Trade talk: Michael Young stays ... for now

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Trade talk: Michael Young stays ... for now

The Phillies remain in trade talks with several teams about infielder Michael Young. There’s a hitch, though.

“He only wants to go to one team,” a person with knowledge of Young’s thinking said on Tuesday.

Young, who has a full no-trade clause, would OK a trade to the Texas Rangers. That was the word 24 hours before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline. Whether Young softens his stance as the deadline approaches remains to be seen. If he did, he wouldn’t be the first player to do so. In addition to Texas, Young has drawn interest from the Red Sox, Yankees and Orioles.

Young started at third base for the Phillies on Tuesday night. Before the game, he would not answer specific questions about which teams he’d accept a deal to and which ones he would not, but he did acknowledge speaking with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. about the topic Tuesday afternoon.

“I had a talk with Ruben today, but we’ll keep that confidential,” he said. “Those things deserve to stay between me and the Phillies. The last thing I want to do is make this thing bigger than it needs to be. The Phillies have been straightforward with me and I’m trying to do the same thing with them.”

Young was asked whether he believed he would still be a Phillie after Wednesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

“It’s difficult to say,” he said. “I really don’t know. I don’t know.”

Texas is an attractive destination for Young, 36, because he spent 12 seasons with the Rangers before joining the Phils in a trade last winter. Young’s wife and young children have remained in the Arlington, Texas area while he has played in Philadelphia. The Rangers are looking for a right-handed bat and Young could fill the need.

However, the Phils are not going to give Young away and so far have been underwhelmed by the Rangers’ offers.

Despite this hurdle, signs still point to Young being dealt. The Phillies on Tuesday afternoon recalled third-base prospect Cody Asche, 23, from Triple A Lehigh Valley and they did not bring him up to sit (see story). Manager Charlie Manuel said Asche would start at third on Wednesday night. Young could still find playing time at first base. However, Asche’s promotion makes it pretty clear the Phillies are banking on dealing Young. The team was under no pressure to bring up Asche.

During Young’s brief time with the Phillies, he has proven to be classy, mature and professional. He said he was not troubled by Asche’s arrival even though it could pinch his playing time if he remains with the Phillies.

“I love Cody,” Young said. “I think he’s a great kid and I’m going to help him any way I can. I hope Cody has a fantastic career. We worked together a lot in spring training. He bounced a lot of ideas off me and I want to help him any way I can. He’s a great kid and I hope the best for him. He’s going to have a great career. I want him to stay healthy and be the best he can be and, like I said, I’ll help him any way I can.”

Young said it was not difficult to concentrate on baseball during such a frenzied time.

“The only thing on my plate right now is tonight’s game and that’s what I’m focused on,” he said. “I want to win tonight. Whatever happens down the road happens down the road. The last thing I want to do is hamstring the team I’m playing for. I want to make sure this is a good relationship from start to finish. Like I said, I don’t think there is anything right now that is imminent, so my thoughts are on the game right now.”

Amaro, in an interview with MLB Network, said he did not expect Young to be traded. He also said he did not expect Cliff Lee to be traded. In Young’s case, that might be posturing. As for Lee, the Phillies are seeking a huge return in talent and that could spell Lee’s staying put. Boston has interest in Lee, but is reluctant to give up top prospect Xander Bogaerts. The Phillies would require him in any deal involving Lee.

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."