Nick Williams' emergence has affected Phillies' trade deadline needs

Nick Williams' emergence has affected Phillies' trade deadline needs

Nick Williams has played so well over the last six weeks that the Phillies no longer have a need for an everyday rightfielder … or really, even a platoon partner.

In his last 39 games, Williams has hit .311 with a .393 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentage. He's hit seven homers, a triple, four doubles, driven in 22 runs and reached base 18 times via walk and hit by pitch during that span. 

That's a quarter-season's worth of elite offensive production, a stretch in which Williams' .908 OPS is seventh-best among National League outfielders (Rhys Hoskins is second to Gregory Polanco).

Touted for his quick bat speed on his way to the majors, Williams is proving himself to be a capable power-hitting corner outfielder. He has 26 homers and 94 RBI in 645 career plate appearances — essentially a season's worth. 

He's a good baserunner. He's a good defender. Williams' running, leaping catch in the right field corner Friday night in Cincinnati robbed Billy Hamilton of a three-run triple or inside-the-park grand slam. You know the stat, "Defensive Runs Saved?" That play literally saved three runs. 

Williams' emergence has affected the Phillies' trade plans heading into Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline. Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones has been a target of the Phillies', but it sounds like Jones, who has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any trade, would rather stay in Baltimore than join the Phils as a bench piece. It could be posturing by Jones to entice the O's to trade him somewhere he'd play more, or it could be Jones just wanting to stay where he's comfortable rather than join a maybe-contender for two months as a fourth outfielder.

Aside from Jones, let's go through the remaining hitters who fit the profile of what the Phils could use offensively:

OF Curtis Granderson (Blue Jays)

We've mentioned Granderson several times here this month and the fit is still there. He has an OPS over .800 since the first week of June. His numbers against right-handed pitchers — .245/.342/.442 with 14 doubles and 10 homers — are better than league average.

He's a veteran who's been there, done that and has been a positive influence in every clubhouse he's walked into. A portion of fans will always sneer at an intangible like that but you won't find a front office that discounts it.

Granderson is a two-month rental who wouldn't cost much at all. He would be the first bat off the bench on nights Asdrubal Cabrera starts. And he's viable insurance for an injury to any of the Phillies' outfielders. Injuries do occur. Right now, the position player portion of the Phillies' roster is thin after the starters.

INF/OF Derek Dietrich (Marlins)

You've seen plenty of Dietrich over the years. He's played all over the diamond for the Marlins the last six seasons and been above-average offensively the last four.

Dietrich has played first, second, third and both outfield corners. This season, he's spent the majority of time in left field.

Dietrich has pop from the left side and has made a career of hitting righties. He's hit .274/.359/.444 against RHPs the last three seasons, numbers nearly identical to Odubel Herrera's and George Springer's vs. righties over the same span.

He's just the kind of multi-purpose threat who matters in September and October. The question is whether the Phillies feel he's worth trading a little bit of value for. Dietrich, 29, has two years of club control remaining after this season so the Marlins will not be giving him away. 

It would take more than it took the Phils to land Cabrera.

1B/OF Jose Martinez (Cardinals)

Martinez seems to have fallen out of favor in St. Louis. When Mike Matheny was fired and Mike Shildt took over, Martinez was benched in the first five games. He's been a defensive liability wherever he's played, and the Cards, who've committed the most errors in the NL, had enough.

Then, with 10 days to go before the trade deadline, he began playing again. Hmmm …

Everything Martinez does, he does wildly. Swings wildly. Runs wildly. He has a big, powerful 6-foot-6 frame and the kind of setup, load and swing you wouldn't exactly teach a youngster. 

Yet he's able to stay mostly under control through it all. Martinez has hit .295/.350/.462 this season with 13 homers and 59 RBI. He hasn't gone into a prolonged slump, hitting .274 or better every month. His power, of late, has disappeared along with his playing time.

Mentioning Martinez in here only because the Cards are a likely seller, he's a change-of-scenery candidate and his bat could help a contender. He's under team control for a long time (end of 2022), so it would make sense for St. Louis only if the return is another player with years of control remaining.

