Rollins is available, but the market appears thin

083113_phillies-loss-rollins.jpg

Rollins is available, but the market appears thin

The Phillies' entire roster is available for the right price, and as Buster Olney reminded on Monday, that includes shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

The Phils shopped Rollins at the 2013 trade deadline but a move was never worked out, mostly because Rollins stated his desire to remain with the team that drafted him.

Because Rollins has at least 10 years of service time with at least five coming with the same team, he has full no-trade rights. So if the Phillies want to deal him to a team in need of a shortstop, like the Twins for example, they'd need Rollins' permission. And there's pretty much no way he'd say yes.

Though the demand for shortstops outweighs the supply, the Phillies are in a bit of a bind when it comes to Rollins. He'll be unwilling to waive his no-trade rights to go to a non-contender, and that means that any team interested in him will have leverage over the Phillies.

Which contenders are in need of a short-term solution at shortstop? Perhaps the Red Sox, if they trust Xander Bogaerts more at third base. Every other AL contender is set, though. In the NL, you're looking at the Pirates and Reds.

So even if Rollins is willing to waive his no-trade rights to go to a contender, there are only three fits, one of which (Boston) is unlikely. Cincinnati is set to start Zack Cozart at short, and Pittsburgh has Clint Barmes and Jordy Mercer -- shaky options at best. 

Cozart had a .284 on-base percentage last season, Barmes doesn't get on base or hit for power, and Mercer performed well in limited duty last season but has just 145 games of major-league experience.

Rollins' defense and baserunning have slipped slightly, but he's still on the elite level in both categories and could help both NL Central clubs. His offense has dipped significantly -- he slugged 27 points lower last year than ever before -- but he's still probably a better option for one or two years than Barmes, Mercer or Cozart.

The issue is that since there are so few fits for his services, the Phillies don't have much leverage. If they want to rid themselves of his contract -- $11 million for 2013, with an easily vestible option at the same price for 2014 -- they won't get much of anything in return. It's another Jonathan Papelbon situation.

It still might make sense to deal Rollins for nothing but salary relief. The Phillies have Freddy Galvis ready to step in, and although Galvis provides no offense whatsoever, his defense would make him nearly as valuable as Rollins. (That's if and only if 2013 was a sign of things to come and not an aberration. After all, Rollins did hit 23 homers the year before.)

The likely reason the Phils want to move Rollins is for that salary relief. As we outlined over the weekend, they are dangerously close to the $165 million mark that Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team doesn't wish to exceed. And they have holes to fill on the bench and in the bullpen, and could use another decent starting pitcher.

This is, again, why you don't re-sign all of your veterans while trying to rebuild the farm system at the same time.

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."