Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard were sitting near their lockers Friday morning in Clearwater, Fla. The Phillies’ clubhouse looked like a holding cell for future traded players.
Few have been in this position more than Lee, who has been traded four times, three during the season. He’s also been the subject of constant trade rumors over the years. This year is no exception.
“I still don’t have any control over anything,” said the 36-year-old Lee, who missed half of last season with an elbow injury. “The thing is, nobody in here is talking about being traded. We’re all here to get ready for the season. We’re not caught up in trade rumors or speculation. If something happens, then it happens. I’ve been through it before. And to be honest, I’m usually the last to hear about it.”
Papelbon probably has come the closest to departing. For about two weeks, the Phillies and Brewers were in talks, but the deal fell apart when the sides couldn’t come to an agreement on the payout of his $13 million vesting option for 2016.
“I don’t know if I was ever going to be a Brewer,” Papelbon said. “Nobody ever said a word to me about it. I read about it, but I guess it never got far along enough for my agents or the team to let me know something. As far as I know I’m a Phillie and everyone else is, too. Nobody’s getting traded, as far as I know. This is actually a good group of guys. Best I’ve been around since I’ve been here.”
Whether Papelbon is delusional, naive, or really feels nobody will be traded, the fact is everyone is for sale. The Phillies already have sold off longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins in a deal with the Dodgers.
Phillies president Pat Gillick said the team, as currently constituted, could win 80-plus games. But he has also said the Phillies are retooling for 2017. General manager Ruben Amaro, whose contract is up at the end of the year and is on the hot seat, has not succumbed to the pressure of taking less than what he wants for his stars.
The Phillies have talked with the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, and Padres more than other teams. The Red Sox have not been willing to give up top prospects Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts for Hamels, a superb lefthanded starter.
According to one Phillies source, the Yankees have come the closest to landing Hamels, offering a package of prospects that at least has given the Phillies a baseline for future talks.
Hamels, who pitched two strong innings in his spring training debut Friday against the Yankees, has stopped talking about a trade. He said before camp that he was looking forward to pitching for a contender again, and that he would welcome a deal to Boston.
Lee’s price — in terms of players — should be less. He’s older, and has $37.5 million owed to him ($25 million this year plus a $12.5 million buyout of a $27.5 million option in 2016). But Lee would be a tricky acquisition. He’s a pitcher you need to see throughout spring training to make sure his elbow is OK.
“It’s too early to tell,” Lee said. “It was the first two innings I’ve thrown since last June. So far, so good. I have no idea how this elbow thing started and I have no idea whether it will come back. All I know is I’m trying to get ready for the season and I’m getting ready for a season with the Phillies. We’re not caught up in trade rumors and speculation. We’re absolutely focused on individual routines and getting ready for the season.
When asked about Boston, where he would be reunited with John Farrell, who was the Indians’ farm director when Lee was coming up, Lee said, “Boston tries to win every year. They always have a very good team. With the additions they’ve made to their lineup, they should be a very good team and score a lot of runs for their pitchers.”
Papelbon wished the Phillies could have stayed together. “I think it was easier to add to this team and make it a contender than to rip it apart,” he said.
“I’ve been with the Phillies for a long time, and I love this team,” Ruiz said. “I want to stay and make it work here. But I know they have to do what they have to do.”
Hamels believes the entire team will be under a microscope.
“I don’t think anybody more than me,” he said. “All the guys are. There’s a lot of jobs to be won. I think if you’re a young guy, it’s a great position to be in. As veterans, I think that’s just the situation and scenario that happened over the last couple years that we’re in. I think it’s everyone, even the front office. It’s a team aspect, a team sport. And I think that’s just kind of where we’ve been placed.”
Howard might be the toughest to trade. His play has declined because of Achilles’ issues and he’s owed $60 million. The Phillies have tried to shop him, and are willing to take on most of the money, but there have been no takers. In a perfect world, the Phillies would use Darin Ruf at first base, but now he’s slated to play left field with Howard at first.
“Nothing has been broken up yet,” said Papelbon. “I don’t know. I’m not getting that sense from the front office.
