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Kids in the Clubhouse

Cliff Lee plays catch in the dugout with his son Jaxon, 8, before a game against the Giants on July 30, 2009.

Cliff Lee plays catch in the dugout with his son Jaxon, 8, before a game against the Giants on July 30, 2009.

One of the most interesting stories in Spring Training is Adam LaRoche‘s surprise retirement because the White Sox said he could not bring his son to the ballpark every day.

The story is crazy for a couple reasons:

  1. LaRoche surrendered $13 million in salary.
  2. He surrendered his salary because his boss said he could not bring his teenage son to work every day. Not ever, mind you. Just not every day.

Kids in the clubhouse is nothing new. Bob Boone‘s kids famously spent oodles of time in the Phillies’ clubhouse in the ’70s and ’80s. Since I’ve been covering the the Phillies, I’ve seen countless players bring their sons into the clubhouse. Some have them on the field before batting practice. Even more show up after a win. It is actually pretty cool to see, a child running up to his dad in a replica jersey and giving him a hug after a win.

But the Phillies have put limits on it. Generally, the rules have been this: children must leave once batting practice starts and they are allowed to return only after a win. They are reasonable rules and nobody seemed to abuse them. Nobody brought their son to the ballpark every day. Certainly no kid had his own locker.

I’ve talked to a few people about LaRoche’s stand this week and I’ve received different opinions. One person said he had absolutely no problem with LaRoche’s son being in the clubhouse. Everybody else, however, said it can be too much. And the problem is players are not going to confront a popular veteran teammate about bringing their son to work too much. Nobody wants to look like a jerk. Nobody wants to create a rift. And based on the reactions from Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, who called LaRoche’s kid a “leader” (say what?), they were right in doing what they probably did: Go to the front office to complain.

I think most players look at it like this: if you want to have your son around every once in a while, that’s cool. I imagine it’s an awesome experience for father and son. But they also must know this is a place of business with millions of dollars and jobs on the line. Some players don’t like any distractions. Some players are fighting like hell to make the team or keep their job. They’re there to work. Not that LaRoche wasn’t, but sometimes a good thing can be too much.

Mid-March Roster Projection

klentak springI spoke yesterday with Matt Klentak about the Phillies and how they have fared through the first half of Grapefruit League games.

Read that story here.

Because today is the Phillies’ only off day and because there are just 19 more days until Opening Day, I thought I’d give you my best guess at the Opening Day roster.

Here it is:

  • Rotation: Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. Velasquez entered camp the favorite for the No. 5 job and I believe he remains the favorite. First, he has the best stuff. Second, he is the prized piece of the Ken Giles trade and I believe the Phillies’ front office would like to have him out there. But I would not say Velasquez has a big lead over Adam Morgan. (I believe Brett Oberholtzer will end up in the bullpen, despite pitching well.) Morgan has pitched very well this spring. If Velasquez has trouble throwing strikes and Morgan keeps doing what he has been doing I would not be surprised to see Morgan in the rotation.
  • Bullpen: David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica, Brett Oberholtzer, Jeanmar Gomez, Dalier Hinojosa and Daniel Stumpf. Everything here assumes everybody is healthy, which Hernandez has not been early in camp. I feel pretty good about the first six relievers listed here — Oberholtzer is out of options, so he makes the team — but not as much about the Phillies’ second lefty in the pen. I give the edge to Stumpf because he is a Rule 5 pick and the Phillies have every incentive to keep him. Every other lefty in camp can be sent to the Minor Leagues. Bobby LaFromboise has pitched well, but he is on a Minor League contract. He is out of options, but that only would affect the Phillies if they wanted to send him back to Triple-A. He can start the season there. James Russell has pitched well, but he has a June 1 out clause. So the Phillies can start him in Triple-A, too. Having Stumpf on the Opening Day roster allows further evaluation of him. That should not be overlooked. But plenty can change in the final two weeks of Grapefruit League games. Remember last year? Rule 5 pick Andy Oliver looked untouchable the first two weeks of camp before the wheels fell off.
  • Catchers: Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp. No surprises here.
  • Infielders: Ryan Howard, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Andres Blanco and Darin Ruf. No surprises here, either.
  • Outfielders: Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel, David Lough and Cedric Hunter. I do not have Cody Asche listed because he has yet to play in a Grapefruit League game and he is running out of time to get ready for the season. Once he is healthy he should be back on the roster. Of course, that means a pair of non-roster invitees could be the team’s fourth and fifth outfielders. Klentak seems OK with that publicly, but they’ve got to add some depth there don’t they? Darnell Sweeney remains a candidate, but the Phillies keep talking about the importance of defense in the outfield, so Lough and Hunter have the edge.

