Trading Cy Youngs

Cys With all that is involved in simply signing a player to a standard baseball contract, it’s no wonder that huge, blockbuster trades don’t happen much anymore. Actually, forget about blockbuster deals, just making a trade is work enough.

That’s why the proposed blockbuster with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and a pile of top-ranked prospects makes one’s head hurt. There are so many moving parts, so many different contracts, so many different wants and pieces of the puzzle in which even the tiniest misstep will ruin the whole thing.

So the fact that the two teams involved (Mariners and Blue Jays) with the three way trade with the Phillies were able to keep their eyes on what was coming and going is laudable enough.

However, to make such a huge trade with two former Cy Young Award winners still in their primes in not just unheard of, but also unprecedented.

Cy Young Award winners rarely (if ever) get traded. Sure, they become free agents or essentially force a trade lest a team risk allowing the pitcher to walk away without compensation. But willingly traded after winning two games in the World Series and putting together the best postseason in franchise history?

Nope, never happens.

Until now, that is. Leave it to Ruben Amaro Jr. to pull the trigger on the biggest trade since Paul Owens dealt Rick Wise for Steve Carlton.

Amongst the Cy Youing Award winners to be traded in recent history, Lee and Halladay will join Jake Peavy, Roger Clemens, Johan Santana, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux as pitchers to be traded after they won the big award. There are others too. Tom Seaver and Fergie Jenkins were involved in a bunch of trades after great seasons.

Of course this doesn’t include all the great pitchers who were released and/or granted free agency late in their careers. Around here, we certainly remember how Carlton bounced from the Giants to the Indians and Twins after the Phillies released him in 1986.

But as far as Cy Young Award winner traded for another Cy Young Award winner, it’s happened one time and that was long before either pitcher had established himself as a big league pitcher.

Moreover, if it happens again in the Lee and Halladay deal, one of the guys will hold the odd distinction of being the only Cy Young Award winner to be traded for another Cy Young Award winner twice.

In June of 2002 and still pitching for the Expos’ Double-A club Harrisburg, Lee was traded to the Indians for Bartolo Colon. Actually, the Expos gave up Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Colon and Tim Drew.

With the luxury of hindsight that trade looks horrible. Making it look worse is that the Expos traded Colon during the off season to the White Sox for Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer. Two years after that, Colon went 21-8 for the Angels to win the 2005 Cy Young Award.

With the 2008 American League Cy Young Award in his trophy case, Lee is likely on the move again—this time for the 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner.

So what’s this say about Lee that in two of the three trades he’s been a part of, the other piece to the deal is a Cy Young Award winner?

The art of the bluff

Roy In poker they say it isn’t so much about playing the cards you’ve been dealt as it is playing the man across from you. Of course the cards matter, because otherwise what’s the point? But if you can represent like you have good cards, well, even better.

They call this “bluffing,” which is kind of like lying only without the anguish of a real lie. In sports like poker or baseball, those who are the best at distorting reality are lauded as masters of the game. In fact, long after other important skills have eroded, players can get by on bluffing or making certain adjustments.

It’s a skill not relegated just to the players, either. For instance, take Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Not even a week ago he sat in a comfortable suite littered with snacks and room-service trays in the Downtown Marriott in Indianapolis and told the Philly-based media that a deal for a pitcher like Roy Halladay was, “unlikely.”

Hey, that’s what he said.

Of course people in the position to make big decisions say a lot of things. Some of them might even be true. Like I’m sure even Tiger Woods had a few standbys he used at the Perkins when he was (allegedly) picking up a waitress that could have been based in truth, but when poked or prodded further turned out to unravel sloppier than an old, worn out slinky.

So when the cards hit the felt and you belly up across from Amaro, just be sure to know that the term “unlikely,” actually means, “we’re going to fly the guy up to Philly in four days to see if we can iron out something.”

Oh sure, that’s a mouthful, but that’s the underappreciated skill of being a big-league GM. The art of misdirection is just like a dab of Vaseline under the bill of the cap or sneaking a glimpse at where the catcher sets up while digging in at the batters’ box. This comes despite the knowledge that everyone in baseball has their own little tells. People talk—like all the time. There are no more secrets anymore so the practice of misdirection or bluffing is futile.

And yet we play the game anyway. Actually, it’s kind of fun. The scouts, assistants to the traveling secretary, stat crunchers, and PR types leak like sieves. They also have the ear and the information discarded from the GM, which makes the whole thing comical.

In other words, when a management types says the team has tossed around the idea of trading Cole Hamels for Roy Halladay and then less than a month later the GM says any trade for the Jays’ ace is “unlikely,” it actually means it’s Cliff Lee and it’s a three-way with Seattle and Toronto.

So there.

But make no mistake about it, the Phillies never moved off of Halladay. Not after they traded for Lee and not after they had Pedro Martinez pitch in two games of the World Series. That’s why it was so funny to hear national pundits to write/Tweet things like, “The Phillies are quietly back in the mix to deal for Halladay.”

Really? When did they ever leave?

