Phillies

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even though the Grapefruit League schedule starts on Friday and opening day is less than six weeks away, the Phillies are still hungry to improve their pitching.

In an interview with John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia on Tuesday, Phillies owner John Middleton said the team was “very” active in pursuing potential upgrades. Middleton went on to say that he would “love” to do something on that front.

Middleton made the comments as a number of attractive free-agent pitchers, including Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, remain unsigned.

“We’re having talks every single day with different people,” Middleton said. 

Middleton gets updates on those talks regularly from general manager Matt Klentak.

“Matt kind of now knows me, when we walk in the office and see each other for the first time he basically says [since] the last time I talked to you, John, at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon nothing happened or this has happened,” Middleton said with a laugh. “Then I’ll see him at lunch time and still nothing has happened or this has happened. We have a lot of conversations about that.”

Middleton is eager to win, but he remains committed to seeing the rebuild through. Klentak has often said he won’t make a shortsighted move that would jeopardize the future. He has said his goal is to play in October for a decade, not just one year. That’s Middleton’s goal, too.

If the Phillies were to make an upgrade on the pitching side in the coming days or weeks, it would have to be on their terms. They have been in continuous contact with Arrieta’s representatives all winter, but won’t go to five or more years to sign the right-hander who turns 32 in March. If Arrieta were willing to sign a deal in the two- to four-year range, the Phillies would definitely have interest (more on all that here).

Stay tuned on that one. Camps are open. Free agents Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez have signed in recent days. Like Arrieta, they are represented by Scott Boras. The pitching logjam looks ready to break and could have an impact in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are methodically striving to become playoff relevant again.

“We wouldn’t be out talking to people the way we are if we didn’t think that we could get that little extra push,” Middleton said. “I think we all feel this way. [It] just has to be done in an intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable way.

“But, yeah, I’d love to do something."

Forget Machado (for now), Phils reportedly eyeing HOF third baseman

usa-adrian-beltre.jpg
USA Today Images

Forget Machado (for now), Phils reportedly eyeing HOF third baseman

Forget Manny Machado (for now). The Phillies are reportedly also interested in an older third baseman who can still hit but would come much cheaper.

That would be Rangers 3B and future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Beltre, according to MLB's Jon Paul Morosi

"The Phillies also have interest in Beltre, sources say, as much for his professionalism as his production," Morosi wrote. "The Phils have the youngest group of position players in the Majors, and team officials see long-term value in Beltre's influence on an emerging core."

Beltre turned 39 in April and has been on the DL four times in the last two seasons, including twice this season with hamstring strains. Still, he's remained one of the better all-around third basemen in the majors, hitting .304 with an .877 OPS the last three seasons. He'd be an unquestioned upgrade at third over Maikel Franco, who has talked over the years about how much he admires Beltre's game.

Beltre is in the final year of his contract and is owed $18 million. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and Beltre would need to waive it to potentially join the Phils. The Phillies are a fringe contender but the Rangers are already out of it at 32-44 and 18 games back in the AL West.

This week, Phillies GM Matt Klentak said he is not opposed to trading for a rental player so long as the Phillies hang around the playoff picture in the next month. Royals 3B Mike Moustakas is another player to monitor in that regard.

Of course, this doesn't mean the Phillies are out on Machado but trading for him midseason would be much more complicated and there's little chance he'd re-sign before first testing the free-agent market.

If the Phillies do trade for him, they just have to make sure everyone in the clubhouse knows the rules about touching his head.

More on the Phillies

Time for Phillies to worry more about Braves than Nationals

us_nl_east.jpg
USA Today Images

Time for Phillies to worry more about Braves than Nationals

All season, the expectation has been that the Nationals would eventually overtake the Braves for the NL East lead. Yet here we are 45 percent of the way in and the Braves are still picking up clutch hits, getting outs in the eighth and ninth innings and maintaining a 3½-game division lead. They've been eight or more games over .500 every day since May 12.

