- The Phillies have made some solid offensive upgrades, as David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer feels the additions of Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders and Chris Coghlan give the Phils “a fighting chance at fielding a middle-of-the-pack offense this season.” There’s really nowhere to go but up for the Phillies (who scored the fewest runs in baseball in 2016) but they did add some lineup versatility and veteran experience, and they retained flexibility in their rebuilding process since none of the trio are guaranteed beyond 2017.
The Phillies have avoided arbitration with second baseman Cesar Hernandez by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.55MM, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (on Twitter). As MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker shows, that sum lands just north of the midpoint between Hernandez’s $2.8MM filing number and the $2.2MM figure at which the Phillies countered. Hernandez, a client of Octagon, will receive $50K more than the $2.5MM salary projection of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
Hernandez, 26, was arbitration-eligible for the first time as a Super Two player this offseason after wrapping up the year with two years and 154 days of Major League service time. The 2016 campaign proved to be a breakout year for the young switch-hitter, as he batted .294/.371/.393 with six homers, 17 stolen bases and an NL-leading 11 triples in 622 plate appearances. Hernandez also played decidedly above-average defense at second base, further adding to his value for the Phils.
That excellent performance prompted a fair share of trade speculation surrounding Hernandez this offseason, and he was at one point connected to both the Dodgers and Angels. However, it now seems likely that Hernandez will open 2017 with the Phillies, who can control him through the 2020 season. He’ll be eligible for arbitration in each of the next three offseasons in the meantime.
Last summer’s partially deconstructed swap between the Marlins and Padres had far-reaching implications, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes. After learning of issues with Colin Rea’s health and discovering that San Diego had failed to disclose certain medical information, Miami considered rescinding the entire deal — which the commissioner’s office offered to facilitate. But due to practical considerations and the apparent preferences of the league, the Fish instead worked out a deal to send Rea back to the Pads for prospect Luis Castillo, thus keeping Andrew Cashner in Miami and Josh Naylor (and others) in San Diego. That, in turn, prevented an alternative deal that would’ve sent Naylor to the Phillies for righty Jeremy Hellickson. There was fallout beyond that, as Rosenthal explains, including the fact that Hellickson ultimately received and accepted a qualifying offer from the Phils that he otherwise wouldn’t have been eligible for.
This is an original MLBTR article produced by contributor Dan Lumpkin and the MLBTR staff. To read more recent MLBTR originals, click here.
Ender Inciarte and Odubel Herrera will long be linked due to their status as division-rival center fielders who inked extremely similar five-year extensions within two weeks of one another. They’re also linked, however, by the Rule 5 Draft altering their career trajectories.
Oddly enough, it was the Phillies who selected Inciarte out of the Diamondbacks organization back in 2012. Although he didn’t stick with the team all season and was eventually shipped back to the D-backs, Inciarte tells MLBTR he’s not sure he’d be playing in the Majors today were it not for the Phillies’ show of faith.
“You know, I could say I was very under-the-radar in Arizona,” the 2016 Gold Glove winner said. “Not underrated but very under-the radar.”
Inciarte was not seen as a prospect for his organization initially but was invited to play in Winter Ball during the 2012 offseason, and that’s where Phillies scouts got a good look at him and determined that Inciarte might be able to cut it in the big leagues.
“As soon as [the Phillies] picked me it took me by surprise, to be honest,” Inciarte said. “Then I realized what [the Rule 5 Draft] was and what it meant. It really worked great for me. It doesn’t work the same for everybody because some people don’t get to play and others get to play a lot.”
Inciarte played with the Phillies in his first big league Spring Training and did well despite the Phillies’ manager mistaking him for a clubhouse employee on his first day with the team.
“When I got there on the first day, I got there at like 5:00am, and Charlie Manuel didn’t even know who I was,” Inciarte recalled. “He asked me to go get something like his shoes or his hat and I told him, ‘I’m not a clubbie, I’m the Rule 5 kid.”
Inciarte found his way with the big league club, and many of the Phillies veterans saw his ability and encouraged him throughout Spring Training. This, Inciarte said, is what made him play with confidence.
“When I was there, I was playing with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay,” Inciarte said. “I could see all those guys up close. I felt like I was living a dream, right there. All those guys got to talk to me and said, ‘Hey man, you are part of this team. Don’t think because you are a Rule 5 it isn’t going to happen.’ It gave me a lot of confidence. I had a great time there.’”
