Jay Bruce? Dallas Keuchel? Craig Kimbrel? How 'bout Ken Giles? Action heating up for Phillies

Jay Bruce? Dallas Keuchel? Craig Kimbrel? How 'bout Ken Giles? Action heating up for Phillies

LOS ANGELES — There’s a lot of action brewing beneath the surface in the Phillies organization, some that could improve the team in the short term, some that could improve the team in the long term.

The long-term matter is clear: Baseball’s annual draft begins Monday night. The Phillies pick 14th overall and hope to land a player that will make a significant contribution down the road.

But there are matters with more potential immediate impact brewing.

The arrival of the draft means free-agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are no longer tied to draft-pick compensation. Teams can sign either pitcher without having to surrender a pick in next year’s draft.

Plenty of teams are looking for starting pitching so Keuchel, a former American League Cy Young winner, could sign quickly.

Ditto for Kimbrel, a seven-time All-Star and four-time National League saves champ.

The Phillies need help in the rotation and bullpen.

It’s not difficult to see that.

What are their chances of signing Keuchel or Kimbrel?

More on that later.

In addition to pitching, the Phillies are looking to upgrade their bench, specifically with a left-handed power bat. The loss of Odubel Herrera, for however long that will be, has intensified the need.

Sources on Saturday confirmed an ESPN report that the Phils were in talks with Seattle to acquire veteran slugger Jay Bruce (see story). The ESPN report painted the deal as imminent. Several sources disputed that characterization, saying talks were not that far down the road.

Clearly, however, something is going on between the Mariners and Phillies. We’ll see if it gets to the finish line.

“I think it’s clear that a left-handed bat would be helpful for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said before Saturday night’s game against the Dodgers. “Speaking generally, I think it’s always good to have a veteran pinch-hitter, a guy who can have an experienced and high-quality plate appearance in a big moment. I also think that a profile like that, in general, fits our club.”

Bruce, 32, has 300 homers in his career and 14 this season to go with a .212 batting average and 53 strikeouts in 165 at-bats. He is owed about $23 million through next season. The Phillies, according to a source, would not take on all of that money if the deal goes through.

The Phils are in no real danger of going over the luxury tax threshold of $206 million this season. Next season would be more of a concern as the Phils would like to extend J.T. Realmuto’s contract. They also have a number of players due pay raises through salary arbitration.

As for pitching additions, the Phillies need help in the rotation and the bullpen.

That brings us to Keuchel.

Are the Phils in on him?

Several sources have indicated that the Phils are not hot on the left-hander’s trail. He threw a simulated game for interested teams several days ago and the Phils did not attend.

As for Kimbrel, the Phils have had interest dating to last season, but not for the big-dollar, multi-year deal he has sought. If Kimbrel would take a one-year deal, the Phils might be ready to tango. But it appears he could get a better deal elsewhere, maybe from division rival Atlanta. The Braves are also in on Keuchel.

While the Phils have monitored the markets for starters Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, all potential trade additions, the team’s current strategy involving relievers may be to see what it has in-house coming back from injury.

Tommy Hunter, who has not pitched all season due to a flexor strain, threw another bullpen session on Saturday. He is getting close.

“Tommy threw a bullpen, a really good one,” Kapler said. “He’s feeling really good about himself, which is encouraging for us. It’s going to be difficult to slow him down because of how excited he is and healthy he looks, how the ball is coming out, and, quite frankly, we have a need for Tommy Hunter, so when he’s ready, we’ll be ready for him.”

David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan are all due back in the coming weeks.

Even with these potential in-house additions, the Phils are still likely to seek outside bullpen help, maybe not with the signing of Kimbrel, but possibly via a trade for someone like Toronto’s Ken Giles or the White Sox’s Alex Colome.

Stay tuned. We’re into June now. The Phillies are a first-place club, but far from a perfect club. They have holes they want to fill and could begin doing so soon.

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Phillies free-agent targets: Josh Donaldson

Phillies free-agent targets: Josh Donaldson

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson.

