Phillies

Top 5 relievers left after Phillies miss out on Dellin Betances

Top 5 relievers left after Phillies miss out on Dellin Betances

Free agency is typically quiet during the period between Christmas Eve and New Year's but that wasn't the case this year, with the Mets signing Dellin Betances on Tuesday and the White Sox adding 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion on Wednesday.

The Betances move is the one that affects the Phillies. They, too, were interested in the elite reliever who missed almost all of 2019. Betances was out more than five months with a shoulder impingement, debuted on Sept. 15 and partially tore his Achilles' tendon. It did not require surgery, and there is some belief that Betances could be ready by spring training.

The structure of Betances' contract is complicated. He reportedly makes $7.5 million in 2020 with a player option worth $6 million in 2021. If Betances declines the option, the Mets will pay him a $3 million buyout instead. Thus, the total guarantee for Betances is $10.5 million for one year. If he exercises the player option, it probably means he was unhealthy in 2019. The player option is basically a safety valve for Betances that won't benefit the Mets.

It's easy to see why Betances wanted a deal like this. The $10.5 AAV is high, he gets protection from injury/underperformance, and he gets to test the market again next winter if he pitches well. 

The Phillies need relief help — they need it more than they are letting on publicly — but Betances was an imperfect fit for several reasons outlined here. The main reason is that injuries to veteran relievers with long track records have crippled the Phils in recent years. The two-year deals for David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek (totaling nearly $58 million) all worked out poorly. The Phillies simply couldn't do another eight-figure salary for someone who may be unable to contribute.

That doesn't mean you never sign another veteran reliever again. It just means it has to be the right guy, and it can't be at a prohibitive price. The Mets are basically paying for Betances' rehab and what they hope is a bounce-back year. It could very well play out that Betances isn't all the way back to his previous form until 2021, when he may not be a Met. He did miss an entire year.

If Betances does revert to his prior form, don't sleep on the Mets. Edwin Diaz, whose stuff was no worse during a struggle-filled 2019, could easily be himself again in 2020. If the Mets have the right versions of Betances and Diaz, their weakest area will turn into a strength and maybe they'll even win some of Jacob deGrom's starts!

With Betances off the board, the top five available free-agent relievers are:

RHP Daniel Hudson (33)
RHP Will Harris (35)
RHP Yoshihisa Hirano (36)
RHP Craig Stammen (36)
LHP Francisco Liriano (36)

Hudson, 33, was instrumental in the Nationals' World Series victory. He posted a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings down the stretch after being acquired at the deadline from Toronto, then made five straight scoreless appearances in the wild-card game, NLDS and NLCS.

Harris has been quietly excellent for the Astros for five straight years, making one All-Star appearance and pitching to a 2.36 ERA over 297 innings.

Hirano was bad in 2019 for the D-backs (4.75 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) but was great in 2018 (2.44 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Relievers are volatile. You may sign a guy like this to a low-cost one-year deal and get nothing, or you might get a very strong year.

Stammen has been a reliable setup man in San Diego for the last three years. He's pitched at least 79 innings all three seasons and has a 3.06 ERA with a strikeout per inning.

Liriano is a well-traveled starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever. He made 69 appearances with the Pirates last season and had a 3.47 ERA. He's always struggled with control.

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100+ games? Why MLB players would want it, and how it could work

100+ games? Why MLB players would want it, and how it could work

Unsurprisingly, the MLBPA was not interested in the league's first proposal involving a sliding scale of pay, hating it so much that it didn't feel a counter-proposal based on that format was even necessary.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who is on the union's eight-man subcommittee, released this statement Wednesday night.

The players plan to counter with a schedule that includes more than 100 games as opposed to 82. The Athletic reported it could be as many as 110 games.

Why would the players counter with this? Because even without fans in the stands, more games means more money for players and owners via local and national television deals. The players must feel they have a better chance at reaching a compromise with owners for a greater percentage of prorated pay if there are 30 or so additional games.

The next question would be whether a 110-game schedule would even be possible if it begins July 4. And even that July 4 potential start date seems optimistic because it would have to be preceded by 2-3 weeks of spring training and we're already at May 28 with no clear end in sight to these negotiations. Each day without a resolution could push things back.

If the season does begin on July 4, and every team played every day without an off-day, a 110-game regular season would wrap up on Oct. 10. The 14-team playoff format would extend the postseason, which we could see end in mid-to-late November. 

That's without off-days but it's also without doubleheaders, which could cancel out the off-days every few weeks.

The danger of playing too late into the winter, besides the weather, is that it would shorten free agency and the recovery time between 2020 and 2021 for players, especially those in the playoffs. But the free agency thing might not even matter. A shorter free agency could actually be beneficial for baseball without the months of waiting around to see who blinks we've seen in recent years.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post had an interesting idea for a compromise between owners and players:

"Take 60 percent of prorated salaries now across the board in exchange for raising the minimum wage the next two years to $750,000 then $850,000, which helps the bottom end players. Then demand no luxury tax thresholds/penalties for 2021 and 2022. The expectation is that the financial downturn is going to impact those seeking larger contracts, particularly free agents. But if the Dodgers or Yankees or Cubs want to spend, let there at least not be an artificial barrier to doing that."

More about the players' proposal should be known by the end of the week.

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For Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, memories of Roy Halladay's perfecto are fresh and cherished

For Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, memories of Roy Halladay's perfecto are fresh and cherished

Chase Utley can still feel the nerves pulsating through his body like an electrical current.

Cole Hamels can still hit the play button in his mind and recite the conversations he had.

A decade later, their memories of Roy Halladay’s perfect game are still fresh.

