Phillies offseason targets: Downs, Lopez

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Phillies offseason targets: Downs, Lopez

Over the next several weeks we’ll unveil a list of potential free agents and trade targets the Phillies could pursue this offseason, one in which they’ll need to plug holes behind the plate, in the corner outfield and, most importantly, on the pitching staff.

From 2011 to the middle of 2013, Antonio Bastardo was perhaps the Phillies' most reliable bullpen arm. The sometimes-erratic and always-overpowering left-hander made 177 appearances over that span, posting a 3.12 ERA, 11 saves, 11.7 strikeouts per nine and a 1.140 WHIP.

Then, on Aug. 5, Bastardo was handed a 50-game suspension for implication in the Biogenesis scandal, news which basically blindsided the Phillies.

Thus Bastardo remains an uncertainty going into next year. While Jake Diekman made strides in his sophomore season, finding a reliable left-handed reliever is high on the offseason to-do list. Considering Jonathan Papelbon's struggles in 2013 and Mike Adams' injury issues, a guy who can also pitch the eighth inning and possibly close a few games would also be a huge plus.

We already looked at right-handed relievers Edward Mujica and Joaquin Benoit (see story). Today, we'll look at two free-agent lefty relievers:

Scott Downs
Age: 38
2011-13 stats: 11-8, 2.27 ERA, 185 games, 10 saves, 1.248 WHIP
Most recent contract: Three years, $15 million with Angels

Since moving to the bullpen full-time in 2007, Downs has been one of the game's most reliable relief men, boasting a 2.33 ERA in 447 appearances over that span.

Only twice in seven years has he posted a plus-3.00 ERA, and only twice has he appeared in fewer than 60 games. Both occurred in 2009 (3.09 ERA, 48 appearances) and 2012 (3.15, 57).

Downs was traded from the Angels to the Braves at the deadline last season and unraveled down the stretch, allowing five runs and 13 hits over just three innings in his final 10 games of the season. He did not make the Braves' postseason roster.

But before his September struggles, Downs was in the midst of yet another solid season. Overall, he went 4-4 with a 2.49 ERA, 1.477 WHIP and 37 strikeouts to 19 walks in 43.1 innings.

Getting left-handers out is Downs' specialty; he's just mediocre against righties. Since 2011, left-handed batters have a .202 average against him with just one homer, while right-handers have hit .263 with six long balls.

Downs can close if necessary, as he did in 2012 when he briefly served as the Halos' closer and saved nine games.

Downs made $5 million last year, and despite his late-season slump, is still likely in line for a multiyear deal for a similar amount. At $3-4 million per season, Downs would be worth the risk for the Phillies, but depending on the market he could command as high as $5 million.

Javier Lopez
Age: 36
2011-13 stats: 12-4, 2.38 ERA, 209 games, nine saves, 1.255 WHIP
Most recent contract: Two years, $8.5 million with Giants

Two years younger and even stealthier against lefties, Lopez is arguably the best southpaw reliever on the open market.

Lopez is coming off a career year in 2013, when he posted a 1.83 ERA in 69 appearances, striking out 37 and walking 12 in 39.1 innings. He also led the league in stranding inherited base runners, allowing just 10.5 percent to score.

His sidearm delivery helps him mow down left-handers, who have hit just .170 against him since 2011. But he's pretty much a lefty-only specialist, as right-handers have batted .315 off him over that same span.

Since 2010, he's been extremely consistent with a 2.37 ERA over 286 appearances, but his walk rate has been a tad concerning, as he's handed out 3.5 free passes per nine. His control improved last season, for his best rate (2.7 per nine) since his rookie year in 2003.

Although Lopez has the ability and confidence to pitch the eighth or ninth, he seldom throws an entire inning. Just 11 of his 69 appearances last season were for one full inning or longer.

According to MLB.com, there's mutual interest between Lopez and the Giants for a return to San Francisco, where he pitched on World Series-winning teams in 2010 and 2012. Phillies fans should recall the stellar NLCS he pitched in 2010, when he allowed just one run and one hit over 4.1 innings in five games and got the victory in the decisive Game 6.

If he does not stay with the Giants, a "significant number" of clubs are reportedly interested. The Phillies should be one of them, although he could demand a lucrative deal for a reliever, and they've already got Papelbon on the book for $13 million, Adams for $7 million and Bastardo eligible for arbitration.

Lopez made $4.25 million in 2013. On the open market, two or three years at around $5-6 million annually seems likely.

Tomorrow: Corey Seidman takes a look at free-agent outfielder Curtis Granderson.

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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