Phillies

Amaro, Sandberg shoot down idea of trading ace

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Amaro, Sandberg shoot down idea of trading ace

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There was a funny scene in the Phillies’ main meeting room Tuesday afternoon.

Reporters had just been invited in for the daily briefing with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

The flat-screen TV on the wall was tuned to a baseball show. Cliff Lee’s picture flashed across the screen.

The image of Lee caught Amaro’s eye.

“Oh!” he said, his voice full of sarcasm. “We’re trading him now.”

Amaro’s remark drew laughter from the folks in the room and showed that he was aware of the hot rumor on Day 2 of the winter meetings, the one, reported by ESPN, that said the Phillies were willing to listen to offers for Lee and fellow ace Cole Hamels.

“I’ve heard them,” Amaro said. “They’re silly.

“We’re trying to add. I said before, the best way for us to win is with our pitching, particularly at the top of the rotation.”

Several minutes earlier, manager Ryne Sandberg was asked about the rumors.

“I don’t believe they are true,” Sandberg said. “We’re trying to add pitching.”

A smart general manager is always willing to listen to what he could get for his players. You never know when you might get blown away. But listening is not the same thing as trading. Though expectations for the 2014 season are not high, the Phils are still hoping to contend, still hoping to make a run at the postseason, where a 1-2 punch of Hamels and Lee could be dangerous. To trade one of the two pitchers would signal a rebuilding effort and to announce that at this point of the offseason would not help ticket sales.

“We are built to contend,” Amaro said. “That’s our job, to try and win.”

Might there be a time when the Phils transition to a rebuilding effort?

“At some point we may have to do that,” Amaro said. “But not right now we’re not. We’re not there.”

July might be a more realistic time to trade Lee -- if the Phillies are not in contention. But Amaro really thinks this club can contend.

“We’re built to win,” Amaro said. “I like our lineup. I’d like to add some pitching to it.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good lineup as it stands today. If we can improve on it we’ll try. But I like our lineup. We’ve been sitting here and discussing it internally. I like the balance in it. Is it older? Yes, it is. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worse just because it’s older. We just have to get them healthier. If it’s healthy, it’s better than last year, clearly. We have to score more than 610 runs or whatever it was that we scored last year. That was awful. We have to score 700-plus runs to contend. I think the guys that are in the lineup as it stands today can do that.”

The Phils’ 610 runs ranked 13th in the NL in 2013.

Amaro continues to look for starting pitching depth to slot in behind Hamels and Lee.

“If I had to handicap it, I’d say we’d probably go the free-agent route for a pitcher,” he said.

The Phils made offers to Ryan Vogelsong and Scott Feldman earlier this winter, but they signed elsewhere. The Phils don’t seem to be in the hunt for remaining high-priced starters.

Can Phillies stay in the race? A look at their daunting upcoming schedule

Can Phillies stay in the race? A look at their daunting upcoming schedule

When it's Aug. 13 and you're heavily involved in both the division and wild-card races, every game left is huge. There is no one game — aside from the head-to-head Braves matchups — among the Phillies' remaining 45 that carries more importance than another. 

But looking at the upcoming schedule, if the Phils don't survive these next 19, those late-September games against the Braves might not end up meaning a ton.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Phillies host the Red Sox, who are a ludicrous 50 games over .500 at 85-35. Tuesday, the Phils will face former AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello.

Following the Red Sox is a five-game home series against the Mets, which includes a doubleheader Thursday. The Mets are terrible, but Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are not. On Friday, the Phils face Syndergaard. On Saturday, they face deGrom, who's had the lowest ERA in baseball most of the season.

It gets no easier from there, with a road series against the Nationals. In the final game of the Nats series, the Phils will face Max Scherzer. Five days later, they'll face Scherzer again.

Washington's offense is rounding into form and the Nats could be a very dangerous team down the stretch after months of underperformance. 

Bryce Harper has hit .343/.464/.657 with six doubles and five homers over his last 20 games.

Daniel Murphy is finally all the way back from offseason microfracture surgery. In his last 15 games, he's hit .411 with a 1.111 OPS.

Ryan Zimmerman is also finally healthy. He's hit .386/.462/.795 with 10 extra-base hits and 18 RBI over his last 13 games.

