- In response to a reader’s mailbag question, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Phillies explored trading Vince Velasquez again this winter, given that the club seems “willing to consider anything” in their rebuilding process. Velasquez spent some time on the DL with a right biceps strain but otherwise enjoyed a successful first year in Philadelphia, posting a 4.12 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 3.38 K/BB rate over 131 innings. The Rangers inquired about Velasquez at the trade deadline but the Phils put a high price tag on the 24-year-old righty. You’d have to expect the Phillies would again require a huge offer to consider moving a young, talented arm.
We’re just a few months away from this winter’s Rule 5 draft, so it makes sense to take a look back and see how things shook out from the 2015 selections. Several organizations found useful players, even if the most recent class didn’t include an Odubel Herrera-esque breakout sensation. Some of the most recent draftees have probably locked up MLB jobs again for 2017, though others who stuck on a major league roster all year may head back to the minors for further development. (Once a player’s permanent control rights have been secured, his new organization is free to utilize optional assignments as usual for future years.)
Here’s a roundup of the 2015 draft class with the 2016 season in the books:
- Tyler Goeddel, OF, kept by Phillies from Rays: The 23-year-old struggled with the aggressive move to the big leagues, carrying a .192/.258/.291 batting line in 234 trips to the plate, but showed enough for the rebuilding Phillies to hold onto him all year long.
- Luis Perdomo, RHP, kept by Padres (via Rockies) from Cardinals: It didn’t look good early for Perdomo, but he showed better after moving to the rotation and ended with a rather promising 4.85 ERA over twenty starts. Though he struggled to contain the long ball, and only struck out 6.4 per nine, Perdomo sported a nifty 59.0% groundball rate on the year.
- Joey Rickard, OF, kept by Orioles from Rays: After opening the year with a bang, Rickard faded to a .268/.319/.377 batting line on the year but held his roster spot in Baltimore. He ended the season on the DL with a thumb injury, though, and may end up at Triple-A for some added seasoning.
- Joe Biagini, RHP, kept by Blue Jays from Giants: The only Rule 5 pick to appear in the postseason, Biagini was a great find for Toronto. He ended with 67 2/3 innings of 3.06 ERA pitching, with 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, and now looks like a potential fixture in the Jays’ relief corps.
- Matthew Bowman, RHP, kept by Cardinals from Mets: Bowman rounds out a trio of impressive relievers. He contributed 67 2/3 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 6.9 BB/9 against 2.7 BB/9 to go with a monster 61.7% groundball rate.
Retained By Other Means
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, re-signed by Angels (who selected him from Pirates) after being outrighted: Guerra was in an unusual spot since he had previously been outrighted off of the Bucs’ 40-man roster when he was selected, meaning he didn’t need to be offered back. Los Angeles removed him from the major league roster and then brought him back on a minor league deal, ultimately selecting his contract. Though he was later designated and outrighted by the Halos, Guerra again returned and largely thrived at the major league level, contributing 53 1/3 much-needed pen frames with a 3.21 ERA on the back of 6.1 K/9 against just 1.2 BB/9.
- Jabari Blash, OF, acquired by Padres (who acquired Rule 5 rights from Athletics) from Mariners: Blash’s intriguing tools weren’t quite ready for the majors, but San Diego struck a deal to hold onto him and was surely impressed with his showing at Triple-A. In his 229 plate appearances there, Blash swatted 11 home runs but — more importantly — carried a .415 OBP with a much-improved 66:41 K/BB ratio.
- Ji-Man Choi, 1B, outrighted by Angels after Orioles declined return: The 25-year-old scuffled in the bigs but was rather impressive at the highest level of the minors, where he walked nearly as often as he struck out and put up a .346/.434/.527 slash with five home runs in 227 plate appearances.
- Jake Cave, OF, returned from Reds to Yankees: After failing to crack Cinci’s roster out of camp, Cave impressed at Double-A but slowed at the highest level of the minors (.261/.323/.401 in 354 plate appearances) upon his return to the New York organization.
- Evan Rutckyj, LHP, returned from Braves to Yankees: Sent back late in camp, the 24-year-old struggled in limited action on the Yanks’ farm after missing most of the season with elbow issues.
