- Another well-traveled baseball figure, Ruben Amaro Jr., apparently still feels a deep connection with the Phillies organization for which he once served as GM, according to a profile from Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer (link). After a two-year stint with the Mets in which he served in both coaching and front office capacities, Amaro Jr. is again a professional “free agent” this offseason–and one unabashed about stating his desire to work with his old club in Philly. “I’d be lying to you if I told you I didn’t want to work in the organization in some capacity again,” Amaro Jr. said of the Phillies. “I would love to come back. It’s home for me.” The veteran baseball man and Philadelphia native also indicated to Brookover that there are currently a number of vocational paths open to him (as one would expect of someone with his resumé), but it’s still worth noting that the 54-year-old would welcome a return to the team that relieved him of his GM duties late in the 2015 season.
With the offseason now firmly underway, let’s survey the baseball landscape with a few brief Saturday notes…
- For Red Sox fans eager to gain an inkling as to how their team’s front office might behave under new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, it might be worth reading Jen McCaffrey’s latest work for The Athletic, in which she uses Tampa Bay’s moves in 2019 as a blueprint for how Bloom might operate in Boston. The Rays, of course, overcame one of baseball’s smallest payrolls and took the Astros to five games in the ALDS, while the Red Sox missed out on the postseason entirely despite a comparatively astronomical payroll. Boston can expect Bloom to deploy many of the same strategies that brought success to Tampa, though he’ll of course have a greater bank of resources at his disposal. One might liken Bloom to the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman, another former Rays exec who inherited a big-market budget when he was hired to spearhead the Dodgers’ baseball operations.
- A flurry of teams sent scouts to watch Kwang-hyun Kim of the KBO’s SK Wyverns, according to Dan Kurtz of MyKBO. Scouts from more than ten teams—including the Padres, Twins, and Dodgers, among others—were recently spotted at one of Kim’s games. Though he hasn’t yet been posted, Kim has expressed his desire to play in the Majors in 2020, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who also reports that his club is “weighing its options” regarding Kim’s posting. A 31-year-old lefty, Kim logged a 2.51 ERA in 190 1/3 innings of work in the 2019 KBO season, striking out 180 batters while walking just 38. He’s had previous opportunities to play stateside, most notably in 2014 when he and the Padres failed to agree on a contract. He could slot in as a mid-tier free agent option for clubs unwilling to pony up the money necessary to pursue the top options on the market.
- The Reds have hired a new assistant pitching coordinator, with Eric Jagers announcing on Twitter that he’ll join the Reds staff after a year in the Phillies organization. With the Phillies, Jagers worked in the minor league player development department, filling a new position in the organization as a pitch strategist. He broke into the MLB coaching scene after cutting his teeth as Driveline Baseball’s pitching coordinator. Notably, with the Reds he’ll work alongside another Driveline alum, Kyle Boddy, who founded the company and parlayed its success into a position as the Reds’ pitching coordinator. The addition of Jagers continues the organizational overhaul of its pitching infrastructure, which began with the team’s hiring of Derek Johnson, who coached the club to the National League’s fourth-lowest ERA in 2019.
As the offseason drew near, it became obvious that star third baseman Josh Donaldson could again be a major early target. Teams wishing for top-level production without the lengthy commitment will be vying for the veteran.
At least two clubs — the Rangers and Phillies — are already making their interest known, according to reports from Jeff Passan of ESPN (via Twitter) and Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link). Both were among the best on-paper fits entering the open market, as we noted in the course of our list of the top fifty free agents.
Before those and other lurking organizations can put in their bids, Donaldson will have to formally decline the qualifying offer he was issued by the Braves. That’s a formality, but it’ll keep the offers off the table until November 14th. (Interested teams can chat with Donaldson’s reps in the meantime, it’s worth noting.)
[RELATED: 2019-20 Offseason Calendar]
Last winter, the Braves were able to lure Donaldson with a one-year, $24MM offer. But that came on the heels of an injury-riddled campaign for the former MVP, who more than made good on the hefty bet placed by the Atlanta organization with a strong and healthy 2019 season.
