phillies mailbag

Phillies mailbag delivers answers about Ruben Amaro and potential trades

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Phillies mailbag delivers answers about Ruben Amaro and potential trades

For the sixth straight year, October is a quiet month for the Phillies. Yes, they made news by dismissing Pete Mackanin as manager, but the bright lights and excitement of playoff baseball still feel distant.

It will be interesting this fall and winter to monitor the Phillies' managerial interview process and then to see how much money they spend. Team president Andy MacPhail certainly seemed content to lower expectations when he spoke last week.

As we await the exciting period of the offseason, let's take a look at some of the more pressing questions.

Before getting to your individual questions, I'll answer the few dozen tweets and e-mails I received about Ruben Amaro Jr. possibly being the Phillies' next manager with an absolute, unequivocal IT WILL NOT HAPPEN.

Think about this logically ... this is the same front office that replaced Amaro. GM Matt Klentak and owner John Middleton want the Phillies to be a more analytical organization. Amaro, in his tenure as GM, did not come close to fitting that description. 

There's also the perception of it, which the Phillies will not ignore. They know what it would look like to the fanbase if they brought Amaro back as manager. It would feel like more of the same, and it would alienate the fans who are just starting to come back and get excited by all of the Phillies' young players.

Amaro does seem likely to get a managerial job someday but not here, not now. If anything, the reason you might be seeing his name pop in rumors is because the Phillies want to do him a solid and help get his name out there for future managerial openings.

The Phillies need to add two starting pitchers this offseason and probably three. They just don't have enough consistency at that spot in the organization. We hear the word "depth" a lot with the Phillies, but depth doesn't mean the Phils are in good shape. 

Yes, you could start Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin ... but are you ever going to begin that game feeling confident in your starting pitcher? There are health concerns with Velasquez and Eflin, repertoire concerns with Lively and Thompson, control concerns with Pivetta, and Eickhoff took a big step back in 2017.

Alex Cobb is out there in free agency. So is Lance Lynn. So are Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, who will make substantially more.

Darvish and Arrieta will probably make too much money and the Phillies don't want to pay big for past performance. So let's cross them off.

With Cobb and Lynn, the Phillies would be wise to closely monitor the market. At this point in the fall, nobody ever predicts that a starter will linger in free agency until he has to sign a one-year, prove-it deal, and yet it happens every offseason. I'm not saying these two will have to do that, but it's a possibility if their market doesn't materialize.

I fail to see the harm in signing someone like Cobb to a three-year, $48 million deal with a fourth-year vesting or mutual option. Yes, he's had Tommy John surgery, but there are risks with literally any pitcher a team ever signs or acquires.

But also keep an eye on the trade market. The Phillies sound much more likely to trade for a starting pitcher than sign one. Names to keep in mind: Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, Gerrit Cole, Jake Odorizzi. 

I found the phrasing of this question pretty funny. Patience certainly seems harder for older fans than younger ones. My answer is I simply did not understand MacPhail's lowering of payroll expectations for 2018. The Phillies have a bunch of exciting young players, but if they brought back this very same team next season they'd probably win about 75 games. Is that going to entice anyone in that juicy 2019 free-agent class?

You need to move the needle more next year. Why wouldn't you? The Phillies went 35-35 in their final 70 games and could push closer to .500 with a little more help next season.

I can't see it, but I think Tommy Joseph has a better chance to be on the 2018 roster than Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez. Why? Because Hernandez and Galvis will have much more trade value. Joseph at this point is basically a platoon DH, meaning only a small group of teams will have interest and a fit for him. 

If the Phillies' only option is getting a negligible return for Joseph, then why not just keep him and use him as a right-handed bench bat? He's inexpensive and could at least offer some pop off the bench.

That's a tough one. I'd keep both. But if I had to keep only one, it would be Kingery because I think he has a higher offensive ceiling, and because Crawford's reputation should result in a bigger trade return. Though, again, I don't advocate trading either player. Kingery and Crawford should be the Phillies' middle infielders for the next seven seasons.

