PHILADELPHIA, PA — A key member of the middle of the Phillies starting rotation will miss the start of the regular season, sources state.
Jerad Eickhoff, 27, now considered the team’s number 3 starter behind aces Aaron Nola and the recently acquired Jake Arrieta, will be out for at least six to eight weeks due to a lat strain in his back.
The injury leaves a few questions for the Phillies as Opening Day approaches. Should Arrieta, who was just signed last week and hasn’t yet pitched in a spring training game, be ready, the Phillies could opt for a four man rotation of Nola, Arrieta, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta. Several teams have announced irregular rotation setups to begin the year, including the Angels’ six man rotation and the Rays’ four man rotation with a “bullpen day” on the fifth day.
The Phillies could also opt to give the fifth spot to one of Ben Lively or Zach Eflin. Lively has pitched well this spring but was likely on the outside looking behind Pivetta for the fifth spot following Arrieta’s signing.
Eickhoff, acquired in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade with Texas, put up excellent numbers in 2016, pitching 197 innings of 3.65 ERA ball. He regressed in an injury-laden 2017 to a 4.71 ERA, but peripherals, along with the unfortunate timing of the injuries, suggest he is ready for a bounce back year in 2018.
CLEARWATER, Fla. — One of the traits that earned Pat Gillick membership in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 and a spot on the Phillies Wall of Fame this year is his chronic truth-telling. For more than 30 years he told his managers, coaches, players, and owners exactly what he thought. Clear communication mattered then, and it matters now.
So, while it might hurt when Gillick says that the young core of this Phillies team isn’t as gifted as his 2008 World Series winner, and that analytics aren’t the Holy Grail, and that this Phillies team remains at least a year away from contention, he’s just being honest.
“I thought ’18 would be a year to compete,” Gillick said at his Wall of Fame news conference Friday. “I think probably I was a little too optimistic.”
His projections carry weight. He has been a front-office adviser since he retired as general manager in 2008, so he’s close to the process. He’s also a veteran of rebuildings: a three-time champion, twice with the Blue Jays, once with the Phillies. And he’s always candid, even if he’s not always right.
In 2015, he believed the Phils would be contenders this spring. Now, even with a bolstered bullpen and with Jake Arrieta added to the rotation, success will depend on youngsters such as outfielders Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams and starters such as Aaron Nola.
“I think ’18 will be an improvement over ’17. But give Hoskins, give Williams, give these younger pitchers another year to get their feet on the ground,” Gillick said. “I think ’19 is a more realistic time to compete.”
Maybe. Maybe not. At his trade-deadline fire sale in 2006, Gillick famously predicted that his Phillies wouldn’t compete until 2009 despite its talented young core that featured Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, and Cole Hamels. That young core won the NL East the next season and the World Series the following year. This young group, he said, is not as good.
“The group of players I inherited were probably a little more talented than the group they have here,” Gillick said. “Not to say this group isn’t talented, but when you think back about 50 home runs, even though Ryan was a liability at first base; you think of a second baseman who hit 30 home runs and driving in over 100 runs; you think of guy at shortstop stealing 30 to 40 bases; the leftfielder hitting 25-30 home runs; the centerfielder probably one of the better centerfielders in baseball; and Cole Hamels ended up being the MVP of the World Series.”
That said, Gillick believes that playoff veterans such as Arrieta, first baseman Carlos Santana, and relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek can speed the kids’ education.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Carlos Santana bats for the Phillies during a spring training game.
“The important thing is to learn how to win,” he said. The Phillies averaged fewer than 70 wins the last five seasons.
Gillick’s other gift is graciousness, on display again Friday. He thanked Ed Wade, his predecessor as general manager, for acquiring the young core that won in 2008. He thanked the late Paul Owens, who led the team to its first World Series win, in 1980, and who mentored Gillick when Gillick was a young GM. Gillick’s first move: He purchased Tommy Hutton for $15,000 from Owens in 1977.
“It’s a thrill to be on the Wall of Fame with ‘The Pope,’ ” Gillick said. “In my estimation, he was one of the best general managers in the history of the game.”
