Phillies

An unusual trade candidate, what is Cesar Hernandez worth?

An unusual trade candidate, what is Cesar Hernandez worth?

It's not easy to gauge the trade value of Cesar Hernandez.

The Phillies' 26-year-old second baseman, who was a "hot name" in trade talks at the GM meetings last week, according to CSN's Jim Salisbury, is an unusual trade candidate. He's young, inexpensive, under team control and coming off a breakout season for a team committed to youth.

And yet the possibility exists that the Phillies do this winter with Hernandez what they did last with closer Ken Giles: sell high.

There are many branches to this tree, so let's go point by point:

Would it actually be a sell-high?
You can't ever truly know whether a player has peaked or fluked his way to a successful season. If the Phillies were to trade Hernandez, they'd be doing it under the assumption that one of those two things happened in 2016.

Hernandez hit .294/.371/.393 with 14 doubles, a league-leading 11 triples and six homers in 2016. He played like an All-Star from the time of his benching in late June through the end of the season, hitting .326 with a .421 on-base percentage over his final 83 games. He impressed in the second half with his stroke, his plate selection and a bit more pop than expected. 

There were still justified questions, though, about Hernandez's baseball IQ, instincts, defense and base running. He has well-above-average speed but was just 17 for 30 stealing bases. Pete Mackanin said a few times during the season that Hernandez just hasn't yet learned how to time pitchers and get good jumps. 

In the field and on the bases, Hernandez has been prone to mental lapses that take away from his overall game.

The big question is whether Hernandez's second half was an outlier or a sign of better things to come. A team interested in acquiring him would be betting on the latter.

There's a legitimate chance that Hernandez is on his way to reaching new heights, but there's an equal or better chance he never comes close to replicating that .421 OBP. So if you're the Phillies and you believe that you have other solid middle infield options, now would be the time to explore a trade.

What would be the right return?
Just like last winter with Giles, it only makes sense to move Hernandez if a meaningful offer materializes. With Giles, Phillies GM Matt Klentak turned a closer into five starting pitchers. How many of them end up contributing remains to be seen, but I wrote at the time that even if the trade was just Giles for Vince Velasquez, it made sense for the Phillies because a starting pitcher is more important than a closer for a non-contending team.

With Hernandez, a trade only makes sense if the Phillies bring back a major-league ready player. Hernandez is too young, too cheap and too intriguing to trade for an unproven prospect unless it's a safe, top prospect ... the type of prospect a team wouldn't part with for Cesar Hernandez.

It's not as if the Phillies need to trade him. They could easily go into next season with Hernandez at 2B, Freddy Galvis at SS and Howie Kendrick in LF. When the time comes for J.P. Crawford to debut, the Phils could use a combination of Galvis and Hernandez at 2B, opting for Hernandez when offense is needed and for Galvis when defense is a priority.

So the Phils have leverage. Adding to that leverage is the fact that there is not a single productive everyday second baseman on the free-agent market. The best options there are 33-year-old utilityman Steve Pearce and 37-year-old Chase Utley.

Which teams need a second baseman?
If you're a team in need of a second baseman — the Angels, White Sox, Dodgers, Reds, Royals and Athletics look like the only six possibilites in the league — your best bet is finding him via trade. 

The Angels (Cliff Pennington) and White Sox (Tyler Saladino, injury-prone Brett Lawrie) would be the two best fits for Hernandez.

The Reds (Brandon Phillips) and A's (Jed Lowrie) have older 2B who won't be around much longer.

The Dodgers (Enrique Hernandez) and Royals (Whit Merrifield/Raul Mondesi) could stand to upgrade as well.

Comparable players
The first step in figuring out a sensible trade return for Hernandez is identifying similarly skilled players. The offensive numbers Hernandez put up last season — .294/.371/.393 — actually compare best to prime Luis Castillo. Hernandez has more pop; Castillo was by far a better base runner.

You rarely see a big trade return for a player like Hernandez, whose best skills are hitting singles and taking walks. And you rarely see such a player traded away while he's still young and cheap. The 2017 season will be the first of Hernandez's four arbitration years, meaning he's under club control through the end of 2020. That's important for both mid-market clubs that don't have a ton of money (A's, Reds, Royals) and big-market teams that are already spending a lot (Dodgers, Angels).

So, who are some players with skills similar to Hernandez who were traded early in their careers? Two that come to mind were both Phillies at one point: Michael Bourn and Ben Revere.

The Phillies traded Bourn when he was a 25-year-old with just 144 plate appearances in the majors. Bourn was well-thought-of as a future leadoff hitter and the Astros believed in him enough to trade Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett to the Phils for Bourn, middle reliever Geoff Geary and flawed power prospect Mike Costanzo.

Revere was traded by the Twins to the Phillies at age 24 for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Vance Worley and Trevor May. Worley was already somewhat established at that point, and the Twins started him on opening day before quickly giving up on him. May at that time was still a prospect with a high strikeout rate but middling results.

