Phillies

Phillies likely to add a hitter before spring training

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Phillies likely to add a hitter before spring training

The calendar has flipped to 2017 and if you cup your ear you can hear the distant sound of mitts a-popping as spring training inches near.
 
Over the last three months, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has taken a stab at improving his bullpen with the addition of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit. He rolled the dice and traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz in hopes that the veteran right-hander can get outs and provide innings in the present on his way to becoming a July trade chip that might ultimately aid the team’s future.
 
The Phillies’ offense in 2016 was one of the worst in baseball, scoring a majors-low 610 runs and finishing next-to-last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385). These numbers contributed to this sad statistic: At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
At the moment, the Phillies are looking to the experience gained by a young group of hitters in 2016 and the addition of veteran Howie Kendrick as reasons their offense can improve in 2017.
 
More help will probably come before the Phillies arrive in Clearwater next month.
 
For months, Klentak has been weighing the merit of adding another veteran outfield bat against giving an opportunity to youngster Roman Quinn. When the dust settles on this offseason, Klentak likely will have opted to add another bat to help in the outfield. He almost has to because while the 23-year-old year old Quinn is an exciting talent and while the rebuild gives the Phillies the chance to turn him loose and see what they have, there’s no hiding the fact that Quinn’s professional career has been defined as much by injury as it has by his electricity on the field. Klentak probably has to add some insurance behind Quinn and Aaron Altherr, another unproven outfielder who has had injury issues.
 
Every move that Klentak has made this winter has been done against the backdrop of the team’s rebuild. To wit: All of the players that have been brought in are on short-term contracts that won’t be roadblocks to young prospects as they get ready to rise to majors.
 
There are still plenty of available bats that would fit this model as Klentak looks for offense in his outfield. Jose Bautista remains on the free-agent market and could take a one-year deal. But a union between the Phillies and the 36-year-old slugger is extremely unlikely. The Phillies are committed to building through the draft and it’s difficult to see them giving up a second-round draft pick to sign Bautista. They’d also be reluctant to give up top young talent for someone like Jay Bruce, though he could still be a name to watch if the Mets look to dump his salary (like Boston did with Buchholz) for little return.
 
Hanging on to young players is a major goal for this front office. That’s why the Phillies’ late-winter infusion of offense will likely come from the remainder of the secondary free-agent market.
 
Primary names to watch:
 
Brandon Moss.
 
Michael Saunders.
 
Rajai Davis. (Update: Davis reportedly agreed to a deal with the A's Tuesday night.)
 
There are others out there, including Colby Rasmus, but at the moment, Moss, Saunders and Davis are the names that seem to fit best.
 
Moss would add some left-handed pop and could help at first base as well as at a corner outfield spot.
 
Saunders would also add left-handed pop as he tries to regain the stroke that made him an all-star with Toronto in 2016 then vanished in the second half of the season. Saunders is a Canadian and is close with new Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs. Gambling on that chemistry might make some sense.
 
Though the Phils would prefer to add a left-handed bat, right-handed-hitting Davis would make some sense because of his versatility and speed. He might be a nice complement to the outfield mix that would allow Quinn a break-in period.
 
It’s not clear when the Phils will add another outfield bat. The market remains crowded and that could allow the team time to sit back and sign a player on its terms.
 
But as the New Year begins and the new season inches toward us one this seems clear: The Phillies aren’t done adding yet.

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

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Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."