Manuel unsure if Phils can make second-half run

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Manuel unsure if Phils can make second-half run

PITTSBURGH – Have some doubts that the Phillies can make a second-half run?

So does their manager.

“The question to me is whether we are capable of running off a winning streak,” Charlie Manuel said Tuesday afternoon.

“Are we capable? Can we put together 12 out of 16 [wins]? It’s not impossible, but at the same time I would question that.”

Manuel spoke before the Phillies opened a three-game series at PNC Park against the Pirates, whose 51-31 record is the best in the majors.

The Phillies are teetering on the brink, 9½ games behind the Braves in the NL East and eight games out in the wild-card race. Since their only day over .500 this year -- they were 31-30 on June 6 -- the Phillies are 9-14. 

Can the Phillies get back into the race? They’ve averaged 49 wins in the second half in eight seasons under Manuel. But it might take a lot more than 49 to reach the postseason.

“We’re going to have to play like hell,” Manuel said. “We have to play right, fundamentally well. We have to hit, we have to pitch and catch the ball. But I’ve been saying that two years now, and I’m still saying the same thing.”

Asked what the Phillies should go after at the trade deadline, Manuel was blunt.

“I think we need anybody who can help us improve. If there is any way we can improve, whether it’s a pitcher or a hitter or whatever, any players who can help us improve.”

Meanwhile, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said there’s plenty of people to blame for the Phillies’ recent struggles.

Including himself.

“These guys get paid to play,” he said Tuesday afternoon in the Phillies’ dugout. “They need to do their jobs. I think it’s all of us taking part of it. It’s all of us that are a part of it. It’s a team effort. We all have to be better, including me. ...

“Guys have to start playing better. Only way we can win is if they start playing better. Hitting better, pitching better, running the bases better. Playing better defense.”

The Reds are in the No. 2 wild-card spot, on pace for 92 wins. For the Phillies to catch them, they would have to go 52-26. That’s .667 baseball.

“We can’t let ourselves get too far behind,” he said. “It’s just too much of a haul. It’s the point where we’ve got to start making some hay.”

Under Manuel, the Phillies have played .605 baseball in the second half, second best in the majors since 2005.

“[We’ve been] very, very good in the second half,” Amaro said. “They’ve had an uncanny ability to be able to do that, so we’ll see.

“We haven’t played well enough, that I can tell you. Not to this point, there’s no question about that. I think they’re a better club than they’ve shown so far, but maybe they’re not. ...

“What’s been disappointing for us this year is the fact that we’ve generally had most of our guys on the field for most of the time. Not the whole time. We lost Chase [Utley], we’ve lost Doc [Roy Halladay].

“I felt like we’d be playing a little bit better baseball overall and we haven’t.”

The trade deadline is July 31, and Amaro said these next few weeks will determine what direction the Phillies take.

“Every single day, it’s an assessment of what’s best for the club, what might be best for the club,” he said.

“Right now, we’re putting ourselves in a position to be prepared for anything. Whether we have to go right, left, up or down, we have to be prepared for everything.”

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

OXON HILL, Md. -- Aroldis Chapman found a spot in a most familiar bullpen -- a very rich spot, too.

The hard-throwing closer reached agreement to return to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night with the highest-priced contract ever for a relief pitcher, an $86 million deal for five years.

A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that the contract was pending a physical. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet complete.

Once it's done, the 28-year-old lefty whose fastballs routinely top 100 mph would shatter the previous richest contract for a reliever -- that was the $62 million, four-year deal Mark Melancon signed with San Francisco just a couple days ago during the winter meetings.

Chapman was acquired by New York from the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, then missed the first 29 games of the season due to a domestic violence suspension from Major League Baseball. The Cuban was traded to the Chicago Cubs in late July and helped them win the World Series, becoming a free agent when it was over.

Chapman went 4-1 with 36 saves and a 1.55 ERA in a combined 59 games for the Yankees and Cubs. He struggled some in the postseason as the Cubs beat Cleveland for their first championship since 1908.

With the Yankees this season, Chapman teamed with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in one of the most dominant bullpens in baseball history. Miller was later traded to Cleveland, but Betances is still with New York.

Earlier this week, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team was interested in both Chapman and fellow free agent closer Kenley Jansen. The Yankees had already made one deal at these meetings, signing slugger Matt Holliday, before paying a lot more to bring Chapman back to the Bronx.

