Phillies

Former GM: Phillies better than they realize, must make a trade

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Former GM: Phillies better than they realize, must make a trade

It's July 2 and the Phillies are eight games over .500. The season is more than halfway over, so the "It's still (insert date)" comments really don't apply anymore. 

As Andrew Knapp said Sunday after hitting a walk-off homer to give the Phils a series win over the Nationals for the second straight weekend: "It shows we're here to stay."

Everything said and indicated by GM Matt Klentak lately leads us to believe the Phillies will make an addition or two before the trade deadline. They definitely should. It would improve the team, provide a jolt of energy and be a sign to the entire city that the Phillies are legitimately interested in seeing how far they can take this thing in 2018.

On MLB Network Radio Monday, former Mets GM Jim Duquette spelled out why the front office must add this month.

"Going into the series this weekend I expected this to play out a little differently. I expected the Nationals to rise to the occasion. But, in fact, it was the other way around," Duquette began.

"I was talking to a couple of evaluators the other day, separately, about the Phillies. And it was a question mark, does the front office realize how good this team is? This is a legit good team. Surprisingly so. 

"They need to add something and I hope they're not holding back thinking next year is our year. This team is good enough to get to the postseason this year and compete for the division this year."

Both points are accurate. The National League is wide open. Take a second to consider who you think the best team in the NL currently is. The Braves? The Cubs? The Brewers? None of those teams have played markedly better baseball this season than the Phillies.

The Nats could take off in the second half, but it just doesn't look like their year. Stephen Strasburg is on the DL, Gio Gonzalez is regressing, Bryce Harper has the power numbers and walks but not much else, Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy don't look completely healthy, and they lack a catcher. 

Yeah, 2019 or 2020 could be even better years for the Phils, but the division might not be as winnable in those years with improvements the other clubs can make.

"Whether it's going after (Manny) Machado, which has been rumored, or Machado and pitching, this is a much better team than ... the Braves get all the talk, but the Phillies are a pretty darn good team," Duquette said.

A key player at a position of need to keep an eye on is Royals 3B Mike Moustakas. Teammate Jim Salisbury reported over the weekend that the Phillies and Royals have had discussions about Moustakas and Kansas City's scouts have been eying the Phillies' minor-league system.

Moustakas would be a definite upgrade at third base, even though he and Maikel Franco do have a similar batting average (.258 vs. 250) and OBP (.313 vs. 300) this season. 

The difference is that Moustakas' power is much more consistent. He hit 38 home runs last season, and from 2015-18 he has a .816 OPS. Over that same timeframe, Franco has a .739 OPS. A 77-point difference is meaningful.

Moustakas is a free agent after the season so he'd be a two- or three-month rental. That will decrease what the Royals can realistically seek in a trade.

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Aaron Nola expects to go to court with Phillies over 2019 salary

Aaron Nola expects to go to court with Phillies over 2019 salary

Aaron Nola has a date on Valentine’s Day, but there will be no wine, no dinner, no chocolate.

Nola on Monday night revealed that his salary arbitration showdown with the Phillies is scheduled for Feb. 14. A three-person panel will decide his 2019 salary during a hearing in St. Petersburg, Florida, that day. The Phillies will hold their first workout for pitchers and catchers the day before in nearby Clearwater.

“This is baseball, the business part of the game,” Nola said before accepting the Professional Athlete of the Year award at the 115th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association dinner. “No hard feelings between us. Whatever happens happens. We’re just going to go through it.”

Arbitration hearings can often be unpleasant experiences, turning teams and players into adversaries. Some players choose to accompany their agents into the hearings. Some don’t.

Nola said he was planning to attend.

“I actually haven’t talked to anybody that has gone through it, but, yeah, I think I’ll be going in and sitting down,” Nola said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s all about.”

Nola, 25, had a brilliant season for the Phillies in 2018. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in innings (212 1/3) and WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He was clearly one of the best pitchers in baseball and wants to be compensated as such in 2019.

After failing to agree on a one-year contract earlier this month, Nola and the team exchanged potential salary figures. The Phillies filed at $4.5 million while Nola came in at $6.75 million. Though an agreement can still be struck between the two sides, Nola said he expects that the matter will be resolved in a hearing. During the hearing, the arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides and pick one salary figure or the other. There is no middle ground.

Nola made $573,000 in 2018. His salary request is not far off the $7.25 million that Dallas Keuchel got from Houston as a first-time arbitration player in 2016. Keuchel won the American League Cy Young Award the year before.

Nola acknowledged that his side was using Keuchel as a comparable.

“I don’t think there’s much of a secret anymore,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in arbitration.”

Manager Gabe Kapler said he did not believe a hearing would cause any bad feelings between his ace and the ballclub.

“I think there’s some personality components to that,” Kapler said. “Like for Aaron, no. Because he’s stoic, right? I don’t see him getting too high or too low. I think there are players outside of our organization who get their feelings hurt in this process. I don’t see Aaron as the type of guy that would get his feelings hurt in an arbitration process. That’s my take on it.”

