Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Franco Returns, Lee Retires, And Howard In-Between


Welcome Back, Now Get To Work! – Maikel Franco could be a cornerstone for the Phillies, and he hopes to solidify those expectations with a strong 2016. His work began Tuesday, when the Phillies held their first full-squad workout at Carpenter Complex. Franco, 23, hit .280 with 22 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 50 RBIs and an .840 OPS in 335 plate appearances in his rookie season. He played so well that former teammate Jeff Francoeur agreed to buy him a suit, which he has not yet received. "I'll let you know because I need it," Franco said. Franco's play in 2015 was encouraging, but he needs to continue to play well for the Phillies' rebuild to keep moving in the right direction. "I put a lot of work in in the D.R. [Dominican Republic] and I'm prepared for everything," Franco said. "I'm ready to go for everything." Franco said he worked on everything while he played winter ball this offseason. "Mental, physical, worked on my body," he said. "I tried to learn more about hitting. I worked on ground balls. Everything. That's what I did in the D.R. and that's what I'm continuing to do." But news also broke this offseason that Franco filed a grievance against the Phillies, claiming they manipulated his service time to delay his eligibility for free agency. Franco opened the season in Triple-A before being recalled May 15. Franco accrued 170 days of service time, which is two days short of a full season. Those two days delayed his free agency from 2020 to 2021. Franco's agent, Ryan Royster, said in December the grievance will not be an issue moving forward. Franco's absence from camp until Tuesday raised eyebrows from some in the organization both in and out of uniform. The Phillies always have asked players to arrive in camp a day before the first full-squad workouts to take physicals, but Franco arrived Tuesday morning. He is the first Phillies player in recent memory not to arrive at least a day before the first workout, although it is not an official requirement according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Manager Pete Mackanin said he has no problem with it. "Only thing I heard is this was the day I had to report and this is the day I'm here," Franco said. What is important at this point is that Franco is healthy and ready to go. He broke his left hand in August, when current teammate Jeremy Hellickson hit him with a pitch while with Arizona. Franco said the hand feels fine. "It's exciting," Franco said about camp. "A lot of players and new faces. I want to be a good teammate, put in a lot of work and hopefully everybody has fun and enjoys the game. I'm happy. I'm here. I want to put everything into getting better."

