Phillies Mailbag: Herrera's Contract; Pat Venditte; Building Around Franco; Trades

With the Phillies off after a pair of one-run games in Sunday's doubleheader, we're reopening the mailbag.

To answer this question we have to go back to the specifics of Herrera's contract.

The Phillies signed Herrera to a deal with five years and $30.5 million guaranteed. The real value of the deal, though, lies in the two club-option years in 2022 and 2023.

With this deal, the Phils bought out Herrera's first three years of free agency for a total of $34 million. 

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If he's not living up to the contract, they can cut ties with him before 2022 and save $20.5 million. 

If he is living up to the contract, the Phillies will have Herrera under control for a below-market price in 2022 and 2023.

So, back to the question at hand: Was it premature to sign Herrera to a long-term contract?

It was premature in that the Phillies did not need to sign him to it just yet. They did so because he was coming off a season in which he hit .286, boosted his OBP by 17 points and hit 15 home runs. 

The Phillies felt that his floor was hitting .280 or so with a .340 OBP, but that his ceiling was hitting about .315 with 20 homers. If he can reach that latter set of numbers, the deal is a win for the Phillies.

Right now, Herrera isn't in a great place at the plate. He's been expanding the strike zone too much, and the pitch recognition that enabled him to start last season so strong hasn't been there. Herrera has one walk and 15 strikeouts in May, and that's just not him.

He's proven to be a streaky hitter, and I'd be pretty shocked if Herrera finishes this season hitting below .280. 

And the thing is, even if Herrera does have a down season in 2017, the contract really isn't bad at all for the Phillies.

Where it does play a role, though, is in giving Herrera less incentive to bust out every groundball or not give away at-bats throughout a long season. He knows he has money in the bank already, and naturally, that can result in some more nonchalance.

Herrera is an uncommon player. He has the kind of energy that a team loves when it's winning, but that same youthful exuberance can be misplaced when he's flipping the bat on a flyout down three runs or unnecessarily getting himself out on the bases.

Let's revisit this in a few months.

Pat Venditte, the Phillies' 31-year-old switch-pitcher, has staggering numbers at Lehigh Valley. In 17⅔ innings, he has a 0.00 ERA and has allowed two hits with 11 walks and 21 strikeouts.

Feel free to re-read that paragraph - those are indeed his stats.

Clearly, Venditte has gotten the results. 

The question is: Would it translate to the big leagues?

Venditte has a two-pitch repertoire that includes an 85 mph fastball and a low-70s curveball. He has deception because of his submarine-type delivery from both sides.

He's made it to the majors with three different teams: the Athletics in 2015 and the Blue Jays and Mariners in 2016. All told, he has a 4.97 ERA in 41 appearances and has walked 4.1 batters per nine innings.

The walks are the worry. If Venditte issues free passes in the majors, will his stuff play against the best competition in the world?

Venditte is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster, but he does have an option remaining. This means that if the Phillies were to add him to the 40 and promote him to the majors and he struggles, they could send him back down without exposing him to waivers.

Right now, the Phillies' 40-man roster is full and their recent moves indicate they don't want to lose anybody. But Adam Morgan might not be long for it. The Phils have needed a long reliever in recent weeks and have turned to guys like Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson and Ben Lively rather than promote Morgan.

If the Phillies' bullpen continues to struggle, Morgan continues to struggle at Triple A and Venditte's results stick, that 40-man swap could occur sometime in the next few weeks.

And, quite frankly, even if the Phils don't believe Venditte's stuff can translate to the majors, they should at least make him prove that. It's not like their bullpen has thrived or they're on a path to 2017 contention.

Franco can be an organizational building block but I don't see him as a player you can build an offense around. To this point, he's basically been Pedro Feliz with slightly more power and slightly worse defense.

Maybe he proves me wrong, but to me, Franco is more of a No. 6 hitter on an NL contender than "The Guy."

This is an interesting question because, quite honestly, there aren't many I'd deem untouchable for the right return. 

Would you trade Dylan Cozens and Nick Williams for a top-tier pitcher or hitter? Would you move Rhys Hoskins or Tommy Joseph for the right price? 

The Phillies are building depth at catcher, first base and the outfield. If Joseph or Hoskins show enough to be the clear answer at first, it would make some sense to move the other one. 

Same goes for the catchers, although Alfaro has so much more potential than Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp, so I guess my answer to this question is Alfaro.

But the Phillies won't graduate all of these prospects to the majors and keep them there. They'd have too many outfielders with Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, Cozens, Williams and Roman Quinn.

They'd have too many middle infielders with Cesar Hernandez, J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Freddy Galvis and Jesmuel Valentin.

But the Phils aren't going to make that trade until it's for the right player. It's not going to be for someone like Andrew McCutchen. It's going to be for an ascending player entering his prime.

No deal, really, other than the fact that Rupp continues to be a valuable offensive catcher. Since the start of 2016, he's hit .256/.315/.452 with 34 doubles and 19 home runs in 517 plate appearances.

Over that span of time, Rupp has a higher OPS than Brian McCann, Salvador Perez and Matt Wieters, and he is just percentage points lower than Yadier Molina and J.T. Realmuto.

Rupp's 54 extra-base hits are tied for sixth among all catchers since 2016, behind only Perez, Evan Gattis, Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy and Molina. All five of those players have between 73 and 221 more plate appearances than Rupp.

Defensively, there are still questions about Rupp's game-calling and receiving, but those same concerns exist for Alfaro.

At some point this offseason or early next season, one of these catchers will likely be traded if all three are healthy. Rupp would seem to be the most logical trade candidate because he's already produced at the big-league level and would bring back a more meaningful return than Knapp.

Kelly, the 25th man, has picked up three big hits in his last four games with pinch-hit doubles last Wednesday and Saturday and the game-winning RBI single in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader.

He's a switch-hitter who has played first base, second base, third base and all three outfield positions in the majors.

That makes for a valuable National League bench piece. As long as he contributes at the plate once or twice a week, he'll have a job somewhere in the NL.

Howie Kendrick won't be taking Altherr's place when he returns. Nor will he be taking Joseph's place right away, considering Joseph is second in the majors to Altherr in OPS this month.

What you could see, though, is Kendrick play four games per week between first base, third base and left field, spelling Franco some days, Joseph others and Michael Saunders (particularly against lefties).

It's a good problem for the Phillies to have, but there is no chance Altherr returns to the bench. Barring injury, Altherr will be an everyday starter through the end of the season.

Vince Velasquez is the obvious and popular answer but I still think the Phillies give him about 50 more starts before possibly going that route.

I think Mark Appel's best chance to contribute in this organization would be in relief. But I just don't see it for some of the other guys. 

I don't think Ben Lively has good enough stuff to be a setup man - you just don't see setup men throwing 89 mph unless they have a degree of deception like Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Pat Neshek.

I don't think Jake Thompson can stick as a setup man either unless pitching regularly in relief gets his fastball up to 96 mph or so.

Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are obviously long-term starters.

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