Blockbuster trade brewing between Phillies and Red Sox?

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Blockbuster trade brewing between Phillies and Red Sox?

The non-waiver trade deadline has passed, and the Phillies were subsequently unable to come to an agreement with the Cubs on a deal for Cole Hamels after Chicago reportedly claimed him last week.

But still, a blockbuster could be in the works.

The Phillies have been heavily scouting the Red Sox over these last two weeks, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

"Don’t think in 30 years of covering baseball I’ve ever seen a team (the Phillies) spend so much time scouting another team (the Red Sox) and not pull the trigger on a deal," Cafardo wrote in his Sunday notes column. 

"Even after the trade deadline, the Phillies have had a scout in Boston, St. Louis, and Anaheim watching Boston’s young players. The match would be Cole Hamels for young players, and it may very well heat up this offseason. Hamels, according to a source close to him, would be open to a deal with the Red Sox."

There are few teams positioned to pull off a deal for Hamels. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs stick out as three clear fits because of their deep pockets and flush farm systems.

Boston has numerous young pieces on the 25-man roster that could intrigue the Phillies, such as shortstop/third baseman Xander Bogaerts, centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and catcher Christian Vasquez.

The Red Sox seem to have genuine interest in Hamels. They traded their own left-handed ace, Jon Lester, to Oakland at the deadline for Yoenis Cespedes in a shrewd move based off of their uneasiness with Lester's impending free-agent pricetag. That is why Hamels may be more attractive to Boston in the winter -- he's owed $96 million over the next four seasons, while Lester's next contract could exceed $150 million. Same goes for right-hander Max Scherzer.

A year ago at this time, Bogaerts was an untouchable. He was one of the five-best prospects in the game according to nearly all minor-league experts, and he was still just 20 years old.

But Bogaerts, like Bradley, has had a dreadful season. In 108 games, Bogaerts has hit .230 with a .295 on-base percentage. He has 22 doubles, but just eight homers and 29 RBIs in 108 games. He also has 108 strikeouts with just 32 walks, an ugly ratio for a player praised for his plate discipline while in the minors.

Bogaerts was actually having a productive season early, but since June 4 has hit .152 in 52 games.

As for Bradley, there are no questions about his defense. He is an elite defensive centerfielder with tremendous instincts and an above-average throwing arm. He would be a massive upgrade over Ben Revere in those regards.

But his bat has not come around. Bradley is a .206 career hitter in 143 major-league games and has the lowest slugging percentage in baseball this season (.281).

Both players still have plenty of promise, though. Bogaerts is 21, Bradley is 24, and both raked in the minors. Bogaerts hit .296 on the farm with a lot of power, and Bradley hit .297 with a .404 on-base percentage.

Vasquez, a defensive-minded catcher, could also interest the Phils. Boston also has few intriguing young arms in Henry Owens and Allen Webster.

The Phillies' asking price for Hamels will be exceedingly high, and for good reason. He is among the game's top pitchers, ranking sixth in baseball with a 2.37 ERA. Over his last 18 starts, Hamels' ERA is 1.76. This has been, by far, the best regular season of his career.

With free-agent pitcher contracts sure to be obscene, Hamels could be the most sought-after trade commodity at the winter meetings. The Red Sox have the pieces to make a deal. And the Phillies, while extremely thin in pitching depth, are clearly giving it some thought. There just aren't many other ways to obtain difference-making young talent, and there's a good chance the Phils won't be a contending club during the life of Hamels' deal anyway.

Phillies-Mariners 5 things: Aaron Nola hopes to avoid more interleague struggles

Phillies-Mariners 5 things: Aaron Nola hopes to avoid more interleague struggles

Phillies (24-51) at Mariners (39-39)
10:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

As the losses mount, as the run differential pushed past minus-100, as the season slogs on even though summer just arrived, the Phillies have no option but to keep banging against the wall until it starts to crack.

After dropping three of four in Arizona, the Phils head to Seattle for a two-game series against the .500 Mariners.

