Results tagged ‘ Ruben Amaro Jr. ’

Preparing for Franco: Asche Works In Left Field

Cody AscheThe Phillies made a small, but significant move yesterday when Cody Asche spent part of batting practice at Busch Stadium catching fly balls in left field.

Asche could be headed there in the future, especially once the Phillies promote Triple-A Lehigh Valley third baseman Maikel Franco, who is hitting .333 (28-for-84) with 10 doubles, one triple, one home run, 11 RBIs and an .883 OPS in 19 games.

Franco’s promotion is not imminent, but it nearly is inevitable. If the Phillies promote Franco before May 15 he could become a free agent in 2020 rather than 2021, so it would be surprising to see him in Phillies pinstripes any earlier. The Phillies also might avoid Franco earning Super 2 salary arbitration status if he is promoted after the first week of July.

But whether it is next month or closer to the All-Star break or some other time, Franco is coming if he keeps hitting.

“At some point we need to make sure that Cody is prepared,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said this afternoon. “It’s no secret that Maikel is doing very well down there. We want to try to create as much versatility with our guys as we possibly can.”

Asche worked a little in left field in Spring Training but the Phillies ultimately pulled the plug because they wanted him to prepare to be the team’s everyday third baseman. But when Franco joins the team Amaro wants him playing nearly every day. Franco can play first base, but he is regarded as a finer defensive third baseman than Asche, which is why they are seeing what else Asche can do.

“He’s primarily a third baseman,” Amaro said about Franco. “That’s his best position. That’s where I think his future lies. But his future could also lie at first. Again, it’s about creating as much versatility as you possibly can, particularly with our young guys and particularly with our younger guys who can swing the bat. We’re looking for people who are going to help us offensively. The whole point is getting as many of those guys as we can on the field.”

Asche has not played in the outfield since he became a professional, so throwing him out there midseason could be a challenge. But it has happened before. The Phillies moved Placido Polanco to the outfield in 2005 after spending his entire career in the infield. They did the same in 2013 with infielder Freddy Galvis.

“He’s a pretty good athlete,” Amaro said about Asche. “If it’s something we choose to do we would have to feel comfortable. Will he be a Gold Glover if he gets a chance to go out there? No. But we’ll have to decide if he’s athletic enough to do that. We think he is.”

Franco’s arrival and Asche’s potential move to left involves other players, too.

For instance, what does this mean for left fielder Ben Revere and first baseman Ryan Howard?

Amaro said Revere can play center field and right field, if needed. Odubel Herrea could be a candidate to move to right, although Amaro said Herrera seems much more comfortable in center. And the Big Piece?

“Howard is our first baseman,” Amaro said.

Amaro said Asche is not a candidate to move to second base, despite playing 64 games there for Class A Williamsport in 2011.

“Playing second base is very difficult for someone who has not played on the right side of the field,” Amaro said. “He did it briefly, but the pivot and the process of learning that is very difficult and a lot more difficult than people think. Middle infielders are more born. They’re not developed, necessarily.”

Asche will start at third base Wednesday night against the Cardinals. That should surprise nobody. It might be some time before Franco is promoted, plus Asche needs more time to learn left field.

The Phillies also need time to figure out how the rest of the dominoes might fall.

Say What? Brown Optioned to Triple-A

Domonic BrownDomonic Brown probably had a few reasons to assume he would rejoin the Phillies tomorrow.

But instead the Phillies announced today that he has been optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after finishing his 20-day rehab assignment. It is a significant decision, considering Brown is a former National League All-Star making $2.5 million this season. If the Phillies have optioned a player in the past making that type of money it has not happened in recent memory. (The Phillies optioned Brett Myers in July 2008, but because he had five years of service time he could have rejected it.)

“Clearly, as one can imagine, if you were in the same shoes you wouldn’t be happy, either,” said Ruben Amaro Jr., who spoke with Brown directly. “I mean, I don’t blame him for not being happy. And I don’t know that he necessarily agrees with the decision, but it is our decision to make. And I do think we’re doing it in the best interest of Domonic Brown and the Phillies.”

Brown opened the season on the 15-day disabled list because of tendinitis in his left Achilles. He hit .294 (5-for-17) with one double, one home run, three RBIs and a .929 OPS in six games on a rehab assignment with Class A Clearwater. But in nine games with Lehigh Valley, he hit .139 (5-for-36) with one double, three RBIs and a .405 OPS.

Brown told Lehigh Valley reporters Sunday he would be in St. Louis on Wednesday. But Ryne Sandberg said yesterday at Busch Stadium that “from what I’ve seen I don’t know that he’s ready for Major League pitching or to come up and really give us a punch, the way that things have gone for him there.”

That is saying something because the Phillies are desperate for offense. They enter Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals averaging 2.65 runs per game, which is the lowest average in baseball this season and the fifth-lowest average in baseball since 1900.

Outfielder Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francoeur have been sharing right field while Brown has been out. Sizemore, who hits left-handed like Brown, is hitting .133 (4-for-30) with one double, one RBI and a .328 OPS. Francoeur, who hits right-handed, is hitting .200 (11-for-55) with three doubles, two home runs, four RBIs and a .630 OPS.

