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.

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

The hot-hitting Phillies made some minor tweaks to their lineup for Monday's series opener against the American League-beset Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park.

Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph all move up in the lineup with Howie Kendrick getting the day off. Williams will hit third, Herrera moves up to fifth and Joseph will hit sixth. Andrew Knapp is catching and batting seventh. Cameron Perkins is playing left field and batting eighth.

Williams is hitting .309 with four home runs, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games since being called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on June 30. He had a two-run homer and another RBI in the Phillies' 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon.

After his 1 for 3 day with an RBI on Sunday, Herrera moves up spot. The centerfielder is hitting .331 with a major-league leading 19 doubles since June 3.

Joseph was 0 for 4 on Sunday with two strikeouts. He hit seventh against the Brewers but will hit sixth tonight.

Vince Velasquez (2-5, 5.14)  is on the mound for the Phillies. He'll be opposed by Brad Peacock (8-1, 2.49).

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Cameron Perkins, LF
9. Vince Velasquez, SP

For more on tonight's game, read Corey Seidman's game notes.

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Vince Velasquez faces his relentless former team

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Vince Velasquez faces his relentless former team

Phillies (34-62) vs. Astros (65-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies bring two straight series wins into what's sure to be a challenging three-game set this week at Citizens Bank Park against the AL-best Houston Astros.

At 65-33, Houston is on pace for 107 wins. The Astros' franchise record for wins in a season is 102 back in 1998 when they were promptly beaten in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

This Astros team is built to go much deeper into October.

1. Unstoppable offense
All the Astros do is score.

They lost MVP candidate Carlos Correa last week to a thumb injury that will keep him out about two months, but the lineup hasn't really missed a beat. The Astros scored 23 runs in their weekend series win in Baltimore.

The Astros have scored six runs or more 51 times this season. That's nine more occurrences than any team in baseball and 13 more than any team in the American League.

It helps a little bit playing the Astros in a National League stadium and ridding them of the DH, but Houston has a relentless lineup that just keeps coming and coming and coming.

Jose Altuve is hitting .358 with a .988 OPS, 28 doubles, 15 homers and 21 steals. He could end up as the AL MVP.

George Springer is their dynamic leadoff hitter who's hit .311 with a .978 OPS, 27 homers and 66 RBIs. He's already scored 82 runs and is on pace for 136, which would be the most for any player since Curtis Granderson in 2011.

Lefty Josh Reddick typically bats second or third to split up the right-handed hitters and he's been solid all year as well, hitting .301 with an .835 OPS.

Then there's utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who's hitting .320 with 18 homers and a .994 OPS.

And there's first baseman Yuli Gurriel, hitting .294 with 27 doubles, 13 homers and an .815 OPS.

Up and down the lineup, everyone has met or exceeded expectations. Even players like Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, who don't play every day, have been much better than league average at their positions.

It's going to be the toughest test of the season for the Phillies' pitching staff because this a deeper, more explosive lineup than the Nationals or Dodgers. There's no safe haven for a pitcher to catch his breath.

2. Velasquez draws his old team
Vince Velasquez faces the Astros for the first time since being traded to the Phillies in December 2015. (Ken Giles could also make his first appearance against the Phillies.)

Velasquez (2-5, 5.14) is coming off an impressive start in his return from the DL last week. In Miami last Tuesday, he allowed just two runs (one earned) on four hits over six innings.

It was the most efficient outing of the season for Velasquez, who needed 79 pitches to complete six innings. The Marlins put balls in play early in at-bats as opposed to fouling pitches off and running deep counts.

Tonight could be a different story. On top of being much better than the Marlins, the Astros are also a much more patient lineup that swings and misses less. Five different Astros starters have an on-base percentage of .345 or higher, and then you have someone like Nori Aoki, who barely ever strikes out.

Velasquez used his time off to clear his head after an uneven first half. He's been using his fastball up in the zone a lot lately and it's worked because he has enough velocity to blow it by hitters when it's at shoulder-level or above. It can be a dangerous game, though, because if Velasquez misses even slightly lower in the zone, he's inviting loud contact.

3. Deeper Phils lineup
The Phillies have scored five runs or more in seven straight games, their longest single-season streak since 2005.

How have they done it? There's not one reason — in fact, there are at least five.

Nick Williams' bat in the middle of the lineup has been the biggest factor. He came up on June 30 and has hit .309 with four homers, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games.

Since June 3, Odubel Herrera has hit .331 with a major-league-leading 19 doubles.

Over his last 35 games, Maikel Franco has as many walks (15) as strikeouts.

And the icing on the cake has been the returns of Cesar Hernandez and Howie Kendrick to the top of the Phillies' lineup.

Hernandez has reached base in all six games and 12 of 30 times total (.400 OBP) since coming back from the DL.

Kendrick hit in all three games over the weekend to raise his season slash line to .353/.403/.471. He's missed 60 games but been extremely productive when he's played.

The Phillies haven't previously had more than half the lineup hitting at the same time. When you add in Tommy Joseph's power, Andrew Knapp's plate selection and Freddy Galvis' ability to hit one out in any given plate appearance, you have the makings of a better lineup.

The Phillies still own the majors' worst record, but there are actually four teams — the Blue Jays, Reds, Giants and Padres — with worse run differentials.

4. More than a funny name
The Phillies face 29-year-old Astros right-hander Brad Peacock, who is having a career year. In 22 appearances (10 starts), Peacock is 8-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he's struck out a whopping 93 batters in 68⅔ innings.

He's also allowed just one home run in those 68⅔ innings.

Peacock has used five different pitches this season but goes mostly fastball-slider-sinker with his heater ranging from 93 to 96 mph. He also has a changeup and curveball.

His opponents have hit just .156 against the fastball this season and haven't hit better than .225 against any of his pitches. He's simply dominated for this first-place team and could legitimately start one of their first three playoff games, especially if Lance McCullers Jr. continues to struggle.

The Phillies have seen Peacock twice, in 2014 and 2011. In the most recent start, he allowed eight runs and put 11 men on base in just five innings. He was a much different pitcher then.

5. This and that
• Luis Garcia's save Sunday afternoon was his first since 2015. Garcia has pitched a career-high 17⅔ scoreless innings, allowing seven hits and striking out 17 over that span. If Hector Neris falters one more time in the ninth inning, the closer's job could temporarily go to Garcia.

• The Phillies have the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

• Giles has a 3.28 ERA this season with 21 saves in 23 attempts. He's struck out a career-low 10.3 batters per nine innings. In parts of two seasons with Houston, his ERA is 3.82 compared to 1.56 with the Phillies.