Sunday, December 13, 2015

Busy Day Shaking Up The Roster


Impressive Return For Giles – With the Phillies in full-on rebuilding mode, it seemed just a matter of time until they found a buyer for closer Ken Giles. That time finally came on Saturday afternoon, when the group of young players changing hands were a bit different than the initially reported stable of prospects. On Wednesday evening at the Winter Meetings, it was believed the Phillies would be receiving right-hander Vincent Velasquez, outfield prospect Derek Fisher, right-handed pitching prospect Thomas Eshelman and lefty Brett Oberholtzer. The final deal was a little different. Instead of Fisher, it was former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel going to Philadelphia, as well as right-handed pitcher Harold Arauz, with infielder Jonathan Arauz heading in the other direction to Houston. The key to the deal is now Appel, ranked No. 43 on's Top 100 list. Appel, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft after returning to Stanford for his senior season (following being taken No. 8 overall by the Pirates in 2012), still has outstanding stuff, though that hasn't equated to dominating results in his Minor League career. Appel is the second former No. 1 pick to be dealt in the past week, after infielder Dansby Swanson was traded from the D-backs to the Braves. The most recent No. 1 overall pick that still plays in the system of the team that drafted him is Houston's Carlos Correa. The right-hander split the 2015 season between Double- and Triple-A and finished with a 4.37 ERA, .266 batting average against and 110 strikeouts in 131 2/3 innings. It was an improvement over his first full season, which began with an injury and started with disastrous results in the hitting-friendly California League. A very strong showing in the '14 Arizona Fall League helped him head back in the right direction and prepare him for the upper levels of the Astros' system. Appel still gets high grades for his pure stuff, a three-pitch mix of above-average to plus offerings. His fastball can sit in the mid-90s and touch 98 mph at times, and he backs that up with a very good slider and changeup. He's always had a good feel for pitching and perhaps just needs to trust his stuff better to obtain results that match his repertoire. He does give the Phillies a pitching prospect with top-of-the-rotation potential, one just about ready to get a shot at the big league level. Velasquez technically is no longer considered a prospect because of service time in late August. But he's a young, 23-year-old right-hander still very much in career-establishing mode. At the time of his removal from top-prospect lists, the 2010 second-round pick had been re-ranked at No. 69 on's Top 100 list, and sat at No. 4 on the Astros' Top 30. If he were still eligible, he'd slot in at No. 5 on the Phillies ever-improving Top 30 list. Velasquez has the chance to have three Major League average or better pitches and commands them all well when he's at his best. His fastball will sit in the low-to-mid 90s with life, and his changeup is his second above-average offering. His curve isn't quite as good but should be a quality breaking ball when all is said and done. He has good mound presence -- when he's on the mound. The one thing Velasquez has struggled with has been staying healthy, with both Tommy John surgery and a groin issue on his medical resume. The Astros had moved him to the bullpen after he threw fairly well in the rotation to monitor his innings and get him through a season in one piece. If he can stay away from the disabled list, he could be a future No. 3-type starter. Eshelman becomes the third 2015 draftee to be dealt under the new "Trea Turner rule," which allows Draft picks to be traded after the World Series following the June Draft, as opposed to a full year after they were drafted, as was the case under the old rule. The Cal State Fullerton product, who led NCAA Division I in walks per nine innings in all three years he was on campus, gets a 70 grade for his control. His stuff is average, at best, across the board, but he can throw any pitch in any count and put it wherever he wants. The Phillies had success with control artist Aaron Nola, their 2014 first-rounder, and Eshelman is kind of a poor man's version with slightly less stuff. Still, his high floor means he's a good bet to fulfill his potential as a No. 4 or 5 starter. Oberholtzer is a 26-year-old finesse lefty who is a year removed from making 24 big league starts. He had some blister problems in 2015, making eight starts for Houston, and has yet to find consistency in the Majors. He has the ceiling of a No. 5 starter.

Phillies Sign Morton – The Phillies announced a trade Saturday morning that did not involve Ken Giles. They acquired right-hander Charlie Morton from the Pirates for Minor League right-hander David Whitehead, continuing a trend of stockpiling experienced pitchers on short-term deals. Morton, 32, will become a free agent following the 2016 season, although he has a $9.5 million option for 2017. It originally was a club option, but it becomes a mutual option following the trade. If Morton declines his half of the option, he would lose a $1 million buyout. Whitehead, 23, went 9-11 with a 4.44 ERA in 25 starts for Class A Advanced Clearwater last season. The Phillies continue to add starting pitching depth. They acquired right-hander Jeremy Hellickson in a similar deal last month. Hellickson becomes a free agent after next season, and the Phillies sent a fringe prospect to Arizona to complete that deal. Hellickson and Morton provide a veteran presence to mostly inexperienced rotation candidates that include Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Adam Morgan, David Buchanan, Alec Asher and Severino Gonzalez. The Phillies could add more rotation depth if they complete the Giles trade, which is pending physicals. It also gives the Phillies two potential trade chips in July, while they allow the organization's pitching prospects to continue to develop at a more natural pace. The Phillies designated right-hander A.J. Achter for assignment to make room for Morton on the 40-man roster. They claimed him off waivers from the Twins on Nov. 20. Worth noting: The Phillies signed right-hander Ernesto Frieri to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Frieri, 30, will compete for a bullpen job. He went 1-0 with a 4.63 ERA in 22 appearances last season with the Rays. He has a 3.55 ERA and 73 saves in 298 appearances in his career, making him a closer candidate.

