Phillies

Chase Utley the last link to Harry Kalas

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Chase Utley the last link to Harry Kalas

The end is near.

While Phillies fans, and the franchise itself, embrace the idea of a rebuild, it necessarily means the sun is setting on the team’s championship nucleus.

Jimmy Rollins is already gone. Cole Hamels is available for the right bid. Ryan Howard is available for any bid. Carlos Ruiz is a 36-year-old catcher with two years left on his deal. You see where this is going.

While the citizens that packed the ballpark to see these players in their collective primes lament the idea of saying goodbye, my sense is that the majority of the fan base would be willing to see them go if it means hope for a brighter future.

Then, there’s Chase Utley. He’s different.

While I decline to speak for everyone in the interest of maintaining the façade of intelligence, I do think a sizable percentage of Phillies fans would be just fine with Utley playing out the string in red pinstripes regardless of the return that the six-time All-Star could provide in a trade.

Since Utley has a full no-trade clause as a player with 10-5 rights, that is a discussion that begins and ends with the Phils' second baseman. And if the past decade is any indication, that will not be a long conversation.

But to the point at hand: Why is Utley viewed differently than the rest of his championship teammates?

Hamels has a World Series MVP. Utley doesn’t.

Rollins has a regular season MVP. Utley has never finished higher than seventh for that award. (Granted, Utley may have taken the award from Rollins in 2007 if not for a John Lannan fastball that put our protagonist on the shelf during that season.)

Howard posted numbers from 2005 to 2011 that are without peer in franchise history. You get the point.

It’s also not like Utley has been warm and cuddly. While his charitable work has been well documented, he is not the type to jump through a TV screen and win you over with charisma, like Rollins or Howard. His most famous sound bite involves a certain seven-letter word said in front of thousands of children.

The unfailing support of Utley could be a nod to his consistency, both at the plate and in the community. It might be about the quiet swagger he carries from the dish to the diamond. Or it may just be the commitment to approaching every play as if it’s all that matters in the world. Injuries be damned.

Those are all factors. But there might be something more, something deeper in the subconscious of Phillies fans.

Chase Utley is the last link to Harry Kalas.

The legendary Phillies broadcaster, who passed away six years ago next month, sat behind the microphone and detailed the on-field exploits of all of the players previously mentioned.

But everything changed with a steamy Atlanta afternoon in August 2006.

Utley did Utley things. Scoring from second base on a chopper between the pitcher’s mound and first base.

Then, Kalas did Kalas things. Exclaiming as only he could, “Chase Utley, you are the man!”

He may have been the “voice of the Phillies.” Yet, as the years passed, Kalas really became much more than that. He was the collective conscience of the fan base.

Mick-ee Mor-an-dee-nee continues to resonate in Philadelphia because of Kalas. The 1993 Phillies handed Philadelphia its most devastating defeat. Yet, the sentiment surrounding that team remains positive, in large part because Kalas embraced them as his favorite “band of throwbacks.”

Parting with Utley would extend well beyond acknowledging the end of a championship era. It would mean saying goodbye to the last tangible connection to the man that was as synonymous with summer as sunshine.

So Utley didn’t just score an insurance run that day. He received a blessing. One that he will carry with him forever in his adopted baseball home.

Chase Utley, you are the man. Because Harry Kalas said you are.

Nick Pivetta is not thrilled about bullpen assignment but he’ll suck it up for the team

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Nick Pivetta is not thrilled about bullpen assignment but he’ll suck it up for the team

PITTSBURGH — Nick Pivetta is going to the bullpen and though he accepts the move, he doesn’t seem particularly thrilled about it. That much was clear by the series of curt responses he offered to reporters’ questions before Friday night’s game against the Pirates.

“They had their explanation and I’m in the bullpen,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.

“It’s their decision. I’m here to support the 25 guys in this room and do the best I can to win baseball games for this team, for the players in this room.”

Pivetta was moved to the bullpen to accommodate Drew Smyly. The Phillies have an agreement to sign the free-agent left-hander, pending the outcome of a review of medicals that was still ongoing late Friday afternoon.

The deal is expected to get finalized. In fact, manager Gabe Kapler spoke as if it was a slam dunk and Smyly was said to already be in Pittsburgh waiting to officially sign.

Kapler said Smyly would start Sunday against the Pirates. That start was scheduled to go to Vince Velasquez. It had been widely assumed that Velasquez would go back to the bullpen, where he showed some flashes of success in late May and June. But Kapler said Velasquez would stay in the rotation for now and start Wednesday in Detroit. Pivetta was to be available in relief Friday night.

“Yes,” Pivetta said when asked if he was surprised by the move.

Only one of his 72 major-league appearances has been in relief. That came last year against Washington in a 13-inning game. He blew away the Nationals hitters for one inning with 19 pitches, 11 of which were strikes. He hit 98 mph on the gun. The performance still resonates with some in the organization.

Will moving to the bullpen be a difficult adjustment for Pivetta?

“I’m a pitcher,” he said. “Learn how to adapt quickly.

“I’ve always wanted to be a starter. That’s who I am, but like I said there are 25 men in this room and I’m playing for them, not for myself. I’m playing for these guys in this room because we want to hold the World Series trophy at the end of the year and I’m focused on helping these men compete and win baseball games.”

It has been a disappointing season for Pivetta. He came out of spring training as everyone’s pick to click this season and was awarded with the second start of the season. He made four starts, was sent to Triple A, returned with some success, but has recently struggled again. He has a 5.74 ERA in 13 starts. He is walking 3.3 batters per nine innings, up from 2.8 last year, and striking out just 7.6 per nine, down from 10.3 last year.

