Better than ever before, Manny Machado talks Phillies

Better than ever before, Manny Machado talks Phillies

BALTIMORE — Manny Machado knew what was up.

"Have a minute, Manny?" a Philly reporter asked.

"To talk about what? I'm not talking about no trades, free agency, none of that," he replied. 

Machado wasn't being argumentative or difficult, he's just tired of answering the same questions any time a visiting team with money to spend this winter comes to Baltimore.

He acknowledged that he's been asked about it plenty. The situation with the Phillies, though, is different. The connection has been there for years as Phillies fans have counted down the days until the 2018 season ends and Machado and Bryce Harper become free agents.

Right now, the only player the city of Philadelphia wants more than Machado might be LeBron James.

"They're a good team over there," Machado said of the Phillies. "I know that they're playing great baseball and we have to play better than them this week."

Machado is playing great baseball himself. He's off to the best start of his career, hitting .350 with a 1.100 OPS, leads the majors with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs and leads the AL with 55 hits.

He's familiar with a few Phillies. He played with Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta, and he knows Carlos Santana from their days playing for contending American League teams.

Contending isn't in the cards for Machado with the 2018 Orioles, who entered Tuesday's game with the third-worst record in the majors at 13-28.

He's seen both sides during his tenure with the O's. Machado has been a part of teams that made the playoffs three times from 2012-16 but has also experienced the frustration of the last two seasons.

The Orioles are not a team that traditionally spends much money. And the few times they have spent money in recent offseasons, it's gone horribly wrong. They paid $50 million for the worst years of Ubaldo Jimenez's career. They re-upped the rapidly declining Chris Davis for $161 million through 2022. They even handed Alex Cobb a $57 million deal this past offseason. When a team that rarely spends whiffs when it does, that's how massive setbacks occur.

The Phillies, obviously, are not in that position. They have just $69 million committed to the 2019 payroll, and even after accounting for arbitration raises, they will be able to comfortably fit a huge salary or two onto this team.

Gabe Kapler has heard the city's cries for Machado. It would be hard not to.

"I think that's natural. I don't blame [fans] for thinking ahead and wondering what he'd look like in a Phillies uniform," Kapler admitted. "He's an animal. He hits just about everything in the strike zone. When he's going well, he hits out of the strike zone as well. He drives the ball to all parts of the ballpark and right now, he's among the league's top five or 10 players. He stands out in the lineup as the guy you think about most.

"But I'm focused on our players and focused on our roster construction. I respect Manny Machado but right now he's an Oriole."

There are multiple Machado connections in the Phillies' front office, from previous Baltimore executives Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak and Ned Rice to scouting director Joe Jordan.

After heading up seven drafts in a row for the Orioles, Jordan left Baltimore in 2011 to become the Phillies' director of player development. He was responsible for drafting Machado, and the two still communicate.

"I spoke to Joe Jordan a lot when I got drafted," Machado said. "He was the guy that was on me for a while. It's just a relationship we have because he's the guy that drafted me when he was here. We still talk every time we see each other. He says, 'Hello,' or goes out of his way to talk and we say, 'What's up?' and we communicate a bit. 

"It's pretty awesome because that's the guy who drafted me out of high school and those are things that you never forget."

Phillies GM Matt Klentak wouldn't directly acknowledge Machado but did talk Tuesday about how familiarity with Jake Arrieta helped the Phillies land him this past offseason.

"I don't think there's any question about that. I think Jake would tell you that," Klentak said. "I think I would tell you that. Whether you're signing players or hiring a scout or hiring an employee in any profession, you're always going to do so with more confidence when you've previously worked with that person and you know that person. In Jake's case, the fact that we had known him as a young minor-leaguer, we had known him as a big-leaguer, we knew his work ethic, we know what kind of presence he brought to the field every day, those are the types of things that give us confidence to make a move like that.

"And I would suspect in Jake's case, he's signing to join an organization he knows a lot of the leadership. That sort of strips away some question marks for him as well, so I think that has a lot to do with it."

The question on everyone's mind at this point is how realistic it is that Machado signs here. Just keep in mind that the teams other than the Phillies with the most money — Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees — are pretty much set at shortstop and third base. That's not to say they won't be involved in a bidding war with the Phils, but Machado isn't a glaring need for any of those deep-pocketed clubs.

Reminder: Phillies got Wilson Ramos for almost nothing

Reminder: Phillies got Wilson Ramos for almost nothing

A reminder after his historic Phillies debut last night: Wilson Ramos was acquired for practically nothing. 

When the surprising trade was announced on July 31 — 17 days after Ramos had injured his hamstring — it was for a player to be named later or cash considerations. 

According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays took the cash. 

Teams around both leagues in need of a catcher or DH are probably kicking themselves right now. There was a trade market for Ramos in early July, with a lot of buzz about a return to the Nationals. (Matt Wieters has not had a productive offensive season.)

Then came Ramos’ hamstring injury, which apparently thinned out the market to the point that Tampa chose to take the only decent offer left, which came from the Phillies. 