- Josh Martin, RHP, returned from Padres to Indians: In his first attempt at Triple-A, Martin posted 66 frames of 3.55 ERA pitching with 8.2 K/9 against 3.1 BB/9.
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, returned from Phillies to Royals: Slowed by a PED suspension, Stumpf was bombed in a brief MLB stint with the Phils but dominated at Double-A upon his return to K.C., posting a 2.11 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 21 1/3 innings.
- Chris O’Grady, LHP, returned from Reds to Angels: Sent back in late March, O’Grady compiled a 3.48 ERA over 95 2/3 innings in the upper minors, though he performed much better as a Double-A starter than he did as a Triple-A reliever.
- Zack Jones, RHP, returned from Brewers to Twins: The 25-year-old was out with a shoulder injury for most of the year, and ended up being sent back to Minnesota in late June, but has shown swing-and-miss stuff when healthy.
- Blake Smith, RHP, returned from Padres to White Sox: Smith ended up making a brief MLB debut upon his return to Chicago, but spend most of the year pitching well at Triple-A Charlotte, where he ran up a 3.53 ERA in 71 1/3 innings with 9.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9.
- Colin Walsh, INF, returned from Brewers to Athletics: After struggling badly in his major league stint with the Brewers, Walsh went to Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate and put up a .259/.384/.388 bating line over 245 plate appearances.
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here for the other entries in this series.
The Phillies faded badly after a solid start to the 2016 campaign, and ultimately dealt with some ups and downs from important organizational assets. But with an increasingly massive gulf between the team’s commitments and its spending capacity, the build back toward contention may begin to feature investments in the major league roster.
- Matt Harrison, SP: $15MM through 2017 (includes $2MM buyout of $13.25MM club option for 2018)
- Phillies retained $9.5MM of future obligations to Cole Hamels in trade sending him to Rangers; payout over unreported timeline
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Jeanmar Gomez, RP (5.063) – $4.6MM
- Freddy Galvis, SS (4.021) – $4.4MM
- Cesar Hernandez, 2B (2.154) – $2.5MM
- Cody Asche, 3B/OF (3.022) – $1.3MM
- Non-tender candidates: Gomez, Asche
- Ryan Howard, 1B: $25MM club option ($10MM buyout)
- Charlie Morton, SP: $9.5MM mutual option ($1MM buyout)
With a big new TV contract backing a franchise that already has shown more capacity to spend than all but a few others, the Phillies have been a monster in waiting from the moment their veteran-laden roster took a downturn after the 2011 campaign — its last of five straight NL East title runs. But that was five seasons ago, and the rebuild has really only been undertaken in earnest over the last two years, leading president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak to continue preaching patience.
All told, despite essentially unrestrained spending capacity, the Phillies are unlikely to lock up too much future payroll space this winter. Klentak has consistently dampened any expectations of a free agent spending spree, and reports suggest instead that the club will look to the free agent and trade markets for some targeted additions — thus maintaining flexibility and keeping the books clear for future extensions and more promising open-market classes still to come.
That said, the Phils can’t be counted out for any free agents, and it’s reasonable to wonder whether the team will weigh a significant addition if it sees a chance at achieving good value and infusing some life into Citizens Bank Park. Certainly, there are a variety of roster spots that could stand to be improved.
The place to start, it seems, is the outfield, where only center is locked down. The remarkable Odubel Herrera has not only been the team’s best player in each of the last two years after being plucked in the Rule 5 draft, but improved significantly in plate discipline (nearly tripling his walks) and home run power (from eight to 15) in his second MLB campaign.
Otherwise, it’s open season. Though there are internal possibilities — now and in the near future — to account for, neither corner spot is spoken for. Cody Asche struggled and may well be a non-tender candidate. Aaron Altherr didn’t progress as hoped after missing a big chunk of the season. Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel will surely head to the minors for needed seasoning. The highly-rated Nick Williams scuffled at Triple-A, with 136 strikeouts against just 19 walks, so he’s probably headed back to Lehigh Valley. Good things happened at Double-A, where Dylan Cozens emerged with forty home runs and Andrew Pullin had a mini-breakout of his own, but neither player stands out as particularly likely to make the MLB roster out of camp. Roman Quinn did reach the majors after a solid showing at Reading, and could be a candidate for a roster spot, but he hasn’t shown much power and showed enough swing-and-miss in his brief MLB stint that more development may be in order.
