Phillies offseason targets: Downs, Lopez

scottdownsjavierlopezap.jpg

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.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick out of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions that still must be answered:

How many spots remain on the bench? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. Will the Phillies go with a five-man bench, meaning there are two openings? Or will they go with a four-man bench, which opens the possibility for carrying eight relievers instead of the customary seven?

If the Phils go with a five-man bench, they will pick two from a group of four players that includes Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. The hunch is Coghlan will make the club, leaving the final spot down to Nava or Stassi. All three of those players are non-roster so the team would have to open a spot on the 40-man roster to accommodate them. Valentin has impressed -- and is already on the 40 -- but he might benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised the work of Coghlan and Stassi.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coghlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

If the Phils go with a four-man bench, Coghlan might be the only one to make the club. He is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Wednesday. If he wasn't going to make the team, he might be gone by now.

Going with a four-man bench would minimize the subtractions that the team would have to make from the 40-man roster. In that case, only one spot would have to be cleared.

A four-man bench means the Phillies could choose three relievers from a group of candidates that includes Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers could be coming on Tuesday.

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

A week before the season opener, it appears Andrew Knapp has won the Phillies' backup catcher competition.

The Phils on Monday released Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday, two veterans battling with Knapp for the backup spot to Cameron Rupp.

Knapp, 25, hasn't had an impressive spring, going 7 for 38 (.184) with 16 strikeouts, but the move makes sense because he's young and has at least a chance to contribute to the Phillies in the future, unlike Hanigan and Holaday. Plus, catcher Jorge Alfaro and first baseman Rhys Hoskins will likely open the season at Triple A, meaning Knapp would not have had an everyday spot with the IronPigs.

Knapp had his best game of the spring at the right time Sunday, hitting a two-run homer and throwing out two runners on the bases (see story).

"It's pretty obvious he seems to be the guy," manager Pete Mackanin said of Knapp. "Nothing's written in stone but if you read between the lines, it pretty much tells you something about it. No secret plans or anything like that. It is what it is right now."

At 25, Knapp isn't really a prospect anymore but rather a player the Phillies want to see sink or swim at the big-league level.

"He's not going to get 500 at-bats, but one of the things you can look at is any exposure to the big-league scene is valuable toward anyone's development," Mackanin said. "Let's say Knapp gets 200 at-bats, it's worth his while and our while to judge him, to give him a sense of confidence or knowing what he's up against.

"In that regard playing in the big leagues, even in a part-time role, is important."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round pick in 2013 out of the University of California. He broke out in 2015 by hitting .360 with a 1.050 OPS and more than an RBI per game in 241 plate appearances with Double A Reading.

Last season, the switch-hitting Knapp was an International League All-Star with Triple A Lehigh Valley, though he didn't have as impressive an offensive season, batting .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs.

"He's got a chance to be a pretty good hitter," Mackanin said. "And he's come along quite a ways defensively behind the plate to where I'm comfortable with him catching.

"Little by little he's shown improvement in the spring, even though he hasn't had the greatest spring offensively. He's had a lot of good at-bats and he's caught well."

Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp look like locks for the Phillies' bench. The final two bench spots are open with Brock Stassi, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin in the running (see story).

CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury contributed to this report.