- Phillies GM Matt Klentak sat down for an interesting chat with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, which you can watch or read about right here. It’s certainly worth a full look for Phils’ fans, as Klentak discusses the team’s woeful performance in May. He emphasized a need to remain patient and keep the focus on the future, but acknowledged the disappointment. As for two particularly important players, Klentak says the team wants to let them work things out at the major league level. There are “reasons to believe” that Maikel Franco will bust out of his slump, he says, and the organization is “committed to giving Maikel more time to get out of this.” And center fielder Odubel Herrera is still a valuable contributor in the field, Klentak notes, explaining that his struggles at the plate may be due to the fact that he is currently “not taking pitches as well as he used to.”
The Phillies have at least held internal discussions about giving third baseman Maikel Franco some time at Triple-A, manager Pete Mackanin told reporters including Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Though nothing has been decided, and Mackanin was non-committal, that’s certainly a notable development. Franco, 24, has long been viewed as a building block for the Phils. But he took a step back last year after an excellent 2015 season, and currently owns a disappointing .209/.268/.349 slash through 190 plate appearances in the current campaign.
Here’s more from around the National League:
- It’s still not clear just when righty Carter Capps will make his Padres debut. As Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports on Twitter, skipper Andy Green indicated that the reliever “drew mixed reviews” for his work on the bump yesterday. He’s scheduled to throw against live hitters in another controlled scenario on Friday. Capps, who missed all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, has struggled in eight rehab appearances thus far.
- The Reds have optioned righty Robert Stephenson to Triple-A, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. He’ll be replaced by fellow right-hander Jackson Stephens. Things have not gone as hoped for the former first round draft pick. Through 24 2/3 innings in 13 appearances, he carries an 8.03 ERA. Stephenson has been knocked around for 33 hits (including seven long balls) while recording 27 strikeouts against 16 walks. It remains to be seen whether he’ll return to starting upon his return to the minors.
- With several starters nearing returns, the Mets may again have a bit of extra rotation depth. That will likely force righty Robert Gsellman to the pen — and possibly, into quite a prominent role there. As Kevin Kernan of the New York Post writes, some within the Mets organization believe Gsellman’s stuff and attitude make him a good fit for the closer’s role. Addison Reed is currently filling in for the injured Jeurys Familia in the ninth.
Mining the free agent ranks for good value remains an art, with the potential for rather significant rewards. While it’s unusual for a team to find a true gem — think Justin Turner — there is quite a lot of potential for adding impact in part-time roles.
We already looked at some minor-league signees who have impacted their organizations’ bullpens. Now, let’s check in on some hitters who signed for little but have been rather useful through about two months of action:
- Alexi Amarista, INF, Rockies — The 28-year-old has helped cover for the injured Trevor Story, and he’s doing more than just keeping the team afloat. Through 69 trips to the plate, he’s hitting .338/.348/.515. There’s obviously quite a lot of room for regression baked in — Amarista has drawn just one walk and carries a .412 BABIP — but he’s been a big help for the emerging Rockies team at the meager cost of $1.25MM.
- Daniel Descalso, INF, Diamondbacks — After Colorado let the utilityman go over the winter, Descalso landed only $1.5MM despite a solid 2016 season. That has worked out just fine for Arizona, which has received 92 plate appearances of .218/.337/.410 hitting from the veteran, who is walking at a 13.0% clip and succeeding despite a .250 BABIP.
- Chris Iannetta, C, Diamondbacks — Also earning a meager $1.5MM, Iannetta has helped the DBacks feel better about the decision to allow Welington Castillo to walk. Though the typically patient Iannetta is walking at about half of his career rate, he’s driving the ball like never before. Over eighty plate appearances, Iannetta has smacked six long balls and owns a .288 isolated slugging mark.
- Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Dodgers — Taking home a modest $2.6MM salary, Gutierrez has been quite productive when healthy. While Los Angeles will only ask him to play a limited role, the team will be thrilled if he can keep producing at a .257/.350/.429 rate the rest of the way.
- Austin Jackson, OF, Indians — After settling for a minor-league deal over the winter, Jackson came with low expectations. But he made the Opening Day roster and owns a .273/.327/.523 batting line that points back to his days as one of the game’s more promising young players.
- Adam Lind, 1B, Nationals — Lind languished on the market along with a variety of other sluggers, eventually scoring just $1.5MM to function as a lefty complement to Ryan Zimmerman at first base. While the Nats have received plenty of production from Zimmerman, the team is also enjoying Lind’s robust output off the bench. He owns a .340/.400/.604 slash over sixty plate appearances, with as many walks as strikeouts (10.0% apiece).
