If there is a Man of Mystery in Phillies camp, a Mr. X, an unknown, it is Miguel Gonzalez.
The right-hander defected from Cuba last year before he agreed in July to a $48 million deal with the Phillies. But something happened during his physical and the parties ultimately agreed to a three-year, $12 million contract. He seemed to be destined for a top spot in the Phillies rotation, but the Phillies have lowered expectations for him because they said nobody really knows what kind of pitcher he might be.
Factor in the imminent arrival of A.J. Burnett and he could open the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
“I’ve got more to prove to myself than anyone else,” Gonzalez said of his Mystery Man status. “Once I prove it to myself, everyone else will be able to see it clearly.”
Gonzalez said he started throwing bullpens Jan. 6 and feels 100 percent healthy.
“There is more speed, more movement,” he said. “I can tell I’ve progressed.”
Cole Hamels is expected to open the season on the disabled list, but he could be back before the end of April. Once he is healthy, Hamels, Cliff Lee, Burnett and Kyle Kendrick will take the top four spots in the rotation. The Phillies signed Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $4.5 million contract in December. He is the heavy favorite for the No. 5 spot because Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone and others in camp have options.
“Those are decisions that are out of my control,” said Gonzalez, asked if he sees himself in the rotation come Opening Day. “I’m going to do my best to do that, but that (decision) is out of my hands.”
He said he would pitch in the bullpen, if needed, but Ruben Amaro Jr. said he is best suited pitching regularly in a rotation.
The Phillies released right-hander Chad Gaudin after he failed his physical.
“We didn’t feel comfortable with the exam yesterday, so we decided to let him go,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
The Phillies signed Gaudin to a Minor League contract. He had a good chance to make the team as a swing man, but now the Phillies must find somebody else for that role.
“It hurts,” Amaro said. “The roles he could fill as a long guy that can sit around for 10 days and not pitch then pitch as a starter … all those things you’d like a veteran guy to do. We’re going to have to find out if that guys in our camp.”
A source said this morning the Phillies have agreed to a one-year, $16 million contract with right-hander A.J. Burnett.
It includes a mutual option for 2015 and a limited no-trade clause.
If everybody is healthy, Burnett, 37, projects atop the rotation with Hamels and Cliff Lee. Burnett went 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 starts last season with the Pirates. He led the big leagues in ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (2.62), which should help at cozy Citizens Bank Park. He also led the National League with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
“I have met him quite a few times when he was with Toronto,” Hamels said before news broke about the deal. “He’s got unbelievable talent. Unfortunately, I think he kept us away from another ring (in 2009 World Series). What he brings to the table is great. If we’re able to get him, it only helps us out. It doesn’t hurt us. He’s another veteran who has good experience and a good repertoire. I know he is pretty charismatic. He would be good for us.”
Interestingly, Burnett’s $16 million salary could push the Phillies to a franchise-record payroll following an 89-loss season in 2013. They finished 2012 at a record $174.5 million, according to figures sent from the commissioner’s office to teams for luxury tax purposes. That figure includes the average annual value of contracts, more than $10 million for benefits and extended benefits, bonuses and more.
Figure Burnett’s $16 million salary into the mix, and the Phillies payroll alone is about $174 million with the luxury tax now $189 million.
So why Burnett? The payroll actually might have something to do with it.
The Phillies already are heavily invested in players like Hamels, Lee, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins and others. The front office believes if the team is healthy it will win. If that is the case and the Phillies are all-in, why not spend more to improve the rotation?
The rotation had its share of concerns following Hamels and Lee, and now Hamels is behind schedule after feeling discomfort in his throwing shoulder around Thanksgiving. Hamels said he is not worried, is pain free and expects to be pitching in a regular-season game in April, but players often put on rose-colored glasses when speaking about their health.
But Kyle Kendrick had a 6.45 ERA in his final 14 starts last season before finishing the season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. Roberto Hernandez signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal in December, but has a 5.19 ERA over 67 appearances (59 starts) the past three seasons. The No. 5 job projected to be a competition between Miguel Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone. The Phillies have tempered expectations for Gonzalez, who signed a three-year, $12 million deal last summer.
He said he will not be ready to start the season, but insisted he will be pitching for the Phillies sometime in April.
