Phils have failed to get younger, better so far

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Phils have failed to get younger, better so far

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has already made some moves this offseason, but as baseball's annual winter meetings approach, the club still isn't any younger.

CSNPhilly.com Phillies insider Jim Salisbury thinks the offseason has been different, just not in the way one might have expected.

"I think, looking at this offseason so far for the Phils, it's been lackluster," Salisbury said on SportsNite on Comcast SportsNet. "Age has been a big issue with this team the last few years, everyone getting older and older and older. One of their stated goals was to get younger and they haven't gotten any younger.

"It's an offseason unlike previous ones in that they haven't gone after big names. They're conscious of where their payroll is, conscious of having so many guys making $20 million or more on their roster. And they're looking at that midrange free-agent market. And looking at it on the whole, they've kind of run in circles this offseason.

"They haven't gotten any younger, and I don't think they've gotten any better."

The Phillies re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million deal and brought Marlon Byrd in for two years, $16 million.

Both players will at least 35 years old by opening day. While the club hopes that Ruiz bounces back after a subpar 2013 season, Amaro has bet on Byrd's bat staying hot after setting a career high in slugging percentage last year (.847).

While the Byrd deal may have resulted in ridicule in some circles, the choice to tender a contract offer to John Mayberry Jr. earlier this week caused even more noise.

However, Salisbury suggests a contract wouldn't automatically guarantee that he will be on the roster on opening day.

"When you look at this team, the only two guys I can tell you that will be there on opening day are Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee," Salisbury said. "There was a big uproar when they decided to offer Mayberry a contract. Many of them felt like it was time to say goodbye. I think there could be more at work here. I don't think they wanted to worsen his value in the trade market. I think he could be traded before opening day -- sooner rather than later -- but there's a chance he will be traded. If not, he's a backup outfielder for this club."

While there are a number of players vying for spots in the outfield, the Phillies' bullpen still serves as a question mark, and Amaro has taken steps to add a strong arm to the bullpen.

By trading away catcher Erik Kratz and prospect Rob Rasmussen to the Blue Jays, the Phillies brought in Brad Lincoln, a former fourth overall selection. He has a live arm, and if he can get it under control, he will be an asset. But he has question marks surrounding him, just like the rest of the bullpen.

"They're still trying to rebuild their bullpen," Salisbury said. "They're keeping their fingers crossed that what they saw from Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg late last season was a harbinger of the success to come. They're hopeful that they'll have Mike Adams back sometime in the month of April, maybe early May, and they're hoping Jonathan Papelbon rebounds. But they're still looking to add pieces."

The winter meetings begin in Orlando, Fla. on Dec. 9.

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 clich√© 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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