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Papelbon Might Stay, Ready To Be Booed

Jonathan PapelbonThere is a real possibility Jonathan Papelbon will not get his wish to be traded before the July 31 trade deadline. There aren’t many teams looking for closers right now, and if they are they might not like the remaining money on his contract. He is owed $13 million next season with a $13 million club option in 2016 that automatically vests if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014-2015 and is not on the DL at the end of 2015 with right shoulder or elbow injury. (He has finished no fewer than 53 games in any season the past seven years.)

If that’s the case, it means he’s stuck in Philly for the foreseeable future.

If that’s the case, he is ready to accept the villain role.

Phillies fans booed him as he entered this afternoon’s 2-1 victory over the Giants. Papelbon pitched the previous two games, blowing a save Tuesday and taking the loss Wednesday. But he retired the side in order to pick up his 24th save in 27 opportunities this season. He is 2-2 with a 1.91 ERA in 42 appearances.

Do the boos bother him?

“No, I enjoy it,” he said during an entertaining (in my opinion) postgame interview.

Why?

“I just think it’s fun,” he said. “It brings a little bit of energy and life to the ballpark. It gives me a little bit of something to look forward to every day.”

So maybe the fans weren’t loud enough.

“I heard some of them,” he said.

Sure, but only about half of the ballpark booed.

“Maybe we can get the whole park booing here soon,” he said.

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Howard Seems Unhappy at Platoon Possibility

Ryan HowardRyan Howard is the highest-paid position player in baseball this year, but Ryne Sandberg said yesterday that Howard’s salary will have little impact on future lineup cards.

Sandberg drove home that point soundly today, as he benched Howard in favor of Darin Ruf for a second consecutive game, but this time against Giants right-hander Tim Hudson. That is noteworthy because Howard has faced Hudson more than any other pitcher in his career, hitting .328 (22-for-67) with seven home runs, 17 RBIs and a 1.112 OPS against him.

“The way I see things,” Sandberg said before their 2-1 victory over the Giants, “I basically wanted to give Ruf two days in a row, just to get his feet wet, see him against a right-handed pitcher, then go from there. But in all likelihood, at least after today, it will be a scenario of … I’d be considering a platoon system at first base.”

The p-word has been uttered: platoon.

Sandberg and Howard held a closed-door meeting in the manager’s office for at least 10-15 minutes about three hours before the game. Howard was unavailable to comment afterward. He made a bee line to the back of the Phillies’ clubhouse upon leaving Sandberg’s office. He returned to his locker to grab his cell phone before going outside the clubhouse to make a call. The clubhouse closed almost immediately after he returned.

Howard had no interest in commenting about his situation after the game.

“Talk to him,” he said after the game, referring to Sandberg. “Bye. Talk to the manager.”

Asked if Howard was receptive to his talk, Sandberg said, “He wants to play and he wants to be in the lineup and that’s totally understandable. So as we go forward and there are some options on some days, then I’ll look at those options.”

It does not take a genius to see the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player is not happy.

If Sandberg follows through and platoons Howard and Ruf it would make Howard, who signed a $125 million contract in April 2010, a part-time player with $60 million owed to him after this season. What that means for Howard’s future remains to be seen. Sources said the Phillies have kicked around multiple scenarios regarding Howard’s future, including the possibility of releasing him in the offseason.

It would seem to be an awkward situation for Ruf, who is trying to prove himself as a regular big-league player. But he said he will not let the spotlight bother him as he is asked to take an iconic player’s place in the lineup.

“Ryan is a great player,” Ruf said. “He’s going to be counted on to help this team win in the last two months hopefully. If we can share a role in making that happen, or he becomes the player that he once was and that we know he can be, and if it’s my opportunity I’ll just look forward to proving I can be that guy, too.”

Ruben Amaro Jr. was unavailable to comment on Howard’s situation and future with the organization.

