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.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies' roster

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.