The Phillies recently spent $42 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd, and barring a big move from Ruben Amaro Jr. those signings could be the end of their offensive upgrades for 2014. Every position is set, unless Amaro trades somebody like Domonic Brown or Ben Revere or some starting pitching to add a bat. It seems clear the front office is entering next season the same way it entered this past season: hoping a healthier roster is enough to return them to the postseason. The Phillies thought a healthier Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in 2013 would provide a big boost. The theory had some merit. The Phillies were 45-57 on July 29, 2012, before they traded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. They finished 36-24 for the fifth-best record in the National League. They thought they had momentum. They thought they saw signs of the former five-time NL East champions.
But that hope is a harder sell following a 73-89 finish in 2013, the organization’s worst since they lost 97 games in 2000. The Phillies scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball lats season.
Not only do the Phillies need Howard and Ben Revere healthy and productive, they need bounce back seasons from Ruiz (he had his worst season since 2008) and Jimmy Rollins (he had the worst season of his career), Byrd to prove a career-year at 35 wasn’t a fluke, Brown to prove he can replicate his breakout season and Utley to prove he can stay healthy two years in a row.
It seems like a lot of things need to break perfectly for the Phillies to score more runs next year.
Thoughts on this potential lineup for 2014?
- Revere, CF
- Rollins, SS
- Utley, 2B
- Howard, 1B
- Byrd, RF
- Brown, LF
- Ruiz, C
- Cody Asche, 3B
The Phillies today announced they have signed infielder Reid Brignac to a Minor League contract with an invitation to big-league Spring Training.
Brignac, 27, hit a combined .185 with a .480 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 98 plate appearances last season with the Rockies and Yankees. He has hit .221 with a .573 OPS in a six-year career with the Rays, Rockies and Yankees.
He has played shortstop, second base and third base in his career, as well as the corner outfield positions.
Brignac could compete for a utility infield job, although Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis are expected to be the favorites for those two spots.
A source today confirmed multiple reports the Phillies and Ruiz have agreed to a three-year, $26 million deal. The deal includes a $4.5 million club option or $500,000 buyout for 2017. He also can make an additional $500,000 per season if he starts 125 games, something he has never accomplished in his 10-year big-league career.
An official announcement could come later this week.
Ruiz, who turns 35 in January, carried a combined .829 OPS from 2009-12. That ranked second among 13 qualifying catchers in baseball. Only Minnesota’s Joe Mauer, who is being converted to a first baseman next season, had been better with an .891 OPS. But Ruiz posted a .688 mark last season, which ranked 23rd of 25 catchers with 300 or more plate appearances. It was his worst season at the plate since 2008. He also served a 25-game suspension for using Adderall, a banned stimulant, although FOXSports.com recently reported Ruiz has received a medical exemption for its use.
But Ruiz still had more than his share of suitors. ESPN.com reported the Red Sox had seriously pursued him because of his game-calling capabilities. The Rockies also made an offer. But in the end the Phillies guaranteed a third year and increased the average annual value of the deal to keep him in red pinstripes.
That the Phillies guaranteed an extra year is not a complete surprise. Ruiz helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series, he is greatly admired among coaches and players and pitchers love throwing to him, most notably free-agent right-hander Roy Halladay.
The Phillies also had no internal options, and the external ones had their own flaws. The Phillies had hoped a big season from prospect Tommy Joseph in 2013 could force them to make a tough decision, but a concussion ruined his season in Triple-A. There were a few free-agent catchers on the market, but the best ones hit left-handed and the Phillies are starved for right-handed hitters in the lineup.
The fact Ruiz hits right-handed should not be undersold. The Phillies ranked 11th in the National League with a .679 OPS against left-handers last season. Their only other right-hander in the lineup is outfielder Marlon Byrd, who the Phillies recently signed to a two-year, $16 million deal.
But Ruiz’s age, position, injury history (he has been on the disabled list each of the previous five seasons) and 2013 performance at the plate make this deal a risky one. The Phillies hope Ruiz’s finish last season – he posted a .795 OPS in his final 43 games – is a sign he will be OK at the plate.
Either way, the Phillies have checked catcher and corner outfielder from the offseason to-do list. Next up: improve the second-worst pitching staff in the National League.
The Phillies announced shortly after the 2013 season Wally Joyner would not return as assistant hitting coach.
