Phillies agree to multi-year deal with Jake Arrieta

Phillies agree to multi-year deal with Jake Arrieta

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Phillies have their pitcher.

And he’s one of the best in the business.

Ramp-up the rebuild. Raise the expectations. Jake Arrieta is coming to Philadelphia.

The Phillies on Sunday reached an agreement in principle with the free-agent right-hander, according to multiple baseball sources. The multi-year deal is contingent on the pitcher passing a physical exam this week.

The Phillies have not confirmed the deal. USA Today reported that it would be a three-year deal worth $75 million. Arrieta will become the Phillies’ second big free-agent signing this winter. They signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million in December.

The Phillies forfeited a draft pick (second-round) to sign Santana. They will lose their third-round pick for signing Arrieta. The Phillies have been very protective of their draft picks during their rebuild. Signing Arrieta is an indication that club officials believe the rebuild is nearing an end and contention is close.

Arrieta, 32, was the National League Cy Young Award winner in 2015 while winning 22 games and posting a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He won 16 games the following year to help the Cubs win the World Series. He went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 30 starts for the Cubs in 2017. He has averaged 30 starts the last four seasons but suffered a much talked-about dip in fastball velocity the last two.

Arrieta will lead a Phillies staff that includes Aaron Nola, who has already been named Phillies’ opening day starter. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are also expected to be in the starting five. Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Mark Leiter and Ben Lively are also in the mix for a spot.

Arrieta and Yu Darvish were the two big pitching prizes on this year’s free-agent market. Ironically, the Cubs pursued and signed Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal, while Arrieta walked.

Heading into the offseason, the Phillies were very clear in their desire to add starting pitching. However, club officials distanced themselves from Arrieta and Darvish because of the length of deals the pitchers were seeking. Phillies officials are wary of lengthy deals for pitchers over 30.

Arrieta hit the market in November reportedly seeking a deal that would push seven years and $180 to $200 million. The Phillies weren’t about to play in that realm, but they made it clear to Arrieta’s representatives that they’d be open to something in the three-year range. Months later, with spring training well underway, Arrieta’s market came down to that term and now the Phillies got their man.

Similarly, the Phils played the same waiting game with Santana and got him on a three-year deal. New manager Gabe Kapler has made “Be Bold” his motto for the 2018 season. General manager Matt Klentak’s patience, and ownership’s deep pockets, resulted in the unions with Santana and Arrieta and that will make it a lot easier to be bold.

Neither of these deals are cheap. The Phillies have long made it clear that length of contract is more of a concern with them than money. So, in the final tally, they spent $169 million this winter on Arrieta, Santana and relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, all free agents.

Will these signings lead the Phillies back to October baseball for the first time since 2011?

Opening day is 18 days away. Answers will soon begin to unfold.

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Despite having just 12 plate appearances coming into Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Baltimore Orioles, Odubel Herrera sure looked locked-in.

He singled, doubled and homered on his way to a four-RBI day in the Phillies’ 11-4 win.

Opening day is Thursday.

“I’m ready,” Herrera said. “I want to start the year hot. I want to get going quickly. It’s important to the team and it’s important to me.”

Herrera missed significant time early in camp, first with a hamstring injury then a flu bug that visited a number of players this spring.

Herrera offered up Sunday’s performance at the plate as proof that he didn’t just sit around the athletic trainer’s room for three weeks before playing in his first Grapefruit League game March 16.

He worked in the batting cage, seeing pitches and fine-tuning his swing.

He worked in the weight room.

He also did some between-the-ears work.

While his mates were on the field, he spent some time in the video room with Geoff Miller, the team’s mental skills coach.

“We did exercises where I could visualize the game and kind of not lose time, as if I was still playing,” Herrera said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator.

According to Herrera, Miller cued up videos of some of Herrera’s stellar performances last season.

“Maybe we’d watch a really good at-bat that I had in a game,” Herrera said. “He’d ask me to go through the at-bat. ‘What were you thinking in the at-bat? What was your approach? Try to visualize yourself in that moment again. How can you repeat what you did there because you were successful?’ Little tactics to build confidence.”

Herrera, 27, is one of the Phillies’ most talented players. He made the NL All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year. In addition to being talented, however, Herrera is also inconsistent. Last season was a case in point. He hit .361 with a .989 OPS in his first 40 games. Over the final two months of the season, he hit just .189 with a .530 OPS and lost playing time to Roman Quinn.

Herrera’s poor finish last season earned him a mandate from general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler: Get into better physical shape. Herrera reported to camp down 20 pounds in February. The bosses also wanted to see Herrera become more focused mentally. Herrera said he’s embracing the mental side of the game more now.

“I feel like I need to take advantage of everything that can help me or the team,” he said.

Kapler has seen improved focus in Herrera’s behind-the-scenes work this spring — and on the field Sunday.

“It’s really interesting how his performance coincides with his engagement so strongly,” Kapler said. “When he’s locked in from every angle, he just plays great baseball. He looks like one of the best players on the field all the time and I think that’s what is happening right now for him.

“We want to maintain this level of focus. It’s wonderful to do it in spring training. Our expectation is that he continues to maintain that focus and concentration and that high level of play throughout the season.”

If Herrera needs a reason to be motivated to maintain his sharp mental focus, there is one getting at-bats at the minor-league complex. Quinn will open the season on the disabled list, but he won’t be out long. There is no landing spot in left or right field for Herrera. Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper are going to play. If Herrera wants to stay in the lineup, he has to lock down the center field job with more performances like Sunday’s.

We’ll begin finding out if he can do that Thursday.

“I feel like this will be a really good year for me and the Phillies and hopefully we can make something special happen,” Herrera said.

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Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even after backing off a tentative plan of playing Rhys Hoskins on Sunday, the Phillies remain optimistic that he will be ready to play in Thursday’s season opener.

“The game plan is for him to play [Monday] and be ready for opening day,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We feel confident in that.”

Hoskins, the team’s first baseman and cleanup hitter, has not played since last Sunday when he hurt his left shoulder taking an awkward swing. An MRI showed no structural damage and Hoskins has continued to do drills. The Phils had hoped to play Hoskins on Sunday, but he was held out of the game against Baltimore. He was able to take batting practice.

“There’s been steady improvement but there’s still a little bit of soreness,” Kapler said. “Rhys is very important to us and our season and we’re always going to lean toward the side of caution, expecially this close to opening day. We wanted to give him some extra time to improve.”

Hoskins said much of the same: There’s still a little soreness, he’s improving and he’ll be ready for opening day. He said he was confident that he would play in the team’s final Grapefruit League game on Monday afternoon against Tampa Bay in Clearwater.

The Phillies’ lineup Sunday reflected some concern for Hoskins. Maikel Franco moved over from third base and started at first for the second time in three games. He is essentially the team’s backup first baseman. Scott Kingery started at third base. If Hoskins were to miss any time, this would be how the Phillies would cover him. At the moment, however, the team is confident that Hoskins will not miss any time.

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