Given their prospects and resources, the Phillies are in position to make at least one big offseason splash, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal observes (video link). “It’s no secret” the Phillies have interest in Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, and teammate Giancarlo Stanton could also be on their radar, Rosenthal says. Elsewhere, they’ll “actively” seek starting pitching, with Rosenthal naming impending free agent Rays right-hander Alex Cobb as a logical target, and may dangle shortstop Freddy Galvis to address a need in another area. (Earlier Saturday on MLBTR, Mark Polishuk broke down the Phillies’ three biggest needs heading into the offseason.)
It’s been another tough year on the field for the Phillies, and though the team looks to have added some very notable building blocks in their rebuild, there are still plenty of holes to fill. The Phils won’t be making a push to contend until 2019 at the earliest, so this winter will likely look much the same as last — adding veterans on short-term deals with an eye towards flipping those players at the trade deadline. Here are a few needs that will be at the top of the Phillies’ list this offseason…
1. Add starting pitching. Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff are penciled into next year’s rotation, and Vince Velasquez will get first dibs on a spot if healthy. A variety of young arms (Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin) could be in the mix for the fifth starter’s job or as rotation depth, particularly given Velasquez’s multiple injury issues.
That leaves room for at least one or possibly two veteran starters to join the starting staff. The Phillies obviously won’t be shopping at the top of the free agent market, instead targeting mid-range starters that could be had on a one-year deal. Such pitchers could also be pursued in trades, akin to how the Phillies acquired Clay Buchholz from the Red Sox last offseason in the hopes that he would stay healthy and add rotation stability. Citizens Bank Park isn’t the most pitcher-friendly environment for a hurler looking to perhaps rebuild his value for a more lucrative contract in the 2018-19 offseason, though the Phillies can certainly offer innings and opportunity.
2. Use short-term payroll space on both young and old talent. The Phillies have less than $7MM on the books for 2018, so there’s plenty of room for creativity with so much payroll space to work with. Some of that money will be spent on veterans added in signings or trades, though for the latter, the Phillies have the flexibility to take on quite a bit of money.
For instance, GM Matt Klentak could approach a team burdened by a pricey contract and offer to take that deal off the rival club’s hands, as long as a promising young player was also included in the trade. This “buy a prospect” strategy would likely only be deployed in order to take on a starter or reliever’s bad contract since the Phillies are pretty set around the diamond in terms of players who have either earned everyday jobs or players the team wants to see more of — it would make little sense to block Nick Williams from regular duty by acquiring a pricey outfielder, for instance.
The exception to this would be if the Phils were to acquire a bigger-name talent who offered enough years of control that he could be part of the next contending Philadelphia team. Last summer, the Phillies expressed interest in the Marlins’ Christian Yelich (who is under contract through 2021 with a club option for 2022) and were also reportedly open to eating some of the Marlins’ other bad contracts in order to make a Yelich deal happen. If the Phillies were to make such a deal for Yelich or a similar player, you could see someone like Williams moved as part of the trade package.
The argument could be made that the Phillies could go after a big-ticket free agent this winter as sort of a harbinger of larger spending, akin to how the Nationals’ signing of Jayson Werth in the 2010-11 offseason served as an announcement that the team was looking ahead to being a contender in the near future. Since it has been largely rumored that the Phils will be players in the star-studded 2018-19 free agent class, I’d argue that any “coming attractions” signing Philadelphia might make will come next offseason rather than this winter, since there are still too many question marks for the team (or a free agent looking to win) to assume that a guaranteed contender in 2019.
3. Identify and extend some cornerstone players. Odubel Herrera was signed to a five-year extension last winter that will keep him in Philly until at least 2021, making him the first player clearly marked as a key part of the team’s future plans. Herrera was signed when he was a season away from becoming eligible for salary arbitration, which is the same situation that Nola and Aaron Altherr are in this winter.
The situations aren’t identical, of course, though there’s reason that signing an extension would make sense for Nola and Altherr at this junction. Altherr, who turns 27 in January and only rose to prominence as a prospect within the last couple of years, would likely to be open to his first big payday. Nola already made his first fortune in the sport when he collected a $3.3MM bonus as the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, though since he already went through a UCL/flexor scare last year, Nola might also be eager to lock down some guaranteed money early in his career.
