Forget growing arms and buying bats: Phillies now have to do the opposite

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Forget growing arms and buying bats: Phillies now have to do the opposite

The Phillies are probably going to have to adjust their organizational philosophy on the fly. Because the way they're set up now, "growing the arms and buying the bats" no longer makes sense.

That was the organizational philosophy Andy MacPhail brought to the Phillies, and it made sense because nothing can cripple a team worse than a couple albatross contracts to injured pitchers. Think about how bad it got for the Phillies when Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were making close to $50 million combined to not pitch.

But all you have to do now is look at how the Phillies have performed since Rhys Hoskins arrived to realize that offense is no longer the main target. Where would a free-agent position player even fit with the Phillies? They could very well not sign a single hitter to a major-league contract this winter. 

The infield
The Phillies are set at every infield position; now it's just a matter of determining the odd men out. 

Hoskins is obviously the everyday first baseman moving forward. 

Then comes that five-man group of J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis. Three of them will be starters for the Phillies, meaning at least one of them has to be traded. 

Who gets traded?
Galvis would appear to be the logical trade candidate because his contract ends before any of the others. Next year will be his final year of arbitration eligibility and then Galvis is a free agent.

But here's the thing: If the Phillies have enough offense elsewhere in the lineup, Galvis' bat is less of a liability. The Phils could just bat him eighth and use his Gold Glove-caliber defense to aid their pitching staff.

Plus, because of Galvis' contract status, the Phillies would get more in a trade of Franco or Hernandez than they would by moving Galvis.

There are financial reasons why keeping Kingery in Triple A for four to six weeks to begin 2018 would benefit the Phillies long-term, so you might see only one of those additional infielders traded in the offseason. 

A logical scenario would seem to involve opening next season with Kingery at Triple A and Franco at third. Then, after that month is up, making a decision on Franco. Best-case scenario, Franco hits eight homers in April and builds enough trade value to entice another team. Worst-case scenario, Franco doesn't hit, doesn't have trade value and the Phillies have to just move him to the bench. Then it's just a matter of whether Kingery or Crawford plays third.

In any event, the Phillies are set up for years in the infield.

The outfield
With Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr, the Phillies are finally set in the outfield and do not need to go out and pay a veteran an eight-figure annual salary. 

There are injury concerns with Altherr, who has missed a lot of time the last two years because of the wrist injury in 2016 and a few hamstring strains this year. But that doesn't mean the Phillies are going to pursue an outfielder who will command an eight-figure annual salary.

The only scenario in which I could see the Phillies paying for another outfielder is if they use Altherr as a trade chip to get a young starting pitcher. Say an offense-starved team like the Giants pursues Altherr. The Phillies could swap him for a pitcher and then use their oodles of payroll space to sign a more proven outfielder. They don't have to do it by any means, but it's an option because paying a position player for past performance often works out better than paying a pitcher.

Free-agent starting pitchers
This is where the Phillies absolutely, positively have to spend money this winter. I don't mean the top tier of Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Instead, I'm referring to the second tier of Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and perhaps Jhoulys Chacin.

The guess here is that Darvish gets at least $20 million to $22 million per year and Arrieta gets between $15 million to $17 million. It doesn't make sense for the Phillies to spend that kind of money for guys whose best remaining years will be in 2018 and '19.

But pitchers like Cobb (30 years old) and Lynn (31) will command less money. They might be obtainable for something like four years, $56-60 million. Or the Phillies could go for a three-year deal with a slightly higher AAV.

Right now, the Phillies have one starting pitcher they can feel completely confident in moving forward: Aaron Nola. Jerad Eickhoff and Ben Lively look like decent options as the Nos. 4 and 5 starters but not much more. Vince Velasquez is back to square one. All Nick Pivetta has done is look like a guy destined for a late-inning relief role.

If the Phillies were to sign Cobb and Lynn, they'd have their Nos. 2 and 3 starters. The rotation would look a whole lot better, and Pete Mackanin could feel comfortable that three out of every five days, he'll have a starting pitcher who can go at least six innings.

Cobb is 11-9 with a 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP this season. He's not a big strikeout guy (6.4 per nine), but he does a very good job of limiting walks. And despite his penchant for being around the plate, Cobb has never allowed a hit per inning in a full season. He has a career ERA of 3.48 in 113 starts with Tampa Bay.

Lynn, aside from missing all of 2016 after Tommy John surgery, has been a model of consistency for the Cardinals since 2012. In 180 career games (158 starts), Lynn is 72-46 with a 3.30 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He's a quality start machine.

Making the money work
The only player the Phillies have under contract next season is Herrera, who makes $3.35 million next year. The Phils are also on the hook for $2.5 million of Cole Hamels' money (still), bringing their total payroll commitments next season to just $5.85 million.

Then you add in the arbitration raises for Galvis, Hernandez, Franco, Cameron Rupp and Luis Garcia (even though the Phillies are highly unlikely to keep everyone from that group). Then you add in the rising minimum salaries for the 15 or so young players — the group that includes Nola, Eickhoff, Velasquez, Williams, Hoskins, Crawford et al.  

The figure you come to after adding all of that is just under $25 million. So the Phillies would have about $30 million committed to 20 players. They have so, so much money to spend.

If they were to add both Cobb and Lynn on contracts that pay $15 million per year, that would still put them at a very low payroll number of about $60 million. So they'd still have a ton of room to pursue high-level free agents in that star-studded 2018 class, which includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw and others.

The standings
If Hoskins and Williams are indeed for real — and they certainly appear to be given the adjustments we've already seen them make — the Phillies could push .500 in 2018 with more pitching. If they add two guys like Cobb and Lynn and they both stay healthy, the Phils could crack 80 wins in a non-fluky manner next year.

With two wild-cards, teams that hover around .500 in July and August are still in the playoff race. I'm not ready to say the Phils can compete for the second wild-card spot next season, but they could be on the fringe of it with an eye still toward the future.

There's a lot to be excited about right now. What we're witnessing on the field in September is what Phillies fans have waited years for. It took longer than expected, but barring a catastrophic injury or two in the final three weeks of the season, it finally will give the Phillies and their fans a reason for offseason optimism.

While Phils' search continues, Red Sox get their guy, Mets appear to too

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While Phils' search continues, Red Sox get their guy, Mets appear to too

BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox have hired Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora to be their new manager.

The team made the announcement on Sunday, a day after Cora's Astros reached the World Series.

Cora replaces John Farrell, who was fired this month despite winning back-to-back AL East titles. Farrell's teams won the 2013 World Series, finished last twice and then in each of the past two years won the division but got eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

A native of Puerto Rico, Cora is the first Hispanic manager in Red Sox history.

He played 14 years in the major leagues before retiring in 2011, including parts of four seasons with the Red Sox. He was a member of Boston's 2007 World Series team.

Cora has never managed before.

Reports: Mets offer manager job to Indians coach Callaway
NEW YORK — It appears the New York Mets have settled on their choice for a manager.

Several media outlets are reporting the team has offered the job to Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. The New York Post was the first to report the Mets were in talks with Callaway, saying a deal is being finalized.

When contacted Sunday, multiple Mets officials declined to comment.

With his contract set to expire, Terry Collins stepped down at the end of the season after seven years as Mets manager and accepted a position as a special assistant to general manager Sandy Alderson.

The 42-year-old Callaway has been Cleveland's pitching coach for the past five seasons under highly successful manager Terry Francona. Led by ace right-hander Corey Kluber, the Indians led the major leagues with a 3.30 ERA this season, one year after reaching the World Series.

Callaway has never managed at any professional level.

Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

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Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7


HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP, and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve, the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."