Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr has been diagnosed with a torn ligament in his big toe, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia (via Twitter). He suffered the injury on Monday when crashing face-first into the left field wall while chasing a ball that ultimately cleared the fence. The Phillies were optimistic about Altherr coming into the season after a .272/.340/.510 showing in 2017, but he struggled out of the gate with -0.7 fWAR before being sent back to AAA in July. The injury may factor in to some extent to the Phils’ decisionmaking process this offseason, when Altherr reaches arbitration for the first time. Altherr has struggled with consistency and health across three seasons in the majors, but this year set the low-water mark as he closes out the 2018 campaign with an ugly slash line of .181/.295/.333 over 285 plate appearance. Philly could non-tender him in November; conversely, he’s unlikely to break the bank the first time through arbitration, and with money to spend, Philadelphia may prefer staying the course to see if the 27-year-old can regain the pop he flashed in 2017.
The Phillies have started Carlos Santana at third base 10 times down the stretch and received a total of 70 innings of play from him there, and Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia explores the possibility of Santana shifting to the hot corner on a full-time basis in 2019. Doing so would allow the Phils to move Rhys Hoskins from left field back to first base, dramatically improving the outfield defense. Santana, 32, tells Salisbury that he’s open to the idea, while manager Gabe Kapler adds that it’s something the Phils will evaluate after the season. Philadelphia’s expected run at Manny Machado figures to have an impact on their left-side infield alignment, and Salisbury speculates that the team could again explore the trade market for Maikel Franco this offseason.
Defensive metrics have actually given a favorable review to Santana’s minuscule sample of innings, but it still seems unlikely that he’d turn in quality results over a full season. I’d add, however, that he’d be replacing another below-average defender in Franco; if the Phillies believe the difference between Franco and Santana at third base is more or less negligible, then they could overwhelmingly bolster the rest of their defense by moving Hoskins to first base in favor of an average or better defender in left.
More out of Philly…
- Speaking of Hoskins, the 25-year-old chatted with The Athletic’s Matt Gelb about his recent decision to hire agent Scott Boras (subscription required). Part of the thinking, per Hoskins, was actually about his desire to improve his defense in the outfield. Gelb notes that Boras has 10 trainers and a pair of fitness facilities, which appealed to Hoskins as he seeks to improve his performance in the outfield. “There’s only so many different drills you can do,” said Hoskins. “Jump rope, ladder, whatever. But some guys just have a different way of communicating that or they focus on different things within the movement.” He added that he heard “nothing but good things” from the players he spoke to about using Boras’ trainers. Gelb writes that Boras has expressed an openness to discussing a contract extension for Hoskins this offseason, though historically his clients have typically not gone that route.
- It’s been an injury-ruined season for Jerad Eickhoff, but Kapler told reporters that he’s a candidate to start one of the final games of the season after rejoining the team as a reliever earlier this month (link via Matt Breen the Philadelphia Daily News). Eickhoff met with numerous specialists to evaluate nerve damage that was leading to numbness in his hands this summer and, at one point when doctors were having a difficult time making a diagnosis, wondered whether his career could be in jeopardy. “I don’t know if there’s a guy that the clubhouse pulls more for than Jerad Eickhoff,” said Kapler. “I think he’s pretty deeply cared for and he worked his butt off to get back to this position.”
Per a tweet from Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong received some bad news recently. An MRI showed damage in Wong’s knee that might need to be addressed in the offseason, though there’s no official word on that either way. The general belief from the Cardinals’ camp, Wong included, is that the aforementioned knee damage may be contributing to the recurring soreness in his hamstring. There’s also some concern that the severity of the damage could lead to a strain. Despite this issue, Wong’s still put up the most productive season of his career thus far, in part due to outstanding defensive marks that include 21 Defensive Runs Saved and a 19.8 UZR/150.
Other news and rumors from around the league…
- Matt Gelb of The Athletic tweets that the Phillies were “deep in meetings” this morning to plot the club’s final eight contests of the season. Gelb notes that Aaron Nola will pass 200 innings today (and in fact, has, as of me writing this sentence), which could spell the end of the season for the club’s emergent ace. Some in the organization had suggested earlier in the season that the Phillies were planning to limit Nola to 185 innings on the season, but contender status necessitated them to increase that total. Now, though, Philadelphia is no longer playing with October in mind, which may help to explain why Gelb ponders aloud whether today could be Nola’s last start of 2018.
