The most entertaining thing about the myriad moves the Phillies made in the offseason so far has been the construction of an offense that averaged nearly eight runs per game through the season’s first week. The old top of the order, with guys such as Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, and Maikel Franco, wasn’t bad, but it looks even better now that it’s the bottom of the order.
The new top of the order, with Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and Bryce Harper, made life miserable for opposing pitchers through the first five games and, based on the history of those hitters, that does not figure to change through the course of 162 games.
The Phillies are not going to continue to score at their current pace, but they do have a real chance to lead the National League in runs scored for the first time since 2009.
Something else also happens when a team undergoes a serious offseason makeover. It creates a team of could-be Phillies that can be either fun or frustrating to follow, depending on how those players are performing in comparison with what the actual Phillies at those positions are doing. This year’s version of could-be Phillies is especially large because general manager Matt Klentak had so many decisions to make on both the trade and free-agent markets.
Let’s start out in Seattle, where Klentak went to make his first significant offseason trade, sending shortstop J.P. Crawford and first baseman Carlos Santana to the Mariners for Segura. Seattle got off to a franchise-record 7-1 start, but it had little to do with the performances of Crawford and Santana. At least not Carlos Santana.
Crawford, in fact, did not make Seattle’s opening-day roster. The shortstop job went to 2008 first overall pick Tim Beckham, who signed with the Mariners as a free agent in January. Crawford is playing at triple-A Tacoma.
Santana lasted only 10 days with the Mariners before being traded back to Cleveland in a three-team deal. Unlike a year ago, when he got off to a miserable start with the Phillies and hit a career-worst .229 for the season, Santana got off to a great start with the Indians, batting .450 with five RBIs in his first six games.
A side note: Domingo Santana, the former Phillies prospect who was sent to Houston in 2011 as part of the Hunter Pence trade, has had a major role in Seattle’s great start, contributing three home runs and an American League-leading 11 RBIs. He is still only 26 years old.
Klentak’s first big free-agent signing was the addition of Andrew McCutchen for three years at $50 million. McCutchen had the perfect start to his Phillies career with a leadoff home run on opening day, and he nearly stole another game for them with a three-run double Wednesday in Washington.
Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock were the free-agent alternatives to McCutchen. Brantley signed with Houston for two years and $32 million and Pollock went to the Los Angeles Dodgers for four years and $55 million.
McCutchen is 217 days older than Brantley and one year and 56 days older than Pollock, but he has been by far the most durable of the trio and his numbers were still comparable to both over the last three seasons, when his own MVP level of play declined.
Pollock, who has played more than 150 games just once in his career, is off to a hot start with the Dodgers, the one N.L. team that has an offense as formidable as the Phillies’ appears to be.
The Miami Marlins have the most could-be Phillies after obtaining catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart in the J.T. Realmuto trade. With his power arm and power bat, Alfaro, still only 23, has a chance to become a star one day, but he is not close to being the same level of player as Realmuto right now. Alfaro will face the Phillies for the first time next Friday in Miami.
Sanchez, 20, is a projected future ace, but he has not pitched in a competitive game in more than 10 months. He was shut down early last June with elbow inflammation and scratched from the Arizona Fall League with a sore collarbone before being traded to Miami. The Marlins have decided to keep him in extended spring training rather than let him open the season at double-A Jacksonville.
Will Stewart, 21, was the other pitching prospect sent to Miami and he opened the season with high-A Jupiter after going 8-1 with a 2.06 ERA for the Phillies’ low-A Lakewood club a year ago.
The could-be Phillies relievers are likely to receive the most attention this season, especially with David Robertson off to a difficult start out. The Phillies gave Robertson a two-year deal worth $23 million, but they could have opted for Adam Ottavino (three years and $27 million from the Yankees), Zack Britton (three years and $39 million from the Yankees), Jeurys Familia (three years and $30 million from the Mets), or Andrew Miller (two years and $25 million from St. Louis).
The ultimate could-be Phillie, of course, was Manny Machado and folks in the Philadelphia area will not be the only ones comparing him with Harper this season and over the next decade. For now, nobody in baseball is off to a better start than Harper.