Phillies winter meetings preview: Trades, Rule 5 draft, roster crunch

Phillies winter meetings preview: Trades, Rule 5 draft, roster crunch

The Nation’s Capital will become the center of the baseball world over the next week as the winter meetings get underway Sunday in Washington.
 
The meetings run through Thursday morning, concluding with the Rule 5 draft, and will play out against a backdrop of labor peace as the owners and players agreed on a new five-year labor deal on Wednesday night.
 
Teams looking to make a big score on the free-agent market will find sluggers in Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, quality producers in Dexter Fowler, Justin Turner and Ian Desmond and proven closers in Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman. The trade market features a big name in former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen.
 
As for the local nine, don’t look for a week of head-spinning activity. The Phillies got most of their heavy lifting out of the way early in the offseason when they re-signed starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and traded for outfielder Howie Kendrick and reliever Pat Neshek. Hellickson and Kendrick filled two of the team’s stated needs, a veteran innings guy in the rotation and the proverbial professional hitter.
 
This is not to say the Phils won’t be active at the meetings, or in the days leading up to them or following them, because they likely will be. The team still has some secondary areas that need to be addressed, but as for a big, headline-grabbing move, well, nothing like that appears to be cooking — unless, of course, some team wants to give the Phillies multiples of top talent for one of their young core big-leaguers. As we’ve said before, this team has no untouchables and general manager Matt Klentak is willing talk about any player if the return speeds the team’s rebuild and has long-term impact.
 
With that, let’s take a look at some of the matters facing the Phils as they get set to head to the meetings:
 
Backup shortstop/utility infielder
This is an area the team probably needs to address. There are currently five infielders on the 40-man roster: the four projected starters (Tommy Joseph, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis) and recent addition Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin is strictly a second baseman and projects to play at Triple A. If the Phils had a long-term opening at shortstop, they could push J.P. Crawford. In a pinch, Hernandez could move over from second and play the position. Still, adding a utility infielder is probably a must and that player might have to come on a minor-league contract because the 40-man roster is full. The door has not been closed on the return of Andres Blanco. Even someone like versatile Emmanuel Burris could return.
 
Bullpen help
Klentak made improving the bullpen an offseason priority so it’s likely that he’s looking to make additions beyond just Neshek. As it stands now, the Phils have just one lefty reliever, promising but unproven Joely Rodriguez, so it’s important that Klentak add at least one more lefty through a signing or trade.
 
Backup catcher
The Phils have had longstanding interest in bringing back A.J. Ellis and they've maintained contact with his representatives, but they already have three catchers on their 40-man roster in Cameron Rupp, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. If the roster pinch gets solved, possibly by dealing from a position of depth and including Knapp in a trade or other transactions, Ellis could return. Other than that, it’s possible Knapp could be the big team’s backup catcher with Alfaro working every day at Triple A.
 
Another bat?
The Phils were last in the majors in runs scored (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385) in 2016 so they really need to add more than just Kendrick if they’re going to make a noticeable improvement in their offense. However, management has made it clear that it wants to keep pathways open for young players to advance to the majors.

Barring a trade, seven of the eight starting position spots are pretty much set. Right field is the exception and that would be a nice landing spot for one of those young players, speedy Roman Quinn. There’s a strong possibility that Quinn will be the opening day rightfielder. However, given his health history, it might be wise to add reinforcements beyond Aaron Altherr. So it would not be surprising to see the Phillies add another bat, possibly from the left side, to their bench.
 
Trade rumors
They go hand-in-hand with the winter meetings. Even before the start of the meetings, the Phils have been connected to McCutchen and even power-hitting Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier in rumors. The feel here is that a deal for either player is unlikely, especially McCutchen, whose defense has become a concern. The Phillies are committed to building a lasting contender with their farm system as the foundation. Acquiring a McCutchen or a Dozier would require giving up multiples of young talent and that’s not the way the Phils want to operate at the moment. They're looking to retain as much young talent as possible.
 
