Jason Vargas

Phillies make roster moves, reinstate Odubel Herrera, but for how long?

Phillies make roster moves, reinstate Odubel Herrera, but for how long?

The Phillies had a busy day tidying up their roster on Monday.

Let’s get right to it:

The club declined 2020 contract options on pitchers Jared Hughes, Pat Neshek and Jason Vargas. They are all free agents, though there is nothing preventing them from re-signing with the Phillies later in the offseason.

The team outrighted the following five players from the 40-man roster and all elected free agency. They include pitchers Jerad Eickhoff, Mike Morin, Blake Parker and Edubray Ramos and infielder Phil Gosselin. These players are also eligible to re-sign with the Phillies later in the offseason.

Eickhoff is the most notable departure on the list. The 29-year-old right-hander came to the Phillies from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal in July 2015. He was the Phils’ top starter in 2016, recording a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts, but was hampered by injuries in subsequent years.

In a huge no-brainer, pitcher Jake Arrieta exercised his $20 million player option for 2020. Arrieta had long ago conceded that he would not opt-out of his deal, as was his right. His market would not have been good after going 18-19 in his first two seasons with the Phillies and having elbow surgery in September. Arrieta is expected to be fully healthy by spring training.

Arrieta was reinstated to the 40-man roster from the 60-day injured list. Pitchers Víctor Arano, Seranthony Domínguez, David Robertson, Robert Stock and Adam Morgan and outfielder Andrew McCutchen were also reinstated from the 60-day injured list. Players on the 60-day IL don't count against the 40-man roster, but they must be reinstated a week after the World Series.

In another long required procedural move, the Phillies removed outfielder Odubel Herrera from the restricted list. He now counts toward the 40-man roster.

Herrera had been suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against domestic abuse after an incident in May. Though legal charges were dropped, Herrera was still disciplined by MLB.

Herrera still has two years and more than $20 million remaining on his contract. The Phillies cannot void his contract and they can only release him for baseball reasons. He could be traded, with the Phils eating a big chunk of his salary, but his value is low and takers could be few. A decision on his future would likely come closer to spring training, after the Phillies have completed their offseason work. Herrera last played for the Phillies on May 26. There’s a chance that will be his last game with the club.

Monday’s roster moves left the Phillies with five open spots on their 40-man roster as the free-agent market gets set to open.

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Phillies turned to mediocre vets over and over last 2 seasons and got the expected results

Phillies turned to mediocre vets over and over last 2 seasons and got the expected results

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Phillies' acquisition of Jason Vargas two days before the trade deadline was a salary dump by the Mets, but it at least initially looked like a move that could provide the Phils another rotation option for 2020.

It was problematic that they even needed to turn to Vargas as a rotation upgrade, but the 2019 Phillies were ravaged by injuries after wholly misevaluating their starting pitching in the offseason. The topic of injuries came up a few times in the clubhouse after Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Nationals, which completed a five-game sweep for Washington and dropped the Phillies under .500 for the first time all season.

"I don't think we expected it to go this way," catcher Andrew Knapp said. "I think there's a lot of factors that go into that. Injuries and stuff where guys are being put in situations that they normally wouldn't be in if we had a lot of those bullpen arms. Who knows what would've happened? ... I think a healthy Phillies team is definitely in (the race). Everyone in this clubhouse thinks the same thing."

Vargas' last start was not a good one. He allowed five runs and walked five in 4⅓ innings, finishing with a 5.53 ERA in his 11 starts as a Phillie. Keep in mind, he had a 3.27 ERA in his prior 16 starts when he was traded to the Phillies.

Vargas' contract contains a club option for $8 million next season that can be bought out for $2 million. Because the Phillies were going to be on the hook for a couple million bucks, it seemed like Vargas might be able to carve out a spot on the 2020 staff by eating innings. But it hasn't gone well. He allowed four runs or more in seven of 11 starts and the Phillies went 4-7.

The Phillies simply can't keep going to this well of mediocre veteran placeholders. Over the last two seasons, the Phils' front office has been aggressive in the offseason but hesitant to trade any decent pieces for help during the season. This year, GM Matt Klentak timed the Jay Bruce trade well and acquired Corey Dickerson in a shrewd move, but every other trade was for a marginal upgrade and few of the deals worked out.

Of the players the Phillies acquired in-season in 2019, Brad Miller, Bruce and Drew Smyly have the best chances to return. Bruce is under contract next season and Miller has hit his way into a bench role if both sides can figure out a deal. Smyly has been decent as a Phillie with a 4.45 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in a dozen starts.

But Vargas, Jared Hughes, Mike Morin, Blake Parker, Nick Vincent, Logan Morrison, Sean Rodriguez, Jose Pirela ... all eminently replaceable pieces. Seems unlikely any of them will be back.

"I think a fully healthy Philadelphia Phillies is an entirely different ballclub than we have right now," Gabe Kapler said. "I don't think anybody can dispute that."

