5 winter meetings thoughts: Phillies/Tyson Ross; McCutchen; Benoit

5 winter meetings thoughts: Phillies/Tyson Ross; McCutchen; Benoit

Five thoughts on the early happenings at the winter meetings:

1. McCutchen rumors
The most mentioned player right now is Andrew McCutchen, who is likely to be traded by the Pirates. McCutchen is by far Pittsburgh's most popular player, the one credited with leading the Bucs out of their lengthy playoff slump. He's won an MVP and led the league in hits, on-base percentage and OPS at one point. 

I don't think McCutchen is finished as a star player. From 2012 to 2015, he hit .313/.404/.523 and averaged 65 extra-base hits (25 HR), 82 walks and 120 strikeouts. Last season, he hit .256/.336/.430 with 53 extra-base hits (24 HR), 69 walks and 143 strikeouts.

McCutchen's bat and legs looked a bit slower last season. His numbers with two strikes plummeted. But I still think he's going to hit around .290 with a .400-plus OBP in 2017. The guy's 30, not 36. 

The Nationals have been the team connected to McCutchen the most, but reports indicate they're unwilling to part with their top, top prospects. There's demand for McCutchen, but I still don't see the Pirates getting full value based on McCutchen's lackluster 2016 and the $28.75M owed to him the next two seasons.

2. Benoit a good idea for Phillies
The Phillies haven't officially signed Joaquin Benoit, but my early take on the move, if it happens, would be that such a deal is rarely a bad idea. Benoit will turn 40 in July, but he's maintained his effectiveness throughout his late-30s. Since 2010, a span of seven seasons, Benoit has a 2.40 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a .189 opponents' batting average. Those are elite numbers. 

Benoit's fastball last season averaged 94.2 mph, a higher mark than he had seven seasons ago.

3. Tyson Ross a fit for Phils?
The most surprising non-tender last Friday was Padres right-handed starting pitcher Tyson Ross. The 29-year-old had a 3.03 ERA in 64 starts in 2014 and 2015 and was San Diego's opening day starter in 2016, but that was the only start he made. Ross hurt his right shoulder, had several setbacks and then underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in October. The recovery time is believed to be 4 to 6 months, putting him on pace to potentially be ready to pitch early next season.

A lot of teams will show interest in Ross, who was projected to make about $9.5 million in 2017, his final year before free agency. The Phillies should be one of the teams to examine Ross' health, and if they feel he has a real shot to return early next season, they should be aggressive to try to sign him. 

It's highly unlikely a pitcher with Ross' current bill of health will get a long-term contract. The Phillies, who have a ton of money to spend, could offer him a high one-year salary, allowing him a chance to make some money and reestablish his value. If he pitches well, they could try to keep him in the fold or trade him. 

Many teams will be connected to Ross because he's an intriguing name in a thin starting pitching market. But he makes as much sense for the Phillies as any other team — they have the payroll space, and they're at the juncture in their rebuild when it makes sense to take chances.

4. Closer market gone wild
The expected massive contracts for closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen reflect the growing importance of star relievers. They also reflect the precedent set by the Phillies with Jonathan Papelbon's contract in 2012. Papelbon's $50 million deal was the most expensive ever for a closer at the time. These deals will exceed it by about $30 million, if not more. And they'll be logical contracts for the teams that sign them. The Marlins are thought to be aggressively pursuing one of them.

Mark Melancon reportedly agreed to a four-year, $62 million deal with the Giants, who badly needed a closer. Melancon's ERAs and saves totals have been comparable to Chapman's and Jansen's in recent years, but his stuff isn't. Melancon is much more reliant on command, and of the three closers I'd bet on his results declining first.

5. Typical Theo
The Cubs' addition of Jon Jay was such an under-the-radar, Theo Epstein move. I bet it pays off. Jay, a left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield positions, has been dogged by injuries the last two years but is still a heck of a hitter. He's hit .287 with a .352 OBP in 3,000 plate appearances, and is a player I always thought the Phillies should have pursued. 

Jay has underrated skills. He's not blazing fast and he doesn't have double-digit home run power, but if he's healthy he's going to hit .290 to .300 for your team with solid defense. He's like Martin Prado with better speed, defense and plate discipline. Wise way to protect against losing Dexter Fowler and do it in an inexpensive way.

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff

BOX SCORE

Brock Stassi's toe hurt.
 
Maikel Franco's ribs and head hurt.
 
Pain never felt so good.
 
The Phillies pulled off their most dramatic win of the young season when they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, at chilly Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco completed a three-RBI night when he smacked a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single to right to give the Phillies the walk-off win. It was the Phillies' third straight win and fifth in the last seven games as they improved to 8-9 with a chance to sweep a series and even their record at .500 on Sunday afternoon.
 
Franco will be in the lineup.
 
But he might need a couple of Advil to get going.
 
After his game-winning hit, Franco was hilariously chased into right field by his euphoric teammates. The Phillies third baseman absorbed a beat down with Andres Blanco delivering a blow to the top of Franco's head.
 
"You see that -- boom!" Blanco said in the happy clubhouse after that game.  
 
Franco did more than see it.

He felt it.
 
