Phillies add veteran infielder Asdrubal Cabrera in trade with rival Mets

Cabrera likely to help Phillies at multiple positions
The initial impression when evaluating the Philadelphia Phillies acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera in trade from the New York Mets might be that he is a “rental” player.
However, Cabrera’s versatility and experience could instead lead the team to bring him back beyond this season. It’s all going to depend on how he fits in over these next few months, and what his contract demands might be this coming off-season.
Cabrera is currently playing out the end of what was a three-year, $24.75 million free agent contract which he signed with the Mets following the 2015 campaign.
He originally signed as an amateur free agent with the Seattle Mariners in August of 2002 while still a teenager. Cabrera was subsequently dealt to the Cleveland Indians in June 2006 for current ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez.
Cabrera broke into the big leagues with the Indians in 2007 and would become a two-time American League All-Star. In the first of those back-to-back all-star seasons, Cabrera was awarded the 2011 AL Silver Slugger Award for the shortstop position. He registered career highs in home runs (25), RBI (92), and runs scored (87) that season while hitting .273 and stealing 17 bases.
After parts of eight seasons with the Tribe, Cabrera was dealt to the Washington Nationals at the 2014 non-waiver trade deadline in exchange for pitcher Zach Walters.
As with this current trade, he became a free agent following that season and signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Once that season was completed and he was a free agent once again, Cabrera signed his Mets deal.
Early in his career, Cabrera split time between second base and shortstop with the Indians. But by 2011 he was Cleveland’s everyday shortstop. He remained exclusively at shortstop until the Nats acquired him and used him for the balance of the 2014 season as their starting second baseman.
He was back at shortstop with the Rays during his lone season in Tampa, and then during his first season in New York. However, last season the Mets began to deploy him in a super-utility role. Cabrera played 45 games at shortstop, 44 at third base, and 32 games at second base.
Prior to this trade to the Phillies, Cabrera had been used exclusively by the Mets as a second baseman this year. It’s hard to say exactly how Gabe Kapler will choose to integrate him into the mix with his first-place ball club.
Maikel Franco has been playing tremendous baseball for more than a month and has become a key player in the Phillies rise. There is no way that Cabrera is going to supplant him at the hot corner.
At second base, Cesar Hernandez has settled into what is his typical empty offensive type of season. He is getting on-base at a .371 clip – no surprise there. However, he also hasn’t homered since June 20, and has stolen just two bases since June 24 – none in the last 15 games.
The Phillies lost their starting shortstop, J.P. Crawford, to injury early on. They have been playing Scott Kingery there out of position for much of the season to the mixed results that could have been expected with a rookie playing the position for the first time professionally.
The best guess is that Kapler will use him at both second and short liberally. Cabrera has banged 18 home runs and 23 doubles this year. 
Those figures would put him second only to Rhys Hoskins in those categories in the Phillies lineup. He hit the last of those 18 homers in a Mets uniform just last night in Pittsburgh.

There is a chance that he could simply become the Phillies starting shortstop. Kingery would then slid back into the utility role in which he appeared to be thriving prior to Crawford’s injury.
Todd Zolecki of MLB.com has reported that “a source said Cabrera will cover the team at second base, third base and shortstop. He will play regularly, but not exclusively at any one position.
Whatever the case may be for the rest of this season, he will likely again become a free agent in November. He will turn 33 years old on the 13th of that month. It is difficult to see any team offering him a multi-year deal.
Whether Cabrera returns will simply come down to how he and the team feel about one another after this season is complete, and how much money the club offers him to come back in what is likely to be a utility role for the 2019 campaign.
If Cabrera likes what he sees, feels that the team can win, and is willing to take the promise of plenty of playing time at a variety of infield spots next year, then he certainly could return.
Of course, Cabrera could choose to leave, or the Phillies could simply choose to move on without him. In that case, they will have paid the price of Franklyn Kilome, their 10th-rated prospect. Assuming the 23-year-old Kilome reaches the big leagues, he is likely looking at a career in middle relief.
Giving up a possible future middle reliever for a veteran bat with pop who can play multiple infield positions, even if just for three months? It seems well worth the gamble to bring in some real help to a young team that is battling to prove it really is a winner.

