Running down the rosters: Philadelphia Phillies

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The Phillies still look like the class of the NL, but while their win totals have increased five years running, it hasn’t resulted in playoff success the last couple of years.

Rotation
Roy Halladay – R
Cliff Lee – L
Cole Hamels – L
Vance Worley – R
Joe Blanton – R

Bullpen
Jonathan Papelbon – R
Antonio Bastardo – L
Jose Contreras – R
Kyle Kendrick – R
Chad Qualls – R
Michael Stutes – R
Dontrelle Willis – L

SP next in line: Joel Pineiro (R), Kendrick (R), Dave Bush (R) Pat Misch (L)
RP next in line: David Herndon (R), Brian Sanches (R), Michael Schwimer (R), David Purcey (L), Phillippe Aumont (R), Justin De Fratus (R)

The rotation doesn’t look quite so impressive on paper with Worley plugged into Roy Oswalt’s old spot, but then, Worley was quite a bit better than Oswalt last season. The Phillies also have some nice insurance in case Blanton’s arm lets him down again. Pineiro would have been a decent bet as a $3 million-$4 million fourth starter somewhere, so he was a phenomenal pickup on a minor league deal. Kendrick had a 3.14 ERA in his 15 starts last season.

In the bullpen, the Phillies overpaid for Papelbon, but he should be terrific at the end of games. If Contreras is healthy, then there will be just one spot for Willis or Herndon. Herndon had a 3.32 ERA in 57 innings last year, but the Phillies are looking to Willis to give them a second lefty in the pen.

Lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins – S
3B Placido Polanco – R
2B Chase Utley – L
RF Hunter Pence – R
CF Shane Victorino – S
LF John Mayberry Jr. – R
1B Ty Wigginton – R
C Carlos Ruiz – R

Bench
C Brian Schneider – L
1B Jim Thome – L
INF-OF Michael Martinez – S
OF Laynce Nix – L
OF Juan Pierre – L

Disabled list: 1B Ryan Howard (L)
Next in line: C Erik Kratz (R), SS Freddy Galviz (S), INF Kevin Frandsen (R), INF Hector Luna (R), INF Pete Orr (L), OF Domonic Brown (L), OF Scott Podsednik (L), OF Lou Montanez (R)

So much for that typically lefty-heavy Phillies lineup: with Raul Ibanez gone and Howard set to miss the first month or two rehabbing a torn Achilles’ tendon, Utley will be the only lefty playing regularly initially.

The bench, on the other hand, will be dominated by lefties. Nix figures to start against some righties in left field and perhaps at first base. It’s unclear whether it will be Mayberry or Nix who slides between left field and first. Mayberry is the better outfielder of the two, so it’d be best if he’s out there pretty regularly. However, he’s also quite a bit more familiar with first base than Nix is.

Even with Howard out of the mix initially, this year’s offense should be a bit better than last year’s. A full season of Pence will help. Utley and Polanco could be healthier and more productive, though at their ages, it’s far from assured. Mayberry will top Ibanez’s numbers.

The pitching can’t be quite so good again. While none of the trio seems due for a deep decline, Halladay, Lee and Hamels won’t all rate among the NL’s top five starters. No, the Phillies will probably have to settle for just two or the top five or maybe even one. Papelbon may prove to be the NL’s best closer, but he’s replacing a guy in Ryan Madson who had a 2.37 ERA in 60 2/3 innings last year.

It seems safe to pencil the Phillies back into the postseason. Unfortunately, though, that simply isn’t enough. The Phillies are turning into the NL’s version of the Yankees, at least so far as in each year can be summed up as World Series or bust. And I can’t help but get the feeling that one more “bust” might cost Charlie Manuel his job.

Mets closer Jeurys Familia receives a 15-game suspension for domestic violence

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Mets closer Jeurys Familia has received a 15-game suspension for domestic violence.

Familia was arrested in October following an incident at his home. Criminal charges were dropped in December. As we know, however, MLB’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced, let alone completed, before the leveling of league punishment. MLB has been investigating the incident for the past several months.

Familia saved 51 games for the Mets last year while posting a 2.55 ERA. The Mets are expecting Addison Reed to fill in at closer until he returns.

Familia has released a statement:

Today, I accepted a 15-game suspension from Major League Baseball resulting from my inappropriate behavior on October 31, 2016. With all that has been written and discussed regarding this matter, it is important that it be known that I never physically touched, harmed or threatened my wife that evening. I did,however, act in an unacceptable manner and am terribly disappointed in myself. I am alone to blame for the problems of that evening.

My wife and I cooperated fully with Major League Baseball’s investigation, and I’ve taken meaningful steps to assure that nothing like this will ever happen again. I have learned from this experience, and have grown as a husband, a father, and a man.

I apologize to the Mets’ organization, my teammates, and all my fans. I look forward to rejoining the Mets and being part of another World Series run. Out of respect for my teammates and my family, I will have no further comment.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has a statement as well:

My office has completed its investigation into the events leading up to Jeurys Familia’s arrest on October 31, 2016.  Mr. Familia and his wife cooperated fully throughout the investigation, including submitting to in-person interviews with MLB’s Department of Investigations.  My office also received cooperation from the Fort Lee Municipal Prosecutor.  The evidence reviewed by my office does not support a determination that Mr. Familia physically assaulted his wife, or threatened her or others with physical force or harm, on October 31, 2016.  Nevertheless, I have concluded that Mr. Familia’s overall conduct that night was inappropriate, violated the Policy, and warrants discipline.

