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Cliff Lee: he never wanted to leave Phillies in the first place

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Cliff Lee came and went in 2009 and came back in 2010

During what all fans of the Philadelphia Phillies have been led to believe will be one of the most significant off-season periods ever for the franchise, I’ve been taking a look back at the team’s ‘Hot Stove’ history.

So far we have recalled the signings of Pete Rose (1978), Jose Mesa(2000), and Jim Thome (2002) in free agency. We have also revisited key off-season trades: the 1981 three-way deal that resulted in Lonnie Smith leaving and Bo Diaz arriving, the 1982 trade of future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, and the trading away of Thome.
Probably the most recent important Phillies move during a Hot Stove season came in the middle of December back in 2010. It was then that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. began trying to reverse a huge prior mistake from exactly one year earlier. Both decisions were among the most influential during the 2009-11 period when the club was trying to get back to the World Series.
Those two moves involved a left-handed starting pitcher named Cliff Lee. His pro career had begun after he was drafted three times. Lee finally signed after being selected by the Montreal Expos with their fourth round selection in the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft.
In June 2002, Lee was dealt to the Cleveland Indians as part of a four-prospect package that also included Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in an overall six-player deal that brought starting pitcher Bartolo Colon to Montreal.


In Cleveland’s minor league system, Lee showed enough with Buffalo of the Triple-A International League that he was given a two-start cup of coffee with the Indians in September 2002. He went 10.1 innings allowing just six hits over those two outings.
Lee won the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with Cleveland
After beginning the 2003 season back at Triple-A, Lee received a spot start with Cleveland in late June. Then in mid-August he was called to the big-leagues for good. Lee would enter the Tribe’s starting rotation and remain there for the next six years.
Lee would develop into one of the top starting pitchers in the game, culminating in a memorable 2008 season. While the Phillies were driving towards their first World Series crown in nearly three decades, Lee was putting together a Cy Young Award-winning season in Cleveland.
In that 2008 campaign, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.110 WHIP. He also had a fabulous 170/34 K:BB ratio over 223.1 innings across 31 starts. In addition to the Cy Young honors, he was an AL All-Star for the first time, and even received AL MVP votes.
Lee was scheduled to become a free agent after the 2010 season, and it became obvious that the Indians would not be able to get him to sign a contract extension. Looking at a rebuilding situation, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro decided to find a deal for him a year early.


As defending World Series champions, the Phillies were struggling to open up a lead in a tight NL East race in July 2009. A big reason was that the team’s starting pitching was looking a bit fragile.
Cole Hamels, the hero of the prior season, appeared to be going through a World Series hangover campaign. Brett Myers struggled the entire year with injuries. At age 46, Jamie Moyer was getting hit hard. Joe Blanton and rookie J.A. Happ were giving the club innings, but were not the kind of arms that a team looking to repeat as world champions wanted at the front of a rotation.
On July 15, the Phillies signed 37-year-old veteran Pedro Martinez, who had been sitting out the season to that point. It was going to take Martinez a few weeks to get into pitching shape, and in fact he would not join the team’s starting rotation until August 12.
Amaro was still rumored to be hot after both Lee and Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay. Finally, just before the non-waiver trade deadline, Amaro and Shapiro reached a deal. The Phillies would acquire Lee in exchange for a four-prospect package led by pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
Cito Gaston was manager of the Blue Jays at the time. Once the Phillies had traded for Lee, it meant that Gaston was likely to keep his ace in Halladay. Jayson Stark at ESPN quoted Gaston after the Lee deal was announced: “Who knows? They may come back and get [Halladay], too. That’d be a pretty good staff there, wouldn’t it?” How prescient that comment would eventually prove.
The 30-year-old Lee was everything that the Phillies hoped, and more. Over a dozen starts he went 7-4 with a 74/10 K:BB ratio. Martinez went 5-1 over nine starts with a 37/8 K:BB ratio. The two veterans gave the rotation just the shot in the arm that it needed to push the club to its third straight NL East title.
In the 2009 postseason, Lee upped his game. He made two strong starts in a tough NLDS victory over the Colorado Rockies, then a brilliant start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Three of the NLCS.
When Lee shut down the New York Yankees in Game One of the World Series, the Phillies appeared on their way to back-to-back championships. Alas, it was not to be. The team did win his next start in Game Five, but that only kept them alive. The Yanks would take the Fall Classic two nights later.


