Quiet trade deadline comes and goes for Phillies

slideshow-073113-phillies-amaro-uspresswire.jpg

Quiet trade deadline comes and goes for Phillies

As late as 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Michael Young was telling people he believed he’d be traded.

But when game time arrived 4 ½ hours later, Young was in the Phillies’ starting lineup.

The 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline came and went Wednesday without Young, long rumored to be on the move, going anywhere.

Texas? No.

Boston? No.

New York? No.

Young said he would have waived his no-trade clause to go to more than one destination, but the Phillies did not pull the trigger on the 36-year-old infielder who, by the way, is in the final year of his contract and quite expendable because the team wants to watch young Cody Asche play third base for the final two months of this lost season.

So why no deal?

The offers for Young were lackluster and the Phillies simply don’t want to give him away. He could still be traded in a waiver deal in August if the demand for him increases.

“I guess the bottom line is we didn’t find anything that was satisfactory,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “Nothing that we thought was going to improve us. We asked for certain players we thought would be helpful for us now and in the future. Teams weren’t willing to give up what we wanted, so we decided not to do anything.”

Amaro, who has been very active at the trade deadline in recent seasons, made no deals this year, and that’s actually a sad commentary on the state of the Phillies. A couple of weeks ago, he tried to land an outfielder and some bullpen help, but the Phils’ minor-league system is so thin he could not afford to meet the prices of other teams. When the Phillies turned into sellers on their recent 1-8 road trip, he couldn’t get enough in return to even move his aging players. In addition to Young, catcher Carlos Ruiz stayed put. Closer Jonathan Papelbon drew little interest because of his recent poor performance and high salary ($26 million over the next two seasons.) Cliff Lee stayed put because no team would part with the huge amount of young talent it would take to get him.

“Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make,” Amaro said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying to do them. It’s not that the trade deadline means no more trades. We’ll continue to try to improve the club. That can happen after the deadline. It’s just a little more difficult.”

Players must clear waivers in order to be dealt after July 31. Sometimes that happens. The Phillies acquired Matt Stairs and Jamie Moyer in waiver trades. They also shipped out Joe Blanton in a waiver trade. But there’s also a possibility that trades get blocked by waiver claims. In that case, the Phils can pull the player off waivers if they choose.

It’s likely the Phillies will float a slew of their players on waivers now that the deadline has passed. It’s a way to gain trade flexibility in case a good deal comes down the pike. It’s also a good way to gauge which teams are interested in your players for future deals. Teams that make claims acknowledge that they are ready to take on a big contract if they are awarded that player. That’s why it will be interesting to see what happens if/when the Phils put Papelbon on waivers. He has worn out his welcome with some folks in the organization and $26 million of payroll flexibility might come in handy. Then again, as Amaro pointed out, there is value in having a proven closer like Papelbon, especially with the Phils hoping to rebound next season.

Though Amaro will continue to look to deal some of his older players now that the non-waiver trade deadline has passed, his next order of business might be hammering out a contract extension with Chase Utley. For the first time, Amaro acknowledged Wednesday that the two sides are negotiating.

“Hopefully, we can get to the finish line,” he said.

Utley will play at 35 next season and has a history of knee problems, but Amaro said, “He’s out there playing like a 28-year-old right now.” Utley makes $15 million this season. A two-year extension similar to Carlos Beltran’s two-year, $26 million contract with St. Louis would seem to make sense.

Over these next two months, the Phillies will look at Asche at third base and Darin Ruf will continue to get reps at first base as the team assesses what it has going into the offseason. At some point, Roy Halladay (shoulder) and Ryan Howard (knee) will return, as well. Domonic Brown (concussion) is expected back in a week or so (see story).

Young, acquired last winter to play third base, could lose playing time to Asche, but he said he was not troubled by that. He is confident that manager Charlie Manuel will continue to find him at-bats for the rest of the season or until he is moved in a waiver trade.

“I told Ruben all along if nothing happens, I’m happy to stay here in Philly,” Young said. “If they couldn’t make a deal that wasn’t going to help the team, I wouldn’t expect them to.”

Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

uspresswire-cardinals-paul-dejong.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

BOX SCORE

Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.