That’s quite a compliment, coming from the fourth of five GMs in the Hall. All of those executives thrived before analytics began to dominate the game. Gillick values numbers, but he trusts his 80-year-old eyes, too.
“You have to maintain a balance between analytics and visual observation,” Gillick said. “Visual observation and evaluation of players are very, very important. Scouts play a big role in knowing the player. What’s in his heart. What’s his passion. What’s his instinct. Those are things that are very difficult to measure, analytically.”
That said, Gillick would not have ignored the information and the indicators analytics deliver. Today, sabermatricians in front offices are reluctant to make investments that don’t fit their model, which might mean fewer bad decisions like the ones his generation of GMs often made, he said. He figures the late signings of top free agents this year is rooted in analytic-based valuations, and he’s fine with that. Gillick has been in baseball his whole life, but he understands that times change.
“We’re now almost two decades into the 21st century. Time moves on,” Gillick said. “New generation. New thought process. Just like technology. You can’t stand and let it go by. You’ve got to get on the train.”
As long as the train isn’t on autopilot. “Certainly, I embrace analytics from that standpoint. I’m all in on analytics, as long as it’s kept in balance with the visual observation and visual evaluation of a player,” he said.
His visual evaluation of former Phillies ace Roy Halladay led the Blue Jays to draft Halladay in the first round in 1995. Gillick had resigned as Blue Jays GM after 1994 and become a consultant for the team, which asked him to watch a tournament in Mesa, Ariz., to see Halladay pitch for Arvada West (Colo.) High.
Halladay, who retired in 2013, died Nov. 7, when a plane he was piloting crashed into the Gulf of Mexico about 20 miles north of where Gillick spoke Friday at Spectrum Field. Halladay will join Gillick on the Phillies’ Wall this year.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gillick said, “that he can’t be up here with me today.”
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CLEARWATER, Fla. — Two days after introducing Jake Arrieta as their new staff ace, the Philadelphia Phillies suffered a hit to the middle of their starting rotation.
The Phillies said Friday that starter Jerad Eickhoff is expected to be out six to eight weeks with a strained lat muscle and will begin the season on the disabled list. Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez were lined up to slot into the 3-4 spots in the team’s rotation after Arrieta and Aaron Nola.
Manager Gabe Kapler told reporters at Spectrum Field that Eickhoff suffered the injury late in a 3-1/3 inning appearance against the Pirates on March 9. The Phillies sent Eickhoff back to Philadelphia, where the diagnosis of a lat strain was confirmed.
“There might be a blessing in disguise here,” Kapler said. “We’re always thinking about keeping guys healthy and strong and limiting their total innings count. Those are things that are always on our mind, so it’s possible the innings are limited on the front end and then in September, October, he’s strong and healthy and prepared to go through a full season.”
Eickhoff, 27, came over to Philadelphia from Texas with fellow prospects Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro as part of an eight-player trade that sent pitcher Cole Hamels to the Rangers in 2015.
Eickhoff got off to a promising start with the Phillies in 2016, when he went 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 197 1/3 innings. But his velocity declined last season, and he missed time with back stiffness and nerve irritation in his pitching hand. He finished the season at 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in 128 innings.
Kapler said the team thinks that Eickhoff’s current injury is unrelated to his upper-back problems a year ago.
With Eickhoff likely out until May, Nick Pivetta could assume a bigger workload to start the season. Ben Lively, Thomas Eshelman, Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson are the other starters in Philadelphia’s camp in Clearwater.
The offseason is over, spring training is in full swing, and despite a few notable names still available on the market, most if not all teams have called it quits in terms of signings and trades. So it’s time to look back on just what every squad did this winter and hand out grades for the moves made—or, in some cases, for those they failed to make. Next up: the National League East.
Players with an asterisk next to their name were re-signed as free agents.
