Phillies

Phillies rumors: Stars aside, Phils should consider trading for Ben Zobrist

Phillies rumors: Stars aside, Phils should consider trading for Ben Zobrist

When Josh Harrison signed a four-year extension with the Pirates in 2015 worth more than $27 million, he probably didn't expect his next contract to be smaller.

Welcome to free agency in 2019.

That four-year extension bought out all three of Harrison's arbitration years and the first year he would have been eligible for free agency. In 2018, he was the Pirates' second-highest-paid player, earning $10.25 million. (Francisco Cervelli made $10.5M.)

The Pirates held options on Harrison for 2019 and 2020 but declined them, making him a free agent. So at age 31, coming off his least healthy and least productive season since 2013, Harrison is trying to find a new home.

The Phillies, along with at least three other teams, have reportedly expressed interest in Harrison. Why not? He will almost certainly fail to find a contract of more than two years, and given the recent contracts we've seen, it looks like his annual salary will be relatively low.

Something like two years, $10 million could get Harrison signed. Keep in mind that Andrew McCutchen is still the only position player this offseason to switch teams and receive a contract of more than two years.

D.J. LeMahieu signed a two-year, $24 million deal with the Yankees. Daniel Murphy got the same deal from the Rockies. Wilson Ramos got $19M over two years from the Mets. All three are more impactful players than Harrison and all are coming off better seasons.

Harrison's deal should be closer to what Ian Kinsler (two years, $8 million) received from the Padres. While Kinsler is five years older than Harrison, he's been the superior offensive player the last three years.

Harrison's big year was 2014, when he made the All-Star team, hit .315/.347/.490, played five different positions and signed an extension after the season. In the four seasons since, he's hit .274/.319/.396 for an OPS eight percent below the league average.

But Harrison would provide value for a team on the brink of contention. If the Phillies sign him, they wouldn't be utilizing him as the Pirates did. They wouldn't be batting him toward the top of the order and allocating 500 plate appearances to him. 

Instead, Harrison would serve as a solid bench piece, a super-sub capable of playing second base, third base, left field, right field and maybe shortstop in a pinch. Harrison is a solid defender at second, third and the outfield corners. He won't wow you day by day but he also won't hurt you. For reference, Harrison has saved 35 more defensive runs at second base than Cesar Hernandez since 2013, according to Fangraphs data.

Looking at the Phillies' current roster, Harrison (or anyone else the Phillies sign as bench depth) would take the 25-man roster spot of Aaron Altherr. That would be an upgrade. If the Phillies do eventually sign Manny Machado, the corresponding move would likely be a trade of Maikel Franco.

The Phillies already have a utilityman in Scott Kingery, who in 2018 played 18 innings in right field, 30 in left field, 23 at second base, 76 at third base and 887 at second base. Adding another player who can play all over the diamond would allow Kingery to focus mostly on playing up the middle, which could benefit him. 

Offensively, Harrison is a mixed bag. A team can feel good that he'll hit between .275 and .290. His career batting average is .277, and he hit .290 in the four seasons leading up to an unhealthy 2018.

Harrison does not walk or see many pitches, though. He's walked just 120 times in 3,012 career plate appearances. Put another way, Harrison has walked 10 more times in his career than Carlos Santana did last season.

Go for Zobrist

The more difference-making utilityman, from an offensive standpoint, would be Ben Zobrist, who the Cubs are reportedly considering trading and couldn't expect a ton in return for. Zobrist, a switch-hitter, is entering the final year of his contract. He'll make $12 million in 2019.

Turning 38 on May 26, Zobrist is no spring chicken. But he has remained a solid offensive threat into his late-30s and can do so many things for a team ready to win. 

The left side of the diamond is probably off limits for Zobrist at this point in all but the most extreme of circumstances. He hasn't played third base since 2015 and has played just 13 innings of shortstop since 2014. But Zobrist can play first base, second base and both outfield corners well.