After the season, Amaro resumed his pursuit of Halladay, who was scheduled to become a free agent following the 2010 season. On December 16, 2009 the Phillies acquired Halladay from Toronto in exchange for a three-prospect package.
Amaro had negotiated a four-year contract extension with the 32-year-old Halladay, who thought that he was joining Lee in the Phillies rotation. Instead, Amaro shocked everyone in the Phillies community by dealing away Lee just hours later.
The justification given by Amaro at the time was shaky from the start. He felt that Lee’s contract demands were unreasonable, and also claimed that the Phillies needed to re-stock their farm system after it had been depleted by that summer’s Lee trade and the Halladay aquistion.
However, the package that Amaro obtained from the Seattle Mariners that day of prospect pitchers Phillippe Aumontand J.C. Ramirez and young outfielder Tyson Gillies failed to convince anyone that it improved the organization to the same level as having Lee remain on the big-league pitching staff.
It would prove to be one of the worst trades in Phillies history. Our own Tim Kelly here at PN wrote in August 2018 about comments made by former outfielder Jayson Werth to a local radio station. Included among those revealing remarks were this quote:
…they [the Phillies] offered Cliff a contract at a marginal number, we’ll say. And then he counters at a reasonable counter, far less for what he ends up signing back for. Within that day, a day or two, Ruben freaks out, he can’t believe that they would ask for that type of money – which was under-market for Cliff – and trades him to Seattle. So he was traded to Seattle for a bag of balls and a couple Fungos.”

Halladay would enjoy a memorable 2010 season in which he would capture the National League Cy Young Award while tossing a Perfect Game and a playoff no-hitter. Hamels rebounded with a solid campaign. The rest of the rotation struggled, but Amaro swung a trade to bring in three-time NL All-Star and perennial Cy Young candidate Roy Oswalt from Houston.
The Phillies struggled much of that summer. But then from late August through late September the team went on an incredible run, winning 23 of 27 games to pull away to a fourth straight NL East title.
As for Lee, he would make just 13 starts for the Mariners. With the club struggling and with Lee still scheduled to become a free agent in the coming off-season he was shipped off to the Texas Rangers following a final start for Seattle on July 4.
At the time of that deal, Lee was 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA and had been selected to the AL All-Star team. He would attend the game not as a member of the Mariners, but instead wearing a Rangers cap.
Over the rest of the season in Texas, Lee would go just 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA. He did produce solid numbers otherwise, allowing 103 hits over 108.2 innings with a 96/12 K:BB ratio in 15 starts.
The Rangers won the AL West crown and the American League pennant, reaching the World Series. However, the Phillies were not there to great their former pitcher. Halladay, Werth, and the two-time defending NL champion Phillies had been beaten in six games in the 2010 NLCS by the San Francisco Giants.
San Francisco would then take out the Rangers in five games to capture the first World Series crown for the Giants franchise in 56 years. Lee was rocked in the opener of that Fall Classic in San Francisco. He then would also lose a pitcher’s duel to Tim Lincecum in the Game Five clincher at Texas.


