The most interesting development regarding the Phillies during the week before Monday’s trade deadline (4 p.m.) is their discussions about Vince Velasquez.
According to reports from Jon Morosi of MLB Network and Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, the Phillies discussed a trade for Velasquez with the Rangers. The Rangers had a scout at Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Braves.
Velasquez is 8-3 this season with a 3.32 ERA in his first season since being acquired from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade. He has 108 strikeouts in 97 2/3 innings. Why would the Phillies trade Velasquez?
The Phillies would probably require a significant return if they moved Velasquez. They may decide that what is being offered is worth more in the long run that Velasquez.
Another reason Velasquez could be available is that he throws too many pitches. Despite a good record and ERA, Velasquez’s average start lasts less than 5½ innings. He may be the Phillies’ best starting pitcher this season, but he doesn’t go deep enough in games to be a true ace.
Pitching depth is another reason the Phillies might be willing to part with Velasquez. Zach Eflin has looked good in most of his starts since being called up, Jerad Eickhoff has pitched well despite a 6-12 record, and the Phillies are banking on Aaron Nola eventually emerging from his funk. Jake Thompson has been excellent in the minors this season, and could be on the verge of getting called up if Velasquez or Jeremy Hellickson is traded.
It should be noted that the Phillies aren’t shopping Velasquez. But it’s interesting that they are actively listening to offers for their best starting pitcher this season.
CONSISTENT HELLICKSON: The most likely Phillie to be traded remains Jeremy Hellickson. With an 8-7 record and 3.70 ERA, Hellickson appears to be a potentially valuable addition to the middle or back end of a contending team’s rotation.
Hellickson’s streak of lasting at least six innings ended at nine after being lifted after 5 2/3 innings Saturday against the Braves, but his consistency is what makes him an attractive trade target.
Unlike the Velasquez situation, in which there is no need to make a deal unless there is a terrific offer, there is some pressure on the Phillies to trade Hellickson. He will be a free agent after this season. Unless the Phillies plan to re-sign Hellickson, which would block the path of a younger pitcher, they need to trade him now or risk losing him for nothing.
Other players who could be traded are closer Jeanmar Gomez, reliever Hector Neris, catchers Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz, and outfielder Cody Asche.
INJURY BUG: The chances of trading Andres Blanco and Peter Bourjos were diminished when both sustained injuries last week. Blanco, a valuable utility player, fractured his left index finger while applying a tag during a loss to the Pirates. The injury required surgery, and Blanco is expected to miss six weeks.
Bourjos injured his shoulder while running into the wall trying to make a catch during a loss to the Marlins. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what the Phillies deemed a jammed shoulder.
With the injuries to Blanco and Bourjos, no wonder the Phillies were so quick to remove Jeremy Hellickson from Saturday’s win over the Braves in the sixth inning when he reported soreness in the palm of his pitching hand. Hellickson, who was taken out after six innings of his previous start despite throwing just 70 pitches, hurt his palm during an at-bat in the fifth inning. The injury was considered minor, but, after Blanco and Bourjos were injured, the Phillies weren’t taking any chances.
ALTHERR RETURNS: One reason that Peter Bourjos and, to an extent, Cody Asche are expendable is the return of outfielder Aaron Altherr. After breaking his wrist during spring training while diving for a fly ball, Altherr returned Thursday with three hits, including a two-run homer during a 7-5 victory over the Braves. Altherr’s presence seemed to spark a Phillies offense that had produced one run in the previous two games. The Phillies’ hope is that Altherr and Nick Williams, who could be called up in September when rosters are expanded, will be the long-term answers at the corner outfield positions.
WALK AND RUN: The Phillies scored four runs during the eighth inning of Saturday’s 9-5 win over the Braves without the benefit of a hit. Four Phillies walked during that inning.
THANKS FOR NOTHING: The Phillies returned Rule 5 pickup Daniel Stumpf to the Royals last week. In his short tenure as a Phillie, the left-handed reliever allowed six runs in five innings and was suspended 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
NOLA SETBACK: After a strong outing in his first start after the All-Star break, Aaron Nola regressed in his second and third starts. In his second start after the All-Star break, he couldn’t record an out in the fifth inning of a loss to the Pirates, allowing six runs.
Although he earned the win in his next start, his first in nearly two months, Nola allowed eight hits and three runs in five innings. He walked three batters and hit another while throwing an inefficient 95 pitches. Hopes that Nola had emerged from his summer funk turned out to be premature.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: The playoff races have had some interesting twists in the weeks before the trade deadline. The Blue Jays have vaulted over the Orioles and Red Sox to move into first place in the American League East (through Saturday’s games). The Orioles and Red Sox occupy the wild card positions, but the Tigers and Astros are within 1½ games of the Red Sox, and the Mariners and Yankees are within 4½ games.
In the National League, the Rockies have reeled off five straight wins – and are 9-1 in their past 10 games – to pull within four games of the Marlins and Cardinals, who are tied for the second wild card berth. This could transform the Rockies from sellers into buyers at the trade deadline. Don’t be surprised if Jeremy Hellickson ends up with one of the teams in the wild card race.
PHILLIES ARE DEAD: Tuesday will be Grateful Dead tribute night at Citizens Bank Park, as the Phillies host the Giants. Four dollars from each ticket sold will benefit the Rex Foundation, the band’s non-profit charity. The game takes place one day after the birthday of Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. Because the Dead’s home base was San Francisco it’s also appropriate that the game is against the Giants.
WESTERN FRONT: The Phillies’ first 15 games in August will be against team from the National League West. After an off-day Monday (trade deadline day), the Phillies will host the Giants from three games, then will hit the road for three games apiece against the Padres and Dodgers. After the West Coast trip, the Phillies will return home for a nine-game homestand that begins with series against the Rockies and Dodgers.