Donaldson is a month away from his 34th birthday. And he wasn’t quite at the height of his powers in the just-completed campaign. But he was an outstanding performer against any measure other than his own top-of-class ceiling. Over 659 plate appearances, Donaldson turned in a .259/.379/.521 batting line (132 wRC+) with 37 home runs and a healthy 15.2% walk rate.
It wasn’t just a return with the bat. Depending upon one’s defensive metric of choice, he was either a good or excellent performer at the hot corner, resulting in something like a 5 or 6 WAR season. If you’re not a fan of the glove grades … let’s just say the former Athletics and Blue Jays superstar pretty much looked like his old self in all respects.
Donaldson is a fiery leader who would certainly light a spark for these or other organizations. He’s also going to hit the market carrying draft compensation as an added cost of signing him. That always must be factored into an open-market offer, though it’s perhaps of particular note for the Rangers and Phillies. The former team is arguably not quite ready for a full push for contention, though the new Texas field (synthetic though it may be) could desperately use some of the rain that Donaldson is wont to bring. As for the Phils, they’re putting out word that they’re loath to surrender more draft picks this offseason. There may be something to that, but it’s also plainly a wiser public statement than last winter’s unintentional slogan.
The Phillies have hired Juan Castro as their new infield coach, the team announced after the news was reported by MLB.com’s Jon Morosi and Todd Zolecki (Twitter link). He takes the position vacated by Bobby Dickerson, who is now the Padres’ bench coach.
Castro was already with the Philadelphia organization, having served as its minor-league infield coordinator in 2019. He also played with the Phillies briefly in 2010 — one of the final stops in a big-league career that spanned 17 seasons and five clubs.
Despite possessing little in the way of MLB-worthy hitting ability, Castro commanded nearly three thousand lifetime plate appearances owing to his magical glovework. After wrapping up his playing career following the 2011 campaign, and before landing with the Phils, Castro worked in varying capacities with the Dodgers and the Mexican League’s Tijuana Toros.
The Phillies’ pair of playoff misses in 2018-19 prompted a managerial change, and with veteran skipper Joe Girardi now at the helm, postseason expectations are even higher. With those postseason aspirations comes the expectation of an active offseason — a topic which general manager Matt Klentak discussed with Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie on the 94WIP Midday Show yesterday (link includes full audio). Unsurprisingly, bolstering the rotation is a key goal for the Phils.
“We’ve built a pretty solid core, we think, on the position-player front,” said Klentak. “So I think it makes sense for us to look to pour some more resources, and our time and attention, into improving our run prevention. That starts in the starting rotation.”
Aaron Nola will once again head up the Phillies’ starting staff in 2020, and Klentak said within the interview that Jake Arrieta is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training after undergoing August surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow. (The hope, of course, is that better health from Arrieta will lead to better results than 2019’s 4.64 ERA in 135 innings.) Beyond that pairing, 25-year-old righty Zach Eflin seems likeliest to have a tentative rotation spot, although he briefly lost his starting gig in 2019. The team’s other primary starters in 2019 — Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas — either struggled greatly (Pivetta, Velasquez), have since departed via free agency (Smyly) or both (Vargas).
At bare minimum, it’d seem the Phillies have two rotation vacancies to address. The good news is that this year’s free-agent market is deeper than many recent offseasons in terms of starters. Fans, however, shouldn’t necessarily hang their hopes on Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg or Zack Wheeler coming to town. While Klentak didn’t firmly decree that the team won’t sign a player that has rejected a qualifying offer, he implied that the organization will need to stop doing so at some point.
“I’m more bullish on the farm system than some,” the GM explained when asked about improving his minor league talent base. “One of the things we’ve got to try to do, if we can, is to not forfeit draft picks, and that’s hard when you’re fishing in the deep end of the free-agent pond. But we lost our second-round pick last year and our second and third the year before. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s where Scott Kingery comes from. That’s where Spencer Howard comes from. That’s where Connor Seabold comes from. … We’ve got to try to hang onto that as much as we can.”