That group, along with those deeper in the system, may come with enough promise that the Phillies won’t chase two multi-year outfield additions. But it seems reasonable to expect that the club will at least sign one established veteran to man a corner post for the next several years. There are a variety of options available, ranging from the probably-unrealistic Yoenis Cespedes to the steady Josh Reddick and relatively youthful left-handed hitters Michael Saunders and Colby Rasmus. We’ve heard some chatter connecting Ian Desmond to Philly, where presumably he’d play in left or even occupy a utility role at some point. Dangling a moderate guarantee with an opt-out to Carlos Gomez could be interesting. And if they like what they’ve seen, the Phillies could be in a nice position to take a shot on MLB-to-KBO success story Eric Thames (assuming he’d move back to the grass if he returns stateside). Odds are, the club will add at least two veterans, perhaps chasing a shorter-term deal with some upside on one player.
There’s far less work to be done in the infield, where most of the jobs are accounted for. Though he took a step back, Maikel Franco remains the future at third. Shortstop Freddy Galvis doesn’t get on base much, but put on a late-season power surge and showed plenty of glove to hold onto the everyday job. The expectation remains that he’s keeping the seat warm for top prospect J.P. Crawford, though Galvis’s strong finish and Crawford’s tepid batting line in his first run at Triple-A almost certainly makes that a mid-season debate. Looking at second, Cesar Hernandez somewhat quietly ended up having a big year, posting a .371 on-base percentage, fielding his position quite well, though he was gunned down in 13 of 30 stolen base attempts. The team will presumably either re-sign Andres Blanco, who has been surprisingly useful, or find another sturdy utility piece to fill things out.
There’s a bit more uncertainty at first and behind the plate, but that doesn’t mean there’s reason to expect any major action. With Ryan Howard set to follow Carlos Ruiz out the door, finally closing the book on the team’s stretch of excellence, the first base job seems set to go to Tommy Joseph — who battled through concussion issues that forced him out from the catching position. He swatted 21 home runs and posted a .257/.308/.505 batting line in 347 plate appearances, though he was much better with the platoon advantage and could end up being paired with a lefty slugger. Joseph’s emergence may push Darin Ruf off the roster.
In some regards, 28-year-old backstop Cameron Rupp was an even bigger surprise than Joseph. He posted league-average overall offensive numbers and whacked 16 long balls in his 419 trips to the plate, setting himself up as the primary receiver for 2017. A strike to bring back A.J. Ellis (who was acquired when Ruiz was traded) or add another one-year veteran wouldn’t be surprising. Regardless of where Joseph goes from here, the organization will want to see what it has sooner than later in top prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, so a significant addition would be a surprise.
As for the pitching, it was two steps forward, one step back in many regards. Righty Aaron Nola is the chief example of that, as he showed immense promise — with 9.8 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 and a 55.2% groundball rate — even if a low strand rate (60.6%) helped crater his earned run average (4.78 over 111 innings). The big question, though, is whether he can work back from a UCL sprain or whether he’ll end up succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Vince Velasquez also dealt with arm troubles and inconsistency, but was dominant at times and ended up with 131 innings of 4.12 ERA ball. Forming the third piece of what could be a nice core was fellow righty Jerad Eickhoff, who has exceeded expectations (both of prospect observers and of ERA estimators) with 248 1/3 innings of 3.44 ERA pitching since rising to the major league level in the middle of 2015.
How the Phils will account for the two or three remaining spots in the rotation remains to be seen. Charlie Morton figures to hit the open market after missing most of the year, unless he and the team see eye to eye on a mutual option or work something else out. Less-established starters Adam Morgan, Zach Eflin, and Jake Thompson all logged significant MLB innings, but none performed well enough to lock up a job (and Eflin will also be working back from surgery to both knees). Command artist Alec Asher was excellent in the upper minors before a PED suspension, and then got strong results in five major league starts upon his return, so he could factor in the club’s 2016 plans.