Denard Span, a career .284/.350/.393 hitter, is another example. Three weeks after the Twins traded Revere to the Phillies, they traded Span to the Nationals for pitcher Alex Meyer, who was drafted in the first round the previous year. Span was a more proven player than Hernandez at the time of that trade, but he was also more expensive.

Three different trades, three different types of return. One trade netted a successful veteran closer. One brought back two young pitchers, one of whom was major-league ready. One brought back a highly touted pitching prospect.

All three players mentioned above played center field at the time of the trade. Hernandez plays second base, an equally in-demand position, but he also has the ability to play some shortstop, which adds to his value. Would a team acquire him to be its everyday shortstop? Probably not. But Hernandez has just one error in 127 career innings at shortstop at the major-league level, so an acquiring team would likely have enough confidence that he'd play passable defense there if needed.

Finding the right return
League-wide, second base is as deep as it's been in years, leaving only those six aforementiond teams as fits for Cesar.

Angels: If the Angels want Hernandez, a logical return for the Phillies could be left-handed pitcher Tyler Skaggs. Skaggs, 25, has already been a part of two big trades and has flashed some potential when he's been on the field. He missed all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but when healthy he's been solid, posting a 4.26 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 28 starts. The Phillies could use a young left-handed starter in their all-righty rotation.

Right-hander Matt Shoemaker would be another option, but he's probably off limits given the Angels' myriad pitching injuries. Shoemaker was quietly very good last season, going 9-13 with a 3.88 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 27 starts. Like Hernandez, he enters the first of four arbitration years in 2017. The difference is Shoemaker is 30 years old, so he doesn't fit the Phillies' timeline perfectly.

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, either pitcher could be made available for an everyday second basemen. The Orange County Register's Jeff Fletcher backed up that idea.

White Sox: Moving on to the White Sox, there's not a true, major-league ready fit. The Phillies have no chance at getting Jose Quintana or Carlos Rodon for Hernandez. The only slightly impactful young hitter Chicago may be willing to part with is outfielder/DH Avisail Garcia, but that wouldn't be a good 1-for-1 deal for the Phillies.

Reds: Brandon Phillips' conract expires after 2017, and he's now more willing to waive his no-trade clause, according to Fox Sports' Jon Morosi. When he leaves, Cincinnati could simply replace him with talented young middle infielder Jose Peraza, but Peraza is also a candidate to take over at SS in the increasingly likely event Zack Cozart is traded.

Hernandez makes sense for a team like the Reds, who are rebuilding, financially strapped because of huge contracts, and who need more OBP atop their lineup.

The Reds have several young pitchers worth targeting, most notably Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani

Iglesias, 26, is due $18 million over the next four years, but when the Reds signed him out of Cuba they gave him the option to opt out and file for arbitration once he's eligible. So he could end up being more expensive.

He's an extremely talented 6-foot-2 right-hander who Cincinnati used in the second half kind of how the Indians used Andrew Miller — Iglesias would come into high-leverage situations and pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen. In 55 career appearances (21 starts), Iglesias has a 3.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with 187 strikeouts and 54 walks in 173⅔ innings. 

The game is trending in a direction that will make pitchers like Iglesias increasingly valuable moving forward. Hernandez for Iglesias straight-up would be an interesting trade for the Phillies because it would vastly improve their bullpen and give them another hard thrower who could potentially compete for a job in the rotation. The Reds probably wouldn't do it, but it's worth exploring.

DeSclafani, also 26, would be even harder to pry away from Cincy. He's been solid the last two seasons, going 18-18 with a 3.74 ERA for a terrible team in the game's second-most hitter-friendly ballpark.

Dodgers: It might seem odd to include the Dodgers here after they traded their second baseman, Kendrick, to the Phillies, but that move had financial implications. L.A. wanted to clear up some payroll space to try to re-sign Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill. 

Hernandez, a young and inexpensive player capable of playing multiple positions, checks every box the Dodgers' analytical front office prioritizes. And for all the money L.A. spends, this is a win-now team that currently projects to start Kike Hernandez at 2B and Rob Segedin at 3B. 

The Dodgers are a possible but unlikely destination. They covet their top prospects, so forget about right-hander Jose De Leon. Power-hitting first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger might be a name to remember, though. He has 56 homers and 112 walks the last two seasons.

Yasiel Puig's name always comes up in trade rumors, but if the Dodgers do eventually trade him, you'd think it would be for more than Hernandez. Puig is a free agent after 2018.

A's: The reason I'm including the A's here is because Oakland always values high-OBP guys like Hernandez, and incumbent second baseman Jed Lowrie is 32 with a weak glove, declining bat and expiring contract.

Hernandez would make a lot of sense for the A's and could even be an option to play some shortstop if Marcus Semien (56 errors the last two seasons) is moved to second or third base.

The A's love acquiring players under team control because they have such little money to spend. Billy Beane could look at Hernandez as his leadoff man for the next four years.