INF Yangervis Solarte (Blue Jays)

A switch-hitter with power who can play all four infield positions. Not a shortstop anymore but he's actually played there more this season than Cabrera.

Solarte has averaged 16 homers the last four seasons despite playing just three out of every four games. 

He's 30 years old and has a team-friendly contract — club options for $5.5 million and $8 million the next two seasons, either of which can be bought out for $750,000. 

His bat has cooled considerably over the last month, though. Solarte's hit .153 with a .189 OBP in July. 

This gives you an idea of what is … or really what isn't out there in terms of bats.

Rest of the market is thin

And thin may be an understatement. A quick summary:

• Every outfielder on the Rays, Twins, Royals, White Sox, Angels, Mets, Reds and Padres is either an insignificant upgrade over what the Phillies currently have or a starting-caliber player whose team would prefer to keep him. Just not many fits left.

Corey Dickerson and Jesse Winker were two other bats who could have moved ahead of July 31 but both are now on the DL.

• There are all-glove infielders available like Freddy Galvis or Jose Iglesias, but that doesn't really fill a need for the Phillies, particularly after the Cabrera acquisition.

• Tigers OF Nick Castellanos is a name that will excite many, but it's going to cost a lot to pry him away from Detroit. He's a below-average defender but he's hit .281 with a .825 OPS, 41 homers, 67 doubles and 14 triples since the start of 2017. Huge right-handed power production. Thing is, he's a homegrown Tiger just entering his prime for a rebuilding organization. He's the kind of guy they'd rather extend, not trade.

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What have Phillies players thought of Joe Girardi so far? J.T. Realmuto and Jake Arrieta weigh in

What have Phillies players thought of Joe Girardi so far? J.T. Realmuto and Jake Arrieta weigh in

Joe Girardi has yet to manage a regular-season game for the Phillies but his players have spent enough time around him to know how he operates. There was the month of spring training in Clearwater and then these last two weeks of Phillies summer camp for players to learn about his personality and how he runs a team.

Two Phillies veterans, Jake Arrieta and J.T. Realmuto, have thoroughly enjoyed Girardi so far and think he can make a real difference in the win-loss column.

"Where we're trying to go, he's already been," Realmuto said last week.

Girardi is the eighth manager Arrieta has played for in the majors and the fifth for Realmuto.

"Joe is very good about making his way around to everyone. He knows what's going on with every group," Arrieta said over the weekend. "He knows where guys are at every point throughout the day and he has conversations with everybody. I've had 10, 15 very personal conversations with him about the game, about family. He's big on those personal relationships and having those conversations to build that personal connection. 

"It's nice to see that. All good managers do that. Joe's been doing it for a long time. He's personable, he's easy to approach. Especially for young players, that's very important to have a manager you know you can go up and talk to about something that might be on your mind, questions or concerns. It's refreshing to see that."

Much has been made of Girardi's blend of old-school gut feel and understanding of the metrics that are more prevalent now than ever before in baseball. The Phillies' previous regime under Gabe Kapler was mostly numbers-based. It's not that Kapler, former pitching coach Chris Young or former hitting coach John Mallee ignored gut-feel, they were just more inclined to go with the data and the odds. That led to many growing pains, from starting pitcher workload to bullpen management to swing instruction.

"One advantage [Girardi] has over the managers I've had in the past — not to speak down on anybody — was what he was able to do in his playing career and also as a manager," Realmuto said. "He's already won a World Series. So many successful playoff seasons. That is something you can't replicate or make up and say I'm a good manager. He's actually done it. 

"That experience gives guys that much more comfort. Being able to talk to him about different situations and scenarios, just knowing he's already accomplished things most of us haven't. That gives him a leg up on the others."

Managers in baseball don't impact games as much as head coaches in the NFL or NBA. There are micro decisions throughout a baseball game but managers are not spending three hours calling plays. Baseball fans know that a manager's most important skill is leading men, creating a positive and comfortable atmosphere conducive to success. Charlie Manuel was one of the best in that regard.

