Neris reunion? Phillies plans for Moniak, Haseley and more


CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Notes, quotes and observations after three days at baseball's general managers' meetings.

• Potential labor strife hung uncomfortably over the event, most tangibly as a group of well-pressed union lawyers and negotiators walked through the hotel grounds on their way to a meeting Wednesday.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement between management and the players association expires on December 1 and a lockout could follow. That would cool the hot stove, put a freeze on transactions (free-agent signings and trades) and no one knows how long that could last. Would it threaten the start of spring training? Who knows? But the potential for a condensed, frenzied, mad-dash period of transactions later in the winter does exist when the two sides finally hammer something out.

Meanwhile, teams say they're going about their business as usual, at least for the next couple of weeks.

• It seems like a slam dunk that the designated hitter will come to the National League in the new CBA. Phillies president of baseball ops David Dombrowski believes it will happen and he'll have no objections because his club is deep in DH types that would benefit from getting an occasional defensive break. Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and even Bryce Harper could get reps at DH. Didi Gregorius could be an occasional possibility against righties if he's not the full-time shortstop. The Phillies would like to upgrade the position. We covered the matter here.

• Dombrowski listed closer as a priority on a deep list of needs and went on to say he'd like to add at least two bullpen arms to the late innings. Is there interest in a reunion with Hector Neris, who excelled in a setup role in the second half of 2021?

"Yes," Dombrowski said. "He pitched well for us. We'd prefer to bring him back as a non-ninth-inning guy. That would be our hope. He's open to that. Ideally, he'd love to return but I know once a player becomes a free agent, anything can happen."

Dombrowski doused speculation that Seranthony Dominguez, who has recovered from Tommy John surgery, would not be tendered a contract. He will. The Phillies are hoping he's a major factor in their bullpen next season.

• Matt Vierling opened eyes with his athleticism, versatility and those impressive exit velocities in September. He can play three outfield positions and two corner infield positions. He will get a serious chance to make the big club in spring training and could be valuable sliding into the lineup on days that Hoskins or Harper are used at DH.

• Word is Bob Stumpo, the former West Chester Golden Ram and Phillies minor-leaguer, will move from bullpen catcher/catching instructor with the big-league club and become the organization's minor-league catching coordinator. Catching is an area of strength in the system with Rafael Marchan and Logan O'Hoppe on their way. Dombrowski listed backup catcher as a need for the club -- he said he wants an upgrade from Andrew Knapp -- and he prefers to have Marchan and O'Hoppe play every day in the minors and be on call if a regular need arises in the majors.

• Speaking of O'Hoppe, Steve Potter, dedicated observer/chronicler of the Phillies' minor-league system, reports that O'Hoppe is the first player to ever hit a home run in big-league spring training, Single A, Double A, Triple A and the Arizona Fall League all in the same year. Not too shabby.

• Dombrowski seeks a big bat with left field being the most likely landing spot.

"Ideally, we would like to find a left-handed guy," he said. "But I don't think it's a necessity. I think it's just if a guy can hit and drive in runs for us in the middle."

• The Phillies find themselves searching for a left fielder and a center fielder because Odubel Herrera has likely reached his expiration date in Philadelphia and three outfielders who were first-round draft picks in recent years have all failed to show they can make an impact in the majors. Cornelius Randolph, famously compared to Tony Gwynn when he was drafted 10th overall in 2015, never made the majors and became a minor-league free agent earlier this week. Mickey Moniak, the top overall pick in the 2016 draft, and Adam Haseley, picked eighth overall in 2017, have both reached the majors but failed to show they can stick, never mind be difference-makers. Both remain on the 40-man roster but have things to prove.

"I'm not, per se, counting on either one of them to be on our club next year to start off," Dombrowski said. 

• Zach Eflin continues to recover from knee surgery with no setbacks. Though he is approaching his rehab with the intention of being ready for opening day, a return sometime in May seems more likely. The right-hander will be a free agent at this time next year so 2022 is a big season for him and the Phillies need a big contribution from him if they're going to challenge for the playoffs.

• Next week is a big one for the Phillies as Zack Wheeler and Bryce Harper are finalists for two of the most prestigious awards in the game. Wheeler is one of three finalists (along with Max Scherzer and Corbin Burnes) for the NL Cy Young Award and Harper is a finalist (along with Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr.) for the NL Most Valuable Player Award. The Cy Young will be announced Wednesday night, the MVP on Thursday night.

Dombrowski was asked if having both the Cy Young winner and the MVP would make missing the playoffs in 2021 sting even more.

"No," he said. "It stings anyway. So, it doesn't matter if they win or don't win. I think what it tells me is there's a real good core here. Now, what we have to do is improve the surrounding cast.

"When I was in Detroit, we had (Justin) Verlander, Scherzer, (David) Price, (Rick) Porcello, (Miguel) Cabrera, (Prince) Fielder and (Victor) Martinez and we never won the World Series. You just kind of shake your head. There's three sure-bet Hall of Famers right there, and we didn't win the World Series. After I went through that experience, and looking at the players we had on those teams, you know how tough it is to win. I don't know that I'll ever have as talented a group of individuals and we didn't win it all, so that kind of puts it in perspective."

• The last guy we saw heading out the door of the GM meetings? 

Gabe Kapler.

He's a shoo-in to be the NL Manager of the Year when it's announced Tuesday night.

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