“It’s real good here right now. Best since I’ve been here. It’s exciting. A lot of people read the headlines and think, ‘The Phillies are dismantling.’ Really there’s no dismantling going on.”
At least not yet.
Showalter found right man in Wallace
Dave Wallace may be one of the more underrated pitching coaches of this era. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter can’t believe his good fortune in landing Wallace to coach the Orioles’ pitchers.
Showalter and Wallace had no previous relationship, which made the hiring unusual. But the more Showalter asked about Wallace, the more good feedback he received.
What Showalter got was a coach who simplified things so pitchers could understand and get better. He got a coach with a tremendous track record of keeping pitchers healthy. Look at the 2004 Red Sox staff that won the World Series under Terry Francona, and the 2000 Mets staff that went to the World Series under Bobby Valentine. Look at the 1995-97 staffs of the Dodgers and the number of pitchers with 190-plus innings. Look at last year’s Orioles staff.
“I wish there was a secret to it,” said Wallace. “It’s staying with trainers and strength and conditioning guys and adjusting their sides and trying to read when fatigue might set in to stay ahead of the curve. So many things involved. It’s a daily grind. It’s crazy. I’m not sure it’s as much pitch counts as stressful innings. You can have a 115-pitch game and go through it pretty good or you could have a five-inning, 90-pitch game and it’s really stressful on you. So you back off the side days, maybe move it back a day. Make sure they’re doing the right exercises and throwing programs and all that stuff.”
Wallace said he has a different program for each pitcher because “everyone is genetically different.” But he depends on the training staff. He felt he had a great one in Boston, including Chris Correnti, who was Pedro Martinez’s guru.
In 2014, Wallace’s first season in Baltimore, the starters had the fifth-best ERA in the league, and Wallace successfully oversaw the advancement of Zach Britton as the closer. Ubaldo Jimenez was a failure, but he’s a project of Wallace’s this spring.
And he’s trying to develop an ace in Kevin Gausman.
“You always hope so,” Wallace said of whether Gausman can be an ace. “He made a lot of progress last year. He’s a real cerebral guy.”
Wallace has a long history with big-name pitchers such as Ramon Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Orel Hershiser, Hideo Nomo, Mike Hampton, Al Leiter, Curt Schilling, and Derek Lowe.
He seems to have the magic touch when it comes to their health and well-being.
Apropos of nothing
1. Good chance the new stadium in Providence that will house the Rhode Island Red Sox will be a Fenway replica. Red Sox president Larry Lucchino answered “TBD” when asked of the possibility, but it makes sense that it would be a take off on JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.
2. Spoke to Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace about the return of framing pitches. “I remember John Roseboro talking to Dodgers catchers about it in the early 1980s,” Wallace said. “It’s now out in the forefront more because of TV and advanced stats. I’m sure a catcher can earn a strike here and there, but for me it’s mostly the pitcher. I think certain pitchers have earned the right to get a borderline pitch called a strike, and those are the ones who will get them when the pitch is framed. The catcher can confirm the strike. I think there’s more of that than actually getting the strike because the catcher framed it well. I remember Bill Haselman talking about Roger Clemens and keeping the mitt still when he caught him. Roger would get those calls because he was always around the plate.”
3. Curt Schilling made some fans by defending his daughter against disgusting comments made about her on Twitter. The Yankees did the right thing by firing an employee who took part.
4. New Rays manager Kevin Cash said his biggest influence has been Terry Francona. “I’ve spent the most time with him and studied his managerial style, but I learned a lot from John Farrell when I was the advance scout and he was the manager in Toronto,” said Cash. “We spoke a lot and I learned about how organized he was and how he communicated so well with everyone. If I can’t learn from that, then it’s on me.”
5. Early injuries to Josh Hamilton (shoulder/drug relapse), Yu Darvish (partially torn elbow ligaments), Jurickson Profar (shoulder), Rusney Castillo (oblique), Josh Reddick (oblique), and Hunter Pence (forearm) may accelerate the trade market, with Darvish’s injury possibly igniting another Rangers look at Cole Hamels.
