Hurry Up And Trade Hamels? Not So Fast

Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy HalladayShould the potentially career-ending tear in Cliff Lee’s left elbow push the Phillies into trading Cole Hamels sooner rather than later?

It makes sense. Getting something is better than getting nothing. Lee essentially is untradeable at this point, even if he finds a way to pitch this season. No team is going to give up a top prospect for a 36-year-old pitcher with continual flare ups in his elbow, especially one making $25 million this season with a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million club option for 2016.

But imagine if something unfortunate happens to Hamels, who is healthy. The Phillies will have nothing to show for their most valuable asset.

Such a loss could cripple their rebuilding plans.

But while many are pointing to the pitchers that have dropped like flies this spring, the Phillies can point to two past examples why they should not trade Hamels before they are ready:

Curt Schilling in 2000 and Lee in 2009.

Schilling had been harshly and steadily criticizing the Phillies ownership and front office for some time. He had publicly demanded a trade. It was ugly. So the Phillies traded Schilling to Arizona on July 26, 2000, more than a year before he could become a free agent, for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa and Vicente Padilla.

Former Phillies general manager Ed Wade told The Philadelphia Inquirer in Sept. 2007, that he regretted the deal.

“In retrospect, I would have held on to Schilling,” Wade said. “It would have been better if I ignored his trade demand one more time and run the risk of only getting draft picks” if he left following the 2001 season.

None of the four players the Phillies acquired for Schilling made a long term impact with the organization.

The Phillies traded Lee to Seattle for prospects Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, the same day they announced they acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays in December 2009. The Phillies traded Lee, who was making an incredibly affordable $9 million in 2010, because former president David Montgomery told general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. he needed to replenish the farm system after trading seven top prospects to acquire Lee from the Indians in July 2009 and Halladay.

Amaro said he could not wait because he could not acquire Halladay one day then trade Lee a short time later.

He said it would have been a bad message to fans.

“If I made a mistake in that process, it was that I didn’t take the time to really maximize,” Amaro said in 2011 in “The Rotation.”

Aumont has struggled with the Phillies and it out of options. This spring is his last shot to make the team. Gillies and Ramirez are no longer with the organization.

So the Phillies are prepared to roll the dice and bet on Hamels not only staying healthy, but pitching like one of the best left-handers in baseball. It is a risk, but they have been rushed into trading aces before. They do not want to make the same mistake again.

“Look at the history of this era,” Amaro said last month. “There’s more Wild Card teams. There’s a lot more clubs with opportunities. You’ll see as many as 15 teams, half the league is kind of in the race well into the season. Everybody always needs pitching. There’s always a risk that somebody can get hurt. Somebody not getting the performance they want might change our circumstance.

“Again, if there were deals that we felt were appropriate for us to move forward then we would. So far some of the deals that we’ve discussed with some of our players have not yielded what we’ve wanted to do. And in some cases we feel like we’re better off staying with the players that we have for a variety of different reasons. We’ll move forward accordingly.”

Ryno Ball: Phillies Will Be Bunting

Ryne SandbergRyne Sandberg believes in small ball and he believes it is how the Phillies will score runs this season.

The Phillies bunted twice with runners in scoring position and no outs in today’s 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. It resulted in one run.

The Phillies have six sacrifice bunts this spring, which are four more than any other team.

“That’s something that I’m stressing this spring,” Sandberg said. “We’re working on it. We’re practicing it. If it’s not a bunt it could be a hit and run. Get a base runner, make something happen. Really to set the tone for the season.”

Sandberg explained that Cesar Hernandez’s sacrifice bunt in the first inning with Ben Revere on second and no outs, and Revere’s sacrifice bunt in the third with Tommy Joseph on second and Chase d’Arnaud on first with no outs were not sacrifice attempts.

“Early in the game sometimes that’s a bunt for a base hit,” Sandberg said. “If you’re out you’ve done a job advancing the runner. Early in the game that’s usually the case.”

Of course, analytics and critics argue that bunting makes less sense because outs are precious and the chances to score decrease dramatically with every out. But Sandberg cannot like what he has seen through nine Grapefruit League games. The Phillies finished the afternoon averaging 2.56 runs per game, which ranked 28th in baseball. Their .532 OPS ranked last.

