Phillies

5 winter meetings thoughts: Phillies/Tyson Ross; McCutchen; Benoit

5 winter meetings thoughts: Phillies/Tyson Ross; McCutchen; Benoit

Five thoughts on the early happenings at the winter meetings:

1. McCutchen rumors
The most mentioned player right now is Andrew McCutchen, who is likely to be traded by the Pirates. McCutchen is by far Pittsburgh's most popular player, the one credited with leading the Bucs out of their lengthy playoff slump. He's won an MVP and led the league in hits, on-base percentage and OPS at one point. 

I don't think McCutchen is finished as a star player. From 2012 to 2015, he hit .313/.404/.523 and averaged 65 extra-base hits (25 HR), 82 walks and 120 strikeouts. Last season, he hit .256/.336/.430 with 53 extra-base hits (24 HR), 69 walks and 143 strikeouts.

McCutchen's bat and legs looked a bit slower last season. His numbers with two strikes plummeted. But I still think he's going to hit around .290 with a .400-plus OBP in 2017. The guy's 30, not 36. 

The Nationals have been the team connected to McCutchen the most, but reports indicate they're unwilling to part with their top, top prospects. There's demand for McCutchen, but I still don't see the Pirates getting full value based on McCutchen's lackluster 2016 and the $28.75M owed to him the next two seasons.

2. Benoit a good idea for Phillies
The Phillies haven't officially signed Joaquin Benoit, but my early take on the move, if it happens, would be that such a deal is rarely a bad idea. Benoit will turn 40 in July, but he's maintained his effectiveness throughout his late-30s. Since 2010, a span of seven seasons, Benoit has a 2.40 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a .189 opponents' batting average. Those are elite numbers. 

Benoit's fastball last season averaged 94.2 mph, a higher mark than he had seven seasons ago.

3. Tyson Ross a fit for Phils?
The most surprising non-tender last Friday was Padres right-handed starting pitcher Tyson Ross. The 29-year-old had a 3.03 ERA in 64 starts in 2014 and 2015 and was San Diego's opening day starter in 2016, but that was the only start he made. Ross hurt his right shoulder, had several setbacks and then underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October. The recovery time is believed to be 4 to 6 months, putting him on pace to potentially be ready to pitch early next season.

A lot of teams will show interest in Ross, who was projected to make about $9.5 million in 2017, his final year before free agency. The Phillies should be one of the teams to examine Ross' health, and if they feel he has a real shot to return early next season, they should be aggressive to try to sign him. 

It's highly unlikely a pitcher with Ross' current bill of health will get a long-term contract. The Phillies, who have a ton of money to spend, could offer him a high one-year salary, allowing him a chance to make some money and reestablish his value. If he pitches well, they could try to keep him in the fold or trade him. 

Many teams will be connected to Ross because he's an intriguing name in a thin starting pitching market. But he makes as much sense for the Phillies as any other team — they have the payroll space, and they're at the juncture in their rebuild when it makes sense to take chances.

4. Closer market gone wild
The expected massive contracts for closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen reflect the growing importance of star relievers. They also reflect the precedent set by the Phillies with Jonathan Papelbon's contract in 2012. Papelbon's $50 million deal was the most expensive ever for a closer at the time. These deals will exceed it by about $30 million, if not more. And they'll be logical contracts for the teams that sign them. The Marlins are thought to be aggressively pursuing one of them.

Mark Melancon reportedly agreed to a four-year, $62 million deal with the Giants, who badly needed a closer. Melancon's ERAs and saves totals have been comparable to Chapman's and Jansen's in recent years, but his stuff isn't. Melancon is much more reliant on command, and of the three closers I'd bet on his results declining first.

5. Typical Theo
The Cubs' addition of Jon Jay was such an under-the-radar, Theo Epstein move. I bet it pays off. Jay, a left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield positions, has been dogged by injuries the last two years but is still a heck of a hitter. He's hit .287 with a .352 OBP in 3,000 plate appearances, and is a player I always thought the Phillies should have pursued. 

