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Phillies Rumors: On A.J., Utley, Byrd & Bastardo

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The rumor mill is really starting to crank up now, people.

Scott Cunningham

Despite the obstacles that could prevent the Phillies from making any major deals at the deadline this month, teams are apparently interested in what the team has to offer. Of course all this "checking in" and "preliminary talks" may be no more than teams calling to say "we might be interested" and the Phillies saying "um, no thanks." But, here we are, 10 days away from the deadline and the Phillies have lots of pieces to sell.

Over the weekend, there were reports that the Baltimore Orioles were interested in A.J. Burnett. On Sunday, the Pirates reportedly had scouts in the stands to watch Burnett pitch against Atlanta. Unfortunately, Burnett didn't fare too well, lasting just five innings while giving up six earned runs on 10 hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

For the season, Burnett has a 4.08 ERA and a 3.93 xFIP, with a K-rate and ground ball rate that has fallen from the last two years and a walk-rate that is up. Of course, Pittsburgh is already intimately familiar with A.J., with him having pitched there in 2012 and '13. As the Inquirer's Matt Gelb noted, the Pirates loved the effect Burnett had on the younger staff while he was there, and now with Gerrit Cole on the disabled list, their need for a reliable starting pitcher is high.

Not only that, Pittsburgh is one of the few places to which Burnett would likely accept a trade, with it being somewhere close to his Maryland home. Burnett also knows the players and the organization well. Currently, Pittsburgh's rotation consists of Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez, Jeff Locke and Vance Worley. An upgrade would definitely be beneficial.

The Pirates are 52-46, just 1.5 games out of first in the NL Central. Among some of the players who could interest the Phils include 21-year-old Double-A outfielder Josh Bell, the team's #7 prospect heading into this season. Recently promoted, he hit .335/.384/.502 with 9 HRs in 331 ABs at High-A Bradenton. Outfielder Harold Ramirez, just 19, is playing in Low-A ball, but is hitting .309/.364/.402 as a 19-year-old. The Phils would also likely be interested in 22-year-old starter Nick Kingham, who is 4-1 with a 2.00 ERA in 7 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Phillies would likely have to eat some salary to get any of those prospects, and perhaps agree to pick up much of Burnett's option year next season.

Cliff Lee Returns Tonight

Teams looking for an "ace" to beef up their rotation will certainly have scouts in attendance at Citizen's Bank Park tonight as the Phillies open a four-game series against the Giants. Cliff Lee makes his return from the disabled list, in the first of what will likely be two starts before the July 31 trade deadline.

While it seems unlikely anyone would be willing to offer a lot for Lee at this moment, given the worries about his elbow and just two starts with which to audition, CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury writes this morning that scouts for the Yankees and Blue Jays were both in attendance at Lee's final rehab start in Clearwater last week, and that tonight should see a festival of scouts, with speed guns and pencils in tow.

Lee is 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 10 starts this season, and turns 36 years old next month.

Reds Interested in Byrd & Bastardo

The Cincinnati Reds have been devastated by injuries lately. Second baseman Brandon Phillips is out for the next 5-6 weeks with a thumb injury and first baseman Joey Votto is out for at least the next month with a quad injury. The loss of both players has hurt the Reds' offense, which is why they are reportedly looking at acquiring Phils' right fielder Marlon Byrd.

According to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, the Reds have expressed interest in Byrd, as well as left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo. Bastardo also makes sense, as the Reds are still dealing with the loss of their best left-handed relief pitcher, Sean Marshall, who is out for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury.

Byrd homered again in Sunday's series finale in Atlanta, and is hitting .266/.318/.484 with a team-leading 19 HRs. His power from the right side of the plate would be most welcome in Cincy, and while Fangraphs doesn't love his defense in right field (hence the 1.2 fWAR), Baseball Reference is more forgiving (2.1 rWAR).

Bastardo meanwhile, is extremely productive when throwing strikes. He's 4-3 with a 3.38 ERA this year, striking out 10.76 batters per nine, while also walking 5.06 per nine innings. Hitters are batting just .212 against him, however, and he has lots of experience as a set-up man. Both players would be a good fit for the Reds.

As for Cincinnati's prospects, the dream get would be outfielder Jesse Winker, their #4 prospect heading into the season. The 20-year-old was recently promoted to Double-A Pensacola where he is hitting .208/.326/.351 with 2 HRs in 77 ABs. However, he was splendid in High-A Bakersfield to start the year, hitting .317/.426/.580 with 13 HRs in 205 ABs.

Outfielder Yorman Rodriguez, the team's pre-season #5 prospect, might be a more realistic target. The 21-year-old is hitting .243/.294/.339 in 304 ABs in Double-A. His minor league numbers are not historically terrific (career .308 OBP in the 1883 minor league ABs), but he does have some promise as a top-of-the-order hitter. Some arms that could interest the Phils include Nick Travieso, Carlos Contreras and Michael Lorenzen.

Utley Interest From Blue Jays & Giants

I'm still 99.9% sure Chase Utley isn't going anywhere, as his 10-5 rights would allow him to block any deal to any team. Still, a couple of teams have reportedly expressed an interest in Utley's services, so of course, general manager Ruben Amaro will listen.

The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo says Toronto and San Francisco have checked in on Utley in recent days...

Right now it doesn’t appear that Utley is going anywhere because he can invoke his 10-5 rights and it looks as if he wants to remain in Philadelphia. But there’s time. And it hasn’t stopped teams such as the Blue Jays and Giants from taking their best shot, and they likely will through the end of the month.

It's more likely Utley would accept a trade to San Francisco than Toronto, as the Giants are much closer to his home town of Los Angeles. There have been no whispers of Oakland being interested as of yet, which is interesting because the A's would seemingly be a perfect fit.

At 51-48, the Jays are in desperate need of a second baseman, right now running Munenori Kawasaki and Steven Tolleson out there. Utley would be a huge upgrade for them. Meanwhile, Brandon Hicks and his .162/.280/.319 slash line is still making the lion's share of starts at second for the Giants. And the A's are currently having Eric Sogard and his .474 OPS at second, probably their lone weak spot.

No Momentum on Hamels

Cafardo also reported the Phillies have been "discouraged" by the offers they've been getting from other teams on Cole.

The Phillies consider him their biggest trade chip, but will hold on to him if they don’t get what they consider a fair deal. The Red Sox sent their top pitching scout, Eddie Bane, to watch Hamels before the break. The Phillies have scouted the Red Sox’ major and minor league teams all season. One major league source said if the Phillies get a taker on the full contract and they get three top prospects, he’s gone, and Hamels, according to another major league source, wouldn’t mind.

Guys, don't get too worked up over that bit at the end, that Hamels "wouldn't mind" a trade to a contender. First of all, if he's a competitor, he should welcome the possibility of playing in another World Series. Second, who knows who this source is and if he does, in fact, have an accurate gauge on how Cole Hamels "feels."

The offers may soon get better, as the Tampa Bay Rays have been hot, winning five in a row, seven of their last 10, and 14 of their last 18. They are still six games under .500 and 7.5 games out of first in the American League East, but are now just 6 games out of the wild card.

It's a long shot, but it may be enough for them to keep David Price off the market. Remember, Price is still signed through next year, meaning the Rays could deal him over the winter or at next year's trade deadline, albeit for a lesser price.

Things are starting to get interesting out there.