Unpopular Opinion: The Phillies should not change their retired number policy
by Scott Butler 1/5/20

Phillies Retired Numbers

Since when has high standards become a bad thing? Actually, let's take a step back and open with a different question: Does Ryan Howard belong in the same company as Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Chuck Klein, Jim Bunning, and Grover Cleveland Alexander?

If the Phillies relax their requirement that a Phillies player be in the Hall of Fame, Howard will be joing that company. Strong Hall of Fame cases can be made for Utley and Rollins, but not Howard.

I really hate making that argument, either. Ryan Howard might have been the most important piece to the 5-year NL East run in the 2000's. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2005 thanks to 22 bombs in just 88 games, Howard hit 198 homers (an average of 49.5 per season) in the four seasons between 2006 and 2009, and averaged 143 RBI and a .968 OPS per season.

But Ryan Howard did not end his career after 2009. After posting an OPS of .859 and .835 in 2010 and 2011, Howard's OPS over his final five seasons is .724. That's just 4 points above the league average OPS over those five years.

Howard's OPS+ in his first six seasons was 138.3, or 38.3 percent above league average.

His OPS+ from 2012 to 2016? 95.8, or 4.2 percent below league average.

Howard's final line looks like this:

.258/.343/.515 with an .859 OPS and an OPS+ of 125.

Now let's compare that with Greg Luzinski's career line:

.276/.363/.478 with an .840 OPS and an OPS+ of 130

If Ryan Howard should get his number retired, shouldn't The Bull? And how about Bobby Abreu with an OPS+ of 139

Dick Allen 153

Gavvy Cravath 153

Ed Delahanty 153

Sam Thompson 144


That's my first thought when the topic of Phillies retired numbers comes up. site which describes themselves as "a clearinghouse for relevant, legitimate baseball rumors." Each week at Phils Baseball, we grab their latest Phillies rumors and put them all together in one weekly post.

Here are the latest Phillies rumors:

December 7

Latest On Gerrit Cole

Teams will be making their initial offers to Gerrit Cole in the coming days, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN (via Twitter). Cole, the top free agent in this year’s class, is a near-lock to exceed David Price’s $217MM guarantee, the current record contract for a pitcher.

Which teams figure to be in on Cole? The Yankees are seemingly committed to bringing Cole to the Bronx, and Peter Gammons of the Athletic somewhat cryptically tweets that the Bombers “were not denied” in their pursuit. Nevertheless, Passan’s sources hear that the Angels and Dodgers do remain in the running alongside the Yankees as favorites for Cole’s services. Both LA organizations have previously met with the Southern California native, as have the Yankees.

While that big-market trio seems to have moved to the forefront of the Cole race, other teams may still yet enter the mix once the time comes to put formal offers on the table. Jon Heyman of MLB Network reiterates (via Twitter) the Phillies’ and Rangers’ interest. Recent indications, though, are that Philadelphia and Texas seem to be more focused on fellow Scott Boras client Anthony Rendon.

That interest in Rendon, who himself figures to handily exceed $200MM, suggests that both organizations have ample spending room should they set their sights on Cole instead. However, the Phillies have already made one massive outlay on starting pitching this offseason, signing Zack Wheeler to a $118MM deal. The Rangers, meanwhile, have seemingly plugged two holes in their rotation via smaller deals for Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. With that in mind, it seems to make sense for those two clubs to turn their attention to the position player side of things.

With the Cole market seemingly heating up, he figures to be the center of attention at next week’s Winter Meetings. With some of the sport’s biggest spenders eyeing him, Cole will surely break the bank whenever he makes the final decision.

December 7

Yankees’ “Total Focus” On Gerrit Cole

The Yankees “total focus” remains on reeling in the winter’s big fish: ace starter Gerrit Coleper MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman. That Cole is a priority for the Yankees is old news, though Heyman’s characterization certainly seems to stake a higher degree of urgency to the Yankees’ intent.

The nostalgic among us can take this opportunity to think fondly of the Yankees of yore, who routinely targeted their man in free agency with this kind of fervor. It’s been a few years since a free agent made this kind of impression on the Yanks, though they attacked the opportunity to trade for James Paxton last offseason with similar drive.

The urgency isn’t shocking coming off 2019, which proved an interesting campaign in New York. Injuries decimated the roster, but the offense never missed a beat no matter who stepped into the void (hello, Gio Urshela). They coasted to 103 wins and a division title, defeated the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs as they are wont to do, only to see the favor repaid in full by the new powerhouse of the day Houston Astros. The Yankees found themselves booted from the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons by the Astros, making this pursuit of the ex-Astro Cole feel all the more crazy-eyed. That said, there is rarely a free agent with Cole’s pedigree, and if they’re going to channel the ghost of Steinbrenner and go all-in for a free agent, Cole is a worthy target.