Fox Sports first reported the agreement.

Rangers: Gomez reaches deal to stay with team
OXON HILL, Md. -- Carlos Gomez is staying with the Texas Rangers.

The outfielder agreed to an $11.5 million, one-year contract, a deal subject to a successful physical.

"Many of the objectives of the Rangers for Carlos go beyond one year," his agent, Scott Boras, said Wednesday. "Certainly Carlos really enjoyed the team and the environment and feels he's got a great chance to win. So I think both parties' objectives were met by that deal."

Gomez, who turned 31 last weekend, figures to play center as general manager Jon Daniels structured an outfield that includes Shin-Soo Choo in right and Nomar Mazara in left. Ian Desmond left Wednesday for a $70 million, five-year deal with Colorado.

Gomez batted just .210 with five homers in 85 games this year for Houston and was released by the Astros in August. He signed with Texas and hit .284 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games. An All-Star in 2013 and '14 with Milwaukee, Gomez has a .257 average and 116 home runs in 10 big league seasons.

"J.D. was very clear from the onset about them wanting Carlos back, and we've had communication since the season's end to pursue that," Boras said. "So it was something in our minds and in their minds. It was just a constant dialogue."

AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

Red Sox: Sale not worried about being ace
BOSTON -- New Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale says he isn't worried that he might not be the ace of the pitching staff after being traded from the White Sox to Boston.

The 27-year-old lefty told reporters on Wednesday, "We play for a trophy, not a tag."

Sale was traded to the Red Sox on Tuesday at the baseball winter meetings. He was the top starting pitcher on the market, and the Red Sox gave up touted prospect Yoan Moncada as part of a package to land him.

Sale has been an All-Star for five straight seasons and finished in the top six of the Cy Young Award voting each time. He joins a staff that already includes 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and '12 winner David Price (see full story).

Trade front quiet, but Phillies could lose a player or 2 in Rule 5 draft

Trade front quiet, but Phillies could lose a player or 2 in Rule 5 draft

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have a history of adding players in the Rule 5 draft. The annual event, designed to prevent teams from stockpiling minor-league talent without giving it a shot in the majors, has netted the Phillies players such as Dave Hollins, Shane Victorino and Odubel Herrera over the years.

The year’s Rule 5 draft will be held Thursday morning at the conclusion of the winter meetings, but it’s highly unlikely that the Phillies will be active. After adding 11 prospects to their 40-man roster two weeks ago, the Phillies are simply out of room. Selecting a player in the Rule 5 draft would first require the Phils to cut a player loose and that did not seem to be the plan as the sun set Wednesday.

While an addition is unlikely, there’s a strong possibility that the Phils will lose a player or two in the draft. Outfielder Andrew Pullin, a 2012 draft pick, is the likeliest to go. He hit .322 with a .885 OPS between Single A and Double A in 2016 and a number of teams are buzzing about him. A late-season elbow injury prevented Pullin from playing in the Arizona Fall League and factored into the Phillies’ decision to leave him unprotected.

If a team rolls the dice on Pullin, it must keep him in the majors all season or offer him back to the Phillies.

Other players who could go include first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi, outfielder Carlos Tocci and pitchers Miguel Nunez and Hoby Milner.

All quiet for now
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak spent Wednesday meeting with agents and representatives from other clubs.

“Nothing is hot at the moment,” he said late in the day.

Klentak has brought back starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, added relievers Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek and traded for outfielder Howie Kendrick this offseason. The biggest remaining issue/question on his plate is whether to add a veteran hitter in a corner outfield spot or keep the pathway open for young players such as Roman Quinn and eventually Dylan Cozens and Nick Williams. 

“Successfully balancing the present and the future is the single greatest challenge that a baseball operations department faces,” Klentak said. “We’ve talked about it all offseason. The decisions that we are making right now about giving playing time to a young player that has cut his teeth in Triple A and needs that opportunity to take the next step as opposed to a shorter-term solution from the outside — that’s one of the main challenges that we’ve run into this offseason.”

While it’s uncertain whether the Phils will add a hitter, they most surely will make other roster tweaks as the winter moves on. They are likely to fill their backup catcher’s spot in-house (see story), but could add a utility infielder and more bullpen depth on minor-league contracts.

“I think there will probably be another move or two before we get to Clearwater,” Klentak said. “Who and when remains to be seen.”