They announced a little more than a week later he had changed his mind.
But then today the Phillies announced Joyner left the organization again to “pursue other opportunities.” Sources confirmed a FOXSports.com report Joyner will become the new Tigers hitting coach.
Those sources also said former Phillies catching and bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer will be named Tigers bullpen coach.
Joyner received high marks this season from players, particularly leftfielder Domonic Brown, who enjoyed a breakout season. Steve Henderson is the Phillies’ head hitting coach. The Phillies are expected to hire somebody to replace Joyner.
Billmeyer was one of the most well-liked people in the clubhouse and organization because of his high-energy personality, positivity and sense of humor. It is why the Phillies moved him into the dugout this season.
The Phillies still remain without a pitching coach since deciding not to renew Rich Dubee’s contract. They are still interviewing candidates. A source said they recently interviewed former Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis.
The Phillies previously offered the job to Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell and Pirates special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict.
The Phillies today announced they had signed four player to Minor League contracts with invitations to Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., as non-roster players: right-hander Shawn Camp, left-hander Cesar Jimenez, and outfielder Clete Thomas and Leandro Castro.
More certainly will be announced later.
Camp, 37, went 1-1 with a 7.04 ERA in 26 appearances last season with the Cubs, who released him in July. He signed a Minor League contract with the Diamondbacks, and posted a 2.42 ERA in 22 1/3 innings with Triple-A Reno. Camp has a 4.40 ERA in a 10-year career with the Roayls, Rays, Blue Jays and Cubs.
Jimenez, 29, went 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings last season with the Phillies. He is pitching in Winter Ball in Venezuela.
Thomas, 30, hit .214 with four home runs and 13 RBIs in 92 games last season with the Twins. He played all three positions in the outfield. He has played 249 games in his big-league career with the Tigers and Twins.
Castro, 24, hit .256 with 23 doubles, one triple, eight homers, 55 RBIs and 20 stolen bases last season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He hit .328 against left-handers, and also played all three outfield positions. He is playing Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic.
But what type of right-handed bat are they getting?
Byrd, 36, hit .291 with 24 home runs, 88 RBIs and an .847 OPS in 147 games last season with the Mets and Pirates. It was the best year of his career, but it also followed the worst year of his career. He hit a combined .210 with one home run, nine RBIs and a .488 OPS in 47 games with the Cubs and Red Sox in 2012 before he served a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug policy.
Byrd, whose deal includes a club/vesting option for 2016, could not find another job in baseball, so he headed to Mexico to play Winter Ball, where he resurrected his career before signing a Minor League deal with the Mets.
“We’re just looking for the best bang for our buck,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We have a lot of holes to fill. Again, we won’t be able to fill them all from outside, but we’re trying to get the best value we possibly can.”
It remains to be seen if Byrd is a good value or not. He had a .353 batting average on balls in play this season, which is 28 points higher than his career average and 56 points higher than the big-league average in 2013. He also struck out a career-high 144 times.
Byrd’s deal raised some eyebrows at the GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla., because of the money and the fact the Phillies moved so aggressively. But Mets general manager Sandy Alderson he wasn’t surprised by the deal.
“Not really,” he said. “Given what we’ve seen so far, I wasn’t surprised. Had you asked me the question three or four months ago, I might have been surprised. But not in light of what’s happened since the end of the season. There haven’t been that many signings, but this one is consistent with the others.”
“We’ve already made offers on several players,” he said from Arizona, where he is watching some of the organization’s top young talent in the Arizona Fall League.
Amaro declined to divulge names, but he can be aggressive. He moved quickly in Nov. 2011, when he signed closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract. Knowing there is a lack of power hitters available, perhaps Amaro is making a push to sign one. They need right-handed hitters in the worst way.
Nelson Cruz, 33, fits the bill. He hits right-handed, although he served a 50-game suspension last season and is not a defensive stalwart. Amaro has stressed the Phillies need to improve its outfield defense.
Carlos Beltran and Mike Morse also are free agents. The Phillies have tried to acquire them in the past. (Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said yesterday on SiriusXM that one team already has made an offer to Beltran.) The two biggest free-agent outfielders are Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, but they are expected to sign elsewhere.
Amaro said in September resigning catcher Carlos Ruiz was a top priority, but he couched that possibility this week.
