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Phillies trade rumors - Saunders in, Severino out, and Nola says he's healthy
by Scott Butler 1/25/17

Allen Iverson Bud Selig

MLB Trade Rumors is a site which describes themselves as "a clearinghouse for relevant, legitimate baseball rumors." Each week at Phils Baseball, we grab their latest Phillies rumors and put them all together in one weekly post.

Here are the latest Phillies rumors:

January 25

Phillies Sign Ryan Hanigan

The Phillies have signed catcher Ryan Hanigan to a minor-league deal, per a club announcement. Included in the deal is an invitation to MLB camp this spring. He can earn $1.25MM if he makes the major league roster, with $375K in available incentives, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter).

Hanigan hit the open market when the Red Sox declined a $3.75MM club option after the 2016 campaign. Long valued for his high-contact approach at the plate and solid defensive skills, Hanigan deteriorated in both regards in 2016 while battling injuries.

Now 36, Hanigan posted an anemic .171/.230/.238 batting line over his 113 plate appearances last year. Though he typically draws free passes as much or more than he strikes out, Hanigan uncharacteristically took just seven walks while going down on strikes 27 times. And in the field, Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner both panned his pitch framing.

[RELATED: Updated Phillies Depth Chart]

Still, it’s an easy gamble for the Phils to take. The organization is expected to utilize Cameron Rupp as the starter after his strong 2016 effort, and has several young receivers in the upper levels of the minors. Rather than rush them along, though, it can compete the reserve job between Hanigan and fellow minor-league signee Bryan Holaday.

January 24

Marlins Acquire Severino Gonzalez

The Marlins have acquired righty Severino Gonzalez from the Phillies, per a team announcement. Philadelphia will receive a player to be named later or cash considerations in the deal.

Gonzalez had been designated for assignment recently to clear roster space for the signing of Michael Saunders. Now, he’ll head to the Phils’ N.L. East rivals in Miami, who have already accumulated quite a few other pitchers over the winter. Gonzalez is still optionable, which increases his appeal.

The 24-year-old Gonzalez has shown intriguing K/BB numbers in his 66 MLB frames (8.5 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9), but he owns an ugly 6.68 ERA. He has always shown excellent control in the minors, and did boast 35 strikeouts and a 3.13 ERA over his 36 innings last year at Triple-A after shifting to a full-time relief role.

January 19

Rosenthal On Dodgers’ Search For Second Baseman

The Dodgers have expanded their search for a second baseman, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Los Angeles remains engaged on longstanding targets Brian DozierIan Kinsler, and Logan Forsythe, but appears to be looking elsewhere in the event that those players can’t be had at a palatable rate.

Among the players that could potentially be fits, per Rosenthal, are switch-hitters Jurickson Profar of the Rangers, Cesar Hernandez of the Phillies, and Wilmer Difo of the Nationals, though he notes that of that trio, Profar is the only one on whom the Dodgers have definitively inquired. All are young and controllable somewhat controllable — Profar through 2019, Hernandez through 2020 and Difo all the way through 2022. Only Hernandez, though, has put up a full and productive major league season.

Beyond those possibilities, Rosenthal says that there’s still some potential for a reunion with Chase Utley. Still, the club would rather find a hitter who swings from the right side. That would also appear to leave little room for interest in the other top remaining second-base-capable free agents.

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs recently suggested that the best fit on paper might be Javier Baez, with young pitching going to the Cubs in exchange. But that doesn’t seem particularly likely, as Cameron notes and Rosenthal also echoes.

All things considered, Rosenthal explains, Dozier might still be the likeliest target for the Dodgers. Though the club seemingly broke off its talks with the Twins recently, Rosenthal says that the door remains open to a deal. It’s imaginable that Los Angeles could line up with the Rays on Forsythe, but the biggest issue there seems to be that Tampa Bay doesn’t have a ready replacement.

January 19

Phillies Designate Severino Gonzalez For Assignment

The Phillies announced on Thursday that they’ve designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment to clear space on the 40-man roster for outfielder Michael Saunders, whose one-year deal with the team is now official.

Gonzalez, 24, has spent parts of the past two seasons in Philadelphia but has been unable to replicate his minor league results at the Major League level. The Panamanian hurler has pitched to a 6.68 ERA in 66 big league innings, though his 8.5 K/9 rate and 1.9 BB/9 rate are both impressive. Gonzalez has never missed that many bats over a much larger sample of work in the minors, though, and as an extreme fly-ball pitcher spending half his games in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park, he’s been particularly susceptible to the long ball (career 1.9 HR/9).

