Phillies

Phillies' victory over Marlins the ultimate 'team win'

Phillies' victory over Marlins the ultimate 'team win'

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"There's no 'I' in 'team."

It’s a strong contender for biggest cliché in sports. It’s also what Vince Velasquez had to say after going just two innings in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday (see first take), and it’s not the worst way to sum up a night when the Phillies made the most of their expanded roster and secured a series victory for the first time since Aug. 2-5.

After another short start from Velasquez, seven relievers combined to throw shutout seven innings for the Phillies. Justin Bour laced a key two-out, two-RBI single as a pinch hitter for Velasquez. Cesar Hernandez hit a decisive three-run homer in the fifth inning. Just about everyone on the roster made sort of contribution. 

With the Phillies on the outer periphery of playoff contention, 6½ games back of the Braves in the NL East and five games behind the Dodgers for the second NL Wild Card spot, manager Gabe Kapler is still trying to squeeze every last win out of his team.

“Certainly [the bullpen] was the story of the game for us, putting up zeroes for us, each one of them looking out for each other,” Kapler said. “It was a team win. Everybody contributed. I think it's kind of interesting how we've gotten contributions from everywhere on the roster. It feels to me like we have the opportunity to use everyone on the roster every night. ... We're really playing team baseball the last couple of days, and it's interesting how the roster is making that possible."

That’s the plus side of these sort of team wins — just about every face in the clubhouse gets to chip in. But it might be a stretch to say everyone goes home happy. You can’t imagine Scott Kingery felt great about being pinch hit for with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning, with Marlins righty Brett Graves on the mound. While Kingery said he understood the decision to go with Asdrubal Cabrera and knew he might be replaced once lefty spot starter Jarlin Garcia left the game, it seems unlikely that starting a game and not getting an at-bat did anything positive for his confidence.

“Obviously I think every guy in the lineup wants to be the guy to get the big hit,” Kingery said, “but in that situation, we had a chance to get a big hit with a lefty and got a better chance there.”

Kapler said the move had everything to do with trying to win in the present and nothing to do with his view of Kingery as a key part of the team’s future.

"The most important message there is while that's happening right now, it's no indication that you're not going to be the guy pinch hitting down the road,” Kapler said. “It's no indication you're not going to have 700 plate appearances where you don't come out of the lineup. That's who I think Scott Kingery is. It's just that in this moment, we have a veteran, proven, left-handed bat that we pre-planned might come up in a situation like that. 

"None of these things are going to catch our players by surprise. Do they sting a little bit at times? Probably. Is it an ego blow? Absolutely. But at this time of the year with the weapons we have, in order to use them effectively, somebody is going to get their feelings hurt once in a while."

Velasquez’s feelings weren’t hurt about being pulled after just 46 pitches, in large part because Bour picked him up with a clutch hit. Still, Saturday night was the seventh straight start in which he failed to pitch more than five innings. He hasn’t thrown more than 84 pitches in any of those outings — with an oversized bullpen to call on, Kapler hasn’t given Velasquez much leash.

“He knows if you have your good stuff and he knows if you don’t,” Velasquez said. “My job is to put zeros on the board. … If you kind of are slipping a little bit, he’s going to end up taking you out and do what’s best for the team. In this situation, down four runs, bases loaded, he’s going to make some moves. 

"So again, I need to learn how to prepare myself for those situations, knowing that it is going to happen and it has happened before, and I tip my cap off to Bour for scoring those two runs. This is not about me. I should have done a better job, yes. But this is also a team. There’s no ‘I’ in team. The fact that we came out and we won as a team, that’s all that matters.”

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Aaron Nola expects to go to court with Phillies over 2019 salary

Aaron Nola expects to go to court with Phillies over 2019 salary

Aaron Nola has a date on Valentine’s Day, but there will be no wine, no dinner, no chocolate.

Nola on Monday night revealed that his salary arbitration showdown with the Phillies is scheduled for Feb. 14. A three-person panel will decide his 2019 salary during a hearing in St. Petersburg, Florida, that day. The Phillies will hold their first workout for pitchers and catchers the day before in nearby Clearwater.

“This is baseball, the business part of the game,” Nola said before accepting the Professional Athlete of the Year award at the 115th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association dinner. “No hard feelings between us. Whatever happens happens. We’re just going to go through it.”

Arbitration hearings can often be unpleasant experiences, turning teams and players into adversaries. Some players choose to accompany their agents into the hearings. Some don’t.

Nola said he was planning to attend.

“I actually haven’t talked to anybody that has gone through it, but, yeah, I think I’ll be going in and sitting down,” Nola said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s all about.”

Nola, 25, had a brilliant season for the Phillies in 2018. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in innings (212 1/3) and WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He was clearly one of the best pitchers in baseball and wants to be compensated as such in 2019.

After failing to agree on a one-year contract earlier this month, Nola and the team exchanged potential salary figures. The Phillies filed at $4.5 million while Nola came in at $6.75 million. Though an agreement can still be struck between the two sides, Nola said he expects that the matter will be resolved in a hearing. During the hearing, the arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides and pick one salary figure or the other. There is no middle ground.

Nola made $573,000 in 2018. His salary request is not far off the $7.25 million that Dallas Keuchel got from Houston as a first-time arbitration player in 2016. Keuchel won the American League Cy Young Award the year before.

Nola acknowledged that his side was using Keuchel as a comparable.

“I don’t think there’s much of a secret anymore,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in arbitration.”

Manager Gabe Kapler said he did not believe a hearing would cause any bad feelings between his ace and the ballclub.

“I think there’s some personality components to that,” Kapler said. “Like for Aaron, no. Because he’s stoic, right? I don’t see him getting too high or too low. I think there are players outside of our organization who get their feelings hurt in this process. I don’t see Aaron as the type of guy that would get his feelings hurt in an arbitration process. That’s my take on it.”

Though Nola said he was unaware of anything that might be in the works, it’s not out of the question that he and the Phillies could explore a long-term extension. Nola is the type of young talent the Phillies would like to lock up. General manager Matt Klentak has been asked about the possibility of a long-term deal for Nola and, as a matter of policy, has steadfastly refused comment on the matter.

“If they ever came up and said anything (about a long-term extension), I’d have to think about it,” Nola said.

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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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