Maybe there’s a different message in here, too. Maybe when following the hot stove fest that has been buzzing up the Internets like a hornet’s nest, it’s best to stay close to home. Like politics, all sports scribing is local.

Either way, after the Halladay deal reaches its climax and Lee, et al find their new teams, there next bluff is just a moment away. After all, Amaro still has to get a reliever and a No. 4/5 starter in order to finish the off-season shopping. Strangely, finding that last bullpen piece has proven to be most elusive for the Phillies.

Getting Halladay, on the other hand, just took a lot of patience and a lots tangos with semantics.

Another whiff

Ryan HowardThroughout the team’s history, the Phillies have always been attracted to those hitters that always seem to swing and miss a lot. Mike Schmidt was one of those guys. During his career he whiffed 1,883 times, which is the seventh-most in the history of the game.

Schmidt’s teammate Greg Luzinski averaged 133 strikeouts per 162 games. That duo of Schmidt and Luzinski led the National League in strikeouts five times.

Dick Allen, Lance Parrish, Bobby Abreu, Juan Samuel, Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen and Darren Daulton all routinely whiffed more than 100 times per season, though those guys were hardly in the same league as Jim Thome and Ryan Howard.

Thome, the heir to Schmidt, is third on the all-time strikeout list and set the club record for whiffs in a season with 182 in 2003. Like his time in Philadelphia, Thome’s reign on the top of that list was short when Howard racked up 181 strikeouts in 2006 before establishing the new Major League record in 2007 when he nearly became the first man to reach the 200-strikeout plateau with 199.

Just think what type of numbers Howard would have posted if he hadn’t missed nearly all of May.

But they wouldn’t be the Phillies if the strikeouts were exclusive to the batters’ box. Oh no. Actually, the entire franchise is kind of one big caught-looking enterprise. They do strikeouts well. After all, no professional team in the history of sports has surpassed 10,000 losses like the Phillies have and it seems as if there is no executive in league history to have been spurned more than Pat Gillick has this winter.

In terms of striking out on the free-agent market, Gillick and the Phillies have made Howard, Thome and Schmidt look like Wee Willie Keeler.

Yes, it happened again on Wednesday afternoon. In what has become a weekly rite during the winter the Phillies were told thanks but no thanks by a player that the team really could use in order to recapture the National League East. First it was Mike Lowell, who would have been the team’s answer at third base. Instead of signing on with the Phillies to play in cozy little Citizens Bank Park where he once slugged three homers in a game, Lowell took a lesser contract offer to remain with the Boston Red Sox.

Apparently, there was just something about all the money and the years that turned off Lowell about the Phillies.

Then there was Randy Wolf, the left-handed starting pitcher who came up through the Phillies system, pitched for the team for eight seasons and earned his first (and only) All-Star appearance with the club during the 2003 season. But after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2006, Wolf took a lesser deal to pitch for the Dodgers in 2007. Two weeks ago the Phillies came knocking again and – once again – Wolf took a incentive-laden (in the parlance of the game) one-year deal to pitch for San Diego.

Gillick and Wolf’s negotiations went something like this:

Gillick: We really like you, Randy, and we really want to sign you to a multi-year deal. Is that something you would be interested in?

Wolf: Well, Pat, I grew up in Southern California and all my family is here and I would really like to be closer to them. Plus, the ballpark is a little more conducive to my style of pitching. It’s nothing personal and I really liked pitching for you guys for eight years, but I think I’m going to go to San Diego.

Gillick: Whore.*

Aaron RowandNo one wanted to sign with the Phillies. Not even Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman who asked for his release and eschewed arbitration, passed up a chance to be the Phillies’ everyday third baseman by signing a one-year deal with San Diego, too.

So let’s add it up. Lowell to Boston; Wolf to San Diego; Iguchi to San Diego; Melvin Mora – no dice; Curt Schilling back to Boston; Geoff Jenkins, maybe; and Scott Rolen, anywhere but Philly or St. Louis.

What do the Phillies have to do? Move the franchise to San Diego? Configure a more pitcher-friendly ballpark on the parking lot where the Vet used to be? Give Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva the worst contract in the history of Major League Baseball?

All of the above?

Really, though, the more interesting question is how does Aaron Rowand fit in here? If they just could have lured Rowand back into the fold it all would have been OK. Right…

Sigh!

By all accounts, Aaron Rowand, the fan and media favorite, really, really wanted to return to the Phillies for 2008 and beyond. It’s just that he didn’t want to do it for less than five years. Only the Phillies offered three and apparently there was no middle ground. They couldn’t split the difference and get together on four years.

And what’s four years in the scheme of things? Come on, really… Four years is a presidential term? It’s 80 percent of one’s collegiate work? It’s just four years! That’s it. It goes by in a heartbeat.

Instead, Rowand got his five years (and, he says, the cash he was expecting) from the San Francisco Giants – a team that came in last in the NL West last season at 71-91. With Barry Bonds gone and a young corps of pitchers still finding their way around in the unforgiving world of Major League Baseball, the Giants should be slated for the cellar again in 2008. But Rowand will be there, crashing into walls, charming the fans and doing what he can to help the Giants get better.

