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Utley Is Gold Glove Finalist

Chase Utley will have a shot at his first Gold Glove early next month.

He is one of three finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award for National League second basemen. Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips and Colorado’s DJ LeMahieu are the other two finalists.

Utley committed 11 errors with a .985 fielding percentage this season. Phillips committed two with a .996 fielding percentage, while LeMahieu had six with a .991 fielding percentage. But Utley’s 8.2 ultimate zone rating ranked second to LeMahieu (10.7), according to FanGraphs.

Utley’s 10.4 defense rating also ranked second to LeMahieu (12.7).

Phillies Sign Williams

Jerome WilliamsJerome Williams made enough of a positive impression that the Phillies are bringing him back next season.

They announced today that they signed him to a one-year, $2.5 million contract, which includes performance bonuses. Williams, 32, went 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts this year.

“He did a nice job,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We feel he has some upside. He’s got some versatility. He’ll be given every opportunity to be part of our rotation, but he has some versatility to pitch in the middle (of the bullpen) somewhere if not.”

Williams went 2-5 with a 6.71 ERA in 28 appearances (two starts) last season with the Astros and Rangers before the Phillies claimed him off waivers in August. He is 48-54 with a 4.40 ERA in his nine-year career, so should the Phillies expect some sort of regression to his career averages?

“We looked at the metrics on that,” Amaro said. “A lot of it will depend on him. The way that he performed, it was clear that he had changed his overall approach. If he maintains that approach we believe he can gives us the depth we need. One of our priorities is trying to create some more starting pitching depth.”

Cole Hamels and David Buchanan are the only starting pitchers under contract or team control who finished the 2014 season healthy.

Cliff Lee finished the year on the disabled list with a left elbow injury, although Amaro said Lee is scheduled to begin his throwing program next month. The Phillies expect him to be ready by Spring Training.

A.J. Burnett has a $15 million mutual option, which the Phillies are certain to decline. But even if they do, Burnett has a $12.75 million player option, which he has until five days following the World Series to accept or decline. Burnett has vacillated between pitching again and retiring.

“I’m really kind of neutral on it,” said Amaro, asked if he would be surprised if Burnett turned down that much money. “I knew what it took to get him back and pitching this year. I would assume that he’d want to pitch again. I don’t have that information, but my inclination is that he’s going to want to pitch. He’s a competitive guy.”

Other pitchers on the 40-man roster include Kyle Kendrick, who will become a free agent; Jonathan Pettibone, who had right shoulder surgery in June; and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who became a reliever because of concerns about his ability to stay healthy as a starter.

But Amaro said Gonzalez will enter Spring Training competing for a job in the rotation.

“We’re going to give him every opportunity to be in our rotation,” Amaro said. “We have to try to create as many opportunities for starting pitching as we possibly can. We’re not going to be able to go through a season with five or six pitchers. It’s probably going to take seven to 10 pitchers.”

But can Gonzalez hold up?

“He personally feels more comfortable being in the rotation,” Amaro said. “Whether or not he can provide that remains to be seen. But after speaking with him it was very important to him to be prepared mentally and physically for this offseason to get stretched out.”

Phillies Hire Wolever’s Replacement

The Phillies have a replacement for former assistant general manager of amateur scouting Marti Wolever, whom they dismissed late last month.

They announced today they have hired Braves international scouting director Johnny Almaraz to be their amateur scouting director. He will run the Phillies’ First-Year Player Drafts, which Wolever had done since 2002.

It will be new role for Almaraz.

“We couldn’t be happier to add someone of Johnny’s caliber to our baseball operations staff,” Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said in a statement. “He has established a reputation for being able to identify future Major League talent and brings a great deal of experience to the Phillies.”

Almaraz had been Atlanta’s international scouting director since 2008. His most notable signings are Julio Teheran and Christian Bethancourt. Before joining the Braves in 2006 as director of Latin America operations, he spent 16 years as a scout with the Reds. There he signed amateurs like Adam Dunn, Johnny Cueto and B.J. Ryan.

Wolever had been running the Phillies’ First-Year Player Drafts since 2002, but success had been scattered. MLB.com in June examined the Phillies’ Drafts from 2004-13. Forty-six picks reached the big leagues, which tied the A’s and Rangers for seventh best in baseball.

But the quality of the Phillies’ picks ranked last. According to baseballreference.com, the combined WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of Phillies picks over the past 10 years was 20.7, which was 24.6 points lower than the 29th ranked Blue Jays (45.3). The big league average was 82.7.

Amaro: Nothing Is Off the Table

Ruben Amaro Jr.,Ruben Amaro Jr. talked yesterday about the upcoming offseason, which will be a big one for the Phillies.