- Speaking of innings caps, Orioles rookie right-hander Evan Phillips won’t pitch again this season, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. He’s reached an innings limit after hurling a career-high 63 relief frames on the season between the Orioles, Braves and the Triple-A affiliates of the two clubs. Phillips, 24, has allowed 11 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings in Baltimore; he became part of the Orioles organization by way of the deadline deal that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Braves.
- A magnetic resonance imaging exam didn’t turn up any new leads as to the cause of Miguel Sano’s knee discomfort, Mike Berardino writes as part of a piece for the Pioneer Press. Twins manager Paul Molitor provided some words on the subject, which must be frustrating for club and fan base alike. “We tried to eliminate things that might be sources or causes of the aggravation that he continues to feel,” said Molitor. “A little bit of a puzzle that we haven’t been able to solve yet in terms of the discomfort he continues to experience. We’re hoping with treatment and maybe a little bit more rest, we’ll be in a better place come Tuesday.” Sano has only appeared in the lineup once since September 4th, which comes as another black mark on a miserable follow-up to the three strong campaigns with which he began his career.
Last night, the Braves became the first NL team to clinch a 2018 division title. Braves fans interested in a look back on the season and some of the biggest contributing factors to the club’s surprising season might consider giving this piece by Mark Bowman of MLB.com a read. Atlanta officially eliminated the division-rival Phillies from the NL East race with its best starter, Mike Foltynewicz, on the mound; Bowman describes Folty as the Braves’ “most significant acquisition made within the first year of the rebuild”. “It was very different knowing what’s at stake, but at the same time you can’t get overhyped, like I tended to do in the past with bigger games,” Foltynewicz said of his performance. “To be able to do it in front of our home crowd was pretty special.” The soon-to-be 27-year-old right-hander was acquired as part of the January 2015 trade that sent Evan Gattis to the Astros. The resume of his breakout season includes 178 innings of 2.88 ERA ball, 193 punchouts and a 1.11 WHIP.
While the Braves prepare for the playoffs, here are a few notes regarding the NL East teams looking towards 2019…
- A poor start to the 2018 season for Mets free agent signee Jay Bruce manifested itself in a .212/.292/.321 batting line with just three home runs through the middle of June. But since coming off the disabled list on August 24th, he’s looked a lot more like his old self. As Tim Britton notes in a piece for The Athletic, Bruce is hitting .256/.347/.523 with six blasts in 98 plate appearances, which more closely resembles the 2017 season that he considers the best of his career. Britton believes that Bruce will be an integral part of the 2019 Mets plans, whether as their everyday first baseman or right fielder, but suggests that the Bruce signing ought to be a “learning experience” for the organization. That’s because one of the risks of signing players in their 30’s is that even those with largely healthy track records, like Bruce and teammate Todd Frazier, come with increased injury risk.
- Bruce’s late-season performance extending into 2019 is one thing the Mets will be counting on if they hope to contend next season; Joel Sherman of the New York Post breaks down a laundry list of other things that need to go right for the club in order for to support those hopes. In fact, Sherman believes that the Amazins don’t necessarily need to rebuild, and have a shot to contend again right away if they play their cards right. He posits that the Mets should be willing to listen to trade offers on their starters, but also lists a host of potential free agent targets that could shore up the roster. That list includes lefty reliever Zach Britton, versatile infielder Eduardo Escobar, and catcher Wilson Ramos.
- Have quick hooks in late-season games by rookie Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler cost Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez valuable development opportunities? That’s a question Matt Gelb attempts to answer in an article for The Athletic. Pivetta, for instance, faced just 20 batters in his Friday start, and has faced an average of just 21 batters in each of his 10 starts since August 1st. “You know, the way that the game has been going and the way that Gabe has been coaching, at the end of the day the most I can do is just go as long as I can,” Pivetta said. “It’s up to him when he takes us out.” Velasquez has been yanked even sooner in many cases, including being plucked from his Thursday starts after just three innings during which he allowed three unearned runs. The quick hooks, Gelb opines, make it more difficult to judge Pivetta and Velasquez ahead of 2019, and cost them valuable experience that could come in handy down the road. Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Phillies’ bullpen allowed 10 runs combined in those two contests while taking the loss in each against the division-rival Braves.
Phillies pending free agent Jose Bautista tells FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (video link) that he plans to continue his career in 2019, which would be his age-38 season. Bautista would like to suit up for a contender next year, Rosenthal says.
