Philadelphia Phillies

Rumors: Lester, Bogaerts, Hamels

Lester

Big Papi would love to welcome home Jon Lester.

 

Arguably, only the 1977 album “Rumors”, Fleetwood Mac’s greatest (in sales) album, was more entertaining and talked about than baseball’s hot stove. Believing the validity of MLB rumors is only slightly more dicey than the relationships in one of rock and roll’s longest lasting quintets.

The Boston Red Sox had a big day on Monday, signing infielders Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. One would assume that meant shortstop Xander Bogaerts would be used as part of a package to obtain a front line starter. But two team sources told the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham that Bogaerts is still considered the team’s starting shortstop. That would mean a position switch for Ramirez. Do you buy that?

With Dustin Pedroia entrenched at second base, it would mean Ramirez would move to the outfield. Yoenis Cespedes is in left field with Rusney Castillo in center.  Boston has right fielder Shane Victorino under contract for one more season (at $13MM). With David Ortiz at DH, something has to give.

Despite adding an average of $41MM over the next four years (Only Sandoval has a guaranteed 5th year), Abraham reported that the Red Sox are also said to still be in play on their former ace Jon Lester.  With the Sox going nowhere this past season, the team dealt Lester to the Oakland A’s  for the slugging Cespedes.

Lester made $13MM last season and is likely to land at least a five year deal that tops $20MM per season. Do you buy that Boston can still afford that?

It’s possible Lester will give the Sox, for whom he played with for parts of nine seasons, a hometown discount. But this is a chance for Lester, who turns 30 in January, to land the biggest deal of his career and one of the largest in baseball. (The Yankees truly are crazy if they are not in on trying to signing him.) Boston, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, has also had serious talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for lefty Cole Hamels. (The Dodgers are reportedly also in on the fray.)

Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. – how does this man keep his job? – is trying to unload salary. He failed to move anyone making substantial money at last season’s deadline – Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee (who injured his elbow during the post-deadline waiver period) – and needs to now. Hamels is owed $90MM over the next four years and has a possible 5th year (2019) at $24MM (vesting) or $20MM (team option).

Despite the claim by team sources, Bogaerts would most certainly have to be part of any package sent to Philadelphia along with one of Boston’s top catching prospects, Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez. It would all depend on how much money is picked up by Boston.

The feeling here is that if the Red Sox can’t land Hamels or bring back Lester at a discount, they’ll try to sign a cheaper option like James Shields.

There is action going on elsewhere in the AL East. Toronto, who already overpaid catcher Russell Martin, is said to be pursuing the Cincinnati Reds versatile outfielder, Jay Bruce.

Blue Jays are, however, working to add a left-handed bat to their lineup. One name they are talking about: Jay Bruce.

The left-handed hitting Bruce would be a great addition to any team. The Reds would have to be blown away by any offer though, since the 27-year old outfielder is under contract for the next two seasons at an average of $12.25MM and has a team option for a third year at a minuscule $13MM.

The outfielder is coming off a miserable year in which he hit just .217 and had a sub-.700 OPS. But in the three years prior to that, Bruce topped 30 home runs and averaged 101 RBI.

UPDATE – ComcastSportsNet’s (CSNChicago.com) Dave Kaplan is reporting that the Chicago Cubs have made a “significant offer” of six years and a salary figure “north of $135MM” to free agent pitcher Jon Lester.

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Free Agent: A.J. Burnett Returns to P-Burg

Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of Pennsylvania. Free agent right-hander A.J. Burnett pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 and 2013 before he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies prior to last season. After he turned down a $12.75MM option to return to Philly for the 2015 season, Burnett agreed today to a one year, $8.5MM that will have him donning the black and gold of the Pirates next season.

Burnett, who will turn 38 in January, made $15MM in a season in which he led the National League in losses with 18. The Phillies struggled as a team in 2014 and with the future not looking bright for the 2015 campagain, it was no shock that Burnett walked away from his option to play for a better team. Burnett had two of his best seasons as a member of the Pirates, who have made the playoffs the last two seasons as a wild card entry.

Burnett finished with 16 wins and posted a 3.51 ERA when the Pirates finished four games below .500 in 2012. The lanky righty, who has World Series rings from the 2003 Marlins (injuries limited him to 23 games) and 2009 Yankees, pitched in bad luck the following season, but the team ended a 20-year postseason drought. (The team won the wild card game before they lost to St. Louis in the division series.) The lanky righty finished 10-11 despite a 3.30 ERA and a league best 9.8 K’s per nine innings.

Lester and Price Lead The Winners and Losers of Deadline Day

Tigers supergroup

Three Cy Young winners All in a row.

