Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.

Best of MLB: Judge celebrates birthday with 7th homer, lifts Yankees past Red Sox

Best of MLB: Judge celebrates birthday with 7th homer, lifts Yankees past Red Sox

BOSTON -- Luis Severino pitched seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball and Aaron Judge celebrated his 25th birthday with a two-run homer and spectacular catch, carrying the surging New York Yankees to a 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night in the longtime rivals' first meeting this season.

It was the 11th win in 14 games for the Yankees after they opened the season 1-4.

Severino (2-1) struck out six and walked two, posting his third straight strong start. In his previous two, the 23-year-old righty became just the third Yankee ever to post double-digit strikeouts without more than one walk in consecutive games.

Reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello (1-3) lost his third straight start, giving up three runs -- two earned -- in 6 2/3 innings. He didn't lose consecutive starts last season (see full recap).

Pirates beat Cubs as Ngoepe becomes 1st African in MLB
PITTSBURGH -- Gift Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the bottom of the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs -- five earned -- and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glansow, got the win (see full recap).

Michael Brantley drives in 3; Indians beat Astros
CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley, continuing his comeback from shoulder problems that forced him to miss most of last season, drove in three runs and the Cleveland Indians defeated the Houston Astros 7-6 on Wednesday night.

Brantley, who played in only 11 games last season after having two operations on his left shoulder, had an RBI double in Cleveland's three-run first inning and added a two-run single in the fifth.

Carlos Santana had a two-run double in the sixth for the Indians, who have won six of eight.

Trevor Bauer (2-2) allowed four runs in six innings and won his second straight start despite giving up two-run homers to Evan Gattis and Brian McCann.

Cleveland's Andrew Miller worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh by striking out Carlos Correa and McCann.

Houston scored two in the eighth off Bryan Shaw, but Cody Allen recorded the final four outs for his fourth save.

Lance McCullers (2-1) gave up five runs in five innings (see full recap).

Paxton dominant as Mariners blank Tigers
DETROIT -- James Paxton struck out nine in seven outstanding innings, and Nelson Cruz and Guillermo Heredia homered to lift the Seattle Mariners to an 8-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night.

Paxton (3-0) allowed four hits and a walk in a dominant performance against a Detroit team that had scored 32 runs over its previous two games. It was just what the Mariners needed after losing 19-9 on Tuesday and putting right-hander Felix Hernandez on the disabled list before Wednesday's game.

Paxton has held the opposition scoreless in four of his five starts this season. He lowered his ERA to 1.39.

Daniel Norris (1-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in four-plus innings. It was his second straight game allowing at least four earned runs after he went 21 consecutive starts yielding three or fewer (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Marlins 4

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Marlins 4

BOX SCORE

The Phillies won their fifth game in a row on Wednesday night with Maikel Franco and Vince Velasquez leading the way.

Franco smacked his second grand slam of the season and Velasquez delivered a quality start in the Phillies' 7-4 win over the Miami Marlins.

The Phillies have won five in a row for the first time since April 26 to May 1 of last year when they won six straight. They will look for their sixth straight win Thursday afternoon.

The Phils are now 10-9. The Marlins are also 10-9.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez (1-2) turned in his longest and best start of the season, holding the Marlins to six hits and three runs over 6 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out three. Velasquez threw 97 pitches and 68 were strikes. He threw a first-pitch strike to 19 of 26 batters.

Miami lefty Wei-Yin Chen (2-1) gave up seven hits and four runs over five innings. All of the runs came on Franco's grand slam.

Bullpen report
Good work by a well-rested Phillies' bullpen.

Lefty Joely Rodriguez continued to dazzle. He got two big outs in the seventh inning after Velasquez had given up a run.

Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning.

Hector Neris survived a run in the ninth to close it out.

At the plate
Franco had three hits in the game, two hard-hit singles and the grand slam. He has four homers on the season and 20 RBIs, putting him firmly among the NL leaders. Franco entered the game hitting .171. He finished at .203.

Freddy Galvis smacked a solo homer in the sixth and Michael Saunders added a two-run shot into the second deck in right field in the eighth to give the Phils some breathing room. The homer was Saunders' first with the Phils.

Dee Gordon led off the game with a triple for Miami and scored the game's first run on a ground out. Martin Prado homered and Adeiny Hechavarria doubled in a run for the Marlins. Hechavarria finished with two RBIs.

Health check
Pitcher Clay Buchholz visited with teammates for the first time since having elbow surgery earlier this month. By most accounts, his season is over, but he hasn't given up hope of pitching again this season (see story).

Minor matters
Manager Pete Mackanin is getting good reports on catcher Jorge Alfaro (see story).

Up next
The series and the homestand will conclude on Thursday afternoon. Jeremy Hellickson (3-0, 1.88) will pitch for the Phillies against Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-2, 4.82).