Considering his output dating back to 2017, Bautista may not be in position to dictate the type of team he plays for next season. While he was among the game’s most feared sluggers as a Blue Jay from 2010-16, Bautista’s now set to finish up his second straight less-than-stellar offensive campaign. Still, Bautista has been roughly average this year by FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric (101), having compiled an unusual .199/.339/.370 line in 384 plate appearances as part of a National League East tour that has seen him play for the Braves, Mets and Phillies.
While he’s not exactly a defensive standout, Bautista has racked up plenty of action in the outfield and at third base, and that versatility impressed Mets manager Mickey Callaway, Rosenthal notes. Further, Rosenthal adds that Bautista has been a valuable mentor during his short stay in Philadelphia – which acquired him from New York less than a month ago.
Since the end of 2015, his last great season, Bautista has totaled just 1.5 fWAR in 1,588 PAs. Bautista’s days as a quality regular appear to be over, then, though he could continue serving as a useful bench bat in 2019. The right-hander has long offered similar offensive production against both same-handed and southpaw pitchers, which has been the case this season, and still possesses respectable power (12 home runs, .171 ISO) and patience (15.9 percent walk rate). And with a .344 expected weighted on-base average against a .317 wOBA, Statcast suggests Bautista has deserved somewhat better than the middling offensive output he has posted in 2018.
The Phillies fell to the NL East rival Braves on Saturday, enabling Atlanta to clinch the division and continuing a difficult few months for Philadelphia. While the Phillies have gone just 25-34 since the All-Star break to fall out of playoff contention, the team’s still 78-76 and on pace for its first .500 or better campaign since 2012. And with plenty of spending room and multiple superstars set to reach free agency over the winter, the Phillies are in for a “fascinating” offseason, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports observes (video link).
The Phillies will head into the offseason with just under $70MM in guaranteed money on their books, as Jason Martinez of MLBTR and Roster Resource estimates, but that number could decrease, per Rosenthal. Aside from ace Aaron Nola and slugger Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies will be “open to trading” just about everyone during the winter, Rosenthal reports, though he notes it’s “unlikely” they’ll end up moving first baseman Carlos Santana. While Santana has come up as a speculative trade candidate, and moving him would open up first for Hoskins (who has struggled in the outfield), dealing the former “would be an admission by the Phils that they never should have signed Santana in the first place,” Rosenthal says. Santana was one of the prize pickups of last winter for the Phillies, who inked him to a three-year, $60MM deal and have since seen the longtime Indian, 32, turn in a respectable season.
Assuming both Santana and second baseman Cesar Hernandez return in 2019, the right side of the Phillies’ infield should be set. The left side may be another story, though, as the Phillies have gotten mediocre or worse production from their options at both shortstop and third base this year. That could put them in the market for pending free-agent shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado – a long-speculated target – and signing him or someone else could put the club in position to move third baseman Maikel Franco or another young infielder, Rosenthal observes.
Shifting to the outfield, Rosenthal floats the idea of the Phillies sending center fielder Odubel Herrera elsewhere to land a veteran for their rotation. After a terrific run from 2015-17, Herrera has taken steps backward this year. Nevertheless, as a soon-to-be 27-year-old with an appealing contract (he’s owed between $25.5MM to $46MM through 2023), Herrera would likely draw a fair amount of interest on the trade market. Parting with him would enable the Phillies to flip one of the younger members of their rotation “for something else they might need,” Rosenthal posits.
Whether the Phillies need to do anything of note with their starting staff is up for debate, though, as Nola, offseason signing Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Nick Pivetta have each amassed at least 23 starts and 2.1 fWAR so far this season. Thanks largely to that quintet, Philly’s rotation ranks sixth in the majors in fWAR (15.3). Further, each member of that group is under control next season, with Arrieta’s $25MM representing the lone lofty salary of the group.
Dating back to the July All-Star break, the Phillies have fallen well out of contention in the NL East – a division they led at the midway point- and the wild-card hunt, but it still seems they’re on the right track. Indeed, general manager Matt Klentak indicated as much a week ago. He and the rest of the Phillies’ brain trust are now set to spend the coming months trying to put the club in position to snap its soon-to-be seven-year playoff drought. With a good amount talent on hand to build around, plenty of money to spend, and Machado, Bryce Harper and Clayton Kershaw among the offseason’s potential free agents, the Phillies should be one of the majors’ most interesting teams to watch in the coming months.