It’s been a five days since the craziness of the final hours of the Major League Baseball trade deadline came to an end. I cannot recall the last time there was such monumental team changing/game changing deals on July 31. Lately, many of the bigger trades have taken place as the deadline neared. This year, it was a frenzy right down to the final minutes, with some deals announced shortly after the deadline had passed.

So, who came up as the winners and losers at the deadline? Let’s take a look.

Winners

Oakland A’s: This isn’t Moneyball, this is sending and receiving at its finest. The A’s needed to strengthen their starting rotation and add some veteran presence to it. Prior to the deadline, they went out and got Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samarzdija and fellow starter Jason Hammel for a package that included highly rated shortstop prospect Addison Russell.

Inserted in the A’s rotation, Samarzdija pitched to his reputation, but Hammel struggled, leading GM Billy Beane to pull off a bold move. He sent his slugging left fielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for their ace, Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. The A’s outfield had been thinned with an injury to Coco Crisp, so the addition of Gomes gave them another World Series ring-wearing veteran.( Beane would later flip aggrieved starter Tommy Milone for outfielder Sam Fuld to strengthen the bench and play centerfield while Crisp is out)

Lester was the key maneuver, though, joining a rotation of Samarzdija, veteran Scott Kazmir and youngsters Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez. The left-hander started his first game as an Athletic on Saturday, in front of a charged Oakland crowd. Lester allowed three earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched in the A’s 8-3 victory. It was Lester’s 110th career victory and his first in a uniform other than that of the Boston Red Sox. (A day later Lester took out a full page ad in the Boston Globe to thank the fans.)

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly. That’s a pretty intimidating starting rotation right out of the box. Now add David Price to it and look out. That’s exactly what Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski was able to do on Thursday. As soon as Lester was dealt by Boston, Tampa Bay Rays’ Executive VP of Operations and GM, Andrew Friedman, began to get inundated with calls about Price.

The 2012 AL Cy Young winner still had another year on his contract, so Tampa did not need to trade him this year with the worry of losing him to free agency in the offseason. But Friedman found a deal he liked and brought in the Seattle Mariners as a third team to get it done.

The Rays sent Price to Detroit, who in turn traded centerfielder Austin Jackson to the Mariners and Smyly and minor league infielder Willy Adames to the Rays. The Rays also received second base prospect Nick Franklin from Seattle.

The Tigers now have the last three AL Cy Young winners with Verlander (2011, also MVP), Price (2012) and Scherzer (2013). Sanchez is now the best number four starter in the Major Leagues. The Tigers still need to work on their bullpen –as the Phillies can attest, a great rotation (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt) doesn’t always get it done – which has not performed up to par, but they may not need to make too many appearances with a group of starters that can routinely pitch into the 7th and 8th innings. Price makes his Tigers’ debut Tuesday evening in a place he has started 23 games, Yankee Stadium. (Price is 10-5, 3.66 vs. the Yankees, including 6-2 in the new Yankee Stadium.)

Boston Red Sox: There were a lot of disgruntled Red Sox fans on Thursday, most of them not wanting to see Lester go. But with a better than 50/50 chance of Lester returning as a free agent, GM Ben Cherington took a team that went from first to worst and got it back on the road to future success.

In Cespedes, he got a bona fide power hitter whose power had been lessened by the A’s spacious home ballpark. Now he has the Green Monster to pepper shots off of. It also gives David Ortiz more protection in the lineup than he had with Mike Napoli and allows manager John Farrell to move Dustin Pedroia into the number two slot in the order. Cherington also sent John Lackey to St. Louis for first baseman Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly

Craig drove in 90-plus runs the last two seasons before an ankle injury robbed him of much of the current season. He’ll give depth to a lineup that has struggled to score runs this season. The Red Sox also added youth with the just turned 30-year old Craig and the 26-year old Kelly. The right-hander was solid the past two seasons as a reliever and occasional starter, and helped the Cardinals to their second NL pennant in three years in 2013.

Kelly was limited to 10 starts between the Majors (7) and minors (3) this season due to a strained hamstring that kept him out of action for three months. He’ll join the only remaining Boston starter, Clay Buchholz, from the rotation that began the year. (The Red Sox had already dealt Jake Peavy prior to the deadline and sent lefty Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs on the 31st.)

The Sox also dealt veteran shortstop Stephen Drew, to the Yankees of all people, to free up playing time for Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, and Mookie Betts. The aforementioned Peavy deal brought them pitcher Edwin Escobar, ranked in the 2014 top 100 MLB prospects by Baseball America and MLB.com, and a possible addition to their bullpen in right-hander Heath Hembree.

 

Losers:

Philadelphia Phillies: One has to wonder how GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has managed to keep his job. Yes, the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and repeated as NL pennant winners a year later. But the writing was on the wall for quite some time and Amaro ignored it. He also doled out way too much money for too many players and was unable to move any of them by the deadline.

