Searching for solutions to Phils' powerless bench


Searching for solutions to Phils' powerless bench

When the Phillies informed Bobby Abreu on Wednesday that he wouldn't be on the opening day roster, they essentially guaranteed that Tony Gwynn Jr. will be the lefty bat off the bench.

That gives the Phils four reserve locks: Gwynn, John Mayberry, backup catcher Wil Nieves and utilityman Cesar Hernandez.

A glaring lack of pop there, brought on mostly by the oblique injury suffered by Darin Ruf.

Competing for the fifth and presumably final bench spot are Reid Brignac and Andres Blanco, two more light-hitting utility infielders.

Freddy Galvis is a few weeks away from returning from the disabled list. Carrying a player like Brignac or Blanco will be important until Galvis returns because the Phillies will need a backup shortstop and will likely lose Jimmy Rollins for a game or two when his child is born. Hernandez plays second base, third base and center field but is not a shortstop. He hasn't played there this spring and has just one game under his belt at the position since 2008.

There are practical reasons for filling out the bench with another light-hitting utility infielder, but might it be wise to carry top power prospect Maikel Franco? He will be with the Phillies for the on-deck series Friday and Saturday at Citizens Bank Park against the Pirates, according to Phillies insider Jim Salisbury.

Because of the need for a backup SS, it seems the only way Franco could make the opening day roster would be if the Phils go with a six-man bench. National League teams do not often carry six reserves, but the Phillies won't be using a fifth starter for the first two weeks of the season. That means they could, for two weeks, go with six bench bats and the standard seven relievers.

There are pros and cons to bringing Franco aboard. An obvious pro is his impressive raw power, which the Phillies don't have much of on the bench. He could also spell Cody Asche, who hasn't had a great spring, at third base against a left-handed pitcher.

The cons? Franco wouldn't be playing every day, which could stunt his development. He also underwhelmed in the games leading up to his demotion to minor-league camp. Ryne Sandberg mentioned that Franco, who hit .184 with zero extra-base hits in Grapefruit League play, needed to work on shortening his swing.

Another factor at play is that if the Phillies open the season with Franco but send him down to the minors at any point during the season, they will burn his first option. Players have three option years during which the team can send the player up and down without placing him on waivers. After all three option years are used up, the player must clear waivers to be assigned to the minor leagues. Mayberry and Brad Lincoln are two Phillies who are out of options. 

It's a decision the Phillies will weigh in the coming days. Defensive versatility off the bench is important, but so is the ability to turn to a hitter capable of doubling or homering in the late innings. Brignac and Gwynn own .318 and .311 respective career slugging percentages that would make Juan Pierre laugh. Hernandez has always been a singles hitter, and the backup catcher (Nieves) is rarely used in a pinch-hit role unless absolutely necessary. That leaves Mayberry as the lone power threat.

Such a bench would leave the Phillies susceptible in the late innings and would make matters easier for opposing relievers and managers.

Finding 25 players to fill out a roster isn't typically this challenging.

Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

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Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

Gabe Kapler on Friday added to his coaching staff by naming Jim Gott the Phillies' bullpen coach.

Gott was the minor-league pitching coordinator for the Angels the last five seasons and the pitching coach for the Arizona League Angels the three years prior to that role.

He played for the Blue Jays, Giants, Pirates and Dodgers over 14 major-league seasons as a starter and reliever. Gott, now 58 years old, compiled a 3.87 ERA while making 96 starts and converting 91 saves.

Kapler and the Phillies still need to name a pitching coach and first-base coach. Last week, they named Dusty Wathan third-base coach and hired John Mallee as hitting coach, while retaining Rick Kranitz, who was the assistant pitching coach last season (see story). He could fill the main pitching coach vacancy, although his role is currently to be determined.

In 2017, Bob McClure served the Phillies as pitching coach and Mickey Morandini was first-base coach.

MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

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MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

Houston Astros dynamo Jose Altuve has won the American League MVP award, towering over New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge by a wide margin.

The 5-foot-6 Altuve drew 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Altuve batted a major league-best .346. He hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs, scored 112 times, stole 32 bases and showed a sharp glove at second base.

The 6-foot-7 Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday. He set a rookie record with 52 home runs.

Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians finished third. The award was announced Thursday.

Altuve helped lead the Astros to their first World Series championship. Voting for these honors was completed before the postseason began.

Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP award, barely edging Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds.

In the closest MVP vote since 1979, Stanton became only the sixth player to win from a losing team. Stanton led the big leagues with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs (see full story).

MLB: Manfred says pace changes will happen with or without union
Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

There are ongoing talks for a new posting system with Japan to replace the deal that expired Nov. 1, one that would allow star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani to leave the Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters to sign with a big league team (see full story).

Mariners: Team makes trade, raises available money for Japan's Otani​
The Seattle Mariners have gained more flexibility if they want to try to sign star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani.

They acquired an additional $500,000 for their international signing bonus pool from the Chicago White Sox in a trade for Brazilian right-hander Thyago Vieira.

Otani, a 23-year-old right-hander, would be limited to a minor league contract with a signing bonus under Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement. The trade announced Thursday increases the Mariners' available money for a signing bonus to $1,557,500. Seattle has spent $3,942,500 on bonuses in the signing year that started July 2 from a pool that rose to $5.5 million with the trade.

The 24-year-old Vieira made his major league debut with a scoreless inning against Baltimore on Aug. 14, his only big league appearance. He was 2-3 with two saves and a 3.72 ERA in 29 games this year for Double-A Arkansas and 0-1 with two saves and a 4.58 ERA in 12 games for Triple-A Tacoma.

Chicago is restricted to a maximum $300,000 signing bonus because it exceeded its pool in a previous year under the old labor contract.