Tag Archives: Dellin Betances

Philadelphia Phillies December 2019 mailbag

Embed from Getty Images

No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

A dozen inexpensive Phillies free agent bullpen possibilities

Embed from Getty Images

New Phillies skipper Joe Girardi knows free agent reliever Dellin Betances well from years together in the Bronx

 

As last week’s baseball Winter Meetings drew to a close, Philadephia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak gave a few hints into his thinking for further additions this off-season.

As Klentak was quoted by Phillies MLB insider Todd Zolecki:

It’s important that we maintain balance to our payroll, have money rolling off every year so that we do have the opportunity to add every off-season, whether it’s in the form of free agency or trades. We are constantly looking at both the present and the future and making decisions accordingly.

The Phillies have made two relatively big free agent signings this off-season, bringing in Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius. Wheeler slots into the club’s pitching rotation as a co-ace with Aaron Nola, while Gregorius takes over as the starting shortstop, sliding Jean Segura to either second or third base…if not the trade block.

The biggest free agent names were rushed off the market at a much quicker pace than many anticipated. Starting pitchers Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Madison Bumgarner and third baseman Anthony Rendon all have their homes set for years to come. Fan favorite Cole Hamels signed on for a year with the division rival Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies starting rotation could still ideally use a proven veteran winner, preferably a left-hander. A couple remain on the market in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel. However, it just doesn’t look as if Klentak wants to lay out the money or years that it would take to add that caliber of arm. Zolecki opined that the club could consider bringing back lefty Drew Smyly at some point.

More likely is that Klentak will keep an eye on possible additions to bolster the Phillies bullpen and bench groups. Both of those areas could use at least one more proven impact player added to the mix.

We could look in the area of adding some bullpen depth. Is that one player? Is that two players? Is that through a free agent signing or a waiver claim or a trade? I don’t know,” said Klentak per Zolecki.

The Phillies have already added veteran Josh Harrison and brought back Phil Gosselin as bench possibilities. Each will come to spring training and will compete for a depth role on the Opening Day roster. They will keep an eye on the market for bats such as Corey Dickerson, Kevin Pillar, Todd Frazier, Starlin Castro, Melky Cabrera, Kole Calhoun, Ben Zobrist, and Lonnie Chisenhall.

There remain a number of potentially impactful available free agent relief pitchers who the Phillies general manager could still be considering to fit into the 2020 bullpen mix. Let’s examine some of the names.

Will Harris: The 35-year-old right-hander just might be the most valuable reliever remaining on the free agent market this off-season. That fact might up his cost in salary and years, pushing him past what the Phillies are willing to spend at this stage. Over parts of eight seasons he has allowed 325 hits over 396.1 innings with 422 strikeouts. A 2016 NL All-Star, Harris has also proven durable, making 60+ appearances in four of the last five and five of the last seven seasons.

Dellin Betances: The right-hander will turn 32 years of age towards the end of spring training in March. Over parts of eight big-league seasons with the Yankees, Betances allowed just 228 hits over 381.2 innings with 621 strikeouts and 36 saves. His talent when healthy is undeniable. But that health is the question mark. Returning last September after missing the entire season with lat and shoulder injuries, Betances suffered a torn left Achilles tendon after just one appearance. He is likely to ink a one-year deal to prove his health and re-set his value for another run at free agency following the 2020 season.

Arodys Vizcaino: Another talented injury risk pitcher, Vizcaino underwent surgery to clean up his labrum and remove scar tissue in his right pitching shoulder last April. He just turned 27-years-old in November, so has age on his side. Over parts of seven big-league seasons mostly with the Braves, Vizcaino allowed 160 hits over 194.1 innings with 218 strikeouts and 50 saves. As with Betances, he would most likely be seeking a one-year deal to prove his health and re-set for post-2020 free agency.

Sergio Romo: The bad? He turns 37 years of age early in spring training 2020. The good? His record, experience, and health. Romo has allowed 488 hits over 623 big-league innings across parts of a dozen seasons with five different clubs while striking out 692 opposing batters. The right-hander has made at least 64 appearances in eight of the last 10 seasons and has 129 career saves.

