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.”

Today's Lineup: Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi, Andrew Knapp all get starts

Today's Lineup: Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi, Andrew Knapp all get starts

Just mere hours after topping the Braves in dramatic fashion in the 10th inning, the Phillies will have a much different lineup take the field Sunday afternoon as they look for the sweep of Atlanta (see Sunday's game notes).

Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Andrew Knapp will all start Sunday's series finale.

Nava will bat fifth start in left field for the ailing Howie Kendrick, who's missed the last week with an oblique issue. Nava's sample size at the plate so far this season is small, but he's still 8 for 21 (.381 batting average) with two homers, two doubles and 7 RBI. So it makes sense that manager Pete Mackanin wants to get Nava some more at-bats.

Stassi bats sixth and gets the nod at first in place of Tommy Joseph, who had that odd sequence of events late in Saturday's win. First, Joseph had an ugly at-bat with the game tied in the ninth inning. Then in the top of the 10th, he caught a popped-up bunt and suddenly made an ill-advised throw to an empty third base, helping the Braves plate the go-ahead run. So today could be a day just to clear Joseph's head.

Both Nava and Stassi are left-handed bats against Braves righty starter Mike Foltynewicz.

Knapp will give Cameron Rupp the day-game-after-night-game breather behind the plate Sunday.

One note on Atlanta's lineup: Brandon Phillips, who drilled the game-tying homer off Edubray Ramos in the top of the ninth on Saturday, has been moved up to the second spot in the order for Sunday's finale.

Both teams' lineups can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Aaron Altherr RF
3. Odubel Herrera CF
4. Maikel Franco 3B
5. Daniel Nava LF
6. Brock Stassi 1B
7. Freddy Galvis SS
8. Andrew Knapp C
9. Zach Eflin SP

Braves
1. Ender Inciarte CF
2. Brandon Phillips 2B
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Matt Kemp LF
5. Nick Markakis RF
6. Kurt Suzuki C
7. Jace Peterson 3B
8. Dansby Swanson SS
9. Mike Foltynewicz SP

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies (8-9) vs. Braves (6-11)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies and Braves played quite the game Saturday night. 

The teams went back and forth in the final two innings, culminating in Maikel Franco's walk-off single. What do they have in store for Sunday? Zach Eflin will take the hill for the Phillies opposite Mike Foltynewicz, a matchup of developing right-handers in their 20s.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game.

1. Eflin back to form
Promoted to the majors at the beginning of the week, Eflin looked back to form in his first MLB start of 2017.

Eflin had the unfortunate problem of needing to rehab two knee surgeries this offseason, but clearly has not lost much in terms of his stuff. He looked a lot like the Eflin who produced five quality starts in a stretch of six appearances last summer, not the one who gave up 20 runs in his last 13 innings.

While he threw just five innings against the Mets, he limited New York to just two runs while working around six baserunners. Both runs came in the first inning and he retired 13 of his last 15 batters faced. 

The 23-year-old righty lives off his low-90s fastball and sinker while mixing in a slider and curveball. He was sinker heavy in his first start of 2017 and it was effective at Citi Field.

One of his best starts last season came against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin needed just 92 pitches to throw a six-hit complete game with just one earned run allowed, a solo homer by Ender Inciarte. He didn't walk any Braves batters and struck out six in a quick game (2:08 in duration). Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and no batter got more than one hit.

2. Foltynewicz vs. the Phils
Foltynewicz hasn't had an ideal start to the season. His first start came in inclement weather vs. the Pirates, then he had to come out of the bullpen with a series of off days, which allowed the Braves to skip their fifth starter.

His most recent appearance came back in the rotation on Tuesday and he held his own against the Nationals, who were without a few key veterans but still had Max Scherzer on the hill. Foltynewicz held the Nats the just two runs over seven innings, scattering nine baserunners while striking out three batters. He walked four batters and has a paltry 8/7 K-BB ratio this year. 

In his three seasons with the Braves, the 25-year-old righty has a sub-optimal 4.85 ERA over 222 2/3 innings. However, his ERA got much better from 2015 to 16 (5.71 to 4.31) and his 4.26 ERA thus far in 2017 isn't half bad. 

Foltynewicz lives off his mid-90s fastball that has touched 97 this season. He mixes in a slider that draws a lot of groundballs, a sinker and a changeup. His velocity is down a little this season, which could explain his poor strikeout rate.

Folynewicz is 2-1 in four appearances against the Phillies in his career but has a 6.00 ERA, allowing five homers and 12 runs in 18 innings. Franco and Tommy Joseph each have one of those home runs while Odubel Herrera has three hits off the right-hander.

3. Ryan Howard: Braves minor leaguer
Believe it or not, Ryan Howard could be playing for another NL East team this year. The former Phillies slugger made his debut Saturday night for the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate. 

Howard had himself quite a night, going 2 for 2 with two singles, an RBI, a hit-by-pitch and a walk, which was intentional. For someone signed so recently to a minor-league pact, it was an encouraging showing, although it's unlikely he'll be called up anytime soon.

There are two major obstacles to Howard making it back to the show with the Braves. The first is Freddie Freeman. With Freeman, the Braves already have a lefty slugger at first base for the foreseeable future. The other issue is Howard isn't on the Braves' 40-man roster. Atlanta has little incentive to add Howard to its 40-man because they're in full rebuild mode and need to prioritize their prospects.

Still, there may be something left in the tank for Howard. He still hit 20 home runs last season and was quite effective in the second half, particularly as a platoon bat. Even if the Braves ultimately don't need Howard, his opportunity in Gwinnett is a chance to audition for other teams as well. Veterans on minor-league deals often have opt-outs or could be granted their release if another team shows interest. 

If you're curious, Howard doesn't play Lehigh Valley, the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate, until July 17-19 and doesn't play in Lehigh Valley until a week later.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis struck out twice on Saturday, but he also extended his hitting streak to six games with a double. It was just his second extra-base hit since April 7.

Braves: Freddie Freeman has raised his average to .400 on the season. His .400/.507/.850 batting line won't last, but he looks to have brought his game to another level this year.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are on a three-game winning streak, including two straight over the Braves. Despite finishing ahead of Atlanta in the standings in 2016, the Phillies lost their last seven games vs. the Braves last season.

• The Phils have won two extra-inning games in the last five days. They haven't done that since April 17 and 20 of last season.

• Aaron Altherr has a six-game hitting streak going and has raised his average to .379. He has doubled in consecutive games and has two hits in three straight games. For good measure, he's added stolen bases in two of Phillies' last three games.