Tag: Marlon Byrd

Cole Hamels

2015 Preview: Philadelphia Phillies


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 2015 season. Next up: the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Big Question: Just how bad will the Phillies be?

Phillies upper management has officially begun the rebuilding process after years of hemming and hawing about it. GM Ruben Amaro traded franchise icon and shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers, as well as outfielder Marlon Byrd to the Reds and reliever Antonio Bastardo to the Pirates. While there are still some old vets on the team, like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies are nowhere close to being competitive and won’t be for at least another couple of seasons.

The goal in 2015 is to finish with the worst record in baseball, which would give the Phillies the first overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Phillies haven’t had the first overall draft pick since 1998 when they selected outfielder Pat Burrell out of the University of Miami. That, combined with last year’s first-round selection of Aaron Nola plus another expected high draft pick in the 2017 draft, should help the Phillies bring in the next generation of players for a new era of competitive baseball. Ideally, the Phillies will also get a useful player or two in trading Jonathan Papelbon, Chase Utley (if he waives his 10-and-5 rights), and Ryan Howard (assuming they eat nearly all of his salary).

The other large influence in their rebuilding process is starter Cole Hamels. He’s 31 years old and has at least $96 million over four years remaining on his contract, which includes a $6 million buyout for the 2019 season in which his club could choose to pay him $20 million. If the Phillies decide to trade Hamels, the lefty could demand his new team to guarantee that option, making it more like $110 million over five years. Still, compared to recent contracts given to free agent starters like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, Hamels is a bargain.

Hamels has been among baseball’s best starting pitchers over the last five seasons. Among starters who have accrued at least 700 innings since the start of the 2010 season, only five pitchers — Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, and teammate Cliff Lee — have bested Hamels’ aggregate 2.99 ERA. He features a mid-90’s fastball and arguably baseball’s best change-up, as well as two other above-average pitches in his cut fastball and curve. It’s no surprise, then, that Amaro has reportedly been asking for the moon and the stars for Hamels in trade discussions. The Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, and Texas Rangers had the most interest in him over the winter, but the Cubs went on to sign Jon Lester and the Padres went on to sign James Shields, leaving just the Rangers and the Red Sox at the moment. During the season, however, as teams suffer injuries or poor performances in their starting rotations, they may be more willing to submit to Amaro’s demands.

If this preview has been any indication so far, the play on the field is almost irrelevant. No one will attend a Phillies game or tune in on TV this year expecting to see a victory. But there are a few interesting things to watch…

What else is going on?

  • Manager Ryne Sandberg decided to permanently move Ben Revere over to left field from center in favor of Odubel Herrera, who was the Phillies’ Rule 5 pick from the Rangers. During spring training, Herrera has hit .328 (19-for-58) with six stolen bases in as many opportunities. Herrera is a second baseman by trade, but as Chase Utley owns that position for the time being, the Phillies decided to let Herrera try his hand in center field and it’s worked out so far. Herrera profiles similarly to Revere: lots of singles and stolen bases, but very little of anything else. His defense is, based on a small sample of spring innings, a bit better and his arm is stronger, so he is a slight upgrade in that regard.
  • The Phillies got a slight amount of interest in closer Jonathan Papelbon over the winter from the Brewers and the Blue Jays, but they have a reason to keep him around despite their rebuild. Somewhat along the lines of the Kris Bryant situation with the Cubs, the Phillies would like to pay current set-up man Ken Giles as little as possible for the foreseeable future. They can help limit his leverage in arbitration negotiations by keeping him out of save situations. If the Phillies trade Papelbon, Giles would almost certainly assume the closer’s role after his performance in his rookie campaign last season. Over 45 2/3 innings, the right-hander featured a 100-MPH fastball which helped him strike out 64 batters and post a 1.18 ERA. As @CespedesBBQ pointed out on Twitter last month, going by FIP, Giles posted the sixth-best season by a reliever ever (min. 40 innings).
  • The Phillies will keep the phone lines open on first baseman Ryan Howard. They’re reportedly willing to eat up to $50 million of the $60 million remaining on his contract. Of course, due to Howard’s defensive limitations, his market is almost entirely limited to American League teams. The Orioles are one team that could eventually take interest during the season. He hit 23 home runs and knocked in 95 runs last year, but he posted a below-average .690 OPS. He may generously be a replacement-level player at this point in his career.
  • Cliff Lee is expected to miss most of the 2015 season after elbow issues flared up again early in spring training. Lee went on the disabled list in mid-May last season with elbow inflammation, returned on July 21 and made three starts before going back on the disabled list. He avoided surgery, choosing instead to choose the route of rest and rehab. He’s again choosing the R&R route, hoping to return for a few starts in September before becoming a free agent at the age of 37. The Phillies had hoped he would be healthy and productive enough for them to trade him at some point during the season, but that is obviously out the window.
  • Domonic Brown finished as one of the worst hitters in baseball last season, batting .235/.285/.349 with 10 home runs and 63 RBI in 512 plate appearances. He’ll start the 2015 season on the disabled list due to an Achilles injury. Once a top prospect in the Phillies’ system — at one point, Amaro refused to include him in a trade with the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay — Brown’s star has fallen hard and he’s essentially on his last legs with the Phillies. He’ll enter his second year of arbitration eligibility after the season and as such will be a trade or even a non-tender candidate.
  • Almost all of the Phillies-related intrigue will come from the minor leagues. For instance, the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils starting rotation will likely include Aaron Nola, Jesse Biddle, Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, and Tom Windle. MLB.com recently rated Nola as the Phillies’ second-best prospect, Biddle ninth, Lively seventh, Eflin fifth, and Windle sixth. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Phillies’ best prospect who is also sidelined at the moment with an oblique injury, will also rack up playing time in Reading eventually.

