Phillies Mailbag: “Declining” Veterans, Kendrick, Valentin
It's time once again for the 97.3 ESPN Phillies Mailbag. Each week we take your Phillies questions and then talk about them on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill. Send your questions on Twitter to @FrankKlose or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why are the Phillies willing to lose with guys on the decline when they could lose with young guys learning curve who'll improve?
Betsy's question is a common one. Usually, it revolves around the Phillies young outfield corps. Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders were added into the mix for 2017, rather than the likes of Roman Quinn and Nick Williams being given a chance at the big league level. But there is good reason.
The Phillies really want their prospects to earn their jobs. For Quinn, he must show he can be healthy. We know Quinn has tools. For Williams, he needs to show a bit more maturity and show he can step up and claim a starting job. Last season, Williams said he pressed when he saw the gaping holes in the Phillies outfield. The Phillies are trying to avoid that this season.
Saunders is still mid-career; Kendrick certainly is not the player he used to be. But, both will bring a sense of stability to the Phillies that they might hot have with Tyler Goeddel and Aaron Altherr starting alongside Odubel Herrera. Altherr will get to play a lot as the fourth outfielder and Goeddel can develop in the minors.
On the mound, the Phillies have veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz. While it would appear they are blocking two young starters from getting a shot, the Phillies already saw Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin succumb to injuries this Spring. Thompson made it back and was optioned; Eflin has yet to pitch beyond a minor league game. The Phillies had some lingering concerns about Aaron Nola's health, too.
If the Phillies were without Nola right now and Eflin had yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game, the Phillies would be feeling pretty desperate. Now, they feel as if they have all their bases covered.
I think if the Phillies had their way, the young players would be ready to take over by the July 31 trade deadline. But the sense of stability the four veterans the Phillies have will help them pass the torch the younger players when they are ready instead of using them out of necessity. I think they are in a good place right now.
Will Howie Kendrick's salary prevent his release?
This question is a good follow-up to the previous question. I think George is not impressed by Kendrick's .212 batting average this Spring. But, George's question is a good one going forward: will salaries affect roster decisions the Phillies make?
Salaries were not a worry for the Phillies heading into 2017. Consider this: Kendrick, Saunders, Buchholz, and Hellickson will combine for $49 million. That's the cost of an ace pitcher and an ace closer. But, the Phillies are not yet ready to win and neither really makes sense to acquire right now.
So the Phillies put out a lot of money for helpful veteran pieces that will help bridge the gap to the younger players. Should the Phillies ever need to move on from any of them, money will not be a concern. If the trade deadline comes and Kendrick, Buchholz, or Hellickson are under-performing and a younger player is ready to take his rightful spot in the Phillies rotation or outfield, the Phillies do have the financial muscles to simply just cut the player.
However, do not worry about a Spring Training performance from a veteran like Kendrick. Kendrick still gives the club professional at bats, and he likely will do so for the Phillies batting second and moving Cesar Hernandez when he gets on base to open a game. Besides - Maikel Franco is batting just .005 higher than Kendrick this Spring. There is plenty of time to decide if Kendrick needs to go as the real season plays out.
Could the Phillies get stuck keeping Valentin or Quinn?
This is an interesting question. First, we know that Quinn has already been optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Second, the question is based upon the premise that the Phillies will be forced to promote someone from the 40-man roster. But Jesmuel Valentin is another story: he remains in camp with the big club and has a real opportunity to make the Phillies.
In Grapefruit League action, Valentin is batting .378 with an OPS of .980 thanks to plate discipline that leads to walks. Valentin is a switch-hitter, which is very helpful on a bench, and he plays fine defense at second base, though the Phillies could use him at shortstop and third base.
Should Valentin be on the Phillies roster, it frees up Andres Blanco to be a pinch hitter. The utility infielder is often the last player off of the bench. So, if Valentin is the late-game insurance for an injury, Blanco could pinch hit and the Phillies not have to worry about moving Howie Kendrick out of his left field position too frequently.
The Phillies could have used Tyler Goeddel on the bench due to his occupation of a roster spot. But Goeddel has been optioned to Double-A Reading and Quinn to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. That means if the Phillies only want to make one roster cut (barring a trade), the Phillies will have to use Valentin.
But, the Phillies could also keep both Brock Stassi and Daniel Nava if they find two roster spaces. This will be an interesting week for the Phillies.