Remember when the Phillies announced Wally Joyner declined to return as assistant hitting coach?
He apparently changed his mind.
The Phillies announced today that Joyner will return in 2014, working alongside hitting coach Steve Henderson. Joyner received high marks this season from players, particularly leftfielder Domonic Brown, who enjoyed a breakout season.
They also announced Juan Samuel will return as first base coach.
The Phillies are still looking for a pitching coach and bullpen coach. Rod Nichols, who was the bullpen coach in 2013, remains in play for one of those jobs. If Nichols returns, it means former pitching coach Rich Dubee and former catching coach Mick Billmeyer will be the only casualties from last season’s coaching staff.
The Phillies also outrighted four players from the 40-man roster: right-hander J.C. Ramirez, left-hander Cesar Jimenez and outfielders Roger Bernadina and Casper Wells. Bernadina and Wells are eligible for salary arbitration, but the Phillies had no plans to tender them a contract.
Billmeyer might not have been the most high-profile coach on the big-league staff, but his presence loomed large in the clubhouse. Earlier this week, the Phillies announced pitching coach Rich Dubee will not return. It could lead to bullpen coach Rod Nichols being promoted to pitching coach, or the Phillies could go outside the organization to fill the spot.
Billmeyer joined the organization in 2000 as the Minor League catching coordinator before he joined former manager Larry Bowa’s staff as catching instructor in 2004. He served that role five seasons before he became bullpen coach in 2009. He held that position four seasons before the Phillies moved him into the dugout as catching coach this year.
Billmeyer, 49, was one of the most well-liked people in the clubhouse and organization because of his high-energy personality, positivity and sense of humor. It actually is why the Phillies moved him into the dugout this season.
Besides his regular duties, he simply had a knack for knowing when to keep things loose in the clubhouse. The Astros swept the Phillies in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park in Aug. 2010 to drop them three games out of first place in the National League East. The Phillies then flew to San Diego to open a seven-game road trip. Billmeyer, sensing the team was down and tight, had players rolling on the ground before the series opener at PETCO Park, impersonating pitchers’ mannerisms on the mound.
The Phillies swept the series and finished the season 27-8.
Sure, it might have been coincidental, but he frequently brought levity to the clubhouse when it needed it.
Manager Ryne Sandberg must fill the coaching spots vacated by Dubee, Billmeyer and himself. He had been third base coach before the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel in August.
Ruben Amaro Jr. said one of the front office’s first orders of business this offseason is cleaning up the 40-man roster.
“We have some guys who will not be on our roster shortly after the season,” he said. “We have some guys who were placeholders in some regards. We have to clean up our roster and make some decisions about who may be helping us in 2014 and beyond.”
Today the Phillies announced they had outrighted four players from the 40-man: infielders Michael Martinez and Pete Orr; right-hander Zach Miner and left-hander Mauricio Robles. Martinez has a .495 OPS in 396 career plate appearances, which is the 29th lowest OPS out of 4,549 non-pitchers with 350 or more plate appearances since 1900.
Orr had four hits in 20 at-bats this season. Miner went 0-2 with a 4.40 ERA in 16 appearances. He started three games the final month of the season when Kyle Kendrick suffered a shoulder injury. Robles allowed one earned run in 4 2/3 innings in three appearances.
Yesterday the Indians claimed right-hander Tyler Cloyd off waivers. The Astros claimed left-hander Raul Valdes.
A couple pitchers left the Phillies organization today.
The Indians claimed right-hander Tyler Cloyd and the Astros claimed left-hander Raul Valdes.
Cloyd, 26, went 2-7 with a 6.56 ERA in 13 appearances (11 starts) this season. He has 5.98 in 19 big-league appearances. Valdes, 35, went 1-1 with a 7.46 ERA in 17 appearances (one start) this season with the Phillies. He has a 4.94 ERA in 95 career big-league appearances.
Neither were expected to be part of the Phillies’ future plans.
Ruben Amaro Jr. settled into one of the blue seats a few rows from the field Saturday afternoon at Turner Field. He munched on sunflower seeds as Scott Proefrock, one of his assistant general managers, sat in the row behind him.
The Phillies had two games remaining in their disappointing 2013 season, their first losing season since 2002, but it seemed as good a time as any to look back at the team’s misfortunes and discuss ways they can improve the future. In a wide-ranging interview with the team’s traveling beat writers, Amaro discussed everything from the heat he is feeling from fans, increasing the organization’s use of analytics in player evaluation, finding an everyday right fielder, payroll and making sure they do not enter next season crossing their fingers and hoping a multitude of things go perfectly to have a chance to win.
“I always feel under the gun,” Amaro said. “I put myself under the gun. I don’t listen to a lot of it. But listen, I’m the GM of the club, so I fully expect to take heat for it. I’m the one making the decisions on player personnel. I’m accountable for the things that have happened. I didn’t have a very good year; our team didn’t have a very good year. I think we win as a team and lose as a team. The fact of the matter is that I should take a lot of heat for it. I need to be better, and our guys need to be better. We need to evaluate better, we need to make better decisions and try to create a little better mojo overall.”