Cesar Hernandez is arb-eligible for the first time last winter, and he has three more trips through the arbitration process coming due to his Super Two status. He’s due for a nice raise on his $2.55MM salary in 2017, and the Phillies could gain cost certainty on the second baseman via an extension. On the flip side, Hernandez could also be a potential trade chip, with the Phillies using Freddy Galvis and, eventually, prospect Scott Kingery at second. With Maikel Franco coming off a brutal year and top prospect J.P. Crawford coming off a pair of underwhelming minor league seasons, however, the Phillies might not want to lose Hernandez with that much uncertainty on the left side of the infield. The team isn’t in any rush to make a decision either way, and the best course could be to just give Hernandez his arb raise and then see how things develop with their other infielders.
Phillies right-hander Jesen Therrien underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week and could miss the entire 2018 campaign as a result, as Jeremy Filosa of 98.5 FM Sports in Montreal (Therrien’s hometown) first reported, on Twitter.
[Related: Philadelphia Phillies depth chart]
The 24-year-old Therrien made his Major League debut this season, appearing in in 15 games and totaling 18 1/3 innings. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, his 92.6 mph average fastball in the bigs was diminished from his minor league velocity, and Therrien’s results were nowhere near the promising output he showed in the minors. Therrien obliterated minor league opponents, posting a ridiculous 1.41 ERA with 10.2 K/9 against 1.4 BB/9 in 57 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. In the Majors, he logged an 8.35 ERA on 24 hits and seven walks with just 10 strikeouts.
The loss of Therrien for the 2018 campaign will deprive the Phils of one of their more promising relief prospects next season, though Therrien is certainly young enough to bounce back and make meaningful contributions when the Phils are closer to contention in 2019 and beyond.
In the meantime, the Phillies will turn to a bullpen group that is likely to feature Hector Neris, Luis Garcia, Edubray Ramos, Kevin Siegrist and Adam Morgan next year. Other candidates will include young arms such as Victor Arano, Hoby Milner, Ricardo Pinto, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis, though the Philadelphia front office could certainly look to augment its internal options with some veterans on the free-agent and/or trade markets this winter. President Andy MacPhail, GM Matt Klentak and the rest of the Phils’ front office brought in veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit last winter, both to help stabilize a group of inexperienced relievers and for the potential to emerge as summer trade chips.
- Second baseman Cesar Hernandez has emerged as either a legitimate building block for the Phillies or someone they could dangle over the winter in an effort to acquire sorely needed starting pitching help, Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com observes. The 27-year-old has combined for 7.0 fWAR and 5.5 rWAR in 1,139 plate appearances dating back to last season, thanks in part to a .293/.367/.406 batting line. Hernandez’s OBP over that span ranks 24th in the majors, and the Phillies’ front office places a great deal of value in his ability to get on base, Lawrence writes. The switch-hitter is controllable through 2020 via arbitration, further adding to his appeal.
- The Phillies have struggled this season, but GM Matt Klentak still seems to have manager Pete Mackanin’s back, as MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. The Phillies extended Mackanin through 2018, with an option for 2019, in May. “When we signed him to the extension, the intention was to take the drama out of both this year and next year,” says Klentak. “Beyond that we’ll have to see, but I think when we signed Pete, that was right in the beginning stages of our struggles. The fact that he and his staff were able to weather the storm and get us going on the right track was really important for us this season.” The Phillies are 57-90, but it seems Mackanin will return next season.
With just a few weeks left in the season, we have a pretty clear idea of which Rule 5 draft picks will stick with their drafting teams. At this point, having already carried the player this far and with expanded rosters easing any pressures, teams are quite likely to stay the course. Here’s how this season’s Rule 5 group has shaken out thus far:
It isn’t official yet, but these
- Miguel Diaz, RHP, kept by Padres (via Twins) from Brewers: As part of the Pads’ unusually bold Rule 5 strategy, the club kept three youngsters this year. Diaz, 22, has managed only a 6.21 ERA with a 31:22 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. But he is showing a 96 mph heater and will remain with the organization, quite likely heading back to the minors next season to continue his development.
- Luis Torrens, C, kept by Padres (via Reds) from Yankees: The youthful backstop — he’s just 21 — has struggled badly on offense in limited action. Through 133 plate appearances, he’s slashing just.169/.246/.212 — with just four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.
- Allen Cordoba, INF, kept by Padres from Cardinals: And then there’s Cordoba, who’s also just 21 years of age. He faded after a hot start at the plate, but on the whole his output — a .209/.284/.304 batting line and four home runs over 215 plate appearances — is fairly impressive given that he had never before played above Rookie ball.