The off-season got underway following that 2010 campaign with Lee entering free agency for the first time in his career. A return to the Rangers was possible, but the New York Yankees were seen by most as the early and overwhelming favorites to land his services.
The Yankees had finished in second place in the AL East in 2010, a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays but had comfortably won what was the lone Wildcard berth available at that time. The Yanks then swept the Minnesota Twins 3-0 in the ALDS, but were beaten by Texas in six games in the ALCS. Adding Lee, and subtracting him from the Rangers, would likely push them to the top of the American League favorites list.
The Phillies were not seen to be a contender for Lee at first. They already had a rotation that would include Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt coming back in 2011. It was projected at that point that Blanton and Kyle Kendrick would make up the back of their rotation.
A formal contract offer was extended to Lee by the Yankees, one that would turn out to be the highest offer that he would receive. It wouldn’t be enough.
Shock waves rolled across the game on December 15, 2010 when, seemingly out of nowhere, it was announced that the Phillies and Lee had agreed to a five-year, $120 million contract. Lee would join Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt in what the baseball world would call the “Four Aces” rotation, one of the best in the history of the game.
In Philadelphia it became known as “Merry Cliffmas”, and Phillies fans were euphoric. They would have a dominating pitching rotation that would give their still-potent offensive attack a chance to win every single day.
Not only was Lee’s signing a surprise gift to Phillies fans, but he also won their hearts forever with what he said upon agreeing to the deal: “I never wanted to leave in the first place.” It turned out that Lee and his wife Kristen had enjoyed their brief 2009 time in Philly so much that returning was a relatively easy decision.
The Phillies of 2011 would not win every day, but it seemed like it at times. That club would set a franchise record with 102 regular season wins, leading the NL East from wire-to-wire and ultimately taking the division crown by 13 games.
Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and was named as NL All-Star, finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and finished as the Cy Young runner-up. Hamels was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA, finishing fifth in that Cy Young Award voting.
Oswalt won just nine games and struggled some with a 3.69 ERA. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the four most effective members of the rotation that year. Neither were Blanton or Kendrick. That status was provided by 23-year-old rookie Vance Worley, who surprised everyone with an 11-3 mark and 3.01 ERA over 25 games, 21 as a starter. Worley would finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
When the 2011 postseason opened, the Phillies were clear favorites to capture their second World Series title in four years. But in one of the most disheartening endings in franchise history, they were edged out in five games by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.
Lee played a part in that loss. After the offense bailed out Halladay to take Game One, those same bats then provided Lee with an early 4-0 lead in Game Two. But the Cardinals then chipped away, scoring three runs in the top of the 4th inning and one each in the 6th and 7th, rallying for a 5-4 win to tie the series.
The Phillies took a 2-1 series lead behind a strong outing from Hamels in Game Three, but Saint Louis beat Oswalt in Game Four to once again tie the series.
In a decisive Game Five at Citizens Bank Park, a pitching battle for the ages took place. Halladay allowed just one run on six hits. It would be enough to win almost any game. But Saint Louis received an absolute gem from their starter, Chris Carpenter. He would shut the Phillies out on three hits in a complete game.
With two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Cardinals clinging to a 1-0 lead, Saint Louis native Ryan Howard stepped in for the Phillies. On a 2-2 pitch, Carpenter’s 110th of the game, Howard topped a slow grounder to second base. As the final out was being recorded, the big slugger crumpled to the ground, having blown out his Achilles tendon.
It wasn’t obvious yet at that point, but history would show that the Phillies era of contention at the top of Major League Baseball would end with that play.
The 2012 Phillies struggled from the beginning but were still three games above the .500 mark and within 2.5 games of first place as June began. But the team would collapse under the weight of injuries.
Howard wouldn’t return until July and was never the same dominating slugger. Chase Utley wouldn’t begin his season until late June, and at age 33 was beginning his own slow decline. Both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, the latter obtained just a year earlier to bolster that 2011 team, were traded away at the non-waiver deadline as Amaro threw in the towel.
Lee would pitch well in both 2012 and 2013 as the Phillies tried unsuccessfully to quickly rebuild. He went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, made the NL All-Star team, and finished sixth in National League Cy Young voting in the 2013 season. Incredibly, less than a year later his career would be over.
The 2014 season opened with Lee as the Phillies primary trade candidate. At 35-years-old he still had that season and then 2015 to go on his contract, with a $25 million salary owed both years. There was a $27.5 million club option or $12.5 million buyout for the 2016 season as well.
He began the year as the Opening Day starter. Over his first 10 starts through mid-May he went 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA and a 61/9 K:BB ratio in what seemed a typical Lee season. But following a May 18 win over the Cincinnati Reds he was placed on the disabled list with discomfort in his left pitching elbow.
The Phillies tried to bring him back as the non-waiver trade deadline approached, hoping to find a deal, but he was hit hard in two late July starts. Then on July 31, the exact date of the deadline, he was given a final chance to show that he was healthy and could help someone.
It appeared to observers that things had started out well that night at Nationals Park. Through 2.2 innings, Lee had allowed just one hit and walked no one, striking out four Washington Nationals batters. And then it ended, just that suddenly.
With two outs in the third inning, Lee delivered his first pitch to Denard Span and walked off the mound, tapping his left arm. It turned out that he had been experiencing discomfort while warming up before the game, and then when warming up before each inning. This time it wouldn’t go away.
‘It was there every throw and I just felt like if I kept throwing something was going to snap and I just wanted to make sure that didn’t happen,” Lee said per Sports Illustrated via the AP following that game.
He tried to come back for the 2015 season but was able to throw just two innings at spring training in Clearwater. Lee would spend that entire season on the disabled list after suffering a left common flexor tear. After the season ended the Phillies declined his option for 2016, and his career was over.
In February 2016, when it was becoming obvious that Lee would never pitch again, Grant Brisbee at SB Nation wrote a fantastic piece on the pitcher who he correctly called “one of the best pitchers of his generation.” In that piece, Brisbee described what it was like for a batter facing Lee:
Watching a pitcher move inside and out, up and down, is absolutely symphonic. But it’s even more entertaining to watch the hitters panic, knowing that the baseball can dart a foot away from the plate if it doesn’t bore right in on their damned thumbs. The hitter is acutely aware that the pitcher on the mound can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and there’s a split second to determine if the ball is going to hurt him, be hittable or be so unhittable that it will make him look like an idiot if he swings.
Over parts of five seasons with the Phillies, Lee recorded a 48-34 record with a 2.94 ERA, 1.089 WHIP, and 2.85 FIP. He yielded just 777 hits over 827.1 innings across 118 starts, surrendering just 80 home runs while registering a 21.6 WAR mark.
He also produced an other-worldly 813/124 K:BB ratio, made a pair of NL All-Star teams, and finished among the leaders in Cy Young voting twice. In his time with the Phillies, Lee led the National League in shutouts in 2011, and twice led the league in both the K/BB and BB/9 categories.
Cliff Lee was one of the most popular players on a team populated with those types of individuals, the greatest Phillies team to never win a world championship. That popularity has never waned.
His being traded away in December 2009 may have kept the 2010 Phillies from winning another World Series crown. But neither was his return as a free agent in December 2010 enough to make that happen for a record-setting Phillies team in 2011.
It remains possible that one day we’ll be watching Lee enjoy an induction ceremony to the Phillies Wall of Fame. For the millions of fans who packed Citizens Bank Park during the final years of that heyday, it would be a well-deserved honor.

