Getting Young, Part III: A few failed trades

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Getting Young, Part III: A few failed trades

In Part II of our series examining the serious roadblocks preventing the Phillies from getting younger, we explained why trading any of their high-priced veterans is, at the moment, impossible.

But while five of their eight projected starting position players will be 35 or older come opening day, the Phillies do have a good amount of young talent on the roster.

Darin Ruf and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are 27. Domonic Brown, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus are 26. Ben Revere and Cameron Rupp are 25. Freddy Galvis, Ethan Martin and Phillippe Aumont are 24. Jonathan Pettibone, Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez are 23.

The problem is that, aside from possibly Brown, none of those players are on the verge of stardom. The Phillies don’t have the kind of young, impact talent that seems to be sweeping the league.

Ruben Amaro Jr. traded 16 young players from 2009-12 to acquire Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Revere. In all fairness, none of those 16 players has yet blossomed into a difference-maker at the major-league level.

Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ fizzled out. Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp couldn’t stay healthy. Michael Taylor was dealt at his peak, as was Vance Worley.

In that list of 16, the players with the best chances of stardom are catcher Travis D’Arnaud, who has since been dealt to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, and the three players traded to the Astros for Pence -- right-hander Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder Domingo Santana. If the Phillies had those three players right now, the future would look much brighter.

But they don’t. They do have Aumont, Martin, Tyson Gillies and Tommy Joseph.

And that’s the issue.

The Phils made three big trades from 2009-12 to get younger and replenish a weakened farm system, but none of the three moves panned out.

Lee to Seattle
The Lee-to-Seattle trade in December 2009 remains the worst move of Amaro’s tenure as Phillies GM. He hurriedly dealt Lee to the Mariners for a package of prospects the front office liked. Many criticized the rushed nature of the trade -- remember, they traded Lee the same day they landed Halladay -- but the Phillies didn’t want to give fans a chance to get used to a rotation fronted by Halladay and Lee since they didn’t plan on keeping both.

When Aumont was mercifully demoted to Triple A this past season, he had thrown the highest percentage of balls of any major-league reliever. Control and confidence remain major hurdles. He’s not a starter, he’s not a closer, he’s not even a right-handed specialist. How can a team be confident putting Aumont into a tight situation? He’ll never meet Phillies fans’ lofty expectations (which isn’t solely his fault), and he may never justify his former first-round status.

Gillies hasn’t been able to stay healthy or avoid off-field controversy. He also hasn’t been able to hit. When the Phillies acquired him, he was coming off a ridiculous age-20 season at High-A in which he hit .341/.430/.486 with 17 doubles, 14 triples, nine homers and 44 steals. He looked like a toolsy centerfielder who could one day replace Shane Victorino.

Didn’t work out. Those numbers were compiled in notoriously hitter-friendly ballparks in the California League. Gillies’ power began disappearing as he made the switch to the East Coast, and while the singles were there in Double A, he hit just .220/.286/.313 this past season at Triple A.

The failures of that deal became even more apparent late in the 2013 season when the Phillies needed a setup man to replace Mike Adams and a centerfielder to replace Revere ... and couldn’t turn to either Aumont or Gillies to fill the voids.

The third player in that deal was J.C. Ramirez, whose 95 mph fastball played well in the bigs for a few weeks until hitters figured out it was his only pitch. He was granted free agency and signed with the Indians.

Victorino to the Dodgers
At the 2012 deadline the Phils dealt Victorino to the Dodgers for Martin and reliever Josh Lindblom.

Lindblom was mediocre, and the Phillies used him to acquire Michael Young several months later.

Martin’s ceiling appears to be a late reliever, which isn’t bad considering it cost the Phils just a half-year of Victorino. 

The second Pence trade
The same day they traded Victorino, the Phillies sent Pence to the Giants for Joseph and Nate Schierholtz.