Trade talk
Though the Phillies will be protective of their prospects in trades, the do have money and payroll flexibility. This makes it possible that they could fill a need by taking on salary as long as that salary is attached to a short-term contract. The Phils under Klentak have already done this with Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Neshek. And, as mentioned, if some team wants to send the Phils a big return, players like Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and Hector Neris would be very much in play.
 
The Rule 5 draft
After landing players like Shane Victorino, David Herndon, Ender Inciarte, Herrera and Tyler Goeddel over the last decade or so, the Phils could end up sitting out this year’s Rule 5 draft. It’s not that they wouldn’t like to add a young player to their stocks and build some spring-training competition, more that they’ve already added so many young players that they’re out of room. The Phils added 11 players in maxing out their 40-man roster two weeks ago, thus protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. No other team added more than eight players.

The Phils pushed their number of protected players to 11 because they were fearful the new Collective Bargaining Agreement could increase roster size from 25 to 26 and an extra spot would make it easier for teams to carry a Rule 5 player. In the end, rosters stayed at 25. Maybe that will help the Phils retain one of the players they chose not to protect. Among that group is left-handed-hitting outfielder Andrew Pullin. There is much rumble around baseball that the Phillies could lose him. Relievers Hoby Milner and Miguel Nunez, outfielder Carlos Tocci and first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi are also names to watch on Thursday.
 
Of immediate concern
Teams have until 8 p.m. Friday to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players or let them become free agents. The Phillies have four such players: Galvis, Hernandez, outfielder Cody Asche and reliever Jeanmar Gomez. Galvis and Hernandez will be tendered contracts. Asche and Gomez are on the fence. Gomez had 37 saves before struggling over the final weeks of the 2016 season. It’s possible the Phils could look to sign him before the tender deadline to a deal below his arbitration salary, projected to be $4.6 million by MLBTradeRumors.com. If Asche is non-tendered, the Phils could pick up a roster spot for a winter-meetings acquisition or a Rule 5 pick.

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

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AP Images

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

The Phillies have made a flurry of moves ahead of Tuesday's doubleheader vs. the Marlins.

Vince Velasquez (finger) is heading to the 60-day disabled list, effectively ending his season. Velasquez left his last start after just one inning on August 10 after surrendering three runs.

In 15 starts, Velasquez compiled a 5.13 ERA, while continuing to struggle with his command. The 25-year-old struck out 68 batters while walking 34 and averaged just 4.8 innings per start. 

In a corresponding move, the Phillies have called up RHP Yacksel Rios from Triple A to replace Velasquez on the 40-man roster. The 24-year-old has a combined 1.92 ERA in 37 games while splitting time between Reading and Lehigh Valley. 

Nick Pivetta was officially recalled from the minors to start Game 2 of today's doubleheader, while Zach Eflin (shoulder) was placed on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to Saturday. 

More coming...

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Let's play two; Nola tries to slow down Stanton

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Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Let's play two; Nola tries to slow down Stanton

Phillies (45-77) vs. Marlins (60-62)
Game 1 - 4:05 p.m., Game 2 - TBD on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Let's play two!

The Phillies come back from the West Coast to play a doubleheader with the Marlins tonight. The Phils send their ace to the mound in Game 1 and he'll try to keep the best slugger in baseball in the yard.

Here are five things to know for the games.

1. Slugging it out
Giancarlo Stanton hits baseballs very hard and very far. 

The major league leader in home runs (45) has been especially hot since July 5. The numbers are just insane. In a 39-game span, he has 24 homers and 47 RBIs with a slash line of .333/.453/.908. His OPS in that span is a ridiculous 1.361. At his current pace, the 27-year-old outfielder — who just cleared waivers ... wink, wink —  is projected to hit 60 homers.

