Phillies acquire LHP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco from the Indians for RHP Carlos Carrasco, C Lou Marson, RHP Jason Knapp, INF Jason Donald
Not much figuring out to do here. The only question is whether the Indians got enough in return for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
Lee isn’t looked at as being on quite the same level as Roy Halladay, but he has posted a 3.14 ERA this year without a defense as good as Toronto’s helping him along. Also, he’s far cheaper than Halladay at just over $2 million for the rest of 2009 and $9 million next year. A rotation of Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ would seem to match up pretty well with those of the rest of the NL contenders come playoff time.
Francisco is the right-handed-hitting reserve outfielder the Phillies have been looking for. He’ll replace John Mayberry Jr. and serve primarily as a pinch-hitter. While he was miscast as a regular, he should be a very good reserve going forward, and since he’ll earn the minimum again next year, he’s a fairly valuable property. He was hitting .250/.336/.422 with 13 steals in 308 at-bats for the Indians.
In return, the Indians get four prospects, all of whom I’d rank somewhere between 40th and 80th in an updated top 100 prospects. I’m very surprised that the team didn’t hold out for one from the group of Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor, all of whom would have ranked higher, but they did get four intriguing pieces, three of which should contribute next year.
Carrasco, 22, was 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but his K/BB ratio was still quite strong at 112/38 in 114 2/3 IP. He spent years ranked as the Phillies’ top pitching prospect before being passed by a much improved Drabek early on this year. He has a strong fastball-changeup combo with a curve that still needs improvement — he doesn’t throw it for strikes very often, yet he also doesn’t get hitters to chase it. He hasn’t come as quickly as hoped, but he still projects as a No. 3 starter.
Marson and Donald were both 2008 U.S. Olympians. Marson is a very unusual prospect in that he’s a catcher known for his on-base ability. There was hope that he’d eventually deliver 10-12 homers per season, but he had just one in 211 at-bats while hitting .294/.382/.370 in Triple-A this season. His defense is sound. He doesn’t have the arm to contend for Gold Gloves, but he should have a long career behind the plate. I’m not sure what the Indians will do with him. He could share time with Kelly Shoppach if Victor Martinez follows Lee out the door, but the position should belong to top prospect Carlos Santana as soon as mid-2010. I could see Marson being moved again this winter
Knapp is just 18 and he’s fanned 111 in 85 1/3 innings in the Sally League. However, he’s experienced shoulder problem of late and hasn’t pitched since July 11. The Indians must be convinced that it’s just tendinitis. Many projected Knapp as a future reliever when the Phillies made him a second-round pick out of high school last year, but his performance this year has changed that. He really might have ace potential with his mid-90s fastball and hard slider. However, even the best pitching prospects are no better than 50-50 bets and Knapp faces longer odds given that he’s already experiencing arm issues and he has subpar command.
Donald has struggled this year. He only returned Tuesday after missing nearly seven weeks following knee surgery, and he’s hit just .236/.297/.332 in 208 at-bats in Triple-A. Last year, he batted .307/.391/.497 in Double-A. I see him as a .360-OBP guy with 15-homer ability. However, he lacks the range to last at shortstop and will end up at either second or third. Assuming that they keep Jhonny Peralta at the hot corner, the Indians could have Donald battle Luis Valbuena for the starting job at second next year. Some view him as a future utilityman, but I see him spending several years as a regular.
I think Indians fans are right to be rather disappointed right now. The team had a chance to get right back into contention with Lee and Martinez around in 2010, but this makes another fourth-place finish more likely and there are no probable stars coming back in return. That said, I do like all four pieces here and I’d rather have that group than one from the Drabek-Brown-Taylor tier and only lesser pieces completing the deal.
The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.
In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.
On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.
Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.