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Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

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Surprising how many NL teams let Justin Bour slip to Phillies

The Justin Bour-Matt Stairs comparison has been a popular one in the days since the Phillies surprisingly acquired Bour from the Marlins. Big, burly, power-hitting, left-handed first basemen.

But in several other ways, this move was different. 

• Bour is 10 years younger than Stairs was when the Phils traded for him in 2008. 

• Bour was acquired the second week of August; Stairs was acquired at the end of August. Stairs had just 19 regular-season plate appearances with the Phils in 2008. Bour should be able to double that pretty easily.

• Stairs was under contract for the following season. Bour is under contract the next two seasons after this one.

That last point was why it was so surprising that various NL teams let Bour slide through the waiver order and make it to the Phillies. 

A refresher: Once August hits, in order to trade a player, a team must first place him on waivers. The waiver queue is based on the inverse order of the standings in that player's league. So when Bour is placed on waivers, the worst team in the NL gets first dibs. If he passed through every NL team unclaimed, the worst AL team would get next crack at him and so on. (More on August trade rules here.)

It would have been one thing if Bour was a rental. In that case, he would have made sense only for contenders.

But Bour isn't a rental. He was awarded a $3.4 million salary this season, his first of arbitration eligibility. He's under team control each of the next two seasons and figures to make an estimated $14 million in 2019 and 2020 combined.

That's not a ton of money for a starting-caliber first baseman who has an .821 OPS since 2015 with 31 homers per 162 games.

Where were the Mets? Where were the Rockies? The Pirates?

The Mets have no offense. At first base, they've been playing Wilmer Flores, who is not the long-term answer. Prospect Dom Smith has hit .193 in 257 big-league plate appearances and has also had a poor season at Triple A. 

If you're the Mets, a team that acts as a small-market club with little money to spend, why not take a flier on Bour for a modest price over the next two seasons? Is anyone awake in Flushing?

The Rockies, a contender, haven't gotten great production from first base. It's been a combination of Ian Desmond and left-handed hitting Ryan McMahon. Against righties, Bour is an upgrade over both.

When Bour was placed on waivers at the beginning of the month, Pirates 1B Josh Bell was on the DL. Bell, a switch-hitter the Pirates are high on, has been a league-average first baseman since getting to the majors. He's been good against right-handed pitching but Bour has just been better, with a career OPS 73 points higher. 

The money

It will be interesting to see whether the Phillies keep Bour around past this season. If he produces as a pinch-hitter and fits in, he'd be a valuable bench bat to have. He'd be valuable insurance for Carlos Santana.

One of the things to really like about Bour is his production against pitching within the division. He's 8 for 21 (.381) with two homers, a double and three walks against Jacob deGrom. Yes, that Jacob deGrom. Bour has been one of the very best hitters in the league against deGrom during the righty's stellar career.

Bour has gone a respectable 5 for 17 (.294) vs. Noah Syndergaard. 

He's reached base in 17 of 28 plate appearances vs. Julio Teheran. 

He's 8 for 15 with two homers and a double against Mike Foltynewicz.

He has a homer and a .385 OBP in 26 plate appearances vs. Stephen Strasburg.

This all matters moving forward in a division with so many high-quality starting pitchers.

The Phillies are a deep-pocketed team that could afford to pay Bour $5.5 million or so next season as a non-regular. Not every team is in that position but the Phils are. Aside from their arbitration-eligible players, the Phils have just six players under contract for 2019: Jake Arrieta, Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Their decision whether to keep Bour around, trade him or non-tender him will obviously be affected by their pursuit of top free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. It will also be affected by how the Phils approach the pending free agency of Wilson Ramos and Asdrubal Cabrera, two players who make even more sense to retain because of the positions they play.

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Wilson Ramos confident he'll be ready to help Phillies win in a couple of weeks

Wilson Ramos confident he'll be ready to help Phillies win in a couple of weeks

Wilson Ramos is happy to be in a pennant race.

And he’s confident he’ll be joining it very soon.

The Phillies acquired the slugging catcher in a trade with Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Ramos joined his new team on Thursday and took batting practice before the game against Miami. Of course, he was not in the starting lineup because he is on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. He suffered the injury on July 14.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has put the best-case scenario for Ramos’ return at two weeks, but he did not rule out the player needing until September to be ready.

What does Ramos think?

“I don’t know exactly the day, but it’s not going to take too long,” Ramos said. “I feel a lot better right now and I’m trying to do my best to come back soon and strong. I’m 100 percent sure that I’ll be back this month. Probably in the middle of the month, not more than that. I think two weeks and I’ll probably be fine.”