Every Day Might Not Be A Good Idea – Ryan Howard made the points he wanted to make Tuesday at Bright House Field. He said the past is in the past. But, frankly, he feels disrespected that arguably the greatest first baseman in franchise history -- a National League MVP and World Series champion -- has been criticized so harshly recently. Suggestions he no longer can hit left-handed pitching befuddle him, and he believes his career successes have earned him the right to be more than a platoon player on a rebuilding team. "The track record speaks for itself," Howard said. "It doesn't matter righty or lefty, I know I can get the job done. I know all the talk over the past few years, this and that, I'm not going to focus on that. For me, it's taking advantage of the opportunities when I get to go out there and play. "Do I think it's fair? Me, personally, probably not. But it is what it is. The situation is the situation. You just go out there and play." This almost certainly is Howard's final season with the Phillies. He will make $25 million, plus he is expected to receive a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option. The Phillies have tried to trade him, but have had no takers, even after they've offered to pay most of his salary. "Am I surprised that I'm still on this roster? Um, I don't know, to be honest with you," Howard said. "You know, I'm still here. I've got a contractual obligation through this year and you just see what happens. I mean, I don't sit at home waiting for the call, 'Hey, Ry. You're traded.' I've got to focus on getting ready for the season. "And do I want to be here? Yeah, I want to be here. Why wouldn't I?" Well, maybe because former teammates and friends like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, etc., are elsewhere and he understands he is not part of the Phillies' future. Howard also said criticism about his play has been unfair. "The way I felt with everything that I've done here in Philadelphia, I just felt I was being portrayed as something worse," Howard said. "I felt like I was being portrayed as the bad guy. When you all know me, you know how I'm always joking and stuff. I didn't have a problem at all with my teammates. That's why I didn't talk to you all last year. It was more of a personal thing for me. But it's like, this year … last year is in the past, man." But this year he will have to prove he can hit lefties to play. "Check the numbers, check the track record, all that good stuff," he said. "I know I can hit lefties. There's been talk in the media and all this kind of stuff over the past three years and this and that or whatever about not hitting lefties and whatever. It's about just going out there and doing it." A look at the numbers: Howard hit .130 with three home runs, 10 RBIs and a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances last season against left-handers. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, his OPS against lefties would have been the lowest in baseball by 47 points; Howard hit .230 with 10 home runs, 32 RBIs and a .770 OPS in 189 plate appearances against lefties in 2014. He led the National League in homers and RBIs as a left-handed hitter against lefties; Howard had a .771 OPS against lefties from 2005-10, which ranked 22nd out of 61 qualified left-handed hitters. He has a .619 OPS against lefties from 2011-15, which is 54th out of 63 left-handed hitters and 201st out of 212 hitters overall. "I think people forget that," he said about his 2014 numbers. "Last year? There's nothing you can do about it. Last year is last year. This is a fresh year. Just as last year was bad, this year I can go out and hit .300 against lefties. Then what do you say? If I was able to go out and hit .300 against lefties this year. Then what?" Howard has more on his plate than just hitting lefties. He has a lawsuit against Al Jazeera Network. It is his second lawsuit in as many offseasons. He settled one with his family in October 2014. His brother had sued him for $2.8 million. His father had requested a $10 million separation payment after Howard severed financial ties with his parents. Howard claimed in a countersuit that his family conspired to defraud him. Then in December, Al Jazeera ran a report that linked Howard to performance-enhancing drugs. Howard filed a defamation lawsuit in January. "That kind of stuff is life," Howard said. "Stuff that happens in life, it comes up and you have to deal with it. I think it would be tough for anybody at any time. But baseball becomes a great getaway for all that kind of stuff." Howard said he has no idea why his name is one of the names that appeared in the report. "I haven't the faintest idea," he said. "I really can't tell you. I really don't know." MLB said it planned to investigate the claims against Howard. Howard said his focus is on baseball until then. He said he is ready for a fresh start. "I leave here, I go to Philadelphia, I'm going to go out there and give 110 percent every game I've got," Howard said. "Until they come to me and say they've traded you to so-and-so, then I'll go to whoever and play 110 percent. For me, it's just about playing the game right now."

No Comeback Attempt This Time – Despite a recent attempt to extend his career, veteran left-hander Cliff Lee is expected to retire, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. "We don't anticipate him playing at this point," Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, reportedly told Rosenthal. Lee last pitched in the Majors in 2014 for the Phillies before missing all of last season due to an elbow injury. Currently a free agent, the 37-year-old went 41-30 with a 2.89 ERA over his final four seasons in Philadelphia from 2011-14, including 4-5 with a 3.65 ERA over 13 starts in '14. The four-time All-Star's best season came in 2008, when he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA for the Indians. He led the American League in wins, ERA, shutouts, ERA+, FIP, walks per nine innings and home runs per nine en route to winning the AL Cy Young Award. Lee went 143-91 with a 3.52 ERA and 1,824 strikeouts over his 13-year career, during which he spent time with the Indians, Phillies, Mariners and Rangers.

