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.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies (43-77) at Giants (50-74)
9:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their sixth straight game on Friday night and fell to 0-5 on their West Coast road trip. The last-place Giants raced out to a quick lead against Zach Eflin and beat the Phils handily, 10-2.

Jerad Eickhoff, who left with the Phillies leading on Monday, looks to continue his recent success against Ty Blach and the Giants in a Saturday night affair.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Eickhoff quietly improving
You wouldn't know it just looking at his 4.33 ERA, but Eickhoff has put together a strong stretch in recent weeks.

In his last five starts, which dates back to July 23, he's thrown 28 2/3 innings with allowing just nine earned runs, good for a 2.83 ERA. In that span, he's notched three quality starts and has 25 strikeouts. While he's limited opponents to just one home run, he's still walked 12. He's lowered his ERA by half a run in this time.

You certainly have to factor in the level of competition. Beyond a struggling yet potent Milwaukee offense, he pitched against Atlanta twice, a weak Angels lineup (which does feature Mike Trout) and the lackluster Padres. The Giants aren't much better, so it's not hard to see him extending his recent success. 

Eickhoff's mini-roll has been easy to overlook with Aaron Nola's dominant summer and Eickhoff being a 27-year-old on a team looking towards even younger players. But you can't forget that he was their best starter last season and should be able to hit at least 150 innings, a year after throwing 197 1/3. 

He's no ace, but that's not what he's asked to be. He's an average to slightly above-average starter and there's plenty of value in that. And if you're comparing him to last season, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is actually better in 2017 than 2016, indicating he's been a little unlucky this year.

Eickhoff started against Blach in June and put together his worst start of the season, giving up 11 baserunners and five runs while recording just eight outs. He didn't give up any home runs, but he walked five batters and struck out just two. 

Denard Span went 3 for 3 vs. Eickhoff while Eduardo Nunez, who's since been traded, was 2 for 2 with a walk. Blach even walked twice in two plate appearances.

2. Back with Blach
While Eickhoff had his worst start of the year against Blach and the Giants, Blach had one of the best, if not the best, starts of his young career (the other option being eight innings of shutout ball vs. the Dodgers down the stretch last season). 

He threw a seven-hit shutout. He struck out four, walked none and needed 112 pitches to dispatch the Phillies in just five batters more than the minimum. He was the first of three pitchers (Carlos Martinez, Clayton Richard) to throw shutouts against the Phillies this season.

And the soft-tossing lefty started out the season in the bullpen. He made four appearances (two starts) down the stretch in 2016 and was filling a minor role in the Giants' bullpen this April. However, he was given a full-time spot in the rotation once Madison Bumgarner injured his shoulder, and he hasn't looked back.

He leads all rookies with 134 innings pitched. He's 14th out of 34 rookie starters in ERA (4.37) but he's fourth in wins above replacement (WAR), likely because of his durability and his innings total as much as his effectiveness.

Outside of his gem at Citizens Bank Park, he's been quite hittable on the road. Home is where he's been at his best with a 3.60 ERA compared to a 5.50 mark away from AT&T Park. That's because he doesn't strike many batters out, walks only a few, and really relies on his fielders. Therefore, he's a great beneficiary of playing at the one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in baseball, where a fly-ball pitcher like Blach can truly excel. 

The 26-year-old southpaw works off a 90-mph fastball and 80-mph changeup, working in a 12-6 curve and occasional slider.

Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp each picked up two hits against Blach in June, while Maikel Franco had one as well (Howie Kendrick had the other two).

3. Don't go west, young men
When the Phillies have traveled to the opposite coast this season, their destiny has manifested itself in plenty of misfortune and poor play. 

After the 10-2 loss on Friday night, they are now 4-16 west of Texas, suffering sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers, Angels and Padres. They also went 2-5 combined against the Rockies and Diamondbacks, salvaging a two-game sweep against the Mariners in their western escapades. 

A lot of it's easy to parse out: Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies are all playoff teams. Angels are currently tied for the second wild card in the American League. 

But the showing this week has been especially painful. The Phils took two of three from the Giants in June, one of their rare series wins, and the Padres are a team that isn't designed to compete in 2017. These aren't just the worst teams in the NL West, they're two of the worst in baseball and the Phillies are cementing themselves in the cellar of the National League with this poor trip out west.

