CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies manager Gabe Kapler had an audience for his postgame media session on Friday afternoon, a 7-2 victory over the Pirates on the first full day of the Bryce Harper Era in Philadelphia.
Four guys, likely in their late 20s/early 30s — three wearing Phillies T-shirts and one wearing a brown shirt that said “I’m probably lying” — were watching with great interest and a hint of amusement as Kapler held court with the dozen or so media members gathered down the left-field line. After a few minutes, one of the fans — not the one likely spouting falsehoods — yelled out, “Yo, Coach. Are we getting Trout, too?”
What, you expected satisfied Philly fans?
RIVERA: Harper contract is a stupid-good expense for Phillies
It’s safe to say that Kapler and his players were more satiated by the news of Harper’s signings than those four Philly bros.
“He makes our roster substantially better,” Kapler said. “He makes our franchise substantially better. He’s going to make our clubhouse much better. He’s going to be able to fit into our clubhouse. He’s going to be one of many high-quality players and we’re really pleased to have him.”
wonder if the Phillies will give this an update pic.twitter.com/nvEWqRns4F
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) March 1, 2019
The mood in the clubhouse Friday morning was upbeat, though that’s not exactly unusual.
The 2019 Phillies Ping Pong Tournament was underway, after all, and it’s no little deal. The field is 28 players deep, and during the morning media availability, Scott Kingery and Nick Pivetta played a practice game, with the big hand-drawn bracket on the wall next to the table.
Kingery said he got the best of his pitching teammate. So who’s the best on the team?
“It’s a tough question to answer, just because we’ve got guys with some pretty expensive ping-pong paddles in here,” Kingery said. “If we’re going stock ping-pong paddles, not allowed to use the ones we call ‘cheater paddles,’ I’d say I’m up there with the best. But I guess we’ll see. We’ll see who ends up on top. Right now, I think (Jake) Arrieta’s the favorite. But we’ve got some dark horses in there.”
With or without Harper, this is a club that expected to contend for the NL East title, for the National league crown and the World Series. Remember, they already signed Andrew McCutchen and traded for All-Stars J.T. Realmuto — who tripled and homered in his first two at-bats Friday, by the way — and Jean Segura.
Few teams this offseason have made three more impactful additions. But, yeah, the addition of Harper takes things up a notch. Expectations escalated quickly.
“Obviously, the guy’s a pretty good player, right?” Rhys Hoskins said. “We obviously had gotten a lot better before the move yesterday, this offseason. And I think there was an excitement and a buzz around camp with the guys we had previously brought in. But, like I said, you bring in a guy like this and now it becomes, we think and we know we can take the next step from last season to now, this is ours. We feel that way. We’re a confident bunch. You get to add a player like this, it just kind of makes everybody around him better.”
Rhys Hoskins, on the impact Bryce Harper has on expectations for the Phillies … pic.twitter.com/uFRoyk6ryu
— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) March 1, 2019
Details have to be worked out. What number will Harper wear — his No. 34 with the Nationals belonged to new Hall of Famer Roy Halladay in Philadelphia (UPDATE: Harper will wear 3) — where will he bat in the lineup, and how will he mesh with his new teammates? Nobody here in Clearwater is too concerned about that, though.
“It’s going to be a really good lineup, a lineup where the opposing pitcher, he won’t be able to breathe,” McCutchen said. “I’m looking forward to that. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
McCutchen was in the clubhouse when he heard the news. His wife actually told him, and he relayed the news to his boy.
“I looked at my son, he’s 15 months old, and said, ‘Hey, Harper’s coming!’” McCutchen said with a grin. “And he was like, ‘All right, cool. Let’s go hit.’ ”
Funny, that’s what the Phillies plan to do all season with Harper in the lineup, too.