Curtis Granderson

Phillies go down to the wire as they seek trade-deadline upgrade

Phillies go down to the wire as they seek trade-deadline upgrade

BOSTON — While the Phillies got ready to test themselves against the best team in baseball Monday night at Fenway Park, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was hunkered down at Citizens Bank Park trying to pull off a move to improve his club before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.

Klentak traded for switch-hitting infielder Asdrubal Cabrera on Friday and best guess is he will make another move before the deadline. The focus remains adding a bat to the outfield/bench mix and a reliever, possibly a lefty.

The Phillies have continued to monitor the starting pitching market. They are always interested in top-tier starters under team control — i.e., Chris Archer, Michael Fulmer, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler — but the prices are high on those pitchers and there’s no guarantee they will be moved. Adding a starting pitcher could allow the Phillies to move Nick Pivetta to the bullpen, where his strikeout arm could be a weapon. If the Phils were to look for more of a mid-rotation starter or swingman, they could consider someone like Texas Rangers lefty Mike Minor, who is signed through 2020. The Rangers are listening on pretty much everyone.

Possible outfield/bench bats include Curtis Granderson. The Phillies made an offer to Baltimore that would have netted them Adam Jones. But Jones is not ready to waive his no-trade rights. Sometimes minds can change closer to the deadline.

Before Monday night’s game against Boston, manager Gabe Kapler was asked if he believed a trade was coming.

“My feel is that up until the last moment, Matt is going to be working his fingers to the bone and that has been what he’s been doing to this point, looking to upgrade either marginally or making a significant impact,” Kapler said. “He’ll continue to do that to the finish line and anything he needs from me in the way of support or how something that he’s identifying will fit our group, I’m going to be there for him.

“But I will reiterate what I’ve said for the last 10 days: Everything that we need to be successful going forward is in that [clubhouse]. We are here in first place because of the men in that room, and, again, if they take a small step forward, continue their development and get a little better, we win a lot of games from here on out.”

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Nick Williams' emergence has affected Phillies' trade deadline needs

Nick Williams' emergence has affected Phillies' trade deadline needs

Nick Williams has played so well over the last six weeks that the Phillies no longer have a need for an everyday rightfielder … or really, even a platoon partner.

In his last 39 games, Williams has hit .311 with a .393 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentage. He's hit seven homers, a triple, four doubles, driven in 22 runs and reached base 18 times via walk and hit by pitch during that span. 

That's a quarter-season's worth of elite offensive production, a stretch in which Williams' .908 OPS is seventh-best among National League outfielders (Rhys Hoskins is second to Gregory Polanco).

Touted for his quick bat speed on his way to the majors, Williams is proving himself to be a capable power-hitting corner outfielder. He has 26 homers and 94 RBI in 645 career plate appearances — essentially a season's worth. 

He's a good baserunner. He's a good defender. Williams' running, leaping catch in the right field corner Friday night in Cincinnati robbed Billy Hamilton of a three-run triple or inside-the-park grand slam. You know the stat, "Defensive Runs Saved?" That play literally saved three runs. 

Williams' emergence has affected the Phillies' trade plans heading into Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline. Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones has been a target of the Phillies', but it sounds like Jones, who has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any trade, would rather stay in Baltimore than join the Phils as a bench piece. It could be posturing by Jones to entice the O's to trade him somewhere he'd play more, or it could be Jones just wanting to stay where he's comfortable rather than join a maybe-contender for two months as a fourth outfielder.

Aside from Jones, let's go through the remaining hitters who fit the profile of what the Phils could use offensively:

OF Curtis Granderson (Blue Jays)

We've mentioned Granderson several times here this month and the fit is still there. He has an OPS over .800 since the first week of June. His numbers against right-handed pitchers — .245/.342/.442 with 14 doubles and 10 homers — are better than league average.

He's a veteran who's been there, done that and has been a positive influence in every clubhouse he's walked into. A portion of fans will always sneer at an intangible like that but you won't find a front office that discounts it.

Granderson is a two-month rental who wouldn't cost much at all. He would be the first bat off the bench on nights Asdrubal Cabrera starts. And he's viable insurance for an injury to any of the Phillies' outfielders. Injuries do occur. Right now, the position player portion of the Phillies' roster is thin after the starters.

INF/OF Derek Dietrich (Marlins)

You've seen plenty of Dietrich over the years. He's played all over the diamond for the Marlins the last six seasons and been above-average offensively the last four.

Dietrich has played first, second, third and both outfield corners. This season, he's spent the majority of time in left field.

Dietrich has pop from the left side and has made a career of hitting righties. He's hit .274/.359/.444 against RHPs the last three seasons, numbers nearly identical to Odubel Herrera's and George Springer's vs. righties over the same span.

He's just the kind of multi-purpose threat who matters in September and October. The question is whether the Phillies feel he's worth trading a little bit of value for. Dietrich, 29, has two years of club control remaining after this season so the Marlins will not be giving him away. 

It would take more than it took the Phils to land Cabrera.

1B/OF Jose Martinez (Cardinals)

Martinez seems to have fallen out of favor in St. Louis. When Mike Matheny was fired and Mike Shildt took over, Martinez was benched in the first five games. He's been a defensive liability wherever he's played, and the Cards, who've committed the most errors in the NL, had enough.