“We’re not trying to hold anybody back if they’re able to help us,” Amaro said.

Brown, 27, certainly has plenty to prove this season. He hit just .235 with 22 doubles, one triple, 10 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .634 OPS in 144 games last season. His OPS ranked 139th out of 147 qualified hitters in baseball. His .640 OPS as an outfielder ranked 60th out of 64 outfielders, and his .641 OPS as a left fielder was the lowest of any left fielder since Chuck Knoblauch‘s .582 OPS for Kansas City in 2002.

“The bottom line is we think he’s a very talented player and needs to play a little better and at a higher level to be back here playing at the Major League level,” Amaro said. “He’s getting closer. I talked to Charlie (Manuel) today. He’s getting closer to having that rhythm. He hasn’t gotten there yet. We don’t think he’s very far away, but he’s got some things to work on to be a more consistent performer.

“It’s a performance-based industry and we know Domonic has the ability to do things at a very, very high level at the Major League level. We’re working to try to get him back there as soon as possible. At this stage of the game we don’t feel he’s ready to do that consistently. When he is and when he does he’ll be back.”

Gonzalez Might Never Pan Out

Alfredo Miguel GonzalezThe Phillies thought so highly of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in the summer of 2013 that they offered him a six-year, $48 million contract.

They fully expected him to jump into the 2014 rotation behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

But more than a year into his three-year, $12 million contract (Gonzalez lost $36 million because of concerns following his physical) the Phillies have received no return on their investment. And one wonders if they ever will. The Phillies optioned Gonzalez to Minor League camp yesterday after he went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA in five Grapefruit League appearances. He allowed 25 hits, 12 runs, five home runs and one walk with seven strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings.

“It’s possible,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said today, when asked if he is worried the organization will get nothing from Gonzalez.

“He hasn’t pitched well enough to be a major league starter for us,” Amaro said. “His stuff and his command just weren’t good enough. It’s kind of simple. He needs to be better for us to utilize him in our rotation. He’ll go down and pitch and hopefully he improves. If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t.”

The killer is that Gonzalez never had a better opportunity to make the team. The Phillies desperately need a No. 5 starter with Lee almost certainly lost for the season with a torn tendon in his left elbow. But Gonzalez could not outpitch non-roster invitees Kevin Slowey and Sean O’Sullivan.

“You wish the guy was pitching better,” Amaro said. “I think he does, too. I think he’s disappointed. I think he’s disappointed in himself because he geared himself up to want to take this job. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of him, but he’s just not ready to take that job right now.”

Does this serve as a warning for those who want the Phillies to drop tens of millions of dollars on Cuban free agents?

“It’s a risk,” Amaro said. “There’s a lot of teams that were in on him and we ended up signing him. He hasn’t performed as well as we would have liked. He may never perform as well as we would have liked, but that’s the risk you take. Sometimes, you’ve got to take a risk.”

Amaro Talks About Ruf, Sizemore and Roster Spots

Ruben Amaro Jr.Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies have about four or five decisions to make before they finalize the Opening Day roster.

One important decision has been made. Rule 5 Draft pick Odubel Herrera not only has made the team, he will be the Opening Day center fielder.

“He kind of fits the bill of what we were trying to do,” Amaro said before today’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at McKechnie Field. “We were trying to get younger, a little more athletic. He’s got good energy, he’s got a decent package. Is he going to be a .300 hitter toward the top of our lineup or wherever (Ryne Sandberg) puts him? I don’t know. We’re going to give him a shot. That’s what this season is about.”

Right fielder Domonic Brown is likely to open the season on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left Achilles, which would open up another roster spot. The Phillies also might carry an extra bench player or relief pitcher with no need for a fifth starter until April 12.

Darin Ruf is one of the only right-handed bats in camp with power. Amaro said Ruf is not a lock to make the team, but he also said Ruf playing in Triple-A is not ideal.

Read between the lines, folks. Ruf is a safe bet to make the team.

(more…)

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.”

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.

Did Phillies Offer Moncada Deal? Amaro Keeps Quiet

moncadaThe Phillies could have used a talented prospect like Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada in their system.

The Phillies said they had interest, but how much is uncertain.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said today the organization had contact with Moncada’s agent until Monday, when MLB.com reported Moncada agreed to a record-breaking $31.5 million contract with the Red Sox.

Did the Phillies offer him a contract?

“I’m not going to get into it,” Amaro said.

Moncada is under 23 and had not played five years in the Cuban professional league, which put him under different amateur guidelines than Cuban outfielder Yasmany Thomas, who signed a $68.5 million deal in December with Arizona. Under Moncada’s guidelines, the Red Sox must pay a 100 penalty because they surpassed their annual international bonus allotment. In essence, they paid $63 million for the 19-year-old prospect.

The Red Sox also cannot spend more than $300,000 on any international player for the next two signing period (2015-16 and 2016-17). Of course, if Moncada lives up to the hype (many compare him to Robinson Cano) he would be worth it.

Are Ryno and Hamels on Different Pages?

Cole HamelsRyne Sandberg said yesterday he thinks the Phillies have a “chance to surprise some people.”