Steve Cishek: The 33-year-old right-hander has a track record of both success, including recent success, and health. In parts of 10 big-league seasons, Cishek has allowed 429 hits over 556 innings with 584 strikeouts. He has enjoyed success against both righties (.199 career BAA) and lefties (.229 BAA), and made 150 appearances with the Cubs over the last two seasons combined: 93 hits in 134.1 IP with 135 K’s, a 2.55 ERA, and a 1.117 WHIP. He has 132 career saves and has made at least 60 appearances in six of last eight years (59 in 2015).

Daniel Hudson: Who was on the mound, striking out Michael Brantley for the final out to clinch the first-ever World Series championship in Washington Nationals franchise history this past fall? Hudson, that’s who. And the right-hander who turns 33-years-old in March 2020 has been solid over the last three years while pitching with four different teams: 151 hits allowed over 180.2 innings with 181 strikeouts.

Collin McHugh: A big question mark with the 32-year-old righty may be whether he is willing to remain in the bullpen, and if not, whether someone will give him more than one year on a deal to join their starting rotation. After four years of starting for the Houston Astros, McHugh mostly pitched out of their bullpen the last two seasons. He was fantastic during the 2018 run to Houston’s first-ever World Series championship. This past season he made eight starts after the club lost Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock to injuries. He has allowed 86 hits over 114 innings with a 139/39 K:BB and a 2.76 ERA as a reliever.

Tyler Clippard: The right-hander will turn 35 in February and has parts of 13 seasons of big-league experience. He has allowed just 578 hits over 816 innings with 905 strikeouts and 68 saves. A two-time All-Star, Clippard has been solid over the last two seasons as well, with a 10.3/2.6  combined K/BB ratio pitching with Toronto and Cleveland. He is actually more successful against lefties (.187 career BAA) than righties (.207 BAA).

Trevor Hildenberger: A side-arm, submarine-style right-hander, the 29-year-old Hildenberger was strong over parts of five minor league seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization, allowing 149 hits over 194.2 innings with 219 strikeouts, a 1.90 ERA, 0.914 WHIP, and 54 saves. Given a shot in parts of the last three seasons at the big-league level, Hildenberg was mostly hit hard and was unable to duplicate that success on a consistent basis. However, his 8.8/2.7 K/BB rate in MLB and his minor league record could make him an inexpensive addition to the mix in spring training and someone who could help at Triple-A Lehigh Valley until needed in Philly.

Addison Reed: The right-hander will turn 31 just two days after Christmas. Over parts of eight seasons in MLB with five different clubs and across both leagues, Reed has allowed 428 hits over 458.2 innings with 469 strikeouts. He also has 13 games of postseason experience, most of those with the 2015 NL pennant-winning New York Mets. He pitched with the Mets for parts of three seasons, so has that NL East experience going for him. Reed had a poor season last year with Minnesota, though he started late due to a sprained thumb which may have contributed to that down performance.

Jeremy Jeffress: An NL All-Star during a dominant campaign just two years ago with Milwaukee, Jeffress had an untimely poor 2019 season just as he was ready to hit free agency. When he is right, as he was in 2015, 2016, and 2018, Jeffress can help any bullpen. One problem? Jeffress is an epileptic. He has battled the disease since his first seizure at age 15. He also experienced trouble with drugs, rehabs, and suspensions while in the minor leagues. The talent will get someone to give him at least a minor league deal and spring training invitation.

Shawn Kelley: The righty will turn 36 at the end of April 2020 and has pitched in parts of 11 big-league seasons. He has allowed 412 hits over 464.2 innings with 521 strikeouts. Kelley pitched for two seasons in Yankee Stadium and has postseason experience with both the Nationals and Athletics. However, his best years were 2013-16, and two of his last three seasons were relatively poor. Again, someone will roll the dice on what should be yet another inexpensive, short-term deal for an experienced arm who has enjoyed MLB success.

Those are just 12 of a list that includes a few dozen relief pitchers currently available as free agents, all with varying degrees of big-league experience and success, all with a variety of health histories. The vast majority of them would come cheap. The Phillies are certain to add at least one of the currently available arms before spring training gets underway in two months.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB 2020 free agent market

Embed from Getty Images

Super agent Scott Boras again finds himself in the middle of much of the big Hot Stove season action

 

Welcome to the latest episode of the ‘Ring the Bell‘ podcast. For those simply reading this piece at the website, it doubles as the script for today’s episode.

As I discussed in yesterday’s episode which evaluated the Phillies current roster and payroll situations, the ball club has a number of important needs. General manager Matt Klentak will find himself increasingly under the glare of the spotlight as this Hot Stove season moves along and he attempts to fill those needs.