“I look at our bats and our type of team and I think we’re going to have to be good at that game,” Sandberg said.

Lee’s Elbow Feels Same After Bullpen Session

Cliff LeeCliff Lee’s left elbow did not improve today at Bright House Field, but it also felt no worse.

He threw a bullpen session in the morning, a few days after a MRI exam reconfirmed a tear in his common flexor tendon. Lee entered Spring Training feeling fine after a winter of rehab, but the discomfort in his elbow returned following a start last Thursday.

“I got through it,” Lee said today. “There’s still something there. Same as yesterday.”

Lee, 36, is trying to test the elbow to see if he can pitch through it. If he cannot, season-ending surgery is the next option, although Lee has not said if he would have surgery to continue his career. His five-year, $120 million contract expires at the end of the season, although the deal includes a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million club option for 2016.

Thursday could be an important day for him. He hopes he feels OK.

“If it starts to progress worse than obviously that’s a pretty telling sign,” he said. “If it maintains how it is then I’ll keep going.”

Lee’s Prognosis Is Not Good

Cliff LeeThe prognosis is not good for Cliff Lee.

Multiple doctors, including orthopedist James Andrews, still see the same tear in the common flexor tendon in Lee’s left elbow, which continues to cause him problems. They agree Lee should resume his throwing program to see if he can minimize the discomfort, even though it appears to be a long shot.

If he cannot pitch without pain, surgery is the next option and that could mean the end of his career.

“We’re not terribly optimistic, but there is still the possibility he can come back and throw, and throw with a minimal amount of discomfort,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said today at Bright House Field. “It got worse the last time [he tried to pitch through it], so the probability of that happening again is probably pretty high, but we don’t know that, and we probably won’t know it until he starts to throw and goes through his progressions.”

Lee, 36, has attempted to rehab twice from the injury. He tried unsuccessfully last summer and again in the winter.

“It’s not a good sign, obviously,” Lee said. “It’s not good.”

Lee pitched two innings Thursday against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., and said afterward he felt normal. But the following day, he felt a return of the discomfort he initially experienced last season.

Simply put, the discomfort has not gone away with rehab.

Recovery from surgery would take six to eight months, which Lee acknowledged could end his career. Lee is in the final year of his five-year, $120 million contract. He has a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million club option for 2016, but Lee has hinted in the past that he might not pitch beyond this deal.

“I’ve got a family at home and I’ve been away from them for a long time, so that is part of the equation,” Lee said. “If I were to have the surgery am I going to go through all that to try to pitch again, or am I going to shut it down? That’s a decision that I’ll have to make once that time comes, if that times comes.”

It might not take long to see if Lee can minimize the pain.

“It may take a couple of days,” Amaro said. “If he feels discomfort, then he might have to shut it down. He threw today and felt OK. Really didn’t feel anything different. It’s a very, very mild sensation he’s got in there.”

“There’s no timeline,” Lee said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and do it as long as I can. I’m not going to go out there in pain to where something bad can potentially happen. That doesn’t make sense to me. So I’m going to play as long as I comfortably can. When it’s uncomfortable to play and it hurts to play, then it’s not worth it.”

Lee said he is comfortable with his baseball career, if he cannot pitch again.

“It’s not just results,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done everything I could in my career to give myself the best chance. If it happens to be nearing the end, it is what it is. I don’t have any regrets. So that’s the main thing. Just as long as I can look back and comfortably say, `I didn’t cheat this or cheat that. I wish I would have done this or would have done that.’ As long as I don’t do that, I can live with anything.”

The Phillies also announced catcher John Hester, who is a non-roster invitee, had surgery to repair a complex tear of the medial meniscus in his left knee. He will take at least six weeks to recover from the surgery.

Third baseman Maikel Franco also was not at Tuesday’s game because of a root canal.

Lee’s News Is Bad, Offense Could Be Worse

Freddy GalvisThe Phillies would suffer a major blow if Cliff Lee needs surgery to repair his left elbow.

