MLB

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.”

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.

Even with eye on top talent like Manny Machado, Phillies will give core more time

Even with eye on top talent like Manny Machado, Phillies will give core more time

ORLANDO, Fla. — On Day 1 of the winter meetings Monday, the Phillies' longstanding interest in Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado bubbled to the surface once again. The subject will continue to percolate all winter and beyond as the Orioles mull whether to trade the star player or let him play out the 2018 season, his final one before free agency.

It makes much more sense for the Phillies to try to sign Machado as a free agent next winter rather than surrender prospects — and ultimately big cash in the form of an extension — for him this winter. But if the Orioles create a market for Machado this winter, the Phillies will be in on it. At the moment, all is quiet.

It's no secret that the Phillies have deep pockets and no secret that they will spend big on top talent like Machado once their rebuild gets into the red zone. Klentak confirmed that again on Monday.

"There will come a time when we are one piece away and that one piece is a fill in the blank — starting pitcher, closer, cleanup hitter — and in that moment, when we feel that we are one piece away, or two pieces away, that's when we open up the wallet and we go do what we need to do," he said.

"But for right now, we are on the cusp of getting to where we want to go, to developing this next young core. This is what happened with (Jimmy) Rollins and (Chase) Utley and (Ryan) Howard and (Cole) Hamels. We need to give these guys a chance to become that next group."

The Phillies showed improvement in the second half of last season. They went 38-38 over the final 76 games. Klentak wants to give the team's core the chance to continue its improvement in 2018.

"The most important thing we can do next year is let this young core develop and get the reps that they need to continue their improvement," Klentak said.

"We scored almost a full run more per game in the second half than we did in the first half. That was driven by (Nick) Williams, (Rhys) Hoskins, (J.P.) Crawford and (Jorge) Alfaro joining Cesar (Hernandez), Freddy (Galvis), (Maikel) Franco, Odubel (Herrera), (Aaron) Altherr, (Andrew) Knapp. That's exciting to me. Not only do we need to let that play out, we want to let that play out. 

"We want to see what that group can do now that they're more than three months into their major-league careers. What can they do in their first full season? Or their second full season? Baseball aging curves tell us that these players are likely to get better. How much better? We don't know. But we're only going to find out if we let them play."