Prediction: The Phillies will finish with the worst record in baseball at 65-97, earning themselves that glorious #1 overall draft pick.

2015 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

votto getty

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 2015 season. Next up: The Cincinnati Reds.

The Big Question: Is the fun over in Cincy?

The Reds won a 36-year-high 97 games in 2012 and they finished with 90 wins in 2013, but a combination of key injuries and poor individual performances led the club to a disappointing 76-86 record and fourth-place finish in the National League Central in 2014.

And there isn’t a ton of reason for optimism in 2015.

Joey Votto is fully recovered from his distal quad strain, Jay Bruce is capable of a bounceback, and young speedster Billy Hamilton should take a step forward offensively after batting just .250/.292/.355 in 611 plate appearances as a rookie, but the Reds don’t appear to have the kind of well-rounded major league roster that will allow them to seriously compete in a division that suddenly looks like the deepest in all of baseball.

The rotation is in pretty rough waters, for the upcoming season and especially long term. Homer Bailey had an underwhelming 3.71 ERA (97 ERA+) over 145 2/3 innings last year — the first year of a six-year, $105 million contract — and he will open the 2015 campaign on a minor league rehab assignment following September surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. Taking his place will be 36-year-old righty Jason Marquis, who didn’t make an appearance at the major league level in 2014. Mat Latos was shipped off to the Marlins in December because he had one year left on his contract and the Reds knew they weren’t going to be able to lock him up to a long-term deal. Extension talks don’t seem to be trending in a positive direction with Johnny Cueto, who is among the best starters in baseball but could very well be leaving Cincinnati for good next offseason. Tony Cingrani was shifted to the bullpen in a curious spring training decision so that Raisel Iglesias — an unproven Cuban right-hander — can slide into the starting corps. Iglesias pitched almost exclusively in relief in Serie Nacional. He gave up six runs to the Brewers in his latest Cactus League start.

Mike Leake is solid, and Anthony DeSclafani — part of the return package for Latos — carries some upside at age 24. But there are a whole lot of question marks surrounding this group and that’s an ominous situation for a team that plays 81 games per year in one of the least pitcher-friendly stadiums in Major League Baseball.

Cincinnati’s bullpen doesn’t offer anything inspiring beyond its flame-throwing closer and 22-year-old top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson probably won’t be ready for his MLB debut until the second half. Maybe the Reds can slug their way into contention, but here’s guessing that won’t work in the NL Central in 2015.

What else is going on?