“Ryno wants to be in there,” Sandberg said. “I totally expect that, so we’ll go forward and make up lineups.”

There just won’t be any guarantee Howard will be in them.

Papelbon’s Options Dwindling

Jonathan PapelbonJonathan Papelbon made it crystal clear he wants to be traded before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Why would anybody want to play on a losing team, he said recently?

But the past couple games have not helped his cause. A night after he blew his third save of the season in a 9-6 loss to the Giants in 14 innings at Citizens Bank Park, he allowed three runs in the ninth inning in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Giants. It was the first time he allowed runs in back-to-back appearances this season after allowing runs in only three of his first 39 appearances.

“I think if you were to put an entire season into two games it would be pretty dumb,” Papelbon said.

Papelbon is 2-2 with a 1.96 ERA and 23 saves in 26 opportunities, so he could help a contending team. But with the Tigers acquiring Joakim Soria from the Rangers on Wednesday and the Angels recently acquiring Huston Street from the Padres, there are fewer and fewer landing spots for the Phillies’ closer.

“Nope,” he said, asked if the news about Soria disappointed him. “I have no control over that. I don’t worry about things in life I have no control over.”

But the possibility certainly exists Papelbon could be in Philly after the 31st.

“I have no control over it,” he said. “I love the bullpen that I’m in right now. I love the guys down there. To me, it makes no difference. Whatever happens, happens. I have no control over that. What are you going to do? I don’t really worry about it. I try to prepare every day and do my best. Let the hits land where they land and let the umpires call the calls they call.”

Ryno Looking For Others at First Base

Phillies Sign Howard to Five-Year, $125 Million ExtensionThe Phillies signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April 2010 partly because they believed making a deal more than a year before he hit free agency would become a bargain with fellow first basemen Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez scheduled to hit free agency at the same time.

It hasn’t worked as planned.

Howard is struggling through arguably the worst season of his career, following two injury-riddled seasons, and Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is ready to look at other options at first base, something unimaginable just a few years ago.

“I know what Ryan Howard can do,” Sandberg said this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. “I think it’s also important to see what other guys can do.”

Darin Ruf started at first base against Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, and he could be there more often going forward, although Sandberg said that decision will be made daily. Triple-A infielder Maikel Franco could see playing time at first, if he gets healthy and gets called up in September. Asked if this means he is looking for Howard’s replacement at first base, Sandberg said, “No, but I think it’s also important to see and gauge other players to see where they’re at.”

Howard is making $25 million this season, which makes him the highest-paid position player in baseball. He has $60 million remaining on his contract over the next two seasons, which includes a $10 million buyout on a club option worth $23 million in 2017.

Sandberg said the massive contract isn’t a factor in filling out his lineup card.

“It’s also about wins and losses out here,” Sandberg said. “When the game starts it’s about winning the game and being productive and chipping in and doing the part and doing something to help win a game. If that means playing somebody else there and there’s production right away that’s trying to win a baseball game.”

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Phillies Take A Peek at Tigers Prospect

jake thompsonPhillies scouts are pretty much everywhere these days, watching Minor League prospects from every team that might be a trade partner before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Double-A Reading played Erie this afternoon in Erie, and the Phillies had a scout there to watch Tigers right-hander Jake Thompson, who pitched last week in the All-Star Futures Game. He allowed five hits, one run, two walks and struck out five in five innings in a 6-1 victory over Reading.

The Tigers drafted Thompson, 20, in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He went 6-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 16 starts this season with Class A Lakeland before recently being promoted to Erie, where he is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts.

The Tigers are looking for bullpen help and it is well known Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon and left-hander Antonio Bastardo are available.

Serious Interest in Bastardo

bastardo photo dayFifteen scouts had seats for Cliff Lee’s start Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, but not everybody came to see him.

Some came to see other Phillies players available before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, including left-hander Antonio Bastardo. If a team needs relief help it almost certainly has contacted the Phillies about him.