Inciarte had a good Spring Training and actually made the Opening Day roster for the Phillies as a bench player. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t in the Opening Day lineup, which would prove to be his only chance to suit up for the Phillies that year. Following the first game of the season, the Phillies signed Ezequiel Carrera, and it was Inciarte who lost his roster spot in a corresponding move. Inciarte was returned to the Diamondbacks.
Though some players might consider it a demotion and a disappointment to just barely sniff the Major Leagues in that manner, Inciarte views his brief stay in the Phillies organization as a turning point.
“For me, it was great because a lot of teams got to see me play and when I got back to Arizona they sent me to Double-A when I was supposed to go to Single-A,” he explained. “Everyone started paying more attention to me. I got more chances to play and prove myself. It was for the best but I know it’s not the same for everybody. When I got back Kevin Towers went to go see me play in Mobile, Alabama. He didn’t know who I was (before the draft). After the Rule 5 is when they started paying more attention to me. If it weren’t for the Phillies, I probably would not even have a chance to play in the big leagues so I’m very grateful for what happened to me.”
Inciarte’s experience with the Rule 5 process is typical — especially for position players. While it’s not uncommon to see a relief pitcher survive a season as the seventh man in a big league bullpen, there are fewer spots to stash position players on a Major League roster. That reality makes Odubel Herrera’s accomplishment of not only sticking on the Phillies’ roster all season but thriving and becoming a key long-term cog all the more impressive.
Herrera split the 2014 season between the Rangers’ Class-A Advanced and Double-A affiliates and put together a strong season. In 545 plate appearances as a 22-year-old, he batted a combined .315/.383/.388 with two home runs and 21 stolen bases. But it wasn’t enough to land him on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, and the Phillies reaped the benefits. Though Herrera had spent nearly his entire career playing second base, the Phils plucked him in the Rule 5 and shifted him to center field.
“I feel very blessed that the Rangers didn’t protect me because I am now in the big leagues and I have a long-term deal with the Phillies,” said Herrera through an interpreter. “Once I found out that the Rangers didn’t protect me, I knew in my heart that another team would pick me up through the Rule 5. … I went to Spring Training feeling a little strange but as soon as I arrived in Clearwater, the manager gave me a lot of cheers and confidence from day one.”
While Herrera’s five-year deal with the Phillies may closely mirror Inciarte’s deal with the Braves, Herrera’s Rule 5 experience in many ways is more closely aligned with that of former Marlins/Braves slugger Dan Uggla. Like Herrera, Uggla was the rare position player to be selected in the Rule 5 and plugged immediately into his new team’s Opening Day lineup despite the fact that he (like Herrera) had never played a game above the Double-A level in his career.
“I was thinking about [the Rule 5 Draft] a lot, yeah,” said Uggla when asked about being left off the Diamondbacks’ roster back in 2005. “I had a good fall league and they left me off the 40 man, so that’s obviously what I was hoping for. I found out in the morning that I had been drafted by the Marlins and it was one of the coolest moments of my career. The coolest moment up to that point.”
That moment, of course, would soon be joined by a great many more exciting moments, as Uggla went on to appear in three All-Star Games and hit 235 home runs in parts of 10 big league seasons from 2006-15. But the rarity of the chance he was given by the Marlins is not lost on him to this day.
“They gave me the everyday starting second base job in the big leagues,” Uggla said. “For a guy in my position, that was unheard of. It involves an extreme amount of luck and timing. I could have gotten called up with any team and there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have got to play. Maybe a couple pinch hits or a spot-start against a really tough pitcher, maybe I would have gotten sent back down. But to be in that situation and to make the team and they just let you play everyday, that was pretty amazing.”
Uggla also credited timing as a significant factor in his opportunity to start playing in the Majors. During the offseason he was picked up, the Marlins were in the midst of a fire sale in which they traded several starting players to build up their farm system. This flurry of trades opened up the Marlins’ depth chart and created an opportunity for Uggla to prove himself against big league pitchers.
“They had just made a bunch of trades and started from scratch with a bunch of younger guys and rookies,” Uggla said. “It was cool. I got to walk in and be at the team meeting and I found my place on the team.”
Rebuilding clubs indeed have an easier time carrying a Rule 5 pick over a marathon regular season, and that was a large factor in Joakim Soria’s emergence in the Majors, as his agent, Oscar Suarez points out.