Ramos, a two-time All-Star, hit .297 with 14 homers, 53 RBIs and an .834 OPS in 78 games with Tampa Bay this season. Two years ago, he hit .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBIs and an .850 OPS for Washington.

Phillies catchers Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp have combined for a .713 OPS this season and the tandem leads the majors in strikeouts at the position with 147. They are also fourth in the majors with a combined 13 passed balls. Ramos will be an upgrade on both sides of the ball — when he gets on the field.

Ramos was a frequent opponent of the Phillies during his time with the Washington Nationals from 2010 to 2016. A knee injury suffered late in the 2016 season cost him significant dollars on the free-agent market that winter. He signed a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Rays before the 2017 season. He will be a free agent after this season.

Ramos thanked the Rays for signing him after he’d been hurt. He was happy to go from a non-contending team to a first-place club. The Phillies entered play Thursday night a half-game up on Atlanta in the NL East.

“I’m excited to come to this team,” Ramos said. “They’re in first place and I am 100 percent sure that I can help this team win a lot of games.”

Ramos will wear No. 40 with the Phillies, the same number he wore in Washington and Tampa Bay. Reliever Tommy Hunter, who had worn 40, switched to 96 so Ramos could have his favorite number.

Reliever Aaron Loup, acquired from Toronto on Tuesday, also joined the team Thursday. His addition gives the Phillies three left-handers in the bullpen. Austin Davis and Adam Morgan are the others.

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Phillies deserve an 'A' for moves (and non-moves) at deadline

Phillies deserve an 'A' for moves (and non-moves) at deadline

Fans wanted to see the Phillies deal for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. In lieu of Machado or Harper, the people would’ve taken Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Brad Hand, Chris Archer, Zach Britton, Adam Jones, Mike Moustakas, Curtis Granderson or Andrew McCutchen. But, really, Machado, plus maybe one or two of the others.

Instead, the Phillies obtained Asdrubal Cabrera, Aaron Loup and Wilson Ramos — the latter of whom could be on the disabled list until September.

Not exactly the moves made by a team gunning for the World Series.

It’s August, and the Phillies are in first place in the NL East, so you can forgive some fans for being a little disappointed the front office wasn’t more aggressive before the July 31 trade deadline passed. A few weeks ago, for about 24 hours, it felt like there was a real chance Machado would be wearing red pinstripes. Now, the hope is Ramos is back in the lineup in time to make a difference down the stretch.

Yet, that’s also the type of trade that better reflects where this organization stands in 2018. The Phillies are the most unexpected first-place team in baseball. Over half the roster is 25 or younger. The manager has no previous experience doing his job. The offense ranks in the bottom half of the majors in scoring.

To be where the Phillies are today, 11 games above .500 and clinging to a one-game lead in the division, is tremendously exciting. If anything, it’s a reflection they are ahead of schedule.

What it’s not is a reason to suddenly abandon general manager Matt Klentak's strategy of building for a better future and replace it with a nonsensical World Series-or-bust mindset.

Of course, there were more exciting acquisitions to be made at the deadline, and the Phillies were wise to explore each and every one of those possibilities. Who knows, maybe this team could’ve caught lightning in a bottle with an influx of veteran talent and leadership.

At the same time, the front office has to be honest with itself and study every angle. Machado will be a free agent at the end of this season, as were many of the big names on the block. The prospects it would’ve taken to land a lot of the aforementioned current and former All-Stars — several well past their prime — are under contract for years to come.

Most of all, Klentak's front office needed to ask itself: Are we for real, or is there a strong possibility this team as it’s currently constructed is overachieving?

That may not be what fans want to hear, but there’s a strong likelihood it’s reality.

The Phillies were able to snatch up Cabrera, Loup and Ramos for next to nothing. Cabrera was the most costly of the trio, costing the organization its No. 10-rated prospect, Franklyn Kilome. Loup was dealt for a relative unknown, Jacob Waguespack, and Ramos for a player to be named later — somebody not expected to be a top-30 prospect.

Perhaps most important of all, none of Cabrera, Loup or Ramos is under contract beyond this season. The Phillies did not harm their financial situation at all, and only one prospect of consequence appears to have been surrendered.

Meanwhile, Machado and Harper are currently slated to headline a huge free-agent class in 2019. Think the Phillies, with all their saved money and up-and-coming talent leftover from not making dicey deadline deals, are well positioned to make a splash next year?

As for this year, good for the Phillies for finding value and improving the team in the meantime. It’s not like they conceded 2018 in the process of keeping an eye on the future. They simply decided not to push all-in at this point.

It wasn’t the most fun play, but it likely was the smartest.

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