In fact, Bastardo seems to be one of the likeliest Phillies to be traded before the deadline. He is 4-3 with a 3.30 ERA in 43 appearances this season. Left-handers have hit just .148 against him, while right-handers have hit .168, which makes him much more than a situational lefty. He makes just $2 million this season, so his contract is not an issue. He also does not become a free agent until after the 2015 season, so he is not a two-month rental.

“I’m just staying focused on what I can do and how I can pitch,” Bastardo said of the trade speculation. “I’m just trying to get people out. If I can distract myself from that stuff, I won’t let it get into my mind. I don’t want to lose my focus.”

Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval hit a line drive off Bastardo’s left forearm Monday. Bastardo finished the scoreless inning and had the forearm wrapped Tuesday afternoon, but he said it felt much better. He said he wouldn’t know if he could pitch until after he tried throwing later in the day.

Relax A Little Bit About Lee’s Monday Night

Cliff LeeCliff Lee didn’t help his cause last night, but Phillies fans shouldn’t panic about it.

He struggled in his return from the DL against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park, allowing 12 hits, six runs and failing to command his pitches in 5 2/3 innings. You’d think the guy forgot to pitch, but one scout afterward correctly pointed out that Lee maintained his velocity throughout the night, which indicates he is healthy. The struggles? Most likely the result of a two-month layoff.

If Lee is healthy there is no reason to think he will not return to form as one of the top starting pitchers in baseball.

If the Phillies can’t trade him before the July 31 trade deadline, perhaps he clears waivers next month. If he does the Phillies have until Aug. 31 to trade him. If he doesn’t clear waivers, there is nothing to prevent the Phillies from trading him in the offseason. A couple more months isn’t going to hurt anybody, if Lee is healthy and pitching well. In fact, it would get more teams involved in the offseason because right now the only teams interested in Lee are contending teams.

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ESPN.com reported Lee can be traded to nine teams without his consent: the Braves, Indians, Astros, Marlins, Twins, Mets, Padres, Rays and Nationals. ESPN.com also reported that A.J. Burnett, who shares the same agent as Lee, can be traded to nine teams without his permission: the Orioles, Red Sox, Reds, Royals, Mets, Yankees, Pirates, Cardinals and Nationals.

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I still think the three Phillies most likely to be traded before the deadline are Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo. The Phillies are listening, but not actively shopping Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. I would be incredibly surprised if any of those three are traded.

Phillies Busy as Trade Deadline Approaches

Cole HamelsLet the rumors, speculation and stories filled with unnamed scouts and insiders begin!

The Phillies return to action tonight in Atlanta, and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is 13 days away. The Phillies are busy trying to find trade partners for several veteran players, but just because they have players to trade it doesn’t mean they’ll trade them. They’re not pressured to make something happen before July 31. The front office hasn’t been told by ownership to shed payroll no matter what. Remember, the Phillies can still trade these players before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline or in the offseason.

Let’s repeat that: The Phillies can still trade these players before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline or in the offseason. Especially if they’re not getting much of a return in their current discussions. Would you trade Byrd or Lee or Papelbon for Tyson Gillies 2.0 just so you can turn to Phillies fans and say, “Look, guys, we made some trades!” It’s doubtful.

A report Sunday had the Mariners hot and heavy for Marlon Byrd, but reports since said their interest has cooled or talks have stalled. Keep this in mind as you read countless reports between today and July 31: 95 percent of this stuff is teams kicking the tires and reporters taking a kernel of information and writing it. For example, when you read a team with a need for starting pitching has inquired about Cole Hamels, don’t say to yourself, “Oh my God! The (insert team here) are going to get Cole Hamels!” Say to yourself, “Well, no kidding! Of course they’re interested in Cole.”

A team expressing interest in a Phillies player and a team actually making a legitimate offer are two totally different things. Maybe the Mariners called the Phillies last weekend and said, “We’d really like Marlon Byrd, but we’ll only give you a marginal prospect for him.” In that scenario, Ruben Amaro Jr. most likely said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and hung up the phone.