The vitals

Donaldson has been one of the game’s premier sluggers the last half-dozen seasons. He’s an above-average defender at third base and an outstanding competitor. He has belted at least 33 homers in four of the last five seasons and led the American League with 123 RBIs in 2015, the year he won the AL MVP for Toronto. He battled injury in 2017 and 2018, signed a one-year, $23 million contract with Atlanta a year ago and went on to prove himself healthy by finishing 11th in the National League MVP voting in 2019. He played 155 games for the Braves and hit .259 with 37 homers, 94 RBIs and a .900 OPS.

Why he fits

At a position loaded with sluggers, Donaldson is still one of the best and the Phillies have a big need. Phillies third basemen ranked 24th in OPS (.725) and batting average (.243) and 22nd in homers (23) among big-league clubs in 2019. Donaldson’s fiery style of play would quickly win him fans in Philadelphia.

Why he doesn’t fit

The injury history, coupled with his age — he turns 34 in December — would be a concern on the long-term deal he is seeking, especially when the Phillies have a young third base prospect, Alec Bohm, scheduled to play at Triple A in 2020. Donaldson is one of three big third basemen on the free-agent market with Anthony Rendon and Mike Moustakas. The Phillies have already shown an interest in Moustakas, whose price tag could still allow the team to pump significant resources into pitching.

The price tag

Donaldson jumped quickly at a one-year deal last year. That won’t happen this year. He is said to be looking for at least three years and you have to figure the average annual value will be in the neighborhood of $25 million. If Donaldson keeps producing like he did in 2019, he’d be worth it.

Scout’s take

“He loves to play. And when he’s healthy, he’s a major difference maker. There’s value in that power. The concern for me would be that it’s a long season and he could fit more in the American League because of the DH.”

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Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday and it included six former Phillies of varying degrees of popularity. In fact, it's hard to even say which of the six is the most beloved in Philly. 

Bobby Abreu
Raul Ibanez
Cliff Lee
Scott Rolen
Curt Schilling
Billy Wagner

• At first glance, you might say Lee. He had great moments with the Phillies, memorable playoff games, and that low-key swag that drew fans to him. But things ended in a clunky way when he came back the second time. An elbow injury caused Lee to miss the final 1½ years of his contract and he was pretty much invisible during that time. He was also noticeably absent when the 2009 NL Championship team got together at Citizens Bank Park this past summer. The answer is still probably Lee, but it was a sour end for plenty of folks.

• Abreu is very well-respected around the game for being an ahead-of-his-time player with gaudy, well-rounded stats, but he was and still is polarizing around here. A portion of the fan base will always look at Abreu as an overrated compiler who was scared of walls. The other portion — it may be an even 50-50 split these days — appreciates the player Abreu was and realizes he'd be worth $200 million today.

• Phillies fans haven't forgotten Rolen's elite defense. Rolen was truly one of the best defensive third basemen of all time. But he orchestrated his way out of here and that is remembered equally, if not more so. 

• Schilling ... not delving into that one beyond an acknowledgment that his playoff performances were legendary, he had four excellent seasons and his post-playing career has been very strange.

• Ibañez was well-liked here and everywhere else he played. He may manage in the majors some day soon. He had an incredible first half in 2009, his first year with the Phillies, then was just slightly above average the rest of his three-year career with them.

• Phillies fans don't feel especially attached to Wagner, who was great here but lasted only two seasons. Unlike the other five on the list, Wagner should be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. Wagner was a more dominant reliever than Trevor Hoffman or Lee Smith. He had six seasons with an ERA under 2.00. He saved 422 games. He could have hung around for three more seasons to hit the arbitrary number of 500, which would have made him a Hall of Famer. Instead, Wagner retired on his terms after posting a 1.43 ERA for the Braves in 2010.

It will be interesting to see whether Abreu, a first-time candidate, gets the groundswell of support we've seen in recent years with players like Tim Raines.

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