Key Additions: 1B Matt Adams, OF Howie Kendrick*, RHP Brandon Kintzler*, C Miguel Montero
Key Departures: RHP Matt Albers, 1B Adam Lind, LHP Oliver Perez, OF Jayson Werth
Stymied once again by the first round of the playoffs, you might’ve expected the Nationals to go all out this offseason ahead of what could be their final year with Bryce Harper. Instead, Washington’s front office played it safe, choosing only to bring back Kendrick and Kintzler and replace Lind with Adams (smart moves, all). On one hand, that’s understandable: The Nationals are set, starter-wise, at every position, and for once, they have a bullpen that didn’t require a total overhaul. But it’s odd that the one area of need—the back of the rotation—went completely unaddressed despite a surfeit of cheap available options, particularly with starters like Lance Lynn and the still-available Alex Cobb languishing on the market for months. As it stands, righty A.J. Cole will get the first crack at the No. 5 spot, and while he was fine last year, he’d be better as depth than a counted-upon starter. The Nationals should win the East regardless, but it’s still surprising they weren’t a little more active this winter.
2017 Record: 77–85, second place in NL East
Key Additions: RHP Sandy Alcantara, OF Lewis Brinson, 2B Starlin Castro, OF Cameron Maybin, OF Magneuris Sierra
Here are the positives, few and scattered, of this Marlins offseason. They got a few good prospects—namely Brinson, Alcantara and Sierra—in exchange for blowing up their All-Star outfield of Ozuna, Stanton and Yelich. They no longer have to figure out how to make Stanton’s gargantuan contract—the parting gift of loathsome ex-owner Jeffrey Loria—work financially. And, if nothing else, there will be no expectations placed upon them this year, save to lose and lose often. In exchange, all the franchise under new owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter had to do was sacrifice any and all semblance of competing or behaving like a functional team that owes anything at all to its fans.
Grading the moves Miami made is almost beyond the point, because the entire reason that all those big names were traded wasn’t about wins and losses but simply to save money. A debt-saddled team was sold to a group of investors who couldn’t afford it—who then, in the vein of private equity firms all across the land, purged the roster of anything valuable so as to make things more profitable. The result is a sad, blasted team that will lose 100 games in the ugliest and most cynical fashion imaginable in the emptiest stadium in America. And for what purpose, exactly? Jeter and company will insist that these trades had to happen to make the Marlins functional in the future, but if you think that this cycle won’t repeat itself once those new players start getting expensive, then I’ve got a taxpayer-funded park in Little Havana to sell you.
2017 Record: 72–90, third place in NL East
Key Additions: LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Brandon McCarthy, 3B Ryan Schimpf
Key Departures: 1B Matt Adams, RHP R.A. Dickey, 3B Adonis Garcia, RHP Jim Johnson, OF Matt Kemp, 2B Jace Peterson
Not included in that list of departures is either ex-general manager John Coppolella or former top prospect Kevin Maitan, both gone after an MLB investigation revealed all kinds of international signing shenanigans on the part of Atlanta’s front office. That all happened in November, starting the Braves off on the worst possible foot this winter, but they never really bothered taking a step after that. The team’s only move of note was to function as a sort of on-field tax shelter for the Dodgers, taking on the contracts of Kazmir, McCarthy and, for about a day or so, Adrian Gonzalez in exchange for unloading Kemp and the $30 million or so left on his deal.
If healthy, Kazmir and McCarthy should add some needed rotation depth, but “if healthy” is doing a lot of work there, as neither pitcher has been that for a full season in years. Beyond that, the Braves did nothing, apparently deciding that, as a rebuilding squad, there was no point in doing anything at all. In truth, there was no real combination of signings or trades that would’ve resulted in Atlanta contending in 2018. But it’s still a brutal example of how messed up baseball’s financials currently are—that, instead of spending money and making an actual effort, losing teams are better off not trying at all. Maybe the good people of Cobb County, Ga., should’ve been told that was the plan before being forced to fork over $400 million in public funding two years ago to build the Braves a new stadium—a deal that’s already left the county facing a budget shortfall but doesn’t include a team spending the money it saved to try to win.
