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Ruben Amaro Jr. Rumors
The Phillies are in for an uncomfortable spring training, writes Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. As Brookover puts it, the club could contend for the “Most Awkward Spring Training in franchise history.” At issue are the number of returning veterans who were shopped extensively over the offseason. The most notable include Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and Ryan Howard.
With Hamels, the potential for drama is limited. The club has asked for a king’s ransom in return for the left-handed ace, and he’s well compensated. Hamels seemingly understands the Phillies’ need to rebuild. His 20-team no-trade list does not include nine of the clubs most likely to acquire his services. He’ll continue to audition for a trade to a contender.
Strife is more likely with Papelbon. He has a reputation for honest comments to the media, and he appears to let frustration boil over publicly at times. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. assured Papelbon that the club meant to contend this season as recently as the 2014 trade deadline. Club representatives, including President Pat Gillick, have since been very forward about their intention to rebuild.
Brookover suggests that Papelbon may feel misled. Even if Papelbon takes a pragmatic approach to the rebuild, it’s clear the club intends to move him elsewhere. Papelbon has a 17-team no-trade clause, but he’s expressed a willingness to waive it. Rumor suggests he would ask for his 2016 option to be guaranteed as a condition to waiving the no trade clause.
While Papelbon could produce headlines this spring, the return of Howard is the most uncomfortable situation. While Amaro has loudly praised Howard’s character, he also told the former star first baseman that the club was better off without him. A market for Howard’s services never developed. It was rumored that the Phillies would eat a large portion of his contract to facilitate a trade. Howard’s continued presence may delay opportunities for prospects like Maikel Franco and Kelly Dugan.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro “covets” Padres righty Andrew Cashner, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan (via Twitter). San Diego has been rumored to be one of the teams looking at a trade for Cole Hamels, so it’s fair to speculate that Cashner’s name has probably come up in discussions between the two teams. The Padres were reportedly open to offers for Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross earlier this winter if one of those starters would bring back a top hitter in return, though the Friars subsequently added several significant lineup pieces without giving up any of their rotation-heading trio. Passan notes that the Padres aren’t one of the teams on Hamels’ no-trade list.
Here’s some more from the City of Brotherly Love…
- Phillies chairman David Montgomery gave Amaro a vote of confidence in an interview on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (hat tip to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki), calling Amaro “a pretty quality guy in that [GM] role.” Amaro is entering the last year of his contract with the team, and the Phillies’ ownership group as a whole is “looking at this closely as well” to determine if Amaro will continue in Philadelphia. “If Pat [Gillick] spends an entire year or two close with Ruben, I think he’ll have a very good idea to how effective Ruben is, and collectively a decision will be made,” Montgomery said.
- Aaron Nola won’t be invited to the Phillies’ Major League Spring Training camp, Amaro tells CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury. “He’s not one of those kids that we need to see mature or develop mentally. We think that he’s got other things he needs to work on on the field, other parts of the game that he needs to continue to work on,” Amaro said. “He’ll get into minor-league camp and get into the program there and it will be good for him and when he’s ready to come to the big leagues, he’ll come to the big leagues.” Nola, the seventh overall pick of the 2014 draft, is projected to begin the season at Double-A and Amaro didn’t rule out that the righty could reach the bigs in 2015, calling Nola “a fast-track guy and there’s a reason why.”
- From that same piece, Amaro also expressed confidence in Jesse Biddle, whose stock as a top-100 prospect dropped after a rough 2014 season. Biddle received an invite to the big league Spring Training camp, though Amaro said that the southpaw will eventually be sent to the minors camp and “likely in Double-A” to start the season.
While new Phillies president Pat Gillick only figures to occupy that role for a year or so — the 77-year-old has expressed no interest in filling the position long-term — his brief tenure could define the next generation for the team, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes.
As Salisbury notes, Gillick has already signed off on an organizational rebuild and the decision to replace longtime scouting director Marti Wolever. Now, Gillick will be tasked with overseeing any structural changes to the Phillies’ front office, including the decision as to who will replace him as the club’s president. Should the team make a change at GM, a new president would likely make that call.
Additionally, Gillick’s successor would oversee any changes made in the dugout. Ryne Sandberg didn’t distinguish himself with his leadership in 2014, Salisbury writes, and some within the organization question whether he’s the “right guy” to oversee the rebuild. Sandberg will be afforded more time to prove himself, but Gillick will be keeping a watchful eye on his skipper as he enters the second season of a three-year contract.