1. Can it get any worse?
Always a dangerous question to ask but with the Phillies right now it's relevant. At 24-51, they have the worst record through 75 games of any National League team in eight years.

They're on pace to finish 51-111, and in truth it could be even worse than that considering their most reliable hitter (Howie Kendrick) and reliever (Pat Neshek) will likely be gone by the July 31 trade deadline.

This is just such a blah team. They don't hit, they don't hit in important situations, no starting pitcher has gotten on an extended roll, the bullpen blows leads, outs are given away on the bases.

The harsh but honest truth is that it comes down to a lack of talent. Look at Monday's Phillies lineup — there were two starters hitting above .257. They just don't have guys other than Kendrick and maybe Daniel Nava who can consistently take advantage of mistake pitches. Even Aaron Altherr, having an impressive, breakout season, has left many a fastball right down the middle.

2. Awful with RISP
Through May 2, the Phillies were 12-12 and they ranked 13th in the majors in both batting average (.258) and slugging percentage (.438) with runners in scoring position.

Since then? Not only do they have the lowest batting average in the majors with RISP at .220, but they have the second-fewest opportunities. 

Over that span, the league average has been 505 plate appearances for a team with runners in scoring position. The Phillies have 424.

Odubel Herrera has hit .203 with runners in scoring position. Maikel Franco has hit .208. Altherr is at .250. Andrew Knapp and Michael Saunders (before he was released) are both below .150.

3. Nola feels like himself
Aaron Nola is coming off his best start of the season, 7⅓ innings of one-run ball against the Cardinals last Thursday.

Nola allowed just six baserunners, struck out eight, and threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 28 hitters. He had perhaps his best two-seam movement of the season, freezing Cardinal after Cardinal with a two-seamer that started off the plate and crossed right over the outside corner. Of his eight K's, five were looking.

Nola and manager Pete Mackanin both said after the game that Nola looked like he did when he first arrived in the majors (see story). If he's getting back to that version of himself, the Phillies will be more than satisfied with him over the second half of the season.

As mentioned above, the Phillies really haven't had a starting pitcher get on a roll this season. Jeremy Hellickson had a 1.80 ERA in April but that's it. Jerad Eickhoff hasn't reeled off three or four good starts in a row, nor has Nola, nor did Vince Velasquez or Zach Eflin. Nick Pivetta and Ben Lively have had some nice moments but they've been inconsistent as well.

The Phillies desperately need at least one starting pitcher to get into a groove. If not, they're going to head into the offseason not knowing how many rotation spots are even filled for 2018. There are more questions about this group of young pitchers now than there was a year ago.

In 10 starts this season, Nola is 4-5 with a 4.32 ERA. He's struck out 55 and walked 18 in 58⅓ innings and his opponents have hit .254.

He's been better away from Citizens Bank Park, posting a 3.82 ERA in six road starts. 

Lefties have hit .288 with an .810 OPS off Nola compared to .225 and .579 for righties. That's long been the case for him because his breaking ball is his best secondary pitch while the changeup has been a work in progress. His last time out, Nola threw four changeups to lefties and they swung through all four of them.

He's never faced the Mariners. In six interleague starts, Nola is 1-4 with a 7.71 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. 

4. If trends matter ...
... then the Phillies should be able to hit left-hander James Paxton tonight.

Paxton, Seattle's 28-year-old, oft-injured southpaw, is 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts. But after a great start to the season, he's allowed 15 runs in 13 innings his last three outings. 

When Paxton was cruising in April, he walked just six batters in 32⅓ innings and had four scoreless starts out of five. In his last six starts, he's walked 16. He's prone to high pitch counts because he misses bats, induces plenty of foul balls and can struggle with control.

Paxton throws heat. At 96.3 mph, his average fastball velocity is highest in the majors for a left-handed starting pitcher. He's thrown it 63 percent of the time.

Paxton goes mostly fastball, curveball, cutter. Typically a lefty will use the cutter against right-handed hitters to jam them, but Paxton actually throws it more to lefties, saving it for righties when he has two strikes.

Paxton faced the Phillies once back in 2014 and allowed four runs (one earned) and lasted just four innings. 

