In this April 2019 file photo, New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler smiles while celebrating with teammates after hitting a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies.
In this April 2019 file photo, New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler smiles while celebrating with teammates after hitting a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies.|Frank Franklin II | Associated Press
MLB

Did the Phillies do enough to compete in 2020? The pros and cons of Didi Gregorius, Zach Wheeler, and Joe Girardi

Mark Eckel

From signing Bryce Harper to a ridiculous 13-year contract to being the pick of Sports Illustrated to win the World Series, no team in Major League Baseball disappointed more than the Phillies in 2019.

When it was all said and done the Harper-led Phillies were the epitome of mediocre in 2019. They finished exactly at .500 with an 81-81 record. That was just good enough for fourth place in the NL East, only ahead of the NL’s worst team, the Miami Marlins. And their minus-20 run differential tells you they weren’t even as good as that record indicated.

Now the question for 2020 is did the Phillies do enough to make up the 16 games they trailed the division champion Atlanta Braves by, or will this be another in a long line of disappointing seasons for a team with more losses than any franchise in sports?

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA — which didn’t buy into the Phillies’ hype a year ago thinks even less of them this season — projects just 77 wins for the 2020 Phils.

The team’s offseason was spent in a New York state of mind. Its three major additions were former Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (1-year, $14 miilion), former Mets pitcher Zach Wheeler ( 5 years, $118 million) and former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Let’s take a pros and cons look at all three.

Gregorius:

Pros: He’s always been a good defensive shortstop and should definitely help the Phillies infield in that regard. He also good pop as evidenced by his 25 and 27 home runs in 2017 and 2018. And 16 in just 324 at-bats last year. He batted .400 (4-for-10) with a grand slam in six RBI in th ALDS against Minnesota.

Cons: Gregorious missed half of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and had his worst year offensively slashing a .238/.276/.441. The average was the second-lowest of his career (.226 in ’14) and the on-base percentage was a career low. He batted .217 (5-for-23) with no RBI in the ALCS vs. Houston.

Wheeler

Pros: Scouts always rave about his “stuff’’. His career numbers (44-38 record, 3.77 ERA, 726/270 strikeout/walk ratio and 1.294 WHIP) aren’t bad. By default he’s the team’s second-best starter behind Aaron Nola.

Cons: It’s not my money, but $118 million seems like a lot for a guy who has never won more than 12 games in a season and he did that just once. He’s also never pitched in a pennant race in his five years with the Mets. Can he handle it?

Girardi

Pros: Phillies fans hope that Girardi for Gabe Kapler will make all the difference in the world, and it might. Girardi has a 988-794 record in 11 years as a manager, the last 10 of those years with the Yankees. He’s also made the postseason six times and is 28-24 there with one pennant and one World Series (over the Phillies in 2009).

Cons: One World Series in 10 years doesn’t quite cut if for a team with 27 of them. He’s also not going to have Derek Jeter to captain his ship, or Mariano Rivera to bring into the ninth inning every game.

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