Last season, Zobrist hit .305/.378/.440 for the Cubs. In fact, over the last five seasons, his OPS has been at least 15 percent above the league average each year except 2017.

Zobrist consistently has high-quality plate appearances. He works deep counts, fouls off tough pitches and walks nearly as much as he strikes out. The last four seasons, Zobrist has 267 walks and 269 strikeouts.

He'd be a much more potent offensive threat than Harrison. And Zobrist's penchant for making contact, especially in high-pressure situations, would add a wrinkle to the Phillies' offense. He's a guy you can legitimately bat anywhere from second through sixth and not feel like you've created a hole in the lineup. 

Imagine, for example, a game against a right-handed pitcher in which the Phillies' lineup looks like this:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Jean Segura, SS
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Andrew McCutchen, LF
6. Ben Zobrist, RF
7. Odubel Herrera, CF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Pitcher

That would be a deep lineup with power, on-base skills and six different players capable of hitting .280 or better.

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Joe Girardi impressed with Jean Segura, smitten with Phillies catching prospect Rafael Marchan

Joe Girardi impressed with Jean Segura, smitten with Phillies catching prospect Rafael Marchan

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Six games into the exhibition schedule, Joe Girardi is really liking what he sees of two players.

One might end up being his third baseman this season.

The other will play in the low minors.

Jean Segura played well at third base in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday. He made a nifty backhand stop of a ball off the bat of Nelson Cruz to start a 5-4-3 double play in the first inning. He also had a pair of hits, including a double. He is 4 for 9 with two doubles in the early going.

“Jean had a really good day,” Girardi said. “That (double play) was not an easy play. What I like is it’s smooth, it’s not panicky. Looks like he’s been doing it.”

The Phillies are evaluating Segura’s ability to play third base. They are also taking stock of his comfort level at the position because he has never played there before. If Segura can handle third base, he will open the season there and Scott Kingery will play second base, his best position.

So far this spring, Segura has played three games at third base. If he continues to look good there, would the Phillies even bother to look at him at second, where he does have experience, this spring?

“That’s a conversation we’d have in a week or so,” Girardi said. “We have to continue to see what it looks like. Scott looks good at second. If Jean looks comfortable at third and it seems like Didi and him have a good thing going there, we might just leave him. I don’t know. It’s too early.”

Segura played shortstop for the Phillies last season. He is moving from that position to make room for Didi Gregorius, who signed a one-year, $14 million contract in December.

CATCHING THE BOSS’ EYE

Girardi, who caught for 15 seasons in the big leagues, has become smitten with Rafael Marchan, a catching prospect from Venezuela who turned 21 on Tuesday.

“The kid does a lot of things right,” said Girardi.

Marchan has gotten a chance to play in big-league camp because Andrew Knapp (oblique) and Deivy Grullon (tooth infection) have missed some time.

Phillies officials felt comfortable enough with Marchan’s defense to give him the start with Zach Eflin on the mound Wednesday. Marchan responded with two hits and was praised for his work behind the plate by Eflin. Marchan had one miscue -- he overran a high, spinning pop up -- but Girardi chalked that up to inexperience.

“I told him, ‘You finally made a mistake -- the pop up,’“ Girardi said with a laugh. “He just went after it too quickly.”

Girardi called Marchan “a master” blocker of balls in the dirt earlier this week.

Marchan is a 5-foot-9 switch-hitter. He was a shortstop until he started working out for teams as a catcher in 2015 and the Phillies signed him for $200,000. He has played 136 professional games in Single A the last two seasons and hit .285. He has yet to hit a homer in pro ball, but that doesn’t concern Girardi.

“Here’s my thought,” Girardi said. “He doesn’t have to show power. He just has to hit, be an adequate hitter, or he could become a really good hitter. Take his walks, handle the bat. Defensively, he’s going to save you runs by catching. Those are RBIs for me. He’s going to save you a lot of runs catching.”

