Emotional Halladay sends message to Phillies fans

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Emotional Halladay sends message to Phillies fans

PHOENIX – In what qualifies as a remarkable event in the often me-first world of professional sports, Roy Halladay sought out reporters Friday evening to send a message to Phillies fans.

Halladay has struggled off and on with injuries for a year. He felt pain in his shoulder in his start on April 24, but continued to pitch. Last Sunday, he was hammered for nine runs in 2 1/3 innings. He went on the disabled list the next day and will have shoulder surgery in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the day after his 36th birthday.

Halladay approached reporters in the dugout at Chase Field shortly after manager Charlie Manuel’s daily press briefing. Speaking softly and with a hint of emotion in his voice, Halladay said the following:

“I've been thinking the last couple of days. I just felt like I should address the fans.

“I know there is a lot of mixed opinions on pitching, not pitching, all that kind of stuff. I know there are people who are disappointed about how I pitched the last two years. I know there are a lot of people who are very supportive. So, one, I just wanted to thank them for their support. And my heart goes out to all of the people who spend all of their money and go out to the games and don't get to see what they want to see.

“I know I'm not the whole team. There are still a lot of guys out there and it's a fun team to watch. But I feel bad that I'm missing the time that I am. I feel bad for the fans that I'm missing the time. It's tough. You feel an obligation to the organization, to your teammates, to the fans to try to go out and pitch. Especially on a competitive team that sells out. For me, that was a big factor. If I'm playing for a last-place team and there's things going on, you maybe speak up. But we have a chance to go win a World Series and we have sellouts and fans have expectations. You want to do everything you can to try to make it work. Really, that was a lot of the reason I tried to keep going. Like I said, I never really felt the pain.

“I just wanted to reach out to the fans, thank them for their support and apologize to the ones who pay the money and show up in the second inning and it's 9-0. I apologize to the fans that I won't be out there for three months. I don't feel like I have to apologize to the team because I think they know. I just want the fans to know that I'm thinking about them. I don't take that for granted. I don't take playing for Philadelphia for granted.”

Halladay, who makes $20 million a year with the Phillies, was asked when this all started weighing on his conscience.

“It bothered me last year. It bothered me this year,” he said. “Any time you go out there and pitch poorly. First and foremost, I felt bad for my team. I felt I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. And then you start to think about it and you think, ‘Man, all of these people are paying good money, they’re showing up and they’ve been so supportive over the years, and they’re not getting what they want either.’

“It’s just something you think about. Like I said, my teammates know I want to be out there. I feel like the fans are a very important part of it, too. It’s hard to explain how much you appreciate them when you come from places where you don’t have fans like that. I think it’s important to recognize them.

“I understand that some people are upset, and that’s fine, that’s a part of it. I’m not trying to sway their opinion. If they don’t like me, they don’t like me. That’s fine. I think they mean a lot to the organization, they mean a lot to Philadelphia. We couldn’t do what we do here without them spending the money to come see games. I think that sometimes gets overlooked in sports. They’re a big part of the team success.

“If I paid $60 and the team was down 9-0 when I showed up, I wouldn’t like me. But my heart goes out to them. And to my team. I just wanted to make sure they knew they’ve been a big part of everything and I’ve always appreciated their support.”

On the subject of finally giving in to injury, Halladay said: “It’s hard to swallow. But like I said, I’ve always tried to be optimistic. That’s what you try to focus on. It’s too easy to look at the bad stuff. The hard part is sometimes it’s things you can’t control, and I think you have to recognize that. This is one of those things where it got to the point where I couldn’t control it. And I had to get things taken care of.”

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.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stopped by the winter meetings on Monday and left with a little something extra in his wallet.

Cozens was honored with the Joe Bauman Award, given annually to minor league baseball’s home run king. The award came with an $8,000 check — $200 for each homer he hit in 2016.

“That will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier,” Cozens joked.

Cozens, a left-handed-hitting rightfielder, hit .276 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs for the Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He was named Eastern League MVP. During his acceptance speech at Monday’s awards luncheon, Cozens thanked his Reading teammate, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for pushing him to his power heights. Hoskins also had a huge season with the bat. He hit 38 homers and had 116 RBIs on his way to becoming the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year. Night after night in Reading, Cozens and Hoskins staged a friendly power competition. At the end of the season, they shared the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the Phillies’ minor-league player of the year.

Cozens, 22, recently finished a 25-game hitch in the Dominican winter league. Despite hitting just .165 for the Aguilas club, he had four home runs — all against lefty pitching, which has been a nemesis.

Cozens, a 6-6, 250-pound behemoth, made some off-the-field news in the DR when he was involved in a pregame fight with teammate Boog Powell, a Seattle Mariners prospect. Cozens downplayed the incident.

“Just a little boys-being-boys type thing,” he said. “I feel like it was blown out of proportion like almost everything is these days. But, after it happened we became good friends. It was more the level of respect there and I’d say we’re still friends, so it’s good.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the incident was in the past and would have no long-range ramifications for Cozens.

“There is no concern,” Klentak said. “Dylan is an intense kid and he plays the game really hard. That is a good thing. If you’ve watched that, you can see that in his at-bats and when he runs the bases and is running around in the outfield. That’s just his style of play. That aggressive nature at times can boil over. You hope that it doesn’t boil over into altercations with teammates. But we have no long-term concerns with that at all.”

Cozens was recently added to the 40-man roster and will be in big-league spring training camp. Though he projects to open the 2017 season at Triple A, he’s conceding nothing.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get better, turn some heads and make people notice and hopefully get called up as soon as possible,” he said. 

Plate discipline and strike-zone management are the areas in which Cozens needs the most improvement. He struck out 186 times and walked 61 times in 134 games in 2016. Phillies officials would like to see the strikeouts come down.
 
“I’m learning how to take my walks more often, having better strike-zone judgment, maybe not chase after as many pitches,” Cozens said. “I want to be aggressive, but if they don’t want to pitch to me, just take a walk. I feel like I did not do a good job of that and it’s something I can improve on next year.”