Also of note in the article, Salisbury hears that teams that have expressed interest in Chase Utley this winter have been informed that he is not interested in waiving his 10-and-5 rights, which grant him the ability to veto a potential trade to any club.
The Dodgers and Phillies reportedly had brief discussions regarding Utley and the Winter Meetings prior to the team’s acquisition of Howie Kendrick, but shortly thereafter, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. indicated to reporters that Utley’s desire was to remain in Philadelphia. Utley himself has said as much in the past, but some have speculated that he might eventually warm to the idea of a trade as the Phillies’ rebuild wore on. That apparently has not been the case even after trading Antonio Bastardo, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd.
Utley, 36, batted .270/.339/.407 in 664 plate appearances last season — his highest total since the 2009 season. He’ll earn $15MM in 2015 — he triggered a $5MM salary increase by avoiding the disabled list — and has three vesting options at the same price on his contract, the first of which will trigger if he reaches 500 plate appearances this coming season.
The Rangers have joined the Padres, Cardinals, and Red Sox as the four primary teams pursuing Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, according to a report from Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Texas has previously been mentioned as having interest, but not much attention has focused on that possible destination.
It is worth noting that Philadelphia is not interested in simply finding the highest bidder. Rather, per the report, the club is holding firm in demanding two premium talents in return and will keep Hamels at least through the summer if it is not satisfied with an offer. Among the possible trade partners, Boston may be “most in the background” at present after its run of pitching acquisitions, Salisbury adds.
Nevertheless, the Phillies do appear to be serious about making a deal. Ruben Amaro Jr. has dedicated significant resources to scouting systems of the clubs he has been in contact with, says Salisbury, who notes that the embattled GM can ill afford a misstep with the organization’s best MLB asset.
Philly is especially interested in adding a young catcher, says Salisbury, who notes that several of the teams most heavily involved on Hamels possess top backstop prospects. The club would likely insist on adding Blake Swihart in a deal with Boston, or Austin Hedges in a deal with San Diego. And, as Salisbury notes, the Rangers also possess a top minor league receiver in Jorge Alfaro along with a nice collection of other heralded young players.
If the Mets wanted a creative way to free up payroll space for more lineup improvements, they could explore trading Curtis Granderson, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News opines. While Granderson only hit .227/.326/.388 in 654 PA last season, he still slugged 20 homers and Martino argues that the outfielder could draw interest in a market short on impact hitters. While it could well be that Granderson’s bat would perk up in a more hitter-friendly ballpark than Citi Field, I’d think that it’d be a tough sell to find significant trade interest in player who turns 34 in March, is owed $47MM through the 2017 season and has shown signs of decline over the last couple of years.
Here’s some news from around the NL East…
- Braves president of baseball operations John Hart spoke in broad terms about his team’s Winter Meetings plans with David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Braves are looking to make moves to help in both the short- and long-term, particularly aimed towards the opening of their new ballpark in 2017. “I wouldn’t be telling you the truth if I said we’re not taking a look at ’17,” Hart said. “But we haven’t made a move yet that would give anybody any reason to think that we’re even considering doing a strip-down…If you weren’t convinced before [Nick Markakis signed], we’re certainly paying attention to ’15 and ’16 as well as keeping an eye on ’17.”
- With so many rumors circling around the Braves, O’Brien (Twitter link) would be “surprised” if the team didn’t make at least one deal during the Winter Meetings.
- The only notable hole on the Nationals‘ roster is at second base and that spot is more likely to be filled via trade than free agency, Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider writes. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a quiet Winter Meetings for the Nats, however, as trade rumors have swirled around some of the top players, several of whom are entering their last season of team control.
- Though it’s been an uneventful offseason for the Phillies thus far, GM Ruben Amaro tells Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News that he has had several productive discussions about possible moves. “I’m actually probably optimistic about what’s been going on, dialogue-wise, some of the things we’ve discussed externally and internally,” Amaro said. “It’s been a very, very active communication market so far….It’s fortunate we’ve stayed out of the rumor mill, because I prefer to do things quietly. And it doesn’t do anybody any good when it’s out there. I like when it’s quiet. I like the dialogue we’ve had in the last several weeks.”
