Minnesota Twins

NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

A lot happened across baseball last week, so much in fact that a $92 million contract was kind of overlooked.

Josh Donaldson signed early in the week with the Minnesota Twins. Four years, $92 million for the 34-year-old third baseman who returned to an All-Star-level in 2019 with the Braves. Donaldson went to Atlanta last offseason on a one-year, $23 million deal and proved his health, hitting .259 with a .900 OPS, 37 homers, 94 RBI and 100 walks. He's always been a plus defender and last season was no exception.

This is a big loss for the Braves, and you have to say their offseason looks worse in light of losing Donaldson. They were active early, signing Cole Hamels, lefty reliever Will Smith, righty reliever Chris Martin and catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

But the loss of Donaldson negates most, if not all of that. 

The Braves are still probably a playoff team — 88 or so wins feels right for this team. 

Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are still MVP-caliber players. Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and Max Fried are good, young players. At third base, the Braves can use 23-year old Austin Riley or 26-year-old Johan Camargo. 

Riley's first 30 games as a rookie last season were so impressive — he hit .298, slugged .628, went deep 11 times and drove in 32 runs. It was a nightmarish, swing-and-miss-filled season for him after that. 

Camargo, you'll recall, was productive in 2018. It was his first full season and he hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers and 76 RBI. Most teams would take that at third base. The Donaldson signing by Atlanta last offseason was a surprise because of what the Braves had at the hot corner. There are worse third base situations than Riley/Camargo.

Still, Donaldson is such a difference-maker. Another difference-maker who has left the division. The exits of Donaldson and Anthony Rendon are huge plusses for the Phillies and Mets. It's tough to conceptualize it, but not having to face Donaldson and Rendon is almost as beneficial as a one more solid free-agent signing for the Phillies. The drop-off from those two third basemen to Riley/Camargo in Atlanta and Starlin Castro/Asdrubal Cabrera in Washington is massive. Like, maybe 50 fewer extra-base hits.

Donaldson and Rendon had 145 combined plate appearances last season against the Phillies. Rendon hit .353 with a 1.102 OPS in his. Donaldson hit six homers, four doubles and drove in 16 runs in his 18 games.

All told, the NL East (aside from the Phillies) lost more than it gained this offseason. Out are Donaldson, Rendon and Dallas Keuchel. In are Hamels and Smith in Atlanta; Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha in New York; Will Harris, Castro and Eric Thames in Washington; Corey Dickerson in Miami.

Aaron Nola will not miss facing Donaldson and Rendon. Those two hit a combined .345/.456/.545 with four homers and three doubles in 68 plate appearances against the Phillies' top starter. 

Donaldson is also 9 for 16 lifetime against Zack Wheeler, 6 for 14 with five extra-base hits off Zach Eflin and 4 for 12 with three homers vs. Nick Pivetta.

Rendon is 11 for 21 with four homers and 10 RBI off Pivetta.

Phillies fans may be frustrated by the post-Wheeler/Didi Gregorius period of the offseason, but Phillies pitchers are cool with how it's played out.

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Phillies acquire reliever Mike Morin from the Minnesota Twins

Phillies acquire reliever Mike Morin from the Minnesota Twins

Less than two weeks away from the MLB trade deadline, the Phillies on Saturday announced a trade for right-handed reliever Mike Morin from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for cash considerations.

Morin, 28, was originally drafted in 2012 by the Los Angeles Angels in the 13th round out of the University of North Carolina. In six seasons for four teams, Morin is 10-8 with a 4.48 ERA. This season, he has appeared in 23 games for the Twins and over 22 2/3 innings, he has a very respectable 3.18 ERA and 0.971 WHIP.

Something doesn’t quite add up, though.

Before we take a look at what Morin can offer the Phillies, we first have to consider why the Twins are offloading him. The upstart Twins are in first place in the AL Central and have playoff and World Series aspirations of their own. They’re 12th in the major leagues with a 4.28 bullpen ERA and good relief pitching never goes out of style, especially when you’re only getting cash considerations in return.

