Phillies

Some guesses on how the Phillies' 25-man roster might shake out

Some guesses on how the Phillies' 25-man roster might shake out

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies will open their 135th season two weeks from today in Cincinnati.

As the team begins to wind down its stay in Florida, there are still some interesting roster decisions to be made.

Let's take a look.

First, what we know -- barring an injury or late development, of course.

The starting pitching rotation will consist of Jeremy Hellickson, who was named opening day starter on Sunday (see story). He will be followed by Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola.

Easy enough.

The starting eight position players are set with a projected batting order of:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Howie Kendrick, LF
Odubel Herrera, CF
Maikel Franco, 3B
Michael Saunders, RF
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Cameron Rupp, C
Freddy Galvis, SS

OK, let's move on to a couple of areas that are still unsettled.

Pete Mackanin will carry five men on his bench. Utility infielder Andres Blanco and outfielder Aaron Altherr are locks.

That leaves three spots, one of which must be a backup catcher. The Phillies have a very tight 40-man roster and they don't want to risk losing too many players on waivers. This should ultimately work in Andrew Knapp's favor. He is already on the 40-man roster and that could help him get the nod, even though he has not shined with the bat this spring.

Veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday are the other candidates for backup catcher, but they could end up on the wrong side of the equation because neither is on the 40-man roster.

So let's say Knapp is the third guy on the bench.

Who are the other two?

Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is still in camp and he's on the 40-man roster. But we see him heading to Triple A, where he can play second base every day. In fact, the way this roster shapes up, Blanco will probably be the only extra infielder. If the Phils get in a pinch, Kendrick can help at second or third -- in fact, he took balls at third a few days ago -- while the Phils summon help from the minors.

Outfielder Tyler Goeddel, also on the 40-man roster, is still in camp, but he'd benefit from time in the minors, where he could recoup the at-bats he lost as a Rule 5 stash last season.

So, now we're basically down to three players for the final two spots on the bench -- and none of them are on the 40-man roster.

It's going to be difficult to keep Brock Stassi off this roster. He has swung the bat exceptionally well in camp and played well at first base. His lefty bat could be nice to have around when Tommy Joseph gets a day off against a righty pitcher. He can also play the corner outfield spots.

The guess here -- two weeks before the gates open in Cincinnati -- is that Stassi makes the club.

That leaves Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava competing for the final spot on the bench. Coghlan plays three outfield spots and both corner infield spots. Nava plays corner outfield, first base, and he's hitting .429 with a 1.051 OPS this spring. Tough call there. Right now, Nava might have the edge.

Coghlan does have an out in his minor-league contract during the final week of camp and Nava does not. That may not be a factor.

Moving to the bullpen, five of the seven spots are filled with:

Jeanmar Gomez
Hector Neris
Joaquin Benoit
Edubray Ramos
Pat Neshek

They are all right-handers.

Manager Pete Mackanin would like to have two lefties in the bullpen, though he might end up with just one.

The simple way of solving this would be to carry Joely Rodriguez and Adam Morgan, both of whom are on the 40-man roster. That would leave veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett out. Burnett has an out in his contract during the final week, while Ramos does not, so maybe he would stick around and go to Triple A and wait for a shot.

The complication here could be Luis Garcia. The hard-throwing right-hander, who is on the 40-man roster, has added a splitter to his repertoire and some are intrigued by that. And then there's the whole question of a long man. Could Morgan fill that role, or would the club use right-hander Alec Asher there, leaving Rodriguez as the only lefty?

So it looks as if there are four legitimate candidates -- Rodriguez, Morgan, Asher and Garcia -- for the final two spots in the bullpen. All are aided by their place on the 40-man roster.

In the end, the Phils will likely have to clear two spots on the 40-man roster to finalize their opening day roster. The team could roll the dice and try to get Goeddel through waivers, though that might be tough to do because there is probably some team out there that would claim a young outfielder with options.

Morgan's place is so unpredictable that he could make the team as a long man or be the victim of a roster squeeze and end up on waivers sometime next week.

Of course, a trade or an injury could clear up a lot of questions. But two weeks before opening day, the Phillies clearly have some interesting decisions to make.

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola vs. Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. Welcome to the All-Star Game.

Nola made his ASG debut Tuesday night in D.C., pitching the top of the fifth inning with the National League trailing 2-1.

He opened the frame by striking out Royals catcher Salvador Perez on a low-and-away curveball well off the plate.

Next up was Betts, the AL MVP favorite. On a 3-2 count, Nola struck Betts out swinging on a high-and-tight 96 mph fastball.

The next batter, 2017 AL MVP Altuve, singled to right-center on the first pitch. 

And that brought up Trout, who had homered in his previous at-bat against Jacob deGrom. 

Trout had no such luck against Nola, popping up to first base in foul territory on the third pitch he saw.

Nola threw 15 pitches, 10 strikes. 

This was a pretty cool moment for Nola, facing arguably the three best hitters in baseball and retiring two of them. Looked like he belonged.