The Twins had a season nobody would have expected. And I highly doubt they make the playoffs next season. This just seemed like a fluky, nobody-believes-in-us season that you see once every few years. 

The Brewers are closer to the Phillies. Jimmy Nelson is essentially their Aaron Nola. He had a breakout year before an unfortunate late-season shoulder injury while diving back to first base on a pickoff attempt.

Milwaukee also has a lights-out closer (Corey Knebel), and received unexpected production from Travis Shaw (31 HR, 101 RBIs) in the middle of the order. The Brewers are another team that I think regresses next year, especially since Nelson is expected to miss much of the season.

The Yankees are in a different spot. They held on to Aaron Judge, who was a better prospect than anyone the Phillies had. Gary Sanchez turned out better than expected. Brian Cashman swung some amazing trades, particularly with Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. They're just in a different situation because they had more talent in the organization during this period than the Phillies did.

He meant stats. I'll say Hoskins next season hits .275/.380/.560 with 36 homers and 110 RBIs.

There is benefit to keeping one, especially if you believe in one of them more than you believe in Maikel Franco. Let's start with Hernandez. He's been incredibly consistent the last two seasons, hitting .294 both years with OBPs of .371 and .373. He'll have trade value, but there's also value in knowing what you have. With Hernandez, the Phillies know what they have: A high-OBP leadoff hitter who unfortunately doesn't steal enough bases.

I personally think Hernandez will be a better player the next five years than Franco. So there's a reason to keep him around. Maybe it makes the most sense to keep Hernandez at second base and put Kingery at third. It really all depends on what kind of trade offers the Phillies get for Hernandez.

Phillies Mailbag: Herrera's contract; Pat Venditte; building around Franco; trades

Phillies Mailbag: Herrera's contract; Pat Venditte; building around Franco; trades

With the Phillies off after a pair of one-run games in Sunday's doubleheader, we're reopening the mailbag.

To answer this question we have to go back to the specifics of Herrera's contract.

The Phillies signed Herrera to a deal with five years and $30.5 million guaranteed. The real value of the deal, though, lies in the two club-option years in 2022 and 2023.

With this deal, the Phils bought out Herrera's first three years of free agency for a total of $34 million. 

If he's not living up to the contract, they can cut ties with him before 2022 and save $20.5 million. 

If he is living up to the contract, the Phillies will have Herrera under control for a below-market price in 2022 and 2023.

So, back to the question at hand: Was it premature to sign Herrera to a long-term contract?

It was premature in that the Phillies did not need to sign him to it just yet. They did so because he was coming off a season in which he hit .286, boosted his OBP by 17 points and hit 15 home runs. 

The Phillies felt that his floor was hitting .280 or so with a .340 OBP, but that his ceiling was hitting about .315 with 20 homers. If he can reach that latter set of numbers, the deal is a win for the Phillies.

Right now, Herrera isn't in a great place at the plate. He's been expanding the strike zone too much, and the pitch recognition that enabled him to start last season so strong hasn't been there. Herrera has one walk and 15 strikeouts in May, and that's just not him.

He's proven to be a streaky hitter, and I'd be pretty shocked if Herrera finishes this season hitting below .280. 

And the thing is, even if Herrera does have a down season in 2017, the contract really isn't bad at all for the Phillies.

Where it does play a role, though, is in giving Herrera less incentive to bust out every groundball or not give away at-bats throughout a long season. He knows he has money in the bank already, and naturally, that can result in some more nonchalance.

Herrera is an uncommon player. He has the kind of energy that a team loves when it's winning, but that same youthful exuberance can be misplaced when he's flipping the bat on a flyout down three runs or unnecessarily getting himself out on the bases.

Let's revisit this in a few months.

Pat Venditte, the Phillies' 31-year-old switch-pitcher, has staggering numbers at Lehigh Valley. In 17⅔ innings, he has a 0.00 ERA and has allowed two hits with 11 walks and 21 strikeouts.

Feel free to re-read that paragraph — those are indeed his stats.

Clearly, Venditte has gotten the results. 