Then, with 10 days to go before the trade deadline, he began playing again. Hmmm …

Everything Martinez does, he does wildly. Swings wildly. Runs wildly. He has a big, powerful 6-foot-6 frame and the kind of setup, load and swing you wouldn't exactly teach a youngster. 

Yet he's able to stay mostly under control through it all. Martinez has hit .295/.350/.462 this season with 13 homers and 59 RBI. He hasn't gone into a prolonged slump, hitting .274 or better every month. His power, of late, has disappeared along with his playing time.

Mentioning Martinez in here only because the Cards are a likely seller, he's a change-of-scenery candidate and his bat could help a contender. He's under team control for a long time (end of 2022), so it would make sense for St. Louis only if the return is another player with years of control remaining.

INF Yangervis Solarte (Blue Jays)

A switch-hitter with power who can play all four infield positions. Not a shortstop anymore but he's actually played there more this season than Cabrera.

Solarte has averaged 16 homers the last four seasons despite playing just three out of every four games. 

He's 30 years old and has a team-friendly contract — club options for $5.5 million and $8 million the next two seasons, either of which can be bought out for $750,000. 

His bat has cooled considerably over the last month, though. Solarte's hit .153 with a .189 OBP in July. 

This gives you an idea of what is … or really what isn't out there in terms of bats.

Rest of the market is thin

And thin may be an understatement. A quick summary:

• Every outfielder on the Rays, Twins, Royals, White Sox, Angels, Mets, Reds and Padres is either an insignificant upgrade over what the Phillies currently have or a starting-caliber player whose team would prefer to keep him. Just not many fits left.

Corey Dickerson and Jesse Winker were two other bats who could have moved ahead of July 31 but both are now on the DL.

• There are all-glove infielders available like Freddy Galvis or Jose Iglesias, but that doesn't really fill a need for the Phillies, particularly after the Cabrera acquisition.

• Tigers OF Nick Castellanos is a name that will excite many, but it's going to cost a lot to pry him away from Detroit. He's a below-average defender but he's hit .281 with a .825 OPS, 41 homers, 67 doubles and 14 triples since the start of 2017. Huge right-handed power production. Thing is, he's a homegrown Tiger just entering his prime for a rebuilding organization. He's the kind of guy they'd rather extend, not trade.

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Did Phillies GM Matt Klentak speak too soon about avoiding starting pitcher trade?

Did Phillies GM Matt Klentak speak too soon about avoiding starting pitcher trade?

Did Matt Klentak speak too soon when he indicated the Phillies are unlikely to pursue a starting pitcher ahead of the trade deadline?

Since the GM's comments on Friday, the Phillies have watched Nick Pivetta have another rough outing, pushing his ERA to 6.60 since June 1. They watched Zach Eflin, in his return from a brief DL stint caused by a blister, fail to make it out of the third inning Monday night against the Dodgers' tough lineup.

In between was a dominant start from Vince Velasquez, but it's fair to wonder if the Phils' rotation will hold up and keep the team in contention over these final 63 games.

"Right now starting pitching has been the strength of our team this year," Klentak said Friday. "We're very encouraged about not only the five here but also what we have in Triple A, and we're hopeful that that's going to mean that we can stay out of the starting pitcher trade market at the deadline because, if you can avoid it, that is definitely a market to avoid."

The starting pitching trade market is not strong. There's Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, who have both struggled of late. There's Matt Harvey, the returning Ervin Santana, Lance Lynn ... not many meaningful upgrades out there.

Hamels update

On Monday, MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported the Nationals and Rangers have discussed a Hamels trade. Washington is one of nine teams to which Hamels cannot block a trade.

Hamels has also been connected to the Phillies, and Todd Zolecki reported that the Phils did have a scout in Texas Monday for Hamels' start against the Athletics. Said scout might not have been impressed by the A's jumping on Hamels for seven runs and two homers in five innings.

It's going to be tough, though, for any team to feel great about sending prospect(s) to Texas for Hamels right now. Entering Monday night, he had allowed 30 runs in his last 37 innings. He's allowed a ton of home runs — 21 in 109 innings — and Hamels' 1.34 WHIP is higher than everyone in the Phillies' rotation.

The money

There's also the matter of Hamels' remaining contract. He has a $20 million club option next season that can be bought out for $6 million. So if a team acquires him ahead of the deadline, it will either be committing itself to a high salary for a mid-rotation piece, or it'll be spending $6 million in addition to Hamels' 2018 money just to get out of the deal after the season.

Happ over Hamels

If the Phillies do pursue a starting pitcher, Happ makes more sense. He's averaged just 4 1/3 innings per start in July but he's still capable of pitching well and deep into games. 

Happ's calling card over the years has been his deceptiveness. His arm slot is high, near his left ear, which creates deceptive velocity for the hitter because they're not seeing the ball until the last possible second. It's a major reason why Happ has been able to strike out 130 batters in 114 innings this season despite throwing his fastball in the 90-to-92 mph range.

Happ is a free agent after the season, but Toronto will still seek a solid return for him because he might be the best starter on the trade market. 

The Blue Jays have several players who could help the Phillies. There's the reported interest in Curtis Granderson, who would be a big boost to a weak bench. Yangervis Solarte is a switch-hitting infielder with pop who can play second base and third base, and though he's started only 17 games at shortstop the last two seasons, it's not like the Phillies have gotten exceptional defense from that position this season anyway.

Josh Donaldson is the biggest name of the bunch, but he seems like more of an August trade candidate because he's still not back from the calf injury that has cost him most of the season.

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