The front office has missed in its player evaluations in recent seasons. Once Jayson Werth left as a free agent in 2010, the Phillies entered subsequent seasons counting on Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr. and Delmon Young to be productive right-handed bats in the outfield.
Since they signed relievers Chan Ho Park and Jose Contreras to one-year contracts before the 2009 and 2010 seasons, respectively, free-agent relievers Danys Baez, Chad Qualls, Chad Durbin and Mike Adams haven’t panned out. The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract a couple years ago, but they found no takers before the July 31 Trade Deadline as his velocity and performance have dipped.
In the midst of that, the Phillies released reliever Jason Grilli from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2011. He has been a force in the Pirates bullpen the past three seasons.
“We’re going to make some changes,” Amaro said. “I think we’re doing some stuff analytically to change the way do some evaluations. Look, we are going to continue to be a scouting organization. That said, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate. We’re going to build more analytics into it. Is it going to change dramatically the way we go about our business? No, but we owe it to ourselves to at least explore other avenues. We may bring someone in from the outside, but we have not decided that yet.”
The Phillies announced this morning they will not renew his contract. Dubee had been pitching coach nine seasons, which is tied with Cy Perkins (1946-54) and Ray Rippelmeyer (1970-78) for the longest run in that position in franchise history.
The Phillies could make more coaching staff changes, although they said those announcements could come at a later date.
“Rich was a big part of a wonderful era here and in his nine years he served our organization very well,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement. “We believe it is time for change as we move forward. We thank Rich for his professionalism and contribution to the Phillies.”
Dubee’s fate seemed set the moment the organization fired Charlie Manuel on Aug. 16. He knows how the business works, and he probably figured new manager Ryne Sandberg wanted his own man in that spot.
“I’ve been fired [in the past],” Dubee said last month. “Life goes on, unfortunately. You don’t like to see it, but it’s been a heck of a run. Between watching Doc [Roy Halladay] pitch in a playoff game and Jamie Moyer win a World Series, 102 wins [in 2011] — there are a lot of highlights that Charlie’s had here that are very special, and we’ve spent them together. Those are special moments.”
Asked then about his future, he said, “I want to be in the big leagues, that’s for sure. I’d like to coach a few more years in the big leagues. I didn’t think I’d be here for eight-plus, so you never know what’s going to happen.”
The Phillies and Mets tied for sixth in the National League with a 4.06 ERA during Dubee’s nine-year run. He has worked with Cy Young winners, All-Stars, journeymen and no-namers.
“If you look at the players we’ve had pitching-wise, if we got them from somebody, how they were doing before they got here and how they pitched here,” Dubee said. “If we had them, how they pitched here and how they pitched when they went somewhere else, I think I’ve had a pretty good run of helping guys be successful. Part of that is having good talent. I’ve been very fortunate to have good talent, young and old.”
They paid Jonathan Papelbon $50 million to do that job.
He nearly blew a four-run lead last night in a 5-4 victory over the Braves at Turner Field.
Anybody can have a bad night and Papelbon hung his night on a hanging breaking ball to Braves right fielder Justin Upton, who hit a three-run home run. But there are reasons to be concerned about their high-priced closer. Papelbon, who is owed $26 million over the next two seasons, has blown seven of 36 saves this year. His 80.6 save completion percentage ranks 27th out of 30 pitchers with 20 or more save opportunities. His once intimidating fastball has averaged just 92.1 mph, 1.7 mph less than last season and 2.7 mph less than his final season with the Red Sox in 2012.
A surly Papelbon sat in a far corner of the Phillies clubhouse afterward, carrying a blank look on his face and insisting he is not worried about any of this.
“I guess if you guys think I’m not throwing hard enough,” he said, when asked if he thinks his velocity can come back next season. “I don’t know, maybe. Maybe it will. I don’t know. I don’t think think (velocity) really matters in this game. It’s velocity at the plate, life at the plate. It’s not how hard it comes out of your hand. It’s what it does near the plate.”
But Papelbon is striking out only 8.3 batters per nine innings this season, which is the lowest mark of his career. He averaged 10.0 or more strikeouts per nine innings over each of the previous six seasons. In the past, when he allowed a couple infield hits like he did last night, he could get a big strikeout to get himself out of trouble. But that is happening less and less frequently this season.
Papelbon had a hip issue earlier this season, but he downplayed its effect then and he downplayed it again last night. But Ryne Sandberg said it is something Papelbon has been working on, and he said hopefully when his closer is healthy he can starting throwing fastballs back in the 93-94 mph range.
Asked if Papelbon can be a shutdown closer if he is throwing in the 91-92 mph range, Sandberg said, “Well, he’s our guy right now for that. I see him getting some rest and getting back to throwing 94. I think that’s what he needs.”
The Phillies are more than willing to trade Papelbon in the offseason, but they might have trouble finding takers. They had virtually no interest in him before the July 31 Trade Deadline because he is owed not only $26 million over the next two seasons, but potentially $13 million more in 2016 based on a club option.
