Jimmy Rollins is back in a Phillies uniform to deliver some pennant-race wisdom

Jimmy Rollins is back in a Phillies uniform to deliver some pennant-race wisdom

MIAMI — The Phillies are so desperate for offense that Jimmy Rollins was in uniform Tuesday night.

We’re kidding.

Well, half kidding.

Rollins was in uniform before Tuesday’s game, but he wasn’t making a comeback. Though he has not officially announced his retirement – as Ryan Howard did on Tuesday – Rollins’ playing days are over. He will likely make an official announcement in the next year or so and the Phillies would surely give the former National League MVP, World Series champion and all-time franchise hits leader a fitting sendoff.

For now, Rollins is spending a few days in Miami to impart a little pennant-race wisdom on his former club. Brad Lidge recently spent some time with the club and offered wisdom to some of the young relievers.

Rollins, who will turn 40 in November, watches many of the Phillies’ games at his Tampa home. He is familiar with the club, its place in the standings and recent struggles. He is eager to be a resource and he knows a thing or two about chasing down a division leader in the month of September. Remember 2007? It started with Rollins famously saying the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East and ended with them coming from 7½ games down with 17 to play to overtake the New York Mets and make Rollins’ words prophetic.

“Obviously, things haven’t gone well lately, but I just want to remind the ones that haven’t been through it that there’s a lot of time left,” Rollins said. “We were in a much worse situation. I was talking to Odubel (Herrera) about how fun it was. We were in the same position.

“You still need a little help along the way, but these guys are in a better position. They’re not as far back as we were.”

The Phillies entered Tuesday night having lost 17 of their previous 26 games. They were four games behind first-place Atlanta with 25 to play. The Phils were 3½ out of the wild card, trailing two teams.

“We’re always looking to utilize the expertise of our legends,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Jimmy’s presence is perfect right now in our clubhouse.”

So what is Rollins’ message to the young men who are where he once was?

“Just make sure you find ways to win and not find ways to lose,” he said. “There’s a mentality. It’s a mentality of hope versus knowing. When you hope to win you kind of hope things go your way and when they don’t it’s like, ‘Aw.’ When you know you’re going to win, you don’t know how, but you find that way. You can’t hope to win, you have to make it happen by knowing it’s going to happen. You have to believe it and know something good is going to happen.”

Rollins talked about the importance of not overthinking a situation.

“You have to know how to get out of your own way because when you’re struggling that’s what it is a lot of times,” he said. “It’s not that you’re overmatched, it’s not that you’re not prepared. It’s that your brain turns on and you’re thinking and you’re interfering with your natural process. When you’re walking down the hall, you don’t tell your right hand to turn on the light switch, you just do it, and playing sports is the same thing. You’re mind is clear, you know what needs to be done and you do it.”

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Tommy Hunter the latest example of Phillies' cringe-worthy run with veteran relievers

Tommy Hunter the latest example of Phillies' cringe-worthy run with veteran relievers

The Phillies' run of bad luck with veteran relievers continues. Tommy Hunter will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on the flexor tendon in his right arm.

It means that for $18 million, the Phillies got 70 appearances and a 3.50 ERA out of Hunter in two seasons.

Then there's Pat Neshek, currently on the 60-day injured list with a serious hamstring injury. He may not return this season either. The Phillies brought Neshek back on a two-year, $16.25 million deal prior to 2018. It hasn't worked out. He's made just 50 appearances in those two seasons with a 3.61 ERA.

So that's 120 combined appearances for nearly $35 million.

Some of this is bad luck. Some of it is the risk of signing relievers in their early-to-mid-30s. Phillies GM Matt Klentak admitted as much earlier this summer, saying the team has learned a lesson from how these contracts for Hunter, Neshek and David Robertson have gone so far.

Between those three, Mike Adams, David Hernandez, Danys Baez and Chad Qualls, the Phillies have had a terrible run with veteran relievers over the last seven years. The Jonathan Papelbon contract did work out somewhat — he was productive for his entire tenure here. But even that deal was exorbitant for a closer at the time and still looks so, with Craig Kimbrel signing a cheaper, shorter-term deal this year.

The Phillies need to develop their relievers better. Guys like Edgar Garcia and Edubray Ramos haven't worked out yet. Garcia and J.D. Hammer were not on the Phillies' radar coming into 2019 as potential big-league arms. Injuries forced the team's hand.

It may take a few more years, but help could be on the way. These last two years, the Phillies have spent more draft picks than in prior years on relief prospects. In June, their sixth- and seventh-round picks were both college relievers, right-handers Andrew Schultz (Tennessee) and Brett Schulze (Minnesota). The Phils went with two more college relievers in Rounds 14 with Chris Micheles (Washington) and 18 with Nick Lackney (Minnesota).

It will take some time, but this could prove to be the better way to build a bullpen. It won't be hard to best the organization's recent track record with veteran relievers.