“As a pitcher, you go in with a second-tier team, like Joakim did with Kansas City at the time — they are no longer a second-tier team by any stretch of the imagination — but going in, they had no closer,” Suarez recalled. “Joakim was a starter, but they had no closer so they put him in the pen, and he beat everyone else out and before you know it, he was their closer. As an agent, yeah, you want any of your players to be Rule Fived, but you need to be realistic. What team are they going to go to? Like, if you are an infielder and you get Rule Fived by the Seattle Mariners, you say, ‘thank you for bringing me to your big league camp,’ but you know they aren’t going to keep you.”
That’s the reality that faces a handful of players each year following their selection in the Rule 5, but the opportunity with which they’re presented is one that is the envy of other players and agents throughout the game. This year, there were 18 players selected in the Rule 5 Draft, and if history is any indication, the vast majority of them will be returned to their original organization. A few may be picked up by other clubs along the way before being offered back, but it’s rare for a player to survive the season and even more rare for them to then emerge as regulars. For the select few who do, however, the Rule 5 Draft will always be looked at as a watershed moment in their career.
“It is a good thing for players like me that don’t get protected and because of that rule now, I’m a big leaguer,” said Herrera. “…I feel very grateful and very humble for the Rule 5 draft.”
Special thanks to Leo Nunez and Estefany Palacio for translation assistance.
Michael Saunders will don a Phillies jersey for the first time this coming season after signing a one-year deal, but as the outfielder tells Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com, he was nearly a long-term piece for the Phillies back in 2009. Saunders was originally reported to be part of the return the Phillies would receive in trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners, and he was indeed on the verge of being included in that deal, he now says. “They said I was on the Sportscenter tracker in the trade where we were getting Cliff Lee in that three-way deal,” Saunders says. “So I called my agent and he had to do a little bit of digging, he made some calls, called me back and he said, ‘You know what, it’s time to to start packing your bags.” The outfielder goes on to explain that he was, however, a “last-minute subtraction” from the trade that ultimately proved to net a disappointing haul for the Phils. (Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez went to Philadelphia in the deal, none of whom provided any real value to the team.)
Saunders also spoke about his second-half drop in production, and he believes his inability to work out early in the preceding offseason (due to 2015 knee surgery) led to a good deal of fatigue in the season’s second half. Lawrence’s column is full of quotes from the new Phillies’ right fielder, and I’d recommend a full read-through for those that are interested.
- MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki fields a number of roster-related question in his latest Phillies Inbox, addressing additional moves, the backup catcher’s role, J.P. Crawford’s timeline and some rumors that surrounded Cesar Hernandez earlier this winter. Zolecki notes that while further minor league deals could be handed out — he specifically notes that the bullpen could be an area of need — the Phils are likely done adding significant pieces this winter. He also calls Andrew Knapp the favorite to serve as Cameron Rupp’s backup in 2017, though veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday will do their best to give him a run for his money in Spring Training as non-roster invites.
Rangers lefty Jake Diekman underwent successful surgery to remove his colon, with several more procedures to come as he battles ulcerative colitis. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News has the latest, including video diary entries from Diekman himself. It’s well worth a watch to learn more about the unfortunate affliction and Diekman’s fight. We hope to see him back on the mound as soon as possible.
There won’t be a return in the offing for Phillies lefty Matt Imhof, who lost his eye in a terrible accident involving exercise bands. As Imhof himself writes in a moving piece for ESPN.com, he’s returning to finish his degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and will retire from the sport. He says it’s not just due to the injury, though; as he writes, “the truth is I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.” You’ll want to give a full read to the southpaw’s powerful story of coming to grips with — and not being defined by — his injury.
As we wish the best to Diekman and Imhof, here’s the latest on the market for pitching:
- As the Mets look to bolster their bullpen, the team is still weighing a variety of free agents, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). In addition to keeping open the possibility of a reunion with lefty Jerry Blevins, the Mets are also considering righties Sergio Romo and Joe Smith.
- The Blue Jays are also keeping in touch with Blevins, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. Toronto’s search for a southpaw reliever has also led it to consider Craig Breslow, per the report. The team was among those to check out his new mechanics recently.