Schierholtz was strangely non-tendered last winter (only to have a career year with the Cubs), and Joseph’s development time was stunted in 2013 because of concussion issues.

So yeah, there are factors and reasons and excuses for why the few moves the Phillies did make to replenish the farm system haven’t worked. But all that matters is that those moves haven’t worked. They traded Lee in his prime for very little. They traded Pence -- who was then a year and a half away from free agency -- for significantly less than 100 cents on the dollar. And they’re paying the price.

The Lee and Pence deals were genuine opportunities to add talent and depth to a barren farm system. But trading is an inexact science -- as evidenced by the mediocrity in that list of 16 -- and that’s a major reason Amaro chose to hang onto Lee at this past trade deadline rather than flip him for a prospect who may or may not pan out.

The outlook isn’t completely hopeless, though. The Phillies do have all those twenty-somethings mentioned above, as well as the rapidly developing Maikel Franco and a potential front-line starter in Jesse Biddle. But it would have helped a great deal if they acquired just one difference-maker for Lee, Victorino or Pence. Had Amaro “hit” on just one of those players acquired from Seattle, Los Angeles or San Francisco, we may not even be talking about this today.

Today's Lineup: Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi, Andrew Knapp all get starts

Today's Lineup: Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi, Andrew Knapp all get starts

Just mere hours after topping the Braves in dramatic fashion in the 10th inning, the Phillies will have a much different lineup take the field Sunday afternoon as they look for the sweep of Atlanta (see Sunday's game notes).

Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Andrew Knapp will all start Sunday's series finale.

Nava will bat fifth start in left field for the ailing Howie Kendrick, who's missed the last week with an oblique issue. Nava's sample size at the plate so far this season is small, but he's still 8 for 21 (.381 batting average) with two homers, two doubles and 7 RBI. So it makes sense that manager Pete Mackanin wants to get Nava some more at-bats.

Stassi bats sixth and gets the nod at first in place of Tommy Joseph, who had that odd sequence of events late in Saturday's win. First, Joseph had an ugly at-bat with the game tied in the ninth inning. Then in the top of the 10th, he caught a popped-up bunt and suddenly made an ill-advised throw to an empty third base, helping the Braves plate the go-ahead run. So today could be a day just to clear Joseph's head.

Both Nava and Stassi are left-handed bats against Braves righty starter Mike Foltynewicz.

Knapp will give Cameron Rupp the day-game-after-night-game breather behind the plate Sunday.

One note on Atlanta's lineup: Brandon Phillips, who drilled the game-tying homer off Edubray Ramos in the top of the ninth on Saturday, has been moved up to the second spot in the order for Sunday's finale.

Both teams' lineups can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
2. Aaron Altherr RF
3. Odubel Herrera CF
4. Maikel Franco 3B
5. Daniel Nava LF
6. Brock Stassi 1B
7. Freddy Galvis SS
8. Andrew Knapp C
9. Zach Eflin SP

Braves
1. Ender Inciarte CF
2. Brandon Phillips 2B
3. Freddie Freeman 1B
4. Matt Kemp LF
5. Nick Markakis RF
6. Kurt Suzuki C
7. Jace Peterson 3B
8. Dansby Swanson SS
9. Mike Foltynewicz SP

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies (8-9) vs. Braves (6-11)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies and Braves played quite the game Saturday night. 

The teams went back and forth in the final two innings, culminating in Maikel Franco's walk-off single. What do they have in store for Sunday? Zach Eflin will take the hill for the Phillies opposite Mike Foltynewicz, a matchup of developing right-handers in their 20s.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game.

1. Eflin back to form
Promoted to the majors at the beginning of the week, Eflin looked back to form in his first MLB start of 2017.

Eflin had the unfortunate problem of needing to rehab two knee surgeries this offseason, but clearly has not lost much in terms of his stuff. He looked a lot like the Eflin who produced five quality starts in a stretch of six appearances last summer, not the one who gave up 20 runs in his last 13 innings.