Again, it’s not a firm declaration that such a move won’t happen. The Phillies certainly have the payroll capacity, in both the short- and long-term, to add a high-end arm on the open market, and they’ve clearly been willing to make draft sacrifices recently. But if the preference is to maintain as much draft capital as possible, the team could also look to non-qualified free agents to bolster the staff. Cole, Straburg, Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Odorizzi are the five starters that received (and will likely reject) qualifying offers.
Reigning NL ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer, though, and the Cubs opted not to extend a QO to old friend Cole Hamels, who just yesterday expressed interest in a return to Philly. Other notable free-agent names include Dallas Keuchel, Michael Pineda and Rick Porcello, among many others.
Beyond the pitching staff, Klentak briefly touched on some notable points pertaining to the lineup. McCutchen, like Arrieta, is expected to be ready for day one of Spring Training after suffering a season-ending ACL tear back in June. Barring setbacks, he’ll reclaim a spot in the outfield, but the composition of that unit is in many ways dependent on the status of Odubel Herrera, who sat out the final 85 games of the season under a domestic violence suspension.
Klentak was noncommittal on Herrera’s future when asked, instead focusing his response on the competition that arose in center field during his absence. Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn and Kingery impressed in center, per the GM. Kingery, in particular, drew extensive praise from Klentak, who noted that the 25-year-old’s versatility is not only a luxury for the manager but for the front office.
“If we’re looking to add a bat, for instance, we don’t have to look at just one position,” said Klentak. “We can look at a variety of different spots, knowing that Scott Kingery can not just capably, but masterfully, fill in defensively just about anywhere. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s our best defensive second baseman, shortstop, third baseman and center fielder.”
The Phillies have a pair of trade/non-tender candidates at second base (Cesar Hernandez) and third base (Maikel Franco) in addition to the aforementioned uncertainty in center field, making that comfort with Kingery at four different positions particularly noteworthy. That creates a relatively blank canvas for Klentak and his staff when looking to improve the lineup and/or the defense. As is the case with the rotation, Klentak will have virtually innumerable avenues to explore, setting the stage for another offseason of heavy lifting for the Philly front office.
Veteran lefty Cole Hamels is a free agent for the first time in his excellent 14-year career, but unlike many free agents he doesn’t sound laser-focused on securing one last, lucrative multi-year deal. Rather, he tells MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that his focus is on signing with a club that is making a clear push for postseason play — even if it means taking a one-year deal.
“I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play,” says Hamels. “I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around.”
There’s some degree of strategy to the decision. Locking himself into multiple years could, conceivably, lead to being stuck on a club where things go south for in 2020 but he’s retained with an eye toward 2021. Plus, on a one-year deal, even if the team with which he signs performs poorly and falls out of contention, there’s always the possibility of being traded to a club making a more definitive postseason push.
Hamels has one World Series ring to his credit already, which he secured more than a decade ago when he was named both the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP for the Phillies’ last championship in 2008. A second tour of duty with the Phillies holds appeal to the veteran Hamels, who says he would “love the opportunity to come back” and recognizes that the organization is “finally trying to make that push.” Notably, he adds that he’d consider a multi-year pact to return to Philly.
Of course, the Phillies’ starting staff quite likely needs more help than Hamels alone can provide, but his willingness to take a one-year pact could allow Philadelphia (or any other win-now club with multiple starting needs) to spend more aggressively on a higher-end rotation augmentation. At present, the Phillies have Aaron Nola atop their starting staff and little else in terms of certain commodities. Jake Arrieta is under contract for another season, but he struggled considerably before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow. Zach Eflin finished out the year with respectable but unspectacular numbers, while fellow righties Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez both turned in ugly 2019 campaigns.
