Last week, MLBTR’s Connor Byrne took a look at how the delayed start of the 2020 season will impact the Yankees. We’ll be running out a look at how all 30 clubs will be impacted in the days and weeks to come. And since we’ve already tackled the Phillies’ Offseason in Review, let’s now turn to how this will impact their roster choices down the road.
First and foremost, left fielder Andrew McCutchen should have ample time to rehabilitate his knee. The 33-year-old tore his left ACL last year and was expected to be ready to join the Phillies’ lineup at some point in April. With the season pushed back until at least May 10 — quite likely longer than that — McCutchen should be good to go for the year’s first game, barring any sort of setback.
He may not be the MVP-caliber talent he once was, but McCutchen was an important part of the Philadelphia lineup all the same. In 59 games and 292 plate appearances, he posted a .256/.378/.457 batting line with 10 homers, 12 doubles and a triple. Cutch’s career-best 16.4 percent walk rate and sky-high OBP were badly missed on a team that posted a pedestrian .319 OBP on the whole. That mark tied them for 19th in MLB, and McCutchen’s primary replacement, Jay Bruce, had the fourth-worst OBP in the Majors at .261 (min. 300 plate appearances).
McCutchen’s likely inclusion on the Opening Day roster should impact the bench mix as well. His presence would push Bruce into a more limited role and likely mean that one of Nick Williams or Roman Quinn misses out on the 26-man roster. Given that Williams has a minor league option remaining and Quinn does not, it seems likeliest that Williams would be the odd man out. The Phils have explored trading Williams in the past, and one would imagine that with a full-strength outfield that possibility would be a bit likelier.
The composition of the bench is of extra note given the abnormally large slate of non-roster players in camp hoping to secure a backup job with the Phillies; Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Neil Walker, Logan Forsythe and Ronald Torreyes are among the slew of infielders Philadelphia inked to minor league pacts this winter.
On the pitching side of things, the projected delay ought to give right-hander Tommy Hunter time to ramp up. He’s on the mend from 2019 elbow surgery and was expected to miss the first month of the year prior to the shutdown. Hunter’s health is far from a given after he missed nearly all of last year with a forearm injury, which is why he took a one-year, make-good deal that only promises him an $850K base salary. But when healthy, Hunter has turned in 69 1/3 innings of 3.50 ERA ball with the Phillies. Considering the overwhelming number of injuries that left the Philly bullpen in a state of disrepair a year ago, any healthy contributions from the veteran Hunter will be a most welcome addition.
As is the case with the bench, the Phillies have a deluge of veterans competing for bullpen jobs on non-roster deals. Francisco Liriano, Drew Storen, Bud Norris, Anthony Swarzak and Blake Parker were all invited to camp. A healthy Hunter leaves one less spot to win.
Things are less certain for two other relievers: Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson. The former underwent an MRI after experiencing a setback in his recovery from last summer’s elbow troubles and acknowledged significant concern. With a poor enough diagnosis, he could miss the entire 2020 season regardless, but if non-surgical treatment is recommended, the delay could buy him time to rehab. Robertson, meanwhile, underwent Tommy John surgery last August. The club’s hope had been that the right-hander could return in the season’s second half, and if the season doesn’t get underway until the summer, he’d theoretically be available for a greater portion of the year.
Perhaps the most interesting scenario is what the implications could be for the rotation. As Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer explored over the weekend, the delayed start to the season lessens the need for the Phillies to monitor the workload of prized pitching prospect Spencer Howard. Considered one of the game’s 40 best prospects by each of Baseball America, MLB.com, ESPN, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, Howard totaled just 99 1/3 innings between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League in 2019.
General manager Matt Klentak has previously spoken about the need to make sure he has enough innings left in his arm to contribute down the stretch, and a shorter season should reduce his workload overall. That could also afford Howard fewer innings to develop in Double-A and Triple-A, but Howard ripped through Class-A Advanced en route to a Double-A promotion and found similar success there in 2019 (2.35 ERA, 38-to-9 K/BB ratio in 30 2/3 innings). He’ll surely open the season in the minors, but a similarly aggressive ascension in 2020 shouldn’t be ruled out.
Howard’s timeline to the big leagues will directly impact the bullpen composition and perhaps the very future in the organization for once-touted righties Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta. Both have a minor league option remaining, and it’s possible that both could yet emerge as viable pieces in the ’pen (or that injuries elsewhere in the rotation will keep one or both in a starting role). Howard’s emergence as a top-half-of-the-rotation complement to Aaron Nola is a best-case scenario for the organization as a whole, but that could still have a significant individual impact on pitchers like Pivetta, Velasquez, Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin, Enyel De Los Santos and JoJo Romero.