They had hoped he would get healthy, then trade him to a contender to inject young talent into the system. Of course, Lee’s injury also puts more pressure on an already suspect offense. The Phillies ranked 27th in baseball last season with a .665 OPS, then traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. And while wins and losses will not be viewed like seasons past, the Phillies front office has said it does not want the team to embarrass itself in 2015.

Having Cole Hamels and Lee atop the Phillies’ rotation at least provided the Phillies the opportunity to win a few low-scoring games.

But with Lee possibly out, those 4-3, 3-2, 2-1 wins become less likely.

The Phillies’ offense has not been tearing the cover off the ball in the first week of Grapefruit League games. Andres Blanco and Xavier Paul are the only two Phillies to hit home runs. Both are non-roster invitees. The Phillies are one of five teams to hit just two homers this spring. The Rockies have hit just one.

The Phillies also are last in baseball with a .554 OPS.

“I’m not going to sit back and count on a home run,” Ryne Sandberg said after today’s 1-0 victory over the Orioles. “That’ll be a bonus. Doubles, for me, is a power swing and a power number. You can score a guy from first with a double. So hopefully some of these swings will turn into doubles.”

It is just one week of games, and when is the last time the first week of Spring Training accurately forecast a regular season? But the early production is worth mentioning because of last season’s struggles, the fact the front office did not replace Rollins and Byrd with comparable players and the fact Hamels could still be traded and Lee could be shut down.

Another Miss: Greene Won’t Be In Camp

greeneThe Phillies once touted Larry Greene as a big-time power hitter and a “man amongst young men.”

But Monday they confirmed a PhoulBallz.com report that Greene does not want to play baseball anymore and will not be in Spring Training. The Phillies gave Greene a $1 million signing bonus as the 39th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, but he never played above Class A Lakewood in four mediocre Minor League seasons.

“I’m more disappointed for him,” Phillies player development director Joe Jordan said. “I’d be disappointed if it was a 20th round pick, but this is a different situation.”

The Phillies never heard from Greene as Spring Training approached. He finally informed them that he had no plans to attend camp. It certainly sounds like his baseball career is finished, but Jordan would not say Greene has officially quit or retired.

Greene, 22, hit a combined .224 with eight home runs, 74 RBIs and a .638 OPS in the Phillies’ system. He missed time because of a left wrist injury in 2014, but also missed time in 2012 and 2013 when he showed up to Spring Training out of shape.

The Phillies have not had a first-round of supplement pick make an impact at the big-league level since Cole Hamels in 2002.

Lee Hopes for Best, Knows Surgery Could End Career

Cliff LeeCliff Lee is trying to remain optimistic about his left elbow, but it must be difficult.

He is feeling discomfort in his elbow again, which is not a good sign after an offseason of rehab. Lee spoke to reporters this morning at Bright House Field, and here is some of what he had to say.

Q: What happened between Thursday’s start in Kissimmee (when he said afterward he felt normal) and the next day, when he felt something in his elbow?
A: The next day I came in and started to do my warmup stuff and felt a little something in the same spot where I felt it last year. Obviously as soon as I felt it I told the trainers and staff. We have an ultrasound machine here. When they did the ultrasound you could still see the injury from last year. As far as I know, that’s normal. They were telling me you’ll always see it in those ultrasounds and MRIs. So they saw that, then they wanted me to get an MRI to make sure it was that. Did that (yesterday). And then, the same thing, they could see the same injury from last year. There’s some mild inflammation around it. That’s really it. I know they were sending the images to (James) Andrews to let him look at it and obviously get a second opinion. He’s arguably the best in the world at stuff like that. (Michael) Ciccotti and him are going to communicate and come up with a plan for what to do. That’s really all I know at this point.

Q: How discouraging is this?
A: Obviously very disappointing with all the stuff I did in the offseason to prevent something like this from happening. It’s frustrating. There’s still a possibility it’s scar tissue and it’s normal but there’s also the possibility it’s coming back and that’s very frustrating. I just know I did everything to prevent it. That’s really all I could do so there’s nothing I look back and say, I should have done this, I should have done that. That’s not the issue. So long as I’m satisfied with how I prepared there’s nothing more I can do.

Q: How daunting would surgery be at this point?
A: Yeah, it’d be six to eight months out. So basically if I have the surgery this season will be done, possibly my career, I guess. I don’t know. We’ll have to see.