Contest Now Open – Entries are open through April 14 for Major League Baseball's annual Honorary Bat Girl Contest, which will recognize one fan from each MLB club who has been affected by breast cancer and has demonstrated a commitment to battling the disease. Women and men 18 or older can share stories about themselves or loved ones who are "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" by visiting for a chance to be recognized on the field by their favorite team on Mother's Day, May 8. Fans also are invited to visit the site to vote for these inspirational stories, which are designed to provide hope and motivation for those currently in the fight against breast cancer. During MLB's annual recognition of Mother's Day, one Honorary Bat Girl per club will take part in pregame activities -- including being recognized during an on-field ceremony -- and also receive pink MLB merchandise along with two tickets to the game. For clubs that are away on Mother's Day, another home game will be selected to recognize their Honorary Bat Girl. Serving as guest judges for the contest will be Jillian Michaels, health and wellness expert and star of "Just Jillian" on E! Network; Gregor Blanco of the Giants; Robinson Chirinos of the Rangers; Kevin Gausman of the Orioles; Curtis Granderson of the Mets; Jeremy Jeffress of the Brewers; Scott Kazmir of the Dodgers; Taijuan Walker of the Mariners; Jered Weaver of the Angels; Sam Ryan and Chris Rose of MLB Network; and Lindsay Berra and Alyson Footer of Michaels is an ambassador for Stand Up To Cancer, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation that MLB has supported as founding donor since 2008. The mothers of Kazmir, Walker and Weaver are all breast-cancer survivors. Blanco and Granderson both lost a grandmother to breast cancer; Gausman lost both of his grandmothers to the disease. Jeffress lost both his aunt and uncle to cancer. Ryan's mother is a breast-cancer survivor, and both Rose and Berra have several close friends who have been affected by the disease. Footer lost her mother to cancer, and her aunt is a breast-cancer survivor. Chirinos is active in the Dallas-Fort Worth community and is honored to participate in this initiative. Each judge will review a portion of the submissions, and their opinions will be considered in the selection process. Additional Major Leaguers may also join the panel and will be announced at a later date. A panel of judges, including the guest judging panel, will help select the winning submissions based on the following criteria: originality, quality of writing, demonstration of commitment to breast-cancer awareness and public appeal (as determined by online fan votes). The Honorary Bat Girl program was introduced in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the annual "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative, which is commemorated on Mother's Day. In seven years, thousands of unique testimonials have been submitted and millions of fan votes have been cast in the MLB initiative, which is supported by charitable partners Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen. The initiative raises awareness about breast cancer while also raising funds to support breast-cancer research. Look over the 2015 winners as a reminder of the true meaning behind the Honorary Bat Girl recognition. It meant the world at the time to Sara Tresselt of Jefferson, Md. A sergeant with the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office in Virginia and a former outfielder for her Maryland high school state champion softball team, Tresselt was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 after a mammogram revealed more than what she had believed was simply a bruise. Tresselt fought bravely with an infectious positive spirit for the next four years and was named the Orioles' Honorary Bat Girl last March. She called that honor "probably the coolest thing I've ever done" -- but the occasion was tempered by the news at about the same time that her disease had spread to her brain. Tresselt passed away last Sept. 11 at age 36. "If something doesn't feel right, go in [for a checkup]," she had said as advice for others. "I think it's important to do your checks and know your body." Last year, Julie Gross of Duluth, Minn., was named the Twins' Honorary Bat Girl after being nominated by her lifelong friend Linda Louie. Gross is a breast-cancer survivor and an ardent advocate against the disease. Two years before receiving this honor, Gross had lost her mother in part to the return of breast cancer. "It is a tough time for her," Louie said in submitting that nomination. "But something like this is a monument to moms and all women that we have loved and lost to the disease." On every Mother's Day since 2006, hundreds of MLB players have used pink Louisville Slugger bats stamped with the MLB breast-cancer awareness logo. To further demonstrate their support for the breast-cancer cause, players and on-field personnel have worn the symbolic pink ribbon on their uniforms, as well as pink wrist bands. Commemorative dugout lineup cards also have been pink and stamped with the pink-ribbon logo. Game-used Louisville Slugger pink bats and other game-used gear from Mother's Day games will again be placed for bidding exclusively at to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer.

Today In Phils History - It was the Phillies who started the trend of pitchers and catchers reporting first followed by position players a week later when the club instituted this format from their camp in Savannah, GA in 1906. Three years later, the club was sold to State Senator Israel Durham and a group of his state Senate colleagues after which Durham was elected club president. In 1943, Bucky Harris took the helm as manager following a 42-111 performance by former skipper Hans Lobert. 4 years later, the Phillies opened their first spring training in Clearwater where the team has stayed ever since. Finally, Jimmy Rollins was excused from spring training 5 years ago to attend a tribute to Motown at the White House... given his decline, not sure if he would still be able to get a ticket these days. 

With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!

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