Jay has underrated skills. He's not blazing fast and he doesn't have double-digit home run power, but if he's healthy he's going to hit .290 to .300 for your team with solid defense. He's like Martin Prado with better speed, defense and plate discipline. Wise way to protect against losing Dexter Fowler and do it in an inexpensive way.

Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

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Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

Teams all over baseball, including the Phillies, are ready to pounce on a bevy of young international talent that became available Tuesday.

Major League Baseball punished the Atlanta Braves for a host of international signing violations by stripping the club of 13 minor-league prospects (see story). MLB also banished former Braves general manager John Coppolella from working in the game for life.

In the summer of 2016, MLB found the Boston Red Sox in violation of international signing rules and stripped that club of five international prospects. Included in that group was Simon Muzziotti, an outfielder from Venezuela. The Red Sox had initially signed Muzziotti for $300,000 in 2015. He was declared a free agent a year later and the Phillies swooped in and signed him for $750,000. Now 18, Muzziotti played for the Phillies' Gulf Coast League team in 2017.

The list of players set free on Tuesday includes 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, who received a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2016. Six other players that received signing bonuses of $1 million or more were also set free. The group includes Venezuelan catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, who received a $3.53 million bonus and Dominican infielder Yunior Severino, who received a $1.9 million bonus.

The Phillies are well positioned to make a run at some of these new international free agents and past practice says they will. The club added to its current international signing pool in a couple of trades last summer and has about $900,000 remaining. More money can be acquired in trades and applied to the current pool. A team can also use money from next year's pool — that market opens in July — to sign a player, though those funds cannot be used to augment the current pool.

Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani is the prize of this winter's international market. While the deep-pocketed Phillies have interest in Otani, he is subject to international signing bonus rules and pool limits. Translation: Signing him is not simply a matter of being the highest bidder. The team that gets Otani will likely be a contender in win-now mode with a history of signing Japanese talent. An American League club that could offer Otani at-bats (he wants to hit, as well as pitch) would be the best fit.

So, the Phillies' international splash this winter could come from the fallout of the Braves' signing controversy.

The former Braves' prospects are eligible to begin signing with new clubs on Dec. 5. They are:

Kevin Maitan, SS
Juan Contreras, RHP
Yefri del Rosario, RHP
Abrahan Gutierrez, C
Juan Carlos Negret, OF
Yenci Pena, SS
Yunior Severino, 2B
Livan Soto, SS
Guillermo Zuniga, RHP
Brandol Mezquita, OF
Angel Rojas, SS
Antonio Sucre, OF
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS

MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

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MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

ATLANTA -- Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred hit the Atlanta Braves with heavy sanctions, including the loss of 13 players, on Tuesday for rules violations committed by the team in the international player market.

Manfred also placed former Braves general manager John Coppolella on the permanently ineligible list. Former Braves Special Assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team's international scouting chief, is suspended from performing services for any team for one year.

Manfred said an investigation conducted by Major League Baseball determined the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017 by moving bonus pool money from one player to boost another player's contract.

Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016 (see full story).

Yankees: Judge has left shoulder surgery
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees say slugger Aaron Judge had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to be ready for spring training.

The operation was performed Monday by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. The Yankees say the procedure involved a loose-body removal and cartilage cleanup.

The 25-year-old Judge hit .284 with 52 homers and 114 RBIs in 155 games this season, helping New York make it to the AL Championship Series, where they lost to the eventual World Series champion Astros. He was a unanimous selection for AL Rookie of the Year and finished second to Houston infielder Jose Altuve in the AL MVP race.

MLB: Morgan urges voters to keep steroid users out of HOF
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep "known steroid users" out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball's steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall's board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

"Steroid users don't belong here," Morgan wrote. "What they did shouldn't be accepted. Times shouldn't change for the worse."

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions (see full story).

Cubs: Venable leaves front office to be base coach
CHICAGO -- Will Venable is leaving the Chicago Cubs front office to be their first base coach.

The former major league outfielder was hired last summer as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

The 35-year-old Venable replaces Brandon Hyde, who has been promoted to bench coach for manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs also announced Tuesday that they had hired Jim Benedict as a special assistant to baseball operations. Benedict spent the previous two seasons as the vice president for pitching development for the Miami Marlins.