Q: Would you be surprised if you went out there today or tomorrow to throw and didn’t feel anything?
A: I would probably anticipate feeling a little something. But you don’t know until you do it. It’s not like it’s a major pain. It’s not like it’s majorly painful right now. It’s just what it felt like at the start of when I started feeling it last year. Knowing what I know now, my body does the same deal, then it’s probably going to come back. But there’s still a chance that it’s scar tissue and it’s normal.

Harang to Miss Wednesday’s Start

Aaron HarangAaron Harang will not make his scheduled Grapefruit League start tomorrow afternoon against the Yankees in Tampa.

Harang, 36, had his lower back wrapped this morning at Bright House Field, but he said the postponement is a “maintenance” issue related to his pitching mechanics and nothing health related. Harang said he woke up the other day and realized he needed to have a chiropractor adjust his back, which, he said, “is normal for me.”

“Right now the main focus is maintenance stuff to make sure I’m ready,” he said.

Harang, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract in the offseason, said he could start Monday against the Orioles in Sarasota. If that holds he would miss just one turn in the rotation.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey will start tomorrow at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Sprained Ankle Keeps Utley Sidelined

Chase UtleyChase Utley did not work out with his teammates today and he is not expected to play in at least the first week of Grapefruit League games because of a sprained right ankle, but he said there is no reason to be alarmed.

Utley rolled the ankle in January. It remains visibly swollen.

“I’m making a little progress,” he said. “Obviously I wish it was a little quicker, but I’m trying to be smart about it. It seems like it’s making some progressions every few days. I’d like to get out there as soon as possible.

“There’s no sense in overdoing it and screwing something else up, especially when we have a month until the season starts.”

Nobody could say when Utley might play in a game. Ryne Sandberg said yesterday they would work Utley into a game “down the road.” Ruben Amaro Jr. said Utley would not play “for a little while.”

Utley said he did not participate in today’s workout because a nearly two-hour mandatory domestic violence education program curtailed his daily routine to get his knees and ankle ready for the field. Utley missed most of Spring Training in 2011-12 because of his knees and he works daily to keep those issues at bay.

“There’s a process I go through to get on the field,” he said.

Of course, because of Utley’s health history anytime something happens to him in Spring Training folks wonder if something more might be afoot.

He said no.

“I understand, but my ankle, look at it,” Utley said. “It looks worse than it is. But it’s not like it’s (completely healthy). There’s no point balancing on it or jumping on it. If I start balancing on it and jumping on it, and this isn’t ready, then something else is going to take the brunt of it, and I want to avoid (that). So that’s where we’re at.”

Aumont, Hernandez Out of Options

Phillippe AumontProjecting the Phillies’ Opening Day roster is an annual rite of spring.

For that reason it is worth knowing the players in camp without options. Options play a considerable role in a player’s chances of making the 25-man roster. Players without options must clear waivers before they can be assigned to the Minor Leagues, so there is risk in losing the player altogether if he does not make the team.

In Phillies camp there are six players without options: right-handers Jerome Williams, Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont; left-hander Andy Oliver; and infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez.

It is not a factor for Williams, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract in the offseason. He is expected to be the team’s No. 4 starter behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Aaron Harang. It also is not a factor for Oliver, who is a Rule 5 Draft pick. The Phillies must keep Oliver on their 25-man roster the entire season or he must be offered back to the Pirates.

Galvis is expected to be the everyday shortstop, so options should not be an issue. De Fratus is a heavy favorite to make the bullpen. The same holds true for him.

But the performances of Aumont and Hernandez this spring are worth watching because of their situations.

Aumont is 1-5 with a 6.13 ERA in 45 appearances over the past three seasons. He has averaged 6.1 walks per nine innings in that time. The Phillies love his stuff, but he will need to throw strikes and pitch much more consistently to earn a spot in the bullpen which already includes locks like Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman with De Fratus a strong favorite for a fourth spot.

Hernandez seems to be a better bet to make the team because he can play a little bit at shortstop and the Phillies do not have a true backup for Galvis. Hernandez has hit .264 with a .624 OPS in 256 plate appearances the past two seasons.

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