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

howardleepapelbonap.jpg

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.

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.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.