But then Cole Hamels told USA Today he wants to win and “I know it’s not going to happen here.”

It sounds like manager and pitcher are not on the same page. But Ruben Amaro Jr. and Sandberg said today they had no problem with Hamels’ comments. How could they? The Phillies front office has said the organization is rebuilding for the future and the process could take at least a couple seasons before the team can be a postseason contender.

“Maybe I would have liked for him to have chosen his words a little differently, but it’s totally understandable,” Amaro said Thursday. “Cole wants to win. I think everyone is on the same page. We all want to win.”

Sandberg said he spoke with Hamels about those words. He said Hamels told him that he made those comments “a while ago and it didn’t reflect on his feelings coming into camp. I think it was unfortunate timing and it wasn’t a reflection on how he feels coming into camp.”

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote Wednesday’s story. He said he interviewed Hamels for the story Tuesday.

Perhaps Hamels completely changed his feelings from Tuesday to Thursday, when Phillies pitchers and catchers held their first workout at Carpenter Complex.

Perhaps Hamels simply does not want to ruffle any feathers.

But Hamels has said numerous times he does not want to spend his prime years on a losing team. He told USA Today his limited no-trade clause would not scuttle a trade to a contender.

“He’s one of those guys that sits in the sweet spot for us,” Amaro said about Hamels. “He’s going to be a tremendous asset if he stays with us, and if we get to the point where we move him, it’s going to be because we get assets back that are going to move us forward. He’s in our camp. I fully expect him to pitch on Opening Day for us. I’m glad to have him. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game and I’m happy to move forward with him and get us going back on track.”

Amaro said he has talked to veterans like Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee since they have arrived in camp. Each player has indicated in the past they would like to play for a winning team.

“There’s a lot of talk about us rebuilding and these (veterans) being disgruntled and all of that stuff,” Amaro said. “(But) these guys are all professionals, and they’re going to play and pitch and they’re going to do their best to win baseball games for the Phillies, I’m sure of that.”

Phillies Interested in Moncada?

moncadaThe Phillies need to inject more youth into their system, so they have not stopped trying to trade Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and others.

Of course, there are other ways to add youth.

They could take a run at Cuban free agent Yoan Moncada, who is a highly regarded 19-year-old middle infielder. The Phillies have seen him play and they like him. They already have 20-year-old shortstop J.P. Crawford in the system, so a Crawford-Moncada combination in the middle of the Phillies’ infield (many project Moncada as a second baseman) is intriguing.

“We know him well,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said today. “He’s a very good prospect. He has a chance to be a very good player. He checks off a lot of the boxes, but we’re not the only team that would be interested in Yoan Moncada. But that’s all I can say.”

There are significant penalties to consider. Moncada is under 23 and has not played five years in the Cuban professional league, so a team will pay a 100 percent penalty to sign him, if they exceed its annual international bonus allotment. The Phillies are less than $100,000 under their $3,221,800 cap for the 2014-15 international signing period, which runs from July 2, 2014, to June 15 this year. So if the Phillies would pay Moncada a $25 million signing bonus, they essentially would pay $50 million.

Then are future considerations, too. If a team exceeds its international budget by 15 percent – a certainty with Moncada – it is prohibited from spending more than $300,000 on any international player for the next two signing periods (2015-16 and 2016-17). In other words, if there are players similar to Moncada down the pike, the Phillies could not engage any of them until July 2, 2017.

“It is clear that those penalties are significant,” Amaro said. “That is part of the process.”

It is worth noting the Phillies did not enter serious negotiations with Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, who signed a $68.5 million contract with the Diamondbacks in December. The Phillies would have paid no penalties to sign Tomas because he is not under 23 and did not play fewer than five years in the Cuban league.

The Phillies still passed, expressing concerns about the price tag and his conditioning.

Knowing that, would they then enter a bidding war for Moncada? They would have to feel very confident about the player and be willing to surrender signing any talented international players over the next two-plus years.

“You can’t miss on a guy that may be that significant a risk,” Amaro said.

Ownership Looking Closely at Amaro

Ruben Amaro, Jr.Phillies chairman David Montgomery hired Ruben Amaro Jr. as Pat Gillick’s replacement as general manager in 2008.

Amaro’s contract expires at the end of the year, and his status is unclear following a pair of 89-loss seasons, including a last place finish in the National League East in 2014, despite a franchise-record $180 million payroll. Montgomery and Gillick have expressed their support for Amaro, but Montgomery acknowledged today on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM that the Phillies’ ownership group is watching closely and a collective decision will be made about Amaro’s future.

“We think we have a pretty quality guy in that role,” Montgomery said. “At the same time, I have a partnership group … they are looking at this closely as well. The reality is that we have a GM that we think is effective. We have a Hall of Fame GM in our midst as well. If Pat spends an entire year or two close with Ruben, I think he’ll have a very good idea to how effective Ruben is and collectively a decision will be made.”

Amaro has traded Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo this offseason as the team rebuilds for the future. Gillick has said the team will not be competitive until 2017 or 2018, but signs of improvement at the big-league level and encouraging progress from the team’s prospects could help Amaro’s cause.

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