WASHINGTON, D.C. - It's tough to properly evaluate players when the games suddenly lack meaning and pressure. It's one of the reasons it was so difficult to evaluate young hitters and bullpen pieces in that 2013-17 period when the Phillies were well out of the playoff race by the midpoint of the summer.
These last two seasons, the Phillies were mathematically eliminated in the final week - Game 155 in 2018, Game 156 in 2019. Gabe Kapler and his players still want to win three out of four to avoid a losing season, but it's hard to watch this team right now and think about anything other than the future.
The Phillies have some obvious keepers: Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Hector Neris, Adam Haseley, probably Zach Eflin. (However you feel about Arrieta, he's still under contract and won't be giving away money.)
One other player who might be a bench keeper is Brad Miller, who has started four consecutive games in left field. Miller's playing time increased when Corey Dickerson was lost for the season but the utilityman has also earned the extra reps. Miller's locked in right now. Since Sept. 20, he is 7 for 22 (.318) with a double, five homers and seven RBI. He says his balance and mindset at the plate right now are as good as they've been in some time.
Miller has a skill set that plays off the bench. He has good plate appearances, knows the strike zone and has pop in his bat. His swing is conducive to lining balls over the scoreboard in right field at Citizens Bank Park.
Miller on Thursday said that of all the clubhouses he's been in (Seattle, Tampa, Milwaukee, Cleveland), the Phillies' is his favorite because of how many of the players genuinely like being around each other, which is evident even amid all the recent losing.
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Miller had spent all but 27 career games in the American League before joining the Phillies but fits well in the National League. On the right AL team, he may have started more this season with the designated hitter slot. But in the NL, he can be a swiss army knife of sorts. He can start at either corner infield or corner outfield spot and can give you a solid AB off the bench. Not every position player is equipped to pinch-hit effectively. Miller is second on the Phillies with seven pinch-hits, including a triple and a homer.
Obviously, the Phillies have much bigger priorities this offseason than re-signing a bench player. But a 25-man roster (26 next season) is not built around 20-plus All-Stars. You need role players. You need versatile pieces who can actually produce off the bench. If it costs $1 million or so, the Phillies should be willing to bring Miller back as a Ross Gload- or Greg Dobbs-type of piece.
They need much, much, much more, but we've seen the last two years what a bad bench looks like. The Phillies need better options off the bench from Day 1 next season.
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