Roman Quinn should add a dynamic speed element to Phillies attack

The dynamic Quinn adds major speed to Phillies attack
After struggling to score runs for most of the first three months of the season, the Phillies offense is finally heating up with the warmer summer weather.
Through June 16 the Phillies had scored five or more runs just 26 times, a little more than 38%, over their first 68 games.
Since that date, over their last 34 games the offense has reached or surpassed that mark a full 50% of the time. That would be 17 games, including the last five straight and seven of the last eight.
The renewed offensive fireworks have helped the club burst up the standings. Their record since that mid-June date is 22-12. They have risen from third place, four games behind the division leaders at the time, to take a 2.5 game lead of their own.
Rhys Hoskins returned to the lineup just a week earlier from a nearly two-week stay on the disabled list. Since his return on June 9, Hoskins is hitting for a .290/.378/.611 slash with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 39 RBI, and 30 runs scored.
Third baseman Maikel Franco was struggling so badly over the first two and a half months that he was largely benched for almost a week. But since returning to the everyday lineup on a full-time basis on June 17, Franco appears reborn. He has slashed to the tune of .330/.376/.642 with nine homers, seven doubles, and 20 RBI over these last 32 games.
As highlighted in a full piece earlier today on his own break out, Nick Williams has joined the hit parade as well. Now starting full-time in right field for the first time in his career, Williams has a .307/.392/.509 slash with six home runs and 20 RBI since June 16.
Each of those three hot players bashed a pair of home runs in last night’s series-opening 9-4 romp of the host Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Veteran first baseman Carlos Santana, signed to a three-year, $60 million contract this past off-season, also homered last night. The seven homers tied the Phillies franchise record for one game. But Santana had been doing little more than drawing a ton of walks over the first half of the season.
Over the past week, something has changed. The  32-year-old is finally doing what this lineup really needs him to do, drive in runs. Santana has a .286 average and .607 slugging percentage while driving in 10 runs since July 20.
Since July 10, all-or-nothing catcher Jorge Alfaro has been “all” on a more frequent basis. He is hitting to a .364/.462/.636 slash with five extra-base hits, five RBI, and nine runs scored over his last nine games.
Even Scott Kingery appears to finally be finding his stroke. The rookie shortstop is hitting .284 over his last 76 plate appearances beginning on the Fourth of July, scoring 13 runs over his last 19 games.
If the mercurial Odubel Herrera can get fully untracked, it could really send this attack into full beast mode. Herrera hasn’t disappeared, he just isn’t producing very much over this past month. He has, however, registered at least one hit in 16 of his last 21 starts.
Fans have been clamoring for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak to get this surprising first-place ball club some help as the MLB non-waiver trade deadline approaches. That help may be arriving today, just not in the form of a big name added via trade.
The Phillies are promoting 25-year old outfielder Roman Quinn. He will join the club for tonight’s game in Cincinnati. Quinn possesses dynamic, game-changing speed. 

Unfortunately, the career of the player who many felt would one day be the Phillies regular leadoff hitter and center fielder has been repeatedly derailed by injuries.
In a piece today for NBC Sports Philadelphia, Jim Salisbury described that injury history:

“Quinn’s career has been marked by one injury after another. He has missed time over the years with a torn Achilles tendon, a torn left quadriceps, a concussion, a strained elbow ligament and a torn ligament in his right middle finger, which required surgery in May. Quinn returned to action in the minors earlier this month and is completely healthy.”

Quinn was the Phillies second round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft out of Port St. Joe High School in Florida. Over parts of seven minor league seasons he has a .278 average and .353 on-base percentage. Quinn has stolen 183 bases and scored 294 runs in 429 games.
He did get to enjoy a cup of coffee with the 2016 Phillies. Promoted that September, Quinn hit .263 with a .373 OBP. He also scored 10 runs and swiped five bags over 15 games, most of which he started in left field.
During a rehab appearance with AA Reading this past Monday night, Quinn doubled, walked, and scored two runs. He also provided a diving catch in the outfield.
After that game, Jason Guarente of the Reading Eagle quoted Quinn regarding his first at-bat, during which he doubled, forced an error during a rundown on the bases, and then came home on a foul pop-up over third base:

“That was a lot of running. I was gassed after that. It was fun. Just getting the read on a couple of balls out there and getting a feel for the wind and everything. Just getting in the whole atmosphere of playing baseball again.“

Since sending Aaron Altherr back to the minors the Phillies have been playing with only their three starters as natural outfielders. Quinn will remedy that, with manager Gabe Kapler likely to use him at all three spots to spell those starters from time to time.
Perhaps just as importantly, Quinn will add a dynamic baserunning presence to the Phillies attack. The team has stolen just 39 bases all season long. Kapler will now have that new weapon at his disposal to pinch-run late in games.
It’s all about staying healthy with Quinn. If he can stay in the dugout and be available to play the field, grab a spot start, step up to pinch-hit, or slide out to the bases to pinch-run, he should prove a dynamic new addition to the Phillies as they try to remain on top of the NL East Division standings.

