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Dodgers in the Lead for Hamels?

Hamels_IGEven before Phillies ace Cole Hamels pitched a no-hitter Saturday against the Cubs, trade discussions between Philadelphia and multiple postseason contenders had escalated.

Hamels’ dominant performance at Wrigley Field certainly has not slowed those talks.

Several sources have told MLB.com that the Dodgers and Rangers lead the race to acquire Hamels, with the Rangers privately bracing themselves to finish second. The Yankees, Giants and Cubs have been the other three teams most actively pursuing Hamels.

The Dodgers are willing to deal, but they are expected to hold onto shortstop Corey Seager and left-hander Julio Urias, who MLBPipeline.com considers the fourth and fifth-best prospects in baseball. Right-hander Grant Holmes ranks 75th overall and right-hander Jose De Leon ranks 89th, but the Phillies need power bats. Dodgers outfield prospects Alex Verdugo and Scott Schebler have power potential. The Dodgers also have a couple catchers in their system that could interest Philadelphia.

Perhaps the Phillies and Dodgers get creative again. They included the Padres last December to help facilitate the Jimmy Rollins deal.

Of course, the Rangers still have a shot because the Phillies like their farm system. Texas is becoming more comfortable at the prospect of taking on Hamels’ remaining salary, which pays him $22.5 million through 2018, plus a $6 million buyout on a $20 million club option for 2019. Texas catching prospect Jorge Alfaro and outfield prospect Nomar Mazara, who rank 34th and 42nd overall, could be part of a package for Hamels. Both have power.

Sources said no deal is imminent, but with five days remaining there is plenty of time to make something happen.

The feeling around baseball is Hamels finally will be dealt.

But will anybody else from the Phillies?

The Cubs, Blue Jays and Nationals have been pursuing Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. Philadelphia almost certainly will have to eat some of Papelbon’s salary to get a prospect it desires. That is the reality of the game these days. The more money a team pays, the better the prospects they receive.

Ben Revere, Jeff Francoeur and, perhaps surprisingly, Chase Utley have been receiving interest. The Angels still like Revere, and they are monitoring Utley’s return from an ankle injury. But if Utley is traded, it likely would be a waiver trade next month because he still sits on the disabled list.

Papelbon: ‘Trade Me’ or Get Off the Pot

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) adjusts his cap after giving up a two-run double to New York Yankees Garrett Jones during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Monday, June 22, 2015, in New York. The Phillies won 11-8. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) adjusts his cap after giving up a two-run double to New York Yankees Garrett Jones during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Monday, June 22, 2015, in New York. The Phillies won 11-8. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo is covering the Phillies this week at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, which means he is covering Jonathan Papelbon.

Papelbon made it very clear today he wants to be traded to a contender ASAP.

DiComo has the story:

CINCINNATI – Vocal and effusive about his desire to be traded, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon spent his sixth All-Star media day trumpeting his desire to move on from Philadelphia.

“I want to go to a contender,” said Papelbon, the Phillies’ lone representative at the 2015 All-Star Game. “I do want to get out of Philly but I need to make a smart decision. I’ll make a decision that’s best for me to go to a place to contend to win a championship. That’s basically what my whole decision is going to be based on.”

In many ways, the decision is not Papelbon’s to make. The Phillies have been trying to deal their closer since before the 2013 Trade Deadline, but so far have been unable to find a suitable match. Making $13 million this season, Papelbon owns a $13 million club option for 2016 that automatically vests if he finishes 48 games. He’s on pace to do that, going 14-for-14 in save situations with a 1.60 ERA.

Papelbon cannot negotiate his own trade. But he can veto deals with a partial no-trade clause, and has said he would do so to avoid moving to a setup role or a non-contending team.

Other than that, Papelbon said, would like to part ways from the 29-62 Phillies, baseball’s worst team by a significant margin.