Which is, of course, exactly why interest in the right-hander runs so rampant. As Heyman put it, the Yankees “don’t want to be denied” in their pursuit of Cole, but there is no shortage of contenders, including both LA teams, the Rangers, and the Phillies (who are a little crazy-eyed themselves these days). All five clubs have ample cause to pull out all the stops for Cole – on paper, they’re not alone.

December 6

Phillies To Pursue Anthony Rendon

The Phillies are preparing to make a run at free agent third baseman Anthony Rendonaccording to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. He’s now the team’s top priority, per the report.

If there was any doubt as to the Phillies’ all-in intentions after they inked Zack Wheeler, this would seem to resolve it. The organization had spoken of its disinclination to part with draft compensation to land free agents. But having done so for Wheeler, adding another qualifying offer-declining free agent would actually cost less in draft capital.

Should the sides end up seeing eye to eye on a contract, Rendon would be following Bryce Harper in a dramatic trip north on I-95. It’s not difficult to see the match on paper. Rendon is an exceptional all-around player who’d fill the void at the hot corner for the Phils. The team grew tired of waiting for Maikel Franco to establish himself there and isn’t inclined to sit on its hands until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready.

Plenty of other teams (the incumbent Nationals among them) would likewise love to slot Rendon in at third base. He’s being courted by a variety of organizations. Rumors persist that Rendon would be interested in a somewhat shorter, higher-AAV contract — the precise opposite of the angle Harper took. Whether that sort of arrangement would suit the Philadelphia club’s needs isn’t known.

What is clear is that the involvement of the Phillies only serves to buttress Rendon’s market. Entering the winter, we predicted a $235MM guarantee over seven years. It seems that Rendon does indeed have that kind of earning power, even if he ultimately elects to take a shorter contract with greater single-season salaries.

December 5

Details On Phillies' Offer To Cole Hamels

December 4

Phillies To Sign Zack Wheeler

The Phillies have made the biggest free-agent splash of the offseason to date, as they reached a reported five-year, $118MM agreement with free-agent right-hander Zack Wheeler on Wednesday afternoon. The contract is still pending a physical. Wheeler is represented by Jet Sports Management.

Wheeler, 29, has been arguably the most in-demand pitcher on the free agent market early in the offseason. While he’s regarded as the third-best arm on the market behind Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, that duo’s sky-high earning power priced out a number of pitching-needy teams from the outset. Wheeler, however, has been viewed as a more affordable pitcher with high-end stuff — one whom many believe can still take another step forward in the years to come.

Of course, that’s not to say that the current iteration of Wheeler isn’t a quality arm; he very much is. Over his past 55 Major League starts, the right-hander has worked to a 3.47 ERA (3.27 FIP) with 9.0 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9 and a 43.1 percent ground-ball rate in 349 2/3 innings. He’s distanced himself from Tommy John surgery and the ensuing complications that wiped out nearly two full seasons of his career, combining to make 60 starts dating back to Opening Day 2018.

Wheeler was also the second-hardest-throwing starter on the open market, with his career-best 96.7 mph average heater trailing only the aforementioned Cole. Beyond that, he possesses above-average spin on his heater and curveball, and he’s excelled in terms of minimizing hard contact against him (90th percentile average exit-velocity among MLB starters, per Statcast). Given that he’s played in front of one the worst defenses in the game over the past couple of seasons, there’s a belief that he could excel with a change of scenery, although it’s of course worth noting that the Philadelphia defense has had its own share of struggles over that same time.

Rotation help has been the clear top priority for the Phillies this winter, as their collective group of starters was a decidedly subpar group in 2019. Philadelphia entered the season with Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta anchoring the starting staff. And, after a 2018-19 offseason that focused largely on augmenting the lineup, the Phils leaned heavily on younger, inexperienced arms like Zach EflinNick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez to round out the rotation.

Of that trio, only Eflin yielded any real dividends, however. The 25-year-old proved a serviceable fourth starter with a 4.13 ERA over 28 starts (32 total appearances), while Pivetta and Velasquez combined for an ERA well north of 5.00. Meanwhile, Arrieta struggled through his worst performance since his breakout and ultimately underwent season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow. Even Nola, who finished third in 2018 NL Cy Young voting, took a notable step back in 2019. The end result was a Phillies starting staff that finished 17th in ERA (4.64), 24th in FIP (4.91) and 16th in xFIP (4.59) last year.