New York Mets
2017 Record: 70–92, fourth place in NL East
Key Additions: OF Jay Bruce*, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 3B Todd Frazier, IF Jose Reyes*, RHP Anthony Swarzak, LHP Jason Vargas
Key Departures: OF Nori Aoki, LHP Tommy Milone, 3B Matt Reynolds
Yes, you’re reading that right: The Mets made actual moves this winter. Per usual, the biggest one—Bruce—was the return of a player that Fred Wilpon recognizes. But at least New York made some effort to improve a team that collapsed en route to its worst finish since 2009. Bruce is limited but productive, Frazier offers much-needed power at a position that beguiled the team all last year, and Swarzak is a sneaky good add to the bullpen. But despite an offseason practically designed for a team like the Mets—one in which a frigid market left impact free agents available on the cheap—the team didn’t do more than add those low-cost and low-ceiling options. And there are still trouble spots all over the roster: first base, currently a competition between the decrepit Gonzalez and the disappointing Dom Smith; second base, which belongs to decidedly average veteran Asdrubal Cabrera; and the back of the rotation, where the Mets contented themselves with adding unexceptional southpaw Vargas. That starting five is arguably the biggest worry, given how thoroughly all of New York’s once vaunted arms fell apart last season and how little depth there is for that oft-injured group. The Mets are likely counting on better health and return to form as the keys to contention. A little more activity in free agency or on the trade market, though, would’ve been a safer play.
2017 Record: 66–96, fifth place in NL East
Key Additions: LHP Fernando Abad, RHP Jake Arrieta, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Pat Neshek, 1B Carlos Santana
Key Departures: SS Freddy Galvis, OF Hyun-soo Kim, 1B Tommy Joseph
It’s not every winter you see a 96-loss team go after two premier free agents, but that’s what the Phillies did, taking advantage of the depressed market by signing Arrieta and Santana to discounted three-year deals. The fits aren’t perfect. Santana is a potent bat for the middle of the lineup, but he’ll force Philadelphia to move slugging sensation Rhys Hoskins from first base to the outfield, where he could struggle, and take playing time away from Aaron Altherr. Arrieta, meanwhile, won’t displace anyone important, but he’s a riskier bet than Santana given his decline over the last two seasons. Then again, neither financial outlay was substantial, particularly given that the Phillies have little to no long-term salary commitments otherwise. But while it’s unlikely that both those players plus veteran relievers Hunter and Neshek are enough to vault Philadelphia from the NL East basement to a wild-card spot, that doesn’t make those moves bad. The Phillies feel like they’ve reached the next step of their rebuild and that now’s the time to move, and even if they’re wrong, the fact that they’re making that effort at all is worth commending.
CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies’ pitching staff has suffered a setback.
Jerad Eickhoff, projected as a member of the season-opening starting rotation, has been shut down with a strained right lat muscle, the area behind his shoulder. He will open the season on the disabled list and be sidelined into May, based on the team’s 6-to-8-week timetable for treatment and recovery.
Eickhoff, 27, spent time on the disabled list with a similar injury last season. That injury was technically called an upper back strain.
Manager Gabe Kapler said Eickhoff injured himself on one of the final pitches he threw during his last start.
Eickhoff led the Phillies’ staff in ERA (3.65) while making 33 starts in 2016. He was limited to 24 starts and had a 4.71 ERA last year while making two trips to the DL.
With Eickhoff down, the Phillies suddenly have some openings in their rotation. Jake Arrieta, who signed with the Phillies on Monday, believes he can be ready for the first week of the season, but nothing is official. More will be known after he throws a simulated game Saturday.
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tommy Hunter was FaceTiming Jake Arrieta this week around the same time Dave Hollins dialed up Matt Klentak.
The four-month process that culminated Tuesday with Arrieta’s wearing a Phillies jersey included a slew of characters and elements. But the deal — a three-year contract worth $75 million — reached the finish line with pushes from two unlikely sources: Hunter, the team’s ping-pong-champion reliever, and Hollins, the third baseman for the 1993 Phillies.
Hunter urged his friend Arrieta to follow him to Philadelphia after Hunter signed in December. Hollins, now a Phillies scout, told the general manager what a pitcher such as Arrieta could bring. And both sales pitches were successful.
“I was coming hard in the paint, man,” Hunter said.
