Phillies

Cooperstown calls Jim Thome

Cooperstown calls Jim Thome

Charlie Manuel likes to tell the story of how the Cleveland Indians brass asked him to peek in on some of the club's top young prospects during the instructional league in the fall of 1989.

After a few days, Manuel, then the Indians' big-league hitting coach, called back to Cleveland.

"There's this kid down here from Illinois that can really hit," Manuel said.

That kid was Jim Thome and on Wednesday night a spectacular baseball journey that started with his being an unheralded 13th-round draft pick of the Indians in 1989 took him to the Hall of Fame.

A friendly giant of a man — literally and figuratively — Thome slugged 612 home runs, eighth most all-time, and made five All-Star teams. Those credentials helped fuel a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Though Thome spent the majority of his career with the Indians, his selection was felt profoundly in Philadelphia, where he is a member of the Phillies' Wall of Fame. Thome played four seasons with the Phils and clubbed 101 home runs — including the milestone 400th of his career — with the club. He came to the Phillies as a free agent before the 2003 season, the team's last in Veterans Stadium. He finished fourth in the National League MVP balloting that year.

Though Thome was gone — traded to the Chicago White Sox to clear a spot for a kid named Ryan Howard — by the time the Phillies broke a 14-year postseason drought in 2007 and won the World Series in 2008, his signing marked a reawakening for an organization that had slumbered in the years following its winning the NL pennant in 1993.

Thome, who now works in the White Sox front office, was always a gentleman and a first-class teammate — "the best I ever had," said Dan Plesac, who pitched for 18 seasons in the majors — during his playing days. It seemed as if the entire baseball world was happy for him Wednesday night as he received 89.8 percent of a necessary 75 percent (of 422 ballots) for election.

No one was happier for Thome than Manuel, his mentor and former manager in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

“I couldn’t be happier for Jim, who is like a son to me," Manuel said. "This is totally deserving and, for me, ranks up there with anything I’ve ever seen happen in the game of baseball.

"For someone that I met as a 19-year-old and saw improve as much as anyone over time, it makes me smile to think that all that hard work, all those swings in the batting cage, paid off for him. 

"I started thinking this was possible after he hit his 500th home run and for the day to finally be here — it’s like winning the World Series all over again."

Phillies management, from the ownership level to then-general manager Ed Wade, targeted Thome after the 2002 season to help build some electricity around an improving club as it prepared to move into a new stadium, Citizens Bank Park, in 2004.

"A transformative moment for our organization," David Montgomery, the Phillies chairman, said of Thome's decision to accept the team's six-year, $85 million contract offer.

"Jim’s signing with the Phillies accomplished a great many things for the organization," Wade said. "First, he made us a better team. He gave us the opportunity to develop Ryan Howard at the proper pace. His clubhouse presence among a lot of outstanding young players allowed them to learn how to handle the pressures of the game. 

"In a global sense, his signing validated and reinforced the promises we made to our fans about being fully committed to use the resources of a new ballpark to build a championship-caliber organization. And, he just happened to open the door for us to hire the winningest manager in Phillies history: Charlie Manuel. Baseball, the Phillies, Philadelphia and many of us individually owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Thome.”

In addition to Thome, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Trevor Hoffman were elected by the writers. Jones, like Thome, made it in his first year of eligibility.

Thome, 47, ranks 23rd all-time with a .5541 career slugging percentage. The Peoria, Illinois, native hit 40 or more homers six times.

And while he impacted baseballs with his powerful left-handed stroke, his impact on his teammates was also profound.

"I want to say congrats to one of the most deserving, and one of the most genuine, people I’ve ever met in my entire life," Howard said.

"He was an unbelievable hitter but somehow an even better person," Chase Utley said.

“They didn’t call him ‘Gentleman Jim’ for nothing," Brett Myers said. "A great family man and that’s exactly how he treated his teammates — as family. He greeted everyone with a smile no matter who you were and made sure he spoke to all his teammates no matter what kind of day he was having.”

Jimmy Rollins said sharing a clubhouse with Thome was an honor.

"His infectious smile, gentle nature, and the extra-large and tight hugs he’d give his friends because he was genuinely excited to see you were things I looked forward to every day," Rollins said. "I congratulate him on a well-deserved Hall of Fame selection."

Mets GM thinks Tim Tebow will play in majors

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Mets GM thinks Tim Tebow will play in majors

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Tim Tebow arrived at the New York Mets spring training camp on Sunday, and the attention immediately turned to whether the quarterback who became an outfielder could make it all the way to Citi Field in the future.

Guess what? Mets general manager Sandy Alderson votes yes.

"Somebody asked me if thought he'd be a major league player at some point. I think he will play in the major leagues. That's my guess," Alderson said.

"This experiment is not going to last forever, but he's made meaningful progress. We thought he would best benefit from being in major league camp -- that that would accelerate his development," Alderson said.

The 30-year-old Tebow has already had success on another field. A former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion at Florida, he reached the NFL and threw an overtime TD pass for Denver to beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs (see full story).

Hosmer, Padres reach preliminary 8-year deal, per AP source
PEORIA, Ariz. — Just the thought of free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer joining the downtrodden, youthful San Diego Padres sent a morning jolt through the spring training clubhouse.

The on-field vibe seemed equally cheery, as country music blared as players went to work under sunny skies in the Arizona desert.

Hosmer reached a preliminary agreement on an eight-year contract with the Padres, pending a physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal confirmed the tentative deal, speaking on the condition of anonymity Sunday because there had been no formal announcement of Hosmer's potential signing.