Finally emerging as an everyday starter, Nick Williams catches fire with Phillies

Williams finally breaking out as an everyday player
Former Phillies 2008 World Series hero Cole Hamels was traded last night for the second time in three years. 
The now 34-year-old lefty went from the Texas Rangers to the Chicago Cubs for a couple of lightly regarded prospects in what was more of a salary dump by Texas than anything else.
It was a far different deal than the one that went down at this time three years ago. On July 31, 2015 the Phillies sent their popular star pitcher to Texas in exchange for a huge six-prospect package. The package that Hamels was able to fetch at that time was filled with highly-rated youngsters to help bolster the rebuilding Phillies minor league system.
The return to the Phillies included prospect arms Jake ThompsonJerad Eickhoff, and Alec Asher. The Phillies also picked up their current starting catcher, Jorge Alfaro, in that deal.
Acquiring such a large and attractive group of young talent was made possible in part because the Phillies also provided salary relief to Texas. They did so by taking on the contract of injured veteran pitcher Matt Harrison, who would never throw an inning in a Phillies uniform. Harrison’s contract hung a $30 million price tag on that package.
The final player acquired in that big haul was a then 21-year-old outfielder named Nick Williams. Full of promise, Williams had been the Rangers second round choice in the 2012 MLB Draft out of Ball High School in Galveston, Texas.
Williams spent the next couple of years following the trade by rising through the Phillies farm system. He spent the last few weeks of 2015 with AA Reading, then the entirety of the 2016 and start of the 2017 seasons at AAA Lehigh Valley.
A solid 2016 campaign in which Williams banged 33 doubles and 13 home runs seemed to be positioning him for a big league promotion with a floundering Phillies team. However, questions began to arise regarding his hustle and attitude.
During that season, each of the other prospects obtained in the Hamels deal spent time at the MLB level. Williams was the only one left behind, and he didn’t take it well. But to his credit, he would eventually learn and grow from the experience.
Prior to the opening of spring training in 2017, Williams was quoted by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“All of the guys that I was traded with ended up in the big leagues except me. But I realize that they were ready and I wasn’t. Last year was a huge learning experience for me — new organization, going to Triple A — and I did some dumb things, some immature things. I got benched for not running out a ball. I look back and I might have thought it was harsh, but it was my fault. I should have run the ball out. That’s what I call not respecting the game. It sucked, but I had to take the punishment. I did it. It was my fault.”

Williams began the 2017 season back with the IronPigs, but also with renewed energy and a sense of purpose. On June 30 it paid off with his own first promotion and taste of the big-league lifestyle. He has been with the Phillies from that point onward.
Entering his first full season in Major League Baseball this spring, it was expected that the lefty-swinging Williams would spend much of the year platooning in right field with the right-handed bat of Aaron Altherr. That was how it went for the better part of three months. There was even a stretch early on where Williams struggled and was briefly benched.
Altherr would end up struggling much more, and was ultimately sent back to the minors last week. This has left Williams as an everyday starter for the first time in his big league career. He seems to be making the most of this opportunity.
Last night, Williams was one of three hitters (Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco were the others) to bang a pair of home runs as the Phillies tied a club record with seven dingers. Those blasts powered the team to a 9-4 victory over the host Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

“It feels like we’re kids at recess right now,” Williams said per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki following the outburst.
Per Zolecki, Statcast™ estimated that Williams’ home run in the ninth inning left the bat at 109.7mph and traveled a projected 431 feet. That made it the hardest and longest of the barrage of long balls driven out last night.
For Williams it was the continuation of what appears to be a genuine breakout. In a span of 35 games since June 14, the now 24-year-old has hit for a .308/.399/.533 slash, blasting seven homers and driving in 22 runs over his last 138 plate appearances.
As the Phillies approach the MLB non-waiver trade deadline there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding players that the team might try to add. But now many of the most hotly rumored names –Hamels, Manny MachadoZach BrittonJ.A. Happ – have been taken off the board.The Phillies have also been heavily linked to a few more bats. The most prominent name in recent days has been veteran Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.
If the club is to bring in any outfielder in the coming days, odds are that it will be with the understanding that he is going to come off the bench for the most part. Right now, the Phillies outfield of Hoskins, Williams, and Odubel Herrera is producing.
If this indeed proves to be a true sustainable breakout by Williams, he will become a fixture in the starting lineup, and a key piece to this emerging playoff contender.
ORIGINALLY published at Phillies Nation as “Nick Williams may be breaking out for Phillies just in the nick of time