The question is: Would it translate to the big leagues?

Venditte has a two-pitch repertoire that includes an 85 mph fastball and a low-70s curveball. He has deception because of his submarine-type delivery from both sides.

He's made it to the majors with three different teams: the Athletics in 2015 and the Blue Jays and Mariners in 2016. All told, he has a 4.97 ERA in 41 appearances and has walked 4.1 batters per nine innings.

The walks are the worry. If Venditte issues free passes in the majors, will his stuff play against the best competition in the world?

Venditte is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster, but he does have an option remaining. This means that if the Phillies were to add him to the 40 and promote him to the majors and he struggles, they could send him back down without exposing him to waivers.

Right now, the Phillies' 40-man roster is full and their recent moves indicate they don't want to lose anybody. But Adam Morgan might not be long for it. The Phils have needed a long reliever in recent weeks and have turned to guys like Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson and Ben Lively rather than promote Morgan.

If the Phillies' bullpen continues to struggle, Morgan continues to struggle at Triple A and Venditte's results stick, that 40-man swap could occur sometime in the next few weeks.

And, quite frankly, even if the Phils don't believe Venditte's stuff can translate to the majors, they should at least make him prove that. It's not like their bullpen has thrived or they're on a path to 2017 contention.

Franco can be an organizational building block but I don't see him as a player you can build an offense around. To this point, he's basically been Pedro Feliz with slightly more power and slightly worse defense.

Maybe he proves me wrong, but to me, Franco is more of a No. 6 hitter on an NL contender than "The Guy."

This is an interesting question because, quite honestly, there aren't many I'd deem untouchable for the right return. 

Would you trade Dylan Cozens and Nick Williams for a top-tier pitcher or hitter? Would you move Rhys Hoskins or Tommy Joseph for the right price? 

The Phillies are building depth at catcher, first base and the outfield. If Joseph or Hoskins show enough to be the clear answer at first, it would make some sense to move the other one. 

Same goes for the catchers, although Alfaro has so much more potential than Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp, so I guess my answer to this question is Alfaro.

But the Phillies won't graduate all of these prospects to the majors and keep them there. They'd have too many outfielders with Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, Cozens, Williams and Roman Quinn.

They'd have too many middle infielders with Cesar Hernandez, J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Freddy Galvis and Jesmuel Valentin.

But the Phils aren't going to make that trade until it's for the right player. It's not going to be for someone like Andrew McCutchen. It's going to be for an ascending player entering his prime.

No deal, really, other than the fact that Rupp continues to be a valuable offensive catcher. Since the start of 2016, he's hit .256/.315/.452 with 34 doubles and 19 home runs in 517 plate appearances.

Over that span of time, Rupp has a higher OPS than Brian McCann, Salvador Perez and Matt Wieters, and he is just percentage points lower than Yadier Molina and J.T. Realmuto.

Rupp's 54 extra-base hits are tied for sixth among all catchers since 2016, behind only Perez, Evan Gattis, Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and Molina. All five of those players have between 73 and 221 more plate appearances than Rupp.

Defensively, there are still questions about Rupp's game-calling and receiving, but those same concerns exist for Alfaro.

At some point this offseason or early next season, one of these catchers will likely be traded if all three are healthy. Rupp would seem to be the most logical trade candidate because he's already produced at the big-league level and would bring back a more meaningful return than Knapp.

Kelly, the 25th man, has picked up three big hits in his last four games with pinch-hit doubles last Wednesday and Saturday and the game-winning RBI single in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader.

He's a switch-hitter who has played first base, second base, third base and all three outfield positions in the majors.

That makes for a valuable National League bench piece. So long as he contributes at the plate once or twice a week, he'll have a job somewhere in the NL.

Howie Kendrick won't be taking Altherr's place when he returns. Nor will he be taking Joseph's place right away, considering Joseph is second in the majors to Altherr in OPS this month.

What you could see, though, is Kendrick play four games per week between first base, third base and left field, spelling Franco some days, Joseph others and Michael Saunders (particularly against lefties).

