Amaro blames unwilling trade partners for deadline whiff

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Amaro blames unwilling trade partners for deadline whiff

WASHINGTON -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. blamed the rest of baseball, not himself, for his team’s inability to pull off a deal before Thursday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.

“I’m not necessarily disappointed,” he said moments after the deadline. “I’m more surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end. We have some pretty good baseball players here. Our goal all along was to try to improve the club and there really wasn’t a deal to be made that would help us do that.”

For weeks, the Phillies made a slew of players available. Need a closer? There was Jonathan Papelbon. A lefty reliever? Antonio Bastardo. A lefty starter? Cliff Lee. A right-handed starter? A.J. Burnett. A power hitter? Marlon Byrd.

They were all still with the Phillies on Thursday night, Lee on the mound against the Washington Nationals, Byrd in right field.

Amaro was adamant that player contracts were not a hindrance to making deals. He stated for the umpteenth time that the team would have eaten salary to get the talent it wanted in return.

That talent was never offered, according to Amaro.

“I just don’t think the players that we were being offered were players who were good enough to help us,” he said.

In national circles, Amaro has been criticized for placing high price tags on his players. Some critics believe his prices were too high for aging players who have been part of a team that is 14 games under .500.

“Well, I would disagree with that,” Amaro said. “In no scenario were we asking for players that were their top prospects. We were not looking for exorbitant paybacks, so to speak. We were looking for players that would help us, but I think we were very reasonable in the discussions that we had. Frankly, I don’t think the clubs were aggressive enough for the talent we have on our club.”

Amaro was pressed on the subject. Could he have been guilty overrating his own talent?

No, Amaro said.

If anything, he added, rival teams are guilty of overrating their prospects.

“In this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects,” he said. “I don't know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come back to bite people in the ass. I think teams are really kind of overvaluing in some regards.

“When you have players who are actually performing at the major-league level compared to players who are in the minor leagues -- prospects are another term for saying minor-league players. They're minor-league players. And until they're producing at the major-league level, that's what they are. Prospects are prospects.”

Clearly, Amaro believes he was lowballed. He believes that may have been a product of opposing teams viewing the Phillies, a big-market, $180-million-payroll team that is about to whiff on the playoffs for a third straight year, as being desperate.

Amaro conceded that the Phillies need to make changes and he said changes would be made before April, but desperation? No, he said.

“I made it very, very clear that we didn't have any pressure to make deals,” he said. “Our goal was to try and make our club better. If there was a deal to help us get there, we would've done it. There really wasn't a deal we felt comfortable with or a deal that we were going to acquire talent that was compensatory to the talent we offered.”

Amaro said he continued to talk to potential trade partners until 15 minutes before the deadline. The hottest chatter Thursday revolved around Byrd possibly going to the Yankees. The two teams had discussions, but nothing was consummated.

The Phils can still make deals in August. They’ve done them in the past, acquiring Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs and shipping out Joe Blanton. But August deals require a player first clearing waivers, so that makes things more tricky.

It’s likely the Phils will place Lee, Papelbon, Bastardo, Byrd, Burnett and others on waivers in the coming days -- some might already be there -- just to try to gain trade flexibility for the rest of the season. Given the big money that Lee, Papelbon and Byrd are owed, there is a good chance they would get through waivers so the Phillies could still have the opportunity to make some changes in the coming month.

“I think we have to make changes,” Amaro said. “There's no question about it. We need to get better.”

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The difference was striking.
 
When Mickey Moniak arrived in Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract six months ago, he was rail-thin and 170 pounds.
 
On Tuesday night, Moniak made a quick visit to the winter meetings to be honored as Baseball America’s high school player of the year for 2016. 
 
He’d added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
 
“It’s all muscle,” Moniak said proudly.
 
The Phillies selected Moniak with the first pick in the June draft and signed him for $6.1 million. Just a few months of professional baseball convinced the 18-year-old centerfielder that he needed to get stronger. He recently capped off his first year of pro ball with a three-week stint at the Phillies’ strength and conditioning camp in Clearwater.
 
“It’s something the Phillies wanted me to do and I knew I definitely needed it, too,” Moniak said. “I really enjoyed my first year. I got a taste of what it was like to play baseball for a job and it was a good time.
 
“There were a lot of positives that came out of the first year. I felt like I jumped in there and really competed. I hit well in July. In August, I started to fatigue and I wasn’t prepared for that, being my first season. But it was a good learning experience. I needed to get stronger.”
 
Moniak hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ prospect-stacked Gulf Coast League team. That club, loaded with young Latin players and first-year talent from the 2016 draft, went 41-17 and advanced to the finals of the league playoffs before losing to the Cardinals.
 
After the playoffs, many of the players from that club participated in the Florida instructional league. Moniak played sparingly, however, after dealing with some soreness in his right hip. He was checked out by doctors in Philadelphia and there are no more concerns.
 
“It was just tightness,” Moniak said. “Everything is good. I’m 100 percent. They said it was either a growing pain or just tightness. I just have to stretch more.”
 
Moniak is an athletic centerfielder with speed and a good left-side bat. He has been compared favorably to former All-Star Steve Finley.
 
"Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft," Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies head of amateur scouting, said on draft night in June. "He's a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star."

Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, during his senior season. He impressed a rival scout who saw him play five times during the season.

“The bat is good,” the scout said. “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
 
Now, Moniak is stronger. He looked sturdy in a dress shirt and tie at the winter meetings Tuesday night. He is eager to see how it all translates on the field in 2017.
 
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “I’m just going to go to spring training and compete and hopefully end up in (Single A) Lakewood, stay healthy and hopefully have a winning season and win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal and if personal stats come with that, too, that’s great.”