Class A Clearwater shortstop J.P. Crawford has not played since Monday because of a sprained left ankle.
It is not believed to be serious. Crawford reportedly felt better Saturday.
“I’m not sure how much longer it is going to take,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said before today’s game against the Giants at AT&T Park. “We’re not overly concerned.”
Crawford is the top player prospect in the organization. The 19-year-old is hitting .274 with four doubles, six home runs, 18 RBIs and a .743 OPS in 48 games with Clearwater since a midseason promotion from Class A Lakewood.
Since he started three consecutive games at first base from July 23-25, Ruf has started just four of the Phillies’ next 18 games: twice at first base and twice in left field. Ruf did not start tonight against the Angels at Angel Stadium, despite going 3-for-5 with one home run, two RBIs, one walk and one hit by pitch in the past two games.
“Weaver is extremely tough on right-handed bats,” Ryne Sandberg said about Angels right-hander Jered Weaver.
Ruf and Domonic Brown seem to have fallen into a gray area. They are 28 and 26, respectively, so they are not young players anymore. But the Phillies also want to know what they have going forward, which would seem to mean more playing time for them as the team plays out the string.
Or maybe the organization already know enough about them and playing time is no longer an issue?
“I would say in some regards (we) still need to see them,” Sandberg said. “It’s more for what type of role are we talking about? If it’s a pinch-hit type of a situation, having some experience doing that. If it’s an everyday guy, putting together a full year and being able to do that. There is some uncertainty still going forward with what both of those guys can do.
“I can see what (Ruf) can do on the defensive side of things. I think he’s fine in left field. I think he’s very good at first base, but with the situations he’s been in the past couple years here and not being able to have a string of at-bats against all the pitchers, it’s hard to really get a gauge still.”
So then what would have been lost by playing Ruf against a tough right-hander like Weaver?
“That’s the tricky part of making up the lineups and also trying to win a game,” Sandberg said.
The Phillies today claimed right-hander Jerome Williams off waivers from the Rangers.
Williams, 32, went 2-5 with a 6.71 ERA in 28 games this season with Houston and Texas. He is 44-52 with a 4.51 ERA in nine big-league seasons with the Giants, Cubs, Nationals, Angels, Astros, Rangers.
The Phillies designed right-hander Sean O’Sullivan for assignment to make room for Williams on the 25-man roster. O’Sullivan had been scheduled to start Tuesday against the Angels in Anaheim. Williams presumably will take his place in the rotation, although it is unclear if he will start Tuesday.
In the past couple weeks:
- Ryne Sandberg has said it is time to see what others can do at first base.
- He also said the remaining $60 million on Howard’s contract will not affect future lineups and he would consider a platoon moving forward.
- There were multiple reports the Phillies front office kick around the possibility of releasing Howard in the offseason, which Ruben Amaro Jr. denied.
- Howard upset fans when he said nobody would want to trade places with him right now, despite the fact he is in the midst of a $125 million contract.
- Howard went 1-for-25 on a recent road trip through New York and Washington.
- He hit .135 (15-for-111) with two doubles, two home runs, 13 RBIs and a .451 OPS in 30 games from June 26-August 3. It was the second-lowest OPS out of 163 qualifying players in that stretch.
- He is on pace to have arguably the least productive season of any cleanup hitter with 575 or more plate appearances in the No. 4 spot in the past 100 years.
But then Howard hit .357 (5-for-14) with one double, two home runs and eight RBIs in the three-game sweep against the Astros. It included tonight’s game-winning grand slam in the eighth inning of a 6-5 victory. It preceded a curtain call for a player fans have booed regularly this season.
“It is what it is,” Howard said about the up-and-down fan reaction this season. “I mean, its unfortunate. I’ll be honest with you, it’s unfortunate that’s what happens. But I’ll go out there and continue to play. I understand what it takes to play the game. I understand it wasn’t there early, but it only had to be there once. It was there with me and I’ll try to build off that.”
Like anything, it is just three games. The key for Howard is finishing the season strong. Can he build upon this? Or is this just a good three-game series?
They believe they accomplished the latter Thursday, when they traded Hernandez to the Dodgers for two players to be named or cash. The Dodgers, who claimed Hernandez on waivers, will pay the remaining $1.5 million on his one-year, $4.5 million contract.