Ramos last night became the first player in recorded history with at least three extra-base hits and three RBIs in his Phillies debut. He became the first Phillies catcher with three extra-base hits in a game since Chooch midway through 2014. 

There just aren’t many catchers like Ramos, which is why for weeks I’ve been writing that he’ll end up being their most impactful July addition. The last three seasons, Ramos has hit .296 with an .827 OPS. 

There are catchers like Buster Posey and J.T. Realmuto who can hit for a high average but don’t have as much power as Ramos. There are guys like Gary Sanchez, who have the power but not the ability to hit .290 to .300. Ramos has both skills, which is rare for catchers these days. 

The Phillies have seen flashes this season from Jorge Alfaro but not nearly enough consistency at the plate or behind it. A team in a pennant race needs that kind of defensive reliability from its catcher. If that catcher also happens to be perhaps the most well-rounded hitter at his position the last three years, even better. 

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Wilson Ramos has a debut to remember as Phillies bounce back with crucial win over Red Sox

Wilson Ramos has a debut to remember as Phillies bounce back with crucial win over Red Sox


Wilson Ramos, all 250 pounds of him, rounded second base like a runaway buffalo and headed for third. He slid in safely with just the second triple of his career – and first since 2011 – pumped his fist emphatically and gave the Phillies’ dugout one of those looks that said, “Let’s bleeping go!”

The moment verified two things:

One, Ramos’ hamstring is healthy.

And two, the big catcher, who goes by the nickname “The Buffalo,” is all-in with his new team and its quest to end a six-year postseason drought.

Ramos’ triple came with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Phillies locked in a tie ballgame with the Boston Red Sox. Moments later, he trotted home with the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Scott Kingery and the Phillies were on their way to a 7-4 win over baseball’s best team (see first take).

Ramos, 31, had been acquired by the Phils from Tampa Bay before last month’s trade deadline. The Phils picked him up even though he was on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. He was deemed healthy and activated from the disabled list earlier Wednesday and had a debut that included two doubles, a triple and three RBIs. Two of the RBIs came on a seventh-inning double that helped seal the game. It was the first time he’d had three extra-base hits in a big-league career that started in 2010.

The Phils added Ramos because they needed an offensive boost and he delivered it. 

“Today is a special day, especially for me, my Phillies debut,” Ramos said. “I remember feeling the same in my MLB debut. I went 4 for 5 in my MLB debut. This one, pretty similar. It made me feel excited. I wanted to show everybody here what I can do and that’s what I can do.”

A night after giving up a tie-breaking homer in a 2-1 loss to Boston, Tommy Hunter, one of seven relievers employed by manager Gabe Kapler, got the win.

Hunter shared it with his former Tampa Bay teammate, Ramos.

“The dude is a stud,” Hunter said. “I played with him last year. You can’t expect anything less from a buffalo. He’s a welcomed addition. And we can’t welcome him with more open arms than what we have tonight.”

The victory was one of the Phillies’ best of the season because they came from three runs down against a powerhouse team, and it was one of their most important because it came at a time when the doubters were beginning to stir after the club had gone 2-5 in its previous seven games to fall out of first place in the NL East and slip two games behind the Atlanta Braves in the standings.

“We have had a lot of special wins,” Kapler said. “That one was a lot of fun, I can tell you that. Any time the action starts early and you’re starting to make decisions early in the game and you’re thinking about tomorrow’s game and the doubleheader and all of that all at once, it’s really stimulating and invigorating and I think that’s how we all felt in the dugout tonight – invigorated.

“Through good and bad, our job is to keep laser-sharp focus on the step right in front of us. We’re not thinking about 15 games down the road. We’ve shown that we can turn the page, we can take a punch and come out fighting the next day. So we’re certainly not thinking about last night or what’s going on around us. Our focus is squarely on this game and we showed that tonight and now our focus is on tomorrow.”

With the win, the Phillies, who still trail Atlanta by two games, improved to 66-53. They have equaled last season’s win total – with 43 games remaining.

Two of the Phillies’ wins have come in four games against Boston in the last two weeks. Both times, the Phillies lost the previous night’s game by a score of 2-1.

“They have tremendous athletes and pop up and down the lineup, but we feel we can go toe to toe with them and we feel like we’ll continue to go toe to toe with the best in baseball,” Kapler said.

There were other standouts besides Ramos. Newcomer Justin Bour got the start at first base, had a pair of hits, scored an important run in the seventh inning and made a crucial defensive play to keep the game tied in the top of the sixth.

The bullpen was also a standout. Hector Neris left the bases loaded in the third after the Sox scored three times against ineffective starter Vince Velasquez. Neris had spent the previous five weeks in Triple A, working on his splitter and regaining his confidence.

“Hector Neris saved this game for us,” Kapler said. “He came into a spot where the game was about to be out of hand. He got a pop out and a punch-out. He threw some nasty splits. This is a guy who went down to Triple A for us. He had a pride-swallowing moment. He worked his tail off to get his stuff back. He came up and just executed beautifully for us tonight. We definitely don't win that game without the contributions of Hector Neris.” 

In all, the bullpen pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.

Against the majors’ best offense.

Impressive win. Important win.

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