- The Reds are exploring a reunion with former starter Bronson Arroyo, as Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports (Twitter links). Unsurprisingly, the team is not interested in guaranteeing him a roster spot, as Arroyo is two full years removed from appearing in the majors and has dealt with significant arm issues of late. GM Dick Williams confirms that the team has watched Arroyo throw and is weighing a signing, per MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon (Twitter links). Beyond a move on Arroyo or other candidates for minor-league deals, Cincinnati is done with its free-agent signings, Williams adds.
- Speaking of longstanding veterans weighing returns, righty Jason Marquis suggested in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link) that he’s open to reviving his career. The 38-year-old last appeared in a nine-start stint with Cincy in 2015, but he’s set to pitch for Team Israel in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
- While Dodgers lefty Julio Urias showed plenty in 2016 to warrant a rotation spot in the coming season, innings considerations may hold him back to start the year. As Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times tweets, skipper Dave Roberts says that the organization may keep him in extended Spring Training at the beginning of the 2017 campaign. Such an approach would not only ensure that Urias is available for good once he does make it up, but would afford more opportunities for the organization to see what it has in its variety of interesting, injury-plagued arms. Over at Fangraphs, Craig Edwards takes a look at what’s shaping up to be a fascinating staff.
- There’s an argument to be made that the Nationals not only need to address their closer situation, but also ought to bolster their rotation depth, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. While the team’s five-man starting unit is likely set, which perhaps limits their ability to promise opportunities to free agents, a swingman could make sense. Janes mentions Travis Wood as at least a hypothetical match, and he would indeed seem to make a sensible fit.
- 31-year-old Cardinals reliever Mitch Harris is hoping to join former teammate Seth Maness in bouncing back from a “primary repair” procedure to his right elbow, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Harris last pitched competitively in 2015, but will be ramping up for a full spring after undergoing the surgery last summer. Because his surgeon was able to attempt that less-invasive approach, as opposed to a full UCL replacement, there’s a possibility of a much swifter return to the hill — though Harris will first need to earn his way into MLB camp after failing to receive an invite.
Former big league reliever Burke Badenhop is joining the Diamondbacks in an interesting new baseball operations position, as Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic tweets. In his new role, Piecoro writes, Badenhop will perform “acquisition-based pitching analysis/sports science work.” That sounds like a great way to start a new career path for the veteran hurler, though unfortunately it’ll mean sacrificing the fame and riches associated with his gig as an MLBTR contributor.
In all seriousness, MLBTR wishes Burke the very best in his new pursuit; be sure to check out his excellent work in the Player’s Perspective Series. Here’s the latest from the relief market:
- In his latest MLB Roundup column, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that a game of musical chairs appears poised to begin in the next couple of days as the market for left-handed relievers begins to sort itself out (ESPN Insider subscription required). Per Olney, the Indians, Mets, Blue Jays, Phillies, Giants and Marlins are the teams most aggressively seeking left-handed bullpen help. FOX’s Ken Rosenthal also tweeted this morning that the Mets are still seeking bullpen help, though Olney notes that the team doesn’t have the payroll capacity to retain Jerry Blevins at his current asking price. There are a number of free-agent southpaws remaining on the market, including Blevins, Travis Wood, Boone Logan, J.P. Howell, Charlie Furbush (recovering from August shoulder surgery), Chris Capuano, Javier Lopez and Craig Breslow. Olney notes that Wood’s deteriorating swinging-strike rate has been a cause of concern for some teams.
- While the Indians are indeed most interested in a southpaw, the club is not limiting itself to left-handed relief options, Rosenthal notes (Twitter links). Among other possibilities, Cleveland is said to be “doing background work” on veteran righty Joe Blanton, though Rosenthal notes that it’s far from clear whether the organization will even give out any more MLB deals (which Blanton surely will require).
- Following a workout that was reportedly attended by about half the league, Breslow is drawing some level of interest from the Indians, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Rockies, Mets, Cubs, Twins and Reds, according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford (Twitter links). The 36-year-old’s altered arm angle has piqued the interest of teams to the point where some consider him a viable fallback to Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan.
- The Rays are still receiving trade interest in closer Alex Colome, tweets Rosenthal, but they’re not in any rush to move him. The 28-year-old Colome dominated opponents after taking over the ninth inning for the injured Brad Boxberger, tossing 56 2/3 innings of 1.91 ERA ball with 11.3 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 47.1 percent ground-ball rate. Colome, though, is controllable for another four years and won’t even be arbitration-eligible until next winter, so the asking price on him would presumably be exceptionally high. While the Rays may not feel compelled to shop Colome, the team typically is willing to listen on nearly any player. I’d imagine any offer would need to include MLB-ready lineup help in addition to some prospect capital.