A few reminders as the July 31 deadline approaches:

  • The Phillies are absolutely open to trading Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo. The contracts and limited no-trade clauses for Papelbon, Lee, Burnett and Byrd could be stumbling blocks, but I just don’t see the Phillies making deals if they’re only getting a light-hitting outfielder or a middling reliever in return.
  • They would need to receive a huge package of prospects to trade Cole Hamels.
  • Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have 10-and-5 rights and have repeatedly expressed their desire to remain in Philadelphia. The Phillies will listen to offers for Hamels, Utley and Rollins, but they are not going to give them away.

So, yes, the Phillies are not “looking” to trade Hamels. And they absolutely prefer to trade Lee over him. They would welcome a Papelbon trade, and they are willing to part with Bastardo because they have two younger, less expensive left-handers in Jake Diekman and Mario Hollands.

It is going to be an interesting couple of weeks for the Phillies. Like I said, they are active. But like I also mentioned, there are no indications they’re going to just get rid of players, either.

Enjoy the weekend.

Burnett Not Pushing For A Trade

A.J. BurnettChanges are almost certainly coming for the Phillies.

A franchise-record payroll has not translated into postseason contention this year. The Phillies reached the All-Star break today with a 42-53 (.442) record, their second-lowest winning percentage at the break since 1997, when they went 24-61 (.282).

Jonathan Papelbon made it perfectly clear last week that he would like to play on a contending team, and his limited no-trade clause will be no obstacle for the Phillies. If he can play for a winner, he will happily go.

“Some guys want to stay on a losing team?” he said. “That’s mind-boggling to me.”

Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels have said they have no desire to leave Philadelphia, although each has acknowledged in some way that things can change. The Seattle Times reported today that the Mariners have had serious discussions with the Phillies about Marlon Byrd, who it said was willing to waive his limited no-trade clause. CSNPhilly.com reported last week that he had the Mariners, Royals, Blue Jays and Rays on a four-team no-trade list.

A.J. Burnett also has a limited no-trade clause. He should have value to a contending team needing starting pitching help. He is 6-8 with a 3.83 ERA in 20 starts this season, including a 2.94 ERA in his past seven starts.

“I signed here to play here,” Burnett told a reporter after Sunday’s 10-3 loss to the Nationals. “I’m not a guy who looks for an out or wants to get out because things aren’t going the right way. If that happens, then it happens, but I’m not looking to move on. This is my team. I understand how things work, but I’m trying not to worry about it. I just try to go about my business and enjoy my teammates.”

So Burnett doesn’t know what he would say if Ruben Amaro Jr. approached him about a trade?

“I have no clue what I would say,” he said.

No clue at all?

“I guess it depends on what he says,” he said. “I wouldn’t know until it’s brought to me.”

A lot might be brought to Phillies players before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Papelbon has said he would go. Cliff Lee, who rejoins the rotation July 21, has said in the past he wants to play for a winner. Byrd is unlikely to stand in the way of a trade. Burnett sounds open to it, though he isn’t campaigning for it, either.

Lee to Rejoin Rotation July 21

Cliff LeeThe Phillies announced today that Cliff Lee will rejoin the Phillies’ rotation July 21 against the Giants.

Lee has been on the DL since late May with a strained left elbow. He is scheduled to make his third rehab start Monday with Class A Clearwater, but apparently the Phillies are certain he will come out of that just fine. That’s good news for the Phillies, who are trying to trade him before the July 31 trade deadline.

But it won’t be easy. Lee will have only two starts to prove his health and effectiveness before the deadline. If I’m a contending team and I have prospects to give, it would be tough to send them to the Phillies after only seeing Lee twice following an elbow injury. And I can’t imagine the Phillies would take a lesser deal when there is absolutely no reason they can’t trade him before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline or in the offseason.

Both of those options might be more likely.

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