Hey, I’m on Instagram!

Hey, I'm finally on Instagram. Follow me while I cover the Phillies.

A photo posted by Todd Zolecki (@toddzoleckimlb) on

So I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook.

I’m now on Instagram, too. So give me a follow @toddzoleckimlb where you can follow me on the Phillies’ beat this year.

Your Guide to Clearwater

clearwater beachHola, amigos.

Wow, it’s been 82 days since my last Zo Zone post. What the hell have I been doing? Mostly, I’ve been writing for MLB.com. Of course, I’ve always been writing for MLB.com, but over the past year I found myself staring at my computer screen more and more and muttering to myself, “How can I find a different way to write about Sean O’Sullivan making a spot start?”

In other words, too much of the blog duplicated what I wrote for MLB.com.

So I will be blogging less than I have in the past, but I hope when I blog it will be something different.

I’m back today because I got an email yesterday from a reader looking for recommendations for their upcoming trip to Clearwater. Here’s what I’ve got:

Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels near Bright House Field, but if you’re leaving the cold for Florida then why stay anywhere except near the beach? This accomplishes two things. First, you’re staying near the beach. Second, you’re not dreading the sometimes stop-and-go drive to the beach. Clearwater is notorious for terrible traffic, and that traffic is never as bad as it is on the weekends. Save yourself the hassle of getting to the beach by waking up there.

What to do other than watch baseball: I haven’t tried everything in Clearwater because — believe it or not — I’m mostly working. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a popular destination, but I can’t understand why. There is almost nothing there compared to other aquariums and poor Winter the Dolphin is in the saddest, smallest tank I’ve ever seen. Kids might get a kick out of it, but after visiting once it’s not a place I’d visit again. The Clearwater area has plenty of golf courses. If you’ve got money to spend, Innisbrook (where they host the Valspar Championship) is right up the road. But there are other less expensive alternatives. Dunedin Golf Club is a Donald Ross (Pinehurt No. 2, Aronimink, Gulph Mills, etc.) designed course. There is Belleview Biltmore, The Eagle courses and more. Played anywhere around here that you like? Let us know.

Where to eat: The food scene won’t rival Philly, but there are good places to go.

Here is Trip Advisor’s list for Best Restaurants in Clearwater. Here’s the Yelp! list. Don’t rely too much on them, but I mention them because they’re good to reference. I mean, Trip Advisor reviewers gave Carrabba’s its Certificate of Excellence Award and ranked Perkins 65th out of 510 restaurants. Say what?!?! It reminds me of the Onion article that said Olive Garden has been voted the best Italian restaurant in Milwaukee.