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” said Hamels, asked if he expects to be pitching before May 1. “I see myself pitching in April. I guess I don’t see myself pitching in March. It’s not any pain or discomfort. It’s just the building up of muscles. When you start you can’t run a marathon right off the bat. You have to build up to it.
“Not too far behind (Opening Day) I’ll be ready.”
Phillies pitchers and catchers hold their first official workout Thursday at Carpenter Complex, but Hamels will not be throwing off the mound with his teammates. He said he just started to throw Jan. 1, when he typically begins to throw Dec. 1.
“I felt some discomfort in my shoulder,” Hamels said.
He later said the tendinitis is in his biceps, but for Phillies fans who understand several things need to go perfectly for the team to make the postseason in 2014, it is cause for concern. But Hamels seemed unworried and said after talking with Phillies physician Michael Ciccotti and head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan they simply decided he should not throw in December.
Hamels, 30, did not have a MRI.
“Right now I’m just kind of in the middle stages of my throwing program, which doesn’t allow me to throw bullpens at the moment,” he said. “Don’t feel alarmed. I feel healthy now. It’s just trying to get the strength and the stamina to be able to do that comfortably and not injure myself. But other than that, I’m glad we were able to find it earlier. Things look good. I will progress during Spring Training into the start of the season.”
Sources said today contracts are nearly finalized. Sources told MLB.com last week the network had begun negotiations with the pair as replacements for Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews, whom the network declined to bring back as part of its recently negotiated 25-year contract with the Phillies.
Moyer, who has worked with ESPN, interviewed three weeks ago. Stairs, who has worked with NESN, interviewed two weeks ago. Comcast originally intended to hire just one broadcaster, but both impressed during auditions.
Both are members of the Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship team.
It is unclear how the Moyer-Stairs combination will work alongside play-by-play announcer Tom McCarthy. They could share time in the booth like Wheeler and Matthews (Wheeler broadcast six innings, while Matthews broadcast three), they could split games, or they could both be in the booth at the same time with McCarthy.
Comcast also had Mitch Williams, Mickey Morandini and Kevin Stocker among its finalists.
Comcast broadcasts its first Grapefruit League game from Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 26.
But sources said tonight the Phillies are very much still in the running for free agent right-hander A.J. Burnett.
It is unclear if the parties are close to a deal, but the chances have improved since Friday when Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, “It’s more likely we’ll go (into Spring Training) with what we’ve got.”
If the Phillies and Burnett agree to a deal – the Pirates seem to be their top competition — he would become the rotation’s No. 3 behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Kyle Kendrick also has a spot in the rotation. Roberto Hernandez signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal in December. Entering camp Amaro indicated Miguel Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone and others would fight for the No. 5 spot.
Ruben Amaro Jr. said this morning he will continue to look for ways to improve the Phillies roster, but with pitchers and catchers holding their first workout at Carpenter Complex in six days any significant additions seem unlikely.
“It’s more likely we’ll go in with what we’ve got,” Amaro said.
The Phillies have been talking with free-agent right-hander A.J. Burnett, but the Pirates and Orioles also are top suitors.
But the Phillies will be one team watching former closer Ryan Madson throw today in Arizona. Madson has not pitched since 2011 because of Tommy John surgery and complications following the surgery, but when he has been healthy he has been one of the top relievers in baseball.
“There are several guys in that boat,” Amaro said. “We’ll have our eyes on these guys who are working on coming back from an injury or surgery.”
It is unclear if Madson is looking for a guaranteed Major League contract, and if so if that would scare away the Phillies.
The Phillies also have been looking for a backup center fielder. Currently, John Mayberry Jr. and Tony Gwynn Jr. are two top candidates for that job.
“There aren’t a chock full of opportunities,” Amaro said. “It’s a possibility, but as I said we’ll probably go with what we’ve got and see what happens over the course of the spring.”
Sources said this week the network has been speaking to both Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs about joining Tom McCarthy in the broadcast booth. The network originally planned to hire just one color commentator to replace Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews, whom the network declined to bring back as part of its recently negotiated 25-year contract with the Phillies. But those plans apparently changed following strong auditions by both.
Moyer, who has worked with ESPN, interviewed two weeks ago. Stairs, who has worked with NESN, interviewed late last week.
It is unclear how a Moyer-Stairs combination would work, if they reach agreements with both. They could share time in the booth like Wheeler and Matthews (Wheeler broadcast six innings while Matthews broadcast three),they could split games or they could be in the booth at the same time with McCarthy.