Phillies should not shut Aaron Nola down with just two starts remaining

Nola has become an ace for Phillies
(Photo: By Arturo Pardavila III via Wiki Commons)
This 2018 season has been a true breakout campaign for Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola. In his fourth year at the MLB level, Nola has shown that he can be that rarest of commodities – a true ace.
The 25-year-old right-hander was chosen by the Phillies out of Louisiana State University with their first round selection at seventh overall in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. As he developed professionally over parts of two minor league seasons, consensus expert opinions had him with the upside of a mid-rotation starter.
That is a fairly common tag hung on pitchers when scouts and other talent evaluators are not absolutely certain the pitcher has a top-of-the-rotation arm. However, that pitcher also has amateur and minor league performances and pitching repertoires which demonstrate a likelihood of reaching and sticking in a big-league rotation.
As a perfect example, Nathaniel Stoltz of Fangraphs summed up his own scouting report on Nola in August 2014 as follows:
…it’s hard to see him having more than a #3 starter’s ceiling. If he settles in at a #3/#4 level quickly, that won’t be the flashiest of payoffs, but it’ll also be hard to really take issue with his selection…There’s a solid chance he could get to that level of performance, but the line between it and interchangeable back-of-the-rotation, Kyle Kendrick sort of output is fairly thin, and he’s not guaranteed to end up on the right side of it.
Over Nola’s first two partial seasons with the Phillies, his results were indeed those of a solid #3 starter in the rotation. He went 12-11 over 33 starts during the 2015-16 campaigns, allowing 190 hits across 188.2 innings with a 189/48 K:BB ratio.
Last year, Nola reinforced that level of performance over a full season. In 27 starts during the 2017 campaign, Nola went 12-11 with 3.54 ERA and 1.208 WHIP. He allowed 154 hits over 168 innings with a 184/49 K:BB ratio.
Due to the fact that he was able to compete so effectively at just age 24, many began to adjust their evaluations up on Nola, feeling that he could develop into a solid #2 starter for a contending team.
One key for him to reach his potential was going to be for Nola to demonstrate longevity, that he could remain healthy over a full season.
His 2016 campaign was ended in mid-August when he was shut down for the year with a low-grade UCL sprain and flexor pronator tendon strain. In 2017 it was a strained lower back that kept him out of the Phillies rotation for a month from late-April through late-May.
In this 2018 campaign, Nola has ticked off all of the boxes and elevated himself to that “ace” or #1 starter level.
Following last night’s outing against the New York Mets, Nola has surrendered just 143 hits in 199.1 innings over 31 starts. He has a 16-5 record, and a dominating 210/53 K:BB ratio with a 2.44 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 2.97 FIP, and a 173 ERA+ mark.
In his own piece on last night’s game, Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia pointed out that no Phillies pitcher in over a century has pitched at least 200 innings in a season while holding opposition batters below a .200 average. Nola has held hitters to a .201 average over his 199.1 innings this year.

Seidman quoted Phillies manager Gabe Kapler on those numbers and Nola’s performance in this 2018 season:

“It speaks to durability. Look, if you’re the best option for your team, more times than not, the manager is going to give you the opportunity to take down an additional inning. Almost always, Nola feels like the best option to get the next three hitters out. Piling up 200 innings is a huge accomplishment.”

Nola was also named to his first National League All-Star Team back in July, and pitched the 5th inning of that mid-summer classic. Nola punched out the first two AL batters that he faced in Salvador Perez and Mookie Betts, gave up a base hit to Jose Altuve, then got Mike Trout to pop out for a shutout frame.
Here in the season’s final month, it appears as if Nola may have slowed down a bit. In three of his four September starts including last night, Nola failed to reach the 7th inning.
While that isn’t a big deal for most starting pitchers – after all, he did go five or more in each – it was different for Nola. He reached at least into the 7th in 15 of his first 27 starts prior to this month.
There have been some calls lately for the Phillies to shut Nola down for the season. The club has all but mathematically slumped their way out of both the divisional and wildcard races, trailing in each by five games in the loss column with just a dozen left to play.
Even if the Phillies were mathematically eliminated from postseason play, the club should not stop Nola’s season short. At this point he is only scheduled to make two more starts, both against the division-rival Atlanta Braves. Those should come this weekend in the Sunday series finale in Atlanta, and then on Friday night September 28 at Citizens Bank Park.
Two more starts and 10-12 more innings are not likely to do any harm. What they will do is give Nola the physical, mental, and emotional satisfaction of getting through an entire season in Major League Baseball.
At some point, perhaps as soon as next year, the Phillies will expect Nola to lead their rotation into and through an October playoff run. With just two starts left in this 2018 season, especially with both coming against their likely biggest rivals in battling for those playoff positions in the coming years, now is not the time to start babying the young ace.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “No reason for Phillies to baby Aaron Nola at this point

Phillies Christmas Stockings: Gifts or Coal?