First, let’s take a minute to run down the list of what I see as those Phillies needs this off-season, in order of importance:

  1. Starting pitching
  2. Starting pitching
  3. Center field
  4. Bench
  5. Bullpen
  6. Third base (?)

That was not a typo in listing ‘Starting Pitching’ twice. It is simply that important, first of all. And also, the club needs two new proven winning veteran starting pitchers, at least one of whom should be an “ace” level rotation arm. Now, let’s take a look at who is available on the free agent market.

STARTING PITCHING

There are two big names here, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They should and will be the Phillies top two targets in free agency. Principal owner John Middleton has made the addition of top-level starting pitching a priority for the team, and is prepared to spend top dollar to secure such an arm.

The problem is not going to be one of either money or will power. The problem for the Phillies will be that they are not the only team in search of this level of pitching talent, not by a long shot.

The world champion and division rival Washington Nationals and their World Series opponents, the Houston Astros, are not simply going to let Strasburg and Cole respectively walk away from their ball clubs without a major effort to retain them.

Also, it is publicly known that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will be shopping aggressively for this type of arm as well. Speculation is that the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves are among any number of other teams with the desire and money to land one of these top two starting pitchers.

It’s hard to know what is going through Strasburg’s mind. There has been some speculation that opting out of his contract with the Nationals was purely a strategy to get more money from the only organization he has ever known.

The 31-year-old, 10-year veteran was due to make another $100 million over the next four years in Washington. Some have speculated that he could get another $50 million and another year, at least, on the open market.

While it would not be a surprise to see the Nationals and Strasburg announce a new deal at any point, that is far from a given. The longer he hangs out there on the market, the more clubs are going to his agent, Scott Boras, with interest.

Cole is also represented by the Boras Group. The 29-year-old is the biggest name on the free agent market this winter. I expect to see Boras take him on a tour of interested teams and cities, similar to what we saw happen last year with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Don’t expect to see Cole sign with anyone until February.

While the Phillies will be in the mix for both, their money and genuine interest making them legitimate contenders, they should not be considered the favorites for either pitcher. Cole, a native of Newport Beach, is said to be interested in either a return to SoCal or a spot at the top of the Yankees rotation. Strasburg, a San Diego native, may also go the SoCal route if he doesn’t return to D.C.

It is going to be curious to watch the Phillies pursuit of a top arm, because as I said, what the rotation really needs is two more experienced, proven, veteran starting pitchers.

The longer that Cole remains unsigned, and Strasburg as well for that matter, and the longer the Phillies genuinely believe that they are in the mix for one or the other, then it becomes a somewhat dangerous game.

There is a large group of talented starting pitchers just below the talent levels of Cole and Strasburg. Most if not all of those pitchers are going to sign somewhere earlier than at least Cole will be signing. The Phillies are going to have to commit to one of the next level of pitchers by Christmas, possibly even within the next few weeks.

The most obvious target would appear to be 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Turning 36 years of age two days after this coming Christmas, Hamels has already said that he would be open to a return to the club with whom he broke into the big-leagues and first became a star.

Judging by social media, Hamels remains popular with the fan base. And judging by his comments, the feeling is mutual.

MLB Phillies insider Todd Zolecki quoted Hamels earlier this week:

I know Philly is finally trying to make that push. They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.

Hamels then went on to say, according to Zolecki, that he would even be willing to play on a one-year contract:

I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization…I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win. I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.

This just seems to make too much sense. Hamels is clearly interested in a return to the Phillies. The fans would love to have him back. He has the talent and experience that the club is looking for, and he has something else going for him – Hamels is left-handed. The club has not had a truly effective southpaw in their rotation since, well, since Hamels left in 2015.

No longer in his prime, this could absolutely work on a one-year deal with a club option for another year or two. The Phillies, as long as all the medicals check out, should waste no time with this decision. Klentak should be on the phone with Hamels agent today.

If they just can’t work something out, or don’t want Hamels for some reason, there are other interesting arms.

Available free agent left-handers include 30-year-old, 4x NL All-Star and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner…32-year-old, 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel…33-year-old Korean native and 2019 NL All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu…29-year-old, 2017 NL All-Star Alex Wood.

