Phillies

Did Phillies GM Matt Klentak speak too soon about avoiding starting pitcher trade?

Did Phillies GM Matt Klentak speak too soon about avoiding starting pitcher trade?

Did Matt Klentak speak too soon when he indicated the Phillies are unlikely to pursue a starting pitcher ahead of the trade deadline?

Since the GM's comments on Friday, the Phillies have watched Nick Pivetta have another rough outing, pushing his ERA to 6.60 since June 1. They watched Zach Eflin, in his return from a brief DL stint caused by a blister, fail to make it out of the third inning Monday night against the Dodgers' tough lineup.

In between was a dominant start from Vince Velasquez, but it's fair to wonder if the Phils' rotation will hold up and keep the team in contention over these final 63 games.

"Right now starting pitching has been the strength of our team this year," Klentak said Friday. "We're very encouraged about not only the five here but also what we have in Triple A, and we're hopeful that that's going to mean that we can stay out of the starting pitcher trade market at the deadline because, if you can avoid it, that is definitely a market to avoid."

The starting pitching trade market is not strong. There's Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, who have both struggled of late. There's Matt Harvey, the returning Ervin Santana, Lance Lynn ... not many meaningful upgrades out there.

Hamels update

On Monday, MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported the Nationals and Rangers have discussed a Hamels trade. Washington is one of nine teams to which Hamels cannot block a trade.

Hamels has also been connected to the Phillies, and Todd Zolecki reported that the Phils did have a scout in Texas Monday for Hamels' start against the Athletics. Said scout might not have been impressed by the A's jumping on Hamels for seven runs and two homers in five innings.

It's going to be tough, though, for any team to feel great about sending prospect(s) to Texas for Hamels right now. Entering Monday night, he had allowed 30 runs in his last 37 innings. He's allowed a ton of home runs — 21 in 109 innings — and Hamels' 1.34 WHIP is higher than everyone in the Phillies' rotation.

The money

There's also the matter of Hamels' remaining contract. He has a $20 million club option next season that can be bought out for $6 million. So if a team acquires him ahead of the deadline, it will either be committing itself to a high salary for a mid-rotation piece, or it'll be spending $6 million in addition to Hamels' 2018 money just to get out of the deal after the season.

Happ over Hamels

If the Phillies do pursue a starting pitcher, Happ makes more sense. He's averaged just 4 1/3 innings per start in July but he's still capable of pitching well and deep into games. 

Happ's calling card over the years has been his deceptiveness. His arm slot is high, near his left ear, which creates deceptive velocity for the hitter because they're not seeing the ball until the last possible second. It's a major reason why Happ has been able to strike out 130 batters in 114 innings this season despite throwing his fastball in the 90-to-92 mph range.

Happ is a free agent after the season, but Toronto will still seek a solid return for him because he might be the best starter on the trade market. 

The Blue Jays have several players who could help the Phillies. There's the reported interest in Curtis Granderson, who would be a big boost to a weak bench. Yangervis Solarte is a switch-hitting infielder with pop who can play second base and third base, and though he's started only 17 games at shortstop the last two seasons, it's not like the Phillies have gotten exceptional defense from that position this season anyway.

Josh Donaldson is the biggest name of the bunch, but he seems like more of an August trade candidate because he's still not back from the calf injury that has cost him most of the season.

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Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

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Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

When the news broke that he had been let go as Phillies pitching coach earlier this week, Rick Kranitz's cell phone started dinging.

And dinging.

And dinging.

From all over the country and Latin America, stunned Phillies pitchers sent well wishes.

"I heard from all of them," Kranitz said Friday from his home in Arizona. "It meant a lot. It was nice to know they were thinking of me.

"That's the thing I'm going to miss the most, the relationships I've built with these guys. The players are the ones who do it but I was always happy to be able to guide them through the good times, the tough times, the emotional times. I've been in the game for 40 years and the relationships have always been what means the most to me."

Kranitz, 60, was pushed aside in favor of Chris Young. Kranitz had been with the Phillies for three seasons, first as bullpen coach, then as assistant pitching coach and finally as head pitching coach in 2018. Teams don't typically let coaches go in mid-November, particularly after saying seven weeks earlier that the entire coaching staff would be returning. In this case, Young, 37, had received interest from other clubs and rather than risk losing him the Phillies promoted him from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach. Kranitz was told that he was free to seek employment with other organizations, though the Phillies will still pay him through 2019.

The whole thing seems cold, but Kranitz is taking the high road. He's a big boy. He's been around — he'd previously been pitching coach in Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee — and understands the business of baseball and these days the business of baseball is more new school than old school. That doesn't mean it's better. It's just the way it is for now.

"I was surprised and very disappointed when I first got the news," Kranitz said. "I'd built a lot of good relationships with this group. I believe in every one of these guys and I believe the future is bright for the Phillies. I wanted to see it through."

The news that Kranitz had been let go broke on Wednesday. That night, Aaron Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. For three years, Kranitz had been influential in Nola's development.

"I was so proud of that young man," Kranitz said. "He deserves everything he gets. He's a class individual and the Phillies are lucky to have such a special young pitcher — not just a pitcher but a person. I could not have been prouder. I'm thankful to have gotten the chance to watch him, grateful to be able to see special times."

Kranitz began his pro career as a pitcher in the Brewers' system in 1979. He would like to continue to work and surely some team will benefit from his wisdom. But in the meantime, he intends to spend his unexpected free time focusing on the people who have always been there for him, his wife Kelly and their four children.

"We have four grandkids and one on the way in March," Kranitz said. "So I'll be around for the birth and that makes me happy. 

"This game has been great to me. The Phillies were great to me. It didn't end great but my experience with the city and the people in that organization was great. Now it's time to shift my focus to my family and give back to them."

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

Phillies owner John Middleton recently reiterated what he's been saying for years: The Phillies will spend aggressively this offseason.

This time, he was a bit more colorful about it.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told USA Today at the owners meetings this week. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

"We just prefer not to be completely stupid."

#LetsGetStupid

You know the usual suspects: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the Phillies' needs go beyond offense and there is a top-tier left-hander on the market who could boost this rotation (see story).

Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals, so it's safe to assume he's expecting a deal closer to the $350-400 million range, one with an annual value in the neighborhood of $40 million.

It's hard to gauge where Machado's price tag will be and whether his October comments affected his market. Will he get slightly less than Harper because of it? Will he get more than Harper because of the position(s) he plays?

Including guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration figures and the raises due to pre-arbitration players, the Phillies' 2019 payroll is in the vicinity of $110 million right now. But that figure is cut in half in 2020 and next-to-nothing in 2021, when the only two guaranteed deals on the Phillies' books belong to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Aaron Nola will have to be paid sometime before 2022, and Rhys Hoskins before 2024, but the Phils still have so much wiggle room. 

Team president Andy MacPhail has been sure to remind Middleton and others that there is baseball to be played beyond 2019. But it's not often a free-agent class has headliners like this. 

The Phils could feasibly afford both Harper and Machado, but things would get extremely tricky down the road when Harper, Machado, Nola and Hoskins are combining to make about $120 million per year between the four of them. Those are the kinds of long-term issues this front office has to consider and will consider.

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