"I think managers are undervalued in baseball," Realmuto said. "Just putting your players in position to succeed is not as easy as it seems. You can look at the numbers all you want and some managers will go 100% off of what the computer tells them to do. Some managers will go all off of feel. Joe has a good understanding of both, not just doing it because the piece of paper tells him but having a feel of what's going on in this hitter's head. How has he done over the last week, is he going to be confident in this situation? 

"Stuff like that will separate him from a lot of others. I definitely think the manager can help win ballgames and is going to make a difference during the season."

Arrieta cherishes having a manager he trusts to more often than not make the right decision of pulling a pitcher vs. leaving him in.

"He knows what he's doing from the first pitch to the time the last out is made," Arrieta said. "He's very good at handling a bullpen, understanding when it's time to get the starter out of the ballgame. That's something I really appreciate and I know the guys in the bullpen do as well. I'm very happy to have him."

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Has Vince Velasquez taken the lead in the Phillies' No. 5 starter derby?

Has Vince Velasquez taken the lead in the Phillies' No. 5 starter derby?

Vince Velasquez, looking to earn one more shot in the Phillies’ starting rotation, might have taken a step in that direction in an intrasquad game Tuesday night.

The right-hander was impressive in four unstructured innings of work. (We call it unstructured because he faced an extra batter in some innings to get his pitch count up.) He gave up two hits and a walk and did not allow a run. He struck out six.

Velasquez, who turned 28 in June, apparently did not just put his feet up and wait for baseball to return during the shutdown.

He spent time adding a cutter and improving his changeup. He used both pitches effectively in Tuesday night’s outing. He still has that power fastball and a breaking ball. A deeper, more consistent mix might allow him to finally unlock the tantalizing potential he has shown since arriving in the organization as part of general manager Matt Klentak’s first big trade in December 2015.

“I thought his cutter was good,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s been a good pitch for him. It’s allowed him to use both sides of the plate.”

Velasquez has had two strong outings in intrasquad action over the last week. He is battling Nick Pivetta for the final spot in the rotation. The runner-up in the competition will start the season in the bullpen.

After Tuesday night’s intrasquad game, Girardi was asked if Velasquez has moved into the lead in No. 5 starter’s derby.

“He’s looked really good his last two outings,” Girardi said. “I don’t think you can ignore what he’s doing.”

Velasquez went 7-8 with a 4.90 ERA in 33 games, 23 of which were starts, last season. Inconsistency and the inability to get into the middle innings with a reasonable pitch count led a move to the bullpen. Eventually, a need arose in the rotation and Velasquez found himself back there. That’s where he wants to stay, but time may be running out. The Phils have Spencer Howard on the way and in a short, 60-game season can’t afford to give Velasquez a long leash if he continues to be inconsistent.

It’s time to cash in on that potential.

A change in pitching coach might help Velasquez. Bryan Price believes in moving the ball up and down in the strike zone. The previous regime, trying to capitalize on Velasquez’ power, stressed pitching up in the zone.

Last week, catcher J.T. Realmuto spoke optimistically about Velasquez. Realmuto sensed that Velasquez was doing more “pitching” than “throwing.”

There is a difference.

“He worked on a new pitch during the quarantine, mixing in a cutter now, and he's using his changeup a lot more than he has in the past, so just the pitchability from him,” Realmuto said. “I was talking with Bryan Price about it. We're not going to be so one-dimensional with him. We're going to move the ball around the plate, pitch up and down, mix the changeup in, mix that cutter in. He's always had that curveball. He’s looked really good. I expect big things from him.”

We’ve heard that before about Velasquez. The clock is ticking. Maybe this is the year something clicks. The Phillies certainly won’t complain if it is.

While Velasquez is trying to win a spot in the rotation, Zack Wheeler’s spot is safe. He faced 19 hitters and did not allow a run in the intrasquad game. He is in line to start the second game of the season — family life permitting. Wheeler is due to become a dad in the next couple of weeks and that real-life event will sideline him for at least a start, maybe two. This is why guys like Velasquez, Pivetta, Cole Irvin and others are having their innings stretched out. There may be starter's innings available even after the fifth starter’s job is settled.

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