Available right-handers would include 29-year-old, former first round MLB Draft pick Zack Wheeler…31-year-old, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello…30-year-old, 2019 AL All-Star Jake Odorizzi.

There are a few dozen other possibilities as well. But frankly, anyone other than the pitchers mentioned already would be a disappointing addition.

The Phillies would be wise to take Hamels up on this word, and wrap him up to fill the 3-4 slot in their starting rotation for 2020. Then they can concentrate all of their efforts into trying to land one of the really big fish.

CENTER FIELD

There are a lot of Phillies fans who seem to think that the club is okay here with either Scott Kingery or Adam Haseley. Frankly, if you truly want to be a contending team, I think that is just crazy talk.

Kingery has handled himself admirably out there for someone who is not a natural outfielder. Haseley deserves much credit for rising from Double-A to a regular big-league role last season.

But neither is the answer for a contending Phillies ball club.

Kingery needs to be handed his natural second base position and allowed to play it every single day, barring some situational need or emergency. Haseley would be well served getting more everyday plate appearances at Triple-A or serving a fourth outfielder apprenticeship in 2020.

There has been some chatter on social media about the team bringing back free agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, who excelled with the Phillies following his arrival from Pittsburgh at this past season’s trade deadline.

Yes, Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances with the Phillies. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you have something like a 35 homer, 120+ RBI campaign.

However, the 30-year-old Dickerson is a free agent for the first time. He is going to parlay that performance into a nice, well-deserved payday. And he is, unfortunately, not a center fielder. Just 27 of his 571 big-league games in the outfield have been played in center.

If you are thinking of putting him in left field and having Andrew McCutchen slide over to become the everyday man in center field for the Phillies, you really need to think again.

McCutchen is now 33-years-old and has not played center field regularly in either of his last two seasons. He is coming off major knee surgery as well.

While he can spot-start or slide over temporarily during a situational or emergency need, as he did for 10 starts and 15 total games this past season with the Phillies, he is no longer the player who won a 2012 Gold Glove Award as a center fielder.

Roman Quinn is also not the answer. I love Quinn’s tool set and have been publicly in his corner for a few years now. But even someone who is as big a fan as I am has limits. Quinn has proven that he simply cannot remain healthy long enough to be a reliable starting option.

No, what the Phillies really need is a new center fielder, someone from outside the organization. Unfortunately, there really are not quality options available this year in free agency.

You have a premier defender such as Juan Lagares. There is pure base stealing speed in Billy Hamilton. There is an aging veteran such as 34-year-old, 5x AL All-Star, 4x AL Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones.

None of those is a realistic option. Jones played just one game in center last year for the Dbacks, and two years ago with Baltimore he was rated as one of the worst regular center fielders in the game defensively by Fangraphs.

Lagares will turn 31-years-old in spring training and has just a .254/.297/.361 career slash line in 2,119 career big-league plate appearances. With a slash of just .242/.297/.326 over 3,089 plate appearances, Hamilton is even worse with a bat in his hands.

There is no answer available in free agency. If the Phillies want to improve in center field, it is going to have to come via trade.

During this past season, I wrote that a worthy trade target could be found in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He turns 30 years of age early in the 2020 season and can become a free agent after next year.

If I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone looking to see if we can find a reasonable match in trade for the 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and ALCS Most Valuable Player.

THIRD BASE

Don’t count me among those who feel that the Phillies need a third baseman. Again, this is assuming the club does what I think it should do – give second base to Scott Kingery, and cut ties to Maikel Franco by not offering him arbitration.

If I’m running things, top offensive prospect Alec Bohm is starting at third base on Opening Day 2020. I let him know that right now.

When Bohm’s season ends following the conclusion of the Premier 12 tournament, at which he is Team USA’s starter at the hot corner, I tell him to go home and enjoy the holidays. Just keep working out and stay in shape. Don’t report to Clearwater until early February. And be mentally ready for your role as the Phillies starting third baseman.

Now, that’s me. The club could actually go in a number of directions. They could offer a contract to and bring back Franco as the starter, at least to begin the season. Then let him try to hold off Bohm for as long as he can.

Or the club could offer a contract to Cesar Hernandez, cut ties with Franco, give the third base job to Kingery, and fill center field some other way. Once Bohm is deemed ready, they could either slide Kingery back to center if no good option has emerged, or work out some king of position-sharing scheme involving the players. That option seems too messy.