It’s doesn’t seem as though Rowand will duplicate the offensive statistics he posted for the Phillies during the 2008 season at whatever corporation currently owns the naming rights for the Giants’ ballpark these days. But does that really matter? All that matters is that he won’t be doing anything for the Phillies anymore and that’s the really big whiff.

One thing is for certain – the “sources” were only off by a year and $25 million. But, again, that doesn’t help the Phillies much.

——————————————————————————————

* Actually, Gillick said: “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Good try, team!

FootballLet’s get this straight: The Eagles lost to the Patriots on Sunday night and Philly fans are pleased? Really? Is this true? The Eagles lost and folks are genuinely pleased?

Hold on for a second while I drop to one knee to catch my breath…

Look, it was a wildly entertaining game. In fact, I even napped at halftime so I could make it the whole through the second half. For a detached “fan” like me who watches Eagles games (not the NFL… that’s too much effort) when it’s convenient, Sunday night’s game was perfectly compelling. And frankly, that’s the appeal of football – the casual fan doesn’t have to invest much to be entertained. One doesn’t have to get too deep into it like with baseball where the minutia of the game seems to be the appeal. Nevertheless, the game was fun to watch and just as riveting as the Eagles-Giants game from a year or two ago that went to overtime. Now that game was one to describe in your best Keith Jackson voice…

A real donnybrook!

Still, from what I can tell from some of the reaction around town, folks are happy that the Eagles gave the Patriots all they could handle… even though they still lost.

What, has Philadelphia become a town of happy losers? Are moral victories just as good as the real thing? Lovable losers in Philly – what is this, Chicago? Moral victories – are they turning into St. Louis fans?

Hey, I know how good everyone says the Patriots are and it seems likely that they will win every game this season. I also know that the betting line was 22 points some absurdity like that. But from what I could tell the Eagles lost a game they could or should have won. You know, kind of like those games they lost to the Packers, Redskins and Bears.

So there you have it – there’s my football analysis for the rest of the season. Makes you feel smarter, huh?

Speaking of feeling smarter (I couldn’t come up with a better transition), the free-agent/hot stove comings and goings for the Phillies are beginning to come a little clearer. Or so it seems…

***
MoraAnyway, the Phillies appear to be interested in Orioles’ third baseman Melvin Mora, according to the Baltimore Sun. Mora has a no-trade clause and signed a three-year extension with the Orioles in 2006, but reports indicate he is unhappy with the direction the team is taking. As such, Mora is said to be willing to waive the clause to play for an east-coast team.

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Astros and former Phillies’ GM Ed Wade is in the race to ink ex-Phillies Randy Wolf and Jon Lieber. Wolf, as has been well documented, has been made an offer by the Phillies after the Dodgers declined to pick up his option for 2008.

Finally, cross the White Sox off Aaron Rowand’s list of potential suitors. According to a report in The Chicago Sun-Times, Rowand and his former club are way off in contract terms. The Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies are still interested in signing the free agent center fielder.

***
Lots of folks (OK, three) have asked me what I thought about Tom McCarthy re-joining the Phillies’ broadcast team. My initial reaction was, “Cool.” Wherever he is,Tom is often the friendliest guy at the ballpark so the more often we get to see him, the better. Then I thought, “Hey, it seems like the Phillies have a lot of broadcasters now… is someone leaving?”

According to folks smarter than me, Tom is likely being groomed as Harry Kalas’ successor. That’s cool, too, I guess though I agree with Dan McQuade‘s idea that a good Harry Kalas impersonator could handle those duties for decades to come.

***
Hey, Billy Wagner is mouthing off about the Mets

Also, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Paying attention is hard – Part III

Scott RolenInterestingly, third basemen Mike Lowell and Scott Rolen have the same agent. Even more interesting, the Phillies have not inquired about making a deal for either player. But then again, the team says all they are interested in is adding pitching.

Yeah, we’ve been all over this before.

But it’s free agency period and everyone is into the Hot Stove stuff which means memories are short or ears are clogged or both. People will pay attention to what they want and they will only hear enough to keep the rumor-mongers in business. That’s what it is now – rumors and innuendo. Forget about facts and news. That’s boring.

It’s boring like the news from the St. Louis papers regarding Rolen, who reportedly is seeking a trade away from the Cardinals because of a damaged relationship with manager Tony La Russa. This is old news. In fact, it was well known last summer that Rolen did not want to return to the Cardinals in 2008 if La Russa was going to remain the team’s manager. But with La Russa signed on for a couple more years, it has come to light that Rolen is seeking a trade.

Again, no surprise there.

Here’s the thing though – because Rolen apparently wants to be traded away from the Cardinals and because it’s assumed the Phillies are after a third baseman because it’s also assumed that they need one (even though the Phillies say obtaining a third baseman is “not a priority”), immediately the Rolen-to-Phillies stories creep up.

What are we missing here?

Oh yeah, how about the facts. Like the fact that Rolen has a no-trade clause with an unwritten line that states, “I’ll waive it for anywhere but Baghdad or Philadelphia.” Or the fact that Rolen still has three years remaining on his contract and is owed $36 million coupled with the report that the Cards will not help pay the freight. What about the fact that Rolen missed most of 2005 and 2007 seasons because of injuries that may or may not have taken away some of his offensive punch.

