Report: Phillies still a player for A.J. Burnett

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Report: Phillies still a player for A.J. Burnett

The Phillies are "very much still in the running" for A.J. Burnett, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reported Monday night. This comes three days after GM Ruben Amaro Jr. cautioned against any more major moves coming.

Amaro said last Friday that it appeared the Phils would head into spring training with the rotation they had. 

“I don’t suspect we’ll be doing anything,” the Phillies' GM told CSNPhilly.com Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury. “I think we’ve got what we’ve got. I suspect we’ll go into the season with what we’ve got -- or at least spring training with what we’ve got. We’re always looking, always trolling. I know there are guys out there, but I don’t suspect us having anything major coming through.”

Burnett would certainly qualify as a "major" upgrade to a very thin Phillies staff. He led the NL with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2013 and has the second-best groundball rate in the majors since 2012.

The Burnett saga this offseason has had many stops and starts. At first, retirement seemed to be his choice. Then it appeared he wanted to pitch only for the Pirates, or perhaps the Orioles, since he's a resident of suburban Baltimore. But other teams have entered the mix since the retirement option went out the window, and East Coast teams seem to have the advantage.

Adding Burnett would give the Phillies a rotation that could contend. He'd slot in either in between or after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. After the ace lefties, the Phillies have Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez destined for the rotation, with Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone the top candidates for the final spot.

If the Phillies did bring in Burnett, they'd have a rotation that could rival the NL's top staffs in Washington and Los Angeles. The Nationals' top-four of Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister is the deepest in the NL, but the Dodgers' top-three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu might be the best in a short series.

The Cardinals (Adam Wainwright-Michael Wacha-Shelby Miller-Jaime Garcia-Lance Lynn) and Giants (Matt Cain-Madison Bumgarner-Tim Lincecum-Tim Hudson) also have formidable rotations, further showing how tough it will be for the Phillies to navigate through the NL, with or without Burnett.

The Orioles, Pirates and Blue Jays seem to be the Phillies' clear competition for Burnett, who could likely be had on a one-year deal worth upwards of the $16.5 million he made in 2013.

But Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported over the weekend that the O's are likely out on Burnett. "Feeling is he wants to pitch in NL," Kubatko tweeted.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are a reported suitor for Ervin Santana, which would take them out of the Burnett sweepstakes.

Signing Burnett hasn't been the Phillies' main goal this offseason, but a lot of their moves -- re-signing Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, doing little to improve the bullpen, opting for all low-cost commitments -- make much more sense if they result in the ability to land Burnett. 

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."

Phillies games to stream live on CSNPhilly.com, NBC Sports App in 2017

Phillies games to stream live on CSNPhilly.com, NBC Sports App in 2017

Phillies fans, you will be able to watch all of your team's games on a live stream on CSNPhilly.com during the 2017 season.

The live streaming service will be available at no additional cost to authenticated CSN Philadelphia and TCN Philadelphia subscribers as part of an agreement between NBC Sports Regional Networks and Major League Baseball Advanced Media that was announced today.

Fans of the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants can also stream their team's games on their local CSN websites.

The addition of Major League Baseball games completes a local streaming portfolio for NBC's Regional Sports Networks. The RSNs began streaming local NBA games in 2014 and added local NHL games this season. Authenticated subscribers have the ability to access their team's games when traveling outside of their region, provided they are within the U.S.

In addition to being able to watch a live stream of all Phillies game action, authenticated CSN subscribers will be able to watch Pregame Live and Postgame Live before and after the game.

Authenticated CSN subscribers wishing to stream their local MLB, NBA or NHL team on their desktop, mobile device, tablet or connected TV must first download the NBC Sports app. It is powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.