- Dylan Covey, RHP, kept by White Sox from Athletics: Technically, owing to a DL stint, Covey has only compiled 83 of the minimum 90 days of active roster time required to be kept. But he’s going to make it there before the season is up, meaning that the Sox will be able to hold onto his rights and option him back to the minors in 2018. Covey, 26, has struggled to a 7.90 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings, allowing 18 long balls in that span.
- Stuart Turner, C, kept by Reds from Twins: Turner has seen minimal action, appearing in just 33 games and taking only 77 trips to the plate. And he’s hitting just .141/.184/.268 in that sporadic action. Clearly, though, the Reds have seen enough to believe he’s worth the trouble to hang onto.
Still In Limbo
- Kevin Gadea, RHP, selected by Rays from Mariners: Gadea has not pitched at any level this year owing to an elbow injury. He’ll remain with the Tampa Bay organization for the time being, but will still need to be carried on the 40-man roster over the offseason and then on the active roster for at least ninety days for his rights to permanently transfer.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, selected by Braves from Cubs: It’s the exact same situation for Rivero as for Gadea, though he has had shoulder problems.
- Josh Rutledge, INF, selected by Red Sox from Rockies: This was not your typical Rule 5 move. Boston snagged the veteran infielder after he signed a minors deal with Colorado. He ended up seeing minimal MLB time owing to injuries and his season ended recently with hip surgery. Rutledge is eligible for arbitration this fall and isn’t likely to be kept on the 40-man roster regardless.
- Anthony Santander, OF, selected by Orioles from Indians: Since he only made it off of the DL late in the summer, Santander can accrue only 45 days on the active roster. If Baltimore wants to keep him, then, it’ll need to put him on the Opening Day roster next year. Santander has seen minimal playing time thus far, recording two hits in twelve trips to the plate, though he put up impressive numbers on his rehab assignment.
Kept By Other Means
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, signed with Tigers after electing free agency upon return to Royals: This is another unusual situation. As a previous Rule 5 returnee, Stumpf was eligible to elect free agency upon being returned to his original organization. That’s just what happened when Detroit sent him back to Kansas City; the southpaw then turned around and re-signed a MLB deal with the Tigers. He has ended up turning in a rather productive year, posting 32 1/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at the major-league level and showing even more impressive numbers during his time at Triple-A.
- Tyler Jones, RHP, returned to Yankees by Diamondbacks: Jones has thrown rather well at Triple-A since going back to the New York organization, posting 10.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings, though he has also allowed 4.38 earned per nine.
- Caleb Smith, LHP, returned to Yankees by Brewers: Smith ended up earning a 40-man roster spot and spending some time in the majors after showing quite well as a starter in the minors. But he has been knocked around in his 18 2/3 MLB frames on the year.
- Justin Haley, RHP, returned to Red Sox by Twins (via Angels): The 26-year-old didn’t stick with Minnesota, allowing a dozen earned runs in 18 innings before being returned to Boston. But he has thrown well since landing back at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.66 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 44 innings over seven starts.
- Tyler Webb, LHP, returned to Yankees by Pirates: Webb also gained a 40-man spot with the Yankees after showing some intriguing K/BB numbers at Triple-A. He was ultimately dealt to the Brewers.
- Aneury Tavarez, OF, returned to Red Sox by Orioles: Tavarez played his way back up to Triple-A upon his return to his former organization, but has hit just .244/.292/.400 in 145 plate appearances there.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP, returned to Royals by Blue Jays: Sparkman was bombed in his one MLB appearance and has been limited to just 30 1/3 minor-league frames due to injury.
- Hoby Milner, LHP, returned to Phillies by Indians: Another player who has risen to the majors with the organization that originally let them leave via the Rule 5, Milner has turned in 24 1/3 frames of 1.85 ERA ball in Philadelphia. Of course, he has also managed just 15 strikeouts against ten walks in that span.
- Mike Hauschild, RHP, returned to Astros by Rangers: The 27-year-old righty struggled badly in his eight MLB frames. Upon returning to the rotation for Houston’s top affiliate, Hauschild has uncharacteristically struggled with free passes (5.3 per nine).
A couple of 40-man additions to kick things off Tuesday morning…
- The Phillies will add not only Henderson Alvarez to the 40-man roster — as was reported yesterday — but also right-hander Victor Arano, according to CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury (Twitter link). The hard-throwing 22-year-old, who ranks 27th on MLB.com’s list of the Phillies’ top 30 prospects, spent the season pitching against older competition with Double-A Reading and posted a 4.19 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 38.9 percent ground-ball rate. MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo note in their free report on him that a move to the bullpen in 2017 and a focus on his slider as his primary breaking pitch have both allowed Arano’s stuff to play up in the bullpen. Arano needed to be added to the 40-man this winter anyhow in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, so the Phils will add him a bit earlier and take a few looks at him against MLB pitching down the stretch. He opened the year with an arm injury — reportedly a sprained UCL — but made his way back to toss 38 2/3 innings this season.