Papelbon was very critical of the team in July, saying changes needed to be made from top to bottom to improve. Asked again last night where he thinks this team is headed, he said, “We’re headed to go play golf.”
His former team won the American League East this season after losing 93 games last year. Maybe it could happen to the Phillies in 2014.
“Sure, but you saw what they did over there,” he said.
The Red Sox cleaned house.
Is Papelbon happy in Philadelphia? It is hard to tell.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m happy to be in a uniform, playing baseball,” he said. “But it’s not fun to lose though.”
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. ended speculation about Kendrick’s future this afternoon at Turner Field, when he said he planned to tender him a contract in the offseason.
Kendrick is eligible for salary arbitration. He made $4.5 million this season and is expected to receive a raise, despite posting a 3-9 record and 6.45 ERA in his final 14 starts. He went 16-14 with a 3.50 ERA in a 40-start stretch from April 29, 2012, through June 25, 2013.
Kendrick finished the season on the disabled list because of an injured right shoulder, but the Phillies are woefully thin with starting pitching depth so Kendrick at least will provide them a durable arm going forward. Both sides say Kendrick’s shoulder problems are not serious.
“I don’t know why people are asking about that,” said Amaro, when asked if the Phillies plan to tender Kendrick a contract. “We will.”
Four of the team’s final six games will be started by Zach Miner, Tyler Cloyd and Ethan Martin. The rotation enters its final two games of the season 25th in baseball with a 4.38 ERA, and 29th since the All-Star break with a 5.24 ERA. And if you remove Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee from the equation, every other Phillies starter this season has a combined 5.36 ERA. Clearly, the Phillies need to do something to upgrade the rotation, including improving depth.
But let’s not forget about the offense. It is enters these final two games tied for 27th in baseball, averaging 3.75 runs per game. The Phillies also are 25th in on-base percentage (.306) and 21st in slugging percentage (.384).
Lee certainly wouldn’t mind the Phillies adding a bat in the offseason.
“Yeah, no doubt,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I? I think we all would. I think it’s been a big part of our struggles, lack of scoring runs. But we’ve also had games where we’ve scored a bunch of runs and screwed up on the mound. It takes a total package. You’ve got to pitch, you’ve got to hit, you’ve got to play defense and you’ve got to have a good bullpen. If you don’t have all of those, you’re not going to win consistently. That’s Ruben’s and those guys job to figure it out and make it happen. And it’s our job to go out there and execute and make it happen.”
It takes a total package, and that is where Ruben Amaro Jr. comes in. He’s got a ton of work to do. He needs to find a big bat to help the offense. He needs an arm or two to fill out the rotation. And he needs a couple arms to fortify the bullpen. Otherwise, the offseason should be pretty easy.
But this start did not come in the thick of a pennant race. This start came with two inconsequential games remaining in the Phillies’ first losing season since 2002. Lee worked masterfully in eight innings in the final start of his season in a 1-0 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. He struck out six consecutive batters at one point — one short of tying Steve Carlton and Curt Schilling for the franchise record — and struck out 13 batters overall.
In the end, it was just another frustrating loss at the end of another frustrating season as Lee’s opportunities for meaningful baseball games shrink by the year. He has thrown 433 2/3 innings over the past two seasons and none have come in the postseason.
That’s a lot of wasted bullets.
“I am getting up there in age,” said Lee, who lost World Series with the Phillies in 2009 and Rangers in 2010. “I’m 35 years old now and when this contract’s over I plan on going home, so I’m running out of opportunities. All I can control is what I can control, and I’m going to do everything I can to help us win. That’s all I know how to do.”
So he doesn’t see himself playing beyond this contract? It expires following the 2015 season, unless a club option is exercised for 2016.
“Right now I don’t,” he said. “There are a lot of things that can happen between now and then, but I just know that my kids are 12 and 10 and I’ve basically missed the first half of their lives. I’m financially able to shut it down, so … that’s how I feel right now. But when the time comes I might look at it differently. I also want to finish being good, not struggling and fumbling through at the end. I want to finish strong and take it to the house. Next year I want to win a World Series, then another one, then another one and take it to the house. That’s what I’m wanting to do.”
Lee finished this season 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, which is 10th in baseball. He became the first pitcher in baseball history to strike out 50 or more batters with one or fewer walks in a calendar month. He struck out 54 and walked just one in 39 innings in September.
He was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable year.
“What gives me hope is the fact that this has been a winning organization for quite a while and you’ve got to expect the front office to make moves and do everything they can to keep that going,” Lee said. “We’ve still got some key guys coming back that have been injured with (Ben) Revere and (Ryan) Howard. KK (Kyle Kendrick) finished the year hurt. (Roy) Halladay, if they bring him back. We had a lot of guys that weren’t able to help us like they normally would.”
Lee will join Cole Hamels atop next season’s rotation. After that, who knows?
Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez figures to be in there, or else why would have the Phillies signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract? Kendrick, who is eligible for salary arbitration, could be back, too. Ryne Sandberg hinted at the possibility when asked about next season’s rotation.
“That’s a good place to start,” he said about Lee and Hamels before the game. “Have KK in the mix. And then some decisions have to be made from there.”