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.

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

The Phillies were one strike away from winning the World Series and Citizens Bank Park was in a full roar.

Carlos Ruiz trotted to the mound for a quick chat with closer Brad Lidge.

Lidge wanted to try to put away Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinkse with his signature slider, a pitch that had helped him go 48 for 48 in save chances during that magical season. Ruiz was in complete agreement. After catching the pitcher all season, he knew how good Lidge’s slider was. He also knew that Lidge threw three versions of the pitch, a get-me-over offering that he used to get a first-pitch strike, a backdoor bender that he used against lefty hitters, and The Good One, a sharp, downward-breaking dagger that left hitters flailing at air as it cork-screwed toward the dirt.

On that spectacular October night nearly eight years ago, Ruiz looked into Lidge’s eyes and issued a directive: Give me the good one. Lidge complied. Hinske swung over the vicious slider. Ruiz fished it out of the dirt and Harry Kalas shouted, “The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball” as the stadium erupted in euphoria. Ruiz, the kid who wasn’t even a catcher when the Phillies first scouted him in the summer of 1998, sprinted to the mound, collapsed to his knees and joined Lidge in a joyous hug, the image of which will remain emblazoned in the minds of Philadelphia fans, well, forever.

Ruiz’s words to Lidge — Give me the good one — gained new resonance on Thursday because the veteran catcher, beloved by teammates and fans, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later (see story).

Ruiz spent 11 seasons with the Phillies and when you consider where he came from and what he accomplished, well, he always gave the team and its fans the good one.

“I’m excited, but also sad,” Ruiz said moments after the trade became official.

Excited because at age 37, and firmly in the twilight of his career, he has the chance to join a first-place team and get to the postseason one more time.

And sad because, “I have so many memories in Philadelphia.”

The greatest, of course, was the World Series championship, catching the final out and rushing to the mound to join Lidge as the pitcher dropped to his knees, looked to the heavens and shouted, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series!”

But there were so many others.

Ruiz was a backbone member of five NL East championship teams and the best catcher a Cy Young winner named Roy Halladay ever pitched to. Halladay said it himself. Ruiz caught four no-hitters, including two of Halladay’s. He was an All-Star in 2012.

All in all, it was a pretty good run for a guy who signed for $8,000 off a sandlot in Panama in 1998. That same year, the Phillies signed Pat Burrell for $8 million. Ruiz would have signed for nothing.

“All I wanted was a chance to play professional baseball,” he said. "I'm thankful the Phillies gave it to me."

At the time of his audition for the Phillies, Ruiz was a 19-year-old second baseman. Phillies scouts were skeptical of his ability to make it as an infielder. They warmed to him when he said he’d give catching a try. He learned the position on the fly and made a steady progression up the ladder until arriving in the majors in 2006 and becoming a regular in 2007, the year the Phillies broke a 14-year playoff drought and won the NL East.

Ruiz was a favorite in the clubhouse for his good nature and team-first attitude. He would do anything for the team, anything to win, and you can’t fake that stuff. That won him the admiration of teammates. In 2012, Jonathan Papelbon expressed his love for Ruiz in typical Papelbon style. He called Ruiz “a Panamanian redneck.” Years later, Cameron Rupp, the man who supplanted Ruiz as starting catcher, praised Ruiz for his mentorship. It’s not easy for a player to groom the man who will take his job, but Ruiz did it earnestly and graciously. Today, Rupp is arguably the most improved player on the Phillies’ roster.

“Carlos was the everyday guy for more than eight years,” Rupp said. “I’m sure it was hard. It can’t be easy. But he never stopped helping me. There might be guys who wouldn’t do something like that, but not him.

“I can’t tell you how much he helped me. He’s awesome.”

Ruiz’s hustle, his non-stop effort, and, oh, yes, his place on championship teams — that’s what Philadelphians love most — earned him a special spot in the hearts of fans. Cup your hand to your ear and you can still hear those fond shouts of Choooooch from the stands.

They will be heard again when Ruiz goes on the team’s Wall of Fame someday. But for now, he heads off to Los Angeles to join another former Phillies fan favorite and champion, Chase Utley, in a late-career run at one more moment of postseason glory.

You gave us the Good One, Chooch.

Phillies trade Carlos Ruiz to Dodgers

Phillies trade Carlos Ruiz to Dodgers

Jimmy Rollins. Then Chase Utley. Now Carlos Ruiz.