Smyly, who missed the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, had a 8.42 ERA in 51 1/3 innings with Texas earlier this season. The Rangers released him and he spent time with Milwaukee’s Triple A team before asking for his release on Thursday. The pitching-needy Phillies quickly pursued him not as a sure-thing contributor but more as a take-a-chance-and-see-what-happens guy. The Phils have little financial risk as Smyly is making the pro-rated major-league minimum of $550,000.

Kapler explained the Phils’ decision to send Pivetta to the bullpen instead of Velasquez.

“The first (reason) is I think Vince has made some strides in the rotation recently,” Kapler said. “The second is we have a pretty good sample of both Nick and Vince in the starting rotation and we had a little look at what Vince looks like out of the bullpen. What we don’t have is a real look at how Nick looks in the bullpen. We are hurting for right-handed leverage arms right now in the ‘pen and I’m not saying we’re prioritizing what’s happening in the bullpen, but all things considered, we’re looking at it from every angle, and it looked like the right decision for the Phillies and both pitchers individually.

“I think a good precedent is probably what happened with Vince. Vince was in the bullpen for a little bit and it turned out that we needed him in the rotation. He popped back in the rotation. We’ll see how Nick looks out of the bullpen and we’ll see how Vince continues to develop in the rotation. We’ll see how Smyly looks and we’ll make decisions when they’re appropriate.”

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MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

Track all the latest MLB trade deadline news and rumors here through July 31.

Phils show interest in Stroman (July 19)

Unsurprisingly, many front offices will have an eye tonight on Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman when he faces the lowly Tigers tonight, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi points out, adding the Phillies are one of the interested parties.

The Phillies hold some level of interest in every available starting pitcher, ranging from the top and most expensive tier to the marginal upgrades.

Stroman is one of the most attractive pitchers on the market. He’s 28, he was an All-Star, and he’s bounced back strong this season. In 19 starts, he has a 3.25 ERA and is allowing a career-low rate of hits. His strikeout rate is similar to Jake Arrieta’s or Zach Eflin’s. Stroman relies on ground balls and has been effective this season getting out of jams. He’s fun to watch when he’s doing it, the most demonstrative starting pitcher in the majors.

Will Cards move Martinez? (July 16)

The Cardinals are 47-45, two games out of first place and tied with the Phillies for the second wild-card spot. Yet they could look to trade Carlos Martinez this month, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Martinez is acting as St. Louis' closer with Jordan Hicks out for the season. Martinez has pitched well in relief, posting a 2.18 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning in 18 appearances.

But he's also making $11.5 million, more than a team in the Cardinals' position would ideally like to pay a pitcher to get three or four outs. 

Martinez was a very effective starting pitcher from 2015-18, going 50-33 with a 3.22 ERA and making a pair of All-Star teams. A year's worth of shoulder pain forced the Cardinals to move him from the rotation to the bullpen.

Martinez is an interesting trade candidate because there figure to be at least a few teams who check in on him as a starting pitcher.

Race for Ray (July 15)

The Phillies are again showing interest in Robbie Ray, according to Jon Morosi. We have mentioned Ray frequently here as a Phillies trade target dating back to last summer.

Ray would help any contender. He’s a 27-year-old lefty with an extremely high strikeout rate. He experiences bouts of wildness and does lead the National League with 56 walks, but he has also settled in to a mid-3.00s ERA the last three seasons.

The left-handedness and legit swing-and-miss stuff make Ray the type of pitcher the Phillies do not have.

Ray turns 28 on Oct. 1. Based on his age and remaining contract — 2020 is his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent — he would be a great fit for the Phillies, even if they do continue to fall out of the playoff race. Ray would help them now and next season and would be a prime extension candidate if he pitches well.

The competition for his services via trade will be intense. The Astros (more on them below) are also in on Ray, and plenty of other clubs have expressed interest in the past. The Phillies would have to trade a player or two they don’t want to trade to acquire him.

Speedsters available (July 15)

The Royals have made lightning-fast outfielders Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore available. Neither is much of a fit for the Phillies, who already have Roman Quinn in that role.

Hamilton and Gore could both help a contender in need of a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner. They are both impactful defenders and baserunners who can't hit.

As for Whit Merrifield, it seems unlikely Kansas City would move him despite being 30 games under .500. Merrifield is such a good, multi-dimensional player that the Royals deserve a huge score for him. At 30 years old, he is enjoying by far his best season, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Merrifield's .861 OPS is 55 points higher than his previous career-high.

Merrifield's dynamic offense and positional versatility make him a fit anywhere. The Cubs would make a ton of sense. 

Astros after a starter? (July 15)

The Astros have gotten huge production from their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. But the back of the rotation remains a question mark. Collin McHugh is pitching in a mop-up role, Brad Peacock is dealing with a sore shoulder, Framber Valdez has been lit up three starts in a row, and Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of July.

The Astros are still maybe the deepest team in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win would represent disappointment in 2019. Madison Bumgarner would make a whole lot of sense for Houston, which is still rich in prospects after all of their graduations to the majors.

Trade season begins

A pair of solid but unspectacular starting pitchers were moved this past weekend to kick off trade deadline activity.

Remember, these next two weeks figure to be even more frenzied than usual in July because there is now a hard trade deadline of July 31. No more August trades, except those involving a swap of minor-leaguers.

The Orioles sent Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox for a pair of 17-year-old position player prospects who had been playing for Boston's Dominican Summer League team. 

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cashner went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. Baltimore went 11-6 in his starts and 17-59 in all other games.

The Red Sox needed another starting pitcher with the Nate Eovaldi experiment going sideways. Eovaldi has missed much of the season and will shift to the bullpen upon his return later this month. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

The Royals, meanwhile, traded Homer Bailey to the A's for a fringy Double A infielder. Bailey has been just OK this season, with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. 

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