Bryce Harper is already plenty familiar with Citizens Bank Park, so it makes sense that the Phillies will visit his hometown Saturday as they play their hand in Las Vegas at the Harper sweepstakes.
The Phillies will meet with Harper himself, and they are expected to be the highest bidder for his services. John Middleton is not boarding a flight to Vegas simply to show his face. The Phillies are determined to end this offseason with Harper or Manny Machado, and Saturday’s visit is their first real attempt to land Harper.
The Phillies opened a spot in their outfield for Harper early in the offseason by moving Rhys Hoskins back to first base. They then added Andrew McCutchen to play right or left field, but the Phillies made it clear that that move did not block them from adding Harper.
If the Phillies add Harper, he would play in right while McCutchen would handle left field. That would leave Odubel Herrera for center field, with Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, and Roman Quinn as the extra outfielders. The Phillies will likely begin the season with four outfielders, which could cause them to make a move if they are able to sign Harper.
A popular thought is that the Phillies would be quick to move Herrera, but the team remains heavily invested in him. Manager Gabe Kapler visited Herrera in Miami in early December and keeps in constant contact with the 27-year-old about his offseason routine. The manager said at the end of last season that he would “consider it a failure on my part if Odubel Herrera does not come into camp in his peak physical condition.” The Phillies could be swayed to move Herrera, but it does not appear that it would be their initial reaction after adding Harper.
The move would then come down to Williams, Altherr, or Quinn. Scott Kingery will be asked to play more in the outfield this season, so it is unlikely that the Phillies will carry five outfielders. Williams can be optioned to the minors, but it would be unlikely for him to start the season in triple A after spending most of last season as a major-league regular. Altherr and Quinn are out of minor-league options, meaning they must begin the season in the majors or be passed through waivers.
Williams found success last season as a pinch hitter, but his defensive limitations are not best equipped for a reserve outfielder. Williams had a .749 OPS in 2018 and cut back on his strikeouts in his first full season. He is under club control for five more seasons, and the Phillies could find value for him. If Harper is added, Williams would likely be the odd man out. Altherr could also have value. He has spent most of his time as a corner outfielder but actually grades better as a center fielder. A team could value his versatility.
Quinn can play all three outfield positions and is the team’s best runner, giving Kapler a late-inning weapon on the bases. If healthy, Quinn would be the team’s prototypical bench player. Quinn played in 50 games last season with the Phillies and had a .729 OPS with 10 steals. He injured a finger early in the season and broke a toe on his right foot in September. He has yet to play a full professional season.
Kapler has been enthralled by Quinn’s ability since he was hired as manager and has made it a personal goal to discover what it would take to keep Quinn healthy. Signing Harper and stashing Quinn on the bench would make Kapler’s challenge to keep Quinn healthy a bit easier.
“There is work to be done to get Roman Quinn ready to play a full major-league season,” Kapler said at the end of last season. “I think that requires a pretty deep dive into habits and history. How can we get him to make so many good choices that he gives himself and us the best chance to play 120, 130, or 140 games next year? I don’t think it’s that he has to play 162. This might just be ‘If we get 110 out of Roman Quinn, we’re doing something really good.’ Those are the kind of goals I’m thinking about right now.”