Breaking up the band

Scott Rolen_RedsSometimes breaking up the band isn’t such a bad thing. Imagine the stuff the Beatles or Led Zeppelin would have trotted out there if they were just playing out the string and trying to fulfill a contract. I’ll get to the point in a bit, but first some blather…

Guess what? The Phillies did add to the payroll by trading for Cliff Lee. The tally is an extra $2 million, which is approximately twice the salary Pedro Martinez will get paid for this season.

So yeah, figure this one out – according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Phillies added two pitchers to their roster that have a combined four Cy Young Awards and it cost them around $3 million for 2009. That means Lee is eighth on the club in salary and Pedro 18th. Pedro gets approximately the same paycheck as Scott Eyre and significantly less than Chan Ho Park.

Meanwhile Lee is getting a little bit more than Joe Blanton and significantly less than Jamie Moyer.

Isn’t baseball great like that? A meritocracy? Well, kind of… maybe. Put it this way – the MLBPA protects its members just as long as their names don’t appear on an ambiguous list that should have been destroyed or even compiled in the first place.

Nevertheless, the interesting part about the salaries isn’t the names attached to them or the high figures that make them seem so unreal. Nor is it the fact that all of those contracts are guaranteed and often have incentives built in, too.

Who cares about all of that.

No, the interesting part is that the Phillies can afford to pay out those salaries in a depressed economy and not too long after the team never gave out that kind of cash. Remember when the Phillies claimed to have offered Scott Rolen a 10-year contract worth more than $140 million? In reality, the Phillies never offered the 10-years and $140 million they keep touting. Instead, it the guaranteed portion of the offer was six years, $72 million. The deal stretched to 10 years and to $140 million only if one included all the options and incentives and buy-outs in the package, all structured in the club’s behalf.

If Rolen had signed that deal he would have been a Phillies last season. Had that occurred the Phillies never would have signed Jim Thome nor would they ever have had Placido Polanco. That means the paths to the Majors for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would never been blocked.

How different would it have been if Utley would have gotten a chance to play every day in the big leagues when he was 24 instead of 26? Perhaps Howard would have been with the Phillies in 2003 or 2004. Coming off a minor league season where he belted 46 homers between Reading and Scranton in 2004, Howard played 61 games in Triple-A in 2005. That was 61 too many.

So imagine if Rolen had remained in Philly instead of escaping to St. Louis and then Toronto.

Howard, Utley, Rolen and Rollins?

But who knows – maybe it wouldn’t have worked out after all. Bobby Abreu, an offensive statistical fiend in his days was the Phillies, was dumped by Pat Gillick because, apparently, he made everyone around him worse.

Of the Turn of the Century Phillies that were supposed to be long-shot contenders for the wild card in aught zero, only Mike Lieberthal, Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf were able to collect all of their Ed Wade graft in a Phillies uniform. When they were free to go elsewhere, the Phillies let them.

And somehow it worked out.

pedro_philliesBut since Gillick was so quick to give kudos to his predecessors after the World Series for drafting the likes of Rollins, Howard and Utley, what kind of credit would they have gotten if the long-term, big-money contracts they gave out weren’t cleared out?

Suppose the Phillies traded Howard and stuck with Thome. Or maybe they could have dealt Utley and gone with Polanco.

And maybe Rolen could have signed that deal in 2002… if so would we be talking about Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez and a repeat in ’09?

*
Speaking of Rolen, the big fella was beaned on the helmet by Jason Marquis on Sunday in just his second game with the Reds since being dealt at the deadline from Toronto. After crumpling in a heap to the ground, Rolen quickly sat up and immediately began yapping about it…

Apparently he was discussing his on-base percentage.

“I was a little dizzy. It stunned me. But it helped my on-base percentage, even though I still haven’t touched first base (as a Red),” Rolen said after Sunday’s game. “I talked to Jason. I’m fine. I motioned to him when I left the field to let him know that I wasn’t dead.”

Take a look at the video here.

“He’s lucky,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ball ricochet that far. That ball went out to third base.”

Rolen still hasn’t actually stepped on first base since joining the Reds.