Vargas might have been a fit on the 2020 Phillies if they didn't already have Jake Arrieta occupying a rotation spot. It is unrealistic to expect much more than No. 5 starter production from Arrieta. It is probably unrealistic to expect more than No. 4 starter contributions from Zach Eflin. The starting pitching upgrades need to come somewhere and the ideal places are the Nos. 2 and 3 spots. The Phillies need more horses around Aaron Nola, whether that means a $200 million arm in Gerrit Cole, an aging lefty like Madison Bumgarner or Cole Hamels, or an intriguing, 29-year-old, high-reward option like Zack Wheeler.

“I'd love to be back," Vargas said. "Selfishly, of course, I want to come back. I feel like it is a special group and is just really a few pieces away from having a chance to win the last game of the year. And it would be nice to have another crack at that with these guys. Hopefully, that happens, but it is a business and I understand what goes on. And baseball is going to keep going on.”

Rhys Hoskins made a comment earlier in the week that one of the major reasons the 2019 Phillies fell short was that when the lineup was clicking, the pitching wasn't and vice versa. But in truth, the Phillies' pitching was rarely "on" this season. It's why they played an entire season without winning five straight games. It's why they've lost nine times to the lowly Marlins, who were not at a pitching disadvantage any time they faced a Phillies starter other than Nola.

The Phillies need to win two of their final three games to finish with a better record than last season. They must sweep for their first winning record since 2011.

"I'm not trying to color this rosy," Kapler said. "We just lost five games straight to the Nationals. They kicked our ass. That's the cold, harsh reality of this."

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O-H, yeah, Bryce Harper gives Indians fans a little something to remember him by

O-H, yeah, Bryce Harper gives Indians fans a little something to remember him by

CLEVELAND — Bryce Harper knows how to play a crowd. He’s done it all season at Citizens Bank Park with his pre-game bow to the fans in the right-field seats followed by his heaving of a warm-up ball into the upper deck.

The fans love it.

They love it even more when he hits home runs.

Harper belted his 33rd homer of the season to lead a 9-4 Phillies’ win over the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night. The home run was an impressive one, a three-run shot that put the Phils ahead, 5-4, with one out in the fifth inning.

The Phillies have played 153 games and they are in the midst of an 11-game road trip. At this time of year, the days seem to become a blur. Sometimes players don’t even know what day it is, or what city they’re waking up in. All they know is that there is another game to play.

But Harper was keenly aware of his surroundings Saturday night, keenly aware of what state he was in. As he crossed home plate after his go-ahead homer, he raised his arms and made the "O-H” sign above his head. And as he spoke with reporters after the game, he wore an Ohio State cap — backwards, of course.

“Big win for the Bucks today,” he said of the 76-5 whooping that Ohio State’s football team put on Miami of Ohio.

Harper’s wife, Kayla, played soccer at Ohio State. That was the birth of his fandom.

The fans in Cleveland appreciated the love that Harper showed for the Buckeyes.

They just would have preferred that he’d done it after, say, a harmless single.

Phillies starter Jason Vargas really appreciated the homer. He gave up four runs in the first two innings — two were unearned after Jean Segura’s error in the first inning — but kept his club in the game until the bats got going in the middle innings. Vargas pitched 6 2/3 bullpen-saving innings and ended up with his first win since July 28, when he was a member of the Mets.

Brad Miller hit the first of his two homers in the fourth inning and Harper put the Phils ahead with his three-run shot in the fifth. Harper’s homer was preceded by hits from Adam Haseley and J.T. Realmuto. 

With his team up, 4-2, Cleveland manager Terry Francona brought in lefty Oliver Perez to face Harper. Perez had retired Harper the night before. This time, Harper fouled off five pitches before hitting the ninth pitch, a full-count slider, over the wall in right field.

“It’s nice to be able to stay competitive and keep us in position to get back into the game and then, golly, I mean I can’t say that I’ve seen a more professional at-bat than the one Harper had against Perez right there,” Vargas said. “I think that any time you see an at-bat like that from your main guy, it’s just — he really didn’t give in and he really made the effort to stay in the at-bat and do everything he could do to get his pitch and he really capitalized and made a difference for us.”

Harper has 15 homers and 36 RBIs in his last 40 games.

“He has been tremendous in the second half of the season for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We win when Harper hits.

“That nine-pitch at-bat felt determined to me. Like he was determined not to fail. He was determined to put the ball in play and put it in play hard. He just did a good job of getting up underneath that baseball and putting it in the air.”

The Phils hit four homers on the night and they got excellent work from the bullpen, which has a 2.69 ERA — second-best in baseball — over the last 20 games.

A smiling Vargas stood in the dugout and greeted reliever Jared Hughes when he retired dangerous Francisco Lindor to end the seventh.

The victory was the 99th of Vargas’ career and it kept the Phils mathematically alive in the NL wild-card race at five games back with nine to play.

Vargas, 36, intends to pitch next season — the Phillies hold a $6 million option on his contract, though it’s unclear if they will pick that up — but he would prefer to get his 100th win before then.

He lines up to make one more start this season.

“I’d definitely like to get it sooner than later, obviously, but I’ve gone this long without having 100,” Vargas said. “It will be nice when it comes and hopefully it comes. It would definitely be a nice thing to have.”

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