In the minors, excellent control has long been Gonzalez’s calling card. He’s averaged just 1.5 walks per nine innings pitched since being signed as an amateur back in 2011, and he turned in a very nice year between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. Across those two levels last year, Gonzalez posted a 3.13 ERA with a 35-to-8 K/BB ratio in 36 innings, with all but one of his appearances coming out of the bullpen. That marked a change for Gonzalez, who worked exclusively as a starting pitcher in both 2014 and 2015.

Gonzalez does have a minor league option remaining, so if he lands on another club — be it by trade or by waiver claim — that team can stash him in the minor leagues without having to first expose him to outright waivers.

January 19

Phillies Sign Michael Saunders

The Phillies deepened their lineup and added a veteran bat to the outfield mix on Thursday, announcing the signing of free agent Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for the 2018 season. Saunders will reportedly be guaranteed $9MM in the form of an $8MM salary and a $1MM buyout on an $11MM option for 2018. His contract is also said to contain escalators that can push the option’s value to $14MM.

The 30-year-old Saunders, a client of Meister Sports Management, has been linked to the Phillies on multiple occasions over the past several weeks. Philadelphia has had its eye on a number of outfield bats and reportedly has a preference to add a left-handed bat to its lineup. Saunders checks both of those boxes and will deepen a Philadelphia lineup that scored the fewest runs in all of Major League Baseball last year.

[Related: Updated Philadelphia Phillies Depth Chart]

Saunders turned in his first full, healthy season since 2013 last season, playing in a career-high 140 games and tallying a career-high 558 plate appearances. The overall results — a .253/.338/.478 batting line with 24 homers, 32 doubles and a pair of triples — look very strong on paper, although Saunders’ season was fairly dichotomous in nature. The first half of the 2016 season saw Saunders break out and perform at a superstar level. In 344 first-half plate appearances, Saunders hit a ridiculous .298/.372/.551 with 16 home runs — all of which was impressive enough to merit his first All-Star selection.

However, Saunders’ production fell off a cliff early in the second half. Over the final two and a half months of the season, he batted a woeful .178/.252/.357 with eight homers in 214 plate appearances. Certainly, there was some poor luck at play, as Saunders watched his BABIP plummet. While his first-half mark of .377 was never sustainable, his second-half mark of .221 seems equally fluky. The poor second half can’t be solely attributed to luck, though; Saunders’ strikeout rate spiked from 26 percent to more than 30 percent, and his infield-fly rate more than doubled as well (3.8 percent first half to 7.2 percent second half). He also saw his hard-contact rate drop by about six percent while his weak-contact rate rose accordingly.

Saunders once rated as a plus defender in the outfield corners, but his work in both left field and right field checked in below-average last season (per Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating). Saunders will enter the 2017 campaign one more year removed from surgery on his left knee, however, and he won’t have to play half of his games on artificial turf next season. As such, it’s possible that his glovework could experience a rebound. It should also be noted that Saunders has had shoulder troubles in the past as well, so durability has to be at least somewhat of a concern.

While there are a number of red flags with Saunders, the bottom line is that he’s been a decidedly above-average bat when healthy enough to take the field. Dating back to the 2012 season, Saunders owns a .249/.325/.435 batting line, which is more impressive than it first appears when considering the fact that the majority of those games have come in Seattle’s cavernous Safeco Field. Park-adjust metrics like wRC+ and OPS+ grade Saunders’ overall offensive output at 10 percent and 11 percent better than the league-average bat, respectively, in that span.

Saunders averaged 21 homers per 162 games in that time, and as he demonstrated last year when hitting 24 home runs, there’s the potential for a greater total in a more hitter-friendly setting than Seattle. He’s also hit quite a bit better against left-handed pitching in recent years than he did early in his career (.277/.364/.486), although that improved production has come across just 200 plate appearances, so it’s perhaps worth taking with a grain of salt. If he struggles against southpaws like he did earlier in his career, Saunders could potentially platoon with the right-handed-hitting Aaron Altherr.

Assuming Saunders’ deal is pushed across the finish line, he’ll slot into right field alongside trade acquisition Howie Kendrick in left field and recently extended Odubel Herrera in center field. The Phils do have a number of young options to whom they could’ve entrusted the right field job, but none comes with any degree of certainty. Fleet-footed Roman Quinn, for instance, looked respectable in a brief September cameo last year but hasn’t even played at the Triple-A level. Altherr showed very poorly in his return from a wrist injury, hitting .197/.300/.288 in 227 plate appearances. Top prospect Nick Williams, meanwhile, had a dismal year in Triple-A, while slugger Dylan Cozens, like Quinn, has yet to play in Triple-A.

MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi first reported that an agreement was close (Twitter link). Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com tweeted that medical reviews were underway. FanRag’s Jon Heyman tweeted that there’s an agreement in place. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported the terms (Twitter links). ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick gave a timeline for Saunders’ physical and added some details on the incentives (Twitter links).

January 17

Nola Healthy, Will Not Have Restrictions In Spring Training

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