One of those players was starting pitcher Cliff Lee. The former AL Cy Young Winner still has about $37.5MM owed to him for the next two years. Whether he’ll be able to play or not is another matter. Lee was bothered by elbow problems this season, which made him and his contract harder to move. But Amaro should have done something, even if it meant not getting much in return. He may have been able to move some of Lee’s salary. He didn’t and Lee re-injured his elbow and is likely done for the season, which means no waiver trade either.

First baseman Ryan Howard is not what he used to be, which was a home run smashing, RBI-producing, bad-fielding first baseman. Okay, he is still the last part. Amaro foolishly gave Howard a six year, $106MM extension after the 2012 season. It’s a deal that will be paying Howard $25MM the next two years when he is 35 and 36. The Phillies are just lucky, if you want to call it that, they have a $10MM buyout on a $23MM option in 2017.

If you are to believe the reports, Amaro was also asking for too much in return for outfielder Marlon Byrd. As of this writing, the 36-year old had a .799 OPS with 21 HR and 63 RBI in 110 games. Ah, but Amaro’s over-generosity did him in again. There are plenty of teams that want Byrd for this year, maybe even next season at the $8MM it may cost them. But they don’t want a 38-year old Byrd with another $8MM in 2016.

Amaro was clearly counting on Byrd not being able to attain the vested portion of his contract – 600 plate appearances (PA) in 2015 or 1100 PA between this year and next. Byrd already has 462 PA as of this writing, with nearly two full months of the season left.

Amaro could have also moved A.J. Burnett, whose performance has dropped off from last season. Burnett makes $15MM and has a mutual option with just a $1MM buyout for next year. In today’s market, Amaro did a good job on Burnett’s deal. Burnett is the most likely of the Phillies to pass through waivers and be dealt. He’d better be or Amaro’s trade season will be a complete flop. Not that it still won’t be a complete flop even if Amaro does move Burnett.

There were a number of teams that hoped to improve with minor moves that fall somewhere in between winner and loser. Time will tell which of the categories those deals fall into.

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

 

MLB Preview: Phils Full of Questions

Injury concerns surrounding Cole Hamels cast more doubt on the Phillies’ 2014 playoff hopes.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key Acquisitions:  Marlon Byrd, Bobby Abreu, Chad Gaudin, Barry Enright, Reid Brignac, Brad Lincoln, Ronny Cedeno

Key Losses: Roy Halladay, John Lannan

After a string of five consecutive division titles and two World Series appearances (one won and one lost), the Philadelphia Phillies toiled in mediocrity and missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.  Prized ace – and possible future Hall-of-Famer – Roy Halladay struggled with injuries in back-to-back seasons and announced his retirement not long ago.  Longtime stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have aged and struggled with injuries.  While the Phillies aim to establish themselves among baseball’s elite again, their window of opportunity may have closed.

During the Phillies’ five-year run of division titles, they averaged 799 runs scored and 675 runs against them.  In the past two seasons, the Phillies have averaged 647 runs scored and 714 runs against them.  The core of their once-mighty offense (Rollins-Utley-Howard) are past their prime.  Utley is still a very productive hitter; however, he cannot be counted on to play nearly 162 games.  Utley’s 131 games in 2013 was the first time he appeared in more than 115 games since 2009 (156 games).  Howard is an all-or-nothing hitter who would club 40 home runs and strike out around 200 times.  Howard struggled with injuries and a very sharp decline in productivity the past few seasons.  Rollins has not been hit by the woeful injury bug that Howard and Utley had over the years, but he has declined significantly as a hitter.

The Phillies’ top prospects – Maikel Franco and Jesse Biddle – will most likely start the 2014 season in the minors and possibly not see MLB action this year.  The Phillies made a questionable signing in right fielder Marlon Byrd.  Regardless of whether or not Byrd has a productive season with the Phillies, the signing appears senseless because it takes at-bats away from Darin Ruf.

Ruf is a power-hitting right-handed batter who has shown an ability to get on base at a consistent clip in his short time in the majors.  If Ruf were to get regular at-bats over the course of a full season, he could conceivably hit 30 home runs and have a respectable on-base percentage.  Ruf could be a slightly better version of Mark Trumbo.  With Howard still under contract and starting at first base, and Byrd expected to start in right field, Ruf’s value to the team is greatly hindered.  Ruf may lose even more at-bats if veteran Bobby Abreu receives some starts in right field.  Limiting Ruf to a platoon role with Howard at first base severely dampens the potential of the Phillies’ offense.

Once again, the Phillies are a lefty bat-heavy team.  Right fielder Byrd and catcher Carlos Ruiz may be the only right-handed bats in the starting lineup on a regular basis.  The six left-handed bats will likely be Howard, Utley, Cody Asche, a switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown.  The Phillies will have right-handed bats on the bench in Ruf and John Mayberry Jr.  Kevin Frandsen – another right-handed bat – could conceivably be released this spring.