While there are options on hand, odds are the Phils will look to add at least one sturdy veteran. Jeremy Hellickson filled that role quite nicely after being acquired via trade, and it seems the team will be able to recoup a draft pick for its investment by issuing him a qualifying offer. Klentak will likely be looking to find at least one more solid rotation piece, whether by signing or trade. It seems reasonable to think that the team will again be willing to allocate a decent bit of money to that effort, so long as the contract doesn’t drag out too far into the future. Another strike similar to the trades for Hellickson and Morton would not surprise. There are some fairly costly pitchers with short-term control remaining (via arb or option) who could fit a generally similar profile, such as Drew Smyly, Hector Santiago, Jordan Lyles, Jaime Garcia, Derek Holland, Clay Buchholz, and even Tyson Ross — if he can show that he’s on an upward health trajectory, at least.
The bullpen, too, can be filled mostly from within, but the Phillies can also open up the late innings to outsiders who are interested in throwing high-leverage innings. Incumbent closer Jeanmar Gomez stumbled down the stretch, and could even draw non-tender consideration with his save tally inflating his earning power. But he was quite good for most of the year, seemingly wearing down in the course of another season of heavy usage. Hector Neris was the true eye-opener in 2016, and he’ll continue to play a significant role moving forward. Neris appears to be first in line for closing duties, though the club could dangle that opportunity in a bid to draw veteran free agents.
Filling things out will likely involve giving some chances to younger players while perhaps taking some shots on veterans — as the team did last year with David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey, and others. The Phils received interesting showings last year from live-armed young hurlers such as Edubray Ramos, Joely Rodriguez, and Severino Gonzalez, all of whom will factor at some point in 2017. Others — including Michael Mariot, Luis Garcia, and Phil Klein — could be kept on the 40-man for depth and given a chance to compete this spring. While Elvis Araujo and injury-addled Mario Hollands could compete for a chance to serve as a lefty option alongside Rodriguez, that’s certainly a plausible area for the club to target on the open market. All told, dropping a bit of cash on the bullpen would be an easy way to improve for the Phillies, but it would be exceedingly surprising were the club to play in the markets for the top available closers.
What’s not covered above, at least not directly, is the possibility of more creative action than we’ve seen of late. Klentak has thus far proceeded steadily — after all, most of the Phillies’ major veteran pieces were already gone when he took over — rather than engineering the kinds of bold swaps put together by the new-look Braves front office. But he also has far more financial might at his disposal, and already wielded it to add Hellickson, Morton, and Hernandez last winter. Whether it’s absorbing a big salary to facilitate the acquisition of a quality youngster, taking advantage of the team’s protected first-round pick to land a QO-bound free agent who slips through the cracks, or finding some other means of buying up talent, there figure to be many opportunities for Klentak to absorb this winter.
- In his latest Inbox column, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki answers several questions about the Phillies’ offseason and their 2017 outlook. Notably, Zolecki believes Odubel Herrera to be the only definitive lock for next season’s outfield and adds that he expects the Phillies to acquire an outfielder this offseason as well, though not necessarily one that will require an expensive multi-year commitment. Zolecki also has difficulty envisioning a trade of Cameron Rupp due to the fact that there aren’t any other experienced catchers in the organization (although speaking purely speculatively, I’ll suggest that the Phils could deal Rupp and sign a veteran to a one-year deal as a bridge to Jorge Alfaro and/or Andrew Knapp).
The Phillies have outrighted six players, per a club announcement. Infielder Emmanuel Burriss, outfielder Jimmy Paredes, lefty Patrick Schuster, and righties Frank Herrmann, Dalier Hinojosa, and Colton Murray all lost their roster spots.
It’s no surprise to see Philadelphia partaking in some aggressive roster trimming. The organization has been utilizing a variety of temporary options while its best young talent develops in the minors. With another offseason at hand, the Phils will need to protect a new round of players from the Rule 5 draft while also pursuing new additions from the group of players that will inevitable enter the open market as other organizations make their winter decisions.