It’s been widely reported that Adam Jones exercised his 10-and-5 rights to veto a trade that would’ve sent him from Baltimore to the Phillies shortly before the non-waiver trade deadline, and Jones publicly confirmed as much in an interview with Sara Perlman of MASNsports.com on Facebook Live today (video link). Asked about the decision to do so, Jones gave a thoughtful and elaborate response:
“It just wasn’t right for me. I was playing center field at the time, and they wanted me to go play right field and platoon. That was the situation there, and it’s understandable. That’s how their roster was constructed, and that’s National League ball — double-switch and all that kind of stuff. … It wasn’t the right move for me, especially going into free agency. I’m not going into free agency looking like I’m [Nolan] Arenado, [Manny] Machado or [Bryce] Harper — obviously not — but I want to continue to create and maintain my stock. Going there to platoon, obviously in a good environment, a winning environment, would’ve hurt me in the long run. If I was 36, 37, a little older and toward the end of it all, of course — that would’ve been a very ideal and smart move, because it’d make sense. … I wish the Phillies the best, because I believe they have a really good team.”
Jones went on to discuss his upcoming foray into free agency — the first time at any point in his career that he’ll hit the open market. While he stated at multiple times that his preference is to play center field, he ultimately acknowledged, “Whoever wants me to run around [in the outfield] for them, whether it’s center, right, left, I could care less. I just want to play.”
The defensive alignment may or may not prove to be a deciding factor for Jones, but it’ll be a definite factor in which clubs opt to pursue the 33-year-old and in the types of offers he receives. Defensive metrics have been harsh on Jones’ work in center field for the past few seasons, and his right-field work hasn’t generated favorable reviews, either (-7 Defensive Runs Saved, -2.6 Ultimate Zone Rating in 210 innings). Jones notes that changing positions midseason has been more difficult than having a full offseason and Spring Training to get used to the different angles and reads that come with the move, though, and voices confidence that he could adjust in 2019 and beyond if need be.
Asked about his priorities in free agency, Jones said he “for sure” wants to sign with a winning club that can provide the “opportunity to play for something special.” That would seem to take the rebuilding Orioles largely out of the picture, making it increasingly likely that the O’s will go with a youthful outfield mix into 2019. While they club could add a veteran bridge at some point, prospects like Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart figure to have ample opportunity to win playing time for themselves next year.
As for Jones himself, he’ll head into free agency at a difficult time. While he was a star-caliber player from 2012-15, his 2018 season hasn’t approached those heights. He’s hitting .285/.316/.427 thus far, giving him a roughly league-average batting line while trying to adapt to a new outfield slot. There’s some reason for optimism that his offense can rebound, as his strikeout rate is a career-low 15.1 percent after tonight’s game, and his exit velocity in 2018 is actually considerably higher than it was in 2017 (86.6 mph vs. 88 mph). Similarly, Statcast credits Jones with a 2.5 percent increase in his hard-contact rate.
But Jones will also be older than many of his free-agent peers — he’ll turn 34 next August — and he’ll hit free agency at a time when corner bats have struggled to generate significant interest both in trades and in free agency. Corner outfielders with shakier defensive reputations simply haven’t commanded significant investments unless they come with elite bats, which isn’t the case for Jones. He’ll also be part of a crowded group of outfielders, with Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Michael Brantley, Andrew McCutchen and Nick Markakis among the names hitting free agency.
On top of that, free agency in general was a brutal reality check for many players last season, as the market yielded very few contracts that would’ve aligned with historically-based expectations. Among the second tier of outfielders last winter, veterans like Jon Jay ($3MM) and Carlos Gonzalez ($5MM) each settled for fairly disappointing one-year deals, though Jay Bruce still managed to get a contract that generally aligned with expectations (three years, $39MM). The very fact that multiple clubs tried to trade for Jones this past July is indicative that he’ll surely generate interest — but it probably won’t be at the price point most would’ve expected a few years ago.
It’s a high-profile addition for the Boras Corporation, as Hoskins has quickly emerged as one of the game’s top home run hitters since debuting last August. Through 817 career plate appearances, Hoskins is a .253/.368/.529 hitter with 49 home runs and 41 doubles already under his belt.
The Phils have been playing Hoskins in left field this season following the signing of Carlos Santana to a three-year contract this offseason, though defensive ratings have been unkind, to say the least. Defensive Runs Saved pegs Hoskins at a whopping -25, while Ultimate Zone Rating (-11.5) and Statcast’s Outs Above Average (-18) are similarly bearish on the former first baseman’s glovework at his new position.