“It was the fifth or sixth inning,” Utley recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second, they don’t have any hits.’ That’s when I realized it could possibly happen.”

It did happen.

Ten years ago this week, on May 29, 2010, Roy Halladay went 27-up, 27-down against the Florida Marlins on a steamy night in South Florida. The temptation is to say that the perfect game was Halladay’s grand introduction as a Phillie because, after all, it came in just his 11th start with the club. But, truth be told, the big right-hander had announced his arrival with authority even before that start. He had pitched two shutouts on his way to four complete games in his first 10 starts with the club and his brief but brilliant legend as a Phillie was already growing.

Start No. 11 stood apart from all the rest — at least until Halladay pitched a playoff no-hitter against Cincinnati later that season — because perfection so seldom happens in a sport where failing seven out of 10 times is an enviable reality. Halladay’s perfect game was just the 20th in Major League history at the time and memories of it have become more poignant, more cherished in the 2½ years since his death in a small plane crash in November 2017.

Utley played second base behind Halladay in that tight 1-0 win in Miami. And after he looked up at the scoreboard and realized what was happening — after his OMG moment — his nerves started to crackle. Because though perfect games ultimately go on a pitcher’s record, they are a team accomplishment, as well. One blemish on defense can unravel the whole thing.

“One-hundred percent,” said Utley, describing the flow of anxiety he felt playing defense late in that game. “We had only been around Roy for a few months, but we’d seen what he was all about firsthand. You want a guy like that to succeed. 

“You tried not to put any extra pressure on yourself, but you were definitely more engaged and tuned in. Having no fear is important. I remember thinking I wanted the ball hit to me. I remember anticipating it coming my way and attacking it like I normally would.”

With the exception of catcher Carlos Ruiz, Hamels might have had the best seat in the house for Halladay’s tour de force.

Hamels had pitched two nights earlier in New York. When Halladay took the mound that Saturday night in Miami, Hamels took a seat alongside Jamie Moyer, the next day’s starting pitcher, in a camera well at the home plate end of the visiting dugout.

For two hours and 13 minutes, that camera well became an observation deck as Hamels and Moyer watched and admired Doc Halladay perform surgery. As Halladay started to rack up quick outs, the veteran Moyer, a walking textbook of pitching who had been a mentor to the younger Hamels, got more and more excited about the lesson that was unfolding out on the mound.

“This is why you keep notes,” Moyer told Hamels. “This is why you study hitters. This is why you do it — because you might have the opportunity to do something like this someday. This is the reward you can have.”

Hamels can still hear the conversation.

“That game made me appreciate what Jamie had been telling me for a few years, that you really had to have a game plan, about executing that game plan and making sure you’re focused and never get off it,” Hamels said. “For years he’d been telling me to develop that notebook and keep track of all that information.”

Halladay needed just 115 pitches to finish his clinic against the Marlins. He struck out 11.

It takes a confluence of positive factors for a pitcher to throw a perfect game. Obviously, the maestro needs to be on top of his game. The defense needs to hit all the right notes. And it sure helps if the umpire has a wide strike zone.

Mike DiMuro was the home plate umpire that night in Miami. He had the kind of strike zone that perfect games dream of. Marlins leadoff man Chris Coghlan, rung up on a 3-2 pitch to open the bottom of the first inning, testified to that during his time as a player in Phillies camp in February 2017.

“Big strike zone that night,” Coghlan told us nearly seven years after Halladay’s perfecto. “Go back and look at it. I was leading off, 3-2, ball off the plate, strike three. I still get chapped about it. Go look at it. It could have been totally different.”

As our conversation with Coghlan went on, it became clear that he really wasn’t angry about the strike zone that night. It was more the competitor in him talking.

If anyone would understand that, it would have been Halladay, a competitor’s competitor.

“Oh, everybody loves [a perfect game] except for the guys it’s happening against,” Coghlan said. “I had some buddies at the game and afterward they were like, ‘Bro, that was awesome. I can’t believe I saw that. I’m saving this ticket.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re in the family room, bro, and you’re ticking me off. We just got embarrassed. You can find your own ride home. I’m not giving you a ride.’ 

“I joke about the zone that night. But I would never diminish anything that man did. To pitch a perfect game, everything has to go perfect and it did for him that night. He was a legend.”

The defense came through for Halladay late in the game that night 10 years ago. Juan Castro made two standout plays at third base, one in which he went to his left, spun and fired to first to end the game. Castro, usually a reserve, was at third that night because Greg Dobbs made a couple of errors in Halladay’s previous start, a loss against Boston. Manager Charlie Manuel opted for a glove at third in Halladay’s next start and the move proved huge.

That final out is Utley’s most vivid memory from the night.

“Juan made a great play, spun around — out recorded,” Utley said. “The excitement we as teammates had for what Roy had accomplished was incredible. He had his game face on all night. After a lot of stare downs, it was good to see that great big smile after the last out.

“We had a small part in it, but he’s the guy who got it done. I remember the way he credited Chooch after the game. Roy was such a great teammate, always deflecting attention from himself. They don’t make ‘em like that very often.”

A couple of months after his perfect game, Halladay recognized the team nature of his accomplishment by presenting all of his teammates and Phillies support staff with Swiss wristwatches — 67 of them in all — inscribed with the words “We did it together. Thanks – Roy Halladay.” The watches cost about $2,800 apiece. Utley cherishes the memento and says he will keep it forever even if he doesn’t wear it often.

“I don’t want to muck it up,” he joked.

Memories of the heart can’t be mucked up.

And that night in Miami a decade ago will always hold a special place in a lot of hearts.

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