Christian Yelich

Phillies turn sights to starting pitching after adding relievers at winter meetings

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Phillies turn sights to starting pitching after adding relievers at winter meetings

ORLANDO, Fla. — Matt Klentak's trip to the winter meetings netted two veteran relievers, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

Now, Klentak's focus becomes starting pitching. He'd like to add at least one before spring training begins, and chances are good that he will.

"We will probably slow down on the reliever front for a little while," the Phillies general manager said on Wednesday, Day 3 of the meetings. "I think for right now, we’ll probably shift our focus back toward the starting pitcher market, see what comes of that and just be patient with it.

"My expectation is that we will have another move before we go to spring training. I would not be surprised if we’re done for the winter meetings, but I would be surprised if we’re done for the offseason."

The Phillies have probed the free-agent market — big-ticket items such as Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are unlikely — and spent the fall gauging other teams on which starters could become available in trades.

"I couldn't handicap the way it'll happen or even if it'll happen," Klentak said. "I think we're continuing to stay engaged with some agents. There's a few teams we've talked to about trades, some short-term options, some more controllable options. I just don't know.

"We've said as an industry and the Phillies have talked about this for a long time: it's so important to be able to develop your own starting pitchers because to acquire them in a trade is incredibly expensive in terms of player capital and to acquire them in free agency is incredibly expensive in terms of total dollars. Maybe never in our history has it been more important to develop starting pitchers."

In recent seasons, the Phillies have added starting pitchers (Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Clay Buchholz) near the end of their contracts. The Phils could still do that and have the money to take on a salary dump. But there would be merit to taking on a younger pitcher who has more contractual control, and the Phillies have the prospects to get in the hunt for Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole or Michael Fulmer, three pitchers who fit this profile.

The Phillies have a logjam in the middle infield with J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery pushing Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. Galvis and Hernandez are both available for trades. Officials from other clubs say the Phillies have been aggressive in shopping Galvis. The Phils will look to get pitching for Galvis, but the return might not be robust because he is a rental player who will be a free agent after the 2018 season. Hernandez figures to bring a better return because he has three years of contractual control remaining. A person from a club that has spoken to the Phillies about Hernandez said the Phils are looking for two pitchers for him.

Another starting arm is needed to complement a group of starters that includes Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Ben Lively.

It's possible the Phils could also look for a veteran outfielder to come off the bench. But it's just as possible that the Phils give in-house prospect Roman Quinn a chance to be that guy. Quinn, a dynamic, speedy switch-hitter, has been plagued by injuries throughout his minor-league career, including last season when he missed significant time at Triple A with an elbow injury. He will turn 25 in May. It might be time to bring him, even if it means filling a reserve role.

"This is a year we want to find out about our young kids," Klentak said. "If we can find out about Roman Quinn, we would like to do that. On the flip side, if we have a chance to bring in a great makeup, complementary player that can help our young kids and show them the ropes a little bit, then we’d be open to that, too. That’s not likely to be an early offseason venture."

Also, as the rest of the offseason plays out, the Phils will monitor the availability of Miami outfielder Christian Yelich. The Phils have long liked Yelich and would certainly try to make a play for him. But as much as the Phillies like the player, Klentak has made it clear he's not in a hurry to subtract core players and prospects. That could hurt the Phillies' chances because it would take a big package of talent to get Yelich.

Notes
The Phillies pick third in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday morning. They will likely make a pick, but there's a strong possibility they will make it for another club and quickly trade the player. If the Phils lost someone in the draft, it could be outfielder Carlos Tocci or lefthander Brandon Leibrandt.

Klentak hinted that hard-throwing pitching prospect Seranthony Dominguez would begin transitioning to the bullpen in spring training. Mark Appel will also make the move to the bullpen.

Marlins continue fire sale by trading Marcell Ozuna

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Marlins continue fire sale by trading Marcell Ozuna

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Miami has agreed to trade left fielder Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press, the third All-Star jettisoned by the Marlins this month in an unrelenting payroll purge under new CEO Derek Jeter.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the agreement had not been announced and was subject to a physical.

"Ozuna is one of those names that you have to have great respect, especially as much we see him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said at the winter meetings. "We're at that necessary point of talking through health always, no matter what the player is. It's not just a formality."

An All-Star the past two seasons, the 27-year-old Ozuna set career bests this season with a .312 average, 37 homers and 124 RBIs. He is eligible for salary arbitration and likely will earn more than $10 million. He can become a free agent after the 2019 season.