  • Island Way Grill. It might be the trendiest place near the beach. Good seafood and sushi. Good atmosphere. It seems to be the place every Phillies front office regular visits at least once before they head north. The folks who run Island Way also run Salt Rock Grill (Indian Rocks Beach), Rumba (near the ballpark) and the Marlin Darlin (Belleair Bluffs). They also are worth checking out.
  • Frenchy’s. There are four locations near or on the bench. If you want to find crusty sportswriters, head to Frenchy’s Original. Frenchy’s Rockaway is on the beach and typically has live music. Get a grouper sandwich, whichever restaurant you choose.
  • Columbia. It’s on Sand Key in a strip mall (fun fact: 95 percent of everything in Florida is in strip malls), but it has very good Cuban and Spanish food.
  • Villa Gallace (Indian Rocks Beach). If you’re looking for the best Italian food near the beach this is it. Some folks like Cesare near Clearwater Beach (Cliff Lee supposedly ate there occasionally).  I’ve been there twice, but I found the service to be absolutely dreadful. You won’t have that problem at Villa Gallace.
  • Aloha To Go (Indian Shores). This is about a 20-minute drive from Clearwater Beach –it’s past Villa Gallace — but I think it’s worth it. It’s a small place with just a few tables, but the Hawaiian food is very good. It’s relatively cheap, too. I discovered this place this spring and I’ve been back several times.
  • Haze Ice Cream (Indian Shores). Just a short drive from Aloha To Go, this joint serves fantastic homemade ice cream. Again it’s in Indian Shores, so it’s about a 20-minute drive from Clearwater Beach, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the craziness there. And this ice cream is worth it.
  • Guppy’s (Indian Rocks Beach). Good seafood. But get a reservation because the place is always packed and the wait is borderline ridiculous.
  • Clear Sky. It’s a breakfast spot near the beach. Good food and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar. I saw Hulk Hogan there once. He wasn’t happy when a lady approached him and asked for a picture with her daughter.
  • Lenny’s. It’s one of those places everybody seems to visit while they’re here. It’s got a following for a reason, but it’s no Honey’s or Green Eggs.
  • Cafe de Paris (Indian Rocks Beach). It’s a little cafe that has French pastries, crepes, quiches and coffee. If you’re not in the mood to wait in long lines to eat breakfast at Lenny’s, Clear Sky or Maggie Mae’s and you’re on the beach it is worth the drive.
  • Palm Pavilion is right next door to Frenchy’s Rockaway. It’s a popular spot on the weekends, but personally I’m no fan of the food, especially compared to Frenchy’s.
  • Cristino’s. It’s located before the causeway to the beach. Numerous sportswriters have been there and they like the pizza. Full disclosure: I have never been, but I’m mentioning it anyway because it’s No. 1 on the Trip Advisor list.
  • Smokin’ Rib Shack BBQ. This place is in Largo. Good, cheap BBQ served in styrofoam containers.
  • Kiku. It’s a sushi joint located upstairs from the Brown Boxer on Clearwater Beach and just around the corner of Frenchy’s Original. The sushi is good, but the service has been a nightmare in the past. That said, I haven’t been there this year, so perhaps the service has improved.
  • Ken Sushi and Asian Bistro. I found this spot on Gulf to Bay somewhat close to the ballpark. Really good, well-priced sushi.
  • Keegan’s (Indian Rocks Beach). Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which is either an endorsement or a reason to stay away, if you’re not a fan of Guy Frieri. Personally, I like it. I think the food is comparable to Guppy’s and I’ve found little to no wait.
  • Beachcomber. This place is popular with seniors. If you’re looking for a fun, relaxed place to have dinner this is not it.
  • The Brown Boxer. A good place to get a drink and watch March Madness, but please eat elsewhere.
  • Pete & Shorty’s. Very cheap bar food. Located relatively near the ballpark. One grizzled sportswriter absolutely loves this place, crushing sliders like he has a week to live.
  • Hooter’s. I guess there are people who would go here because it’s the original? Located next to Pete & Shorty’s.

There are some good very spots in Dunedin, particularly on Main Street. Check out that area if you’re looking to get out of Clearwater for a night.

What do you recommend? Need any tips about anything else for your trip here? Let me know.

Giles Talks Philly, Trade to Houston

Ken Giles

I spoke this afternoon to Ken Giles, whom the Phillies sent to Houston in a seven-player trade.

