Phillies

Countdown to Clearwater: Get to know the new players while you can

Countdown to Clearwater: Get to know the new players while you can

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.

Time moves on.
 
Players come and go.
 
The Phillies report to spring training in Clearwater, Florida, in less than two weeks and for the first time this century there will not be a player in the clubhouse that has a link to the 2008 World Series championship team.
 
Pat Burrell attended his first big-league camp in 1999, back when the team still called cozy, old Jack Russell Stadium its spring home, and Jimmy Rollins came through the door a year later.
 
The Phillies moved a few miles down Drew St. to gorgeous Bright House Field in 2004, and Burrell and Rollins were eventually joined by the likes of Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard in what became the core of the 2008 championship team.
 
They have all moved on now, first Burrell not long after the World Series parade and then Rollins, Hamels and Utley a few years later. The exodus continued when Ruiz was traded in August and concluded when Howard tipped his cap as his contract expired in October.
 
So, for the first time in 19 seasons, there won’t be a player in the club’s spring-training clubhouse — new hitting coach Matt Stairs doesn’t count — that was part of the 2008 title team.
 
Maybe it’s fitting that even the ballpark has a new name. Bright House Field has become Spectrum Field after a corporate transaction.
 
The sense of newness actually shifted into high gear a year ago when club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak presided over their first spring training as leaders of the rebuilding club.
 
The Phillies made a solid improvement in 2016, winning 71 games, eight more than they did while racking up baseball’s worst record in 2015. But this club remains an active construction site and playoff relevance/contention is probably at least a year away, maybe more depending on the progress of young players. Klentak spent the winter making modest additions designed to support a core of young players that has already arrived in the majors and inch the win total upward without requiring lengthy contract commitments that would block the next wave of young players that the rebuild and the goal of long-term sustainable success hinges upon.
 
Klentak offered a look at his offseason playbook in the fall.
 
“We want to make the 2017 Phillies better than the 2016 Phillies,” he said. “It’s important that we continue to move the ball down the field and show progress. Simultaneously, we need to be very cognizant of not blocking the development timeline of our players, some that are in the big leagues and some that are on the cusp of reaching the big leagues.”

The embodiment of Klentak’s plan will be visible in spring training as five well-known veterans begin what figure to be short stints with the club.
 
Klentak added a pair of veteran relievers in Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, a starting pitcher in Clay Buchholz and two outfielders in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Neshek, Buchholz and Kendrick came in trades. Benoit and Saunders were free-agent signings. All are signed for just 2017, though Saunders’ contract has a club option for 2018.

Neshek, Buchholz and Kendrick all were essentially salary dumps by their previous clubs. Throughout their rebuild, which began under previous general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies have been willing to take on money to get players that fit the club’s purpose. They did it in the Cole Hamels trade, which netted them several potential building blocks, including rotation rock Jerad Eickhoff, and they did it in acquiring Jeremy Hellickson last winter. He had a solid season in 2016 and returns in 2017.
 
Like Hellickson a year ago, each one of these new Phillies veterans is seeking a rebound of some sort.

Kendrick, who lines up to start in left field, is looking to bounce back from the worst offensive season of his career.

Saunders, who will start in right field, is looking to show he is the guy who hit .298 with a .923 OPS in the first half of 2016 and made the American League All-Star team, not the guy that hit .178 with a .638 OPS after the break.

Buchholz seeks consistency after pitching his way in and out of Boston’s rotation last season.

Benoit and Neshek have both experienced highs and lows in their careers. The Phillies would gladly take the best these two relievers have because this team’s starting rotation has some talent and depth and that could give the club a puncher’s chance heading into the late innings a lot of nights.
 
There will be other new faces in the clubhouse. Veterans Daniel Nava, Bryan Holaday, Chris Coghlan, Ryan Hanigan, Pedro Florimon and Sean Burnett will all be in camp on minor-league contracts and there will be a host of first-time prospects on board to get their first taste of big-league life before heading to the minors for more seasoning.
 
But Kendrick, Saunders, Buchholz, Benoit and Neshek are the most notable new names, players who’ve had success in other places and are now making mid- or late-career stops with a rebuilding team in Philadelphia.
 
Say hello to them all but make it quick. If they play well for four months, Klentak will surely look to trade them for young players that will help the club’s long-term rebuild.
 
That’s in his playbook, too.
 
“We’re trying to make our team as competitive as we can and the hope is that we will be playing meaningful games when we get to the end of July,” Klentak said. “But it certainly isn’t lost on us that if the standings are looking the other way at the end of July, we have a lot of meaningful players in the last years of their contracts that could be trade chips.”

Next: A look at pitcher Aaron Nola as he returns from an elbow injury.

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.