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NRI opt-out dates set the tone for upcoming Spring games

Many veterans in Phils camp will soon have to decide whether to stick around or test free agency again

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Boston Red Sox Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, NBCS Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reported some key information about the non-roster invitees currently duking it out for an Opening Day roster spot: The dates they can opt out of their minor league deals with the team.

The Phillies are looking toward this group to help fill out the back of their roster, an area of depth that grows in importance with each day, especially as we nervously fidget about the readiness of guys like Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce, and Seranthony Dominguez.

As Salisbury reports, these are the rapidly approaching dates where these guys will have to decide how much more of 2020 they want to spend with the Phillies. And while these dates are part of their contracts, the player and the team can mutually agree to part ways through a release at any time if circumstances warrant it.

March 19

Logan Forsythe, Francisco Liriano, Blake Parker, Anthony Swarzak, Neil Walker

This group has a number of 26th-man contenders, and March 19 comes two days before the team’s deadline to decide who gets to suit up with the big boys on Opening Day. Forsythe has had a strong first few games (2 homers, 1.691 OPS in 15 PA) to significantly boost his chances of being the 12th or 13th position player. Walker has reportedly looked steady in the field, but his trips to the plate haven’t been nearly as successful as yet.

Competition at the back end of the bullpen is still a bit more wide open, so all three of Liriano, Parker, and Swarzak are still in the mix. They’ve each only pitched two innings so far; Liriano hasn’t allowed a run, but Parker and Swarzak have shown good strikeout stuff. Still a toss-up there.

One interesting detail to note: Salisbury notes that Forsythe, Liriano, Swarzak, and Walker are all eligible for a $100k retention bonus if the Phillies opt not to put them in the Majors but would like to give them a spot in Lehigh Valley. Parker is not eligible because he doesn’t have six years of MLB service time.

March 23

Phil Gosselin (1) and Josh Harrison (1)

Two more utility options in the scrum have the benefit of actually learning their fate with the Phillies before deciding whether to opt out. These two have two days after the announcing of initial rosters to decide whether to stick it out with the IronPigs and be cavalry, or find a better opportunity at MLB playing time elsewhere. Obviously, if either makes the team, they won’t be opting out.

Harrison has impressed with a homer and some other reported good showings at the plate (again, hard to be sure with so few games actually on TV) and showy defensive stops, while Gosselin has picked up four hits in 14 trips of his own.

This is the first of two possible opt-out dates for each player.

June 1

Christian Bethancourt (1), Josh Harrison (2), Ronald Torreyes

Roughly two months of the minor league season will have passed by this point. Bethancourt, who’s unlikely to see much time unless Realmuto gets hurt, can jump ship here if he’s still in the minors and another team has presented him with a Major League offer. Otherwise, he’ll have to hang on until July. Same goes for Torreyes, only his second opt-out wouldn’t come until August. Harrison has his second and final straight-up opt-out here; he was released in August and did not finish the season with a team on a Major League contract, so Harrison is not retention bonus-eligible.

Bethancourt has dealt with some minor injury nags this Spring, but Torreyes has been steady enough so far. No real separation from the pack.

June 15

Mikie Mahtook, Drew Storen, Matt Szczur

As much as you want every guy on the fringes of Major League playing time to be free to grab that work when it’s available, you also need guys to play in minor league games. Having some vets on these deals into mid-June and beyond ensures that the club will have options both for injury replacements in the Bigs and supplemental guys to soak up the playing time vacuum left by the guys who do get promoted.

Maybe Mahtook, Storen, and Szczur will each prove themselves worthy of being the former more than the latter by the time mid-summer rolls up, but it’s nice to have insurance in either direction. Each of these guys’ opt-outs are contingent on MLB offers from other teams.

June 30

Bud Norris

Another offer-contingent opt-out. Norris didn’t even sign until late January and didn’t pitch in the Majors at all last year, so it’s sort of necessary to have him pitch through half a season to prove he’s A) healthy and B) effective enough to be in the mix for a roster spot. He’s pitched in two games so far this Spring and allowed one run.

July 1

Phil Gosselin (2)

Like Harrison, Gosselin is not bonus-eligible, so if we get to this point in the season and a pro-rated Major League salary opportunity comes along, you’d better believe he’d pounce. In the absence of that, maybe he’d end up sticking around with his hometown club for another full season.

July 15

Christian Bethancourt (2)

Same injury caveat applies with regard to Bethancourt’s path to MLB playing time here, but by this point in the season it’d be fair to wonder what the LHV catching situation would look like. Maybe Deivy Grullon has succeeded Andrew Knapp as the main Phils backup, or simply occupies a spot as a third catcher; conversely, maybe Henri Lartigue rebounds from a tough 2019 to earn a promotion. It’s hard to see this far in the future and know how much playing time Bethancourt could be getting. It helps that he’s also played some outfield, but that may not end up being much of a life raft.