“The fact we weren’t going to be offering him … a qualifying offer or anything like that, we felt like it was a move to help give us some talent in our system,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
The Phillies will select two lower-level Minor League players from a pool of players the Phillies and Dodgers agreed upon. Amaro said they will scout those players the remainder of the Minor League season before making their selections.
“I think they’re going to be guys that are going to be down the line,” he said, referring to younger prospects. “But we have some decent reports on them. And listen, they’re down the line. The further down the line, they’re more of a crapshoot.”
Amaro said last week following the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline he did not like the talent offered for his veteran players. While Hernandez certainly was not going to land a top prospect, Amaro thinks the Phillies have enough talent to choose from.
But in the Phils’ minds, if they were going to let Hernandez walk at the end of the season, it made sense to roll the dice and take a shot at it. Other teams have had success with players like this in the past. Sign a player that has struggled, have him bounce back and flip him for talent.
Hernandez posted a 3.87 ERA in 23 appearances (20 starts). He had a 4.89 ERA last season with the Rays.
Lee’s locker inside the Phillies’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park had been completely cleared out before today’s game against the Astros. He is on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 2 flexor pronator strain, and he is going to rest at home in Arkansas for about two weeks before rejoining the team early next month for a reevaluation.
Lee today visited orthopedist David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. He confirmed the Phillies’ diagnosis of Lee’s injury, which said no surgery is required. Following Altchek’s examination, Lee returned to Philadelphia to visit the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia for a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection in the elbow.
“We hope to get him into a throwing program in October or November,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a telephone call late Wednesday night. “But right now he needs to rest.”
Amaro is hopeful Lee, who suffered a recurrence of the injury last Thursday in Washington, will be ready to go by Spring Training 2015. Lee is owed at least $37.5 million following this season, which includes his $25 million salary for 2015, plus a $12.5 million buyout on a 2016 club option.
Ryne Sandberg spoke assertively a couple weeks ago when he discussed Ryan Howard’s future at first base. He said he knew what Howard could do, so it is time to see what others could do. He talked about a platoon and said the remaining $60 million on Howard’s contract following this season would have no impact on his lineup because he is trying to win.
But since a couple meetings between Sandberg and Howard and since Ruben Amaro Jr. countered his manager’s comments to say he expects Howard to be his first baseman in 2015 and there are no plans to release him following the season, the narrative has changed completely. Howard has started eight of nine games at first base, including one game against a left-handed pitcher.
“We’d like to get him going for us,” Sandberg told reporters Sunday at Nationals Park. “And he’s working on some things. He could be a big bat for us.”
The Phillies face Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel tonight at Citizens Bank Park. Will we see Howard in there, hitting fourth?
Howard is tied for seventh in the National League with 63 RBIs, but there is a reason the Phillies would need to eat every dollar on his contract to trade him. His .664 OPS is 132nd out of 152 qualifying hitters in baseball. And while Howard is on pace for 91 RBIs, he has had 331 runners on base during his plate appearances this season, which ranks third in baseball. Howard’s spot in the lineup has had as much to do with his production than anything.
Howard is on pace for 594 plate appearances in the No. 4 spot. There have been 400 hitters in baseball from 1914-2013 with 575 or more plate appearances hitting cleanup and 322 (80.5 percent) had at least 90 RBIs. In other words, hit fourth regularly and the RBIs will come. But one wonders how much longer the Phillies will hit Howard fourth? His .302 on-base percentage as a four-hole hitter would be fifth-lowest out of those 400 hitters. His .363 slugging percentage would be second-lowest.
His .664 OPS? It would be dead last, 14 points lower than Washington’s Chick Gandil in 1914.
If Howard is the Phillies’ first baseman in 2015, will they continue to hit him fourth? The Phillies need to make changes. If they can’t significantly alter the roster, they can at least shake up the lineup.
The Phillies are headed to their third consecutive season without a winning record and it is clear they need to make changes to have any shot to win in the future. But with a slew of players available to trade to help those efforts they traded nobody before Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Ruben Amaro Jr. kept a stiff upper lip as he spoke to reporters about it Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park.
“Not disappointed,” Amaro said. “More surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end. We have some pretty good baseball players here.”