He made some new friends, too. Here's Nola planning an offseason sleepover with Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin.

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Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

There's no player on the trade market who could replicate for the Phillies the impact Manny Machado would make in August and September. 

There's definitely no player who would invigorate the fan base as much.

But if the Dodgers do end up beating the Phillies' offer for the best available player, the Phils will still look to make other upgrades.

That could involve acquiring a solid, non-star player for the left side of the infield, in addition to pitching help.

If the Phils can't add huge run production to their lineup, their focus could shift to players who'd assist in run prevention.

Here are some names to keep in mind:

Royals super-utilityman Whit Merrifield

There has been reported interest from the Phillies in Merrifield, and the two organizations have already scouted each other because of the earlier interest in Mike Moustakas.

Merrifield can play all over the diamond — first, second, third and all three outfield spots. If Maikel Franco is going well, you could play him in the outfield. If Franco is slumping, he could play third base. But acquiring Merrifield would be just as much about the future as this year.

Merrifield doesn't have nearly the raw power of a Machado or a Moustakas, but he's a proven .290-.300 hitter with gap power, speed and defensive versatility. He led the AL in steals (34) last season and has the third-most doubles (30) in the majors this season.

He would not be cheap to acquire. Merrifield is making $570,000 this season and will be inexpensive again in 2019 before his arbitration years begin. All told, Merrifield is under club control through the end of 2022. These are his prime years and he'll be underpaid for them relative to his performance.

Merrifield is not the same caliber player as Machado, but the cost in trade could end up being similar because Machado is a two-month rental and Merrifield comes with 4½ years of team control. That is a major, major difference that might offset the gap in talent between the two players.

Twins 3B/SS/2B Eduardo Escobar

Another name connected to the Phillies. Escobar, 29, is having a career year, hitting .271/.327/.507 for the Twins with a majors-leading 35 doubles, 14 homers and 57 RBI. 

He's been one of the most clutch players in baseball this season, hitting .367 with a 1.112 OPS with runners in scoring position. That's not exactly a sustainable long-term skill, but it's worth mentioning.

The switch-hitting Escobar would be a rental. He's a free agent at season's end. Thus, it would be cheaper to acquire him than Merrifield.

Top-tier relievers

If the Phils don't get Machado, they could instead land a combination of a bat and a bullpen piece to try to match his overall value.

Zach Britton. Jeurys Familia. Brad Hand. Raisel Iglesias. Felipe Vazquez.

Britton would be the cheapest option because he's a free agent after the season. We've known the Phillies have interest in him, and they could still pursue him even if Machado heads out West.

Britton's velocity has returned. He's back to throwing that power sinker in the mid-to-high 90s. His left-handedness would give the Phillies the matchup reliever they need, along with an experienced ninth-inning option that could allow Seranthony Dominguez to be used in a high-leverage role earlier in the game.

If you can't make a move that allows you to comfortably outscore your opponents moving forward, shortening the game is another way to remain in contention.

Baseball has changed. Having upper-echelon relievers in October is more meaningful now than ever before.

Blue Jays pieces

Jim Salisbury reported Monday that as the Phillies await an answer from the Orioles, they're also interested in Blue Jays lefty and former Phillie J.A. Happ.

Acquiring Happ would give the Phils a left-handed starting pitcher, which they haven't had since September 2016. That move could then allow them to move a Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta to the bullpen. Both are high-velocity, strikeout pitchers and both could thrive in a bullpen role. Their velocity and K-rates may even increase.

Imagine the Phillies being up 3-2 with two outs in the sixth inning and their starter at 105 pitches. A combination of Pat Neshek and Velasquez or Pivetta could get you all the way to the ninth. It would also give the Phillies a look at one of those young starting pitchers in that different role to gauge whether it makes the most sense for them long term.

Happ isn't the only Blue Jay to monitor, though. Yangervis Solarte has power and can play every infield position. He also has fair-market club options beyond this year — $5.5 million next season, $8 million the following season.

Curtis Granderson could help, too, as the missing power bat off the bench. Granderson was 0 for 13 heading into the All-Star break, but from June 7 to July 7, he hit .319/.373/.623 with six doubles and five homers.

No, he's not some big-time difference-maker in 2018, but Granderson is a markedly better and more dangerous hitter than the Phillies currently have on the bench.

It's not nearly as sexy of a trade, but acquiring a package of Happ, Granderson and Solarte could improve the Phillies in four different areas: rotation, bullpen, infield and bench.

Josh Donaldson, a much bigger name and more impactful power bat when healthy, is also worth keeping in the back of your mind. Donaldson has been out with a calf injury since Memorial Day but has resumed running and doing baseball activities and could be back by the end of the month. 

He's a free agent after the season as well. The contract status combined with all the time missed over the last two seasons will decrease the price tag. 

But if he's healthy and ready to go, this is a former MVP who hit .282/.377/.524 over the last five seasons with an average of 33 homers and 98 RBI.

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