- The Twins look set to add lefty reliever Gabriel Moya to their 40-man roster. Venezuelan journalist Dessiree Castro tweeted that Moya was promoted to the Majors, and Moya’s former pitching coach in the D-backs’ minor league system did the same. Moya rated at the back-end of the Twins’ top 30 at MLB.com before the trades of Jaime Garcia and Brandon Kintzler added a couple of new names to that list. The 22-year-old has posted video-game numbers in Double-A this year, working to a combined 0.77 ERA with 13.4 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9 with a ground-ball rate of about 41 percent through 58 1/3 innings. Acquired from Arizona in late July for catcher John Ryan Murphy, Moya would have been added to the 40-man this winter as well, so this move will just give Minnesota an earlier chance to evaluate him for a future role.
The Phillies are set to promote right-handed starter Henderson Alvarez to the major-league level, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. The Phillies have an open spot on the 40-man roster, so the organization will not need to make a corresponding roster move.
It’s been a complicated road back to the majors for Alvarez, who last appeared at the MLB level with the Marlins in 2015. His season was cut short that year due to right shoulder surgery in July, and the Marlins non-tendered him in the offseason. The Athletics signed him to a major-league deal in that December, but he never made the major-league club and ended up back on the disabled list, ultimately undergoing a second shoulder surgery in September of 2016.
After being unable to find a major-league deal for the 2017 season, he decided to showcase his talents by pitching for the Long Island Ducks in independent ball. The Phillies elected to sign him to a minor-league contract, assigning him to Triple-A LeHigh Valley to pitch for the Iron Pigs. It’s unclear when he will pitch for the Phillies, but with Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson and Nick Pivetta struggling of late, it seems likely that he will get a chance to start at some point before the season is over.
Alvarez’s greatest success came with the Marlins between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. During that time, he pitched to a sparkling 2.98 ERA with a 3.71 xFIP and 53.7% ground ball rate across 289 2/3 innings. He etched his place in history on September 29th, 2013 when he threw a no-hitter against the Tigers. Alvarez even made the NL All-Star team in 2014.
Alvarez will fall short of the service time required to be a free agent, so if he pitches well, the Phillies will be able to retain him for another year through arbitration.
The Mariners have announced that recently-designated left-hander Zac Curtis has been claimed by the Phillies. The Mariners also announced that right-hander Ryan Weber has been outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma.
Curtis, 25, is best known for being part of the package the Diamondbacks sent along with shortstop Jean Segura in order to land Taijuan Walker from the Mariners. He did not allow an earned run in 4 2/3 innings at the major-league level this year and enjoyed some success with the Mariners’ Double-A affiliate, pitching to a 10.52 K/9 and 3.33 BB/9 with a 3.51 ERA in 51 1/3 innings. With two options and plenty of team control remaining, Curtis could be a nice cog in Philadelphia’s current rebuild.
Weber was recently set to come off the 60-day DL. He’ll remain with the organization for now, but will have to work his way back to the majors. Before missing the past three months with a right biceps strain, Weber had pitched to a 0.85 ERA spanning five starts with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. Though he didn’t show a penchant for strikeouts with the Rainiers (5.40 K/9), he showed excellent ground ball-inducing skills (72.5 GB%).
- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak indicated Friday that he’ll emphasize acquiring pitching in the offseason, leading Todd Zolecki of MLB.com to suggest that the team could deal from its logjam of infielders for help in that area. That could mean moving struggling third baseman Maikel Franco, though Klentak still has a high opinion of the 25-year-old. “I absolutely believe in Maikel Franco’s future,” Klentak said. “I think there’s too much talent there. He has the bat speed, the strength, his defense has taken a step forward. All the components are there for Maikel to still be a really good player. I know his numbers right now aren’t what a lot of people expected or hoped, but we still believe strongly in his future.” Despite Klentak’s vote of confidence, Franco simply hasn’t given the Phillies much in the way of results since what looked like a breakout rookie year in 2015. This season has been particularly ugly for Franco, who has slashed a weak .224/.279/.392 and accounted for minus-0.7 fWAR in 559 trips to the plate.