In San Diego and San Francisco, they've been outscored 33-14 by the teams that are 28th and 30th, respectively, in OPS. 

Luckily for the Phils, they've got no more West Coast trips left after this weekend and only 14 of their last 40 games are on the road. That's plenty of games at CBP, where they are a much more respectable 24-31 (compared to 19-46 on the road).

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins is just 2 for 12 with three walks against left-handed pitchers, but both hits are home runs. 

Giants: After going 2 for 4 on Friday night with a double and home run, Hunter Pence has a six-game hitting streak going. He has six multi-hit games this month and is batting .351 in August.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have faced 19 teams this year and have a winning record against only one of them (Atlanta).

• Checking in with some recent former Phillies: Jeremy Hellickson allowed five home runs to the Angels on Friday night, including one to New Jersey's own Trout.

• Now with the Nationals, Kendrick has hit even better than he did with the Phillies. Going into Friday's action, he had a .353/.400/.667 batting line with four home runs.

• Pat Neshek has struck out seven batters in 6 1/3 innings, but he's allowed five runs (three earned). He's given up 10 hits, though he's yet to walk a batter.

• Lastly, Joaquin Benoit has had a rough go of it in Pittsburgh. He has a 11.81 ERA, giving up nine runs (seven earned) in just 5 1/3 innings. The 40-year-old reliever has as many hit-by-pitches as strikeouts with the Pirates.

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The state of California has become the state of despair for the Phillies.

They fell to 0-11 in the state after a 10-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

The Phils suffered three-game sweeps against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Angels in Anaheim and the Padres in San Diego. They have now lost the first two of a four-game series against the Giants in the northern part of the state.

Friday night's defeat was the Phillies' sixth straight, dropping them to a season-high 34 games under .500. They are 19-46 on the road and 6-22 against the National League West.

The loss was embarrassing because the Phils were held to one hit over seven scoreless innings by the pitcher with the highest ERA in the NL. Giants lefty Matt Moore entered with an ERA of 5.71. The Phils finished with just four hits, all singles.

The loss may also have been costly because starting pitcher Zach Eflin, one of the young pitchers the Phillies would like to build around, gave up seven hits and six runs and had to leave the game after five innings with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder. Earlier this season, Eflin, 23, missed time with an elbow strain.

Eflin said he'd felt soreness in the back of this shoulder before.

"This is a little different than I've had before," Eflin said. "It's just kind of a steady tightness. It's something I wasn't comfortable continuing with. I don't think it's anything serious. It's more of a precautionary thing."

The shoulder tightness didn't affect Eflin's velocity. He threw breaking balls early in the game and gave up three runs in the first inning. In the fourth inning, he used his four-seam fastball and hit 96 mph on the radar gun while getting three quick outs. Manager Pete Mackanin said he'd like to see more of that from Eflin. Of course, now it's safe to wonder when Eflin will pitch again. The Phils will surely be careful with him.

The Phillies are already making some adjustments to their starting rotation. Right-hander Ben Lively will be recalled from Triple A to take Odubel Herrera's spot on the roster. Herrera went on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring (see story). Lively will start against the Giants on Sunday while scheduled starter Mark Leiter Jr. goes to the bullpen.

The Phillies were never in Friday night's game. They got three of their four hits and both of their runs (on a bloop hit by Freddy Galvis) in the eighth inning and the Giants came back and scored four in the bottom of the inning.

Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro had the Phillies' first two hits of the game, the only two that Moore gave up. Moore (4-12) earned his first win since June 20.

In a span of three days, the Phillies have been held to two runs over 16 1/3 innings by a pair of lefties with high ERAs. They were shut out by Clayton Richard in San Diego on Wednesday. He entered that game with a 5.14 ERA.

"It's frustrating when you look up at the numbers and you see that," Mackanin said. "You kind of hope we can get to the guy. But for whatever reason, the bats are just silent right now."

The Phillies' offense has been bad all season, but it has been especially bad lately. Over the last nine games, they have scored just 25 runs, an average of 2.8 per game. The Phils are 1-8 in those contests.