- The Twins are interested in Joe Smith, reports 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson in his latest podcast (audio link, with bullpen talk beginning around 1:02:55). (Wolfson also noted interest in Greg Holland, but he’s now heading elsewhere.) Minnesota is “slow-playing” its search on the free-agent market as it attempts to wait out the market to secure a late value pickup or two, and with plenty of quality names left on the market, they’re probably not the only ones employing that approach. The Twins have previously been connected to both relievers, though that interest was first reported months ago, so it wasn’t exactly clear if they’d changed course at all. New Twins chief baseball office Derek Falvey knows Smith quite well, as the side-armer spent the 2009-13 seasons with the Indians, where Falvey was previously an assistant general manager.
The Phillies have signed catcher Ryan Hanigan to a minor-league deal, per a club announcement. Included in the deal is an invitation to MLB camp this spring. He can earn $1.25MM if he makes the major league roster, with $375K in available incentives, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). He’ll also receive a March 28th opt-out date, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets.
Hanigan hit the open market when the Red Sox declined a $3.75MM club option after the 2016 campaign. Long valued for his high-contact approach at the plate and solid defensive skills, Hanigan deteriorated in both regards in 2016 while battling injuries.
Now 36, Hanigan posted an anemic .171/.230/.238 batting line over his 113 plate appearances last year. Though he typically draws free passes as much or more than he strikes out, Hanigan uncharacteristically took just seven walks while going down on strikes 27 times. And in the field, Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner both panned his pitch framing.
[RELATED: Updated Phillies Depth Chart]
Still, it’s an easy gamble for the Phils to take. The organization is expected to utilize Cameron Rupp as the starter after his strong 2016 effort, and has several young receivers in the upper levels of the minors. Rather than rush them along, though, it can compete the reserve job between Hanigan and fellow minor-league signee Bryan Holaday.
The Marlins have acquired righty Severino Gonzalez from the Phillies, per a team announcement. Philadelphia will receive a player to be named later or cash considerations in the deal.
Gonzalez had been designated for assignment recently to clear roster space for the signing of Michael Saunders. Now, he’ll head to the Phils’ N.L. East rivals in Miami, who have already accumulated quite a few other pitchers over the winter. Gonzalez is still optionable, which increases his appeal.
The 24-year-old Gonzalez has shown intriguing K/BB numbers in his 66 MLB frames (8.5 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9), but he owns an ugly 6.68 ERA. He has always shown excellent control in the minors, and did boast 35 strikeouts and a 3.13 ERA over his 36 innings last year at Triple-A after shifting to a full-time relief role.
The Dodgers have expanded their search for a second baseman, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Los Angeles remains engaged on longstanding targets Brian Dozier, Ian Kinsler, and Logan Forsythe, but appears to be looking elsewhere in the event that those players can’t be had at a palatable rate.
Among the players that could potentially be fits, per Rosenthal, are switch-hitters Jurickson Profar of the Rangers, Cesar Hernandez of the Phillies, and Wilmer Difo of the Nationals, though he notes that of that trio, Profar is the only one on whom the Dodgers have definitively inquired. All are young and controllable somewhat controllable — Profar through 2019, Hernandez through 2020 and Difo all the way through 2022. Only Hernandez, though, has put up a full and productive major league season.
Beyond those possibilities, Rosenthal says that there’s still some potential for a reunion with Chase Utley. Still, the club would rather find a hitter who swings from the right side. That would also appear to leave little room for interest in the other top remaining second-base-capable free agents.
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs recently suggested that the best fit on paper might be Javier Baez, with young pitching going to the Cubs in exchange. But that doesn’t seem particularly likely, as Cameron notes and Rosenthal also echoes.
All things considered, Rosenthal explains, Dozier might still be the likeliest target for the Dodgers. Though the club seemingly broke off its talks with the Twins recently, Rosenthal says that the door remains open to a deal. It’s imaginable that Los Angeles could line up with the Rays on Forsythe, but the biggest issue there seems to be that Tampa Bay doesn’t have a ready replacement.