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.

Diekman Ticked Off at Ejection

Jake DiekmanJake Diekman had every reason to be frustrated following the top of the 10th inning tonight at Citizens Bank Park.

He walked Nationals center fielder Denard Span to start the inning. Then after Chase Utley made a questionable flip to second base on a fielder’s choice with a runner on first and one out, he struck out Adam LaRoche for the second out before he threw a 0-2 fastball to Ryan Zimmerman, who hit the 100 mph pitch to center field to score the go-ahead run in a 5-3 loss.

Diekman finally got out of the inning, but only after a wild pitch scored Jayson Werth from third.

Diekman motioned to home plate umpire Andy Fletcher and got into a conversation with him as he walked off the field.

Fletcher ultimately ejected Diekman, the first of Diekman’s big-league career.

“I asked him, ‘Were any of those close?’” Diekman said. “He said with a smirk on his face, ‘Were what close?’ I said, ‘Those four or five pitches,’ and that was it. I was told I was kicked out of the game.”

No profanities in that conversation?

“Nothing. That was it,” Diekman said. “So yeah, I kind of want to talk to him. That’s all, literally what I said.”

It only added to the frustration of what happened on the mound.

“Yeah, big time,” Diekman said. “It’s basically what I’ve got. Were any of those close? Were what close? With a smart (aleck, flipping) grin on his face. And then I was like, those four or five pitches, walked in the tunnel and he threw me out.”

Sizemore Called Up

sizemoreThe Phillies dropped some serious hints that Grady Sizemore would join the Phillies before the All-Star break.

They made it official this evening when they announced they selected his contract from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. They optioned right-hander David Buchanan to Triple-A to make room for him on the 25-man roster. They placed left-hander Cliff Lee on the 60-day disabled list to make room for him on the 40-man roster.

Both Buchanan and Lee are paperwork moves and nothing more.

The Phillies don’t need a fifth starter until July 22, so optioning Buchanan allows the Phillies to carry an extra bat into the break and through the first series after the break in Atlanta. It also allows Buchanan to keeping pitching. Lee, who has been on the DL since May 19 with a strained left elbow, can be activated as early as July 18.

Lee, who is making a third rehab start Monday with Class A Clearwater, is expected to pitch in Atlanta.

The Philies signed Sizemore because their outfield production has been among the worst in baseball this season. Their overall .679 OPS in the outfield ranked 23rd in baseball entering Thursday. Their .566 OPS in left field is last, and their .654 OPS in center field is 21st.

But it is unclear how much of a boost Sizemore can actually provide. He hit just .215 with 10 doubles, two triples, two home runs, 15 RBIs and a .612 OPS in 52 games before the Red Sox released him last month. He had been one of the better outfielders in baseball with the Indians from 2004-09 before seven surgeries for a variety of injuries limited to 104 games 2010-11 and kept him out of baseball in 2012-13.

Sizemore He hit .289 with one double, one home run, two RBIs and a .738 OPS in 50 plate appearances over 10 games with the IronPigs.

Phillies React to Papelbon’s Trade Comments

Chase Utley, Jimmy RollinsJonathan Papelbon seemed baffled last night when reporters asked if he hopes to join a contending team before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

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

Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are two long-time Phillies who have said in recent weeks they have no desire to leave Philadelphia. Both have 10-and-5 rights, so they can reject any trade at any time. Utley said nothing this morning at Miller Park when asked about Papelbon’s comments and if anything has changed for him. He shooed away the question with his hands.

Rollins said little more than that.

“Not until I say so,” he said, asked if anything has changed for him. “You don’t have to investigate.”

Ruben Amaro Jr. said he had no problems with Papelbon’s candid comments.

“Every single player on this team should want to play for a winning team,” he said. “Simple as that. … Don’t misconstrue his words. He never said he’s unhappy here. He never said anything like that. He never expressed to me that he’s been unhappy. Why wouldn’t players want to play on a contending team? It’s really rather simple.”

Cole Hamels walked past Amaro in the visitors’ dugout at that moment.

“He wants to play on a winning team,” Amaro said about Hamels. “Why wouldn’t he?”

Amaro said Papelbon has not requested a trade. He would not say if there is much interest in his closer, although he said, “I’m getting calls on people all the time.”

But Papelbon is 10th among 149 qualified relief pitchers in baseball with a 1.24 ERA. His 0.85 WHIP is 15th out of 203. He is 22 of 24 in save opportunities.

He could help a contending team in need of bullpen help.

“It’s not a problem,” Amaro said. “I don’t view it as a problem. I’ve never viewed him as a problem.”

Asked about Papelbon’s bewilderment that anybody would want to stay on a losing team, Rollins said, “Pap is entitled to say whatever he wants to say. And he will. As all of us will. Those who have enough courage to.”

But there has to be many more people in the Phillies’ clubhouse that feel that way. They just don’t want to say it publicly.

“I can’t necessarily agree with that,” Rollins said.

Amaro said the Phillies are open-minded about a lot of things as the Trade Deadline approaches. It could mean eating some of Papelbon’s contract. He is owed about $19.5 million through next season, plus a potential $13 million more in 2016 if an option automatically vests based on games finished.

“Something is probably going to happen,” Rollins said. “No one knows who, what or when obviously. Something is likely going to happen.”

But Rollins figures to be here August 1.

“Probably,” he said.