Marchan went unselected in the Rule 5 draft in December, not surprising because of his age, experience level and still-developing bat. But if he has a good year in 2020, he might not get through the draft.

Girardi thinks Marchan can develop into a big-leaguer, much like another converted infielder once did with the Phillies.

“I’m not comparing here, but Carlos Ruiz was not a great hitter when he first came up,” Girardi said. “He’s got talent and you hope he figures out the bat part of it because if he does, you have something really special.”

That’s high praise.

HEALTH CHECK

Girardi said Adam Haseley checked out fine in concussion protocol but would not return to action for another day or two. Haseley banged his head on the ground attempting a diving catch on Tuesday.

Outfielder Matt Szczur has yet to play because of a hamstring injury. Reliever Robert Stock has forearm pain and will be examined on Thursday.

UP NEXT

The Phillies play the Red Sox in Fort Myers on Thursday. Nick Pivetta will start.

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Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was just one pitch in the first inning of an exhibition game Wednesday, but it painted a vivid picture of who Zach Eflin was as a pitcher last year and who he wants to be this year.

With a man on first base and one out, Eflin was facing Nelson Cruz. The Minnesota Twins’ designated hitter is one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game, having averaged 34 homers over the last 11 seasons.

The count went full on Cruz and Eflin didn’t hesitate. He went to his best pitch, the sinking fastball. Cruz beat a hard ground ball to third and Jean Segura made a nice backhand play to start a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame.

“I was pretty excited about that,” Eflin said later. “Going back to my sinker. It’s a situation where I need to throw it.”

Eflin was asked what pitch he would have thrown in that situation last season.

“Ah, last year, maybe fastball at the top of the zone,” he said. “Maybe I would have tried to rip a hard cutter or slider. Something like that.”

The sinker has always been Eflin’s bread and butter pitch. But last season, under former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young, he was encouraged to emphasize four-seam, power fastballs at the top of the strike zone. He did have some success with the approach early in the season, but eventually lost his way and his spot in the rotation. After some soul searching and some counsel from teammates such as Jake Arrieta, Eflin decided that if he ever returned to the rotation he would go back to featuring his best pitch, a fastball with movement down in the zone. He returned to the rotation in mid-August, ironically when Arrieta went down with an elbow injury, and pitched well over the final weeks of the season to solidify his place this year's season-opening rotation.

“It’s not easy,” said Eflin, recalling last season’s struggles. “When you’re trying to be someone you’re not, it’s not the best way to go about it.

“At the end of the day, we want to feel as good as we can on the mound and when you’re trying to do something different, you don’t feel good.”

With each passing day, another pitcher seems to step up and offer thoughts about how wonderful life has been under new pitching coach Bryan Price in the first few weeks of camp. Price is open-minded to the new-school ways of pitching, but he’s committed to bringing back some old-school philosophies. He has stressed the down-and-away fastball. He has stressed that pitchers work to their strengths. For Eflin, that means the sinker.

“What everybody is focused on right now is being themselves and realizing what got us to the big leagues and taking advantage of doing what you’re good at, so I think that’s a huge step for everybody,” Eflin said. “I think the underlying factor is just being able to stay to our strengths and really just attacking the hitters, and for us starters to go as deep as we can in a game and really relieve the bullpen as much as we can so they’re fresh come the end of the season and playoffs. Just that being put in our heads as a starting staff is huge.”

Though the sinker is Eflin’s strength, he still has the power on his fastball to pitch occasionally at the top of the zone. In fact, it’s important that he do that occasionally to change a hitter’s eye level and prevent them from sitting on a particular pitch or location. Eflin knows this. He learned a lot about himself and pitching last year. That much was evident in the first inning of his spring debut Wednesday: Sinker, ground ball, double play.

“Outs are really precious in this game regardless of how hard they hit it, so just to be able to do that is good,” he said.

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