I worry sometimes that the baseball community gets too wrapped up in tedious, heated, and unproductive Hall of Fame debates to relish moments like the actual announcement of inductees. Tonight the BBWAA announced that Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza have been elected to the Hall of Fame, two candidates beyond worthy of celebration and reflection.
The report date for pitchers and catchers is rapidly approaching and if you’ve forgotten how to get excited about the Phillies over the long offseason, the Phillies dropped some news today to help you get back in the spirit:
#Phillies have announced the following nine players have been invited to major league spring training as non-roster invitees:
— Phillies (@Phillies) January 6, 2016
— Phillies (@Phillies) January 6, 2016
A year ago I was struck by the ease of putting together a highlight list for a season as awful as that of the 2014 Phillies. That team lost 89 games for the second straight year and finished last in the division for the first time since 2000. As I was working on the list, they unleashed a massive emotional blow to the fanbase by trading franchise icon Jimmy Rollins. It was a challenging time to be a Phillies fan and yet, despite it all, finding ten great moments was a piece of cake.
In many ways, 2015 was a markedly better season for the Philadelphia Phillies. The number in the loss column increased from 89 to 99, but the future is now extraordinarily more clear than it was a year ago at this time. Last year hopes for the future were pinned primarily on unproven players J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco, and Ken Giles and little else. This year, despite the departure of Giles, the future is coming into better focus. Nola and Franco took significant steps forward at the major league level, Crawford continued his rise and, finally, a plethora of legitimate prospects have arrived via trade or breakouts to supplement the initial core including Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, Andrew Knapp, Jorge Alfaro, and more. Real hope is visibly on the horizon for the first time since the 2011 season, but when I sat down to put together this highlight list I drew a blank.
Al Jazeera is airing a documentary tonight called “The Dark Side”, which is described as a “monthslong investigation” in which an undercover investigator exposes the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Ryan Howard is among those implicated as having used PEDs, as well as Peyton Manning, Ryan Zimmerman, and Taylor Teagarden.
Recently, ESPN’s Buster Olney criticized the Phillies for tanking, or in other words, intentionally losing. That prompted a response from John Stolnis of The Good Phight, and that prompted a follow-up from Olney.
If there’s an overriding theme so far in the 2015-2016 offseason, it’s that opt-outs have graduated from a contract oddity to a legitimate trend. Of the four largest contracts signed to date, three have included at least one opt-out. The Giants signed Johnny Cueto to a 6-yr/$130M deal with an opt-out after two years. David Price can opt-out after the third year of his 7-yr/$210M deal with the Red Sox. And Jason Heyward trumped them both with two opt-outs, one after year-3 and one after year-4, on his brand new 8-yr/$184M deal with the Cubs. The only elite free agent to buck the opt-out trend was Zack Greinke, who signed a 6-yr/$207M deal sans opt-out with Arizona but, then again, he was only a free agent this year because he exercised the opt-out clause in his previous contract with the Dodgers. Opt-outs are totally the new black or whatever.
The Phillies have signed veteran right-handed relievers Andrew Bailey and Edward Mujica to minor league deals with invitations to big league Spring Training, putting a ribbon on a total bullpen overhaul that shifts the team from a homegrown crew to a grab bag of reclamation projects and newer, shinier organizational arms. Bailey is a Proven Closer who began his career in Oakland, but has dealt with a litany of injuries and hasn’t pitched more than 40 innings in a season since 2011. Mujica saved 37 games for the Cardinals in 2013, thus earning the Proven Closer tag as well, but has spent most of his career as a 7th/8th inning guy. The two newest Phillies, who were born three weeks apart in 1984, will compete for late-inning duties with David Hernandez and Ernesto Frieri, also recently signed by the Klentak regime.
Scratch that. Let’s try this again.
The Ken Giles trade, which was reportedly agreed to on Wednesday night as a 4-for-1 deal: Giles for RHP Vincent Velasquez, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, OF Derek Fisher, and RHP Thomas Eshelman, is now finalized and it’s a 5-for-2. The Astros are sending 2013 #1 overall draft pick RHP Mark Appel and RHP Harold Arauz instead of Fisher and the Phillies will send 17-year-old shortstop Jonathan Arauz in addition to Giles. Got all that? The final deal looks like this:
Astros receive: RHP Ken Giles, SS Jonathan Arauz
Phillies receive: RHP Vincent Velasquez, RHP Mark Appel, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Thomas Eshelman, and RHP Harold Arauz
(According to the illustrious Mr. Ken Rosenthal, Arauz and Arauz, though both Panamanian, are not related.)
The Phillies’ winter of stockpiling pitching depth continued today with the acquisition of starting pitcher Charlie Morton from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Morton is a 32-year-old veteran back-of-the-rotation starter most famous in Philadelphia for his dead-on Roy Halladay impression.
Results wise, however, Morton will never be mistaken for Halladay. He’s a sinker-baller who is at his best when he induces ground balls. Since revamping his delivery a la Halladay after the 2010 season, his numbers are relatively pedestrian: 624.1 IP, 3.96 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 93 ERA+, 16.3 K%, 8.2 BB%, 58.2 GB%. The reliance on ground ball contact could potentially create problems with a Phillies infield defense that still remains questionable. He is only under contract for one more season, though, and an established rotation arm like Morton is a natural fit for a young rotation in transition like the Phillies current mix.