Who will catch for the Braves in 2015? It’s liable to be a question of interest all offseason long as several roster moves could depend on the outcome. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explores the conundrum. We’ve previously seen speculation that the Braves will deal Evan Gattis to an AL club so defense-first prospect Christian Bethancourt can start. Alternatively, the club could deal an outfielder and move Gattis to left field. While there are a lot moving parts to consider, it’s hard to ignore both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are set to become free agents following the season and will be expensive to re-sign. Meanwhile, Gattis will earn around $600k next season and is club controlled through 2018.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. cited changes in Jerome Williams‘ approach and rotation depth as reasons for yesterday’s contract extension, reports Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Depth is certainly an issue for the Phillies rotation. Cliff Lee ended the season on the disabled list, Kyle Kendrick is a free agent, and only Cole Hamels and David Buchanan finished the season healthy. Another possible factor, A.J. Burnett, is weighing a mutual option. When asked about Burnett, Amaro said, “my inclination is that he’s going to want to pitch. He’s a competitive guy.”
- Yasmany Tomas makes a lot of sense for a number of teams, but insiders are pointing to the Phillies as the current front runners, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Martino spoke with a rival executive who noted the Phillies have the money to reach a deal with Tomas – which could possibly reach nine figures. More to the point, they have a thin farm system and a desire to turn around quickly. That could make the Cuban market more attractive for the club. Another source said to Martino, “don’t count out the Tigers.”
Newly-anointed interim Phillies president Pat Gillick spoke with reporters today, including CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury. Gillick said there has been “no thought whatsoever” to firing GM Ruben Amaro Jr. or manager Ryne Sandberg, saying that his protege Amaro “didn’t get dumb overnight” after playing an important role in the construction of the team’s latest run of success. But Gillick will be focused on baseball operations, and says that he would have final say if there were any disagreements on personnel issues (while emphasizing that he and Amaro are generally on the same page). As a general matter, Gillick said that he would both function as an “interim caretaker” and an agent of change for the organization. The complete interview is well worth a full read.
Here’s more from the NL East:
- Phillies ace Cole Hamels is likely to be dealt in the offseason, opines Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. Turning him into young talent is virtually the only realistic way that the club can convert present assets into future ones, Passan says.
- The Mets ought to deploy Daniel Murphy as a Ben Zobrist-like super-utility player rather than trade him, argues Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Utilizing youngsters Wilmer Flores and/or Dilson Herrera at second and moving Murphy around the diamond — among other moves, of course — could be the best way to maximize value and potentially create a contender, Sherman suggests.
- Braves righty Kris Medlen, nearly six months removed from his second Tommy John procedure, has begun throwing a baseball, Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Though his recovery is still just beginning, Medlen will be quite an interesting player to keep an eye on over the coming offseason. (He is still arb-eligible for a final time.)
Josh Beckett, who has undergone surgeries for thoracic outlet syndrome and a torn meniscus in his left knee within the past 10 months, tossed his first career no-hitter and MLB’s first of the season as he and the Dodgers shutout the Phillies 6-0. Beckett struck out Chase Utley looking on his career-high 128th pitch for the 24th no-hitter in Dodgers’ history and the first for the franchise since Hideo Nomo 18 years ago. This is also the first time the Phillies have been no-hit since the Cardinals’ Bob Forsch turned the trick in 1978 and the first time they have been held hitless in Philadelphia since the Montreal Expos’ Bill Stoneman did so at Connie Mack Stadium in 1969. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki noted on Twitter the Phillies have now been shutout five times in their last ten home games and six times in their last 18 games overall.
In other news and notes involving the Phillies and baseball’s East divisions:
- Could offensive help be on the way for the Phillies in the form of top prospect third baseman Maikel Franco? GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters, including Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it is a possibility. “We’ll see whether it’s the right thing for us and the right thing for him,” said Amaro. “We’ll kick it around.” Franco, ranked as the game’s 17th best prospect by Baseball America and 23rd by MLB.com, is hitting .301 in May with an OPS of .871.
- In the wake of Prince Fielder‘s season-ending neck injury, the Rangers have inquired about Nationals first baseman Tyler Moore, a baseball source tells MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. The source indicated to Ladson nothing is serious and Moore is one of many first baseman in which the Rangers have an interest.