- Mark Reynolds, 1B, Rockies — Expected to land on the bench after returning to Colorado on a minors deal, Reynolds was thrown into a more significant role when Ian Desmond opened the year on the DL. He has responded with outstanding production: .313/.388/.555 with 13 home runs in 206 plate appearances.
- Kurt Suzuki, C, Braves — At just $1.5MM, Suzuki has been quite the bargain. He’s outhitting most of the league’s catchers in his 88 plate appearances, with a .257/.379/.457 slash. Interestingly, Suzuki is walking 11.4% of the time — nearly double his typical levels — while also hitting for good power (.200 ISO).
- Chase Utley, INF, Dodgers — The former star took home just $2MM in exchange for his services this year, and seemed ready to take a smaller role on the Dodgers’ bench. After a slow start, though, he has begun to deliver. 125 plate appearances into the season, he’s batting .252/.347/.430 with three dingers and three steals — the type of production not seen since back in 2013, when he was still with the Phillies.
TODAY: The Phillies announced that Velasquez has been placed on the 10-day DL. Righty Ricardo Pinto will be called up to take the open roster spot.
YESTERDAY, 11:13pm: Velasquez says that he believes the injury to be mild, Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly tweets, though a trip to the DL will be required regardless.
7:49pm: Phillies righty Vince Velasquez left his outing early tonight after experiencing a velocity drop. The team has now announced that he has been diagnosed with a strained flexor in his right elbow.
Obviously, the severity isn’t yet fully known at this time, but it seems clear that Velasquez will require at least some kind of absence. The Phillies aren’t contending and will surely exercise plenty of care in handling the young righty.
It has already been a trying year for Velasquez, who has shown signs of excellence in the past. Through 48 2/3 innings entering today’s action, he carried a 5.55 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9.
Now, there are increasing questions about durability for Velasquez, who’ll soon turn 25. He missed time last year with a biceps strain and was ultimately shut down for the last month of the year.
Velasquez did manage 136 total frames in 2016 (including a rehab start), which set a career high. But it remains to be seen whether he can carry a full starter’s load. It has long been said that Velasquez may end up pitching from the back of a bullpen, and those calls figure to increase with this latest injury flare-up.
Howie Kendrick’s strong start to his Phillies tenure was cut short by an oblique strain, so the veteran will be playing in his just 11th game of the 2017 campaign when the Phils activate him from the disabled list tomorrow as expected. His return should provide some on-field help to a Phillies team that now owns the worst record in baseball (17-31 after today’s loss), though Kendrick’s greatest value to the team may come as a trade chip before the July 31 deadline.
Of course, any interested teams will need to assure themselves that Kendrick (who turns 34 in July) is healthy before entering into trade talks. Kendrick’s .333/.395/.487 start to the year can almost surely be chalked up to the small sample size of 43 plate appearances, though Kendrick will naturally need to produce at the plate to show teams that he still swings a dangerous bat, particularly after his disappointing 2016 season.
Over 543 PA with the Dodgers last season, Kendrick hit .255/.326/.366, with his average and slugging percentage counting as new career lows. A lack of batted-ball luck played a part, as Kendrick only managed a slightly above-average .301 BABIP last season, well below his .338 career mark. The rest of his advanced metrics, however, were largely in line with his career norms, so it could be that Kendrick simply had a bit of an off-year. In fact, on the positive side, Kendrick’s 9.2% walk rate was a new career high, and he was maintaining that same patience early in 2017 (with the small sample size caveat).
Beyond what Kendrick can bring to a lineup, the veteran’s ability to play multiple positions will also draw him some attention at the deadline. After years as an everyday second baseman and occasional outfielder, Kendrick made 79 starts for the Dodgers in left field last year, 23 starts at second, 14 starts at third base and seven starts at first base. While he is likely somewhat of a defensive liability as a regular second baseman at this point in his career, Kendrick did a solid job in left last year and can likely at least hold his own at third or first in limited action.
Though Kendrick will get his fair share of playing time by moving around the diamond, the Phillies since they have a young player at all of his positions. Aaron Altherr has blossomed since taking over as the regular left fielder in Kendrick’s absence, and Tommy Joseph, Cesar Hernandez, and Maikel Franco are all still potential infield building blocks (though Franco is off to a rough start). Altherr could be shifted over to right to supplant Michael Saunders, though one figures prospect Roman Quinn will also eventually figure into the outfield mix.
Using the top 30 trade deadline power rankings from MLBTR’s Jeff Todd as reference, it’s a pretty pitching-heavy list of trade candidates likely to be available this July. Of the position players that could be on the market, few have Kendrick’s defensive versatility, or reasonable price tag both in prospect cost and salary owed (roughly $6.7MM between now and season’s end).
