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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