“This isn’t what I signed up for,” said Papelbon, who left the Red Sox for a four-year, $50-million deal with the Phillies before the 2012 season. “I signed up on a team that won 102 games, and was expecting certain things. Now, it didn’t happen, and I tried to ride that ship as much as I can. I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut as much as I can. But it’s time to you-know-what or get off the pot.

“I feel like three years is plenty enough time to ‘ride it out,’ so to speak. If fans can’t understand it, I can’t really side with them on that. I’m getting older and I don’t know how many more years I have left in this game. I don’t know how many All-Star Games I have left. None of that’s guaranteed. For me, I’m just trying to be on a winning ballclub and win as many rings as I can before it’s all said and done, and I’m coaching [son] Gunner in Little League. That’s really all I’m trying to do.

“From my perspective, I don’t understand how a fan couldn’t understand that. I understand that they wear their hearts on their sleeves and all that stuff, but for me, I’m in it to compete and to win. And I don’t have that opportunity in this organization. And I also feel like I gave this organization as many opportunities as they can to put a winning ballclub out there and as many chances to keep me in this organization, and it just hasn’t happened.”

If Papelbon has his way, a trade is what will happen — and soon. For him, his sixth All-Star appearance is simply continued validation that he can be more useful elsewhere.

“I thought that I was going to come to Philadelphia and win two more rings,” Papelbon said. “I honestly and truthfully did. And then the downward spiral happened, and it happened so quick. It’s almost unexplainable.”

Official: Phillies Sign Ortiz

ortizIt will take a few years, but the Phillies think they found a big-time power hitter in Jhailyn Ortiz.

The Phillies announced tonight they had officially signed the 16-year-old right fielder to a Minor League contract. Sources told MLB.com the deal is worth about $4.2 million.

MLB.com ranks Ortiz, who is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, as the sixth-best prospect in this year’s international free agent class. Baseball America rated Ortiz’s power as the best in the class, grading his power tool as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

“We have been scouting Jhailyn since he was 14 years old,” Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said in a statement. “Since that time, our scouts have gotten to know the family and have a strong conviction of not only his ability to play baseball, but his strong character and desire to be a Major League player. We are excited to add the power potential Jhailyn possesses to the Phillies organization.”

Phillies director of international scouting Sal Agostinelli signed Ortiz in his native Dominican Republic.

The Phillies also signed three other additional international prospects: Venezuelan catcher Rafael Marchan ($200,000), Dominican infielder Kuedy Bocio and Dominican left-hander pitcher Manuel Silva.

The Phillies on Sunday acquired the No. 1 overall signing slot ($3,590,400) for the 2015-16 international signing period from Arizona for Class A Lakewood right-hander Chris Oliver, Class A Lakewood left-hander Josh Taylor and the team’s No. 9 overall signing slot ($1,352,100). The trade allowed the Phillies to avoid penalties that would prohibit them from signing international players for more than $300,000 until the 2018-19 signing period.

The Phillies entered the signing period July 2 with an allotted $3,041,700, but the trade boosted that figure to $4,562,550 because teams can only acquire 50 percent of their international bonus pool.

Teams that exceed their pool by 15 percent or more are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods, in addition to paying a 100 percent tax on the pool overage. That Phillies would have blown past that percentage without the trade.

“This keeps our hands untied, so to speak,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said Sunday.

Clock Ticking on Phillies? No, Says Amaro

Ruben Amaro, Jr.The clock is ticking on the Phillies with the July 31 Trade Deadline just around the corner.

But Ruben Amaro Jr. said this afternoon at Dodger Stadium that the organization is not feeling pressured to trade anybody. Of course, that might be posturing on his part, but he said the Phillies will not be forced into a trade.

“If it’s going to do something to help our club long term, yes,” Amaro said. “But do we need to do something? I don’t think so.”

Amaro paused for a moment.

“I would like to do something,” he said.

Of course, he would. The Phillies are on pace to lose 109 games and trading Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and other veterans could kick the organization’s rebuilding efforts into a different gear. But depending on who is talking, either the Phillies are making unreasonable demands for their players, or contending teams are offering mid-range prospects for one of the top starting pitchers and top closers in baseball.