Players to monitor? Outfielder Khris Davis hit .247/.307/.524 last year with 42 homers and 102 RBIs. He's an average defensive outfielder who doesn't walk (42) and strikes out a lot (166). The only reason he's a candidate to be moved is because he's about to begin his arbitration years and players with huge home run totals tend to do well in those hearings. Davis is going to be much more expensive than Hernandez the next few years, and the A's routinely unload players at peak value before they get pricey.

Davis has flaws, but he's also the type of power bat the Phillies would want to add to the middle of their lineup.

Sonny Gray, also set to begin his arbitration years in 2017, is another possibility. The third-place Cy Young finisher in 2015, Gray took a huge step back in 2016, posting a 5.69 ERA in an injury-shortened season. Klentak could look at this as a prime opportunity to buy low on a potential ace.

Hernandez wouldn't get you Gray straight-up, but the Phillies have many other young players they could include in the right package. At 27, Gray fits the Phils' timeline. 

As with Puig, though, you'd figure Gray's team could get more than Hernandez and a prospect for him in a trade.

Royals: The player to target on the Royals would be Yordano Ventura. Hernandez for Ventura would be a pretty even trade, giving the Royals a starting 2B who would be a better leadoff option than Alcides Escobar, and netting the Phillies a talented, hard-throwing albeit volatile starting pitcher.

Ventura is 26 years old, so he fits the timeline. He throws hard, so he'd offer the Phillies something only Velasquez does. And from Kansas City's standpoint, it would be a way to fill a hole and save money, which is always a concern in that market. Ventura is due $3.45 million in 2017, $6.45 million in 2018 and $9.95 million in 2019 — $19.85 million total the next three seasons.

Ventura would come with some questions, notably his attitude, beanball propensity (which has invited controversy), and control. Ventura has walked 3.5 batters per nine innings in 93 career starts. 

I wrote about Ventura over the summer when exploring a possible Odubel Herrera trade and still think it could make some sense if the Phillies like him at all. 

I'm not certain trading Hernandez is the way to go here, but if the Phillies move him it needs to be for a player positioned to help immediately like Velasquez did in 2016.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

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Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

For a couple of weeks in August, Rhys Hoskins might have been Philadelphia's most popular athlete. Fans marveled at the nightly power display that the young slugger put on in the middle of the Phillies' batting order. Carson Wentz and the Eagles had not yet begun their magnificent season. Hoskins was the man in town.

It hit him one night after a game. He stopped in Center City for some late-night eats. A man and his young son approached. They offered their congratulations and asked for an autograph.

"That's when I was like, 'OK, this might be something that's about to be part of my life,' " Hoskins said. "But it was cool because I used to be that kid."

Hoskins was back in the area Monday night for the 114th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. He was honored with a special achievement award for a torrid major league debut in which he clubbed 18 homers and drove in 48 runs in just 50 games last season.

Hoskins was raised in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego this offseason. His 18 homers in 2017 were the most ever hit by a player who did not make his season debut until after Aug. 1. Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers after returning from the Korean War in 1953, was the previous record holder.

Williams was a San Diego native.

"Surreal," Hoskins said of that 50-game stretch last season and the buzz that has followed him into the offseason. "Indescribable."

He is now a recognizable face, a signature talent, in a sports-crazy town.

And he's ready for it.

"Enjoy it," he said. "Take it by storm and enjoy it. It's supposed to be fun and that's probably the best approach to take. I think my thought is what happened may never happen again. Tomorrow something might happen. Tomorrow I might never be able to step on a baseball field again. So I think you have to take it by storm and enjoy it.

"If you had asked me a year ago if I would be walking down the streets of Philadelphia and would people recognize me I'd probably laugh at you. But that’s where we are now.

"It's just a testament to how passionate the people of Philadelphia are and how much they love their sports."

Hoskins will report to Clearwater for spring training at the end of this month. He wants to get a head start so he can ramp up his workouts in left field. A first baseman by trade, he began playing the position occasionally last season. He will move there full-time in 2018 as newly signed Carlos Santana takes over at first base.

Hoskins got a 30-game taste of left field last year. He is OK with the move.

"Having Carlos is exciting for the city and exciting for the team," Hoskins said. "We add a guy who has proven himself in this league for five or six years at a very high level so to kind of insert that into the lineup and into the clubhouse, especially with such a young team — I think we're going to feel that exponentially throughout the year.

"Left field is a challenge. It's a challenge that I'm definitely excited about. I started to feel more comfortable out there toward the end of the year.

"I think I can be just fine out there. I'm not necessarily going to be a Gold Glover. I just don’t have the speed that some guys out there do, especially in today's game. But I think I'll be just fine and contribute to the team defensively as much as I can and make the plays that I'm supposed to."

Hoskins will turn 25 on March 17. He projects to bat cleanup in new manager Gabe Kapler's lineup.

"He's energized, intense and thorough," Hoskins said of the new skipper. "He can captivate a room. I'm curious to see how that dynamic works in the clubhouse. I think he's going to be a pretty exciting guy to work with."