Comcast also had Mitch Williams, Mickey Morandini and Kevin Stocker among its finalists.
An official announcement could come as early as the end of the week. Comcast broadcasts its first Grapefruit League game from Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 26.
They should be, and if the price is right they should jump on it.
Here is the thing: the Phillies already have committed hundreds of millions of dollars to players like Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon and Carlos Ruiz. You spend that kind of money because you expect to win and fill seats at Citizens Bank Park. But this rotation has question marks following Hamels and Lee. Kyle Kendrick had a 3.22 ERA after his first 13 starts last season, but posted a 6.45 ERA in his final 14 before finishing the season on the disabled list. They certainly need the first half Kendrick to return, or at least something close to it. The Phillies signed Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $4.5 million deal, but he has a 5.19 ERA over 67 appearances (59 starts) the past three seasons. He pitched so poorly last year the Rays bumped him from the rotation to the bullpen, but at the moment he is a lock for the rotation.
Hernandez was the Phillies’ most puzzling offseason move, in my opinion.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone currently are the top two candidates for the No. 5 job. Gonzalez is a mystery. The Phillies and Gonzalez agreed to a $48 million deal in July, which meant Phillies scouts and executives believed he was at worst a No. 3 starter. But after an issue with his physical he signed a $12 million deal. And ever since then the Phillies have hit the brakes on any expectations for him. From $48 million to $12 million to competing with Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Chad Gaudin for the fifth spot. He is a huge wild card.
But back to Burnett. If the Phillies have committed hundreds of millions of dollars because they think they can win, why not bring in Burnett? Why not spend a little more? He would stabilize the rotation as a solid No. 3. Kendrick would fall behind him at No. 4, and then you can figure out the No. 5 spot with Hernandez, Gonzalez and Pettibone. The only reason not to pursue Burnett would be if the Phillies recognize they need numerous things to break exactly right to have a chance to win, therefore consider whatever Burnett might cost to be too much of a risk.
In other words, Burnett only makes a difference if A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I and J go right this season. And what are the chances of that happening?
But if the Phillies truly believe Howard is healthy and will be effective, Rollins will be more motivated and bounce back, Papelbon can be effective despite diminished stuff, etc., then Burnett will help. And they should get him into camp.
He knows Phillies fans well.
He has heard how fans are underwhelmed at the Phillies’ offseason acquisitions, which not only includes himself, but right-handers Roberto Hernandez and Brad Lincoln, catcher Wil Nieves and outfielder Bobby Abreu.
Byrd takes no offense.
“If I was a fan I think I’d rather have Robinson Cano. I think I’d rather have (Masahiro) Tanaka,” Byrd said with a smile this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. “I want those guys. Ruben (Amaro Jr.) went with the guys he thought would help this team. And until we get on the field and actually get to show it, the fan base will kind of be looking at this team like, ‘Hey, two years of trying to get back to the promised land, we need 10 Robinson Canos in this lineup and a whole staff of Tanakas. I think they’ll be happy once we get on the field and we start producing.”
Byrd hit a combined .291 with 24 home runs and 88 RBIs last season with the Mets and Pirates. Fans normally might be enthused at the thought of somebody like that hitting behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. But following a 50-game suspension for using a performance enhancing substance in 2012, many people wonder if Byrd can replicate those numbers at 36.
Those skeptics wonder how real those numbers are.
Once again, Byrd takes no offense.
“Everything last year until I retire will be looked at that way because I did test positive,” he said. “The guys that don’t like talking about it are the ones that were trying to cheat or trying to beat the system. I wasn’t. I was stupid. I took something. I didn’t do my due diligence. It’s as simple as that, so it’s easy for me to talk about it because I have nothing to hide.”
Byrd said he is excited to rejoin the organization, which drafted him in the 10th round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. He has remained close to Howard and Jimmy Rollins, both of whom served as groomsmen at his wedding.
“I was so excited when they were making their run, going through the playoffs,” Byrd said. “I was coming to games. I was waving my towel like a fan and everything. I absolutely loved it.”
Byrd shared a story about how he texted Rollins during the 2008 World Series to tell him how Rays pitcher Matt Garza tipped his pitches. Coincidentally or not, Rollins went 2 for 3 with a run scored against Garza in Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park, which the Phillies won, 5-4.
“I felt like a scout,” Byrd said.