Updates on nine
1. Rafael Soriano, RHP, free agent — A compelling pitcher who has had success as a closer and can still do it. The Tigers should look at him again after losing Joel Hanrahan (to Tommy John surgery again). The Tigers, who have had bad bullpens for three years in a row, need reinforcements.
2. Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets — Harvey was heating up the gun at 97-99 miles per hour in his first outing on Friday. Encouraging for the star, who underwent Tommy John surgery last season. Sandy Alderson put into perspective what Harvey means to the Mets and their changing culture. “One of the things we are emphasizing, whether it’s through veteran leadership or the overall team approach, it’s about the mental side of the game that can give a team an edge,” said the GM. “I think what other players feed off is his mental approach to the game. They may not have the same tools, the same velocity, the same breaking ball, but everybody can learn from his attitude, his tenacity, and his determination.’’
3. Grady Sizemore, OF, Phillies — Sizemore said there isn’t much difference from the way he felt last year to now, but a year back after missing two years has helped immeasurably. “We’ll see how it goes,” said Sizemore of the possibility of getting more playing time. “It’s early in camp so I have to go out there and perform.”
4. Chad Billingsley, RHP, Phillies — Billingsley is the sleeper in the Phillies camp. The former Dodger is a rehab assignment candidate, but Larry Bowa, the Phillies’ bench coach who coached Billingsley in Los Angeles, said, “If he’s right physically, he’s quite a talent.” The Phillies want to break up Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee with a righthander in their opening series against the Red Sox. Aaron Harang is also a candidate.
5. David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox — The Red Sox will have to decide how much of the opening series against Philadelphia Ortiz will play at first base. Ortiz acknowledged that playing the field wears him down, especially as he gets older, but he has worked out there in spring training. As far as facing Hamels and Lee, Ortiz said, “Actually, I’ve always liked facing those guys because they throw strikes.” Ortiz is 0 for 3 against Hamels and has hit .188 against Lee in 33 plate appearances. Ortiz is correct about facing lefthanders who throw strikes. He’s batted .313 with a .931 OPS against Mark Buehrle, .343, .907 against Andy Pettitte, and .395, 1.542 against Jamie Moyer.
6. Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees — He’s 22, 6 feet 7 inches, 230 pounds, a righthanded hitter, and plays right field. Who does that remind you of? Too early to tell whether Judge is the new Dave Winfield, but scouts drool. In two levels of Single A last season he hit .308 with 17 home runs, 78 RBIs, and a .905 OPS. He struck out 131 times. This spring, he homered in the Yankees’ first exhibition game. “He’s a man among boys,” said one veteran scout. “He’s still a kid, but when he fills out, we’re looking at a pretty big power hitter. Probably see him at Double A, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he jumps that to Triple A pretty quickly.”
7. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP, Braves — He’s one of the pitchers who has impressed scouts in the early going. The 21-year-old was hitting 101 m.p.h. on the gun. The Braves are very high on Cabrera but have to harness his control issues.
8. Hunter Pence, OF, Giants — The Giants are taking quite a blow in the chemistry department. Losing Pence for the next six weeks or so after he broke his forearm when hit with a pitch is big. Pence sets an emotional tone for the team. They’ve already lost Pablo Sandoval, who also brought energy. The Giants may try to solve it internally, but their scouts will be out looking for a bat, and there are plenty to be had.
9. Steven Souza, OF, Rays — The Rays are hoping for big things from Souza, who was acquired from the Nationals. Souza has had a troubled past. He tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and served a 50-game suspension while playing Single A in 2010. Souza, 26, hit .350 with 18 homers and 75 RBIs for Triple A Syracuse last season.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Last season, Washington righthander Doug Fister had a left on base rate of 83.1 percent, the best in baseball.” Also, “Junichi Tazawa had 64 strikeouts last season, only six looking. Each season his strikeout-looking rate has decreased: In 2009, it was 30.8 percent. After missing 2010, in 2011 it was 25.0 percent, in 2012 it was 24.4 percent, in 2013 it was 18.1 percent, and last season, it was 9.4 percent” . . . Happy birthday, Win Remmerswaal (61) and Jim Rice (62).Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.