It's a good problem for the Phillies to have, but there is no chance Altherr returns to the bench. Barring injury, Altherr will be an everyday starter through the end of the season.

Vince Velasquez is the obvious and popular answer but I still think the Phillies give him about 50 more starts before possibly going that route.

I think Mark Appel's best chance to contribute in this organization would be in relief. But I just don't see it for some of the other guys. 

I don't think Ben Lively has good enough stuff to be a setup man — you just don't see setup men throwing 89 mph unless they have a degree of deception like Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Pat Neshek.

I don't think Jake Thompson can stick as a setup man either unless pitching regularly in relief gets his fastball up to 96 mph or so.

Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are obviously long-term starters.

Phillies Mailbag: Werth hindsight; Altherr-Hoskins plans; and, of course, Mike Trout

Phillies Mailbag: Werth hindsight; Altherr-Hoskins plans; and, of course, Mike Trout

Once upon a time, there was a bag filled with mail, all of it pertaining to the Phillies.

This is an interesting question, and obviously, we have the benefit of hindsight.

Time sure does fly because this is the final year of Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals.

The Werth deal was almost universally viewed as an overpay back in the winter of 2010-11. He was entering his age-32 season, and though he'd stayed healthy the previous three years, he did have an injury history. 

But, surprisingly, the Werth deal has kind of worked out for Washington. Over the course of the deal, he's hit .268/.359/.438 for a .797 OPS which is 16 percent better than the league average. He's averaged 33 doubles, 23 homers and 80 RBIs per 162 games.

The downsides of the Werth deal are that he missed half the season in 2012 and 2015, resulting in an average of 40 games missed per season during the contract. 

But still, he's been a solid outfielder when healthy for Washington, and $18 million per season is about the market rate for a player with his skills.

But to answer the question at hand ... no, even with hindsight, I don't think matching Washington's offer would have been wise, even though the Phillies have badly needed offensive help during Werth's contract. Again, he was entering his age-32 season and there was at least a 50-50 chance the final few years of the deal would be regrettable.

The Phils had given Ryan Howard his (regrettable) $125 million extension about six months earlier and had various other big contracts on the books. You can't pay everybody.

Let's start with Hoskins.

You'll see him at some point this season. He's just been too productive for the Phillies to hold down all year. On top of the home-run power that he's shown at every minor-league level, Hoskins has also improved his approach every year. He controls at-bats now. He's reduced his strikeout rate and boosted his walk rate, a trend that began during the second half last season at Reading and has continued at Lehigh Valley.

I asked Phillies GM Matt Klentak on Friday about his plans for Hoskins and he said this:

"Look, this is Rhys' first taste of Triple A. He's off to an incredible start, though I'll add not necessarily all that more incredible than what he did at Lakewood, where he was awesome, what he did at Clearwater, and what he did at Reading, where he was also awesome. He's just a really good offensive player. 

"We're pleased with that but I'm not ready to concede that after 90 plate appearances that Tommy Joseph has forgotten how to hit and we're going to turn to Rhys at this early stage. That's not to minimize what Rhys has done, he's been outstanding, and he's outstanding in key areas. His pitch recognition skills continue to improve, he hits with power to all fields, he does a lot of the things we want to see. He's a month into his Triple A career and we're happy to let him continue to get at-bats there."

Complicating the situation is the number of potential first basemen the Phillies have. Joseph would need to have another poor month for the Phillies to legitimately consider turning the page on him, but he's been picking it up of late, going 7 for 21 (.333) with three doubles, a homer and five RBIs in seven games in May.

When Howie Kendrick returns from the DL in about two weeks, the Phillies will probably use him at first base some to keep Aaron Altherr in the lineup. So there just isn't an everyday spot for Hoskins at this time. 

But Rhys will get his chance. There's almost no way that both Kendrick and Michael Saunders will be here after the trade deadline, so one of those moves would aid Hoskins' cause.

As for Crawford, the Phillies will likely give him a full season at Triple A in 2017 unless he just goes on an epic hot streak and Freddy Galvis stops hitting altogether or gets hurt.

