SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Here’s another team preview that might have to be rewritten, if.
If the Phillies do wind up signing Jake Arrieta — and the team and player were talking late last week — this could put the Phillies in the wild-card conversation.
Now how can this be, considering the Phillies lost 96 games in 2017, their third straight 90-plus loss season?
First, I will remind you that the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins both came from 90-plus loss years in 2016 to the postseason in 2017.
Second, this Phillies club has a pretty good offense, despite finishing 12th in the National League in runs in 2017.
No, Rhys Hoskins isn’t going to hit a home run once every 9.4 at-bats, as he did with his 18 home runs in 170 at-bats after his callup last August. At least, I don’t think he will. But there’s no question Hoskins is the real deal; he hit .284/.385/.581 with 29 home runs in 401 at-bats at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2017 before his big-league debut.
Add to that slugging first baseman Carlos Santana, who was signed to a three-year, $60 million deal, and you have the core of a powerful offense. The signing is going to move Hoskins to left field, and that’s a defensive risk — he didn’t play a single game anywhere but first base until last year — but the Phillies need to do this to jumpstart their offense.
Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and young catcher Jorge Alfaro (who hit .318/.360/.514 in a 104 at-bat trial late last year) are good complementary pieces to this offense. Longtime shortstop Freddy Galvis was traded to the Padres; J.P. Crawford, who is expected to take over, is a cousin of former major leaguer Carl Crawford.
It’s the pitching that will make or break this team. Aaron Nola is a solid major league starter. Vince Velasquez was pretty good in 2016, but had his 2017 ruined by injuries. A comeback from him would be significant. Beyond that, though, the Phillies rotation is pretty “meh,” so you can see how an Arrieta signing would be a huge boost. It would make sense financially, as Santana is the only Phillie currently committed to more than $10 million this year.
Hector Neris, who was installed as closer last year and did a reasonable job, returns. So does setup man Pat Neshek, who liked things in Philadelphia well enough after his trade there last summer that he signed a two-year deal to return.
But all eyes are on Arrieta, I think. If he becomes a Phillie, watch for them to make big steps forward in 2018.
The Cubs will play the Phillies six times this year: June 5-6-7 at Wrigley Field and August 31, September 1-2 in Philadelphia.