Hunter and Arrieta met in college when they spent a summer on the U.S. national team before they were selected in the 2007 draft. They would team again five years later when Texas dealt Hunter to the Baltimore Orioles. Their friendship grew in Baltimore, and their wives became close. It was also with the Orioles that their careers were tested.
The pitchers started the 2012 season in Baltimore’s starting rotation but found themselves in the minor leagues by summer. Their ERAs had ballooned to more than 6.00, and they were dropped to triple A. Six years later, they would join the Phillies by signing the biggest contracts of their lives just three months apart. But those life-altering millions likely never felt farther away than they did that summer.
Hunter and Arrieta rallied from the minors and returned to finish the season with Baltimore. Arrieta would be traded a year later to the Cubs, and his career would skyrocket there. Hunter joined Arrieta in Chicago for the end of the 2015 season before the friends separated again.
Paul Sancya / AP
Jake Arrieta pitching for the Orioles in 2013.
Hunter emerged last season with Tampa Bay as a shutdown reliever, earning a $18 million contract from the Phillies. He called Arrieta throughout the offseason, urging him to consider the Phillies as he remained without a team.
“Hey, don’t leave it out,” Hunter told his friend.
Hollins was a key player on the 1993 Phillies as they rolled their unlikely season to the trade deadline and searched for another starting pitcher. The team had discussions with Seattle about Randy Johnson and talked to Atlanta about Kent Mercker. Lee Thomas, the team’s general manager, thought the asking prices were too high. A deal was not made, and the Phillies players were frustrated.
That wacky, wonderful bunch of throwbacks thought a deal for Johnson was close. Imagine Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson pitching in the World Series for the Phillies eight years before the duo did the same thing for Arizona. Perhaps Hollins was reminded of that summer when he called Klentak last week after conversations began to pick up between the Phillies and Arrieta.
“His message to me was ‘Matt, don’t underestimate the impact that signing a guy like Jake Arrieta will have on that clubhouse,’ ” Klentak said. “He was speaking from an ex-player perspective, what he experienced as a player, particularly as a young player and what it means to have a superstar walk through the door. He said, ‘It’s hard to describe, but it takes the burden off the young guys who might be feeling extra pressure. It gives guys somebody to follow. I just want to make sure that you know that.’ It was very well received. I told Dave how much I appreciated that.”
MATT BREEN / Staff
New Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta (second from left) at his introductory press conference Tuesday with (from left) agent Scott Boras, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
Klentak opened Arrieta’s introductory news conference by thanking Hollins. That conversation, Klentak told the crowd, helped push this deal “over the edge.” In the back of that room sat Hunter, who had organized a group of teammates to attend the morning news conference. Hunter also was responsible for finding a uniform number for Arrieta, as he surveyed the clubhouse for a player willing to relinquish his digits to Arrieta.
Hunter, 31, had joined the Phillies just three months earlier but already carried a large presence in the clubhouse. He’s loud and personable, and he defeated five teammates to win the “2018 Phillies Ping Pong World Championship.”
Arrieta FaceTimed him Sunday morning to say he was coming to the Phillies. Their wives later texted and realized how few Phillies were born before 1990. When did we get old, they asked. Hunter’s courting worked. His friend was joining him in Philly.
“He’s excited. I’m excited. We’re all excited. I think everybody in here is pretty excited,” Hunter said. “It just gives you an inclination that management is also excited right now as well. You can try to tell people the good things about him and tell the bad things as well and let them make the decisions, but ultimately it’s up to the people that are in charge of it to get this done, and they did it.”
Hunter stashes his ping-pong trophy in the empty locker adjacent to his stall. The players were seeded by Gabe Kapler in a 36-player field. Hunter was in a league of his own. His games often turned into clinics as the pitcher discussed the fine details of ping-pong strategy while he finished off another foe.
NICK RICKLES / Twitter
Results of the Phillies’ “Ping-Pong World Championship.”
Hunter carried his trophy Monday through the clubhouse, yelling, “The champ is here,” as he mimicked Muhammad Ali. Arrieta, the friend he urged to join the Phillies, might be the first to challenge his throne.
“He can step in line like everybody else,” Hunter said. “Back of the bus, kid.”
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