Phillies Stay or Go: Antonio Bastardo

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Phillies Stay or Go: Antonio Bastardo

The Phillies' first losing season since 2002 is sure to bring wholesale changes in the offseason. But who should stay and who should go? Over the next two weeks, we're asking that very question and putting players under the microscope.

Wednesday, we examined Kevin Frandsen (see story), and today we take a look at a bullpen arm that let the team down in 2013:

Antonio Bastardo
Position: Left-handed relief pitcher
Status: Arbitration eligible; completed a one-year, $1.4 million deal in 2013

Signature game of 2013
Bastardo saved two games in 2013, but they were nothing special. Bastardo worked 10 games with no rest and didn’t bounce back too great, either. However, give Bastardo a day or two between outings and he was virtually unhittable. Opponents went 19 for 89 against the lefty when he worked with one or two days of rest, with a 2.10 ERA in 26 games.

Season as a whole
The numbers were not terrible — 3-2, two saves, 2.32 ERA, 47 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings — but Bastardo’s season will be remembered for one event: the 50-game suspension for his role in baseball’s Biogenesis scandal. The suspension snuck up on the Phillies and left general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel scrambling when the announcement came. If Bastardo knew something was coming, he didn’t clue in the Phillies or his teammates.

Otherwise, Bastardo was more efficient and threw more strikes than at any point in his career. He threw nearly 70 percent of his first pitches for strikes. He also allowed just two out of 15 inherited runners to score and was on a streak in which he did not allow a run in nine of 10 games before being suspended.

Stay or go
Typically, a reliever on pace to appear in 60-plus games for the third straight season is the type of pitcher a team needs and wants. A 28-year-old left-hander with that resume is even better. Bastardo is young and experienced and still moving into his prime.

But he really let the Phillies down over the last stretch of the season. Will he be dependable in the future? Carlos Ruiz, Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen have served suspensions and come back to be model teammates. There is nothing to suggest that Bastardo will be a problem in the future, and for a bargain salary, he might be worth the risk.

What they're saying ...
“I talked with him the night before, and he said there may be something that goes on here. That was the only real heads-up I had. I don’t think the player has to tell us anything. He mentioned to me that something might be going on Sunday ... so I had an idea that something might be going on.”
--Ruben Amaro Jr. on Bastardo’s suspension, Aug. 5

“I was totally surprised. It caught me off guard. He plays a big role in our bullpen, but at the same time I go along with our organization. There’s rules and guidelines MLB has, and I think you have to abide by those. We’ll see where he is velocity-wise and command-wise in spring training, and he’ll probably get more innings than he usually gets. That will tell more about him.”
--Charlie Manuel on Bastardo’s suspension, Aug. 5

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."