It would become official once he passes a physical early in the week. While the final position players reported Sunday - most were already in spring camp - ahead of Monday's first full-squad workout, Hosmer wasn't expected in the desert until at least Monday.

Hosmer, who spent his first seven major league seasons with Kansas City, would receive a reported $144 million (see full story).

Angels sign 2 veteran sluggers
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Los Angeles Angels have signed veteran slugger Chris Carter and longtime outfielder Chris Young.

Carter got a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training on Sunday, while Young agreed to a one-year contract.

Carter played for the New York Yankees last season, batting .201 with eight homers. The first baseman is only one season removed from leading the NL with 41 homers for Milwaukee in 2016.

The 31-year-old Carter has 158 career homers, including three straight seasons with at least 24 homers for Houston.

Young spent last season with Boston, batting .235 with 25 RBIs in 90 games. He also has played for Arizona, Oakland and the Mets and Yankees.

The Angels traded first baseman C.J. Cron to Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Ellsbury says he hasn't been asked to waive no-trade clause
TAMPA, Fla. — Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury says the team has not approached him about waiving his no-trade clause.

There has been speculation that the Yankees would like to move some of the money due Ellsbury, who has three years remaining on a $153 million, seven-year contract.

Ellsbury, 34, enters spring training as the odd man out in the outfield after losing his center field job last year to Aaron Hicks. Brett Gardner is locked in as the left fielder. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge will rotate between right field and designated hitter, and could also get time in left when Gardner is rested.

"There's not a lineup made up yet, that's how I look at it," Ellsbury said Sunday on reporting day for position players. "Every year you come in and compete. One game, one pitch, your role could totally change."

Yankees manager Aaron Boone hasn't officially named Hicks as the starter but pointed out the success the 28-year-old had in 2017. Hicks had a .266 average, along with 15 homers and 52 RBIs over 88 games (see full story).

Energy, new look have Herrera 'presenting beautifully' to Kapler

Energy, new look have Herrera 'presenting beautifully' to Kapler

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Odubel Herrera showed up to Phillies camp with a new look Sunday. 
 
Bronze-tipped dreadlocks. A bronze goatee.
 
Manager Gabe Kapler, who encourages players to present themselves in a way that makes them feel confident, was impressed with his centerfielder’s style – and more.
 
“He looks amazing,” Kapler gushed. “He looks incredible. I think he is just physically presenting beautifully right now. He has a lot of energy. Obviously his smile is big and bold. He looks kind of cool. The hair is kind of cool and the beard, but more importantly he is in incredible athletic condition. You can tell he has put a lot of work in and we’re excited about what’s to come for Odubel.”
 
Herrera, 26, is entering his fourth season in the majors, all with the Phillies. He has been the team’s best player the last three seasons, leading the club in runs (218), hits (462), batting average (.288), doubles (93), extra-base hits (142), times on base (690), OPS (.774) and total bases (690) over that span.
 
Herrera sputtered at times in the first half of last season, but was outstanding, posting a .887 OPS over his final 88 games in 2017. 
 
When Herrera is motivated and focused, he is an electric player. But it’s no secret that he can occasionally be undisciplined, making baserunning blunders, forgetting how many outs there are and not running out balls.
 
So it was kind of interesting to hear Kapler say he planned on using Herrera as an example during Sunday night’s team welcome gathering at a Clearwater restaurant. Kapler encouraged players to dress in whatever attire that made them feel “confident.” He planned to address the group and trumpet his season theme of being “bold.” A video presentation was planned.
 
“We’re going to show some video tonight of Odubel on the bases and his ability to really change a play with his athleticism and a good turn around second base,” Kapler said.
 
Clearly, the skipper is taking a positive tack with Herrera, as he has done with every other player. Kapler met with Herrera over the winter in Miami and his message was all about looking forward and being positive.
 
“Not only is there a clean slate, but the meeting in Miami was much more about supporting,” Kapler said. “Before we have an opportunity to really sharpen, we have to build trust, we have to demonstrate that we really care about somebody, we have to support. And then it’s a whole lot easier when the time comes – and it absolutely will come – for us to raise the bar for our players and to have those more difficult conversations. 
 
“So I didn’t go to Miami or meet with any of our players to say, ‘Here are some things we need you to do differently from last year.’ I just think that is not an effective human strategy. Rather, it was, ‘Let’s talk about who you can be. Let’s dream together. Let’s see this as the sky’s the limit, not just as a team, but as individuals. So what are your carrots? What do you want to go after and how can we help you in your pursuit of those goals.' ”
 
Herrera was asked about his goals.
 
“The only one I can share with you is I want to help the team win,” he said. “But I have some personal ones that I want to keep to myself.”
 
Kapler believes that Herrera, entering the second season of a five-year, $30.5 million deal, can have a huge year.
 
“I told him he is an elite level defender in center field, which is absolutely true and fairly easy to quantify,” Kapler said. “I told him with some small adjustments he could be one of the best all-around center fielders in baseball. We believe that strongly.
 
“I told him the sky’s the limit for him and I believe he thinks that about himself. There is no ceiling. He wants to be an All-Star, he wants to be a Gold Glove defender and he’s not that far off from doing both of those things in the same season. There is no limitation for him, right. The ceiling is not low for Odubel Herrera. It’s incredibly high if there is one at all.”
 
Focus and the occasional lapse in hustle have been flaws in Herrera’s game. What happens if he slips up in 2018? Kapler suggested that Philadelphia’s discerning fans could play a part in keeping Herrera in line.
 
“The fans in Philadelphia expect us to give everything we have every night and they expect us to do it all over again the next day,” Kapler said. “Those are high expectations. Our players are going to have the foundation and the tools to meet those expectations.”