MLB Notes: Michael Young retires; Chen re-signs

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MLB Notes: Michael Young retires; Chen re-signs

After 14 big-league seasons, seven All-Star Game appearances and two trips to the World Series, former Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young has decided to retire.

Young spent 13 seasons with the Rangers and part of 2013 with the Phillies and Dodgers. He was acquired in a trade by the Phillies in December of 2012 and then sent to Los Angeles in a post-deadline deal where he contributed to the Dodgers’ playoff run.

Young was the MVP of the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh where his two-out, two-run triple off Trevor Hoffman won it for the American League. He also won the American League batting title in 2005, hit over .300 in seven seasons and is one of 190 players in the history of the game to retire with a .300 batting average or higher.

In 1,970 regular season games, Young got 2,375 hits, 185 homers and 1,030 RBIs. He reached the 1,000-RBI plateau with the Phillies last summer.

With the Rangers, Young went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011 and had four postseason berths — three with Texas and one with the Dodgers.

Selected in the fifth round of the 1997 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Young was part of one of the most lopsided trades in recent history. In a deadline deal in 2000, the Blue Jays sent Young and pitcher Darwin Cubillan to Texas for pitcher Esteban Loaiza.

Young went on to become one of the most popular Rangers in the history of the franchise, while Loaiza went 25-28 with a 4.96 ERA over three seasons in Toronto.

The Rangers issued a statement following the news of Young’s retirement:

“The Texas Rangers want to congratulate Michael Young on his outstanding Major League career. For 12 seasons in a Rangers uniform, he was a standout performer on the field and the consummate role model in the community.

“Michael is a leader, and he demonstrated those skills every day of the season, year in and year out. We are proud to say that Michael Young is this franchise's all-time leader in games, at bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples and total bases. He excelled at multiple positions and came through in the clutch.

“When Texas advanced to postseason play in 2010 after an 11-year drought, teammates and fans everywhere were especially happy that Michael had reached the playoffs. And he was an integral performer in those Rangers' back-to-back World Series runs.

“The Rangers wish Michael, his wife, Cristina, and sons Mateo, Emilio, and Antonio the very best as they enter a new chapter in their lives. And we want them to know there will always be a place for the Youngs in the Texas Rangers family.”

Chen re-signs with Kansas City
While one short-time Phillie was calling it a career, another was signing on for another season.

Left-handed pitcher Bruce Chen, 36, who spent parts of the 2000 and 2001 seasons with the Phillies, signed a one-year deal worth $4.25 million with the Kansas City Royals.

Chen’s deal pays a base salary of $3.25 million with a $5.5 million mutual option for 2015 with a $1 million buyout. The deal also includes incentives where Chen could earn 125,000 for each start between 16 and 25 in 2014.

Chen has pitched for 10 different teams over 15 seasons, though he has spent the last five pitching for the Royals. In 2013 Chen went 9-4 with a 3.27 ERA in 34 appearances. He tossed three complete games and won his first five decisions a year ago. In 2012, Chen led the American League with 34 starts.

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79⅔ innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.