Wheeler will now slot into the Phillies’ rotation alongside Nola, Eflin and Arrieta — with the hope being that the removal of the bone spur through which Arrieta pitched in 2019 will help to bring about a rejuvenation of sorts. There’s still room for another rotation addition, to be sure, and there’s also room on the payroll to make that a reality. Before agreeing to terms with Wheeler, the Phils’ payroll checked in a bit shy of $150MM (including projected arbitration salaries). They’ll see Arrieta, David Robertson and the small portion of the Jay Bruce contract they’re paying all come off the books next season, lending some long-term flexibility even in spite of substantial commitments to Wheeler, Bryce Harper and others.

Earlier this offseason, Philadelphia general manager Matt Klentak voiced a preference to eventually move away from signing players who’ve rejected qualifying offers, but it appears that was far from a mandate, as the Phillies will now do so for a third consecutive winter. Signing Wheeler will cost Philadelphia its second-round pick and $500K of international bonus allotments. The Mets, meanwhile, will pick up a compensatory draft pick after Competitive Balance Round B — likely in the 75 to 80 range of next year’s draft. They’ll also, of course, now be on the lookout for another starting pitcher — although they were never viewed as a serious player to re-sign Wheeler.

Geography played a pivotal role in Wheeler’s decision to sign with Philadelphia, it seems. The Athletic’s Marc Carig, who first broke the news, noted in his original report that Wheeler’s fiancee is from nearby New Jersey, and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that the White Sox’ bid on Wheeler was actually higher than that of the Phillies. Meanwhile, Darren Wolfson of 1500 SKOR North in Minneapolis tweets that the Twins, too, made a five-year offer to Wheeler and that money wasn’t the ultimate factor in rejecting that bid. Presumably, an offer that blew Philadelphia’s out of the water could’ve swayed Wheeler to stray from the East Coast, but it seems that family considerations won the day when final bids wound up comparable.

In the end, Wheeler drew varying levels of interest from the White Sox, Twins, Reds, Astros, Rangers, Yankees and Blue Jays before his agreement with the Phils. That level of interest was largely foreseeable, and the fit with the Phillies has long been a particularly sensible one, as was predicted on MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agent list at the start of the offseason. The choice of destination proved to be spot on, but the considerable interest in Wheeler ultimately pushed his guarantee north of the five years and $100MM estimate put forth at that time.

Marc Carig of The Athletic broke news of the agreement (via Twitter). Bob Nightengale of USA Today, ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia all reported financial details on the contract (all links to Twitter).

December 4

Braves Sign Cole Hamels

1:15pm: The Braves have formally announced the signing and (unlike most clubs) confirmed the terms of the contract in their press release. Their 40-man roster is now up to 38 players.

11:18am: The Braves have struck a one-year deal with lefty Cole Hamels, per’s Jeff Passan (via Twitter). It’s said to include a $18MM guarantee for the John Boggs client.

Hamels can still get the job done as he closes in on his 36th birthday. Despite losing more than a full tick on his fastball from 2018-2019, he generated swings and misses at close to a twelve percent rate — much as he has done throughout his 14-year career. Since landing with the Cubs in the second half of the 2018 campaign, Hamels has spun 218 innings of 3.30 ERA ball over 39 starts while maintaining 9.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.

This match has long made sense — for all the reasons the team decided last year to ink fellow veteran southpaw Dallas Keuchel to a rental contract. MLBTR predicted Hamels to land in Atlanta in our ranking of the top fifty free agents.

Entering the winter, we believed Hamels could command a two-year deal at a $15MM AAV. But it emerged soon after the market opened that the veteran southpaw actually preferred a single-season mercenary arrangement. That’s just what he’ll get, and he’ll command a bit of a salary premium by foregoing any long-term security.

Hamels drew widespread interest over the past month. That continued into the month of December, with Bob Nightengale reporting (Twitter link) that a half-dozen organizations were still involved as of yesterday. The Phillies, White Sox, Rangers, and — surprisingly — the Giants were among the teams in the market until the end, per the report.

That Philadelphia link only further increases the NL East intrigue that we’re bound to see in 2020. While he is a few years removed from his tenure with the Phils, Hamels will always be known first and foremost as a long-time Phillies hurler who was one of the team’s key players during its last run of success.

Now, Hamels will try to help the Braves get over the hump. The Atlanta org has won the past two division crowns, but hasn’t yet managed to translate that success into the postseason. Hamels promises to step in for Keuchel as a durable veteran who has been there and done that plenty of times over a long and prosperous career.

This is the latest early strike for the Braves, who have already ticked through quite a few items on the checklist before the Winter Meetings even kick off. Hamels isn’t the top-of-the-rotation arm that might be preferred, but his addition doesn’t preclude further adds. For now, though, the focus will likely remain on re-signing or replacing third baseman Josh Donaldson.