5. This and that
• Nelson Cruz is obviously one of the more dangerous power hitters in the game but he's in a big home run drought that's lasted 18 games and 78 plate appearances. He's hitting .291 with 14 homers, 58 RBIs and an .890 OPS.

• Remember when the M's came to Philly and Robinson Cano played through a quad injury and went 6 for 8 with two homers, a double and five RBIs? He went on the DL immediately after that series and missed two weeks. Since returning, he's hit just .261/.313/.410.

• Nick Pivetta's fastball velocity was down to an average of 93 mph Monday after hovering around 95 his last two starts. He also threw just three of 17 sliders and curveballs for strikes.

Despite buzz about promotion, Phillies prospect Scott Kingery remains calm

Despite buzz about promotion, Phillies prospect Scott Kingery remains calm

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — One look around spacious Coca-Cola Park told Scott Kingery one thing: This wasn’t Reading anymore, Toto.

“It looks like you can get one out to left,” the newest member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs said late Monday afternoon, “but it looks real deep to center.”

It was time for the 23-year-old second baseman to recalibrate, time for one of the Phillies’ brightest prospects to get his bearings before continuing a climb that now finds him nearing the major-league summit.

Kingery, the Phils’ second-round pick in 2015, was promoted from Double A Reading on Sunday, after his torrid start attracted the attention of not only management but also a fanbase looking to latch onto something — anything — with the parent club struggling and regular second baseman Cesar Hernandez injured.

But everything in its time.

“I just try to block [the clamor] out the best I can,” Kingery said before making his Triple A debut against Pawtucket. “I know what I'm capable of and I know what I need to improve on. Wherever I'm at, I'm going to come out here and try to work on whatever I think I need to improve on and to give myself the best shot to get moved up.”

He went 1 for 5 with a steal and two spectacular defensive plays in the IronPigs’ 5-4, 10-inning loss on Monday night, after batting .313 with 18 homers and 44 RBIs in 69 games at Reading. And his one-day-at-a-time approach comes as no surprise to manager Dusty Wathan, who also had him late last season with the Fightin' Phils.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t change much,” Wathan said. “He’s really calm — not real high, not real low, much like (Lehigh Valley first baseman) Rhys Hoskins is.”

Wathan recalled Kingery’s struggles late last season — he wound up hitting .250 in 37 games for Reading, after moving up from Single A Clearwater — and how he handled it.

“You didn’t see the huge frustration or anything like that out of him,” the manager said. “I think he just embraced it and said this is what it is: ‘I’m a better player than this.’ He knew where he was at that time.”

Kingery was worn to a frazzle by season’s end — he lost 10 pounds, he said — and Wathan knew it. He nonetheless continued to play him “because,” the manager said, “I wanted him to feel that.”

“It's a good thing to have failure,” he added, “to feel that first season, to see how things end up for you.”

Kingery, listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds, said he gained back the 10 pounds he lost via offseason weight work, and that he tinkered with his swing as well. That contributed to his power surge after he managed just eight homers in 197 games over his first two minor-league seasons.

So too did the dimensions of FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading’s cozy home park.

“Everybody talks about the Reading factor, but to me it's probably only a couple home runs [each season],” Wathan said.

Kingery had 10 homers in 36 home games and eight in 33 on the road. He hit just one in his last 20 games at Reading, none in his last 11.

“I’m turning back into a singles guy,” he said.

But a hitter, to be sure. He batted .359 in his last 33 games at Double A to raise his average from .272 to .313. And on Sunday, he was summoned to the office of Reading manager Greg Legg, who delivered the good news.
 
Kingery’s dad, Tom, had already heard; he tried to call his son repeatedly. So too had some other relatives.

So there he was on Monday. He singled in his first at-bat, and twice victimized Pawtucket third baseman Matt Dominguez with the glove, making a diving catch of his second-inning flare to short right and then backhanding Dominguez’s grounder up the middle in the sixth.

The first gem made SportsCenter. As for Kingery, he just keeps making steady progress toward the summit.