Another option would be to cut ties with Franco and sign a free agent. There are a handful of interesting options if the Phillies try to take this route.

In order of talent, those free agent options would be Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon will be expensive and would tie up the position for years, meaning that the Phillies would either be banking on the NL getting a DH as soon as the 2021 season, or they would be considering a trade of either Bohm or Rhys Hoskins. I love Rendon as a player, but with Bohm nearly ready, this just doesn’t seem like the right move.

Donaldson just played on a one-year deal with Atlanta at a $23 million salary. He’ll turn 34-years-old a month from today. Perhaps the Phillies could lure him with a similar one-year offer? That would mean Bohm at least starts the season back at Triple-A.

The 31-year-old Moustakas is a bit trickier. He played with Milwaukee this past season at $7 million and received a $1 million buyout of his contract for next year, rather than the Brewers committing to his $11 million mutual option.

Moustakas is going to be seeking a multi-year offer from some team. He is still young enough that someone is likely to make that kind of offer in order to add a 35-homer bat to their lineup. I am betting it won’t be the Phillies.

Again, my choice here is to give the job to Bohm, spend your free agent money on pitching, and move on from the old, losing Franco-Hernandez infield combination.

BENCH

Putting together a bench group that includes at least a few veteran options for new manager Joe Girardi, preferably options that can hit the ball, will be another Klentak challenge.

The Phillies are already slated to have Jay Bruce return. He should help out as a pinch-hitter, on the outfield corners, and could even turn out to be a lefty-hitting backup first base option, giving Hoskins a blow against a few tougher right-handed pitchers. Girardi should be able to get him plenty of at-bats to keep him sharp and happy.

Assuming the Phillies move on from both Franco and Hernandez, as well as Odubel Herrera, that leaves other outfield depth options as Roman Quinn and Nick Williams. The infield would need help. There are a bunch of interesting options who could fit the bill:

The club could try to re-sign 30-year-old Brad Miller, who appeared in 66 games with the Phillies this past season. Miller played four different positions, mostly at third base and in left field, and produced a dozen homers in just 130 plate appearances.

38-year-old Ben Zobrist can play second base and an outfield corner. He even covered shortstop for one game last season with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro turns 30 at the end of spring training. He played both second and third this past year with the Marlins, and even held down shortstop, where he was a former starter, in three games.

At age 36, Howie Kendrick showed just how valuable he can be in a part-time role while helping the Nationals win their World Series. Kendrick, who played in 39 games with the 2017 Phillies, saw time at first, second, and third this year in Washington.

30-year-old Derek Dietrich ripped 19 homers in 306 plate appearances while covering first, second, and left field this year in Cincinnati. He even appeared in one game at the hot corner, and has played in 146 career games there.

33-year-old Eric Sogard hit .290 while playing five different positions between stops in Toronto and Tampa Bay this past season.

Former popular Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence turns 37 in April, and enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in which he was named to the American League All-Star team. His bat, outfield glove, and infectious enthusiasm could be a perfect mix for this team’s bench group.

The Phillies could use a reliable backup catching option, and yesterday I mentioned one of their former prospects as a possibility. That would be 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, who finally stayed healthy this past season and showed off his fine combination of offensive and defensive skills.

More veteran backstop options who could add an alternative to Andrew Knapp include 37-year-old Russell Martin, 34-year-old Matt Wieters, 32-year-old Bryan Holaday, 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy and a half-dozen or so others.

These are just a representative sample of the dozens of names who could fill out a veteran bench for the Phillies.

BULLPEN

As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, assembling a bullpen is a tricky proposition from year to year. The Phillies pen was decimated by injuries this past season, but most of those arms should be back in 2020.

They could do nothing, and still end up with an effective group. However, adding someone as a strong, veteran back-end option couldn’t hurt. Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, Will Harris, and Pedro Strop are just a few of the couple dozen veteran relievers available.

And how about this possibility: lefty Jake Diekman? Wouldn’t it be sort of ironic if the Phillies brought back both Hamels and Diekman, who they traded away together in 2015, in the same off-season? Diekman turns 33 in January, and struck out 84 batters over 62 innings this past season as a southpaw out of the pen.

Again, as with third base, I don’t feel this is an area of desperate need. But if the Phillies want another bullpen arm, there are plenty from which to choose.