It is clear that Mr. Familia regrets what transpired that night and takes full responsibility for his actions.  Mr. Familia already has undergone 12 ninety-minute counseling sessions with an approved counselor specializing in the area of domestic violence, and received a favorable evaluation from the counselor regarding his willingness to take concrete steps to ensure that he is not involved in another incident of this type.  Further, he has agreed to speak to other players about what he has learned through this process, and to donate time and money to local organizations aimed at the prevention of, and the treatment of victims of, domestic violence.

2017 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Milwaukee Brewers.

Every year, Major League Baseball plays host to two casts of characters: the contenders and the rebuilders. You might find slight variations — the rebuilders who stand a chance of contending, the contenders on the verge of rebuilding, or those stuck somewhere in between — but by and large, the lines are clearly drawn.

The 2017 Brewers, for better or worse, are rebuilders. Sure, you won’t find them at the bottom of the NL Central come October (that place is unequivocally reserved for the Reds), but neither will you see them snag a Wild Card berth or run away with the division title. This is the year of cultivating a fertile farm system, giving their big league prospects room to stretch and grow and figuring out whether Ryan Braun has a future in Milwaukee beyond 2017.

If the Brewers did anything right this winter, it was deepening their reserves at nearly every position. Behind the plate, Andrew Susac, Manny Pina and newly-acquired Jett Bandy bandied for the spot. Susac injured his back during camp, and while the MRI results didn’t reveal any significant damage, it doesn’t look like he’ll be healthy in time for Opening Day. Milwaukee skipper Craig Counsell has yet to identify a full-time catcher and could start the year with Pina and Bandy in a hybrid role after both backstops impressed during spring training.

Eric Thames replaced Chris Carter at first base, and while he’s expected to split duties with Jesus Aguilar, appears to be an unconventional acquisition for the Brewers. On paper, the two look miles apart. Carter slashed .222/.321/.499 with 41 home runs and an .821 OPS for the club in 2016, pairing his league-leading homers with a league-leading 206 strikeouts. Thames, meanwhile, flamed out in the majors in 2012 and has not returned to the major league stage since. Never mind that he has only ever played the outfield or that he’s technically made only 181 big league appearances in the last five years, though. Over the past three seasons, he mashed an incredible .349/.457/.721 with 124 home runs and a 1.178 OPS for the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization, and the three-year, $16 million contract he signed with Milwaukee will look like a steal if he can replicate those numbers in the United States.

The outfield posed another set of questions for the team, who was looking to fill right and center field with a combination of Keon Broxton, Hernan Perez, Domingo Santana, Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Kyle Wren. Broxton and Santana claimed spots in center and right, respectively, with Nieuwenhuis beating out the rest of the backup candidates to secure his position as the team’s fourth outfielder. Braun will resume his station in left field after a quiet spring training, during which he declined to participate in the World Baseball Classic or most of the Cactus League competition in order to stay healthy for the upcoming season. (At least, that’s one plausible reason. He also told the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal’s Todd Rosiak, “I just don’t feel like I need at-bats to feel ready for games.”)

Of course, every team in the throes of rebuilding has at least one weak spot, and the Brewers are no exception. The starting rotation lacks clarity and talent outside of Junior Guerra and Zach Davies, both of whom flourished in their sophomore campaigns with Milwaukee in 2016. The club acquired left-hander Tommy Milone on the cheap, adding him to a lengthy list of candidates that included right-handers Chase Anderson, Wily Peralta, Matt Garza and Jimmy Nelson. Spring training did little to illuminate a clear path for the rotation: Garza imploded, Peralta shone, and Nelson and Anderson proved inconsistent at best.

The bullpen doesn’t look much better beyond newly-minted closer Neftali Feliz, who signed a one-year, $5.35 million deal with the Brewers after polishing off a healthy, productive season with the Pirates in 2016. While his bounce-back season looked like a good omen for Milwaukee, Feliz struggled through a rough spring, working 10 hits, six runs, three walks and seven strikeouts through nine innings in camp. He appears to be fully recovered from the “biceps fatigue” that curtailed his last season in Pittsburgh, and Counsell believes that he’ll improve with more reps this spring.

Elsewhere in the bullpen, the club is hurting for left-handed relief after optioning their only lefty candidate, Brent Suter, to Triple-A Colorado Springs last week. A suitable replacement for Suter has yet to be named, but there’s some chatter that Milone could assume a position in the bullpen if necessary.

Overall, the Brewers didn’t improve their major league roster as much as they stabilized it, opting for low-cost stopgaps while they condition younger, less-seasoned players waiting to break through to the bigs. A plethora of high-caliber prospects crowd the upper rungs of their farm system, so much so that the club has had difficulty trying to find enough room for all of them to develop at the appropriate level. Just take Triple-A Colorado Springs, which boasts a talented outfield of Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell and Brett Phillips and rotation battles among Hiram Burgos, Josh Hader, Paolo Espino, Wilkerson, Taylor Jungmann, Wei-Chung Wang and the aforementioned Brent Suter, among others.

Milwaukee is looking at a bright future, to be sure, but that future won’t be fully realized right now. The Brewers’ 2017 season will undoubtedly be more satisfying for its front office than its fans, unless those fans also have a ticket to Security Service Field. Given a few more years to develop their prospects and build out their farm system, however, these rebuilders could begin to look something like contenders.

Prediction: 4th place in NL Central.