While he threw just five innings against the Mets, he limited New York to just two runs while working around six baserunners. Both runs came in the first inning and he retired 13 of his last 15 batters faced. 

The 23-year-old righty lives off his low-90s fastball and sinker while mixing in a slider and curveball. He was sinker heavy in his first start of 2017 and it was effective at Citi Field.

One of his best starts last season came against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin needed just 92 pitches to throw a six-hit complete game with just one earned run allowed, a solo homer by Ender Inciarte. He didn't walk any Braves batters and struck out six in a quick game (2:08 in duration). Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and no batter got more than one hit.

2. Foltynewicz vs. the Phils
Foltynewicz hasn't had an ideal start to the season. His first start came in inclement weather vs. the Pirates, then he had to come out of the bullpen with a series of off days, which allowed the Braves to skip their fifth starter.

His most recent appearance came back in the rotation on Tuesday and he held his own against the Nationals, who were without a few key veterans but still had Max Scherzer on the hill. Foltynewicz held the Nats the just two runs over seven innings, scattering nine baserunners while striking out three batters. He walked four batters and has a paltry 8/7 K-BB ratio this year. 

In his three seasons with the Braves, the 25-year-old righty has a sub-optimal 4.85 ERA over 222 2/3 innings. However, his ERA got much better from 2015 to 16 (5.71 to 4.31) and his 4.26 ERA thus far in 2017 isn't half bad. 

Foltynewicz lives off his mid-90s fastball that has touched 97 this season. He mixes in a slider that draws a lot of groundballs, a sinker and a changeup. His velocity is down a little this season, which could explain his poor strikeout rate.

Folynewicz is 2-1 in four appearances against the Phillies in his career but has a 6.00 ERA, allowing five homers and 12 runs in 18 innings. Franco and Tommy Joseph each have one of those home runs while Odubel Herrera has three hits off the right-hander.

3. Ryan Howard: Braves minor leaguer
Believe it or not, Ryan Howard could be playing for another NL East team this year. The former Phillies slugger made his debut Saturday night for the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta's Triple-A affiliate. 

Howard had himself quite a night, going 2 for 2 with two singles, an RBI, a hit-by-pitch and a walk, which was intentional. For someone signed so recently to a minor-league pact, it was an encouraging showing, although it's unlikely he'll be called up anytime soon.

There are two major obstacles to Howard making it back to the show with the Braves. The first is Freddie Freeman. With Freeman, the Braves already have a lefty slugger at first base for the foreseeable future. The other issue is Howard isn't on the Braves' 40-man roster. Atlanta has little incentive to add Howard to its 40-man because they're in full rebuild mode and need to prioritize their prospects.

Still, there may be something left in the tank for Howard. He still hit 20 home runs last season and was quite effective in the second half, particularly as a platoon bat. Even if the Braves ultimately don't need Howard, his opportunity in Gwinnett is a chance to audition for other teams as well. Veterans on minor-league deals often have opt-outs or could be granted their release if another team shows interest. 

If you're curious, Howard doesn't play Lehigh Valley, the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate, until July 17-19 and doesn't play in Lehigh Valley until a week later.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis struck out twice on Saturday, but he also extended his hitting streak to six games with a double. It was just his second extra-base hit since April 7.

Braves: Freddie Freeman has raised his average to .400 on the season. His .400/.507/.850 batting line won't last, but he looks to have brought his game to another level this year.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are on a three-game winning streak, including two straight over the Braves. Despite finishing ahead of Atlanta in the standings in 2016, the Phillies lost their last seven games vs. the Braves last season.

• The Phils have won two extra-inning games in the last five days. They haven't done that since April 17 and 20 of last season.

• Aaron Altherr has a six-game hitting streak going and has raised his average to .379. He has doubled in consecutive games and has two hits in three straight games. For good measure, he's added stolen bases in two of Phillies' last three games.