WRAPPING IT UP

Well, that’s a look at the free agent market. The Hot Stove season is officially underway. Free agents can sign with any team at this point, though signings of the bigger names are likely to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And those free agent ranks are only going to swell when the December 2 deadline passes for teams to offer arbitration, which is the decision that the Phillies will need to make on Franco and Hernandez.

As we move through the off-season, this podcast will focus occasionally on rumors regarding the club, and I’ll certainly be talking and writing about any big signings.

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, when I’ll be talking about the MLB Award winners to this point, as well as the nominees for the major awards to be handed out next week, including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in each league.

Remember, you can follow any written pieces or podcast episodes through links at the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds @philliesbell. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy. Until next time, God bless you and yours.

Yankees find life as C.C. Sabathia turns back the clock

Sabathia gem helps cut Yankees ALCS deficit in half

The New York Yankees were in desperate shape entering Game Three of the 2017 American League Championship Series.

The Yanks trailed the Houston Astros by two games to none in the best-of-seven series. A loss back home in the Bronx would put them in an almost impossible 3-0 hole.

Manager Joe Girardi handed the ball to 37-year old, 17-year veteran C.C. Sabathia for the pivotal starting assignment on the mound.

Sabathia delivered, and then some. He would shut out the tough Houston lineup for six innings over which he threw 99 pitches. The big lefty surrendered just three hits, walked four, and struck out five batters in what he described as a “smoke and mirrors” performance per MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.

Despite his age, there is no one his team would have wanted more in that position. Per Hoch, Sabathia is now 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts following a Yankees loss during the 2017 regular season and postseason.

“Obviously you want to go out and have a good performance in the playoffs and give us a chance to get back in the series. Hopefully we did that tonight. We can come out tomorrow, swing the bats and score some more runs.” ~ Sabathia, per Hoch

Swing the bats they did last night as well. The Bronx Bombers came out bombing early and often against Houston starter Charlie Morton. The veteran right-hander yielded seven earned runs on six hits and two walks over just 3.2 innings of work.

Todd Frazier got it started in the bottom of the second inning. The former Little League World Series hero reached out and poked a three-run homer just over the right field wall. That blast got the offense rolling in what would become an eventual 8-1 Yankees victory.

For all of the offensive fireworks that followed, including yet another prodigious home run from mammoth rookie Aaron Judge, it was the work of Sabathia in keeping Houston’s own potent offense in check that would make the biggest difference.

With the left-hander taking the hill against his club, Houston skipper A.J. Hinch loaded his lineup with right-handed hitters. Hinch had Evan Gattis and Cameron Maybin take the places of Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. He also moved shortstop Alex Bregman up into the two-hole in the batting order.

None of it mattered in the end. Maybin delivered a hit, but it was one of only four that the Houston order would generate on the night against Sabathia and a trio of Yankees relievers.

He comes up big for us when we need him,’’ said outfielder Brett Gardner per Mark Herrmann for Newsday. “He’s a big-game pitcher. He might not have the velocity that he used to have, but he’s a better pitcher and has better command than he’s had. He knows what he’s doing out there. We’re lucky to have him on our side.”

SABATHIA’S BIG LEAGUE HISTORY

Sabathia was the first round pick of the Cleveland Indians all the way back in the 1998 MLB Draft at 20th overall. Just three years later he was in Cleveland, winning 17 games as a 20-year old and finishing as the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to a legend named Ichiro Suzuki.

In parts of eight seasons with the Tribe, Sabathia amassed a 106-71 record. He was the 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner, as well as a three-time AL All-Star.


With Sabathia headed for free agency, the Indians dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers at the 2008 trade deadline. He went 11-2 for the Brew Crew, helping them to the playoffs, and then entered free agency.


Entering his age 28 season, an ace-caliber starting pitcher, Sabathia was one of the most coveted free agents on the market. He received a huge nine-year, $202 million dollar contract from the Yankees. That deal expires following this season.




With the Yankees, Sabathia has added on another 120 victories to his personal career win column. He also has three more AL All-Star Game nods, has finished in the top four of the AL Cy Young voting three times, and helped lead New York to their last World Series championship in 2009.

GEM CUTS YANKS DEFICIT IN HALF


We wanted him on the mound tonight,” Girardi said per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. “We thought we had the right guy on the mound. Six innings, just an outstanding effort. Couldn’t ask for anything more.