Thursday closed another chapter of the Phillies' golden era.

Ruiz, the Phillies' catcher since 2006 and arguably the most impactful in franchise history, has been traded to the Dodgers (along with cash) for catcher A.J. Ellis, right-hander Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later.

Rollins was dealt to the Dodgers in December 2014. Utley, still with Los Angeles, was traded to the Dodgers in August 2015.

Ryan Howard is now the lone leftover from the Phillies' 2008 world champion club.

In 11 big-league seasons — all with the Phillies — Ruiz has hit .266 with a .352 on-base percentage and has been lauded for his game-calling abilities. This season, the 37-year-old is batting .261 with a .368 OBP, three home runs and 12 RBIs in a reserve role. Ruiz joined the Phillies' organization in 1998 when the team signed him as an amateur free agent. In 2016, he was playing out his final season in red pinstripes, the final year of a three-year, $26 million deal.

"I met Chooch in 2009 for the first time and immediately sensed that he was a special player," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "But more importantly, over the years I grew to know that he is a special person. I'll miss him."

Ruiz has caught the fourth-most games in Phillies history with 1,029, behind only Mike Lieberthal (1,139), Red Dooin (1,124) and Bob Boone (1,094).

"Carlos not only was — and is — a good teammate, he [also] learned how to become the leader he needed to be behind the plate running a pitching staff," former Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer said. "As a teammate, he always had that Ruiz smile that we all have come to love!"

Ruiz caught Cole Hamels' no-hitter in July of last season, marking the catcher's fourth no-no behind the plate, tying him for most in MLB history with Jason Varitek.

"He’s a tremendous catcher and it just shows," Hamels said after no-hitting the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 25. "If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be catching this many no-hitter, perfect games. All of us have been fortunate enough to have him."

The Panama native, beloved and known by the Delaware Valley as "Chooch," quickly became a fan favorite. He was the staple behind home plate of the team's five-year run from 2007-11, in which it won five National League East titles, two NL pennants and, of course, the World Series championship in 2008.

"They are my favorite fans in the world," Ruiz said in February, "and we have some good memories together."

And many of them.

He became Roy Halladay's all-time favorite battery mate, catching the right-hander's perfect game and postseason no-hitter in 2010.

He played a career-high 132 games in 2011, while handling the Phillies' vaunted rotation en route to a franchise-record 102 wins.

He put together an All-Star season in 2012, hitting .325 with a .394 OBP, 16 homers and 68 RBIs.

The most cherished, though, came on the chilly night of October 29, 2008 — being under the dogpile on the Citizens Bank Park infield after catching Brad Lidge's World Series-winning strikeout.

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MIAMI -- A person familiar with the deal says the Miami Marlins have acquired outfielder Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta in a three-team trade.

The person spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity Wednesday night because the trade hadn't been announced.

The Texas Rangers also were part of the trade. Francoeur was the only major leaguer involved.

Miami is contending for an NL wild-card spot and isn't sure whether star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will return this season from a severe groin strain.

Francoeur was hitting .249 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 99 games for the Braves. The 32-year-old plays left field and right field and is known for a strong arm.

Nationals acquire lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski from Athletics
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals have acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski from the Oakland Athletics for minor league infielder Max Schrock.

The A's also sent cash to Washington as part of the trade announced Thursday.

Rzepczynski gives the Nationals another lefty out of the bullpen since trading Felipe Rivero and putting Sammy Solis on the disabled list. He is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 56 appearances this season for Oakland.

The 32-year-old joins the sixth team of his major league career. It was not clear if he'd be available for Washington's game Thursday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The 21-year-old Schrock was a 13th-round pick in 2015.

Red Sox place rookie Benintendi on 15-day DL with knee sprain
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  -- The Boston Red Sox have placed rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi on the 15-day disabled list with a left knee sprain.

Benintendi was hurt in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss in 11 innings to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. He tried to avoid a tag while running toward second base, but was tagged out on a double play.

Red Sox manager John Farrell says team doctors are evaluating the results of an MRI exam on Thursday. He says the severity of the injury isn't clear and will be "determined after the review."

Farrell is hopeful Benintendi, a first-round draft pick in 2015, will return before the season ends.

Chris Young will be the primary left fielder with Benintendi sidelined. Infielder Marco Hernandez was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.