If Phillies deal Lee, they need MLB-ready talent

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If Phillies deal Lee, they need MLB-ready talent

The release of Tyson Gillies on Sunday was the latest reminder of just how poor the Phillies' return was in the December 2009 trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle.

Two of the three players the Phillies acquired have since been released, and Phillippe Aumont has failed three different times to hold a spot in the major-league bullpen.

The timing of the release was interesting, because the trade deadline is approaching and Lee again could be on the move. The Phillies' 5-2 road trip briefly dimmed the cries to sell-sell-sell, but there's still a very real possibility that the Phils fall back out of contention before the All-Star break if they fail to perform in their slew of divisional games.

If the Phillies do decide this summer to move Lee -- who has aged well aside from the recent elbow injury and is still considered an ace -- they must bring back a better package of prospects. And they must acquire a young player who is also major-league ready and somewhat proven. They cannot opt for pure upside again as they did in December 2009 when they obtained three players who still hadn't even played a full season at Double A.

With that said, let's take a look at some potential fits and packages the Phillies should eye in a deal for Lee, who will be owed about $65 million through the end of 2016 if the option on his deal triggers. (And because Lee has a limited no-trade clause, it's likely that he'd need a guarantee that the 2016 option would be exercised before accepting a deal.)

Keep in mind that the players highlighted below are not the only ones the Phils should seek in a Lee trade, but ones who should be the centerpieces of legitimate offers.

Yankees
The Yankees have wanted Lee for five years now. They tried and failed to acquire him at the 2010 deadline. A last-minute offer by the Rangers that included Justin Smoak was enough to end the Lee-to-New York talks.

The deep-pocketed Yankees would obviously prefer to pay the entirety of Lee's remaining salary if it meant parting with lesser prospects, but that doesn't jive with the Phils' intentions. The Phillies also have money and would be glad to pay Lee over the next few years if they don't find the offer they want.

So, going along with the theme of needing a major-league-ready youngster, the player I'm eying is reliever Dellin Betances.

The 6-foot-8 right-hander was once one of New York's top starting pitching prospects, but he fell out favor in 2012 when he walked 99 batters in 131 1/3 innings and posted a 6.44 ERA.

He eventually made his way to the Bronx as a reliever, and boy has it worked out. Betances has a 1.50 ERA in 31 appearances, with 70 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 42 innings. If he doesn't make the AL All-Star team, it'll be a travesty.

A bullpen of Betances, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles, Justin De Fratus, and maybe Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon makes the mouth water. It would also give the Phils the flexibility to move Papelbon and have enough depth -- young and inexpensive depth, at that -- behind him.

But a starter for a reliever -- that's not enough. The Phillies would also need one of the Yankees' top prospects, and that's where catcher Gary Sanchez comes into play.

Sanchez is the Yankees' top prospect, a 21-year-old catcher with a strong arm and a power bat. Sanchez has hit 58 home runs since 2011, and Baseball America rated him the 35th-best prospect in the game prior to 2014.

Sanchez's last 82 games have been at Double A Trenton, where he's hit .256/.338/.409 and thrown out 41 percent of base-stealers.

Teams always require catching depth, and Sanchez would provide the Phillies insurance in case Tommy Joseph doesn't develop into an everyday backstop. It would also give the Phils the flexibility to move one of those players to a corner infield position or trade one of them for another prospect or a veteran.

The Phillies would probably still need more. Think about how much they gave up for 2 1/2 years of Hunter Pence in 2011.

Few writers have a better pulse on Yankees prospects than Mike Axisa of RiverAveBlues.com and CBS Sports' Eye on Baseball. I reached out to him for his thoughts on this potential deal.

"Sanchez and Betances sounds like a bargain to me," Axisa said. "Betances is awesome, but he is only a reliever. Maybe the Phillies think he'll be able to start again at some point, but the Yankees have already said that won't happen here. He's a reliever going forward and they have the late-inning bullpen depth to absorb the loss.

"The Yankees are enamored with Lee and have been for years. I'm not sure if they're willing to take on a third $20M-plus per year pitcher, but if they are, Lee is the guy they would do it for. I think they'd move Betances and Sanchez for him in a heartbeat even if it involved taking on all the money, assuming Lee's elbow checks out OK."

Blue Jays
Toronto still leads the AL East by 1 1/2 games but will need to make additions to continue its playoff push, especially if Jose Bautista's recent hamstring injury lingers.

The Blue Jays' main weakness is their starting staff, which right now includes Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison, J.A. Happ and rookie Marcus Stroman.

Stroman is where a Lee-to-Toronto deal would have to begin.

Stroman is a 23-year-old right-hander who sped through the minor leagues by striking out 10.6 batters per nine and walking just 2.4. He's very short in stature for a right-handed pitcher, standing just 5-foot-9. In fact, if Stroman makes 30 starts in his career, he'll be just the third right-hander under 5-10 to do that since 1960.