Here is his reaction:

What do you think about it and leaving Philly?
I’m going to miss the city of Philadelphia and the fans there. They were there for me since they drafted me and the Phillies helped me develop and get to the big leagues. Stuff like this happens. It’s a business and you’ve got to move on. I know they’re rebuilding. Matt told me how the organization thought so highly of me and how the fans will love me there. He said it was really hard to let someone like me go. He has to look out for what’s best for the organization and I understand that. He’s looking out for me as well. It’s one of those things like, I wish the Phillies the best of luck. Sooner rather than later something special is going to happen in that organization.

Maybe you’ll get to face them in the World Series in a few years.
Hey, you never know. Maybe I’ll be the guy everybody in Philly hates just because I was a Phillie then won a World Series against them. You never know. I could be that guy.

Houston took a big step forward this year. You could be pitching in a lot of big games the next several years.
I’m very excited to be part of what they have going on right now. I watched them throughout the season and postseason. They were just unbelievable, doing something incredible last year. It was just really special to watch. Even though they got knocked out they should be proud of themselves. That’s a big accomplishment. To be able to go into that organization like that, I’m very happy to be a part of it.

The Astros said no bullpen roles have been determined. I know you want to close, but does it matter to you?
As of right now I’m just there to be a good teammate and do anything I can to help them take that next step forward. That’s all I’m going to focus on. Whatever they decide, that’s their decision. I’m going to be a good team player. Whatever they want me to do, if that’s what’s best for the team that’s what I’m going to do.

Bourjos Joins Phillies’ Outfield

PHI_BourjosThis afternoon the Phillies claimed outfielder Peter Bourjos off waivers from the Cardinals.

Read more about here, including how it affects Jeff Francoeur and the rest of the Phillies’ outfield.

Here is some of what Bourjos said today in a telephone interview with MLB.com:

Probably not surprised this happened?
I was kind of expecting it. I didn’t feel like I would be back in St. Louis just because of the amount of outfielders there are there. And I didn’t really play a whole lot the second half of the year, so there really wasn’t too much of a fit. So I felt like something was going to happen. Either I was going to be traded or non-tendered or claimed off waivers.

The Phillies had been interested in you for a few years. Were you aware of that at all?
Yeah, I heard some of the rumors. I think sometimes came when I wasn’t a playing a whole lot, so I saw the rumors and I thought, ‘Oh, that’d be a cool fit.’ It would be a good place to play and maybe just get an opportunity to play because the roles I’ve been in there wasn’t a whole lot of playing time. It was kind of fifth outfielder, late-inning defense and pinch-running and a few at-bats here or there.

Do you know Matt Klentak pretty well?
Yeah, I got to know him well in Anaheim. He was one of my favorite guys. Every time I saw him down in the clubhouse I really enjoyed talking to him. I was excited when I saw him get the GM job.

How do you get back to the success you had 2011? I guess regular playing time would help, right?
Yeah, that would help a lot. Really since 2011 … in 2013 I was probably off to my best start and I was playing every day. Then I pulled my hamstring and I broke my wrist, so that year was lost. And every other year it’s been inconsistent playing time. Going back to 2012, Mike Trout got called up and I was in that fifth outfielder spot, going in for defense. Really in St. Louis it was kind of the same role. I played a little bit more early in the year, go off to a slow start then didn’t play a whole lot. Then last year it was really consistent when I did get at-bats.

Look at this as a fresh start for you?
Yeah, absolutely. But I think at the end of the day you have to take advantage of the situation and go out and play well. Nothing is going to be handed to anybody. That’s my goal going into Spring Training. Try to earn playing time. Try to play well and have good, consistent at-bats.

Could you play the corners if needed or asked?
Obviously, I enjoy playing center, but my answer to that question is I just want to play. I don’t care where I play. I just want to be out there and contributing. I’d be open to anything. I can’t remember the last time I’ve played a corner. It may have been in high school, so it’s been a while. Obviously there is different spin in the corners, but it’s something you can adjust to.

Brown’s Time Is Up, Outrighted

Domonic BrownDomonic Brown‘s time with the Phillies is up.

