Hector Neris

Which arbitration-eligible players should Phillies get rid of?

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Which arbitration-eligible players should Phillies get rid of?

Earlier this week, we took a look at the Phillies' 2019 payroll, factoring in guaranteed contracts, arbitration raises and players making close to the minimum to figure out how much money the Phils would begin the offseason with.

The conclusion was basically that the Phillies would be at $88-90 million if they get rid of Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco, or just over $100 million if they keep both.

Over at MLB Trade Rumors, the great Matt Swartz has forecasted arbitration salaries for eight years in a row. If not spot-on, his predictions are typically very, very close to what the player actually receives.

Let's go through the most notable projections to see who probably will and won't be back:

2B Cesar Hernandez — $8.9 million

If you're getting the Cesar Hernandez who hit .294 with a .372 OBP in 2016-17, maybe this is worth it. If you're getting the Cesar who hit .253 with a .356 OBP, 155 strikeouts and a reluctance to steal bases last season, it's not.

The Phillies have money invested in Scott Kingery, and although they like him at shortstop, it's hard to believe that's his long-term position.

Paying Hernandez nearly $9 million just doesn't make much sense given all the Phillies' other needs. The rising salary will also make a trade trickier.

RHP Aaron Nola — $6.6M

Obviously.

1B Justin Bour — $5.2M

This is an interesting case. Bour has value as a powerful bat off the bench. He succeeded in that role as a Phillie. But $5.2 million is too much to pay for a one-dimensional, part-time player.

The Phils will likely try to trade Bour. If they can't, he's a non-tender candidate.

3B Maikel Franco — $5.1M

Signing Franco and then trading him seems like the best route. Franco is coming off of his best full season in the majors but there are only so many starting jobs in the infield. If Rhys Hoskins moves back to first base, it will likely mean Carlos Santana plays third. Franco will be easier to move and could fetch more in a trade than Santana.

The Phils might be selling high, too.

RHP Vince Velasquez — $2.6M

Whether he's back as a starter or reliever, this feels like an appropriate price for Velasquez. If he becomes an above-average bullpen arm, this would be a solid move. Even if he posts a 4.50 ERA in 30 starts, $2.6 million is about right.

RHP Hector Neris — $2.0M

Likely back after an impressive second half. The only National League pitcher with a higher strikeout rate than Neris in 2018 was Josh Hader.

RHP Luis Garcia — $1.7M

Too much money for a replaceable reliever.

RHP Jerad Eickhoff — $1.7M

With how hard it is to find starting pitching, bringing Eickhoff back at this number would be worthwhile. If he reverts to his 2016 form, the Phillies have a mid-rotation piece at a low cost.

OF Aaron Altherr — $1.6M

As with Eickhoff, it's probably worth bringing Altherr back at this price. Altherr's 2018 was rough but he hit .272 with 19 homers and an .856 OPS in 2017. If he gets even 70 percent back to that type of production, he's a decent fourth outfielder.

Keep in mind, too, that if the Phils non-tender Altherr they'd still need to pay another outfielder something like $600K or $700K, so the difference in keeping Altherr could be less than $1 million. Worth it, given his skill set.

LHP Adam Morgan — $1.1M

Replaceable.

INF Pedro Florimon — $800,000

Replaceable for about $250,000 less.

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What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

What an unlikely turnaround it's been for Hector Neris

BOX SCORE

If someone told you when Hector Neris was sent to the minors at the end of June that he'd be picking up a save in late September for a Phillies team still trying to win games, would you have believed it?

Neris was an afterthought for much of the summer. After giving up three homers to the Nationals on June 29, he was optioned to the minors to get his splitter, command and confidence back. He had blown three saves and had several epic ninth-inning meltdowns.

It was fair to wonder if Neris would ever again pitch for the Phillies in the late innings of a meaningful game.

But Neris regained the confidence of his manager and the Phils' front office by doing his job at Triple A and dominating in the majors in the month of August. Last month, he pitched nine shutout innings with 20 strikeouts and two walks. His opponents hit .100.

And there Neris was Tuesday night, pitching the ninth inning against the Mets with the Phillies up 5-2 (see first take). His frame was the quickest all night. He struck out Kevin Plawecki and Austin Jackson and got a soft groundout to seal the win.

It was Neris' first save since June 17 — more than three months ago.

"I think he absolutely has overcome the early-season issues," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This is a different pitcher. We were looking at some of the numbers against the Mets and some of them had some success early in the season. But this is not the same guy. So that success they had was not against this Hector Neris. 

