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.”

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.