LINEUP
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  Ryan Howard
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Cody Asche
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  Domonic Brown
CF:  Ben Revere
RF:  Marlon Byrd

The opening day batting order at this point is pure speculation.  Because the Phillies will not want to bat four or five consecutive left-handed batters, Rollins or Revere will likely bat in the bottom third of the order.  The Phillies would be best-served by having Revere lead off the order and Rollins moved down in the order.  Revere has tremendous speed and is a respectable hitter.  Revere got off to a slow start in 2013, but eventually rounded into form and became one of the hottest hitters in baseball before suffering an injury.  Although it would be more prudent to bat Rollins in the bottom third, it would not be surprising to see him leading off the top of the lineup (his longtime role with the club).

ROTATION
SP:  Cliff Lee
SP:  Cole Hamels
SP:  A.J. Burnett
SP:  Kyle Kendrick
SP:  Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona)

The Phillies have an excellent front end of the rotation with Lee, Hamels and Burnett; however, the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation leave a lot to be desired.  Hernandez signed a one-year deal worth $4.50 million (another questionable signing).  Due to Hernandez’s salary, the Phillies likely will start Jonathan Pettibone in the minors while assuring Hernandez a roster spot.  Hernandez struggled with command throughout his career and leaves too many hittable pitches up in the zone.

Kendrick is a solid pitcher for the back end of the rotation, but is highly unlikely to show significant improvement.  At his best, Kendrick induces ground balls and puts together a stretch of games where he looks like an ace; however, his overall body of work is never impressive over the course of a season.  Kendrick has improved tremendously against left-handed bats over the years (.298 OBP against in 2013); however, he is more hittable to right-handed bats each year.  Right-handed batters posted the following OBP against Kendrick:  .329 in 2010, .298 in 2011, .312 in 2012, and a whopping .358 in 2013.

Adding to the uncertainty of Kendrick/Hernandez, Hamels may be unavailable at the start of the season.  For now, Hamels is shut down from throwing for at least a week.  It is believed that there is no structural damage in Hamels’ shoulder, but Hamels is reportedly fatigued.  Bad news surrounding the front end of the pitching rotation puts a damper on the club’s playoff hopes.  Should Hamels be unavailable, the Phillies will probably use Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in his place.  Gonzalez reportedly had elbow issues after signing with the Phillies in 2012 and he has struggled with his command in spring training and failed to impress thus far.

BULLPEN
Jonathan Papelbon
Antonio Bastardo
Jake Diekman
Jeremy Horst
Brad Lincoln
Phillippe Aumont

An inept bullpen has greatly plagued the Phillies over the past few years and cost them many would-be victories, however, the bullpen shows promise for 2014.  Jonathan Papelbon will be back as the closer.  Left-handed pitchers Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman will also be assured  roster spots.  Veteran Mike Adams will likely begin the season on the disabled list before joining the pen as a righty set-up man.  The Phillies will likely carry six relief pitchers rather than seven in order to create a bench spot for Abreu.  B.J. Rosenberg, Michael Stutes and Justin De Fratus are also vying for spots in the bullpen.  Stutes once showed plenty of promise, but has been nothing short of unproductive since his injury.  With Ethan Martin now injured, his chances of making the team are also slim.

BENCH

Wil Nieves will serve as the second catcher.  Ruf (1B/OF) will be assured of a bench spot.  Mayberry will mostly likely be on the bench.  If the Phillies carry six relief pitchers, three spots remain.  Those last spots will likely go to Abreu (a disciplined hitter who draws walks), Freddy Galvis (2B/3B/SS/OF) and Cesar Hernandez.  Galvis is perhaps the best defensive player in the organization, and should be the starting shortstop; however, Rollins’ refusal to waive his no-trade clause prevents such a move from happening.  Galvis is not a spectacular hitter, but has the potential to improve and has respectable power to the gaps.  Hernandez is young but has potential and could be the everyday replacement for Utley if he were to suffer an injury.

2014 Outlook

The Phillies could sneak into the playoffs and surprise the world in 2014; however, that would be highly unexpected.  The Phillies are a team full of uncertainty and need a large number of what-ifs to work correctly for them.  The Phillies’ 2014 playoff fate rests on the shoulders of their top three pitchers, Revere, and an aging cast of hitters.  Revere could be a tremendous bright spot in the Phillies’ lineup this season, with the potential to approach 200 hits and steal many bases; unfortunately, the Phillies’ other potential bright spots (Ruf, Galvis and Hernandez) are reduced to backup roles.  The injury scare around Hamels at this time does nothing to ease the concerns of Phillies fans.  The over/under for victories by the Phillies in 2014 should be around 80 games.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).