Phillies Christmas stockings: coal or gifts?
It’s Christmas morning, and all across the Delaware Valley folks are waking to find presents under the Christmas tree and stockings stuffed with gifts. But what about the Phillies? For their 2014 performance, what did we leave in their TBOH Phillies Christmas stockings: gifts or coal?
For the good boys, the good performers who busted it hard all year and held up their end in trying to bring a winner to the fans, there will be gifts. For the bad boys, the poor performers whose play constantly let us down and led most directly to the losing season, there will be only coal. Here’s what every player who appeared in 2014 received:
Domonic Brown: the worst player on the roster in 2014, especially given his playing time. Also, easily the biggest disappointment, coming off what was hoped to have been a breakout 2013 All-Star campaign. His season was a disaster: a .235 batting average, .285 on-base percentage in 512 plate appearances. Hit just 10 homers, scored just 43 runs, and was the worst player on the roster in WAR.
Ryan Howard: a real shame to watch his deterioration. This man was a true force for a long time, 7 dominating seasons from 2005-2011. He needs to be remembered by fans for the peak performance over the long haul. But he is a shadow of his former self now. In 2014 only Brown was a worse WAR player among the regulars. He hit just .223 with a .310 on-base percentage. He was 2nd on the club with 23 homers, and was 4th in the NL with 95 rbi. But in 648 plate appearances, even these are disappointing figures.
Cody Asche: the 25-year old 3rd baseman played his first full season in 2014. He generally fielded his position well, but he basically brought nothing to the batting order of any consequence. Hit just .252 with a .309 on-base percentage. In 434 plate appearances he produced just 10 homers, 46 rbi, 43 runs scored, and stole 0 bases. He only even attempted one steal. That’s zero bases stolen for a 25-year old man. I know that’s not his game, but even 35-year old catcher Carlos Ruiz stole 4 bags.
Mario Hollands: the 25-year old rookie lefty reliever appeared in 50 games. Though he allowed fewer hits (45) than innings (47), he also walked 21, resulting in a 1.404 WHIP and the worst pitching WAR among those given any significant time on the mound.
Kyle Kendrick: I’ve never been one to beat up on KK, as many other Phillies fans have over the years. He is what he is, a #4 starter at best, a #5 on a contender. But in 2014 he was given significant innings, and he lived down to his potential. In 199 innings pitched over 32 starts, 3rd and 2nd most on the staff in those categories, he had a 4.61 ERA. Kendrick allowed 214 hits, and struck out just 121 batters.
It's coal in the stocking for AJ, gifts for Chooch (Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
A.J. Burnett: brought in to be a veteran innings-eating #3 behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, he had to step into the #2 role with Lee’s injury, and he just wasn’t up to it most games. He did eat innings, leading the staff with 213.2, and he struck out 190 batters. But his ERA was 4.59 and he walked 96, resulting in a 1.409 WHIP.
Management: manager Ryne Sandbergwas dealt a bad hand of mismatched, injured, and aging players. But he didn’t do much to bring it together either. If these were grades, I’d give him an incomplete. He needs a more clean slate. But for now, can’t “gift” him. Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro Jr? Please. There isn’t enough of a coal supply available to appropriately fill those stockings.
More coal: John Mayberry Jr, Tony Gwynn Jr, Darin Ruf, Cesar Hernandez, Reid Brignac, Freddy Galvis, Jayson Nix, Maikel Franco, Ronny Cedeno, Aaron Altherr, Koyie Hill, Cameron Rupp, Grady Sizemore, Cesar Jimenez, Wil Nieves, Andres Blanco, B.J. Rosenberg, Phillippe Aumont, Luis Garcia, Sean O’Sullivan, Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, Brad Lincoln, Shawn Camp, Miguel A. Gonzalez, Jeff Manship, Hector Neris, Mike Adams
Cole Hamels: just 9 wins for the 30-year old lefty, but hardly his fault. He made 30 starts, allowing just 176 hits in 204.2 IP, striking out 198 and allowing just 59 walks. It added up to a 2.46 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP, and a pitching WAR value that was more than twice any other arm on the staff.
Jonathan Papelbon: the closer was outstanding with 39 Saves, a 2.04 ERA, a 0.905 WHIP, and a 63/15 K/BB rate over 66.1 innings. Some negative commentary and off-color antics aside, he has done everything asked of him in the closer role since being signed as a free agent.
Cliff Lee: I’m not holding the injury against him, hardly his fault. When on the mound, he was mostly himself. In 81.1 innings over 13 starts, the 35-year old lefty had a 72/12 K/BB ratio. He was hit more than usual, but the excellent control kept his ERA down to a 3.65 mid-level result.
Jerome Williams, Roberto Hernandez & David Buchanan: it’s all about expectation and production for these three. I didn’t expect anything, and I got something, although modest. Both Hernandez & Buchanan received 20 starts, kept their ERA’s below the 4.00 mark, and allowed about a hit per inning. Buchanan had a tidy 71/32 K/BB ratio for a 25-year old rookie, which was especially nice. Hernandez, a free agent who would have left after the season, ultimately yielded a 19-year old pitcher and 20-year old infielder in trade. Not a bad result all around. The 32-year old Williams was a very nice find, with a 4-2 record in 9 starts. He had a 38/17 K/BB ratio, and allowed just 48 hits in 57.1 innings. It all added up to a 2.83 ERA and 1.134 WHIP.
Chase Utley: the 35-year old 2nd baseman returned to the All-Star Game as the NL’s starter at 2nd, and led the team in WAR. A .278 average and 78 rbi were more than anyone expected from a player who appeared physically shot just a year ago at this time. His defense was also strong, as he was 2nd on the club in defensive WAR. A very nice bounce-back season for the fan favorite.
Jimmy Rollins: the 35-year old shortstop said goodbye at the top of the franchise all-time Hits list, and went out much as his longtime doubleplay partner produced. He was 2nd on the club in offensive WAR to Utley, producing a 17 homer, 68 rbi, 78 runs, 28 steal year. Then he yielded a pair of Top 5 club pitching prospects in trade. Goodbye Jimmy, we love ya. 
Carlos Ruiz: at 35-years old, Chooch has caught over 900 games, and he’s starting to show the wear and tear, at least in his offensive game where he hit just .252 with 6 homers in 445 plate appearances. But the respected team leader and fan favorite remains elite in the defensive game, leading the club in defensive WAR. He retains strong catch and throw skills, and his handling of the pitching staff is outstanding.
Ben Revere: the 26-year old centerfielder hit .306 and contended for the NL Batting crown for much of the late season. He also stole 49 bases and hit 7 triples. He clearly uses his speed well. But he has no pop whatsoever, hitting just 2 homers and 13 doubles in 626 plate appearances. His defensive game was disappointing, and will have to improve for him to retain value going forward.
Marlon Byrd: the 36-year old rightfielder led the club with 25 homers and was 2nd with 85 rbi. But his defense was below par, and his offensive production seriously declined post-All Star break as he had just 7 homers and 31 rbi in 247 plate appearances after mid-July. He is borderline “gift” over “coal”, and hopefully yields something of value in trade this off-season that makes us happier to have him on this side of the ledger.
The Bullpen: Antonio Bastardo (28), Jake Diekman (27), Justin DeFratus (26) and most especially Ken Giles (23) had teamed with Papelbon to make this one area of true strength for the team by season’s end. They combined for 233.1 innings in which they allowed just 179 hits. They struck out 294 batters while walking just 92.

