J.D. Martinez

Phillies need their aces to be aces against historic 2018 Red Sox

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Phillies need their aces to be aces against historic 2018 Red Sox

It was a disappointing weekend in Cincinnati for the Phillies, but at times like this, you need to keep in perspective how well this team has played of late.

This is the first time in over a month — since June 24 to 26 — that the Phillies have lost three games in a row. Over the last 14 series, they're 10-3-1. 

Yes, the Reds are a last-place team, but they're also 26-15 since June 10, which is the fourth-best record in the majors and 1½ games better than the Phillies over that span. Cincinnati began the season 8-27 and has gone 40-31 since — a prolonged stretch of good baseball. The Reds' last-place standing is deceptive. More concerning than who the Phillies lost to was how they looked.

Now, the Phils head to Boston, where they'll actually have the pitching matchup advantage both nights against a Red Sox team that is 41 games over .500 and on pace to win 113, which would shatter the franchise record of 105.

The Red Sox and Phillies have been two of the majors' four best teams in interleague play this season. The order goes Boston at 7-1, Pittsburgh at 12-3, Cincinnati at 10-3 and then the Phillies at 9-4.

Nola vs. Price

Tonight, it's Aaron Nola against left-hander David Price. On Tuesday, it's Jake Arrieta against struggling, recently activated southpaw Drew Pomeranz, who has allowed 17 runs in 18 innings at Fenway this season.

You're not going to see very many off-speed pitches with Price on the mound. He's thrown his fastball or cutter 77 percent of the time. He also rarely gets wild, so the result of so many fastballs in the zone is a lot of home runs. Price has allowed 18 in 114 innings this season.

This will be Nola's second challenging start in a row. He faced the Dodgers last Tuesday in his toughest assignment of the season and surrendered three runs in five innings, throwing 91 pitches.

Boston will make Nola work just as much, if not more. The top three hitters in Boston's order — Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez — all have power and an OBP higher than .380. Newcomer Steve Pearce has also been hot since arriving in Boston. Nola should be able to navigate around the Red Sox 7-8-9, though. Nothing to write home about at the bottom of their order — Blake Swihart, Brock Holt, Sandy Leon.

Boston's soft underbelly

The way to get to the Red Sox is to force them to go to their bullpen early. Craig Kimbrel and Matt Barnes have formed a formidable 1-2 punch at the end of games but there's no other shutdown reliever in Boston's 'pen. 

And Kimbrel, for what it's worth, has been wilder than usual in 2018. His walk rate has more than doubled since 2017.

Barnes has pitched three of the last four nights. Kimbrel has pitched two of the last three and thrown 44 pitches. Both seem unlikely to be available to pitch in both games.

The key duo in the Phillies' bullpen, meanwhile, is well-rested. Seranthony Dominguez hasn't pitched since Wednesday. Pat Neshek has been off since Thursday. 

The DH effect

Asdrubal Cabrera's first two games with the Phillies were quiet — 0 for 8, three strikeouts. But acquiring him ahead of an interleague series was important because it gives the Phils one more quality bat in the lineup.

We could see the Phillies DH Cesar Hernandez in this series to give him more time to rest his achy foot. They could also DH Rhys Hoskins and start Roman Quinn in the outfield to optimize defense. Fenway has the trickiest left field in the majors, after all.

Either way, Cabrera and Quinn give the Phillies two more dynamic options than they had a week ago.

More on the Phillies

How much is too much for Phillies in a Manny Machado trade?

How much is too much for Phillies in a Manny Machado trade?

There has been even more Manny Machado talk than usual in Philly of late. The combination of the recent Phillies-Orioles series and the Phils' winning ways has increased the chatter about whether they should trade for Machado this season rather than wait him out in free agency.

Obvious arguments can be made for both sides. 

Why not make the trade? Because waiting him out until free agency allows you to hold on to all of your young players. 

Why make the trade? Because, as some have argued, it makes you significantly better in 2018 and could create a (pretty unlikely) situation where Machado wouldn't want to leave. I say unlikely because there is literally no recent example of a rental superstar signing with the acquiring team before free agency. Even when guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Matt Holliday re-upped with the Mets and Cardinals, it was only after first testing the market.

Want the most recent example of it actually happening? It was 2002 when Scott Rolen re-signed with the Cardinals shortly after being traded by the Phillies. So we're talking 16 years.

Let's break down all the key points here.

Minuscule chance he signs before free agency
No matter what team might acquire Machado this summer, it makes little sense for him to sign a contract extension before first seeing what other teams will offer this winter. Even if a team like the Phillies, Dodgers or Cubs trades for Machado in July and offers him a $275 million extension, why would he sign it? Theoretically, that same offer would still be there a few months later, and the price would only surge if a bidding war between big-market teams ensues. Which it will.

Machado is such an amazing player that his market will be vast. The fact he can play both shortstop and third base is a huge factor as well. If he could play only one position, the list of fits would be reduced. But even the teams set at both shortstop and third base could move guys around to make room for a superstar.

How much is too much to give up in a trade?
With Machado being a two-month rental this season, the Orioles' asking price just cannot be as high as it would have been last winter or last summer.

Look, for example, at the J.D. Martinez trade from last July. The Tigers dealt him to the Diamondbacks in exchange for a three-player package that almost every analyst deemed light. None of the players the Tigers received were listed among the top 10 D-backs prospects on the major sites.

That was despite the fact that Martinez had gotten off to a great start in Detroit, hitting .305/.388/.630 with 16 homers in 200 at-bats.

Occasionally, there still are overpays for rentals, but it takes the right team and the right fit. In 2016, the Cubs could smell a World Series and traded exciting shortstop Gleyber Torres to the Yankees for two months of Aroldis Chapman. It worked for both teams, with the Cubs winning it all and Torres now playing every day for the Yankees.

The difference with the Phillies in this situation is that they are not merely one piece away like the 2016 Cubs. 

So, what's a legit trade package?
If the Phillies were to offer the Orioles J.P. Crawford, Dylan Cozens and a pitching prospect or two, that might at least get a conversation started.

Some will read that paragraph and immediately react with, "How could you give away 5½ inexpensive years of Crawford for a rental?"

Well ... how valuable is 5½ inexpensive years of Crawford if he's not the player we thought he might be? Crawford is extremely early into his major-league career, but so far he has been below average offensively and inconsistent defensively. He's the kind of player who makes sense in a trade like this because another organization might view him as young enough to reach his ceiling.

With Cozens, he's somewhat blocked in this organization but continues to put up big power numbers at Triple A. For some teams, he'd at least have been given a cup of coffee in the majors already. But the Phillies, at this point, have a surplus of outfielders with Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins and Roman Quinn (if he can ever stay healthy). The Phils also used their last three first-round picks on outfielders, though all three have underwhelmed to this point.

As for the third piece of this concocted offer, the pitching prospect, we are not talking Sixto Sanchez here. You simply don't get an organization's best pitching prospect for a two-month rental.

But the Phils have more than one intriguing young arm in their minor-league system. Cole Irvin and Enyel De Los Santos have been great this season at Triple A. The Double A guys — Franklyn Kilome, JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez and Elniery Garcia — have struggled so far but all have potential.

The Orioles need help everywhere, so there's no specific player or position they'd be looking for in return. They just need quality and quantity because they have aging veterans, a truly awful starting rotation and one of the sport's most barren farm systems.

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.