Phillies

Who would've guessed Erik Kratz would be October's best ex-Phillie?

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Who would've guessed Erik Kratz would be October's best ex-Phillie?

Baseball has a way of turning the most anonymous player into a star in October.

On Sept. 3, the Cubs were five games ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central. Cole Hamels took the mound that night in Milwaukee and pitched well, allowing two runs in six innings to lower his ERA to an even 1.00 in seven starts with the Cubs.

At that time, who would have ever guessed that a month later, Erik Kratz would be the former Phillie making the biggest playoff impact?

Kratz, the journeyman catcher who spent 2011 through 2013 in the Phils' system and came back for a second stint in 2015, was key for the Brewers in their NLDS sweep over the Rockies. He went 5 for 8, breaking open Game 2 with a two-run single in the eighth inning and going 3 for 4 in the Game 3 clincher. 

He also caught two shutouts.

At 38, Kratz became the oldest position player to make his postseason debut since 1905. He had three more hits in the NLDS than he had in the majors in all of 2017. 

"If you told me 16 years ago that I'd be here today I wouldn't have changed the path that I took," Kratz told MLB.com after Game 3. "I never gave up. I've been blessed every day to be in this situation."

Kratz's story is one of perseverance. He was a 29th-round pick. He didn't make his MLB debut until the age of 30. He has never had a multi-year contract. 

And yet here he is, playing an integral role for a Brewers team that is hotter than any in baseball. 

Kratz has always been an extremely likable guy. And although he's just a .211 lifetime hitter with a .258 OBP, he does have 30 home runs and 32 doubles in 868 plate appearances. There aren't many above-average offensive catchers in starting roles, let alone backup roles. Out of a backup catcher, most teams typically seek power and defense. 

Kratz has both. He's also regarded as a very good pitch-framer, something this current Phillies regime is obsessed with.

In a Chase Utley-less postseason devoid of rooting interests for Phillies fans, Kratz is definitely a guy to cheer for.

#TurkeyBacon


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The 12 best free-agent hitters after Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

The 12 best free-agent hitters after Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

You know who the top two free-agent position players will be this offseason: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado.

What about the rest of the class? Let's take a look at the dozen next-best bats out there after those two. 

Catchers — Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal

It's these two and little else behind the plate. Grandal seems likely to re-sign with the Dodgers, who have a ton of money and value his framing and work with the pitching staff. Grandal also has a .799 OPS the last three seasons with an average of 24 homers. He's one of the better all-around catchers in baseball, despite his ugly showing in the NLCS.

For the Phillies, Ramos is worth re-signing, and the Phils should have a key advantage on other teams because they know more about his health situation. If the Phils deem Ramos able to play 100-plus games in 2019, they should bring him back. He's one of the best hitters at any position in this free-agent class.

Infielders — Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Jed Lowrie, D.J. LeMahieu, Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier, Marwin Gonzalez

Donaldson offers the most "boom" among this group. He's three years removed from winning AL MVP as an impact power hitter and impact defender at 3B. From 2015-17, he hit .285/.387/.559 with an average of 37 homers and 100 RBI.

But a calf injury cost Donaldson most of 2018 and prevented the Blue Jays from getting much value for him in a trade with the Indians. Donaldson will be one of the most interesting free agents this winter. Will a team pay him for past performance? Will he sign a one-year, prove-it deal? The latter seems more likely.

Murphy should get something like two years, $18-20 million. Just tough to commit long-term to a 34-year-old who can't play defense and is one year removed from a devastating injury.

Gonzalez is worth keeping an eye on for Phillies fans. He can play every position on the diamond other than pitcher and catcher, and he can do more than just stand at that position. He's a decent fielder all over the place. A better hitter than Asdrubal Cabrera. A better utilityman than Pedro Florimon.

Outfielders — Michael Brantley, A.J. Pollock, Nick Markakis

Pollock and Brantley have been oft-injured in recent seasons and that will certainly impact their markets. Pollock has missed 249 games the last three seasons. Brantley has missed 242.

Non-Bryce Harper outfield help isn't among the Phillies' top needs, but there's no question Brantley or Markakis would make this a better, more well-rounded lineup because of their ability to hit for average and produce a ton of doubles. 

We'll delve deeper into the Phillies fit for many of these players in the days and weeks to come. But there's some talent out there even if the Phils strike out with that top tier.

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Has Manny Machado played (and talked) himself out of Philly before ever getting to Philly?

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Has Manny Machado played (and talked) himself out of Philly before ever getting to Philly?

A hearty congratulations to Manny Machado for getting through Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday without doing anything stupid, anything to hurt his free-agent platform.

Or should we say anything else?

Machado, the gifted shortstop/third baseman who has long been the fancy of the Phillies’ front office, didn’t exactly author a brilliant campaign speech when he acknowledged his raging allergy to hustling in an interview with baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal earlier this week.

“Obviously, I’m not going to change,” Machado told Rosenthal. “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be Johnny Hustle. It’s not my cup of tea, not who I am.”

Can you imagine the reaction that Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, had to these comments? (No, Danny, no. That’s a heavy chair, do not throw it through the window!)

In less than a month, Lozano will start shopping the 26-year-old infielder to prospective buyers. Estimates on Machado’s price tag have hovered around the $300 million mark, give or take a Brinks truck or three. Now, the first question that Lozano is going to hear from the potential suitors won’t be about what it will take to sign his client or whether Machado wants to play shortstop or third base, it will be about the player’s aversion to hustle. Or, as it is known in other circles, playing hard.

In some cities, admitting you don’t, won’t or can’t hustle could make you toxic.

New York is one and the Yankees just so happen to need a shortstop next season as Didi Gregorious recovers from elbow surgery. People close to Machado have told me he likes the idea of being a Yankee because, one, they are the Yankees, and two, he wants to play on the East Coast with a team that trains in his native Florida.

The Phillies also play on the East Coast and train in Florida. They also have a lot of money and a longstanding interest in Machado. They tried to acquire him from Baltimore in July and were willing to include big talent in the deal if Machado would have agreed to a contract extension. The Dodgers ended up getting Machado and the Phillies, quietly confident that they could land the player as a free agent this winter, moved on.

But now you have to wonder if Machado could work in Philadelphia. It’s almost become cliché to say the city — i.e., the fans who pay the bills — likes a certain kind of athlete, one that goes all-out all the time, but when you think about some of the city’s all-time favorites — Chuck Bednarik, Bobby Clarke, Brian Dawkins, Chase Utley — you realize it’s not cliché, it’s fact.

Even before Machado made news for the wrong reasons this week, there had been whispers that some in the Phillies organization would prefer to steer clear of Machado for just the reasons that the player articulated in his ill-advised and ill-timed comments. To the best of our knowledge, general manager Matt Klentak remains open-minded, and that’s good because Machado is a great talent and the Phillies need some of that if they are going to put a winner on the field.

But this whole issue has complicated things for Klentak and an ownership group that is poised to write some big checks this winter. Whether or not to pursue Manny Machado is going to require a lot of thought and a lot of weighing the rewards of his talent versus the risk of his makeup.

And who are those guys over there in the corner grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats? Looks a little like Bryce Harper and Scott Boras.

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