It is quite possible Philadelphia could even eat some of that remaining salary since the team will be motivated to get something back at midseason. As recently noted by Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pat Neshek is the only one of the veterans acquired by the Phillies last winter who has performed well this year; Kendrick has been on the DL, Clay Buchholz is out for the season, and Saunders and Joaquin Benoit have struggled. Beyond that group, Jeremy Hellickson (who accepted a qualifying offer to remain with the Phillies) has also not pitched well, leaving the Phillies with a pretty bare cupboard of trade chips unless someone besides Neshek starts producing. Kendrick, in a way, has done less damage to his trade value simply by missing time with a not-too-serious injury than Hellickson, Saunders and Benoit have by playing poorly.
The Phillies didn’t give up too much to acquire Kendrick from L.A. (Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney, neither of whom is still in the Dodgers organization), but they will likely be motivated sellers in order to get some return from their veteran investments. Kendrick keeping up the .883 OPS would be great for all parties, though simply a return to “the old Howie Kendrick” would be good enough to make him a sought-after trade piece for teams in need of position depth.
Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images
- The Phillies haven’t seen much return on their offseason strategy of adding veterans on short-term deals, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Joaquin Benoit, Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hellickson, Howie Kendrick, and Michael Saunders have all been either injured or largely ineffective in the season’s first two months. While this isn’t a huge competitive concern to the rebuilding Phils, Gelb notes that if these veterans continue to struggle, it could lead to questions about the evaluation process used by GM Matt Klentak’s front office to pursue these players.
- Howie Kendrick is expected to be activated from the DL tomorrow, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki tweets. The veteran was off to a good start in his first 10 games with the Phillies before hitting the DL in mid-April with an oblique strain. He was the starting left fielder in all 10 of his games, though one might expect the versatile Kendrick to be moved around the diamond since Aaron Altherr has broken out since taking over in left.
Hall of Fame pitcher and former US Senator Jim Bunning has passed away, the Phillies have announced. He was 85 and had suffered a stroke last fall.
Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky, outside Cincinnati, and attended a Cincinnati high school and Xavier University. He spent several years in the Tigers’ minor-league system before debuting in the big leagues with Detroit in 1955. He received five All-Star berths as a member of the Tigers before heading to Philadelphia in 1964. There, he continued to rate as one of the game’s best starting pitchers, finishing second in NL Cy Young balloting in 1967 while leading the league in both innings pitched (302 1/3) and strikeouts (253).
Bunning made brief stops with the Pirates and Dodgers before finishing his career with two seasons in Philadelphia. He ended up with 224 wins, 2,855 strikeouts (second to Walter Johnson on the all-time list at the time of his retirement), a no-hitter, and a perfect game. As a pitcher, Bunning was known for his sidearm delivery and his reliability (he threw 200 or more innings in 11 straight seasons). He was selected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996.
Bunning then embarked on a career in politics, serving in local and state roles in Kentucky before being elected to the US House of Representatives as a Republican in 1986. He won a Senate seat in 1998 and served two terms, leaving the body after announcing he would not run for reelection in 2010. He lived in his native Southgate at the time of his passing.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com argues that it’s time for the Phillies to bring Roman Quinn back to the Majors and see if he can produce in a semi-regular role. Other well-regarded prospects in the organization are currently blocked by younger players (e.g. second baseman Scott Kingery and first baseman Rhys Hoskins), but Lawrence opines that reducing the playing time of Michael Saunders and even giving the struggling Odubel Herrera a day off each week would allow the Phils to get Quinn into the lineup a four times per week or so in an effort to invigorate an unproductive lineup. The 24-year-old Quinn hasn’t exactly set Triple-A on fire (.245/.346/.375), but he’s heated up quite nicely after a slow start to his season. And with the Phillies having lost 20 of their past 24 games (including five straight and nine of their last 10), the team is clearly in need of a shakeup. The return of Howie Kendrick will only further muddle the outfield mix, however, and the Phils announced last night that he’s embarking on a rehab assignment.
- The Phillies have released southpaw Mario Hollands, per Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com (via Twitter). Once a promising young reliever, Hollands seemingly never fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. The 28-year-old has produced middling results in the upper minors over the past two seasons since sitting out all of 2015. This year, he has allowed a dozen walks in his 13 frames at Double-A.
- Also hitting the open market is former Phillies righty Dalier Hinojosa, per Matt Eddy of Baseball America. The 31-year-old worked to a 1.51 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 through 35 2/3 MLB frames in 2015-16, but clearly hadn’t convinced teams that was sustainable. Hinojosa hasn’t yet pitched this year due to a shoulder injury.