As Phillies reach .500, GM Ruben Amaro looking to address center field and bullpen

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Though the Phillies, at long last, reached .500 for the first time since June 7, one would think most signs point to the team being sellers at the deadline. Yesterday, they lost center fielder Ben Revere to a broken foot and he will be sidelined for six to eight weeks. They have a few soon-to-be free agents. The Minor League system is still a little light on legitimate talent. They also rank among the bottom-ten in baseball in run differential at -45.

On the subject of improving the roster, GM Ruben Amaro asked rhetorically, “How do I do it? I don’t know. We’ll find out. I’m the GM. I’m supposed to be able to do this stuff I guess.”

Amaro told the media prior to this afternoon’s first-half finale that he is looking for upgrades in center field and in the bullpen. He said, “we’ll probably be looking for a centerfielder if there’s one that’s available. I don’t know if there’s one available or one that will be an upgrade from what we have right now with John [Mayberry] being out there.”

As it turned out, Mayberry helped the Phillies walk off in today’s first-half finale against the White Sox with an RBI single up the middle in the tenth inning. It was the third extra inning game the two teams had played in a 36-hour period. (Per Jayson Stark, it’s the first time all three games of a series went extras since the Athletics and White Sox did it May 11-13, 2011.) The Phillies emerged victorious in two of them and finish the ten-game homestand — which Amaro explicitly was using as a barometer for the team’s buyer or seller status — at 7-3. The Braves lost to the Reds, so the Phillies will enter the first half six games behind in third place.

The Nationals sign Kevin Jepsen

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Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports the Nationals have agreed to terms with free agent reliever Kevin Jepsen.

Think of this as the latest in what will likely be a series of no-risk bullpen additions. The Nats, basically, collecting as many almost free arms they can find in an effort to fix their bullpen woes without having to give up anything valuable at the trade deadline. Just like the K-Rod signing earlier this week or the Edwin Jackson signing two weeks ago.

Jepsen pitched for Tampa Bay and Minnesota last year, posting a 5.68 ERA with the Rays and a 6.16 ERA with the Twins, appearing in 58 games in all. He went unsigned this past offseason.

Eh, it might work. It probably won’t, but it might.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.