Though Nola said he was unaware of anything that might be in the works, it’s not out of the question that he and the Phillies could explore a long-term extension. Nola is the type of young talent the Phillies would like to lock up. General manager Matt Klentak has been asked about the possibility of a long-term deal for Nola and, as a matter of policy, has steadfastly refused comment on the matter.

“If they ever came up and said anything (about a long-term extension), I’d have to think about it,” Nola said.

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Phillies rumors: Stars aside, Phils should consider trading for Ben Zobrist

Phillies rumors: Stars aside, Phils should consider trading for Ben Zobrist

When Josh Harrison signed a four-year extension with the Pirates in 2015 worth more than $27 million, he probably didn't expect his next contract to be smaller.

Welcome to free agency in 2019.

That four-year extension bought out all three of Harrison's arbitration years and the first year he would have been eligible for free agency. In 2018, he was the Pirates' second-highest-paid player, earning $10.25 million. (Francisco Cervelli made $10.5M.)

The Pirates held options on Harrison for 2019 and 2020 but declined them, making him a free agent. So at age 31, coming off his least healthy and least productive season since 2013, Harrison is trying to find a new home.

The Phillies, along with at least three other teams, have reportedly expressed interest in Harrison. Why not? He will almost certainly fail to find a contract of more than two years, and given the recent contracts we've seen, it looks like his annual salary will be relatively low.

Something like two years, $10 million could get Harrison signed. Keep in mind that Andrew McCutchen is still the only position player this offseason to switch teams and receive a contract of more than two years.

D.J. LeMahieu signed a two-year, $24 million deal with the Yankees. Daniel Murphy got the same deal from the Rockies. Wilson Ramos got $19M over two years from the Mets. All three are more impactful players than Harrison and all are coming off better seasons.

Harrison's deal should be closer to what Ian Kinsler (two years, $8 million) received from the Padres. While Kinsler is five years older than Harrison, he's been the superior offensive player the last three years.

Harrison's big year was 2014, when he made the All-Star team, hit .315/.347/.490, played five different positions and signed an extension after the season. In the four seasons since, he's hit .274/.319/.396 for an OPS eight percent below the league average.

But Harrison would provide value for a team on the brink of contention. If the Phillies sign him, they wouldn't be utilizing him as the Pirates did. They wouldn't be batting him toward the top of the order and allocating 500 plate appearances to him. 

Instead, Harrison would serve as a solid bench piece, a super-sub capable of playing second base, third base, left field, right field and maybe shortstop in a pinch. Harrison is a solid defender at second, third and the outfield corners. He won't wow you day by day but he also won't hurt you. For reference, Harrison has saved 35 more defensive runs at second base than Cesar Hernandez since 2013, according to Fangraphs data.

Looking at the Phillies' current roster, Harrison (or anyone else the Phillies sign as bench depth) would take the 25-man roster spot of Aaron Altherr. That would be an upgrade. If the Phillies do eventually sign Manny Machado, the corresponding move would likely be a trade of Maikel Franco.

The Phillies already have a utilityman in Scott Kingery, who in 2018 played 18 innings in right field, 30 in left field, 23 at second base, 76 at third base and 887 at second base. Adding another player who can play all over the diamond would allow Kingery to focus mostly on playing up the middle, which could benefit him. 

Offensively, Harrison is a mixed bag. A team can feel good that he'll hit between .275 and .290. His career batting average is .277, and he hit .290 in the four seasons leading up to an unhealthy 2018.

Harrison does not walk or see many pitches, though. He's walked just 120 times in 3,012 career plate appearances. Put another way, Harrison has walked 10 more times in his career than Carlos Santana did last season.

Go for Zobrist

The more difference-making utilityman, from an offensive standpoint, would be Ben Zobrist, who the Cubs are reportedly considering trading and couldn't expect a ton in return for. Zobrist, a switch-hitter, is entering the final year of his contract. He'll make $12 million in 2019.

Turning 38 on May 26, Zobrist is no spring chicken. But he has remained a solid offensive threat into his late-30s and can do so many things for a team ready to win. 

The left side of the diamond is probably off limits for Zobrist at this point in all but the most extreme of circumstances. He hasn't played third base since 2015 and has played just 13 innings of shortstop since 2014. But Zobrist can play first base, second base and both outfield corners well.

Last season, Zobrist hit .305/.378/.440 for the Cubs. In fact, over the last five seasons, his OPS has been at least 15 percent above the league average each year except 2017.

Zobrist consistently has high-quality plate appearances. He works deep counts, fouls off tough pitches and walks nearly as much as he strikes out. The last four seasons, Zobrist has 267 walks and 269 strikeouts.

He'd be a much more potent offensive threat than Harrison. And Zobrist's penchant for making contact, especially in high-pressure situations, would add a wrinkle to the Phillies' offense. He's a guy you can legitimately bat anywhere from second through sixth and not feel like you've created a hole in the lineup. 

Imagine, for example, a game against a right-handed pitcher in which the Phillies' lineup looks like this:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Jean Segura, SS
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Andrew McCutchen, LF
6. Ben Zobrist, RF
7. Odubel Herrera, CF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Pitcher

That would be a deep lineup with power, on-base skills and six different players capable of hitting .280 or better.

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