He'd be a young piece the Phils could slot into their rotation, but it would take more than just Stroman for Toronto to acquire Lee. The Blue Jays might even feel some pressure and overpay just to prevent the Yankees or Orioles from trading for Lee.

Aaron Sanchez, the Jays' 2010 first-round pick, would be another pitcher to target. Sanchez is 21, and his progress through Toronto's system hasn't been as struggle-free as Stroman's. But Sanchez has a mid-to-high 90s fastball, and MLB.com profiles him a frontline starting pitching prospect.

If you trade Lee for a young pitcher who's already made the majors and an even younger one who is currently in Triple A, that's a pretty good return.

Angels
While the Angels could certainly use Lee to move past the A's in the second half, they're not a clear fit. The Halos lack the top-end prospects of some other teams, and their most major-league-ready young hitter is slugger C.J. Cron, who is a first baseman/DH. With Ryan Howard still in the fold another few years, Cron would be held back until at least his age-26 or age-27 season.

Not worth it.

Orioles
Would Baltimore trade Dylan Bundy, the fourth overall pick in 2011?

You'll hear he's untouchable, but again, it takes big-time prospects to land big-time pitchers like Lee at the deadline.

Bundy is the Orioles' unquestioned top prospect even after having Tommy John surgery last summer. He's made just two starts this season and allowed one run in 10 innings at Class A while striking out 15 and walking one.

Bundy doesn't fit the major-league-ready description, but he has enormous upside.

The Orioles would probably prefer to keep fellow pitching prospect Kevin Gausman since he has already helped and will continue to help the MLB rotation this year. But you can't keep all of your top guys when you try to land a whale like Lee, so the Phillies will probably ask for Bundy. Maybe that immediately ends the conversation. But the Orioles need to find an ace one of these years, or else they risk wasting the primes of Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.

Last year's first-rounder, right-hander Hunter Harvey, is another name to keep in mind.

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

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 three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

MLB Notes: Josh Hamilton undergoes knee surgery

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Josh Hamilton has had another surgery on his balky left knee, ending any chance of the 2010 AL MVP making the Texas Rangers' opening day roster.

The arthroscopic procedure Monday was to repair some damaged meniscus cartilage in his left knee. There were no issues with the surgically repaired ACL in that knee.

Hamilton had left spring training in Arizona and returned to Houston for the second time in less than a week to be examined by Dr. Walt Lowe, who also performed Hamilton's season-ending surgery last June.

The latest knee procedure is the 11th in Hamilton's career, and the third since the 35-year-old slugger last played in the majors in 2015.

Hamilton, in camp on a minor league contract, faces six weeks of rehabilitation before he will be able to start running again.

Orioles: Bourn broke finger during football drill
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore outfielder Michael Bourn hasn't played football since his sophomore year in high school. But it's a pigskin injury that's preventing him from playing this spring for the Orioles.

On Friday, the speedy 34-year-old broke his right ring finger catching a football at a workout. Bourn, who signed a minor league contract on Feb. 20, will be out for four weeks, making it difficult for him to be ready for Baltimore's April 3 opener. He'll make $2 million if he's put on the 40-man roster.

Bourn has difficult competition. Another veteran major league outfielder, Craig Gentry, signed two days before, plus the Orioles want to take long looks at Rule 5 outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez. Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 pick who played with the team last season, is also a serious contender.

Because he signed late, Bourn hadn't played.

"I was ready to go and pretty much ready to get into games the next couple days and now I've got to wait a about four weeks to heal. I want it to heal correctly but I want to push it, too. There's really nothing I can do about it," he said. (see full story)

Indians: Kipnis sidelined by shoulder injury
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has a rotator cuff strain and will stop throwing for a couple days.

Kipnis got a cortisone shot on Saturday, and manager Terry Francona didn't sound very worried about the situation.

"If it was during the season we wouldn't do anything," Francona said before Sunday's spring game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. "There's so much time to get ready that to kind of put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."

The 29-year-old Kipnis hit .275 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs last season, helping Cleveland to the AL Central title. He added four more homers and eight RBIs in the playoffs as the Indians made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cubs in seven games.

Kipnis had been on a shoulder program.

"I would say probably eight out of 10 guys, as they get their arms loose, you feel something," Francona said. "You throw through stuff and you get through the aches and pains of getting back, but then when there is some history there, you just try to use good judgment.

"He can do all his cardio and everything and all that stuff, but throwing is shut down for four to five days. I don't think he's going to hit today."

The Indians also announced left-hander Tim Cooney will be sidelined for 10 to 12 weeks because of a muscle strain in his arm. Cooney went 1-0 with a 3.16 ERA in six starts with St. Louis last season and was claimed off waivers from the Cardinals in November.

"Originally, they thought it was forearm," Francona said. "It's lower than that. By all accounts, it is an extremely unique area."