- Johan Santana has a June 1 opt-out in his minor league deal with the Orioles, but Executive Vice President Dan Duquette says that date is not a concern, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. “That’s open for discussion,” Duquette said. “It’s a fluid situation.” Santana remains in extended Spring Training and has not pitched more than four innings in an outing, but Duquette says the 35-year-old left-hander “is making good progress, he is throwing his pitches.“
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark doesn't expect the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be reopened before its 2016 expiration to address issues with the qualifying offer system, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "It’s very difficult to open up a CBA," said Clark. "Suffice it to say, if there are issues during the course of any agreement, we continue to have discussions that may not require the CBA be to opened up, making sure that whatever the concerns are, whatever the issues are, and if they can be discussed in some more formal fashion, so be it, but more often than not, come 2016 when we have an opportunity to sit down is when we’ll do so." Last night, Aaron Steen asked MLBTR readers about the qualifying offer and nearly 47% want to tweak the QO while 25% want to eliminate it entirely.
In National League news and notes on Oscar Sunday:
- With the ink barely dry on Homer Bailey's six-year, $105MM contract extension, the Reds will be in the same situation with starters Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Johnny Cueto next year. Owner Bob Castellini told the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay the team wants to retain all three. "We’re going to try to sign all these guys," Castellini said. "Whether we can or not, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball."
- Castellini also told Fay he is not pleased with the media's coverage of the Reds' offseason because it has had an adverse affect on the team's revenues. "That season-ticket number is the most important number we can generate," said Castellini. "We knew we wanted to sign Homer. We knew we were going to make some other commitments. It’s not that we didn’t look. It gets written in such a way – 'Well, the Reds aren’t doing anything' – that really does affect people buying season tickets." Castellini provided Fay with details of the club's revenue generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, and the national TV contract adding neither he nor any of the other principal owners or investors have ever taken money out of the franchise.
- Last month, the Braves gave Jason Heyward a two-year, $13.3MM contract. In two years, the perfect storm of baseball's economics, Heyward's age, and actions taken by the Braves will set the 24-year-old up for a huge payday on a likely barren free agent market, according to Mike Petriello of ESPN.com in an Insider-only piece (subscription required).
- With mixed reviews to date, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez made his Spring Training debut yesterday. Phillies GM Ruban Amaro Jr. was upbeat about what he saw, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "He probably threw better with his stuff as far as his velocity and breaking ball since he's been in camp," Amaro said. "I was encouraged that his stuff was better than it had been in his sides. And hopefully it will continue to progress in a positive way." Pitching coach Bob McClure added (as quoted by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Inquirer), "I saw a very competitive (guy), and that is what I was really hoping for. And he might be one of those guys that’s not the best practice player, but you put him in a game and he competes." Reports surfaced last week Gonzalez could open the season in the minors.
- Solid pitching will be key to any improvement the Rockies hope to make this season. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick focuses on young starters Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler while the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck examines the Rockies' adherence to pitch counts to protect their starting rotation and the corresponding reliance on their bullpen, which could be called upon to record 10 or 11 outs every game.
The Dodgers made the final August trade of the season late last night acquiring Michael Young and cash from the Phillies for minor-league left-hander Rob Rasmussen. Here's the reaction and analysis from around baseball:
- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly says Juan Uribe is still the team's starting third baseman and Young will see time at both corner infield positions, tweets Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.
- Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told reporters, including ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon, Young is willing to accept a lesser role, and the resulting diminished number of at-bats, because he wants another crack at a World Series ring.
- The Phillies would have been better served accepting the Yankees' offer of Double-A right-hander Tommy Kahnle and paying the remainder of Young's salary that was made prior to the July 31st Trade Deadline, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. disagreed with Heyman's assessment telling reporters, including CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury, "We like this guy (Rasmussen) more. The guys that we talked about with other teams had other issues. At the Trade Deadline we were not out of it completely. We were still trying to win games. Different circumstances. Now we’re out of it, basically."
- The Dodgers paid too high of a price for a sub-replacement level player of no discernable value to a playoff team, opines Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated.
- Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times has the opposite opinion writing there is no drawback, no downside when you add to a club's bench a veteran like Young, who is universally perceived as a great teammate.
- MLB.com's Lyle Spencer agrees with Dilbeck tweeting Young is a great addition for the Dodgers on so many levels: clutch, tough, versatile, smart, and a winner.