Read the full story here.

In short, he said nothing is off the table. It seems the Phillies are finally open to doing anything in the offseason, which means trading Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, if a deal makes sense to them. Of course, they’re going to try hard to trade Howard, although it will be difficult with the $60 million remaining on his contract. But at least the Phillies are not going into the offseason believing they can still win if everybody stays healthy and performs to their capabilities. 2008 is a long time ago. They’re finally accepting that.

Here is some of what Amaro had to say:

Q: Is the organization acknowledging it held on too long to the idea it will win as long as the 2008 core is together?
A: I think we have to look at everything kind of deeply. My feeling is we need to try to get younger. We need to try to put ourselves in a position to be a little bit more athletic, and we have to put ourselves in position to be open minded about some changes at the major league level. Clearly, we’ve gone for it several times and the last couple years it hasn’t worked for us, and so we have to think about and have been thinking about ways to move the organization forward in a different way other than just adding small pieces to try to be a championship club. I think we have to certainly, and we have been, looking for more long term solutions.

Q: Is anything and everything on the table?
A: We’re staying very open minded. I think we have our philosophies about evaluating players and putting the club together, and we are still evaluating those as well. But we are keeping a very, very open mind as far as our player personnel is concerned. And so I guess you could say there’s nothing that’s really off the table.

Q: Do you feel you have one year to turn things around with your contract expiring at the end of next season?
A: It doesn’t bother me one way or another. I have a job to do and that’s to get the Phillies back to where we can be a perennial contender. And that’s really the ultimate goal. If you wanted to put a stamp on what we’re talking about today it’s about getting the Phillies back to the point where we’re a perennial contender. Does it happen next year? Does it happen in two years? Does it happen in three years? We don’t know yet. But we are in the process … but that’s the goal for long term success, not just the short term success.

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Phillies Tweak Player Development Staff

The Phillies today announced a tweak to their Minor League player development staff.

They hired Rafael Chaves to be their Minor League pitching coordinator. The Phillies interviewed Chaves to be their big-league pitching coach last offseason before hiring Bob McClure.

Chaves, 46, spent this season as the Dodgers’ special assistant of player personnel after spending five seasons as their Minor League pitching coordinator. He served as Seattle’s pitching coach from 2006-07, so his relationship with Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper, who worked in the Mariners front office from 1987-2008, likely played a role in his hire.

“We are extremely excited to add Rafael to our staff,” Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said in a statement. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and is one of the most respected names in our business when it comes to developing pitchers.”

Carlos Arroyo, who held that role this season, will resume his previous job as the Phillies’ Minor League roving pitching coach.

The Phillies said they will announce their complete player development staff at a later date.

Phillies Refute Report

The Phillies this morning refuted a TV report last night that Phillies president David Montgomery had been ousted from his position in August, and that limited partner John Middleton is making a push to own the majority of the franchise.

Multiple sources also refuted the report.

Montgomery took a leave of absence in August to recover from jaw bone cancer surgery. Pat Gillick took his place as interim president.

FOX 29 called it a “convenient story.”

“Contrary to the Fox 29 report last night, David Montgomery’s leave of absence from the Phillies is entirely due to his medical condition, as previously announced,” the team said in a statement. “There is absolutely no other reason for his leave from active involvement in the Phillies management.”

Regarding the reported ownership shakeup, the Phillies said, “Over the life of the Phillies partnership no one entity or family has owned a majority of the partnership, and we do not foresee this changing in the future.”

Ruiz, Revere, Lee, Burnett Injury Updates

Russell Martin, Ben RevereThe Phillies announced four injury updates Wednesday:

  • Carlos Ruiz on Monday had minor arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. Team physician Michael Ciccotti performed the surgery. Ruiz will begin his rehab immediately and will return to Philadelphia in one month for a follow-up exam. He is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
  • Ben Revere on Tuesday had surgery at the Rothman Institute to remove screws from his right ankle. Physician Steven Raikin performed the surgery. Revere will be in a walking boot for approximately two weeks and is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
  • Cliff Lee on Friday had an MRI on his left elbow at the Rothman Institute. The team said the MRI showed positive results as his flexor tendon is healing well. Lee will begin a full throwing program in November and is expected to be ready for Spring Training.
  • The Phillies are in the process of scheduling hernia surgery for right-hander A.J. Burnett. The club will have more information once the surgery has been scheduled.

Changes? None to Phillies Coaching Staff

Ryne Sandberg, Steve HendersonThe Phillies are making no changes to their coaching staff.

They announced this afternoon that every big-league coach has been asked to return for the 2015 season. It remains to be seen if everyone accepts.

