The wait gets longer. Major League Baseball has bumped back opening day until mid-May at the earliest on Monday because of the coronavirus pandemic after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to restrict events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. The Phillies, meanwhile, announced Monday that they have shut down operations at Citizens Bank Ballpark to help prevent the spread of the virus.
All this means is that Phillies fans will have to wait — and wait — to have these four very important questions to be answered when the season eventually starts:
Can the Phillies extend Realmuto?
With no baseball on the field, Phillies manager Matt Klentak can turn his focus to his biggest 2020 mission (outside of making the playoffs for the first time in nine season): extending the best catcher in baseball, J.T. Realmuto, who can become a free agent after the season. Signing Realmuto to a longterm deal has been the team’s plan since they acquired him in Feb. 2019 for mega-prospect Sixto Sanchez and everyday catcher Jorge Alfaro. Even if the Phils and Realmuto agree to terms during the suspension of play, would they announce it? Guessing no. It would be a PR boon to wait for normal conditions to celebrate signing Realmuto with a press conference. Ten days ago, sources indicated that negotiations between Realmuto and the Phillies are moving slowly, with Realmuto saying: “There’s no update. We’re talking, but we’ll leave it at that.”
Will McCutchen be ready?
One benefit of a delayed start to the season is leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen, who’s recovering from ACL surgery, should be ready for opening day. Prior to the announcement that baseball would be suspended, McCutchen was heading to the injured list and expected to miss at least a month. How important is a healthy McCutchen? After his season-ending injury on June 3 of last year, the Phillies went from first place down to fourth and never found a leadoff guy — or a left-fielder — to replace the effervescent McCutchen.
How will the new guys start off?
The Phillies signed starting pitcher Zack Wheeler for $118 million over five years and inked shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal. Wheeler, who’s expected to bolster the Phillies shaky rotation, had been showcasing a lively fastball during three spring training appearances, striking out six in four innings in his last outing. Gregorius, who had only three hits in 27 at-bats this spring, is a seasoned vet, who should give the Phillies a clutch bat and steady glove at short; at least that’s what everyone expects.
Will Girardi be an analytics guy?
For the past two seasons, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was all about the analytics to the wrath of the fan base. Kapler got axed, and the Phils hired new manager Joe Girardi, who has vowed to mash up old-school with new-fangled in his approach. Phillies fans also loathed Kapler’s sunshine persona and look forward to Girardi, who should be less sunny and more honest.
But in the meantime…
Girardi, speaking via phone on MLB Network on Sunday, discussed his instructions to his players before they were given the option to depart Clearwater and return home. He said: “We said, look, we’re going to have time to prepare for the regular season. Keep it up like your offseason workouts right before you come to spring training. If you are a pitcher and throwing some light bullpens, do that. Because we really don’t know how long we’re going to be out and then we don’t know how long the season is going to continue. Like, will we play regular season in the month of October? So if you continue to throw five or six innings like you’re used to now, you’ll be out of gas in the month of October.”
Girardi also said he instructed his players to “wait by the phone,” adding that “a lot of guys stayed in Clearwater, especially the rehab guys. And we should know more as time goes on. But we have to be flexible and let the health officials and our government and Major League Baseball do what they have to do.”