“We’ve debated here internally about when is the greatest value of some of these players, a number of them,” said Amaro, indicating the Phillies could wait to trade until the offseason. “When does that player become the most valuable asset? Again, a lot of it depends on who’s going to step up, and who’s going to satisfy some of the things that we’re trying to do in a trade. If someone does, and we feel like it’s the right thing to do, we’ll do it. If not then we won’t.”

So are they being lowballed?

“They have their evaluations on our players,” Amaro said. “I don’t think it’s an issue of lowballing. I think it’s an issue of, like when we were in a buyers mode, trying to figure out what’s best for the organization. What’s best for each one of those organizations. They have to value what they want and how they want to proceed. That’s really up to them.”

Cesar’s Time: Utley Is No Longer No. 1 Second Baseman

Chase UtleyChase Utley is the greatest second baseman in Phillies history, but it appears Cesar Hernandez’s time has come.

Hernandez, 25, entered tonight’s game against the Dodgers hitting .302 (54-for-179) with 10 doubles, one triple, one home run, 19 RBIs and a .771 OPS in 71 games. Meanwhile, Utley is on the disabled list with an injured right ankle. He is hitting .179 (39-for-218) with seven doubles, one triple, four home runs, 25 RBIs and a .532 OPS in 65 games.

But is the iconic Utley, 36, still the primary second baseman when he returns from the DL?

“Not for me he’s not,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “Cesar Hernandez is our best second baseman.”

So whenever Utley returns …

“I would assume that Cesar will be our second baseman,” Amaro said. “Chase’s situation will kind of dictate itself, how he feels. There’ll be time for him to play, I think. He could play some first base. He could play some second. But as far as I’m concerned, just like what our plan has been for a long, long time, that’s to give opportunities to young men who could be part of our future. Cesar Hernandez has been one of our best players on the field right now in a variety of ways.”

Not surprisingly, Utley had little reaction about Amaro’s comments.

“Well, I think Cesar has done a really good job,” Utley said. “There you go.”

Pete Mackanin seems to be on board with Amaro. Asked for a health update on Utley before the game, Mackanin said, “I haven’t heard a word. But with Cesar playing so well, it’s not really a big deal for the simple reason that Utley has not played and seen pitching, so when he does come back … you really can’t count on him. How long has it been? Two weeks. And by the time he starts taking BP and all of that stuff, it’s probably going to be a month before he comes back in and then what do you do? I don’t know.”

Utley’s ankle has improved since a cortisone injection. He could begin baseball activities before the end of the road trip.

He also said recently he could be back on the field before the end of the month.

Nola Won’t Pitch Saturday, But He’s Coming Soon

nolaThe Phillies need a starting pitcher Saturday at AT&T Park in San Francisco, but it will not be Triple-A right-hander Aaron Nola.

But it sure sounds like Nola will be in the big leagues before the end of the month.

“He’s getting closer,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said this afternoon at Dodger Stadium. “At some point after the All-Star break, yeah.”

Of course, that could mean anytime between July 17 and the end of the regular season, but Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said he expects more changes to the rotation following the All-Star break. That could mean injured right-handers Jerome Williams and Aaron Harang rejoin the team, but with Cole Hamels expected to be traded before the July 31 Trade Deadline it almost certainly means Nola, too.

“We have a plan in place, and we’ll execute it,” Amaro said. “We have a good thought about when he’s going to be pitching for us.”

The Phillies outrighted right-hander Sean O’Sullivan following last night’s 10-7 loss to the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. They recalled right-hander Hector Neris to take his place on the roster. Neris will help in the bullpen until Saturday, when the Phillies need to add a starter.

Triple-A Lehigh Valley right-hander David Buchanan is the smart bet. He got pulled after three innings and 40 pitches Tuesday, which means he could pitch Saturday. Amaro said they also are considering options outside the organization.