The Phillies this afternoon outrighted Brown from the 40-man roster, effectively ending his nine-year career with the organization. Brown, 28, made the 2013 National League All-Star team, three years after he had been considered one of the top prospects in baseball, but he had struggled since.

Brown had a .650 OPS from the 2013 All-Star break through this season, which ranked 289th out of 339 qualified hitters in baseball, and 16th lowest among 133 outfielders. That, combined with the emergence of other outfielders in the system and his second year of salary-arbitration eligibility, made his departure a certainty. Brown has the right to decline an assignment to the Minor Leagues and become a free agent, which is expected.

“It just didn’t work out,” interim general manager Scott Proefrock said. “We’ve decided we’ve got players who deserve the playing time more than Domonic does.”

The Phillies also outrighted prospects Tommy Joseph and Kelly Dugan and outfielder Brian Bogusevic. The Phillies acquired Joseph in July 2012 from the Giants in the Hunter Pence trade, but concussions derailed a promising catching career. Joseph, who remains under the Phillies’ control next season, moved to first base this year, and the Phillies remain hopeful he can produce enough offensively to become an option at first base in the future.

“There’s an opportunity here, if he can swing the bat and play the position,” Proefrock said. “We don’t really have a first baseman at the upper levels.”

Dugan, the Phillies’ top pick in the 2009 Draft, had been saddled with injuries and was passed on the depth chart by other outfielders. He can become a Minor League free agent five days after the World Series. Bogusevic, like Brown, can immediately become a free agent.

Brown’s exodus is the most notable of the Phillies’ latest roster purge. Just a few years ago, the Phillies believed they had a superstar in the making in the 20th-round selection in the 2006 Draft. But other than a strong first half in 2013, Brown never lived up to the hype.

He was ranked No. 4 among all prospects in 2011. Two of the three players ranked ahead of him were the Angels’ Mike Trout (No. 1) and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (No. 3).

Today’s announcement follows another two weeks ago when the Phillies outrighted right-hander Justin De Fratus, infielder Chase d’Arnaud, outfielder Jordan Danks, catcher Erik Kratz and left-handers Adam Loewen and Ken Roberts. Right-hander Jonathan Pettibone also was outrighted after being activated from the 60-day disabled list.

MacPhail Officially Replaces Gillick as President

Veteran baseball executive Andy MacPhail, right, speaks during a news conference with Philadelphia Phillies part-owner John Middleton before a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The transition is official.

The Phillies announced this morning that Andy MacPhail has officially replaced Pat Gillick as team president. He had been introduced as the incoming president at a news conference in June, but with the caveat that Gillick would remain at the helm through the end of the season.

“As the Phillies begin this new chapter in the club’s history, we are confident that Andy is the right person to lead the organization,” Phillies partner John Middleton said in a statement. “Speaking on behalf of the ownership group, we are pleased with the input Andy has provided over the past few months. His years of baseball knowledge, combined with his passion for the game, are important as he moves forward with his primary objective of developing a championship-caliber team.”

But MacPhail, 62, clearly has not been sitting and waiting for Wednesday to begin making changes. He was very involved before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. He decided Ruben Amaro Jr. would not return as general manager. He also decided Pete Mackanin would remain manager.

MacPhail has been interviewing candidates to replace Amaro, a group that reportedly includes Larry Beinfest, Kim Ng and Ross Atkins. Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo and Angels assistant Matt Klentak also could be candidates, among others.

MacPhail has said he hopes to announce Amaro’s replacement before the end of the month.

Gillick, who replaced David Montgomery as president in Aug. 2014, said last month he did not know about his future with the organization, but Middleton said Gillick will remain for now.

“I would also like to thank Pat Gillick for, once again, providing invaluable leadership to the Phillies for the past 14 months,” Middleton said. “He will continue to assist the front office in an advisory role.”

Gillick, 78, has a small ownership stake with the Phillies, so if he wanted to join a different organization he would have to sell his share.

De Fratus, Others Outrighted

Justin De FratusThe Phillies have started to clean up its 40-man roster in preparation for a potentially busy offseason.