Hamels, 36 in December, experienced something of a career renaissance with the Cubs after being traded over from the Rangers prior to the 2018 non-waiver deadline. His 2019 season crumbled after he returned from an oblique injury — the lefty admits to Zolecki that he rushed back far too soon — but from the time of his trade in 2018 to this year’s IL placement he posted a 2.71 ERA with 8.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9 and a 49.7 percent grounder rate in 176 innings.
It’s tough to wholly ignore the 42 ugly innings that Hamels posted upon returning from that injury, though. After allowing just nine homers, issuing 35 walks and hitting three batters in his first 99 2/3 innings of the season, Hamels served up eight homers, yielded 21 walks and plunked four batters in those final 42 frames. The result was a woeful 5.79 ERA in that stretch of 10 starts, leaving him with a combined 3.81 ERA in 141 2/3 innings in 2019.
It’s worth emphasizing that being open to a one-year deal and strictly preferring a one-year deal aren’t the same thing. Hamels may be open to a one-year arrangement, but that doesn’t limit him to signing for only a single season. Most contenders would surely prefer a one-year term, but it’s possible that there’ll be enough interest to create multiple two-year offers from World Series hopefuls. The fact that the Cubs opted not to make him a qualifying offer, thus absolving him of the burden of draft-pick compensation, only makes him more appealing to contenders with rotation needs.
Regardless of contract length, the four-time All-Star’s comments make it clear that he has no plans to sign on as a veteran mentor for a rebuilding club: “I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.”
The Phillies have announced a wide slate of roster moves today, setting the team up for another fascinating offseason. In particular, the club has shorn a big chunk of its 2019 pitching staff from the roster in one fell swoop.
Philadelphia declined club options over righty Jared Hughes, righty Pat Neshek, and lefty Jason Vargas. Also heading to the open market are five players were outrighted: infielder Phil Gosselin and righties Jerad Eickhoff, Mike Morin, Blake Parker, and Edubray Ramos.
That’s a big chunk of innings going onto the open market despite ongoing control rights. To be exact, the Phils are kicking 219 2/3 of their frames from 2019 back into free agency. It’s hard to argue with any of the decisions.
Hughes was solid as a late-season gap-filler, but didn’t rate at a $3MM price tag for 2020. He’ll get a $250K buyout on the way out. Neshek takes $750K with him instead of pitching for $7MM. That’s no surprise after he was limited to 18 frames due to injury. Vargas is due a $2MM buyout instead of a $8MM salary; the Phils evidently feel they can do better in the rotation on the open market this winter.
The biggest departure is that of Eickhoff. The once-promising starter projected to earn only $1.5MM, with one more season of control thereafter, but the Phils decided to cut bait after watching him struggle to a 5.71 ERA over 58 1/3 innings. Eickhoff had a few encouraging outings upon his return from a long injury layoff, but struggled thereafter and was again sidelined with arm woes.
The other three were also eligible for arbitration. Morin, who has a $1.2MM projected arb salary, struggled to get strikeouts during his stint with the club. Parker surprisingly turned in 11.2 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 25 frames but also gave up a host of homers and earned runs. Perhaps he’d have been worth a lower-cost keeper price but the Phils weren’t biting at a projected $4.7MM. The 26-year-old Ramos entered the year as a key piece but struggled with injuries and showed a velocity decline when he was available. He projected to earn only $800K, but the team may not have been convinced of his ability to return to full health.
Meanwhile, a host of players were added back to the 40-man roster. Among the players activated from the 60-day injured list is starter Jake Arrieta, who has exercised his player option and will remain with the organization. On the heels of a messy, injury-marred campaign, that comes as no surprise. Additionally, outfielder Odubel Herrera was reinstated from the restricted list after the conclusion of his suspension for a violation of the league’s domestic violence policy. His future with the organization remains unclear following this procedural move.
