Getting Young, Part II: Phils' vets tough to move

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Getting Young, Part II: Phils' vets tough to move

On Sunday, we explained why the call for the Phillies to get younger is much more complicated than most realize. You can look to Part I for more detail, but the three main points were:

• Unlike in the NBA and NFL, draft picks don’t help for 3-5 years.
• In today’s game, teams lock up their young stars up at an early age.
• Few baseball players reach free agency before they turn 29 or 30 years old.

A handful of responses mentioned that the Phillies could still get younger despite those facts by trading away their valuable veterans.

But that’s just not realistic when you look at each player individually.

Let’s do just that:

Cliff Lee
Remaining contract: Two years, $62.5 million

The Phillies chose not to deal Lee at the 2013 trade deadline because none of the returns were right. Had the Red Sox offered Xander Bogaerts, a deal probably gets done. But for anything less than a young, impact player with a better-than-even chance of MLB stardom, it made more sense to Ruben Amaro Jr. to hang onto Lee.

Lee has more value than anyone on the Phillies because he’s a top-10 pitcher with only two more guaranteed years left on his contract. (He's owed $50 million the next two years and has a $27.5 million option in 2016 that can be bought out for $12.5 million.) But he gives the Phils a great chance to win every fifth day and won’t be moved for anything less than full value.

Cole Hamels
Remaining contract: Five years, $117.5 million

The Phillies didn’t sign Hamels to the richest deal in team history only to trade him 18 months later. He also has a ton of value, though his contract is pricey. He’s 29 and he’s not going anywhere.

Ryan Howard
Remaining contract: Three years, $85 million

As we outlined last week, Howard may be tradeable in a year if he rebounds in 2014. A year from now he’d have only $60 million remaining on that $125 million deal, and if the Phillies agreed to pick up half of that they could probably unload his contract or get something of value in return.

That’s if he rebounds in 2014 and stays healthy.

Jonathan Papelbon
Remaining contract: Two years, $26 million

His value hit an all-time low in 2013, the worst possible time for the Phillies. In a lost season, trading Papelbon for an intriguing prospect seemed like a great idea, only no team wanted to part with that prospect for an expensive closer with a declining strikeout rate.

If Papelbon has a great first half in 2014 and the Phillies aren’t in contention, you have to assume he’ll be shopped at the deadline. There isn’t a ton of guaranteed money left on his deal.

Chase Utley
Remaining contract: Two years, $27 million

Carlos Ruiz
Remaining contract: Three years, $26 million

These are two affordable contracts for players who are aging but still productive when healthy. Don’t expect to see either player moved.

Jimmy Rollins
Remaining contract: One year, $11 million

He’s in decline, but there’s always a premium placed on shortstops. Why else would Jhonny Peralta have found $53 million so soon after a 50-game PED suspension?

The issue with trading Rollins isn’t value or outside interest, it’s his no-trade clause. Because he’s been in the majors at least 10 years with at least five coming with the same team, Rollins has the right to veto any trade. And he’s made it clear he’s more interested in remaining in Philadelphia and breaking franchise records than concluding his career elsewhere.

***

Should the Phillies have thought twice about the Howard extension? Sure.

Should they have let another team make Hamels one of the richest pitchers ever? Maybe.

Should they have let Rollins, Utley or Ruiz walk? The easy answer is yes, but there were few internal replacements that would have or will keep them competitive.

In any event, hindsight won’t fix any of the current problems. Nor will trading a player for 60 cents on the dollar.

Baseball is different from the other sports. You don’t just trade a player to trade a player -- the return has to make sense. Clearing payroll doesn’t carry the added benefit of tanking for a better draft pick, because that draft pick won’t help you for a while anyway.

So if you want the Phillies to get younger, it more than likely won’t be through a trade. It will be through Cody Asche and Maikel Franco and Domonic Brown and Ben Revere producing and maintaining regular playing time, and Darin Ruf hitting lefties well enough to platoon somewhere. It will be through Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin and Jesse Biddle and Jake Diekman and (maybe) Phillippe Aumont developing into confident big-league pitchers. Maybe young catcher Tommy Joseph rediscovers his power and ability to block balls. Maybe 18-year-old outfielder Carlos Tocci grows into his body and hits.

There’s some young talent in the system. And the best way –- perhaps the only way -- to usher in a new era of Phillies baseball is to continue to foster that young talent. Because you sure aren’t getting anything worthwhile right now for the veterans.

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Josh Reddick homered and scored four runs, Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez each went deep and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 12-9 on Thursday.

The major league-leading Astros completed a four-game sweep with their 10th straight victory in Oakland and their 15th win in 16 games against the A's overall. They've won 12 of their last 14 road games. Their 27-8 record away from home is the best in the majors.

Reddick also doubled, tripled and drew a walk, and Marisnick and Gonzalez each drove in three runs.

David Paulino (2-0) struck out six and gave up three runs, seven hits and two walks. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander struck out five of his first six batters in his sixth career start.

Astros center fielder George Springer left with a left hand contusion after being struck by a fastball from Jesse Hahn (3-5) leading off the game. The ball also grazed Springer's left shoulder. Springer is tied for second in the AL with 21 home runs. His status is day-to-day (see full recap).

Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks blast Rockies
DENVER -- Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers, Zack Godley threw well into the eighth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Thursday.

Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, tops in the majors.

Arizona took two of three in the NL West matchup and is now tied with Colorado for second place in the division behind the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 14 and are a season-high 19 games above .500.

Godley gave up a home run to Charlie Blackmon to lead off the first inning, but shut down the Rockies from there.

Blackmon drew a walk in the third, then Godley erased him with a double-play ball to end the inning. He didn't allow a hit after Nolan Arenado's one-out single in the first and retired 19 of the next 20 batters before Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika singled and doubled to lead off the eighth.

Godley (3-1) allowed three runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven-plus innings. He also helped himself with an RBI single in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks hit a Colorado rookie pitcher hard for the second straight night. Wednesday they scored 10 runs in the fourth off Jeff Hoffman, and Thursday they battered right-hander Antonio Senzatela (9-3) for nine runs in five innings.

Owings' homer in the third, his ninth, made it 5-1, and Goldschmidt hit his 18th to cap a four-run fourth to make it 9-1 (see full recap).

Knebel sets strikeout mark as Brewers top Pirates
MILWAUKEE -- Corey Knebel broke Arodlis Chapman's modern-era record for most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season's start, fanning a batter for the 38th straight game and closing out the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

Knebel struck out Josh Bell on a foul tip leading off the ninth. The 25-year-old right-hander retired Elias Diaz and Andrew McCutchen on popouts, finishing a four-hitter for his 12th save in 15 chances.

Chapman had set the mark since 1900 as part of a streak of 49 games for Cincinnati that began in August 2013 and ended the following August.

Travis Shaw drove in three runs with a homer and two doubles, and he came within inches of a second home run.

Chase Anderson (6-2) allowed two runs and two hits in six innings (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time (see story)

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the ninth inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco made a veteran play on the base paths, which felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent an errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third and score after the ball got loose in the infield. Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”