Ryne Sandberg’s coaches include bench coach Larry Bowa, pitching coach Bob McClure, hitting coach Steve Henderson, first base coach Juan Samuel, third base coach Pete Mackanin, bullpen coach Rod Nichols and assistant hitting coach John Mizerock.

The Phillies finished 73-89 and last in the National League East, but the front office and Sandberg must have felt it could not pin the team’s failures on any of its coaches. They made changes to the coaching staff following the 2014 season, when they announced pitching coach Rich Dubee, catching coach Mick Billmeyer and strength and conditioning coordinator Dong Lien would not return. (Assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner had been invited back, but left the organization.)  That followed manager Charlie Manuel’s dismissal.

The Phillies finished 73-89 that season, too.

So far the only change to the organization is Marti Wolever, who will not return as assistant general manager of amateur scouting.

Saying Bye to Icons Take Guts, Could Be Right Call

Cole HamelsCole Hamels answered numerous questions about the future following yesterday’s season finale at Citizens Bank Park.

He had several interesting things to say, including the fact he hopes to remain in Philadelphia, but he will not hold a grudge if he is traded. Hamels has said a player has a limited amount of prime years in his career, and he would rather spend them winning than losing. Hamels acknowledged the fact the Phillies appear to be a long way from winning again, which is why it sounded like he would not stand in their way if they want to trade him to a team on his limited no-trade list.

He also made a good point when somebody asked him about organizations like the Cardinals and their ability to retool year after year.

“They had Albert Pujols for a while and they got rid of him,” he said.

The Phillies have finally acknowledged they held on too long to the belief they could win with the 2008 World Series championship core, if they simply surrounded it with complimentary players. But will they take the next step? Will they move on from an iconic player or two, if the right situation presents itself in the offseason?

I understand the difficulty in doing that, but I do not believe an organization should grip tightly to its iconic players because it is worried about alienating its fan base. How many fewer fans would the Phillies have drawn this season, if they had traded somebody like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard or Hamels before the season? The team drew 2,423,852 fans, a nearly 20 percent drop from last season and its lowest season total since its final year at Veterans Stadium in 2003, when they drew 2,259,948. Fans love their heroes, but they love winning more. Organizations, not just the Phillies, must stomach the short-term backlash of trading, releasing or not resigning an icon for the long-term benefit of winning.

I can relate to one example as a native Wisconsinite, which SI.com’s Peter King wrote about last month. Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round in his first draft as GM in 2005. Rodgers sat on the bench for three seasons, and after Packers icon Brett Favre lost the NFC championship game at home in the 2007 season, Thompson decided he needed to move on from the aging quarterback. Favre initially helped when he retired, but then he unretired and wanted his job back as the Packers’ starting quarterback.

But Thompson essentially told one of the most popular players in NFL history, “No, we’re moving on. We’re not giving you your job back. Good bye.”

Fans went crazy. They hated Thompson. Hated him.

But then a funny thing happened. Rodgers played well and led the Packers to the Super Bowl championship in 2010, while Favre got old and finally retired for good. You can’t find too many fans who still hate Thompson for the decision to move on from the iconic Favre. Because in the end, no matter how much fans love a player, they really love winning. Thompson believed he could no longer win with Favre, so moved on. He stuck to his beliefs, weathered the storm and was proven correct.

I am not advocating dumping players just for the sake of dumping them. They should always be moves that make sense from a baseball perspective. But organizations must not be afraid to move on from a popular player because of the possible marketing or ticket sales implications. If unpopular changes are made, but they lead to winning in the future, the fans will return. They always do, and they always forget why they were so mad at the team in the first place.

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Sunday Could Be Howard’s Final Game with Phillies

Howard Hits 200, More on HalladayRyan Howard said this morning he has not considered his future in Philadelphia, which means he had not given much thought to the possibility today could be his final game with the Phillies.

It could be.

“Do you think it’s my last game as a Phillie?” Howard said.

The Phillies are expected to try to trade him to an American League team, understanding they will have to pay the majority of the remaining $60 million of his contract over the next two seasons. The Phillies would like to get younger and more athletic, and moving Howard would give them flexibility in the infield with a potential mix of Chase Utley, Darin Ruf and Maikel Franco at first base.

Sources said in July the Phillies discussed the possibility of releasing Howard in the offseason, which Ruben Amaro Jr. denied. But the fact the Phillies broached the subject show they at least feel a change at first base could help them.

“That’s a question for those guys upstairs,” Howard said. “I’m not really thinking about that.”

But what about a fresh start somewhere?

“It just hasn’t been anything that’s crossed my mind,” he said. “I have no clue. There are always possibilities because it’s business or whatever, but it’s never crossed my mind.”

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