“We haven’t made a final decision on it,” Amaro said. “It’s time for us to turn it over.”

The Phillies also designated right-hander Kevin Correia for assignment. Rookie right-hander Severino Gonzalez will pitch in his place Thursday. Of course, Gonzalez has not exactly pitched well. He is 3-2 with an 8.28 ERA in six starts. He has not pitched more than 5 1/3 innings in any of those starts. The inability to pitch six or more innings has been a big problem for the rotation.

“I would rather give the young man an opportunity,” Amaro said, explaining the difference between Correia and Gonzalez. “He’s throwing better. His stuff’s better. I’d rather give the young man an opportunity to do it at this stage of the game and see how he fares.”

“It’s time to do something. It’s past (time),” Mackanin said. “We’re happy about getting something changed, I am at least. We got a fresh arm in the bullpen which is huge. I don’t like to keep starters on the field longer than they should, but we’ve bene forced to do that. So we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll get Williams healthy and Harang healthy. Now Seve. There probably will be more changes down the road. So down the road, just get through the All-Star break and regroup, start over.”

Phillies Cut Loose Correia, O’Sullivan

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Sean O'Sullivan, right, walks away as Los Angeles Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez rounds the bases after a home run during the first inning of a baseball game in Los Angeles, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Sean O’Sullivan, right, walks away as Los Angeles Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez rounds the bases after a home run during the first inning of a baseball game in Los Angeles, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Something had to give, which is why the Phillies cut loose two starting pitchers in less than 12 hours.

They outrighted right-hander Sean O’Sullivan immediately following last night’s 10-7 loss to the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. O’Sullivan was 1-6 with a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts, failing to pitch six innings in eight starts and posting an 11.05 ERA in his last three. Tuesday morning they announced right-hander Kevin Correia had been designated for assignment. He went 0-3 with a 6.56 ERA in five starts, failing to pitch six innings in any start.

Rookie right-hander Severino Gonzalez (3-2, 8.28 ERA) will take Correia’s spot in the rotation Thursday night against the Dodgers.

The Phillies have not named Saturday’s starter, although right-hander Hector Neris has been recalled to take O’Sullivan’s spot on the roster. He will pitch out of the bullpen until Saturday.

The Phillies cleared two spots on the 40-man roster with these moves. It could be nothing more than a byproduct of cleaning house, or the Phillies could be looking to add a player or two via promotion or trade. Triple-A right-hander David Buchanan is on the 40-man roster, and he is a good bet to start Saturday.

Ruben Amaro Jr. said Sunday that Triple-A right-hander Aaron Nola, who is the organization’s top pitching prospect, is “close” to a big league promotion. Nola is not on the 40-man roster. But Amaro said they would not promote him “just because our rotation is very poor right now. … We’re going to bring him when it’s time for him developmentally.”

Phillies starters have pitched six innings in just 15 of the last 20 games, which have put a tremendous strain on the bullpen.

“Very often what is happening is the pitcher gets into the fifth and I don’t really want to send the guy back out in the sixth because he hasn’t looked sharp, but I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we can so that I don’t abuse the bullpen,” Pete Mackanin said last night. “We just can’t afford to use the bullpen. We’ve got to get more length.”

J-Roll Talks Sandberg, Middleton, Utley and More

rollinsJimmy Rollins is not feeling especially nostalgic this week at Dodger Stadium.

The Phillies are in town, but they traded him to the Dodgers in December. So those warm and fuzzy feelings about facing his former team?

“I haven’t thought about it, honestly,” Rollins said Monday. “There’s enough going on around here to keep me occupied. It’ll be good to see the guys. Obviously I’ve texted a few of them. A few of them return them right away, some wait a week or two. But, other than that, it’s another baseball game, honestly. Going there will probably be different, but coming here, they’re the team we want to beat.”

Rollins said he is not following his former team too closely, but he certainly knows the Phillies have the worst record in baseball.

