Phillies

Jerad Eickhoff's rehab takes next step, but will he reclaim his spot?

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Jerad Eickhoff's rehab takes next step, but will he reclaim his spot?

BALTIMORE — Jerad Eickhoff, out all season with a lat injury suffered early in spring training, has taken the next step toward returning to the Phillies.

Making a rehab start in the first game of Double A Reading's doubleheader Tuesday morning, Eickhoff threw 53 pitches and allowed three runs (two earned) over 3⅓ innings. He struck out three, walked one and allowed a solo home run just before being pulled.

Eickhoff will likely make a couple more rehab starts to build up his pitch count to the 85-90 range.

Keep in mind, too, that with Zach Eflin pitching well, there's no rush on the Phillies' part to get Eickhoff back in the rotation. As long as all five starters are healthy, it makes the most sense to ease Eickhoff back in and start him once he's fully up to speed and confident. 

About 14 months ago, many were high on Eickhoff. In 41 starts in 2015 and '16, he had a 3.44 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.0 walks.

Then he struggled through pretty much all of 2017, going 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA in 24 starts. His walk rate nearly doubled, and his opponents hit .281 after hitting .243 the prior two seasons.

Eickhoff's curveball last season just didn't have the same bite, and hitters teed off on his fastball to the tune of a .341 batting average.

The hope is that the 27-year-old is over the back injuries and will revert to form. His swinging strike rate has decreased each season and that's something this Phils regime — from the front office to the dugout — values heavily.

"We're going to set our sights on him joining the rotation," GM Matt Klentak said Tuesday. "Jerad, based on his track record, I think that's what we need to be focused on. He's earned that. When that day comes, we still have a few weeks until that day comes, but when that time comes we'll make the best decision we can based on the information that we have at that moment. A lot can change between now and his activation date."

Bullpen move
The Phillies activated Mark Leiter Jr. off the 10-day DL and he is available out of the bullpen tonight.

Leiter missed two months with a flexor strain in his right elbow. 

Leiter's return gives the Phillies another useful, versatile bullpen arm. He had several very impressive outings in 2017, both out of the rotation and 'pen.

While Gabe Kapler did not rule out Leiter one day returning to spot-start duty, he said Tuesday that it simply comes down to the Phillies needing a reliever more than they need another starter right now.

"He did a great job starting for us in spring training and he looked like a guy who could get outs and go through a lineup two or three times," Kapler said of Leiter. "So I think there's some profile there as a starter. He's got four usable pitches and command.

"That said, we have some starters who are performing so we kind of go based on need and fit for our roster. That's not to say he won't ever end up as a starter. It's a possibility, but right now on our team, we need a reliever more than we need a starter."

What if Kruk was the commissioner of baseball?

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What if Kruk was the commissioner of baseball?

On this edition of Krukcast, Gregg Murphy and John Kruk dive into one of life's great hypothetical scenarios. What would Kruk do if he became the commissioner of baseball? From uniform rules to schedule changes, Kruk has a lot of ideas. See if you agree with them (or any of them).

1:30 - Keep the uniforms uniform.
4:00 - Changing a fundamental rule in baseball.
5:30 - A change to the schedule.
8:00 - A day of per week for players?
10:00 - Get rid of September callups?
12:30 - What to do with players busted for PED's?
15:30 - Replay.
17:30 - Check swing rule change.

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How much is too much for Phillies in a Manny Machado trade?

How much is too much for Phillies in a Manny Machado trade?

There has been even more Manny Machado talk than usual in Philly of late. The combination of the recent Phillies-Orioles series and the Phils' winning ways has increased the chatter about whether they should trade for Machado this season rather than wait him out in free agency.

Obvious arguments can be made for both sides. 

Why not make the trade? Because waiting him out until free agency allows you to hold on to all of your young players. 

Why make the trade? Because, as some have argued, it makes you significantly better in 2018 and could create a (pretty unlikely) situation where Machado wouldn't want to leave. I say unlikely because there is literally no recent example of a rental superstar signing with the acquiring team before free agency. Even when guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Matt Holliday re-upped with the Mets and Cardinals, it was only after first testing the market.

Want the most recent example of it actually happening? It was 2002 when Scott Rolen re-signed with the Cardinals shortly after being traded by the Phillies. So we're talking 16 years.

Let's break down all the key points here.

Minuscule chance he signs before free agency
No matter what team might acquire Machado this summer, it makes little sense for him to sign a contract extension before first seeing what other teams will offer this winter. Even if a team like the Phillies, Dodgers or Cubs trades for Machado in July and offers him a $275 million extension, why would he sign it? Theoretically, that same offer would still be there a few months later, and the price would only surge if a bidding war between big-market teams ensues. Which it will.

Machado is such an amazing player that his market will be vast. The fact he can play both shortstop and third base is a huge factor as well. If he could play only one position, the list of fits would be reduced. But even the teams set at both shortstop and third base could move guys around to make room for a superstar.

How much is too much to give up in a trade?
With Machado being a two-month rental this season, the Orioles' asking price just cannot be as high as it would have been last winter or last summer.

Look, for example, at the J.D. Martinez trade from last July. The Tigers dealt him to the Diamondbacks in exchange for a three-player package that almost every analyst deemed light. None of the players the Tigers received were listed among the top 10 D-backs prospects on the major sites.

That was despite the fact that Martinez had gotten off to a great start in Detroit, hitting .305/.388/.630 with 16 homers in 200 at-bats.

Occasionally, there still are overpays for rentals, but it takes the right team and the right fit. In 2016, the Cubs could smell a World Series and traded exciting shortstop Gleyber Torres to the Yankees for two months of Aroldis Chapman. It worked for both teams, with the Cubs winning it all and Torres now playing every day for the Yankees.

The difference with the Phillies in this situation is that they are not merely one piece away like the 2016 Cubs. 

So, what's a legit trade package?
If the Phillies were to offer the Orioles J.P. Crawford, Dylan Cozens and a pitching prospect or two, that might at least get a conversation started.

Some will read that paragraph and immediately react with, "How could you give away 5½ inexpensive years of Crawford for a rental?"

Well ... how valuable is 5½ inexpensive years of Crawford if he's not the player we thought he might be? Crawford is extremely early into his major-league career, but so far he has been below average offensively and inconsistent defensively. He's the kind of player who makes sense in a trade like this because another organization might view him as young enough to reach his ceiling.

With Cozens, he's somewhat blocked in this organization but continues to put up big power numbers at Triple A. For some teams, he'd at least have been given a cup of coffee in the majors already. But the Phillies, at this point, have a surplus of outfielders with Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins and Roman Quinn (if he can ever stay healthy). The Phils also used their last three first-round picks on outfielders, though all three have underwhelmed to this point.

As for the third piece of this concocted offer, the pitching prospect, we are not talking Sixto Sanchez here. You simply don't get an organization's best pitching prospect for a two-month rental.

But the Phils have more than one intriguing young arm in their minor-league system. Cole Irvin and Enyel De Los Santos have been great this season at Triple A. The Double A guys — Franklyn Kilome, JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez and Elniery Garcia — have struggled so far but all have potential.

The Orioles need help everywhere, so there's no specific player or position they'd be looking for in return. They just need quality and quantity because they have aging veterans, a truly awful starting rotation and one of the sport's most barren farm systems.