10 Contenders at the Winter Meetings

Aces Scherzer, Lester, Shields hold key to the FA market

As the Winter Meetings got underway yesterday, all of MLB’s major contenders are looking to shore up weaknesses on their rosters.

A number of those contenders have a hole, or at least a weakness, at the hot corner. This should make the only real free agent 3rd baseman of any note, Chase Headley, a very popular and ultimately wealthy man.

There are a number of teams who either were on the borderline, or who actually lost, in 2014 who could jump right up into contention with the right moves. However, most of them need multiple moves still to get there.

The Chicago White Sox have decided that they want to be one of those bounce-back clubs. The Chisox first executed a deal to bring in a strong #2 starting pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, to pair with ace Chris Sale. Then the club signed the top closer on the market, David Robertson.

Much of the rest of the market, both free agent and major trade, is waiting on the decisions of the top three starting pitchers. Once Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields make their decisions, it should open the floodgates for the 2nd tier guys, as well as get trade talks heating up for available frontline types like Cole Hamels.

Here’s a look at 10 teams who clearly enter 2015 as contenders right now, 5 in each league, and their more obvious needs, along with some potential fixes that could happen at the Winter Meetings or shortly thereafter.


Washington Nationals
Team clearly needs an infielder, just where is the question? Anthony Rendon was exceptional at both 2nd and 3rd base. With Ryan Zimmerman now locked in at 1st base, they need to find someone to play one or the other, and find a permanent home for Rendon. Resigning Asdrubal Cabrera is the most logical move. But wouldn’t Chase Headley look great in a Nats uniform?

Los Angeles Dodgers
Do they really believe they have any semblance of a competitive left-side infield? Do they really believe they have a front-line catcher? I don’t, on either count. There has been a lot of talk about Cole Hamels in the media, and great starting pitching can cover a lot of sins. They have an outfield glut to trade from, with Matt Kemp the most likely to go. That still would leave Puig, Ethier, and Crawford with young Joc Pederson ready to play every day. If I’m LA, I’m looking to fill that left-side infield. How about Jimmy Rollins, maybe in a Hamels package? If not, you have the lesser but younger Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jed Lowrie troika available.