Adam Warren followed Sabathia, tossing a pair of shutout innings. The only Houston offense was generated off Dellin Betances in the top of the 9th inning, but Tommy Kahnle came in to shut the Astros down and close out the victory.

The turn-back-the-clock Sabathia win cuts the Yankees deficit to 2-1 now, with the next two games slated for Tuesday and Wednesday. Those will once again take place in the postseason hotbed of Yankee Stadium.

On Tuesday for a late afternoon 5pm EDT start, Girardi will send Sonny Gray to the mound. Hinch will go with Lance McCullers in Game Four. Both managers will be hoping for a performance as clutch as the one delivered by Sabathia on Monday night.

2014 Best of MLB Awards

Trout, Kershaw are AL and NL POY respectively

It’s that time of year again, awards season in Major League Baseball. And this site will be no exception.

This year for the first time, with the renewed emphasis on baseball, I am announcing the first-ever “Best of MLB” awards honorees.

In all, honorees are being named for both the National League and the American League in each of 9 categories, one for each inning in a ballgame: Player of the Year, Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher, Offensive Player, Defensive Player, Rookie, Comeback Player, Breakout Player, and Manager.

For the most part, these awards were not subjective. I went to FanGraphs, looked up overall regular season WAR values, and gave the awards to the highest players in their categories. In 2-3 other categories, I weighted those numbers heavily in deciding the honorees. Remember, the honors are based on the regular season.

If you follow baseball, you already know these players and are well aware of the excellence of each of their 2014 season performances. So not much extra commentary is needed. But I did want to make just a few comments on some of the honors.

First, my selection of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton as the top National League Rookie over New York Mets pitcher Jake deGrom. These were clearly the two most impactful rookies in the league this season. I chose Hamilton, who had a higher WAR value, feeling that his everyday impact as a centerfielder was greater than deGrom’s weekly impact as a starting pitcher.

For the American League Starting Pitcher honors, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber beat out a strong field that included ‘King’ Felix Hernandez, David Price, Phil Hughes, and Jon Lester. Kluber was the #2 player in all of baseball in individual WAR, while the others rated 11-14 respectively. All tremendous, but one clearly above the rest.

Corey Kluber, AL’s top starting pitcher

At the A.L. Reliever spot, what a horse race. The honor went to Yankees RP Dellin Betances in a very close race with the Royals excellent setup man Wade Davis. While Davis rightfully received a lot of publicity due to KC’s postseason run, Betances was every bit as dominant in the regular season, and simply finished with a higher WAR value.

Also, I wanted to single out the Breakout Player winners. What a season for both Michael Brantley and Anthony Rendon, 5th and 6th in all of baseball in overall WAR numbers. The 27-year old Brantley has been one of those “good not great” contributing types, and elevated his game. The 24-year old Rendon stayed healthy in his first true full season and served notice that he should be one of the game’s best into the future.

On defense, Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr was the best defensive outfielder in the game this season, and that includes Lorenzo Cain. Only two facts: his poor offense, and that his poor offense kept him from playing every day, all year long with the Red Sox, kept him from what should have been an easy Gold Glove win. If you don’t know, watch him closely. He’s the kind of player who, with the right offense around him, impacts a game enough defensively to overcome the offensive shortcomings. He should be starting somewhere every day.

Finally, the NL Manager of the Year. Keep in mind, this was a regular season honor, so Bruce Bochy’s great postseason run to a 3rd World Series did not factor. But the job that ‘Donny Baseball’ did in winning the NL West in LA with a frequently dysfunctional core under tremendous pressure to win got him the nod.

Don Mattingly skippered Dodgers to NL West crown

Without further ado, here are the 2014 ‘Best of MLB’ awards honorees:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
NL – Clayton Kershaw, SP, LA Dodgers
AL – Mike Trout, OF, LA Angels

OFFENSIVE PLAYER
NL – Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
AL – Mike Trout, Los Angeles

STARTING PITCHER
NL – Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
AL – Corey Kluber, Cleveland

RELIEF PITCHER
NL – Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati
AL – Dellin Betances, New York

DEFENSIVE PLAYER
NL – Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta
AL – Jackie Bradley Jr, CF, Boston

COMEBACK PLAYER
NL – Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati
AL – Chris Young, SP, Seattle

BREAKOUT PLAYER
NL – Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington
AL – Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
NL – Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati
AL – Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago

MANAGER
NL – Don Mattingly, Los Angeles
AL – Buck Showalter, Baltimore