Morin was designated for assignment despite his decent season-long numbers because of regression toward his career stats. Morin started hot but has allowed 10 runs, seven earned, on 13 hits over his past 11 1/3 innings. That’s not exactly what you’d like to see on a contending team looking for a stable bullpen arm.

Enter the Phillies, who are in a similar spot, battling for a playoff position and looking to bolster a bullpen that has let them down considerably of late. They are 25th in the majors in bullpen ERA at 4.98.

At this point in the season, the Phillies know exactly what they have in the minors in terms of players that can come in and help the team, including shuffling Vince Velasquez into relief work for a time and now giving Nick Pivetta a shot in the bullpen. It seems clear from this move that the Phillies aren’t confident there’s any help internally, so, at a very low cost, they’re willing to give Morin a shot and hope he reverts to his early-season form that saw him allow just one earned run over his first 10 1/3 innings of the season.

Seems like it’s worth a shot, but looking beyond his current stats and more toward how he has looked recently paints a more clear and troubling picture.

To make room for Morin on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Seranthony Dominguez was transferred to the 60-day injured list.

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Phillies 2, Twins 1: Zach Eflin tosses a gem and Rhys Hoskins' home run saves the day

Phillies 2, Twins 1: Zach Eflin tosses a gem and Rhys Hoskins' home run saves the day


Rhys Hoskins belted the go-ahead home run and Zach Eflin pitched a gem one day before his 25th birthday to lead the Phillies to a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Phillies took two of three in the interleague series to improve to 6-2.

Hoskins' third homer of the season, a two-run shot capping a tremendous at-bat, came with two outs in the sixth.

Eflin pitched seven innings of one-run ball to go to 2-0.

Relievers David Robertson, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for the final six outs to close out the one-run victory. Neris got the final three outs for the save.

The keys

• Hoskins’ at-bat in the bottom of the sixth against Minnesota starter Jose Berrios was a magnificent nine-pitch battle in which the Phillies’ cleanup man fouled off three full-count offerings before planting a breaking ball in the flower boxes in left-center.

Berrios gave up just two hits in six innings.

• Manager Gabe Kapler showed confidence in Eflin in sending him back to the mound for the top of the seventh inning. Eflin was at 95 pitches, but had ended the previous inning with a strikeout on a 95-mph fastball. Pitching with a one-run lead thanks to Hoskins’ homer, Eflin responded with a 1-2-3 seventh inning to end his day. Kapler’s decision to stick with Eflin is the kind of move that builds confidence in a pitcher and pays dividends down the road.

• Andrew McCutchen has debuted brilliantly at the plate and on the base paths with his new club. He added defense to the mix in this game by cutting down a run at the plate with a great throw in the fourth inning. In a one-run contest, it was a game changer and the crowd of 39,735 gave him a standing ovation.

Eflin’s day

The right-hander allowed a leadoff homer to Max Kepler (he homered in all three games of the series) but pitched shutout ball the rest of the way. He gave up six hits, walked none and struck out five.

Eflin has been the Phillies’ best starter so far. In two outings, he has given up just one run over 12 innings. He has walked one, struck out 14 and allowed nine hits.

Health check

Roman Quinn had three hits, including a homer, a walk and three runs scored for Single A Clearwater on Saturday. Quinn missed extensive time in spring training with an oblique strain. It would not be surprising to see him back with the big club sometime this week.

The Phils face a tough decision in making room for Quinn, who is out of minor-league options. Aaron Altherr is also out of minor-league options and the Phils are likely to lose him (and the centerfield depth he provides) if they try to sneak him through waivers. Nick Williams does have options, but he’s a valuable left-handed power threat off the bench. Stay tuned.

Up next

The Phillies open a three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Monday night. Vince Velasquez makes his first start of the season in the opener against Nats’ right-hander Anibal Sanchez. Aaron Nola pitches Tuesday night against Stephen Strasburg and Nick Pivetta closes it out Wednesday night against Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phils split a two-game series with Washington last week.

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