Paredes, 27, struggled badly in his 150 plate appearances, posting a .217/.242/.350 slash a season after providing the Orioles with an approximately league-average bat last year in over 100 games of action. Likewise, Burris didn’t show much at all in his fifty plate appearances, which represent his most extensive MLB action since way back in 2012.
The southpaw Schuster, who is still just 25, was bombed in his two major league innings. But he showed quite well in 44 2/3 Triple-A innings on the year, allowing just six earned runs on 31 hits and 18 walks while punching out 46 batters.
As for the righties, Herrmann earned a return to the majors for the first time since 2012 but was hit hard in 15 frames. The 30-year-old Hinojosa held opponents to four earned runs in 11 innings, with eight strikeouts and three walks, and also carried a 2.86 ERA with 10.5 K/9 against 5.1 BB/9 in his 28 1/3 innings at the highest level of the minors.
Among these players, only Murray was drafted and developed by the Phils. He was coming off of two straight quality campaigns in the upper minors and continued to perform well at Triple-A, but didn’t impress in the bigs. Over 31 2/3 innings, Murray worked to a 6.25 ERA with 8.8 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. Though ERA estimators suggest he was a bit unlucky, he was quite susceptible to the long ball and gave up a ton of hard contact (41.1%).
Phillies owner John Middleton covered a variety of interesting topics in a two-part interview with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com (see here and here). Fans of the team will certainly want to give those pieces a full read, but here are a few highlights:
Middleton began by addressing the way that the organization’s recent leadership transition came about. The ownership group decided it needed to take a more public role as Ruben Amaro Jr. was moved out of the general manager’s seat. Ultimately, Andy MacPhail was brought in as president to drive a rebuild, with the organization feeling it “needed to go to the outside” to acquire executives with “a different knowledge base than an internal candidate would have.” Change, notes, Middleton, is now a clear organizational imperative.
“I think in a competitive world, the one constant is change,” he explained. “I want the Phillies to be at the forefront of change because in order to be successful in the long run, you have to be ahead of change rather than lagging behind it.”
As Middleton and MacPhail set out to put that philosophy into action, they hired Matt Klentak to run the baseball operations department. In part, that reflected a massive shift toward the use of analytics. Middleton explained how the club has ramped up its use of statistics and related tools:
“In 2013, our analytics department was zero. Zero people, zero budget. In 2014, we had one full time person, and one intern, and the budget from my memory was $100,000. Next year, we’re going to have a minimum of six full-time people, a number of interns, and a budget measured in the millions. Our competitors may add people, as well, and add to their budgets, but right now we’re projecting that we’re going to have one of the top analytics departments in baseball. We have come light-years in the last 12 months.”
There’s more to come, Middleton also mentioned. The Phils are working to develop “some proprietary analytical tools … specifically biomechanical analytics, trying to predict and prevent future injuries for pitchers by combining that analysis with our medical evaluations, human intelligence.”
Obviously, the rebuilding process isn’t always quick; he notes, in fact, that Klentak studied recent examples from competitors and found that a three-year down period is the likely minimum. Middleton stressed that he continues to exercise patience and intends to see the process through, though he noted that the organization hopes it can complete its own process on the shorter side of what others have required to return to contention. There’s progress, he says: the team as a whole, both hitters and pitchers, showed improvement in “controlling the strike zone,” which Middleton labeled “the cornerstone of [Klentak’s] vision of Phillies baseball going forward.” And the minor league ranks featured strong team and individual performances.
Whether and when the Phillies can break out — as soon as next year, but perhaps more likely in 2018 — will likely depend upon many variables, Middleton noted, including simply the developmental path of several important young players (and others who could emerge from relative obscurity). Philadelphia doesn’t seem inclined to make an early strike via free agency, with Middleton stressing that it’s not the way to build a roster. But he did acknowledge that the organization has “already started talking about issues like our current team and where we see strengths and weaknesses in the free agent market” over the next several years.
