to give Stassi a shot and later need a roster spot, Stassi can be optioned to the minor leagues. With veterans Coghlan and Daniel Nava, they will need to either clear waivers or consent to the demotion. 40-man roster spots are scarce indeed, but for whoever serves as the left-handed bench bat, the Phillies will need to clear one space.
So yes, Stassi is indeed being given a chance to prove he belongs on a major league roster. While Stassi has begun at a pace he certainly cannot maintain, he will be given ample opportunity to show he can exceed over the course of the Spring. It is up to him to claim it.
Is Jeanmar Gomez on a short leash as closer to start the season?
The Phillies turned to Jeanmar Gomez to be their closer last season, not by design. The club hoped that free agent signee David Hernandez might compete for the job, as well as Dalier Hinojosa, who ended up being removed from the 40-man roster. After several first week disasters, the Phillies turned to the only veteran reliever who would not totally implode every time out.
And thus, Jeanmar Gomez the closer was born. While Gomez never was and remains not a prototypical closer, he is a rather steady hand who can get three outs at a time without too much damage. After a heavy workload last season, Gomez fizzled down the stretch, something I would not blame him too greatly for. Neither does Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, who seems content to let Gomez begin 2017 as the closer.
Young lively arms Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris have the potential to one day close, as does camp invitee Alberto Tirado. But I think the Phillies seem content with the veteran closing for now. This benefits them in a couple of ways.
The Phillies likely will look to trade veterans at the trade deadline. Gomez was not really a sought-after commodity in 2016, but there is a chance he could be dealt. I probably would have placed his value at its highest around the trade deadline last season, in the middle of a career year and with another year of control. Even if Gomez stays, there is benefit to the Phillies.
Using Neris in the closer role right away could artificially build his salary. As we saw with Gomez, almost any pitcher who can pitch to a 3.00 earned run average will accumulate saves on a team that does not score many runs. If the Phillies are looking at their payroll down the line, the arbitration years Neris goes through will be much more expensive as a closer. We saw with the Yankees and Dellin Betances that simply having "closer stuff" does not make for a closer payday. The Phillies probably want to be sure that the role fits Neris before committing dollars to him that may be better spent elsewhere.
So, I would say the job will belong to Gomez unless there is an injury or other unforeseen change.
Who will have a bigger impact - Howie Kendrick or Michael Saunders?
The Phillies added both players this offseason with a common goal: bring a steady veteran presence to the lineup. A year ago the Phillies fielded an Opening Day lineup that included Cedric Hunter in left field and Peter Bourjos in right field. Hunter lasted only briefly in the big leagues and Bourjos performed below expectations, minus one strong stretch mid-season. The Phillies simply had to do better, and Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders were their answers.
The Phillies are only committed to either player for one season. If one fails, the Phillies can simply eat the money and move on. However, with their track records in the big leagues they both figure to be reliable veteran hitters.
Kendrick and Saunders each bring a different kind of bat to the Phillies lineup. Kendrick is right-handed, and tends to hit towards the top of the order. To balance left-handed and right-handed hitters, Kendrick probably will bat second in the Phillies lineup behind Cesar Hernandez, bumping Odubel Herrera to third and Maikel Franco to fourth. Joseph likely will hit fifth, but could occasionally flip-flop with Saunders when facing a tough right-handed pitcher.
Of the two, Kendrick is more likely to get on base. Saunders is more likely to hit a home run. Thinking of impact, Phillies fans might not see a flashy impact, but with both on the team, the Phillies lineup will function like a big league lineup around their young players. Without two major holes in the lineup, the Phillies will be much better in 2017. Consider both players' impact to be about even.