Do the facts matter or do they just get in the way of a good story?

Answers: No and yes.

Either way, let us reinterate the main point again – Rolen has a no-trade clause. It means he can’t be traded anywhere unless he waives it and this is often done for a hefty fee. Knowing what we know about Rolen’s first 6½ seasons in Philadelphia and the way he was received in all of his visits since 2002, what sane person would think he’d want to return to play for the Phillies, let alone fly over the city in the Enola Gay?

And don’t give me a silly answer like, “money” because Rolen already accepted a smaller paycheck to play for St. Louis.

Look, certainly Rolen is not the first player Tony La Russa rubbed the wrong way. Needless to say, La Russa isn’t the first manager Rolen has had trouble with. Actually, it seems as if the only manager Rolen did well with was Terry Francona. Let’s be hypocrites and play the rumor game, only we’ll be a little more original and make up one of our own…

Ready?

OK, Lowell signs with the Cardinals and Rolen gets traded to the Red Sox… how does that work?

Hey, it’s the best I could come up with on short notice.

But, you know, paying attention is hard. That’s especially true when the real story gets in the way of the more entertaining story.

Speaking of which, Mike Lowell ain’t coming to Philadelphia either… then again, what does his agent or Phils’ GM Pat Gillick know?

So long, sailor…
DeitchIt’s worth noting that Dennis Deitch of the Delaware County Daily Times finally found a seat with a desk. That means regular hours, holidays off and no more travelling around following a baseball team all summer long. That frees him up to do… well, whatever it is he does. Dungeons & Dragons, I guess. Perhaps some Everquest with Curt Schilling, poker at the Borgata and more time spent honing his act as the new crocodile hunter.

To that end we wish Dennis well, note our envy and hope he learns how to duck and move a little more quickly. For us that remain the departure means no more ridiculously riotous comments made with pitch-perfect timing[1]. For us, that sucks.

But kudos, Dennis. Kudos.

If you’re scoring at home, the scribes now have subtracted Marcus Hayes and Deitch from the ranks… I say the beat guys get to vote the next guy off the island. Does it work that way?


[1] Timing, of course, is relative. Perhaps Dennis’ timing is perfect because it’s so inappropriate? That’s probably the case.

Jumping off the deep end

Cannonball!So the free agent period is officially on. In fact, it’s “on” on. Yesterday was the first day and it seemed as if everyone was freaking out trying to learn new information about who was talking to whom and where everyone was going the next couple of days. Everyone was in everyone else’s business and had each other’s names in each other’s mouths.

Between hoping I could carve out my insides with a pie cutter and waiting for my head to explode with this damn sinus/migraine thing I got going on over here, I fielded an IM or two about all this free agent hubbub from guys closer to the situation (and more seasoned) than me.

Pure insanity.

They all wanted to know if the other shoe had dropped. Did I know anything? Had I heard anything? TELL US! TELL US NOW!

AAARRRGGGHHH!

But just like… well… me on payday, I got nuthin’. Nada. But then again, I’m not one of those guys who goes running all willy-nilly for no reason. I don’t go shopping the day after Thanksgiving (unless it’s online) and I don’t go doing a cannonball into the deep end without dipping my big, battered toe [1]in first. Folks, you have to settle in and build a nice rhythm if you expect to go the distance.

In other words: simmer down. Now. Who goes out on payday and breaks the bank seconds after walking out of the check-cashing place? Not anyone sane or sober and certainly not the Phillies.

But then again, perhaps the shooting-from-the-holster approach isn’t a bad one. Maybe if the Phillies jumped into the deep end they can get all of their wintertime shopping done before the crowds rush in. After all, trading for Brad Lidge kind of pushed the team onto a certain direction in completing the puzzle, which, truth be told, wasn’t too difficult to decipher to begin with. Apparently, the Phillies believe they score enough runs as it is and can go with Shane Victorino in centerfield, Jayson Werth in right and Wes Helms/Greg Dobbs at third. How many runs does a team need?

I guess that has to do with the pitching, which is what the team (and every other team, too) will be looking for. It’s also the reason why Kyle Lohse will likely sign a multi-year contract filthy with a bunch of numbers. Will it be $40 million? How about $50 million?

And yes, we’re talking about Kyle Lohse. And Carlos Silva. Write the big check for Livan Hernandez.

Aaron RowandAccording to some reportage and sleuthing by the local beat scribes, it appears as if the Phillies will not have the cash to break the bank this winter, which seems odd. It seems odd because the Phillies had the best attendance in the history of the taxpayer subsidized Citizens Bank Park in 2007. What’s more, they made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, too. That means more exposure, more games and (probably) more cash coming in. Plus, chances are they will raise ticket prices for 2008, too. Yeah, why not… if the fish is going to jump into the boat, all they have to do is beat it over the head with an oar.