Papelbon Would Welcome A Trade

Jonathan PapelbonJonathan Papelbon needed just nine pitches to pick up his third save in three days Wednesday at Miller Park.

He is pitching like one of the best closers in baseball, but his efforts have been mostly wasted on a last-place team on pace to lose 91 games. It is why Papelbon made no bones following the Phillies’ 4-1 victory over the Brewers that he would welcome a trade to a contending team before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Does he want to be wanted by a contending team?

“Of course, man,” he said. “What kind of question is that?”

Well, some players say they don’t want to be moved this time of year.

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

So if a contender called he would be willing to go?

“Yeah,” he said, chuckling, almost in disbelief at the suggestion somebody would not go. “I think that’s a no-brainer.”

But Papelbon said he doesn’t have a gut feeling whether or not he will traded before the deadline, although the Phillies have been motivated to move him. They tried to trade him before last year’s Trade Deadline and again this offseason.

“I don’t have that crystal eight-ball,” he said.

Papelbon is 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA and 22 saves in 24 opportunities in 37 appearances this season. His 0.88 WHIP entering Wednesday ranked 20th out of 202 qualifying relief pitchers in baseball. He is owed about $19.5 million on his four-year, $50 million contract: $6.5 million this season and $13 million next season. He also has a $13 million option in 2016 that automatically vests if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014-15 and is not on the disabled list at the end of 2015 with an elbow or shoulder injury.

His contract could be a stumbling block for teams – although the Phillies have said in recent weeks they would be willing to take on money in the right deal – but his limited no-trade clause will not be a problem if the Phillies can find a trade partner.

Papelbon shook his head no when asked if his no-trade clause could be a hurdle for the Phillies.

He shook his head no again when asked if he had expressed that to anybody in the Phillies’ front office.

The Tigers are a winning team in need of bullpen help. Papelbon shook his head yes when asked if he would go to Detroit.

“Yes and no,” he said, when asked if he hopes a contending team acquires him. “You know, I came here for a reason … and I say that because I’m with a group of guys in the bullpen that can do very special things in the future. I’ve been waiting for that, you know what I mean? It’s fun to be a part of that, it really is. We are there finally with our bullpen. So that aspect of it would kind of suck to leave. But at the same time, winning is the cure-alls of cure-alls.”

Amaro: Changes Are Coming

Ruben Amaro, Jr.Ruben Amaro Jr. said today that changes are coming for the Phillies’ offense.

It could come in the form of trades before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, injured players finally getting healthy or Minor Leaguers finally getting a shot.

“It’s disappointing, particularly the offense,” Amaro said about the Phillies’ performance. “What more can you say other than we’re not swinging the bats very well? I didn’t anticipate our guys being this poor. Because they are. They are this poor. We think that they’re better. But they haven’t shown it. So at some point we’re going to have to make some changes. Some guys, once they are ready to play, may be factors for us.”

The Phillies hit just .206 and averaged just 2.56 runs a game over their recent 3-13 slide. They hit .148 with runners in scoring position in that stretch. For the season, the Phillies are 26th in baseball in runs per game (3.75) and 29th in OPS (.661), despite having a franchise-record $180 million payroll and nearly every high-paid hitter healthy.

Possible changes include Triple-A outfielders Darin Ruf and Grady Sizemore and infielders Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.

“Whoever else in the organization may be factors for us,” Amaro said. “We have to get them healthy and see if it behooves us to make any of those changes.”

Ruf is recovering from a knee and wrist injury, Sizemore can opt out of his contract over the All-Star break if he is not in the Phillies’ plans, Galvis is recovering from a broken collarbone and Franco is trying to get on track after struggling most of the season.

Franco, who was the organization’s top hitting prospect entering the season, is hitting .342 (13-for-38) with two doubles, one triple, one home run and eight RBIs in the past nine games.

“He’s swinging the bat well,” Amaro said. “Hey, listen, I’m looking for people who can swing the bat. Because we’re not doing it here. If he gets to the point where he starts swinging the bat consistently, he’s a guy who could be in play too.”

But Franco plays third base and Phillies third baseman Cody Asche warrants a longer look. Could both be on the field at the same time?

“Yeah, because he could play first base, too,” Amaro said about Franco.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hitting .230 with 14 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .701 OPS, which ranks 114th out of 165 qualifying hitters in baseball.

Amaro said there is still interest in his players, despite their poor play recently. He also said the front office has been active in pursuing improvements.

“Whether we’ll actually get it done or if there is something that can improve us, it depends on how our club is being evaluated,” Amaro said. “If we’re going to make changes, we make changes to get better. Everything we think about is thinking about how we can improve our club. Will we be better? That’s what you have to analyze.”

Phillies Sign Three International Players

The Phillies signed three players today on the first day of the international signing period.

They signed Venezuelan shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa, one of the top infielders on the international market, for $900,000. Gamboa ranked 15th on MLB.com’s Top 30 International Prospects list. They also signed Venezuelan shortstop Daniel Brito for $650,000 and Panamanian left-hander Jhon Nunez for close to $100,000.

Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies planned to use most or all of their $3.2 million allotted for international players.

“Three signed and working on others,” Amaro said. “We’ll find out more in the next 24 hours.”

In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team’s record in 2013 for the international signing period. Philadelphia’s bonus pool total for this year’s signing period is $3,221,800.

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