Saint Louis Cardinals
This looks like a serious NL Pennant contender to me, but for one thing: I’m really concerned about the ability of the rotation to physically hold up. Something tells me they’ll stand pat. But if I were them, I’d reach out and sign one of the free agent SP arms. A proven reliability guy like James Shields would seem to be a perfect Cardinal fit, from where I sit.

San Francisco Giants
The defending World Series champs would love to take a run at ending their every-other-year streak, rather than fall back in 2015. They are finalists in the Jon Lester sweepstakes, which should be announced some time today or tonight. That pursuit aside, they have a gaping hole at 3rd base with the Panda gone. This should be yet another team looking hard at Chase Headley.

Chase Headley might be the perfect Panda replacement

Pittsburgh Pirates
A very interesting team that has been very quiet so far this off-season. Two straight Wildcard appearances for the Bucs have them hungry for more. How hungry? Are they willing and able to spend money? Because if they want to take a next step, maybe even get back at all, they need another starting pitcher, even after bringing A.J. Burnett back, and could use a shortstop upgrade. The shortstop is available on the market in Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, or Asdrubal Cabrera. So are the arms, with possibly affordable options like Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, Justin Masterson and Brandon McCarthy. This is a place that James Shields or Ervin Santana would work well. They could always resign Francisco Liriano. Even a lesser guy like Kyle Kendrick could provide valuable, experienced innings. They need something more, for sure.

Baltimore Orioles
Buck Showalter is good, and in 2014 he was great. But he’s not good enough to make this team win again without addressing the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Let’s say all three of Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Manny Machado returns healthy and has a strong season. That’s asking a lot, but with Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy as well, it’s the minimum needed. How about Michael Morse as a LF/DH in Camden Yards? Seems like a match made in O’s heaven to me. This might be a good fit for a veteran who wants to win and can bring some speed, such as Emilio Bonifacio.

Detroit Tigers
Having VMart back and a fully healthy Miguel Cabrera will be huge. But this team needs another run-producer. They could really use it from a corner IF/OF type, even if J.D. Martinez is for real and Nick Castellanos takes a step forward. Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios might be nice fits in Motown. And since this team is in win-now mode, a one-year shot on a 5th outfielder season from Ichiro Suzuki could be a nice Torii Hunter substitute.

Kansas City Royals
A lot came together all at once for the Royals last season. Now Hosmer and Moustakas have to prove they can do it over a full season. There has been talk of breaking up the shutdown Herrera-Davis-Holland back end bullpen trio. Especially with the loss of starter James Shields, that sounds like crazy talk to me. This team needs to find a similar starting pitcher, and all the names mentioned for the Pirates come to mind, especially Jake Peavy. He’s a winner and a staff leader-type. And how about a Colby Rasmus in CF, allowing Lorenzo Cain to possibly become an All-Star rightfielder playing every day there?

Jake Peavy could fit well as a James Shields replacement in KC

LA Angels of Anaheim
Los Angeles, Anaheim, whatever they are, is a very good team. But like a few other very good teams, they have big questions in the rotation, especially if they actually do move C.J. Wilson. A lefty DH/IF/PH bat with experience and pop would be a nice addition. Someone like Kendrys Morales fits the bill perfectly. Emilio Bonifacio checks off a few boxes as well as a versatile switch-hitter. And bottom-feeding one of the lesser expense but reliable SP options would be a good idea, someone in the Kyle Kendrick or Ryan Vogelsong price range.

Toronto Blue Jays
This team has to be taken seriously now. Picking up one of the top players in the game at a position of growing scarcity in 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson, as well as a proven, veteran leader at catcher in Russ Martin, will do that for you. They join a lineup that already included Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion. Do you entrust this obvious run at the postseason to the current group of 2nd basemen? How about Stephen Drew to play there, and give you an option should Reyes’ legs act up again? And this team looks like a perfect landing spot for a proven closer like Rafael Soriano, if he can be had at the right price. Asdrubal Cabrera could provide excellent versatility, and Emilio Bonifacio could fit here for all these same reasons.

AJ & KK: Innings Don’t Grow on Trees

Kendrick and Burnett were healthy rotation regulars in 2014

There has been a thought process floating around in some baseball circles that the more innings a team can get from it’s starting rotation, the more likely the team will have success.

One school of thought has floated the number of 1,000 innings as a goal for a starting rotation. If a team’s starters can accumulate 1,000 innings during a season, the team will usually win.

Most teams won’t reach the mark. Per KC Royals writer Craig Brown, between 2003-2012 just 1 in 5 teams reached the mark. 34% of those teams reached the postseason. More importantly, those teams averaged 87.4 wins among them. Clearly, the more innings your rotation gives, the better your chance of contending.

In 2014, the World Series champion San Francisco Giants starting pitchers totaled 978 innings pitched. But remember, the Giants won 88 games in the regular season, finishing in 2nd place, 6 games behind the Dodgers and tied for the NL Wildcard spots. The Dodgers got 972.2 innings from their starters.