Still, it seems likely that there won’t be enough petty cash stuck under the cushions of the couch to make a “competitive” offer to Aaron Rowand, the Gold Glove Award-winning centerfielder, who just so happens to be coming off a career year with the bat. It also appears that Messr. Rowand is heading for one of those contract deals that looks like science fiction, which is crazy. Could a team really be ready to offer Aaron Rowand $15 million per season?

Really? That’s Kyle Lohse money.

It also reminds me why running, cycling, golf and tennis are superior to the so-called “mainstream” sports in the U.S. Why? Because you have to win to get paid.  


[1] I reckon I have run more than I walk during the past two decades. Therefore, my toes are all beaten up as if they were about to go into a mince meat pie. I have no idea what mince meat pie looks like (or even what it is), but I bet it’s nasty… like my bludgeoned-by-running toes.

Ed Wade makes a good deal for the Phillies

Brad LidgeThe Phillies picked up closer Brad Lidge along with infielder Eric Bruntlett late Wednesday night from the Houston Astros. All the Phillies had to give up was outfielder Michael Bourn, who hails from Houston; reliever Geoff Geary, who struggled during 2007; and minor leaguer Mike Costanzo, who whiffed 290 times in his first two full seasons as a pro.

It seems as if GM Pat Gillick shored up the bullpen and the rotation in making the trade. Certainly Lidge isn’t coming to the Phillies to set up for Brett Myers. In that case, Lidge would take over the ninth-inning duties, while Myers would slide back into the rotation as a No. 2 guy.

Lidge, from Sacramento, Calif., turns 31 on Dec. 23 and is a graduate of Notre Dame. Last year he went 5-3 with 19 saves and held opponents to a .219 batting average in 66 games. He also averaged 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings and has more strikeouts than any other reliever in the Majors during the past four seasons.

Meanwhile, it seems as if ex-Phillies GM/current Astros’ GM, Ed Wade, is trying to get all of his old guys back. Wade, after all, was running the Phillies when they drafted Bourn, Geary and Costanzo. Better yet, Costanzo was the Phillies top pick in the 2005 draft — Wade’s last with the Phillies.

So if Wade is trying to put his team back together, perhaps Gillick can offer Pat Burrell for, oh I don’t know… Roy Oswalt? Why not? They’re both making about the same amount of money, right?

Fishing for a Carp?

Hiroshima CarpCome on… did anyone really think the Phillies were going to sign Curt Schilling? For that matter, did anyone really believe that Schilling wanted to sign with the Phillies?

Or the Brewers?

Or the Diamondbacks?

Or the Tigers?

Or the Astros?

Or the Mets?

Or any other team he listed on his 38pitches.com site?

Nope, me either.

For the Phillies, Schilling was that girl that was way out of everyone’s league, but taunted everyone by thinking she was cool and down to earth. Ha! No one ever had a chance.

So what do the Phillies do now that their top choice to fill out the rotation has decided to remain in Boston? Who else is out there on the free-agent market? What about Tom Glavine? He really helped the Phillies’ playoff chances with his pitching down the stretch – could he do it in 2008, too?

Doubtful. Besides, the Phillies already have an over-40, soft-tossing lefty. Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva are two pitchers on the free-agent market that could fill the starting-pitching void, though the Phillies would likely have to commit a lot of money and years to either man. Meanwhile, the White Sox Jon Garland and the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis could be available in a trade, but then that opens up more issues if the Phillies want to keep those guys beyond 2008.

Where does that leave the Phillies? If they can’t make a trade or add a dependable pitcher via the free-agent market, where do they look?

Japan?

Yeah, why not.

When it comes to spotting trends and entering the modern age, the Phillies have always been slow. They were the last National League team to integrate its roster; they were slow to enter the market to sign Latino ballplayers (though the Venezuelan baseball academy got good reviews); and until Tadahito Iguchi joined the team last August, the Phillies had never had a Japanese player. Maybe that’s where they should look now.

Needless to say, I haven’t been keeping with the action in the Pacific or Central League in Japan, but every season there are plenty of players from those leagues ready to make the jump to the Majors. This season the top starting pitcher appears to be a fellow named Hiroki Kuroda, who is a right-handed veteran with 11 seasons under his belt with the Hiroshima Carp[1]. Though Kuroda will be 33 in February, he is coming off his best three seasons for the Carp and, better yet, won’t require a posting fee in order for a Major League team to negotiate with him.

According to reports, the Phillies, Royals, Dodgers and the Mariners are a few of the teams interested in Kuroda. However, Seattle might have the upper hand since the pitcher’s agent lives there.

Perhaps the Phillies will take a shot. If not, there’s always David Wells.


[1] See, even the names for the Japanese teams are better than ours.

Bloggy blog

Phillies fans had dreamed of a rotation for 2008 with Curt Schilling penciled in behind ace Cole Hamels. According to the latest news coming from Boston, the Philly fans can keep on dreaming.

According to the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, Schilling and the Red Sox are close to striking a deal to keep the right-hander in Boston for another year. The deal, reportedly, is a one-year incentive-laden one which could be contingent upon Schilling passing a physical.

