Phillies

Rule change might affect Phillies' ability to trade, but other rule could help

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Rule change might affect Phillies' ability to trade, but other rule could help

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies could be buyers at the trade deadline this summer in a more impactful way than they were last year, when they added Wilson Ramos, Justin Bour, Jose Bautista, Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Avilan.

The difference this summer is that, according to The Athletic, teams won't be able to trade in August as they have for decades.

The change to one hard trade deadline of July 31 will go into effect this season, per Ken Rosenthal.

In past seasons, teams could still wheel and deal in the month of August using the waiver process. A team would place a player on trade waivers and if he passed through unclaimed, his team was free to trade him anywhere. If the player was claimed, his team had a window to swing a deal with the claiming team.

No more, it appears.

The Phillies have made trades in August frequently over the last two decades. Jamie Moyer was an August acquisition in 2006. So were Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre in 2008. They acquired Mike Sweeney in August 2010. They traded away Chase Utley in August 2015 and Carlos Ruiz in August 2016.

Last year, the Phillies acquired Bour, Bautista and Avilan in August in an effort to fill a few holes and try to stay in the race.

There have been some high-profile trades around the league in August. Justin Verlander was dealt from the Tigers to the Astros in August 2017 and helped swing that year's World Series. 

Last August, Andrew McCutchen, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Madson, David Freese, Curtis Granderson, Mike Fiers and Josh Donaldson were traded — players ranging from useful to good.

The new rule is designed to keep more teams competitive over the season's final two months rather than dumping the salaries of solid veterans. You can see the logic in it, though it could make things difficult for a team that suffers a bad injury on, say, Aug. 3 and no longer has the recourse to fill that hole externally.

More on the four-man outfield

There is no rule currently on the table to prevent teams from shifting their defenses any way they want, but it would not be surprising if a rule is instituted within the next two years.

We could see an increase or even an explosion of four-man outfields this season. The Blue Jays experimented with it this past weekend against Bryce Harper. It was the first time he ever faced that alignment and he hopes to not see it again.

Interestingly, though, Rhys Hoskins may be an even more logical candidate than Harper for the four-outfielder treatment. 

According to Sports Info Solutions, Hoskins had the sixth-lowest rate in all of baseball last season of hitting a ground ball or short line drive to the non-pull side. Hoskins was also in the top 10 in batted balls of at least 250 feet in the air. 

Both of those metrics make Hoskins one of the prototypical players to use this defensive alignment against. The biggest candidate in the league, according to this data, is St. Louis' Matt Carpenter.

It doesn't feel like baseball, the four-outfielder alignment. But most teams these days seek every competitive advantage they can find and this sure looks like one.

If this experiment becomes more commonplace during the season and hitters cannot adjust, the result would likely be even less offense, even fewer balls in play that turn into hits. Which isn't good for a game that has seen strikeouts skyrocket and hits decline.

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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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