Phillies

Dominican duo of Enyel De Los Santos, Maikel Franco lead Phillies into sole possession of 1st place

Dominican duo of Enyel De Los Santos, Maikel Franco lead Phillies into sole possession of 1st place

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NEW YORK — The Phillies moved into sole possession of first place in the National League East on Tuesday night thanks to a couple of guys from the Dominican Republic, one who recently arrived in a trade, the other who could soon exit via a trade.

Enyel De Los Santos pitched well in his big-league debut and sizzling Maikel Franco drove in four runs to lead a 7-3 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field (see first take).

With the win, the Phils moved a game ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the division. The Braves lost to Toronto.

The Phillies are 51-39. The Mets are a dismal 36-53. It’s difficult to believe that they opened the season 11-1.

The Phillies’ victory was a testament to the organization’s improved starting pitching depth. De Los Santos was acquired in December in the trade that sent Freddy Galvis to San Diego. He pitched 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball. He was sent back to Triple A — where he was 9-3 with a 1.89 ERA in 16 starts — after the game as the Phillies cleared a roster spot for Vince Velasquez, who will come off the disabled list and pitch Wednesday night.

De Los Santos made a good impression. The Phillies would not hesitate to bring him back if a need arises.

“The job he did was tremendous,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He saved our bullpen. He put us in a good position for tomorrow and the rest of the first half.”

De Los Santos’ performance reminded Kapler of something his former Boston Red Sox teammate Curt Schilling said during that team’s World Series title year in 2004.

“Curt very emphatically said that in order to win a World Series you need not 25 guys, you need 35,” Kapler said. “And I thought this was a very clear indication that you need to have guys come up and make big starts for you. You need to have guys come up and get big, clutch pinch hits for you. And sometimes they need to be in your organization. You can’t always go out and get them.”

De Los Santos was supposed to start the Triple A All-Star Game on Wednesday night.

He much preferred being in the big leagues for a day.

“This was a dream come true, a great moment for me,” the 22-year-old right-hander said.

Franco also provided a great moment in the game when he clubbed a three-run homer in the second inning.

While De Los Santos arrived in a trade and seems to be in the Phillies’ future, Franco may soon be in the team's past. He is firmly on the trading block and could be dealt this month. If the end is near for Franco as a Phillie, he is going out with a bang, showing the offensive production that the team always believed was in there, but has come out just inconsistently.

Franco is hitting .375 (24 for 64) with six doubles, four homers, 13 RBIs and a 1.093 OPS in his last 21 games. He has batted eighth the last eight games and is 11 for 25 with a double, two homers, three walks and seven RBIs in that spot.

"It’s not just the at-bats that have improved, it’s the overall game that has gotten better,” Kapler said. “The base running is a little crisper, the defense has been pretty consistent. I think he had a little fire. I think there was a little push there that got him to say, ‘I’m going to lock down here and be a good baseball player and show everybody in Philadelphia that I have that in me.’ And I think we have to respect that. I think it’s been tremendous. He’s been a good teammate, a professional and a good baseball player for the last couple of weeks.”

Has it been enough to convince management that Franco is the guy to stick with long term at third base?

Doubtful. There have been signs — from reduced playing time, to being dropped in the batting order, to all those trade rumors — that the organization is ready to move on from Franco and pursue an upgrade at third base.

But as long as Franco is here, the Phillies will take his contributions. It can help win games and maybe build some trade value.

“All I can do is go out there and play the game the right way,” Franco said. “If something like that happens, you have to stay positive. Nothing bothers me. Nothing changed. I just want to be me. I just want to try to do the best that I can. Right now, everything is going well.”

The Phillies out-hit the Mets, 13-7. Rhys Hoskins had three hits. Two of them came after he crashed face-first into the left-field wall trying to make a play on a ball in the third inning. Amazingly, Hoskins, who suffered a broken jaw in May, was fine.

“I saw a replay during the game and I thought it was every part grace and athleticism put together,” Hoskins said. “No, honestly I laughed when I saw it. Obviously, thank God that I’m OK.”

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Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

The Phillies are about to sign a player with a resume chock-full of impressive — and important — accomplishments.

According to sources, Matt Szczur, the 30-year-old outfielder from South Jersey, has agreed to sign a minor-league contract with the Phils. The deal will include an invite to major-league spring training camp.

Szczur — pronounced SEE-zur — has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. He is a product of Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University. He was a two-sport star at Villanova.

On the football field, Szczur was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for Villanova’s 2009 NCAA FCS national championship team. He racked up 270 all-purpose yards in the title game win over Montana and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the baseball field, Szczur was an all-Big East player and a fifth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2010. He played in 107 games for the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016.

Szczur’s accomplishments extend beyond the playing field.

Off the field, he did something extraordinary when he took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova in 2010 to donate bone marrow that ultimately helped save the life of a young girl from Ukraine who had battled leukemia. Szczur’s life-saving gift started with his involvement in the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley was Szczur’s football coach at Villanova. Szczur has subsequently started his own charitable enterprise, the Szcz The Day Foundation.

Szczur hit .259 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats for the World Series champion Cubs in 2016. He was traded to San Diego in 2017. He spent parts of that season and the 2018 season in the majors with that club. He signed a minor-league deal with Arizona last season and hit .322 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 44 games at Triple A Reno. His season was shortened by a quad injury.

The Phillies are set at the corner outfield spots with Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and Adam Haseley is going to get a chance to hold down the center field spot with Roman Quinn in the picture as well. Szczur will give the Phillies some outfield depth and his ability to play center field is a plus. He is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions and could push for a spot on the big club as active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 men in 2020.

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Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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