Gabe Kapler has the Phillies believing they can win

Always upbeat Kapler gives out a pre-game fist-bump
Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies are ecstatic that their ball club has surprisingly reached the final week of July in first place. After all, at this time a year ago the club was 30 games below the .500 mark and buried in the basement of the 2017 National League East Division standings.
Those Phillies were not only 25 games off the division leading Washington Nationals, they were also nine games behind the fourth place Miami Marlins. Playoffs? The team was 22 games off the pace for the second NL Wildcard berth.
While excitement has been steadily returning to the fan base, there have also been legitimate concerns. There has been much warranted frustration over the team’s overall poor defensive play. Offensively, the Phillies have shown a maddening inconsistency in their ability to produce runs. Early on, the bullpen was blowing leads on a regular basis.
The lone saving grace for this team was the starting rotation. Aaron Nola grew into a true NL All-Star ace to front the rotation. Zach Eflin stepped up to become a legitimate big league starting pitcher. Jake Arrieta added some needed veteran moxie and talent. Vince Velasquez seems to finally be figuring out how to harness his immense talents.
The performance of that starting rotation was the primary reason that the club was able to push its way into contending status. Then this month, with the help of some changes in personnel and roles, the bullpen began to figure things out.
The offense has scored at least five runs in six of their last seven games. This stretch marks just the second time all season that the Phillies hitters have been able to score with that much consistency. They also did it from June 17-24, making it twice in a month now.
Only the defense continues to struggle. There are nightly adventures as we watch fly balls and pop-ups that should be caught drop in between fielders. Balls are bobbled, dropped, or thrown away. Cut-off men are missed.
Catchers Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp repeatedly fail to handle pitches they should, resulting in numerous wild pitches and passed balls. They also fail to block balls in the dirt that more agile or defensively skilled backstops block with far greater consistency.
Some of the defensive problems have been caused by decisions made by management. Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery, two young players who should be among the faces of the franchise moving forward, have been tasked with playing out of position all year in left field and at shortstop respectively.
Through all the struggles and all the moments of frustration, the team under first-year manager Gabe Kapler has demonstrated for months now that they are becoming very good at one thing in particular. It may seem simplistic, but it is also a fact. These Phillies have become good at winning baseball games.
The bullpen blows a late lead? The Phillies win. The offense struggles and disappears for large chunks of a game, as happened this past Tuesday night? The Phillies win. The defense makes two or three errors of omission or commission, as they did on Wednesday? The Phillies win.
The Phillies have won to the tune of a 57-44 record. That is an improvement of more than 20 games over a year ago, and they have flipped the divisional standings on its head.
It’s well past time to begin recognizing that Kapler’s relentlessly positive attitude and message with this youngest team in Major League Baseball has been a prime factor in its success.
A perfect example came from yesterday’s post-game press conference. Kapler commented to reporters that Knapp’s first plate appearance leading off the game had been the team’s most important at-bat. Knapp struck out in that at-bat.

Kapler was quoted after the game by Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I really believe that the most important at-bat of the game was Knapp’s strikeout at the beginning of the game. Look, I’ve been asked a ton this season about strikeouts, are we striking out too much? And of course, we always want to put the ball in play, but man, you throw an at-bat like that on the pitcher and we’re looking to get the pitcher out early. That’s exactly what you’re looking for out of a leadoff hitter. And in many ways, we owe the fact that Walker Buehler was out of that game to Knapp’s at-bat.“

A young player who is hitting for a .237/.331/.396 slash line, has struck out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances, and who is repeatedly making gaffes behind the plate leads off the game by striking out. Kapler somehow turns it into a positive and provides a legitimate explanation.
While the defense remains shaky, the offense may finally be gaining some consistency. The pitching is starting to shape up all the way through the staff. And the manager is both protecting his players and providing them with a positive environment.
Only one team in the National League, the Chicago Cubs, has a better record at this point. With August less than a week away, only four teams over in the American League have a better mark.
Sure, they could still use a little help here at the trade deadline. So could every contending team. But this has already been a fun spring and summer down at the beautiful ballpark in South Philly. 
As the dog days drag on, it’s getting more and more fun with each passing week as the 2018 Phillies continue to do what they seem to do best, win baseball games.