Though the Phillies coveted Schilling – and the pitcher had expressed interest in returning to Philadelphia – it was no secret that the righty’s first choice was to return to the Red Sox.

Schilling, who turns 41 on Nov. 14, went 9-8 with a 3.87 ERA in 24 starts for the Red Sox in 2007.

Keeping priorities straight
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Phillies have not placed a premium on bolstering the third base position this winter. Instead, general manager told reporters from the General Manager meetings in Orlando that he has a bigger fish to fry:

“Because we’re going to concentrate on improving our pitching,” Gillick told the Inquirer.

According to reports, this winter’s free-agent crop of third basemen includes Alex Rodriguez and Mike Lowell. Potential trade candidates include Miguel Cabrera, Garrett Atkins, Hank Blalock, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada and Joe Crede. But Gillick said he believes the Phillies can make it through the season with Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs at third with the thought of adding a defensive specialist to come into games during the late innings.

As far as the pitching goes, the Phillies’ reported priority remains to re-sign reliever J.C. Romero.

More baseball notes…
Longtime Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal has sparked the interest of the Toronto Blue Jays. … Meanwhile, Lieberthal’s former Phillies teammate, Scott Rolen, has reportedly been listed as a darkhorse candidate to replace Alex Rodriguez at third base for the New York Yankees. The report fails to mention that Rolen has an iron-clad no-trade clause in his contract. Nevertheless, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Rolen could waive the no-trade clause (or have the Cardinals buy it out) so that a deal could be struck to take him far away from manager Tony La Russa.

Let’s talk about… um… nothing

Curt SchillingWith the NBA season ready to kick off tonight, it means one thing in Philadelphia…

It’s hot-stove baseball time!

Yes, the rumors, innuendo and conjecture is in a full-court press as suggestions for ways the Phillies can re-build their NL East-champion club before the 2008 season. And just where do the Phillies start?

Pitching?

Center field?

Third base?

Another power hitter?

Pitching?

How about some pitching?

Did anyone mention pitching?

So far the Phillies have started by holding an organizational meeting in Florida in order to outline the plan of attack this winter. No doubt it all started with a Power Point presentation featuring the themes listed above. Or maybe someone just broke out some poster board and a Sharpie and scotch taped it to the wall. Undoubtedly they wrote:

Pitching?

Center field?

Third base?

Another power hitter?

Pitching?

How about some pitching?

Did anyone mention pitching?

Anyway, what has happened now that the official Major League season has been over for three days? Well… nothing. What was supposed to happen? Sure, Aaron Rowand and a bunch of other guys have officially filed for free agency, but that’s just a formality. It’s like signing up to bring a bag of Pirate’s Booty or a spinach dip tucked into a bread bowl to the next weekend party or something. You do it, but is your heart really into it?

Nevertheless, the Phillies have exclusive negotiating rights with Rowand and guys like Antonio Alfonseca, Jon Lieber (the fat man walks alone!), Rod Barajas, Jose Mesa and J.C. Romero for two weeks. After that… it’s on! Any team can talk to any free agent and put some scratch behind all the blather, too.

Plus, during the next two weeks of exclusivity, the Phillies can talk to other free agents though they are not allowed to discuss money or contract terms[1]. So, say for instance the Phillies want to call up… let’s just pull a name out of the air here… Curt Schilling and broach the subject about whether or not he’d like to pitch for the Phillies in 2008, they can.

As long as they don’t talk about money. Which is weird, because what else would they talk to him about?

“Hi… Curt?”

“Yeah, who’s calling? My caller ID didn’t register properly.”

“It’s the Phillies!”

“Oh hi… what’s up?”

“Oh nothing, just calling to see how everything is going… what’s new?”

“Oh, you know, nothing much. I was just in that World Series thing with the Red Sox and we won in four straight games. Other than that I have EverQuest convention coming up…”

“A what coming up?”

“EverQuest. It’s a game. You play it on the computer. It’s kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, only geekier…”

“Dungeons and what?

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t think you called to talk about that.”

“No, you’re right, we didn’t.”

“So what’s up?”

“Nothing, we’re just calling to see what’s up with you.”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Well, nothing really.”

“Nothing really?”

“Yeah, nothing really… what are you getting at?”

“Well, we don’t know how to say this so we’ll just come out and say it… we like you. We really like you.”

“Thanks…”

“… And if you like us as much as we like you, maybe we can work together next year?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.”

“Well, we can’t tell you how much we like you yet, but we will.”

“Maybe we can talk again then, right now I have Lord Doljonijiarnimorinar breathing down my neck and things are getting pretty tight. Why don’t you call me in a couple of weeks and we can pick this up then.”

“OK. How about in two weeks.”

“OK.”

“OK… we’ll talk to you in two weeks.”

“OK.”

“Talk to you then.”

“OK, bye.”

“Bye… Curt, we really li…”

click


[1] Yeah, like that really happens.

Hot night for the hot stove

Pat & ChuckIt feels like a summer night out there. It’s hot, humid and rainy, which makes me feel as if it’s time to head to the ballpark or snap on the tube and catch the middle innings of a game from anywhere in the country.