“Well, we’re fortunate now that it’s kind of opened up,” Amaro said of the free-agent market. “There are several candidates that could be our catcher next year. We’ll see what happens. I mean, we’re in the open season.”
If the Phillies cannot resign Ruiz, there are options like Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski. But McCann hits left-handed and seems destined to join an American League team. Pierzynski also hits left-handed, and Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter that has a career .599 OPS hitting from the right side.
The Phillies could sign a less expensive catcher like Dioner Navarro, which would allow them to spend money elsewhere. But Ruiz seems like the best of the bunch, although he turns 35 in January and is coming off his worst offensive season since 2008.
The Phillies also are trying to upgrade their pitching staff, but if Amaro is trying to be aggressive, improving an anemic offense – the Phillies tied for 26th in baseball with just 610 runs scored – might be the place to start.
UPDATE: Wanted to clarify something about Freedman. He is not a full-time Phillies employee. MLB is paying his salary as part of a partnership with the Phillies, although the Phillies have the opportunity to hire him permanently once his externship concludes before the beginning of the regular season.
They do not.
They have interviewed or contacted at least seven candidates: Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, Pirates special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict, Mariners special assistant to the general manager Pete Vuckovich, Phillies bullpen coach Rod Nichols, Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius, Triple-A Lehigh Valley pitching coach Ray Burris and Triple-A Durham pitching coach Neil Allen.
McDowell had been their top choice once the Reds made Bryan Price manager, but after the Phillies spoke with McDowell late last week the Braves announced Saturday he had agreed to a two-year extension. Benedict could have been offered the job – he impressed in his interview and has a strong track record with Pirates pitchers – but a source said today he recently told the Phillies he will remain with the Pirates.
Oddly, former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone tweeted yesterday to the Phillies’ official Twitter account: “I would be very interested in being your pitching coach. #championshipball.” But one source said his name had not been discussed.
So what’s next?
“We’re still doing our due diligence,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said today.
Asked if he is surprised or frustrated it has taken so long to find somebody to replace former pitching coach Rich Dubee, Amaro said, “We’re just trying to get the right guy. We’re still looking through candidates.”
He said he still likes some of the candidates the Phillies have interviewed, and possible candidates they have not interviewed. But clearly the Phillies have watched some of their favorites fall off the board.
Ruben Amaro Jr.’s search for a pitching coach is heating up.
Pitching coach Roger McDowell’s contract with the Braves expired at midnight Thursday, which allows the Phillies to formally contact him.
It is a near certainty they have.
MLB.com reported as early as Oct. 22 the Phillies and McDowell could get together. The Braves have invited McDowell to return next season, but he still has not signed a contract. (Sources said McDowell is one of the lowest-paid pitching coaches in the game.) Meanwhile, the Phillies have interviewed at least six candidates for the job, but the fact they have not hired anybody indicates they have been waiting to speak to somebody.
That somebody is McDowell.
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman wrote yesterday that McDowell met this week with Braves general manager Frank Wren. Bowman wrote “the meeting did not lead to an immediate resolution.” If the Phillies make McDowell an offer, he certainly can circle back to Wren, get a much-deserved raise and return to Atlanta.
But the Phillies are going to make a run at him anyway.
It would be a nice coup for the Phillies, who are replacing Rich Dubee after nine seasons. McDowell, who pitched for the Phillies from 1989-91, has been Atlanta’s pitching coach the past eight seasons. The Braves had several notable injuries to their pitching staff this season, but still posted a big-league best 3.18 ERA.
Former Phillies prospect Adrian Cardenas wrote a great essay for The New Yorker about why he quit baseball. The Phillies traded him to the A’s in July 2008 as part of the Joe Blanton deal.
While the Red Sox and Cardinals play in the World Series, the Phillies continue their search for a pitching coach to replace Rich Dubee.
Bryan Price had been atop their list, but the Reds recently named him manager. The Phillies have interviewed at least five candidates: Phillies bullpen coach Rod Nichols, Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius, Pirates special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict, Triple-A Lehigh Valley pitching coach Ray Burris and Neil Allen, who is the pitching coach for Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate.
“We’re still talking to people,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”
Amaro said they still could interview others candidates.
Sources earlier this week told MLB.com the Phillies could make contact with Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell. He has been invited to return to Atlanta next season, but he has not signed his contract. It is expected to arrive before the end of the month, but once his agreement for 2013 ends the Phillies can contact him.