  • The lineup does have a nice mix of dynamic offensive contributors. Todd Frazier finished in a tie with Josh Donaldson for the most home runs by a third baseman (29) last season and he led all major league third basemen in stolen bases with 20. Young catcher Devin Mesoraco was one of Major League Baseball’s breakout stars in 2014, producing an .893 OPS (149 OPS+) with 25 home runs and 80 RBI in 114 games. Offseason addition Marlon Byrd collected 25 home runs and 85 RBI in 154 games with the Phillies last summer. Votto, Bruce, and Hamilton — as mentioned above — should all be very good.
  • Aroldis Chapman has been a steal so far for Cincinnati, boasting a 2.32 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 430 strikeouts in 252 2/3 innings over the first five years of the six-year, $30 million deal that he signed after defecting from his native Cuba in 2010. But he opted into arbitration this winter and settled with the Reds at $8.05 million. He gets one more year of arbitration in 2016 and can then become a free agent. Will the Reds consider trading him after they get done hosting the 2015 All-Star Game festivities?
  • Brandon Phillips has registered a weak .714 OPS (95 OPS+) in 419 games since signing a six-year, $72.5 million contract extension with the Reds at the beginning of the 2012 season. He was praised for his clutch hitting ability after tallying 103 RBI in 2013, but analytical baseball people knew that lofty total was more the product of Votto and former Reds leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo. Phillips finished with just 51 RBI in 2014 and he slugged just eight home runs — an 11-year low. Yet the veteran second baseman is still being penciled in as the Reds’ No. 3 hitter behind Hamilton and Votto by manager Bryan Price.

Prediction: A potent offense but messy pitching leaves the Reds with 81 wins and a last-place finish in a loaded National League Central. Go ahead and pencil them in for a last-place finish in 2016 as well.

Domonic Brown dealing with tendinitis in his left Achilles

Domonic Brown

Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown left Thursday night’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Yankees due to a sore left Achilles. He underwent an MRI, which showed tendinitis but no tear, per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. He could miss a week of spring training before returning.

Brown, 27, is looking to rebound from a terrible 2014 season in which he hit .235/.285/.349 with 10 home runs and 63 RBI in 512 plate appearances. Following the departure of Marlon Byrd, Brown is moving from left field to right field.

Brown and the Phillies avoided an arbitration hearing in the outfielder’s first year of eligibility, agreeing on a $2.6 million salary for the 2015 season. He’ll have two more years of arbitration eligibility in which his salary will almost certainly escalate. The rebuilding Phillies, though, may attempt to trade or simply non-tender Brown after the season if he doesn’t rebound this season.

Mike Schmidt wants to help Domonic Brown

Domonic Brown

Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown is coming off of an abysmal 2014 performance in which he finished with a .235/.285/.349 slash line. Not exactly the kind of follow-up to his All-Star 2013 output the Phillies were expecting. With Marlon Byrd gone, Brown is moving across the outfield back to right field, and he’ll be fighting for a starting role with the Phillies for the foreseeable future.

Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt is hoping to work with Brown over the course of the spring in an effort to help him live up to his potential and perhaps even win the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award. Via MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki:

“I know his history. I watched a great majority of his at-bats last year. I hope to get him to open up a bit in talking and trusting [me]. I’m not going to try to impart any mechanical things that I did as a right-handed power hitter. I searched for the ball with my hands. Domonic is more of a rotational, sit-on-the-back-leg guy. The core makes the swing happen.

Domonic needs to be challenged to get back to where he was. But at the same time, not told he’s bad or regressing. Search for positives. I wouldn’t call it starting over. [I would tell him] ‘Get this in your mind: I’m going to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award, starting now.'”

Though Schmidt insists it was just coincidence, Brown hit a home run in mid-June last season only minutes after having flagged down Schmidt for advice. Schmidt told Brown to use his top hand more. Brown then tagged Cubs starter Edwin Jackson for a lead-extending three-run home run. It would seem that if anyone could get the most out of Brown, it’s Schmidt.

Walt Jocketty: “I don’t know if we have a fit” for Dayan Viciedo

Dayán Viciedo

On Friday, we learned that the Reds were showing interest in free agent outfielder Dayan Viciedo, who was recently released by the White Sox. After some consideration, Reds GM Walt Jocketty came away unsure if there was a role for Viciedo on the club, as the slugger wants more playing time than the Reds would be able to afford him.

Via MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon:

“We talked to his representative but I don’t know if we have a fit for him,” Jocketty said. “They’re looking for more playing time. With our outfield the way it is, I don’t see it as a good fit.”

The Reds currently have the left-handed-hitting Jay Bruce in right field and switch-hitting Billy Hamilton in center, along with the right-handed Marlon Byrd in left field. If Viciedo were to platoon, it would have to be with Hamilton or Bruce, both coming off of mediocre offensive showings in 2014. Viciedo, 25, has a significant platoon split, owning an .837 career OPS against lefties compared to .679 against right-handers.

Last season with the White Sox, Viciedo swatted 21 home runs in 563 plate appearances, but batted only .231 with a .281 on-base percentage.