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Phillies GM Matt Klentak maintains a conservative approach to MLB trade deadline

Phillies GM Matt Klentak maintains a conservative approach to MLB trade deadline

DETROIT — Big trade? Little trade? No trade?

Eight days before the trade deadline, what will the Phillies do?

Well, if you’re the wagering type, don’t bet on the team making no deals.

But don’t bet on a big trade, either.

Though he did not definitively spell out a strategy for the final week before the deadline, general manager Matt Klentak on Tuesday indicated that the team’s place in the standings could result in a conservative approach to the deadline.

“We’re legitimately looking for opportunities,” Klentak said before the Phillies-Tigers game at Comerica Park.

“I think the big reality that we need to recognize is that we’re 7½ games out of the division race. We’re a half-game out of the wild-card race, which puts us squarely in the mix for the playoffs. But I think when you’re 7½ games behind in your division, that’s going to lend itself to a slightly different approach than when you’re 7½ games up in your division.”

Klentak pointed to the 2007 and 2008 Phillies. In 2007, the Phils were still riding a 14-year playoff drought at the trade deadline. Though the Phils won the World Series in 2008, they were not seen as a World Series contender at the trade deadline.

Both of those teams made modest acquisitions at the deadline. It wasn’t until the Phils were slam-dunk World Series contenders in 2009 and beyond that they made headline-grabbing deadline deals for Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and Roy Oswalt, all potential finishing pieces in a championship drive.

In 2008, pitcher Joe Blanton, the classic marginal upgrade, was the team’s big acquisition.

Sounds like the Phils will have a similar approach leading up to this deadline.

“I think in a lot of respects, your record at the deadline and your proximity to the playoffs will dictate what you do,” Klentak said.

A decade ago, the wild-card team played in a division series. Now, wild-card teams play in a one-game playoff. That affects a team’s thinking when deciding whether or not to part with top young talent in a deal.

“We have to recognize where we are and we have to make moves that are appropriate,” Klentak said. “We’re going to continue to push. We’re going to continue to try. We wouldn’t have made the moves that we’ve made in recent days if we weren’t doing that. But as I have said to you before and I know (manager) Gabe Kapler has said this before, for this team to get where we want to go, the core players on this roster need to perform well. And that’s true of any team. Teams that do well have their core players perform well. We have the talent on the field to do that. Whether we get hot and pull that off in the next two months remains to be seen.”

The Phillies have many holes. They could use a bat. They could really use a back-end reliever and a quality starting pitcher or two.

Many teams are in similar situations.

The prices for pitching upgrades are exorbitant.

The Phillies do not have a deep farm system, but they have a handful of quality prospects, led by pitchers Spencer Howard, Adonis Medina and Francisco Morales. They also have a few quality position prospects, led by third baseman Alec Bohm.

Selling teams want players like this.

The Phillies will be protective of these guys. If they were in first place and on a fast track to the World Series, they’d probably part with one or two of these players to have a parade. But in their current state …

“I feel like our organization has enough talent that we can bid on the top names on the market,” Klentak said. “Whether we choose to go down that road or not remains to be seen. It's really about building an organization that can sustain its competitiveness for a long period of time. In order to do that, we have to preserve young talent. There are times when it makes sense to cash in young talent for veteran players. But you can't do that too often or your well will run dry and you'll be forced to tackle another rebuild at some point, and that's not something that our owners or our front office have an appetite for.”

Phillies fans saw the club add J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper in the offseason. Many would like a similar big score at the trade deadline.

Klentak was asked how he believed a conservative approach would sit with fans.

“I think our fans are very knowledgeable and will understand the reasons behind what we do or what we don't do,” he said. “On opening day, the Phillies were projected to win, in terms of number of games, something in the 80s. As we sit here today, we are projected to win something in the 80s. And that is without Andrew McCutchen for four months of this season. That's with the better part of a major-league bullpen on the disabled list and with some players that have not performed to their historical standards.

“There have certainly been ups and downs for the first four months of the season, and we've all seen that. Some of the downs have been very frustrating, some of the ups have been very exciting. But the notion that this team has performed wildly below expectations, I don't think is true. I wish we were better. Certainly we've left some wins on the table that we've felt like we could've had. But it's the end of July, we're a half-game out of the wild card, and we're in a position to explore the trade market. We're competitive. You're not going to run away with it every single year. The Boston Red Sox that went pole to pole last year and cruised through the playoffs. That rarely happens in sports. Right now, we are where we are. We have 62 games remaining, and we're going to have to play as well as we possibly can for the next 62 to put you in the October mix.”

Klentak said he has been on the phone pretty much nonstop talking to teams about every available player there is. He said the team’s approach to the deadline could change with one phone call, meaning a significant deal could become more likely if prices come down. Sometimes that happens closer to the deadline.

“As a general rule people respond to deadlines and there’s typically more activity as we get closer to the 31st,” he said. “That doesn’t mean a trade can’t happen now or in the next few days. But we have deadlines for a reason and they typically work.”

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