The tough stretch ends Aug. 31-Sept. 2 with a three-game series against the Cubs, who have the best record in the NL.

After that is a respite on the road against the Marlins and Mets.

The Braves' upcoming schedule is a bit softer, but they do have 30 games in the next 30 days because of so many early postponements. These are the dog days and it's worth keeping an eye on how young pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb hold up late in a pressure-packed season.

Newcomb has a 5.06 ERA in his last eight starts. Foltynewicz has a 5.40 ERA with eight home runs allowed over his last six.

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Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

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Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

The Justin Bour-Matt Stairs comparison has been a popular one in the days since the Phillies surprisingly acquired Bour from the Marlins. Big, burly, power-hitting, left-handed first basemen.

But in several other ways, this move was different. 

• Bour is 10 years younger than Stairs was when the Phils traded for him in 2008. 

• Bour was acquired the second week of August; Stairs was acquired at the end of August. Stairs had just 19 regular-season plate appearances with the Phils in 2008. Bour should be able to double that pretty easily.

• Stairs was under contract for the following season. Bour is under contract the next two seasons after this one.

That last point was why it was so surprising that various NL teams let Bour slide through the waiver order and make it to the Phillies. 

A refresher: Once August hits, in order to trade a player, a team must first place him on waivers. The waiver queue is based on the inverse order of the standings in that player's league. So when Bour is placed on waivers, the worst team in the NL gets first dibs. If he passed through every NL team unclaimed, the worst AL team would get next crack at him and so on. (More on August trade rules here.)

It would have been one thing if Bour was a rental. In that case, he would have made sense only for contenders.

But Bour isn't a rental. He was awarded a $3.4 million salary this season, his first of arbitration eligibility. He's under team control each of the next two seasons and figures to make an estimated $14 million in 2019 and 2020 combined.

That's not a ton of money for a starting-caliber first baseman who has an .821 OPS since 2015 with 31 homers per 162 games.

Where were the Mets? Where were the Rockies? The Pirates?

The Mets have no offense. At first base, they've been playing Wilmer Flores, who is not the long-term answer. Prospect Dom Smith has hit .193 in 257 big-league plate appearances and has also had a poor season at Triple A. 

If you're the Mets, a team that acts as a small-market club with little money to spend, why not take a flier on Bour for a modest price over the next two seasons? Is anyone awake in Flushing?

The Rockies, a contender, haven't gotten great production from first base. It's been a combination of Ian Desmond and left-handed hitting Ryan McMahon. Against righties, Bour is an upgrade over both.

When Bour was placed on waivers at the beginning of the month, Pirates 1B Josh Bell was on the DL. Bell, a switch-hitter the Pirates are high on, has been a league-average first baseman since getting to the majors. He's been good against right-handed pitching but Bour has just been better, with a career OPS 73 points higher. 

The money

It will be interesting to see whether the Phillies keep Bour around past this season. If he produces as a pinch-hitter and fits in, he'd be a valuable bench bat to have. He'd be valuable insurance for Carlos Santana.

One of the things to really like about Bour is his production against pitching within the division. He's 8 for 21 (.381) with two homers, a double and three walks against Jacob deGrom. Yes, that Jacob deGrom. Bour has been one of the very best hitters in the league against deGrom during the righty's stellar career.

Bour has gone a respectable 5 for 17 (.294) vs. Noah Syndergaard. 

He's reached base in 17 of 28 plate appearances vs. Julio Teheran. 

He's 8 for 15 with two homers and a double against Mike Foltynewicz.

He has a homer and a .385 OBP in 26 plate appearances vs. Stephen Strasburg.

This all matters moving forward in a division with so many high-quality starting pitchers.

The Phillies are a deep-pocketed team that could afford to pay Bour $5.5 million or so next season as a non-regular. Not every team is in that position but the Phils are. Aside from their arbitration-eligible players, the Phils have just six players under contract for 2019: Jake Arrieta, Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Their decision whether to keep Bour around, trade him or non-tender him will obviously be affected by their pursuit of top free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. It will also be affected by how the Phils approach the pending free agency of Wilson Ramos and Asdrubal Cabrera, two players who make even more sense to retain because of the positions they play.

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