“I’m glad to have gotten out when I did,” Rollins said. “But I’m glad to have gotten here. Ruben (Amaro Jr.) and I spoke of where I wanted to go. I said Los Angeles, and they were able to get a deal done. So that helps, it helps a whole bunch, when you go somewhere you want to go if you have to leave as opposed to just wherever you end up.”

Rollins touched on number topics Monday:

Ryne Sandberg quitting midseason. “When you’re not winning things happen like that. It’s unfortunate that had to happen that way, no one wants to see a manager get halfway through the season and walk away for any reason other than health issues, but that wasn’t the case. Pete Mackanin, who is a jokester, he’s probably changed the clubhouse over there a little bit.”

Owner John Middleton, who emerged as a face of the organization last week. “He’s a great man. I enjoyed John. Obviously you guys know his fire and his passion. And all he wants to do is win. I’ve always said if there can be another (George) Steinbrenner, it’ll probably be him. He wants to do whatever it takes to win. Him stepping forward doesn’t surprise (me). I think it’s a place where he’s always wanted to be. But with the group over there, I think they need to vote on those things. So when they’ve given him the nod, or if he’s been given the nod, he’ll be front and center doing what he needs to do to make the team better.”

On Chase Utley’s struggles. “I text Chase. He’s one of the guys that hits you back in a couple of weeks. He’s sounds like he’s in good spirits. Obviously what’s happened on the field, no one has expected that. No one is going to be pleased with that, especially Chase. You know how hard he goes at it and what he expects of himself. I know he’s had to deal with a few injuries. But we also know Chase, unless something is going to fall off, he’s not going to say much, he’s going to try to play through it. Starting with his ankle, it’s hard to hit on one foot. We saw that for a few years with Ryan (Howard), now Chase is going through the same thing. Other than that, Chase seems to be the same old guy when we text. Talking about LA traffic, where I’m living, things like that.”

On being anxious for his return to Philly next month: “No. You guys know me. I’m not really anxious to do anything. It’s one day at a time, and whoever’s in front of us is who we play that night. Whatever’s going to happen, what it’s going to be like, as the time draws near, I’ll probably be more excited about it. I know I have a lot of family members going up there. My mom and dad. My mom. Gigi, said, ‘We’re coming up for that game.’ That’s going to be fun. It’s a place I spent my whole career with the exception of this year. I was there since I was 17 in the organization. It will be fun and exciting.”

On if he’s surprised the Phillies are this bad. “There’s enough here to think about, going every day here, to concern myself with (it), honestly. Pat Gillick said they wouldn’t be a competitive team for a couple of years. I know when we were there he said that and we did our best to prove him wrong and the next year we were right there in the playoffs, finally broke through two years later won a championship. I remember him saying that. I thought he was up to his old tricks again, inspiring the boys. That hasn’t happened so far. Maybe he was right. Maybe he was being honest that with what they have and what they are going to eventually have in the farm system, they might not be competitive for a couple years.”

On Cole Hamels possibly being traded to the Dodgers. “That would be nice. That would be nice. Cole would be close to home. We know what type of pitcher he is, especially in big games. He wants those games. You have two big-game pitchers that are already here, so that would be three, and that’s one heck of a combination.”

On if he plans to play next year and beyond. “Yeah. I’ve just got to hit a little better. That’s it. The other parts are there. The second half I have to go out there and prove that I can still swing the bat.”

All-Star Papelbon Is Ready to Be Traded

Jonathan PapelbonIf the Phillies handle July the way everybody in baseball expects them to handle it, Jonathan Papelbon will make one of his final appearances in a Phillies uniform next week at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

He is the Phillies’ lone All-Star, based on strong numbers for a closer (1.65 ERA, 14 saves in 31 appearances) despite pitching for a team on pace to lose 108 games.

“I think every one of them is special,” Papelbon said today about his sixth All-Star appearance. “I think the best part about this one is my kids are a little bit older. I’ll be able to let them go … and let them experience it and let them kind of be able to remember it more. That will be pretty cool for me.”