As the process continues to unfold, Middleton suggested that he won’t simply fade back into the background. If anything, it seems, he’ll take on an even more visible and important role both inside and outside the organization:
“My role has changed over the last two years and I find it interesting. I’m enjoying it a lot. I like working closely with Andy and Matt and I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I’m even thinking of getting an office in the stadium if they’ll let me do that. I see my job as making sure we have the right strategy in place to get us back to our championship form, and to make sure that we’re on track and on schedule with getting back there.”
- The Phillies have officially announced that they’ve parted ways with hitting coach Steve Henderson, as CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury tweeted yesterday. They will retain all their other big-league coaches. Henderson had been the Phillies’ hitting coach for the last four seasons, having previously served as hitting coach for the Astros and Rays. The Phillies struggled offensively in 2016, batting just .240/.301/.385 as a team and getting especially poor seasons from Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel, Aaron Altherr, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Paredes.
Soon-to-be free agent right-hander Jeremy Hellickson said Thursday that he’d like his next deal to be a multiyear pact, but he also told Todd Zolecki of MLB.com that he’s not ruling out accepting a qualifying offer from the Phillies. In tendering Hellickson a QO after the season, the Phillies would either bring him back next year for $16.7MM or lose him to another team and land a first-round pick as compensation.
“I mean, I definitely could see it,” Hellickson said of taking a qualifying offer.
If he were to accept a QO, Hellickson would join a growing list of players who have gone that route since last offseason, when Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus and Dodgers left-hander Brett Anderson all took one-year, $15.8MM deals to remain where they were. Hellickson certainly has a case for multiyear contract, though, considering both his strong 2016 and the paucity of quality starters scheduled to hit the open market over the winter. Fellow impending free agents Rich Hill and Bartolo Colon are superior pitchers to Hellickson, but they’re both significantly older than the 29-year-old (30 in April). Hellickson, therefore, might offer the best combination of relative youth and track record among those who are primed to hit the market.
Hellickson, who made $7MM this year, boosted his future earning power with his first above-average season since 2012, posting a 3.71 ERA, 7.33 K/9, 2.14 BB/9 and 14.3 percent infield fly rate across a career-high 189 innings. The former top prospect was even stingier at preventing runs as a Ray during his first three seasons, but the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year struggled with both Tampa Bay and Arizona from 2013-15. The rebuilding Phillies acquired Hellickson from the Diamondbacks in a salary dump last November, and the move paid dividends for Philadelphia this year. It could continue serving them well in the future if he re-signs or heads elsewhere and nets the team a draft choice.
“I would love to be back next year,” Hellickson said of Philadelphia.
However, the Phillies won’t look to spend significant money during the offseason, as FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal have reported this week. That makes it likely Hellickson’s stint with the club will go down as a one-off, per Zolecki.
- The Phillies have plenty of financial flexibility next season, but (as has been reported elsewhere) they aren’t likely to sign players to long-term deals this winter. The reason, Rosenthal says, is that don’t want to block any of their better prospects. For a rebuilding team, acquiring veterans in the wrong sorts of situations can have opportunity costs, as Rosenthal points out. He notes, for example, that the Phillies (whose GM, Matt Klentak, previously worked in the Angels organization) could have pursued former Angel Howie Kendrick last offseason. But doing so would have prevented the team from giving playing time to Cesar Hernandez, a younger player who has had a solid season for the Phillies in 2016.
- Manager Pete Mackanin met with various members of the Phillies’ front office Friday to discuss the team’s plans for the offseason, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com writes. Afterwards, Mackanin reiterated his desire for the organization to acquire a veteran bat or two, although he sounded realistic about how far the rebuilding Phils might be willing to go to find additional hitting talent. “I would like to get a good solid proven hitter somewhere on the field,” Mackanin said. “Where that is right now will be determined by who is available and what kind of a deal, if any, they could make. And if not we’ll try to find something from within that we think can help us or somebody could make a great impression in the spring. There’s so many ways to do that.” As Zolecki points out, the Phillies are likely more than one or two players away from being contenders, and so, as previous reporting has indicated, the Phillies might not want to spend heavily on moves designed to improve the 2017 team.