Defense a major problem as Phillies fight to hold on to NL East lead

Defense not a Phillies strong suit at present
Fans who have followed the Philadelphia Phillies closely this season continue to shake their heads in amazement that the club remains tied for first place in the National League East Division in late July.
Those fans who do more than simply watch news highlights and follow the results and standings know that the defensive baseball played by this team on a nightly basis is sloppy at best and can be downright atrocious at times.
It has been more than simply the easy-to-follow fielding and throwing errors. Passed balls, pick-offs thrown away, and wild attempts to throw out opposing runners as they try to steal a base have been part of the equation as well.
Errors of commission. Errors of omission. The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies have been guilty of it all on a far-too-frequent basis.
Still, there have been some defenders of this team and its defensive abilities. Every time that Odubel Herrera runs down a ball in the gap or makes a diving catch, some allude to his hustle and range. Maikel Franco bare hands a slow roller and guns out a runner at first base, there are comparisons to Mike Schmidt.
It’s frankly enough to make one wonder if these folks have actually ever seen a fundamentally strong defensive baseball team.
I was spoiled. I grew up on a Phillies team in the 1970’s which included the best collection of defensive talent at one time in franchise history. Schmidt at third base. Larry Bowa at shortstop. Manny Trillo at second base. Bob Boone behind the plate. Garry Maddox in center field.
Schmidt won 10 career Gold Gloves at the hot corner, including nine straight from 1976-84. Bowa won a pair and was robbed of maybe a half-dozen more by voters who were often swayed by offensive statistics in those years.
Maddox earned his moniker “The Secretary of Defense” by winning eight Gold Gloves in a row in center field from 1975-1982. “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. The rest is covered by Garry Maddox” was how bumper stickers of the day described his play.
In four seasons with the Phillies, Trillo captured a trio of Gold Gloves. Boone won his first pair of seven career Gold Gloves while with the Phillies.
You don’t have to go back that far, however, for great Phillies defensive play. One of my all-time favorite players was Scott Rolen. While some fans who were around in the early-2000’s will always hold a grudge against Rolen for his outspoken desire to get out of town, the fact is that he was one of the greatest defensive third basemen in the history of the game. Rolen won half of his eight career Gold Gloves during his Phillies years.
Jimmy Rollins has four Gold Glove Awards sitting at home on his crowded trophy shelf. Shane Victorino also has four, including three earned while patrolling center field at Citizens Bank Park with the Phillies.
So, you have to excuse me if I find this current group turning my stomach. Now, it’s easy to make off-hand comments calling these current Phillies a poor defensive team. But do the statistics back up such a claim? As it turns out, they do.
On Monday, prior to the opener of the current series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) revealed their Defensive Index rankings for the first half of the 2018 Major League Baseball season.
SABR describes the Defensive Index compilation process and significance as follows:

“The SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts. The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by noted sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended based on STATS Zone Rating and built by SABR Defensive Committee member Chris Dial. The two metrics included in the SDI originating from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by committee member Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.”

They also added that the SABR Defensive Index “accounts for approximately 25 percent of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process that will be added to the votes from the managers and coaches.
So how do the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies regulars stack up at their respective positions? If you guess “not too well”, you can count yourself a winner.
Forget the American League, and let’s see how the Phillies defenders rate when compared only to their counter-parts among the 15 clubs of the National League.
Players who have appeared as regular starters with this year’s Phillies team through games of July 15 were ranked within the NL as follows:
Jake Arrieta (9), Vince Velasquez (20), Nick Pivetta (28t), Aaron Nola (44t), Jorge Alfaro (9), Carlos Santana (6), Cesar Hernandez (12t), Scott Kingery (11), Franco (16), Rhys Hoskins (15), Herrera (13), Aaron Altherr (10t), Nick Williams(15).
The highest-ranked Phillies defender within his position is Santana. His defense was supposed to be one of the big selling points when he signed as a free agent last winter with a $60 million commitment over three years.
But the 32-year-old is only ranked 11th at the position when considering all big league first basemen. No longer in his prime, fans should not expect that Santana’s first-ever career Gold Glove Award will come as a member of the Phillies.
As a group, the team is ranked 14th of the 15 National League clubs in fielding percentage. They are in the middle of the MLB pack, tied for 17th, in double plays turned.
In last night’s 7-6 loss to the Dodgers, there were no official errors charged to the Phillies defense. But a pivotal ninth inning wild pitch was charged to reliever Seranthony Dominguez. It could just as easily have been ruled a passed ball against Alfaro. Maybe should have been ruled that way.
The Phillies are trying to build a sustained winner. Their current place in the MLB standings shows them ahead of schedule. If they wish to remain ahead of schedule and stay atop the divisional standings, changes will be needed to improve those defensive metrics. But when you’re winning, recognizing and acting on necessary change can prove to be a difficult proposition.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Phillies defense has been bad this year – really bad