Miami traded second baseman Dee Gordon to Seattle last Thursday for three prospects and dealt right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning NL MVP, to the New York Yankees on Monday for second baseman Starlin Castro and two prospects. The Cardinals had a deal in place for Stanton last week, but he invoked his no-trade clause and blocked the move.

"I was just very impressed the fact that we were involved in those conversations," Matheny said. "Unfortunately, that didn't work, but I think that just kind of parlayed into, OK, now what are we going to do?"

Ozuna likely will be in the outfielder with Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham. St. Louis could trade right fielder Stephen Piscotty.

Matheny wouldn't commit to an alignment.

"Something we're appreciative of is the humility of our players to maybe go to a spot where they haven't been before," he said. "You go in with your ideals of what you would like to see, and you're going to have to be flexible."

Center fielder Christian Yelich could be the next to exit the downsizing Marlins, bought by Bruce Sherman's group on Oct. 2.

Miami had a $116 million payroll on Aug. 31, up from $81 million at the end of last year, and is intent on reducing obligations. Stanton was owed $295 million over the next decade, and Gordon $38 million through 2020.

Phillies open road trip with total team effort in win over Marlins

Phillies open road trip with total team effort in win over Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — When your organization has the worst record in baseball, you search every game to find something, anything, to build on for next year.

On Thursday night at Marlins Park, there might have been more than just one thing in a harrowing 3-2 win for the Phillies over the Miami Marlins (see observations).

But you would be hard-pressed to find anything more impressive than what left-hander Adam Morgan accomplished in the seventh inning, striking out the side against three impressive hitters.

After allowing a leadoff single to speedy Dee Gordon, Morgan, protecting a one-run lead, could have crumbled right there.

After all, this is his first year as a major-league reliever.

After all, Morgan had to find some way to get out Giancarlo Stanton, who leads the majors in homers; Christian Yelich, a Silver Slugger winner last year who has 16 homers this season; and Marcell Ozuna, a 2017 All-Star who has 31 homers and 103 RBIs.

As it turned out, Morgan got all of them to swing at air for strike three.

“I just stuck to my strengths,” said Morgan, who is 2-1 with a 4.46 ERA this season. “It feels good, but I have to keep going. I want to finish strong.”

Morgan, a 27-year-old native of Marietta, Georgia, was once one of the Phillies’ top prospects. But shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff caused him to miss the entire 2014 minor-league season.  

He made his major-league debut on June 21, 2015, as a starting pitcher. He had a promising rookie season, going 5-7 with a 4.48 ERA. But last year, he slipped to 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA, opening the door for his conversion to reliever.

Morgan, though, said part of the issue was just getting back to normal after his surgery.

“The more you throw after a surgery,” he said, “the more you use whatever body part was surgically repaired, the more loose it gets and the more it gets back to normal.”

Morgan wasn’t the only hero on Thursday as the Phillies improved to 50-83. Starter Ben Lively (2-5) earned the win by allowing just two runs in six innings. He also delighted in driving in two runs in an all-around performance.

“I feel if I swing hard enough and get a hold of it right, good things will happen,” said Lively, who is hitting .235 with one homer and four RBIs this season.

The Marlins stranded runners on second and third in the second inning and also left the bases loaded in the third, letting Lively off the hook.

The credit for working out of those jams apparently goes to catcher Cameron Rupp.

“I stuck with Rupp — he knows these guys better than I do,” said Lively, who broke a personal five-game losing streak. “I believed in him, and I believed in my pitches.”

This was the Phillies’ first one-run win since Aug. 9, but it almost didn’t happen because of some late-inning issues after Morgan departed.

The Marlins appeared to have tied the game in the eighth on a swinging bunt by Tomas Telis. Reliever Luis Garcia’s throw to first bounced into right field and allowed Derek Dietrich to score. However, Telis ran out of the baseline and was called out.

“You don’t see that very often, but it was the right call,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “You’ve got to give the pitcher a place to throw the ball.”

Stanton was held in check all night, going 0 for 5. And he was involved in Miami’s failed ninth-inning rally against Phillies closer Hector Neris, who earned his 17th save the hard way.

Neris hit pinch-hitter Mike Aviles with his first pitch and allowed a single to Gordon. Stanton then hit a deep fly out to center, but Aviles did not tag up. Yelich hit a low liner to left that was grabbed on a diving play by Hyun Soo Kim for the second out.

After a walk to Ozuna loaded the bases, J.T. Realmuto was caught looking at a 2-2 fastball that was either low or right at the knees to end the game.

“Good thing Lively drove in two runs,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “We won, and we’re happy about that.”