For the Phillies, their own promising young slugger has emerged. After struggling during his first few MLB games at Citizens Bank Park, left fielder (?) Rhys Hoskins had a torrid road trip in his native California. After hitting his first big league homer in San Diego, Hoskins went off. In 25 at-bats, Hoskins went 8 for 25 (.320) with five homers and eight RBIs. 

He also showed off his impressive plate discipline, walking five times with just three strikeouts. It's a small sample size, but Hoskins' minor league skills are manifesting with the big club. 

2. Ace in the deck
Aaron Nola came back down to earth in his last appearance against the Giants, but he'd been stellar his previous 10 starts. His ERA dipped below three in San Francisco before the Giants tagged him for five runs over five innings. It ended a string of 10 straight starts going six innings and allowing two runs or less for Nola. 

Nola struggled with his command last Thursday, walking three batters. It was just the third time this season Nola has walked three or more hitters in 20 starts. Overall he's 9-8 with a 3.26 ERA, but the most promising thing about Nola is the feel he's getting for his changeup and recent ability he's shown to strike people out. He has 128 strikeouts in 124 1/3 innings.

The Marlins send righty Dan Straily to the mound. The 28-year-old has been Miami's most consistent starter this season. In 25 starts, he's 7-8 with a solid 3.80 ERA in 139 2/3 innings. 

Straily isn't going to wow you with his stuff. He throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90s which he'll throw more than half the time. He'll mostly throw a slider (27.1 percent) off his fastball but will mix in his changeup (15.4) and the occasional curveball (3.4)

3. Welcome back, Nick
Coming off an impressive 11-strikeout performance against the Padres, rookie Nick Pivetta was sent down to the minors. It wasn't a performance issue. The team just needed to create roster flexibility before deciding to put Odubel Herrera on the DL.

Pivetta clearly has big-league stuff, but he's struggled with consistency and hasn't been able to give the Phils length in his starts. Even in his last outing against the Padres, he lasted just five innings, throwing 96 pitches. Pivetta has flashed plenty but he's struggled with the long ball. He's given up 19 home runs in 18 starts. Stanton and Marcell Ozuna will be licking their chops after having to face Nola in Game 1.

Conversely, the Marlins' Game 2 starter has been excellent over his last four starts. Jose Urena is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .211 off the 25-year-old righty in that span. Urena started the season as the Marlins' long man out of the bullpen, but his last 20 appearances have been starts.

Urena will mostly throw a mid-90s four-seam fastball but isn't a strikeout pitcher (76 punch outs in 109 1/3 innings). He'll throw his slider and changeup at about the same rate. He has a curve in his arsenal but rarely throws it.

4. Player to watch
Phillies: Since it's a doubleheader, let's pick two players. Hoskins and Nola are the obvious choices, so let's go with Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro

Both rookies have shined at times. Williams has tapered off a tad since a hot start, collecting just one extra-base hit in his last 42 at-bats. Alfaro had a solid road trip, going 5 for 16 with his first big league homer. The free-swinging catcher has yet to walk since his call up.

Marlins: It's Stanton. How could it be anyone else? He has a legitimate chance to be the first non-PED enhanced player to hit 60 home runs since Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961. As mentioned, he's also cleared waivers and could be part of a blockbuster trade by the end of this season or this winter. Could the Phillies be one of the teams bidding for his services? Stay tuned.

5. This and that
• Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford has played the last two games at third base. A shortstop by trade, Crawford has been scorching hot since returning from an injury and could get a look at the hot corner in September.

• The reason for Crawford's possible move to third base? Maikel Franco has been in a horrendous slump. Franco is hitting just .203 in August with just one homer and four RBIs. For the season he's hitting just .224 with a paltry .277 OBP.

• Lost in Stanton's laser show is the phenomenal play of outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna has a slash line of .306/.368/.539 with 27 homers and 93 RBIs.

• The Phillies and Marlins have split eight games this season. After four games at CBP this week, they'll meet for a four-game set in Miami and a three-game series back in Philly in September.