They announced this afternoon they had outrighted the following players from the roster: right-hander Justin De Fratus; infielder Chase d’Arnaud; outfielder Jordan Danks; catcher Erik Kratz; and left-handers Adam Loewen and Ken Roberts. Right-hander Jonathan Pettibone also was outrighted after being activated from the 60-day disabled list.

“I can’t tell you we would rule out resigning any of these guys,” interim general manager Scott Proefrock said. “We’re just trying to clear up space on the roster. These guys were the first group that we decided to take off.”

De Fratus, Kratz, d’Arnaud and Loewen have the rights to become free agents immediately. De Fratus, Loewen and Kratz were eligible for salary arbitration. Pettibone and Danks can become Minor League free agents five days following the World Series.

Roberts will remain in the Phillies’ system.

De Fratus is the most notable name in the group to be outrighted because he spent the entire season with the team. He went 0-2 with a 5.51 ERA in 61 appearances this season after going 7-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 130 appearances from 2011-14. The Phillies viewed him as a long man by the end of the season, which made the idea of going into salary arbitration with him unappealing.

“We thought there were other guys that had passed him, quite frankly,” Proefrock said.

Expect the roster transformation to continue as the offseason continues.

“I’d say we’re going to be active in continuing this process,” Proefrock said. “We’re trying to get ready for free agency and the other opportunities that present itself in the offseason, whether it be the Rule 5 Draft or Minor League free agents, giving ourselves the best opportunity to be as aggressive as possible as the calendar moves forward.”

Affeldt Wrong About Philly’s Impact on Free Agents

affledt 2Hola, amigos. I know it’s been a while since I last rapped at ya … but I just read Jeremy Affeldt‘s farewell column on SI.com, where he listed the five things he will not miss about baseball.

Fifth on the list? Philadelphia.

Why? The terrible, terrible fans.

Affeldt wrote, “The irony is, while Phillies fans succeed in making many players dread traveling there, they also (not surprisingly) impact the decision-making process of those same players in free agency. Sure, it’s great to play for a rabid fan base, but after experiencing firsthand how powerful that fervor can be when it is channeling extreme negativity, it really makes you think twice about where all that collective anger comes from, and whether you want to subject yourself and your family to that all the time.”

But let’s be real about this. It’s easy to sit in the visitors’ bullpen at Citizens Bank Park and tell your teammate, “I’d never sign here. Not for all the money in the world.” It’s something entirely different to get a competitive offer from the Phillies in the offseason and say, “Nope. Not signing there.”

Affeldt is in the final season of a three-year, $18 million contract. That’s great money for a relief pitcher. Perhaps Affeldt truly is the exception to the rule, but hypothetically speaking if the Giants decided not to resign him following the 2012 season and the Phillies offered him that three-year, $18 million contract, I bet his concerns about Phillies fans would have disappeared. You see, money rules, almost without exception. Jim Thome is one of baseball’s all-time good guys, but he left Cleveland for the mean streets of Philly because the Phillies offered him the biggest contract. Cliff Lee took less money to come to Philly because he loved his time here so much in 2009. Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt waived no-trade clauses to come to Philly because they wanted to win. Raul Ibanez is one of baseball’s all-time good guys. He came to Philly, too.

But this happens everywhere. Not just Philadelphia. Free agents almost always go where the best contract is.

So don’t let Affeldt worry you. There aren’t groups of free agents steering their agents away from Philadelphia because the fans are mean. Are there a few players that might feel this way? Does Philly’s reputation gives some players some pause? I’m sure there are. But quite honestly, those players probably wouldn’t succeed in Philly anyway. If they’re that concerned about the fans then it’s probably for the best.

But to say Phillies fans truly impact the decision-making process in free agency is hyperbole. Believe me, if the money is there or the team is winning (or both, which was the case from 2007-11) the Phillies won’t have any problems signing anybody they want in the future. In fact, I have absolutely no doubt that when the Phillies decide to reenter the free agency pool in a big way they will do just that.

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