MLB winter meetings

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." 

Phillies to upgrade bullpen with impending return of Pat Neshek

Phillies to upgrade bullpen with impending return of Pat Neshek

ORLANDO, Fla. — On the day he was traded from the Phillies to the Colorado Rockies in July, Pat Neshek stood in front of his locker and talked about how much he liked his time in Philadelphia. He gazed into his crystal ball and envisioned himself returning to the Phillies as a free agent over the winter.

The image in Neshek's crystal ball is about to come to life. The Phillies are on the verge of re-signing the 37-year-old right-hander, multiple sources said on Monday, the first day of baseball's winter meetings. When the deal is wrapped up in the next few days, it will be worth $16.25 million for two years with a club option for a third.

"We've been talking with the agents of a bunch of relief pitchers and we're on the goal line with one," said Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, who initially acquired Neshek in a trade with Houston 14 months ago then watched the pitcher deliver four outstanding months that landed him on the National League All-Star team.

There is not a no-trade clause in Neshek's new deal, so the Phillies could peddle him once again if they are not in contention. The Phillies got three prospects for Neshek in July — infielder Jose Gomez and right-handed pitchers J.D. Hammer and Alejandro Requena. Hammer was recently named to the Arizona Fall League's All-Prospect team.

Neshek pitched in 43 games (40 1/3 innings) for the Phillies in 2017 and gave up just five runs while walking five and striking out 45. In Colorado, Neshek continued to shine. He finished the season with a 1.59 ERA in 71 games. Overall, he pitched 62 1/3 innings and gave up just 11 earned runs while walking six and striking out 69.

Neshek is expected to help set up for Hector Neris and complement Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos and Hoby Milner, all relatively young relievers who showed breakthrough signs in 2017. The Phillies could continue to add to their bullpen before the winter is complete. Sources say they have shown interest in free-agent lefty Jake McGee.

"I think we’re open-minded to bringing in multiple bullpen reinforcements," Klentak said. "One of the goals leading into next season is to improve our run prevention. Obviously, there are a lot of ways we can do that. One way — and this is sort of the simple narrative — is to address our starting pitching. We will continue to explore ways to improve our starting pitching, but I also think we need to be prepared to improve our run prevention in other areas. Improving our bullpen is one way to do that.

"I think if we can run out a bullpen of seven or eight guys that are all high-leverage type arms, then we can start matching up in the fifth or sixth inning. If there are days when our young starters throw 100 pitches to get us through five or six innings, we shouldn't be in a position where that’s taxing our bullpen because we have the ability to carry an eighth bullpen member next year. We shouldn’t be in a position where we lose our competitiveness in the sixth inning because we should have a deep bullpen where we start throwing really good players out there early in the game. If it turns out that’s the best way for us to improve our run prevention, then that’s the way to do."

The Phillies will continue to look for starting pitching at these winter meetings and beyond. They are open to trading Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez and would look to get starting pitching in a deal for one of them. The Angels, according to sources, covet Hernandez as both a second baseman and leadoff man, but the Phillies' asking price is high.

Also on Day 1 of the winter meetings ...

The Phillies lost outfielder Cameron Perkins and infielder Engelb Vielma on waivers to Seattle and Pittsburgh, respectively. With two openings on the 40-man roster, the Phils can add a player in Thursday's Rule 5 draft. They have the third overall pick.

"I would expect that we would take advantage of the third pick in some form or fashion," Klentak said. "Whether we draft a player and retain that player or draft a player and make a trade, I think we’ll look to do something with it. That was a big part of why we put the two guys on waivers that we did. It was just to free us up to be able to participate on Thursday."