Strangely enough, even though it was 95 degrees today, there is no baseball on TV.

That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, does it? I think it does, so I wrote a story about what the Phillies should do this winter…

You know, because they should listen to me.

Anyway, click here for the entire story or continue on and read an excerpt of the bullet points explaining the proper course of action:

• Sign Aaron Rowand
Yeah, he had a “career year” and likely won’t approach 30 home runs again (unless he plays at CBP), but Rowand is as reliable as they come. Not only can his teammates and coaches depend on him, but also he’s accountable to the fans and press. There’s something refreshing about that.

It could be costly to sign Rowand, though. It seems as if $30 million for three years is the starting point.

• Get some pitching
Strangely enough, the bullpen seems to be in order if the Phillies re-sign J.C. Romero and Madson returns to form after an arm injury. With Myers set to open the season in the bullpen – the only place where he has shown any consistency during his career – the Phillies are on their way as far as building a top-notch ‘pen. Add Scott Linebrink, a free-agent sinkerballer, and all is set.

But relievers can’t pitch all nine innings.

As far as starters go, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick are givens for 2008. Adam Eaton is also signed through 2009, but it remains to see where he is come next April.

Free-agent to be, Kyle Lohse, is expected to fetch approximately $60 million for five years when he hits the open market in November. Oddly enough that’s a bargain in the current economics of Major League Baseball and the Phillies would be smart to call up agent Scott Boras and make an offer.

• Don’t raise ticket prices
Don’t do it. Three million folks walked through the doors in 2007 to see Freddy Garcia get one win and Jon Lieber eat himself to an injury. They also saw J.D. Durbin and Adam Eaton take the mound every five days. Get back to the playoffs in 2008 and watch people open up their wallets to hand over money like crazy for things like tickets, Schmitters, Phanatic dolls and t-shirts.

• Figure out what Ryan Howard’s future is with the Phillies…
… and then pay him accordingly. Yes, Howard hit 47 home runs in 2007 even though he got off to a slow start and missed a month with an injury in May. The 47 bombs comes a year after hitting 58 and winning the MVP Award in 2006. However, Howard took a step backwards in the field and showed up to camp out of shape this season. History shows that big guys like Howard burn out faster unless they are American Leaguers. That’s why it’s important for the Phillies to figure out how long Howard will be productive – he’s 27 now – and pay him accordingly.

• Get a third baseman
Yes, Greg Dobbs had a terrific season as a part-time third baseman. Then again, he only really started during the second half, and even then it was usually against just right-handers. Clearly, Wes Helms wasn’t the answer the Phillies were looking for, and Abraham Nunez seems to be locked in as a late-inning defensive specialist.

Mike Lowell is heading into free agency and likely will not return to Boston – he’s the popular name now, and has a good history at CBP, but do the Phillies need him?

• Do what it takes to get back to the playoffs… and win
No one wants to wait another 14 years to get back to the post-season only to get swept. Building success is wonderful – turning success into a trend is the tact of champions. Every team in the NL East will improve in 2008…

Will the Phillies remain the team to beat?

Foreign markets

One of my biggest criticisms of the Phillies over the years was (and is) the club’s reluctance to tap into the foreign-player talent pool. During the past decade it seemed as if the top Japanese and Latin Americans were completely ignored by the local team. When it came time to negotiate or put out overtures in attempt to sign one of the top foreign players, the Phillies were always out trying to convince players like J.D. Drew to sign with them.

Based on the Phillies abhorrent history in regards to integration and race issues during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. As stated earlier in these pages, read Penn historian William C. Kashatus’ careful examination of these days in September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration. If one is wondering why the Phillies have won just a lone World Series since 1883, this book might hold some of the answers.

Nevertheless, the Phillies did open a baseball academy in Venezuela recently but closed it a few years back because of the civil unrest during the 2002 coup d’etat. The team has also signed a few Dominican players, but no one as notable as Placido Polanco – who attended school in Miami – and Jose Mesa.

Last winter I suggested that the Phillies would be well served to sign Kenji Johjima, the 30-year-old Japanese catcher who played 144 games for the Mariners in 2006, slugging 18 homers with 79 RBIs and a .291 batting average (.783 OPS), but, well, you know…

During the past decade and a half, the Phillies have not had a single Japanese player on the roster and it seems as if the closest the team ever got to having a player from Japan on the payroll was when Scott Rolen threatened to kick the holy-you-know-what out of Hideo Nomo in a famous incident in the bowels of the Vet.

But according to recent reports the Phillies are interested in Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura. The 27-year old is a lefty hitter who batted .311 with 32 home runs, 77 RBI and a .389 OBP in 2006 for the Yakult Swallows, which doesn’t fit the Phillies’ expressed need for a right-handed bat to break up the batting order with lefties Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. However, Iwamura could fit in nicely with the Phillies. Manager Charlie Manuel was a popular player and star for the Swallows during the 1970s, and general manager Pat Gillick has had an eye for gleaning and signing top talent from the Far East.

After all, it was Gillick who brought Ichiro Suzuki to Seattle during his GM days there.