The Phillies are expected to trade Papelbon before the July 31 Trade Deadline. Depending on who is talking either the Phillies are asking way too much for Papelbon or teams are trying to low ball them. Either way, Papelbon hopes to be pitching for a contender by Aug. 1.

“I would be surprised,” Papelbon said, asked about being with the Phillies next month. “Yeah, that would be a pretty valid answer.”

Would he be disappointed?

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I would say so.”

Papelbon has a limited no-trade clause, but he reiterated it will not be an issue.

“Any team that wants me I’m willing to go to,” he said. “I just think for me there are no doors closed right now.”

Except for teams that don’t want him to close. Papelbon still has no interest in being a setup man.

Papelbon has a $13 million club option for next season that automatically vests if he finishes 48 games this season. He already has finished 28, so he should reach that number. But Papelbon could require the option to be picked up to facilitate a trade. He only said his agents will handle that.

Papelbon’s salary has been an issue in trade talks, although the Phillies have said they are willing to eat salary to get the right prospects in return.

“The front office knows where my heart is and where my mind is,” Papelbon said. “And that’s to be with a contending ball club. The ball is in the Phillies’ court, the front office’s court, or I should say Andy MacPhail’s court? I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with Andy. I wish I could have. And I would still like to speak with him. But for some reason that hasn’t been made possible for me.”

Of course, MacPhail isn’t officially calling the shots yet.

“Well, then Pat (Gillick) knows where I stand and Ruben (Amaro Jr.) knows exactly where I stand,” he said. “I think everybody knows where I’m at. I’ve always been straight forward that I want to go play for a contender and I’m not going to shy away from it. I feel like that’s my right and my prerogative to have that opportunity and, you know, it’s in their hands. The ball’s in their court. I guess that’s kind of it.”

Rollins Trade Looking Good for Phillies

eflinThe Phillies only truly began their rebuilding process in December, when they traded Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers for a pair of Minor League pitchers.

The move proved symbolic because the organization finally cut ties with one of its iconic players.

“It absolutely was the right thing for us to do,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday at Turner Field. “We’ll continue to try to do those types of deals that’ll help bring some talent into our system and afford opportunities for young players like Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco.”

The early returns for the Phillies are positive. Rollins entered tonight’s series opener against the Phillies at Dodgers Stadium hitting .208 with 10 doubles, one triple, seven home runs, 24 RBIs and a .585 OPS, which ranked 161st out of 164 qualified hitters in baseball. Meanwhile, Double-A Reading right-hander Zach Eflin, whom they acquired in the deal, is 5-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 14 starts. Reading left-hander Tom Windle, whom they also acquired, just moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter, but the Phillies think his arm will play big there.

“We’re very pleased. I’m very happy with it,” Amaro said. “Eflin has a chance to be one of, if not the best, one of the best pitching prospects we have in our organization. Right now, (Aaron) Nola is the guy that people are focusing on, but Eflin has a chance to have every bit as high a ceiling.

“Windle has a strong arm. His command wasn’t really good enough to be a starter at this stage of his career, but we think throwing him in the pen gives him a faster track to the big leagues. There’s great value in those guys that can throw in the mid to upper 90s from the left side.”

Nola remains the closest pitching prospect to the big leagues, especially with the rotation consistently struggling to pitch six innings. It would not be a surprise to see him with the Phillies before the end of the month.

“He’s close,” Amaro said. “He’s still working on some things. He struggled through a couple of games. He hasn’t necessarily been knocked around, but it hasn’t been easy for him. He’s still learning some things and dealing with more veteran hitters in Triple-A, which is a good test for him. I don’t think he’s that far away, but when he’s ready he’ll be here. Just because our rotation is very poor right now it doesn’t mean we’re going to bring him to the big leagues for that reason. We’re going to bring him when it’s time for him developmentally.”

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