"This is a Hector Neris I'm not sure any of us have seen. This is a better version. Since he's been back, this is a better version of him than his best last season or the season prior. My personal opinion, I'm sure it's debatable."

There is so much volatility and turnover in relief performance that Neris could very well excel next season. It's not a lock, but it also wouldn't be the first time a trip to the minors gave a struggling pitcher the jolt he needed.

What stands out about Neris this season is his strikeout rate. He has 70 K's in 44 innings. That's 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings. The only National League pitcher with a higher strikeout rate is Josh Hader. In the AL, it's only Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Mariners stud closer Edwin Diaz.

The main issue earlier in the season was splitter command. Neris couldn't throw his out-pitch for a strike and his opponents started laying off the splitter that dips below the strike zone. He fell behind in counts, had to throw more fastballs and the home runs piled up.

"The changes are that I stopped thinking," Neris said, speaking for the first time since being promoted back to the majors on Aug. 14. 

"Any job is better when you're doing good. I appreciate my teammates here. Everyone talked to me (when I was at Triple A). They were behind me and told me to be positive and said that everyone knew I could come back."

It will be interesting to see how long Neris can make this last. Kapler has utilized many different closers this season — one night it's Seranthony Dominguez, the next it's Tommy Hunter, with a little Pat Neshek sprinkled in and now Neris looks like an option.

You can add him to the list of cost-controlled Phillies looking to impress and give himself an inside track to an opening day roster spot in 2019.

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Mets 9, Phillies 4: That’s 7 losses in the last 9 games

Mets 9, Phillies 4: That’s 7 losses in the last 9 games

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets continue to make life miserable on the Phillies. The Mets beat the Phils for the 11th time in 17 meetings this season on Monday night. The final score from quiet Citizens Bank Park was 9-4.

The Phillies entered the game trailing first-place Atlanta by 6½ games in the NL East and were unable to make up any ground. The Phils have 13 games left, including seven with Atlanta. The two teams begin a four-game series Thursday night in Atlanta, but this race is all but over.

Not enough offense

It’s a familiar refrain, but the Phillies didn’t produce enough offense. Sure, they scored four runs against Mets starter Zack Wheeler, but they all came in one inning – the fifth – after they had been no-hit for the first four innings. The Phils had just five hits in the game and three of them came in the fifth inning. J.P. Crawford had the big blow, a three-run triple. The Phils then tied the game on a sacrifice fly and left a runner at second base when Rhys Hoskins was called out for interfering with a pickoff attempt by the catcher. Ouch.

Arrieta struggles

Jake Arrieta was not sharp. He allowed 10 base runners and four runs in five innings. Tommy Hunter gave up the go-ahead run on a two-out double in the seventh and Michael Conforto completely snuffed out the Phils with a three-run homer in the ninth en route to a six-RBI night.

Just when the Phillies needed Arrieta most, he has failed to deliver. His ERA over his last seven starts is a plump 6.03.

Stat check

Carlos Santana drew his 100th and 101st walks of the season. He became the first Phillie since Pat Burrell in 2008 to reach 100 walks.

Going to need a bigger bus

The Phillies are expected to activate lefty reliever Aaron Loup from the disabled list on Tuesday. That means every player on the 40-man roster will be active. Can’t remember the last time that happened with a Phillies team – if ever. Loup will give the team 16 active relievers. Someone might have to build an addition onto the bullpen.

On Sunday, general manager Matt Klentak said he was not fond of the rule that allows rosters to expand beyond 25 in September. He doesn’t like the idea of playing under one set of rules for five months and then another for the final month of the season, when games can grow in importance. Of course, all teams add players in September and as long as that is permitted the Phillies will play along as they seek any competitive advantage.

For the record, Gabe Kapler likes having the extra players.

“It's an invigorating challenge, a stimulating challenge, one that I really enjoy,” he said of juggling an expanded roster. “If you can convince your players to take a real team-first approach and that everyone is going to contribute every single night or has a chance to contribute every single night regardless of what inning it is and what part of the game they play, I actually think it could be a really exciting brand of baseball. The more chess pieces you have, the more interesting the game becomes. Maybe that’s not the case for the fan. I’m thinking about it from the perspective of the manager. And from my perspective, I like more chess pieces.”

Thirty-nine chess pieces couldn’t bring the Phils a win Monday night.

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