Phillies

Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

NEW YORK -- It wasn't difficult to understand the Phillies' strategy in trading for veteran pitchers Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz over the last two seasons.

The Phillies gave up little in the form of talent to get the three pitchers. All they had to do was be willing to take on sizable one-year contracts because the three pitchers were salary dumps for their previous clubs. For their money, the Phillies added some veteran fortification to a young starting staff while rolling the dice that said veteran might perform well enough to bring back some value on the July trade market.

The strategy was sound.

But it has not worked.

"We're batting .333," club president Andy MacPhail said on Tuesday night.

Buchholz exited his second start with the club last week with a flexor-pronator injury near his right elbow and on Tuesday had surgery that with a recovery time of four to six months will end his season (see story).

Morton made four starts last season before blowing out his hamstring so severely that it ripped off the bone.

Hellickson pitched well for the club last season and continues to this season, but the Phillies' hope of getting value for him during last July's trade season never materialized, nor did the club's hope of turning him into a first-round draft pick this June. That scenario was scuttled when the pitcher accepted the team's qualifying offer of $17.2 million for this season.

For the $22.5 million that the Phillies sunk into Morton and Buchholz, they got six starts, 24 2/3 innings and a 6.56 ERA.

"I don't think anybody likes it," MacPhail said of the lack of return that the team got on Morton and Buchholz. "How could you like it? Nobody likes to see a $14 million investment go before you get [to the third start]."

Buchholz, 32, pitched just 7 1/3 innings in two starts and was tagged for 16 hits and 10 runs. He also pitched poorly in spring training but did not complain of an injury until he exited last Tuesday night's start.

MacPhail said Buchholz's fastball velocity in spring training was down "two or three miles per hour" from where the pitcher was at the end of last season with Boston.

Buchholz's drop in velocity and subsequent injury raises questions of whether he was healthy when the Phillies acquired him. The Red Sox apparently believed he was. They picked up his $13.5 million option for 2017 on Nov. 3, weeks before sending him to Philadelphia for minor-league infielder Josh Tobias on Dec. 20, and the Phillies performed customary pre-trade medical vetting.

Buchholz did miss the second half of the 2015 season with an elbow strain, but he finished 2016 by going 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in seven starts from Aug. 18 until the end of the season.

The injuries to Buchholz and Morton, who also was 32 when the Phillies acquired him, illustrate the risks that teams take when they decide to acquire pitchers in their 30s.

"When these things happen, as an organization, we review everything that had us reach those decisions," MacPhail said. "It's just the nature of what you're dealing with. It goes to underscore the importance of having numbers [depth] and developing pitchers in your system.

"In Morton's case, he was injured trying to leg out a bunt. What you can do differently is not have to depend upon getting pitching from that area, really. I think there's a difference between reviewing your decision-making process and determining if there were any pieces of information that you should have considered that you didn't. I don't think that's the case. It's the nature of what you're dealing with. It's one of the reasons that you haven't seen us go beyond a year (in a contract). An organization can absorb an injury for a year. You just don't want one that's going to sink you."

MacPhail arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 and from the beginning made it clear that developing pitching would be an organizational priority. One of his mantras, dating to earlier stops in Baltimore and Chicago, is: "Grow the pitchers, buy the bats." Based on this ideology, it's difficult to envision the Phillies being big players in coming free-agent pitching markets. On the other hand, they could go big for a bat or two.

"I'm very confident that we're going to have the resources and the kind of ballpark where position players are going to be a lot easier to come by than pitching," MacPhail said. "Pitching is hard. I don't think that belief needed reinforcement. I have articulated that point. It's not a surprise, unfortunately.

"I think you have to stay open to any opportunity if it makes sense. But I have made it no secret, personally, that free-agent pitching is fragile and expensive by the time it gets to you. That said, I don't think you ever should rule anything out. We'll make decisions based on the information we have at the time."

Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

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AP Images

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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Phillies are just another team to Freddy Galvis — wink, wink

Phillies are just another team to Freddy Galvis — wink, wink

SAN DIEGO – Deep down inside, this had to be sweet for Freddy Galvis.

But outwardly?

Just another day. Just another game. Just another team.

Galvis, traded from the Phillies to San Diego in December, has haunted his former club in six games this season. He is 10 for 22 with nine RBIs. Five of them came this weekend as the Padres took two of three from the Phillies.

Galvis, 28, launched the first grand slam of his career in the third inning Sunday to help lead a 9-3 Padres’ win over his old team. The grand slam was a 409-foot bomb – in Ted Williams’ hometown – against Jake Arrieta.

“Freddy Galvis has swung the bat against us very well all year long,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Give him some credit for continuing to swing the bat well and putting good at-bats together.”

Galvis signed with the Phillies in the summer of 2006. He was just 16 at the time. He spent a dozen years in the organization, rising to become the team’s regular shortstop for three seasons after Jimmy Rollins moved on.

Galvis never got on base enough for a Phillies management team that took over before the 2016 season, and he was traded for pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos last winter. The Phillies shortstop position has been in flux since with J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery and now Asdrubal Cabrera all playing there this season. Manny Machado will be a free-agent target this winter and could be the next to hold down the position — the Phillies hope.

Meanwhile, Galvis plays on. He is having a typical Freddy Galvis season, hitting .237 with some pop — eight homers and 48 RBIs. His on-base percentage is just .296. His defense remains top-shelf.

Galvis harbors no hard feelings against his old team for moving on without him. He said he understands the business of the game.

But still, that grannie against Arrieta had to feel awfully good, right?

“No, I treat those guys like any another team,” Galvis said. “Play hard, play ball and that’s it.”

Galvis was asked how he was able to treat a team he’d spent so much of his life with as just another club.

“I guess I’m a pro,” he said. “I’m a professional. That’s what I am. I just play the game the right way and that’s it.”

Still, it is not lost on Galvis that he has put up big numbers against the Phillies this season.

Ten hits, nine RBIs …

“Good one, huh?” he said with a smile.

Yeah, pretty good.

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