In 2014, in the NL East Division, among the Phillies rivals, the division-winning Washington Nationals had the best record in the entire National League, and totaled 1,019 innings from their starters.

The 2014 Phillies rotation, believe it or not, did indeed top the magic 1,000 mark. The Phils rotation members were able to go 1,014 innings for the team this season. That’s with Cliff Lee injured and only able to make 13 starts, contributing just 81.1 innings himself to the effort.

The Phils very nearly had 3 starting pitchers reach the 200 inning mark. They were led by A.J. Burnett at 213.2 and Cole Hamels at 204.2, while Kyle Kendrick fell just short at 199 innings pitched. And no, those starts were not mostly bad ones, if that’s what you are thinking.

The starting efforts by the Phillies rotation resulted in 56% as “Quality Starts”, meaning they lasted at least 6 innings and allowed no more than 3 earned runs. The league average was 52% of their teams starts. The bottom line? The Phillies losing record in 2014 was not due to their starting rotation, as much as fans might like to put a chunk of the blame there.

The Phillies losing record in 2014 was mostly due to their inability to hit effectively. The team was tied for just 23rd in Runs scored in all of baseball this year. The only playoff team even close to them were the Cardinals, with whom they were tied. But the Cards were 14th in Batting Average, 9th in On-Base Percentage. The Phils were all the way down at 24th in Avg, 25th in OBP among the 30 teams.

The Phillies bullpen was, in general, not a problem. In fact, by the end, when rookie Ken Giles became a regular, they were a strength. Closer Jonathan Papelbon registered 39 Saves with a 2.04 ERA in 66 games. His support group: Ken Giles (44 games/1.18 ERA), Jake Diekman (73 games/3.80 ERA), Antonio Bastardo (67 games/3.94 ERA), Justin DeFratus (54 games/2.39 ERA), and even Mike Adams (22 games/2.89 ERA) were mostly effective.

The point of all this is to illustrate that, if the Phillies truly want to improve for 2015, they need to improve their offensive consistency. The rotation and the bullpen were able to remain competitive, but the offense frequently let the arms down. But there may be a big problem looming.

The Phillies and A.J. Burnett have each turned down mutual options for a 2015 contract. Burnett has until tomorrow to accept or decline a player option for just over $12 million. Kyle Kendrick is a free agent, and not likely to return. Even Lee, who many fans seem to assume will return healthy, is no guarantee. At age 36, Lee left a July game with an elbow issue. He has not had surgery. There is absolutely no guarantee that he can give the Phils anything next year, let alone a full, healthy season.

The problem there should become obvious. If the Phils don’t re-sign Kendrick, or sign someone just as productive, and if Burnett chooses to not return, they have lost more than 400 innings from their rotation. If Lee is not healthy enough to give more than the 81 innings he did in 2014, they may approach the need to replace almost 500 innings. Where will those come from?

The fact is that Innings Pitched by Major League Baseball-caliber starting pitchers do not grow on trees. As much as many Phillies fans might want to malign them, A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick were just that in 2014. The 121 innings given by Roberto Hernandez will likely be replaced by Jerome Williams. But that’s just the 4th starter at best.

David Buchanan will be counted on to step up as a regular

Young David Buchanan is likely to be expected to increase the 117.2 innings that he pitched over 20 starts in his rookie season this year. If he makes close to 30 starts in 2015, he will be expected to at least reach across the 150 IP mark. But that’s just a 30-40 inning bump next year, not nearly enough to make up for the losses.

The Phillies have a lot of questions to answer for 2015, and they are making some dangerous assumptions at this point. They assume a full, healthy season from Cole Hamels, and yet there has even been talk of trying to deal him for a large prospect package, if that is possible.

Without Burnett and Kendrick, something many Phils fans probably wish happens, the starting rotation could be a shambles in 2015. Phillies fans need to be careful what they wish for, they just might get it. If you thought things were bad in 2014 with them, they will likely be downright ugly in 2015 without them.

In no way am I arguing that A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick are top quality starting pitchers at this point in their careers. But the simple fact is that both are healthy, experienced starting pitchers who go out and take their turn in the rotation, and usually are able to give the team valuable innings pitched that keep their team in the game more often than not.

There are no guarantees that Cliff Lee will be healthy in 2015

Maybe Hamels stays and is a Cy Young contender. He is certainly capable of that type effort, if he stays. Maybe Cliff Lee comes back healthy, pitches a full season, at least enough to be a valued trade chip come June or July. Maybe Burnett accepts his option. Maybe Buchanan and Williams are more than we think. Maybe the club signs a free agent that is able to give them 200 innings.

That’s an awful lot of maybes for a team that was already a last place one this past season, and that already has an aging, struggling offense. It’s a lot easier at this stage of the off-season to envision a 2015 that is not only worse in the win-loss record, but harder and uglier to watch. Phillies fans need to keep a close eye on the formation of the 2015 starting rotation. Replacing A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick will not be as easy as you might think.