Hey Marshall! I wasn't going to answer this because you temporarily forgot my last name last week on the Phillies Postgame Show, but it's a relevant question.

When everyone is healthy, my ideal lineup would be:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
6. Howie Kendrick, LF
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS

Putting Hoskins here over Joseph because despite the Phillies' logic I outlined in the answer above, I just think he has more offensive upside than Joseph. And at 24 years old, the time for Hoskins should be now. That's my opinion.

He's more than a viable option — he's the Phillies' best player right now and that's not an exaggeration. 

Altherr is the closest thing they have to a five-tool player. He has power, speed, defensive instincts, range and a strong arm. He's the Phils' best defensive outfielder and right now their most impactful bat.

Now, I don't expect Altherr to sustain this .338/.427/.631 batting line. But he can certainly hit .280 with 20 homers, 30 doubles and 12 to 15 steals if he plays every day the rest of the way. 

There's just a lot to like about Altherr's development. He's healthy and he's changed his hand placement at the plate, which has resulted in a quicker swing.

He's also recognizing pitches better and taking his walks. Altherr has reached base in 15 of his last 27 plate appearances.

While I do think Altherr is the Phils' best defensive outfielder, Herrera has made legitimate strides in center field this season. His routes aren't always perfect, but his reaction time has been better and his makeup speed allows him to make some high-degree-of-difficulty catches.

Arm-wise, Altherr is much better.

But I still don't think the Phillies will move Herrera out of center field for Altherr. Nowadays you hear many young players say center field is actually the easiest of the three outfield spots because the reads are truest and you don't have to worry or learn about the tail of flyballs going away from you.

Because of those reasons and Herrera's inexperience in the corner outfield, I think they keep Herrera in center and Altherr in a corner for at least the duration of 2017.

Herrera, Altherr, Hernandez and that's it. I can't even definitely say Maikel Franco will be starting every day for the Phillies in 2020 because there will be impressive free agents at his position (Manny Machado, for example) who move the needle more than Franco.

To this point, Franco has been a decent run producer but he doesn't get on base enough or have a consistent enough approach at the plate. To be honest, I don't think he's ever going to develop the skills necessary to control an at-bat and make pitchers feel like they must handle him with care. One at-bat doesn't seem to dictate the next for Franco. He'll get hot for two nights and then go 1-for-12 and chase a handful of pitches out of the strike zone the next three days.

Well, it's been only two starts for Pivetta. But a troubling trend so far has been that he's thrown first-pitch strikes to just 19 of 48 batters, which is 20 percent below the league average of 60 percent.

Pivetta has good stuff — a 94 to 96 mph fastball and a sharp slider. He's gotten 20 swings-and-misses through two starts, which is a good sign.

The keys for Pivetta over the next few starts are working ahead of hitters, whether that means throwing a get-me-over breaking ball for strike one or trusting his fastball enough to not try to throw it in a pinpoint location on the first pitch. He also needs to use the inner part of the plate more. To this point, he's utilized mostly low-and-away sliders and fastballs high in the zone for his whiffs.

It's apparent to me, at least, that Pivetta has more upside and potential than Jake Thompson.

Wouldn't be a Phillies mailbag without one mention of Mike Trout, would it?

If forced to pick one, I'd say the Phils have a better chance at landing Harper in free agency. Why? Because Trout is controlled by the Angels through 2020, and if they do ever decide to trade him (which I still think never happens), there will be 29 teams calling the Halos.

So in that scenario, the Phils would have to trade an exorbitant amount of young talent to beat other offers and land him. It would probably still be worth it because Trout is on a path to ending up as one of the top five players in baseball history.

The Angels probably won't even consider trading Trout until about 2019. And even then, does an offer of Franco, Herrera, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and two top prospects who aren't yet proven get it done? I'd guess no. 

But you know what would improve the Phillies' chances of getting Trout in a trade? Taking on Albert Pujols' mammoth contract, which runs through 2021. There aren't many teams that would be capable of taking on that contract. It would be the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and maybe nobody else.