Phillies

Phillies officials head to Winter Meetings looking for an infield bat

Phillies officials head to Winter Meetings looking for an infield bat

SAN DIEGO — Baseball’s winter meetings are back in this seaside Southern California city for the first time in five years.

The San Diego meetings of 2014 were watershed times for the Phillies as the club traded its iconic shortstop and all-time hits leader, Jimmy Rollins, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

The deal brought the Phillies a pair of young pitchers, including Zach Eflin, and signaled the start of a rebuild as club officials conceded that the window of contention that had brought the Phillies five NL East titles and a World Series championship from 2007-2011 had officially closed.

Now, Phillies officials find themselves back in San Diego at another important time in franchise history. The rebuild ended when the team started lavishing big money on Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and giving up valuable prospects for J.T. Realmuto. Still missing, however, is a winning season. The Phils have not had one of those since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Ownership attached huge importance to the coming 2020 season when it pushed to have Gabe Kapler removed as manager after just two seasons in October and general manager Matt Klentak doubled down when he announced proven winner Joe Girardi as the new skipper and punctuated the announcement by saying, “No questions asked, it’s time to win right now.”

The urgency to win now showed last week when the club spent $118 million to sign starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. The hard-throwing right-hander has dealt with injury and inconsistency in his career, but his huge potential, coupled with the team’s acute need for pitching, made this a risk the Phils had to take. The Wheeler signing is expected to be announced as official as soon as Monday at the winter meetings.

So, what else will the team look to accomplish this week in San Diego?

Well, with Wheeler in the fold, the Phils have now prioritized adding an infield bat. That became imperative when the club cut ties with second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco last week.

The Phils’ ideal scenario would be to acquire a shortstop such as free agent Didi Gregorius. In that case, Jean Segura, whose dwindling range was a concern at shortstop last season, could move to second base and Scott Kingery could play third base. There could also be a scenario where Segura played third and Kingery second. The Phils had probed the market for third basemen and, according to sources, had seriously pursued Mike Moustakas before he signed with Cincinnati. The Phils are still monitoring the markets for free-agent third basemen Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, but don’t get too excited because they appear to be more interested bystanders than active pursuers. Signing a shortstop like Gregorius, who just so happens to be a favorite of Girardi, would keep third base in play for the eventual arrival of prospect Alec Bohm, who will start the 2020 season in Triple A. Some rival evaluators do not believe that Bohm can survive defensively at third base in the majors — they see him as more of a first baseman — but Phillies officials remain convinced that he can do it. Time will tell.

There is competition for Gregorius. If the Phillies don't sign him, they look at Starlin Castro, Todd Frazier or Brock Holt as short-term fits at third base or other infield spots.

Even with Wheeler on board, the Phillies will continue to look for more pitching, though any further additions will probably come from the third and fourth tiers of the market. The Phils are speeding toward the $208 million luxury tax threshold and Wheeler, by all indications, will be their top wintertime expenditure. By most payroll estimates, the Phils are about $19 million under the tax, and that’s before adding an infielder, bullpen help and some rotation depth behind Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Arrieta and Eflin. Managing partner John Middleton is on record as saying he would not go over the tax for a marginal upgrade but would be open to it if the team was “fighting for a World Series,” and the upgrades were difference-makers like “Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.”

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Gabe Kapler and Giants make historic coaching hire with Alyssa Nakken

Gabe Kapler and Giants make historic coaching hire with Alyssa Nakken

With all of the chaos currently consuming the league, it may have been overlooked that the Giants and Gabe Kapler have made a historic coaching hire.

Alyssa Nakken has been named one of Kapler's assistant coaches. She will be the first woman on a major-league coaching staff.

Can anyone say girl power?

Nakken is also a chairperson for the Giants' Employee Resource Group. This group promotes diversity and equality within the organization.

And as a female, with her intelligence and determination and hunger and drive to excel — I understand some of her responsibility is keeping her fingers on the pulse of the culture — it’s invaluable. She’ll broaden the scope and perspective, and I applaud Gabe for doing this.

-Kathy Strahan, Nakken's former coach in an interview for the San Francisco Chronicle

This is a moment that could change the mold of the league in the new decade.

Women belong in sports and are here to stay. And this single hire has the potential to open numerous doors in the future for both the league and anyone who wants to be a part of it.

You can read more about the hire and get to know Nakken at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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After 29 other teams pass, Phillies send Odubel Herrera to minor leagues

After 29 other teams pass, Phillies send Odubel Herrera to minor leagues

As expected, Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera quickly cleared waivers on Thursday. He has been assigned outright to Triple A.

Herrera was designated for assignment on Tuesday. The move immediately removed him from the Phillies’ 40-man roster and cleared a spot for outfielder Nick Martini, who was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati.

Herrera, 28, was involved in a domestic abuse incident in New Jersey in May. Though legal charges were eventually dropped, he served an 85-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against domestic violence. As a matter of procedure, he was reinstated to the 40-man roster in November, but that hardly assured his future with the club, even though he is signed through 2021 and owed $20 million.

When Major League Baseball and the Players Association forged its joint policy on domestic violence, both sides agreed that a player violating the policy could not be punished by being released or having his contract voided.

On Tuesday, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said there were “sound baseball reasons,” for removing Herrera from the roster. He pointed to Herrera’s inconsistency and struggles last season and the fact that the Phillies had added outfielders Jay Bruce and Adam Haseley to the roster after Herrera’s suspension.

“The construction of our outfield now is very different than it was last spring when Odubel was first suspended,” Klentak said.

The Phillies plan to give Haseley a shot to win the starting centerfield job in spring training. He will be pushed by Roman Quinn.

Herrera could very well be on his way out of the organization, but he’s not there yet. He is expected to report to minor-league spring training camp, where he will continue to collect his full salary while working toward regaining a role with the big-league team or trying to catch the eye of a team that might be interested in trading for him. So far, there has been no trade interest. 

Participating in minor-league camp does not ensure that Herrera will be with a Phillies’ minor-league club during the regular season. He can still be released at any time, as long as the Phillies establish that the move is for baseball reasons, as they did earlier this week when they designated him for assignment.

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