Phillies

Phillies trade breakdown: Why they added lefties, Kim, bonus pool money

Phillies trade breakdown: Why they added lefties, Kim, bonus pool money

The Phillies didn't have much leverage with Howie Kendrick or Jeremy Hellickson but were able to make worthwhile trades involving both on Friday night.

In totality, the Phillies on Friday traded away Kendrick (to the Nationals) and Hellickson (to the Orioles) and brought back two young left-handed pitchers, a fourth outfielder already in the majors and two chunks of international amateur signing bonus pool space.

Here's everything you need to know about the pair of trades GM Matt Klentak swung last night — and what it means to add international bonus pool space:

Little leverage
Kendrick has been a very productive hitter this season when he's played (.340 batting average, .851 OPS), but he's already missed 61 percent of the season and could miss a few more days after being hit by a pitch on the wrist Wednesday.

Kendrick's solid bat and positional versatility made him attractive to contending clubs like the Nationals, but given his injury issues this season and his impending free agency, the Phillies were not going to get a ton for him.

With Hellickson, the leverage wasn't there because he has a 4.73 ERA and the second-lowest strikeout rate in the major leagues. He, too, is a free agent after the season, and the Phillies wouldn't have been able to extend him a qualifying offer a second offseason in a row under the new CBA. So teams around the league knew the Phils had to trade Hellickson, if only because they had no other path to getting any value whatsoever for him.

Adding lefties
For Kendrick, the Phillies received 21-year-old left-handed starting pitcher McKenzie Mills, who has experienced a "remarkable transformation" this season, according to Klentak.

Prior to this season, Mills had walked 74 batters in 111 innings at the lowest levels of the Nationals' farm system. But he's broken out in 2017 — in 18 starts, Mills is 12-2 with a 3.01 ERA, 118 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 104⅔ innings. He was recently promoted to High A.

Mills gives the Phillies another young starting pitching prospect with a chance to someday make an impact on the major-league rotation — kind of like Zach Eflin did after the Jimmy Rollins trade, or Ben Lively after the Marlon Byrd trade, or Nick Pivetta after the Jonathan Papelbon trade. Eflin, Lively and Pivetta have had varying significance on the Phillies' pitching staff the last two years. We don't know if any of them will be long-term keepers but at the very least Lively looks like a back-end starter and Pivetta has the potential to stick in the middle of a rotation with his strikeout stuff.

One thing the Phillies' farm system lacked before these trades — and still does to an extent — is left-handed pitching. Across all levels of their system, their pitching prospects are mostly right-handed. 

From Single A to Triple A, the Phillies have four left-handed pitchers who've had some degree of success: Nick Fanti (Lakewood), JoJo Romero (Clearwater), Cole Irvin (Reading) and Brandon Leibrandt (Lehigh Valley). Mills gives them another.

The left-hander acquired from the Orioles for Hellickson is Garrett Cleavinger, Baltimore's third-round pick in 2015 out of the University of Oregon.

Cleavinger is 23 years old and may end up being just a guy. He has a 6.28 ERA in 27 relief appearances this season with 42 strikeouts and 23 walks in 38⅔ innings. All 83 of his minor-league appearances have been out of the bullpen. He's had some trouble as he's progressed from Low A to High A to Double A, so it remains to be seen whether he'll factor into the Phillies' future in any way.

The Phils had more leverage with Kendrick than with Hellickson, so it makes sense they got a much better prospect back for Kendrick.

Hyun Soo Kim
In the Hellickson trade, the Phillies also brought back 29-year-old major-league outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who left Korea to sign a two-year deal with the Orioles prior to 2016.

Kim is a contact hitter whose best skill in Korea was his ... wait for it ... control of the strike zone. (That term ring a bell?)

A left-handed hitting leftfielder, Kim walked a lot and barely struck out year after year in Korea, posting a .406 on-base percentage in 10 professional seasons. He signed a two-year, $7 million deal to join the Orioles and posted a .382 OBP in 346 plate appearances last season, but he fell out of favor this year.

Kim has played sparingly in 2017, hitting .232/.305/.288 in 141 plate appearances. He was expendable for the O's and trading him was a way for them to save a bit of money. He won't cost guys like Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams and Odubel Herrera playing time.

Kim is a free agent after the season. His inclusion in the Hellickson deal is reminiscent of the Phillies' getting Nate Schierholtz from the Giants in 2012 as part of the Hunter Pence trade. Like Schierholtz, Kim has a chance to stick here as a fourth outfielder if he hits. If he doesn't, the Phillies can let him walk after the season just like they did with Schierholtz.