"Whitey got me," he said, laughing and pointing to his head and ribs. "My body is screaming right now."
 
Across the clubhouse, Stassi was feeling Franco's pain. His foot got stepped on during the happy scrum.
 
"My toe is killing me," he said with a laugh.
 
Stassi, too, might need an Advil before Sunday's game. He has a good chance to be in the lineup at first base because Tommy Joseph seems like a candidate for a day off after a tough night. Joseph made a costly throwing error in the top of the 10th inning that helped the Braves take a 3-2 lead.
 
Stassi helped rescue the Phillies from that deficit. His 10th inning single was the first of three one-out hits that the Phils collected against Braves' closer Jim Johnson. With the bases loaded, Johnson made Odubel Herrera look bad with a swinging strikeout for the second out. That brought up Franco. New hitting coach Matt Stairs is constantly encouraging Franco to use the whole field and that's just what the cleanup man did in lacing a liner to the warning track in right.

"To right field! How 'bout that," manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
It was Franco's second single of the night. He would have been awarded a game-winning double if he had reached second base. But, alas, he was chased into right field.
 
In the clubhouse after the game, Franco was told by a club official that he could have had a double had he touched second.
 
Franco's eyes widened in disbelief.
 
"Ah, Mikey!" he said, scolding himself.
 
Then he laughed.
 
Across the clubhouse, Joseph could laugh about the miscue that saw him throw to an empty third base after a sacrifice bunt in the 10th. With everything moving fast, he mistook shortstop Freddy Galvis for a baserunner as Galvis streaked to cover third.
 
Joseph's error put a man on third and the Braves scored the go-ahead run on an infield hit.
 
The ironic part about Joseph's error was the Phillies played excellent defense -- Herrera and Aaron Altherr made great catches in the outfield and Galvis was Galvis at short -- until the 10th.
 
They pitched well, too, from starter Jerad Eickhoff's five innings of one-run ball to the stingy relief work of Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia and Pat Neshek. They teamed on three shutout innings.
 
With his top late-game tandem of Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris in need of a night off, Mackanin asked Edubray Ramos to close it out. Ramos struck out the first two batters in the ninth and was one out away from his first big-league save when Brandon Phillips unloaded on a hanging slider to tie the game at 2-2.
 
Ramos rebounded and got the final out of the inning. As he walked off the field, he covered his mouth with his glove and shouted. Best guess: He said a naughty word. But ultimately his teammates got him off the hook. Parts of it were pretty. Parts of it were ugly. But when the night was over, the Phillies had a win.
 
"It was really a wacky game," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We played well overall, then there was a flurry of activity at the end."
 
Mackanin reached for a bottle of water.
 
"I'm going to drink more of this Smart Water," he said. "It's a happy day."

Best of MLB: Gonzalez, Nationals beat Mets 3-1 for 6th straight win

Best of MLB: Gonzalez, Nationals beat Mets 3-1 for 6th straight win

NEW YORK -- Gio Gonzalez mentioned the tasty Latin food served in the visitors' clubhouse. And the airplanes that fly overhead. And the pretty features of the ballpark.

But if there's a real reason why the Washington lefty is so successful at Citi Field, he isn't saying.

"Any secrets?" he offered. "No."

Gonzalez pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning to win again at the Mets' stadium, and the Nationals beat New York 3-1 on a drizzly Saturday for their sixth straight victory (see full recap).

Contreras' slam powers Arrieta, Cubs to 12-8 win over Reds
CINCINNATI -- After a sputtering start, the Cubs' offense is finally rolling. And it's no surprise that they're breaking out at Great American Ball Park, a place that's just their style.

Wilson Contreras hit his first career grand slam and Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward added three-run shots on Saturday, powering Chicago to a 12-8 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Jake Arrieta (3-0) returned to the mound where he threw his second career no-hitter last April 21 and struggled mightily at the outset, giving up two homers in the first inning. Chicago's offense pulled him through with another homer-filled game at Great American Ball Park. Arrieta helped with an RBI triple (see full recap).

Homers by Mancini, Schoop carry Orioles past Red Sox 4-2
BALTIMORE -- Just when it appeared Steven Wright had finally gained command of his fluttering knuckleball, the Baltimore Orioles found their groove.

The result: Another early exit for the 2016 All-Star in Boston's 4-2 loss Saturday night.

Trey Mancini and Jonathan Schoop homered in succession off Wright, Jayson Aquino won his first big league start and the Orioles used one big inning to secure their fourth straight victory (see full recap).

Simmons belts grand slam to lead Angels past Blue Jays 5-4
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Andrelton Simmons hit a tiebreaking grand slam, Tyler Skaggs pitched into the eighth inning and the Los Angeles Angels held off the slumping Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 Saturday night.

Simmons cleared the bases in the third inning off Casey Lawrence (0-2) for his second career grand slam, helping the Angels snap a three-game losing streak and win for the second time in 11 games.

Skaggs (1-1) gave up a run in the first but settled down to hold the Blue Jays to five hits over the next six innings, getting the Blue Jays to hit into three double plays along the way. He was lifted after Ryan Goins doubled to lead off the eighth (see full recap).