Adding Depth – Matt Klentak just made his first big trade as Phillies general manager. He announced Saturday afternoon the Phillies dealt hard-throwing closer Ken Giles and Minor League infielder Jonathan Arauz to the Astros for five pitchers: right-handers Mark Appel, Vincent Velasquez, Thomas Eshelman and Harold Arauz and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. "[Klentak] said it was really hard to let someone like me go," Giles said in a telephone interview with "He has to look out for what's best for the organization, and I understand that. He's looking out for me, as well. It's one of those things like, I wish the Phillies the best of luck. Sooner rather than later something special is going to happen in that organization." The package headed to Philadelphia is different than the original one, which the Phillies and Astros agreed to Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Sources said the Phillies had an issue with one of the physicals. As a result, the teams spent the last couple days augmenting the deal. Outfielder Derek Fisher had been part of the original four-player return, but he is no longer headed to Philadelphia. Appel, Jonathan Arauz and Harold Arauz are additions. Appel, 24, is the most notable addition. He is the No. 43 prospect in baseball and was the No. 2 prospect in Houston's system, according to The Pirates selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 Draft, but he returned to Stanford for his senior season and the Astros selected him first overall in 2013. But Appel has a 5.12 ERA in 54 appearances (53 starts) in the Minor Leagues, including a 4.48 ERA in 12 starts last season with Triple-A Fresno. His fastball still sits in the mid-90s, hitting 98 mph. His changeup and slider are considered above-average secondary pitches. That repertoire is why some still think Appel can be a front-line starter, despite the results. "The more I look, the more I see pieces coming together for Philadelphia," Appel told "I think Philadelphia is in a place where maybe the Astros were a couple of years ago. We've seen what the Astros have done. I'm excited to be a part of that in Philadelphia, and I think my goal is to get that to happen as soon as possible." Appel is the second No. 1 overall pick to be traded this week, after the D-backs sent Dansby Swanson to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal. ranked Velasquez, 23, as the No. 69 prospect in baseball and the No. 4 prospect in Houston's talented farm system in July. He went 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 appearances (seven starts) with the Astros last season. Velasquez has the talent to be a No. 3 starter or a dominant late-inning reliever, like Giles. Oberholtzer, 26, went 2-2 with a 4.46 ERA in eight starts in 2015. He is 11-20 with a 3.94 ERA in 45 appearances (42 starts) in his big league career. Eshelman threw more strikes than any pitcher in the history of college baseball. He led NCAA Division I in walks per nine innings as a freshman (0.2), sophomore (0.6) and junior (0.5) at Cal State Fullerton, establishing new records for a single season and a career (0.4). He projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Harold Arauz, 20, is 11-8 with a 3.54 ERA in 53 appearances (34 starts) in the Minor Leagues. The Phillies and Astros have been discussing a Giles trade for some time, but talks picked up this week and escalated Wednesday. There are plenty of reasons the two teams struck a deal. The Astros needed bullpen help, and Giles already can be considered one of the better closers in baseball, despite only handling the job for a couple months. He had a 1.80 ERA and 15 saves in 17 opportunities as the Phillies' closer last season. He will not become a free agent until after the 2020 season. Flipping Giles, who might pitch 65 innings per season, for five pitchers who might pitch 180-200 innings in the future, made sense for the rebuilding Phillies. They are not expected to contend for the next couple of years, and closers are far less expensive than starters and much easier to replace. Consider J.A. Happ's three-year, $36 million contract and Jeff Samardzija's five-year, $90 million contract as evidence of the starting-pitching market for middle- to back-end starters. Yahoo! Sports wrote Saturday that closers Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Trevor Rosenthal, Andrew Miller, Jeurys Familia, Glen Perkins, Kelvin Herrera, A.J. Ramos, Carter Capps and David Robertson could become free agents following the 2018 season. The Phillies also have a few hard throwers in the system, including right-hander Jimmy Cordero, who hits 100 mph with his fastball. In short, the Phillies believe there are plenty of ways to find a closer in the future once they are contenders again. But right now they're trying to build a rotation to put themselves in position to actually need a legitimate closer. Houston certainly had young talent to offer Philadelphia. The Phillies were familiar with Houston's talent at the Major League and Minor League levels as a result of their work there last summer, when they agreed to a Cole Hamels trade. Hamels rejected it and went to Texas instead. The trade gives the Phillies six prospects in MLBPipeline's Top 100: shortstop J.P. Crawford (fifth), Appel (43rd), right-hander Jake Thompson (51st), outfielder Nick Williams (55th), catcher Jorge Alfaro (59th) and outfielder Cornelius Randolph (85th). Velasquez ranked 69th in July before he joined the Astros. The Phillies designated Dan Otero for assignment to make room for Velasquez and Oberholtzer on the 40-man roster. The Phillies claimed Otero off waivers from the Oakland A's on Nov. 3.

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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