Hoskins won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2020 season, and he won’t reach free agency until the completion of the 2023 campaign. The move to the Boras Corporation is of particular note for Phils fans, though, given the rarity of multi-year extensions for Boras clients prior to reaching free agency. While there are some notable exceptions (Jered Weaver, Carlos Gonzalez, and Carlos Gomez among them), Boras clients typically don’t sign away free-agent seasons in advance.
MLBTR’s Agency Database, which contains representation info on upwards of 3,000 Major League and Minor League players, has been updated to reflect Hoskins’ switch. If you see any errors or omissions within the database, please let us know via email: email@example.com.
As of July 31st, the Phillies were sitting comfortably in first place in the National League’s eastern division. That lead, and the talent that backed up the position in the standings, was enough to prompt ownership and management to make a few upgrades prior to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Indeed, the club continued to make moves afterwards, including the acquisitions of Justin Bour and Jose Bautista.
Sadly for Phillies fans, however, that hasn’t lasted down the stretch. The club sits 6.5 games back of the Braves in the division race, and 5.5 contests behind the Dodgers and Rockies in competition for the second Wild Card spot. The offense, rotation and bullpen have all suffered setbacks at key moments, which has resulted in the team losing major ground in the playoff hunt.
MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki wonders whether the Phillies regressed, or simply returned to reality after an unsustainable good start. Despite the club’s performance down the stretch, general manager Matt Klentak has taken an optimistic take on their analytical and managerial approach to gameplay.
“When I was brought in here three years ago I wasn’t brought in here to do things the way they’d always been done,” Klentak said. “You guys remember that there was a narrative surrounding the Phillies that they were slow to adjust. So, that is our job, to move the needle, to stay current and win baseball games.” Klentak further explained that the Phillies are “not doing things so radically different that this has never been seen in baseball before” – even if some of those changes might be new to the organization.
“Candidly, this was an excellent season to try new things with a young roster and with relatively modest expectations and we did,” the Phillies’ general manager added. “Some of them worked and we’ll continue to use them, some of them didn’t and we won’t use them anymore. But we’ll continue pressing forward because that is our job.”
Klentak was also asked whether post-deadline roster chemistry might have had an impact on the club’s team-wide slump beginning in August. The manager assessed the situation and concluded that no one element was at fault for the collapse, or else they’d have been quick to identify it and make that adjustment. “We have theories about different things that may have contributed. It’s probably some kind of combination of a lot of things. I will not sit here and tell you the chemistry changed in such a way that that is the reason we struggled. I don’t believe that.”
Of course, it’s feasible to wonder whether the Phillies overachieved in the season’s first four months and simply regressed after the end of July. Klentak acknowledged that the team considered that possibility as the deadline approached, but felt compelled to go for it and acquire Wilson Ramos, Asdrubal Cabrera and Aaron Loup. Klentak decided to further “double down” in August by adding Bour, Bautista, and Luis Avilan.
Though the playoffs are now a long shot for a Phillies club sitting 5.5 games back in the wild card with 14 left to play, the club is well-positioned to make a run at big names such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in free agency. The club has six players under contract for about $70MM in 2019, plus a full slate of arbitration eligible players. For a club that ran payrolls in the range of $140-175MM not long ago, just about anything will be on the table when the bidding begins.
- Could the Phillies look to trade Carlos Santana this offseason? “There has been some recent rumble” about the possibility, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury, though the idea seems rather speculative in nature. Santana signed a three-year, $60MM deal to join the Phils just last winter, a signing that seemed surprising at the time since the club seemingly already had breakout rookie Rhys Hoskins established at first base. Hoskins was shifted to left field instead, leading to a disastrous result from a defensive standpoint (-25 Defensive Runs Saved, -15.4 UZR/150). Santana, meanwhile, has hit .233/.354/.429 with 23 homers over 616 PA — solid numbers, if less than the Phillies were expecting from the signing. A Santana trade would allow Hoskins to return to first base, while allowing the Phillies to upgrade defensively at the very least in left field, and possibly make an even bigger all-around addition given how the team is thought to be preparing for a splashy offseason. It’s worth noting that $25MM of Santana’s contract has already been paid out in salary and signing bonus, though even $35MM over the two remaining years could be a bit of a tough sell in trade talks, as Santana is limited to just first base (or DH) and he turns 34 in April.