December 4

Phillies “Looking At” Stephen Strasburg

While the level of interest isn’t entirely clear, the Phillies are at least considering a move for veteran starter Stephen Strasburg, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). The organization is said to be “looking at” plucking a star from the division-rival Nationals for a second consecutive winter.

There are many other possibilities for Strasburg, who wrapped up an outstanding (and rather redemptive) season in D.C. before opting out of his contract in favor of the open market. As Heyman notes, there’s still a sense that Strasburg could well line up again with the Nats. But many of the game’s highest-spending organizations have already shown interest as well.

Strasburg would be a big addition to any rotation, but he’d be of particular import to a Phillies staff that was filled with struggles last year. Like many other teams, the Phils are looking both for impact and reliability. Stras has consistently delivered the former … at least, when healthy. Concerns with his durability are in some regards overstated. He’s fresh off of a dominant and complete season at 31 years of age. Since returning from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg has averaged 28 starts and 168 innings annually (including his infamous 2012 shutdown campaign).

While the Phillies have indicated trepidation at coughing up draft compensation to add a free agent, that’s simply the requisite ante to sit at the high-stakes table. Strasburg is a good enough player that teams can mostly ignore the lost draft capital. That’s particularly true now that he has thoroughly erased any doubts (as unjustified as they were in the first place) over his big-game capabilities. Recently crowned the World Series MVP, Strasburg has passed every test thrown at him in the postseason with flying colors. In 55 1/3 career playoff frames, he owns a sparkling 1.46 ERA with 11.5 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9.

December 4

Phillies Reportedly Among Strongest Pursuers Of Zack Wheeler

Speaking of Wheeler, it seems that a deal is indeed on the cusp of coming together. Ken Rosenthal said as much in an appearance on MLB Network (Twitter link), noting that we could even see an agreement struck today. Rosenthal believes it’s a three-team race between the PhilliesWhite Sox, and Reds, though he cautions that the bidding isn’t fully limited to those organizations. We’ll be keeping a close watch on Wheeler.

December 4

Phillies Actively Pursuing Zack Wheeler

There’s momentum in the market for righty Zack Wheeler, who is reportedly already sitting on a nine-figure offer. The Phillies are now perhaps the strongest pursuer of the 29-year-old, Buster Olney of reports.

With the Philadelphia organization firmly entering the picture, Wheeler is sitting in an enviable position. There are a host of other teams still in the picture. Olney cites the Reds, White Sox, and Rangers as remaining involved. We’ve previously heard of intense interest from the Twins, who were reportedly still in the picture as of yesterday.

In another report this morning, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter) suggests that the Reds and White Sox are the other teams most clearly in the mix with the Phillies. But it’s still a fluid bidding situation, so far as is known publicly. Indeed, Rosenthal adds that the Angels “have shown real interest,” though their status at the moment isn’t clear.

This could be building into a perfect storm for Wheeler, whose big arm and relative youth hold obvious appeal. It seems teams have come to terms with his history of arm issues and are banking on a two-year track record of durability. In our ranking of the top 50 free agents, we predicted widespread interest to drive Wheeler to a five-year, $100MM deal with the Phillies. It now seems he will top that guarantee; Olney even floats the possibility that a team will end up offering a sixth year to land the in-demand hurler.

December 2

Phillies Non-Tender Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco

The Phillies have non-tendered second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel FrancoJim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia was among those to report.

Neither outcome is surprising, but the non-tenders will nonetheless bring about the end of an era for the Phillies’ infield. Both Hernandez and Franco had been mainstays for the Phillies over the past few seasons. The switch-hitting, high-on base Hernandez was the more valuable of the two, as he was a 2.0- to 4.0-fWAR player in each season from 2016-18. Hernandez’s numbers took a step back this year, a 1.7-fWAR season in which he hit .279/.333/.408 with 14 home runs across 667 plate appearances. He’d been slated to receive a $11.8MM in arbitration thereafter, but that was too rich for the Phillies. They’ll now look for another solution at the keystone.

Philly’s also now on the lookout for a new third baseman after cutting Franco, whom the team once viewed as its long-term answer there. But Franco, despite his prodigious power, seldom lived up to the billing after an impressive rookie campaign with the Phillies in 2015. The 27-year-old’s now coming off a season in which he batted a miserable .234/.297/.409 with 17 dingers and minus-0.5 fWAR over 428 PA. He looked like an obvious non-tender candidate thanks to those numbers, and with a projected $6.7MM coming his way in 2020, the Phillies went the expected route and cut him loose.

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