- A brief scouting report on newly-signed Red Sox right-hander Chih-Jung Liu is provided by former big leaguer Chien-Ming Wang to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, as Wang has worked with the 20-year-old prospect. Liu “needs to improve his slider and splitter to have a good out pitch” and “needs to build up his arm strength and pitch count,” Wang said. These aren’t unusual criticisms for any young pitcher, especially for a case like Liu, who mostly played shortstop in high school and only recently got back into pitching. Liu is also “bright” and “seems to be able to adapt to [a] new environment quickly,” Wang said, and he also noted that Liu asked him how to throw a sinkerball, Wang’s signature pitch. Abraham reports that the Phillies and Diamondbacks were among the other teams who had interest in Liu before the Red Sox signed him for $750K.
Phillies righty Jake Arrieta won’t exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, keeping him in his deal with the Phillies for the 2020 season, the Associated Press reports. Arrieta will earn $20MM for the 2020 season, the final year of the three-year, $75MM pact he signed with Philadelphia in March 2018.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported in October that Arrieta was going to remain with the Phillies, and indeed, it became increasingly obvious throughout the veteran right-hander’s injury-marred year that the opt-out clause wouldn’t be a factor. Arrieta revealed in July that he was trying to keep pitching despite suffering from a bone spur in his throwing elbow, and while he toughed it out as long as possible, Arrieta eventually hit the injured list in mid-August and soon underwent season-ending surgery.
The end result was a 4.64 ERA, 2.16 K/BB rate, and 7.3 K/9 over 135 2/3 innings for Arrieta, easily his least-impressive performance since his early-career struggles as a member of the Orioles in 2010-12. Arrieta posted by far the largest hard-hit ball (38%) and home run (19.4%) percentages of his career, while his 7.1% swinging-strike rate was the third-lowest total of his career.
Arrieta’s stay in the 2017-18 free agent market was a lengthy one, as he was hampered by the qualifying offer and a feeling amongst some teams that he was beginning to a decline following a good but not great 2017 season with the Cubs. Over two seasons with the Phillies, Arrieta has a 4.26 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 51.4% grounder rate, and 2.30 K/BB rate — decent numbers, though hardly what the Phils expected from a pitcher earning $25MM in average annual value.
The best-case scenario for Arrieta and the Phillies is that the bone spur was the root cause of his struggles, and he’ll rebound for a healthy and productive age-34 season. That would be a welcome boost to a Phillies team that was let down by its starting pitching almost across the board last season, though Philadelphia is expected to be pursuing some upgrades this winter. A good year from Arrieta would also increase his chances at another multi-year in free agency next offseason, as a repeat of his 2019 numbers would likely limit his market to only one-year offers.
NOV. 1: It took a three-year pact to lure Dickerson, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). Additionally, Wayne Kirby will come over from the Orioles to serve as first base coach, Joel Sherman of the New York Post first tweeted. As Heyman points out, Kirby also has ample experience with Machado.
OCT. 31: New Padres manager Jayce Tingler is set to make an important hire as he prepares for his first year as a skipper. He’s likely to hire Phillies infield coach Bobby Dickerson as his bench coach, AJ Cassavell of MLB.com tweets.
Dickerson, who turned 54 in September, is a former minor league infielder who has never managed above the minors. But Dickerson has logged several years as a coach at multiple levels, and the hope for the Padres is that his vast experience will help Tingler break into his new role.
If the Padres do select Dickerson, his Philly tenure will conclude after just one season. Before joining the Phillies last winter, Dickerson worked in various coaching roles in Baltimore from 2010-18, a span in which he developed a close bond with ex-Orioles star and current Padres third baseman Manny Machado. Dickerson shared some insight into his long-running relationship with Machado with Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer last winter.
“I’ll say this: When Manny puts his mind to something, it’s just unbelievable to watch,” Dickerson told Lauber. “He’s that talented. In 2013, he was the best defensive player I’ve ever seen in my life. If he’s locked in, he can change the game with his glove. For sure, I’ve seen it. The challenge is his locked-in-ness, and that’s well-documented.”