The Braves have outscored their opponents by 73 runs — 28 more than the Nationals and 65 more than the Phillies.

As for the Phils, it's a longshot but not infeasible to still be in contention three months from now. They'd first need to continue to hold their own during this rough portion of the schedule and then take advantage of the 12-game run to the All-Star break vs. the Marlins, Mets, Orioles and Pirates (lost 20 of 30).

The most realistic playoff path for the Phillies is the second wild card, but both the Braves and Nats will be worth focusing on because they'll be in both races. And the Braves, because of how they've played in the first half and when they play the Phillies in the second, are a more dangerous team than anticipated.

Clutch hitting

The Braves have been remarkably clutch all season. They've hit an NL-best .286 with runners in scoring position with an .880 OPS that is 38 points higher than any team in baseball.

"Clutch" is not regarded as a projectable skill or trait from year to year, but we've seen plenty of teams stay hot in key situations for an entire season. In the last five years, there have been six teams that performed just as good or better with RISP than the 2018 Braves over a full season.

The Nationals' offense has been average. It should get better as recently-activated Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton get some games under their belts, but with Bryce Harper not having nearly the season he had a year ago and 2017 surprise Ryan Zimmerman spending most of this season on the DL, it's just not the same team. 

Harper is still walking and hitting for power, but he's batting .209 a year after batting .319 and his OPS has dropped by 198 points.

Crooked numbers

Ready for a stat that sticks out as the difference between the Phils and Braves?

The Phillies this season have scored three runs or more in an inning 35 times. That represents about 5 percent of their innings.

The Braves have scored three runs or more in an inning 74 times, which represents 12 percent of their innings.

The Phils have had trouble all year stringing hits together and capitalizing on big opportunities. They stranded the bases loaded with one out twice in the Cardinals series, once with Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera, once with Scott Kingery and Nick Williams. The first missed opportunity prevented the Phils from breaking open a two-run lead in a game they wound up losing, the second kept the game tied.

Starting pitching

The Nationals have the best starting pitcher in baseball in Max Scherzer, but with Stephen Strasburg injured they no longer have a big rotation advantage on the rest of the division. Strasburg was placed on the DL on June 10 with right shoulder inflammation and hasn't yet resumed throwing.

The best active 1-2 punch in the division is either Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez or Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.

The Braves' rotation, though, has been surprisingly good this season, mostly because of Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb. 

Foltynewicz also hit the DL last week but could return as soon as Sunday. A hard thrower whose command has now matched his stuff, Foltynewicz has a 2.16 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 79 innings and has been the breakout pitcher in the National League in 2018.

The lefty Newcomb, a 2014 first-round pick acquired in the Andrelton Simmons trade, is 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA and .204 opponents' batting average.

On pace ...

The over/under win totals set in Vegas before the season had the Braves at 74.5 wins, the Phillies at 75.5 and the Nationals at 92.5.

As of Thursday, the Braves are on pace to finish 95-67. 

The Phillies and Nationals are each on pace to go 89-73.

Since MLB instituted the two-wild-card format, no NL team has made the playoffs with fewer than 87 wins.

The season series

The Phillies face the Nationals in D.C. this weekend and will miss Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez. That's huge, especially with another four-game series the following weekend.

The Phillies have faced the Nationals just three times all season so 16 games remain. After the two upcoming series, the Phils draw the Nationals for two series in August and one in September.

As for the Braves, the Phillies won't get a chance to improve upon their 5-7 head-to-head record until the end of September. The teams meet for a four-game series Sept. 20-23 in Atlanta and then again the final series of the season Sept. 28-30 at Citizens Bank Park. Seven of the final 11 games are the Phillies vs. Braves.

Something that makes you go hmmm ...

Over the last 30 days, the Phillies have hit .225/.305/.375 and have a 4.68 ERA.

The Mets over that span have hit .221/.301/.375 with a 4.42 ERA.

Yet the Phillies went 12-15 and the Mets were 5½ games worse at 7-21.

More on the Phillies