Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cliff Cut Loose As Phillies Focus On Rebuilding


Lee’s Option Declined – It is no surprise, but the Phillies have declined Cliff Lee's 2016 club option. Lee will receive a $12.5 million buyout on Nov. 30, in place of the $27.5 million contract for next season. He made $25 million this season, though he didn't pitch an inning because he never recovered from a torn common flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee's career may be over. "He was all about winning," Philadelphia assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said in September. "He helped us make the World Series in '09 and the postseason in '11. He pitched very well in '12 and '13. It just didn't work out. I'm sure he would have preferred things would have worked out differently, because he is a great competitor." Lee, 37, went 41-30 with a 2.89 ERA in 106 starts with the Phils from 2011-14. His ERA and 1.08 WHIP ranked fourth out of 90 qualified pitchers in that span. Lee's 6.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio easily ranked first. Clayton Kershaw's 4.74 placed second. Lee went on the DL in May 2014 and returned to make three starts in July before getting hurt again. He rehabbed over the offseason, but the injury started to bother him again in March. Lee visited Philadelphia a handful of times this year, essentially to meet with doctors to discuss his rehab, but his recovery never really went anywhere. Doctors recommended surgery, but he declined because he seemed uninterested in pitching past this contract anyway. The Phillies will recoup some of the $25 million they paid Lee this season because they insured his contract. The amount is unclear.

Phillies Claim Otero (Not Ricky) – The Phillies have claimed right-handed reliever Dan Otero off waivers from the A's. Otero, 30, went 2-4 with a 6.75 ERA in 41 games (over four stints) with Oakland last season. Over his first two seasons with the A's, he was 10-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 105 games. Opposing batters hit .333 with a .531 slugging percentage against Otero last season, the highest among Major League relievers.

Front Office Focusing On Pitching – The Phillies concluded their organizational meetings Thursday in Clearwater, Fla., with their leadership structure finally in place. They have a president in Andy MacPhail and a general manager in Matt Klentak. MacPhail and Klentak enter the offseason hoping to improve a roster that finished 2015 with the worst record in baseball. But do not expect them to send blank checks to free agents. The Phillies are not ready to take that plunge just yet, but they are planning to add a few pieces to stabilize a mostly inexperienced roster. "We will definitely do our best to improve the team for next year," Klentak said last week. "I'll stop short of saying we're going to pursue any kind of player or brand of player, because frankly I don't know that yet. But yes, we have every intention of making the club better this winter." Free agents/options: The Phillies have five players eligible for free agency: right-handers Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams; left-hander Cliff Lee; and outfielder Jeff Francoeur. None of the pitchers are expected to return, including Lee. The club will pay Lee his $12.5 million buyout for a 2016 club option on Nov. 30. Francoeur has said he would like to return to Philadelphia, and it is something the Phillies should consider. Francoeur proved to be a better-than-advertised presence in the clubhouse, providing vocal leadership to a team that sorely needs it. He also hit .258 with 13 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .718 OPS. "I talked about culture," Klentak said. "I think there are a variety of ways to sort of create the environment to allow a culture to form. One of them is no doubt bringing in veterans with strong makeup and a wide array of experiences. One hundred percent, I think that's really important. If players are playing confidently and they're having fun and they're enjoying each other's company, they're more likely to reach their ceilings and be the best versions of themselves." Of course, it remains to be seen how much MacPhail and Klentak value a player like that, but if they are looking for a veteran to nurture and motivate their young talent and show them how to be a pro, it would be difficult to find better. Needs: The Phillies need pitching. A lot of it. They need at least a couple reliable veterans to fill out the rotation. They need at least one or two reliable relievers. The Phillies went 11-10 when rookies Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff started this season. It might not seem like much, but it shows just how much a little quality pitching can help an offensively challenged lineup. "If you can pitch, you have a chance to win every single night," Klentak said. "That will absolutely become an organizational focus for us. To add pitching at every turn. In trades, through waiver claims, in the Draft, internationally, free agency. However we need to do it, we will add pitching, pitching, pitching." Besides that, the Phillies are likely to add a veteran outfielder or two, especially if they do not re-sign Francoeur. Potential targets: When it comes to starting pitchers, think along the lines of Doug Fister, J.A. Happ and Bartolo Colon -- guys who can pitch six or more innings and give the offense a chance. When it comes to relievers, we're talking about seventh-inning types who can be the bridge from starter to closer Ken Giles. In terms of an outfielder, preferably somebody with some pop. Trade assets: Do not expect the Phillies to trade any of their top young prospects. Now is not the time for that. But they could trade some of their young big league talent to help fill some holes, especially if they believe they have prospects coming through the system that could take their place before the end of next season. Financial situation: The Phillies finally cleared a bunch of salary from their books. They still owe Ryan Howard $35 million next year, including a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option. They still owe Carlos Ruiz $9 million, which includes a $500,000 buyout. They are paying $28 million of injured pitcher Matt Harrison's contract, although it is believed insurance could take care of 75 percent of that. But while they have money to spend, the Phillies are not expected to be major players in free agency this winter. "I don't think you can buy a winner," Phillies owner John Middleton said. "Specifically, you have to build baseball teams from the ground up." Bottom line: Expect the Phillies to acquire a few pieces to fill out the roster, but continue to focus on their young talent. They hope their talent at the Major and Minor League levels continues to improve, and in a year or two the Phils re-enter free agency in a big way.

The Phillies finally put an end to the season finishing in last place in the NL East with a record of 63-99. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances, this has ended up being one of the worst seasons in franchise history! However, at least Ryan Madson got another ring this year.

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