International bonus pool money
This component of the trades of both Kendrick and Hellickson should not be overlooked. Klentak says he's added about $1 million in international bonus pool money.

What does that mean and why does it matter?

Over are the days when teams could spend a ton on the international market. Under the new CBA, most teams begin each season with $4.75 million to spend during the international signing period. But teams classified as small market or small revenue get either $5.25 million or $5.75 million. The Phillies fit into neither category, so they start with the lower $4.75 million figure.

But by adding international bonus pool money in both trades, the Phillies are now closer to the highest end of international spending space. Teams can acquire up to 75 percent of their original pool allotment, so for a team like the Phillies that means they can add a maximum of $3.56 million to their pool.

Eight MLB teams began with the high-end number of $5.75 million but three of them incurred a penalty for previously exceeding their bonus pools. So with this nearly $5.75 million, the Phillies are in the same position as only five other teams: the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Indians, Rockies and Pirates.

Healthy Jerad Eickhoff says, 'The sky is the limit'

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AP Images

Healthy Jerad Eickhoff says, 'The sky is the limit'

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jerad Eickhoff is an important man in this Phillies season. He needs to be closer to the guy who pitched to a 3.65 ERA in 197 1/3 innings in 2016 than the one who had a 4.71 ERA in 128 innings last season.

It all starts with good health. Eickhoff, 27, missed time with an upper-back strain and a nerve issue near his right shoulder last season.

He is healthy now and has made a tweak in his mechanics to ease pressure on his shoulder. He made his spring debut with two hitless, scoreless innings in a 6-0 exhibition win over the University of Tampa on Thursday (more on the game here). Eickhoff threw 17 pitches, 14 of which were strikes. He struck out two, walked none and hit a batter. 

“No matter what game it is that you pitch in, you get that intensity, there’s a hitter in the box, you still get butterflies being back at it,” Eickhoff said. “Today was a big day, facing some competition. The live batting practice was checking off the first box. A game setting was kind of the second box, so I think the sky is the limit from here. I feel great.”

Eickhoff developed a mechanical flaw last season as his body would often fall toward first base after delivering the ball. That put pressure on his shoulder. He has tried to correct the flaw this winter by holding his glove a little higher before he releases the ball. That helps him get going toward home plate.

If healthy, Eickhoff will be in the starting rotation. (Former bench coach Larry Bowa is high on him). But he’s taking nothing for granted.

“I try to approach every spring like I’m trying to win a job,” Eickhoff said. “I have something to prove every year.”

Notes
• Andrew Knapp caught and batted leadoff. He worked a walk to lead off the game and that impressed manager Gabe Kapler. Kapler advised not to read into batting order positions this early in camp. 

“These are practice settings,” he said.

• The Phillies play their Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. Rotation candidates Nick Pivetta and Mark Leiter Jr. are expected to get some work. Non-roster invite Francisco Rodriguez, he of the 437 career saves, could also get an inning.

Future closer? Power-armed Seranthony Dominguez dazzles in opener

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USA Today Images

Future closer? Power-armed Seranthony Dominguez dazzles in opener

CLEARWATER, Fla. — This was a nice little glimpse of the future.

Seven of the eight pitchers used by the Phillies in Thursday’s 6-0 exhibition win over the University of Tampa were prospects who likely need a little more time in the minors, but could someday be mainstays in Philadelphia.

Jerad Eickhoff started and pitched two scoreless innings (see story). After him, prospects Jose Taveras, Tom Eshelman, Franklyn Kilome, Enyel De Los Santos, Seranthony Dominguez, Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez kept the shutout intact. None of the Phillies’ pitchers walked a batter, though Eickhoff did hit one.

“No walks, that’s fairly unusual for spring training,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It was like Command City. Guys were on top of it.”

Kapler singled out Dominguez, a strong-bodied, power-armed, 23-year-old right-hander who earned a spot on the 40-man roster in November. Dominguez allowed a leadoff single in the seventh then came back with three swinging strikeouts, all on high-80s sliders.

“He maintained his composure, had electric stuff and the bravado of a seasoned veteran,” Kapler said.

Dominguez, signed out of the Dominican Republic for $25,000 in 2012, touched 100 mph with his fastball as a starter in the Florida State League early last season. He ended up missing time with biceps tendinitis, but is healthy now. The Phillies have reduced his pitch mix from four to three (fastball, slider, changeup) and he will convert to the bullpen, where he profiles as a potential closer, this season. He is likely to open at Double A Reading. Don’t rule out seeing him in Philadelphia later this season if all goes well.

“As a bullpen guy, he could be a quick mover,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

“He has a top-of-the-scale fastball,” director of player development Joe Jordan said. “He has a chance to really dominate in the late innings.”