But there seemed to be a clear difference of opinion there. The Phillies look at a roster with Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Antonio Bastardo and others and see players that can help contending teams. That might be true, but other teams looked at those players with age, injury or performance concerns often with high price tags attached to them.
“Well, I would disagree with that,” Amaro said, asked if the Phillies overvalued their own players. “In no scenario were we asking for players that were their top prospects. We were not looking for exorbitant paybacks, so to speak, we were looking for players that would help us, but I think we were very reasonable in the discussions that we had.
“I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects. I don’t know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come to bite people in the ass.”
Amaro said he sensed teams believed the Phillies were desperate to deal and ultimately would cave to their demands.
“I’ve made it very, very clear that we didn’t have any pressure to make deals,” he said. “What our goal was to try and make our club better. So if there’s a deal to help us get there, we would’ve done it. There really wasn’t a deal we felt comfortable with or a deal that we were going to acquire talent that was compensatory to the talent.”
It was not a surprise. He signed a four-year, $50 million contract before the 2012 season and that contract almost certainly prevented the Phillies from dealing him. He is owed $13 million next season with a $13 million club option that automatically vests based on 55 games finished next season or 100 games finished in 2014-15.
“It’s not my decision,” Papelbon said, when asked if he wants to stay in Philadelphia. “Whatever happens, happens. I have to do whatever the GM decides to do with me.”
Papelbon has a limited no-trade clause, although he said he would have waived it. But he also said he would not have accepted a trade if he were headed to a team that already has a closer. He has no interest in being a setup man.
“I don’t set up,” he said. “And you should know that.”
Even if it meant a chance to win another World Series?
“The chance to win a World Series is with me closing,” he said. “Period.”
Interestingly, Papelbon said he met recently with Ruben Amaro Jr. about the direction of the team. He said he liked what he heard.
“Ruben had promised me that, going forward, we were still going to compete and, no matter what it took to put a winning product on the field, he was going to do it,” Papelbon said. “If he could trade me and the trade was right for both the Phillies and the other ball club, then a trade could happen. But if it wasn’t right for the Phillies, he wasn’t going to do it. At the same time, he also promised me that we were going to compete year after year and there’s no rebuilding here with the Phillies. So that was a big boost for me.”
But couldn’t those words just be empty promises? Papelbon acknowledged he did not hear an actual plan from Amaro, nor did he ask for one.
“I don’t think Ruben is a person who is just going to say something and then not be able to do it,” Papelbon said. “I think he’s honest in his decision-making, and what he says he goes out and tries to do it.”
“It’s been quiet the whole time,” he said Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park. “I haven’t heard from Ruben (Amaro Jr.) or my agents as far as front-running teams that have been close. I wasn’t surprised.”
Byrd is hitting .270 with 20 home runs, 60 RBIs and a .795 OPS. Teams could use a right-handed bat like that. But perhaps some teams backed away from Byrd, 36, because he is owed $8 million next season, plus a potential $8 million more in 2016 if a club option vests based on plate appearances. Byrd also has a limited no-trade clause to four teams, including the Mariners and Royals. He said he would have waived the clause had he been asked.
But now what?
“It goes back to change and figuring out a way to make those wins happen,” Byrd said. “Until then, it’s going to be a long road. We have the guys who want to win because they know how to win. They’ve done it before. We still have that core here. We still have a great pitching staff. We still have Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) behind the plate. So anything can happen next year. We’ll see what happens with offseason trades and stuff like that.”
Byrd still could be traded before the Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline or in the offseason. So could other veterans like Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and A.J. Burnett. But what if things remain the same?
“I know one thing this team has to do is be open for change, whatever it is, to get better,” Byrd said. “I don’t know what it is for guys. For me, the (PED) suspension put me in a position to go to Mexico, but I had to go down there and learn how to play the game again. You have to be dedicated and understand that sometimes there needs to be change in your game, in your lifestyle, wherever it is, to make you better as a player. I knew what I needed and I did it. And it actually worked. We’re creatures of habit, 35 or 36 (years old). You’ve done stuff in this game that has made you successful. Not having that success, we have to change.
“Are you willing to do it? If it’s a guy in the offseason trying to get back into the game, do you go just work out or do you go play the game? A lot of guys talk about it. But you actually have to do it.”