Still, signing Iwamura seems like a long shot. The Indians, Red Sox and Padres are also reportedly interested in the third baseman. In order to get negotiating rights with Iwamura, the Phillies have to out-bid other teams in a silent auction “posting” period. If they do that, the Phillies have just 30 days to negotiate and sign the player before the next team gets a crack at him.

Plan B is to sign Penn alum Mark DeRosa or veteran lumbering slugger Wes Helms to split time at third base with Abraham Nunez.

The Phillies’ other needs – catcher and the bullpen – aren’t being attacked with the same alacrity as dealing away Pat Burrell or making overtures to free-agent Alfonso Soriano. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the Phillies will go with Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz behind the plate in 2007.

My suggestion? If the economics are right, Mike Piazza might be a decent option as a part-time catcher. The Padres didn’t pick-up the future Hall-of-Famer’s option so he should be out there.

If the price is right, why not?

The free-agent bidding period begins on Nov. 12.

Everyone ready?

Winter could be warm for Phillies

For the past two seasons, the Phillies scored some runs. Actually, the Phillies scored a lot of runs. Last year the Phils led the National League with 865 runs, and hold the distinction as the league’s most prolific run-scoring team over the past three seasons.

Needless to say, the Phillies’ hitters have provided ample support for the pitching staff. But according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, general manager Pat Gillick is interested in adding even more punch to the offense.

When the free-agent signing period official opens on Nov. 12, the Phillies are expected to offer Nationals’ free agent Alfonso Soriano a big, fat contract. According to The Washington Post, Soriano is looking for a deal similar to Carlos Beltran’s seven-year, $119 million pact inked with the Mets two years ago. The Phillies’ response: how about five years for $80 million?

Soriano, of course, hit 46 homers and swiped 41 bags in 2006 with 95 RBIs despite serving as the Nationals’ primary leadoff hitter. In 2006, Soriano’s OPS jumped to a career-high .911, but his strikeouts also soared to a new high of 160.

Regardless, Phils’ GM Pat Gillick has coveted Soriano all the way back to his days in Seattle. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Gillick tried to trade for Soriano when he was with the Yankees, offering reliever Jose Paniagua.

Though the Mets are also reportedly interested in the 40-40 man – the Orioles too, but they are likely a long shot – the Phillies should view Soriano as a perfect middle-of-the-order hitter to provide the supposed need for protection for Ryan Howard.

How much protection does a guy who hit 58 homers really need?

Now here’s the rub – according to sources and published reports, the Phillies could make the offer to Soriano even without trading much-maligned left fielder Pat Burrell.

Burrell and Soriano in the same lineup as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins? Yeah, that could work.

Nevertheless, there are still many issues and bridges to cross here. The Phillies still are very interested in dealing away Burrell and the $27 million owed on the final two seasons of his deal. And of course he has that pesky no-trade clause to contend with, too.

Suppose the Phillies land Soriano and fail to deal Burrell… does that mean Soriano is the right fielder? Playing right field is considerably tougher than playing left, and Soriano struggled in his first season as an outfielder for the Nats last season. Sure, Soriano led all outfielders with 22 assists last season, but he also committed 11 errors, which was one behind Adam Dunn for the league lead.

Still, if nothing else it appears as if the Phillies will be very active this winter. The team is still very interested in re-signing left-handed starter Randy Wolf though it seems very likely that he will test the open market. There also have been rumors regarding the Phils’ interest in Gary Sheffield, though the Phillies would not be able to have both Soriano and Sheffield without dealing Burrell.

More free agents
The Phillies have one spot open in their rotation and they want to fill it with Wolf. However, if Wolf decides he’d rather pitch for a different team, the Phillies have plenty of other options. Here’s a list of free-agent starters that could pique the team’s interest:

Jason Schmidt
Ted Lilly
Barry Zito
Mike Mussina
Gil Meche
Jason Johnson
Mark Mulder
Jamey Wright
Greg Maddux
Andy Pettitte
Shawn Chacon
Miguel Batista
Roger Clemens
Rodrigo Lopez
Chan Ho Park
Jeff Suppan

No thank you
Aaron Rowand and the Phillies each declined their options for the 2007 season. As a result, Rowand is eligible for arbitration. Rowand turned down a $3.25 million player option, while the Phillies did not pick up the $5 million club option.

Rowand joins Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, Geoff Geary and Chase Utley as the Phils’ other arbitration-eligible players. The Phillies still control Rowand’s rights and can either negotiate a new deal with the center fielder or take him to salary arbitration.

Unless there is a trade, it seems very unlikely that Rowand will be elsewhere in 2007.

Horn honking
Off the bat: Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports is the best sports program on TV. In fact, there is no competition and it’s unfair to compare the HBO show with anything else out there.

When I get a chance to watch it, I do. Sometimes more than once.

So imagine my surprise when Mr. Gumbel’s final thought to close the show touched on a lot of the same themes examined in this post.

I doubt Mr. Gumbel reads these pages, so it’s probably just a coincidence and a case of a pair of sharp minds (well, he is much more sharper than me) thinking alike. But if does read this site, we’re very flattered.

And his thoughts were right on the money.