“I was just happy to get on base,” Rolen said. “I still have yet to get to first base. I haven’t met (first base coach) Billy Hatcher yet.”

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.

I thought you said I was OK, Spider

Richard NixonWhen I was a kid I believed nearly everything adults told me. Well, I believed almost everything they told me until I was about 10. After then, I questioned everything because that’s about the time I learned about Richard Nixon. I figured if the President of the United States could be less than forthcoming, maybe other adults could, too.

That’s also about the same time I learned about Santa Claus, though truth be told the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy never made any sense. That’s especially the case with the Tooth Fairy because that just sounds a little too Uncle Eddie-ish to me. Really, what kind of a person or fairy wants little kids’ ripped out and bloodied teeth? Do they make necklaces out of them like those sharks’ tooth ones people wore in the ‘70s and stuff? Remember Turk Wendell, the Phillies’ former relief pitcher? Yeah, well he had a necklace made out of elk’s teeth and other wild animals he may or may not have shot. Actually, the necklace was kind of gaudy, but not in a P. Diddy kind of way.

Perhaps Turk Wendell was the tooth fairy for the Marlin Perkins set?

Anyway, the point is that I believed what adults told me, but then I stopped and then, for some reason, I believed them again. At least I believed what adult general managers of Major League Baseball teams told me. Seriously, why would they make up stuff? They weren’t after my teeth (as far as I knew) and they weren’t going to bring me or my family gifts every December under the cover of darkness. Better yet, I don’t think there is a single baseball GM who secretly bombed Cambodia or was less than forthcoming about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters back in ’72. Based on that criterion, baseball GMs are a reasonably trustworthy lot.

That doesn’t mean they tell the truth all of the time. For instance, I recall a time when Ed Wade revealed that a slumping Marlon Byrd was the team’s centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future – who would have guessed that Byrd was living in the future and was to be optioned to Triple-A after a game in which he served as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Hey, I’m not saying Wade didn’t make the correct move, I’m just saying that if the end of the game was as far into the future as he could see, then he needs to re-do that Lasik surgery.

DeNiroSo what’s this have to do with anything? Well, it doesn’t. I just like writing about it. Plus, it’s a nice little segue way into the whole Mike Lowell thing, who, as most readers of this site and other like it (could there be others like this one?) will tell you, is the newly re-signed third baseman and MVP of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. Lowell is a pretty darned good third baseman who played for the Marlins when they won the World Series in 2003 and I remember sitting at Citizens Bank Park the time he hit three home runs in one game for the Marlins. The last of the three came off Billy Wagner and it made me laugh out loud… not one of those obnoxious laughs like DeNiro chomping on a cigar in the movie theater like in Cape Fear, which by itself is a ridiculous scene. But it was a laugh that slips out at an inappropriate time, like say the time your friend was an altar boy at mass at Sacred Heart in 1984 or something and he knocked over a candle that he had just lit. You don’t want to laugh out loud, but you do for that briefest of seconds before anyone realizes that you are the one who a.) Has a bad sense of humor and b.) Can’t control himself in solemn places.

Not that any of that ever happened, of course.

Anyway, Nixon bombed Cambodia, Marlon Byrd was sent to Scranton and Pat Gillick told us not to believe everything we read on ESPN.com. Which one thinks about it, is a rather ambiguous statement. Just look at it:

“Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com.”

cigarOK. I guess that’s good advice. But it’s kind of like, don’t dance with a circus bear wearing a Shriner’s hat after it just pedaled a tricycle 50 yards. Or don’t rub the belly of an alligator that was just fed ostrich burgers for a mid-afternoon snack. Does it really mean something or is it just a broad, sweeping statement that is common amongst politicians and large retailers to homogenize us?

Perhaps what Gillick meant to say was, “Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com about badminton. But the stuff about the Phillies attempting to sign Mike Lowell to play third base for the team in 2008… yeah, well that stuff is as solid as your Uncle Tim’s brass spittoon.”

So how about that? Despite all the reports that indicated that the Phillies had just a limited amount of cash to spend this winter, and GM Gillick’s contention that the team was focusing on acquiring pitching and that third base was not a “priority,” it comes out that the Phillies are like Diamond Jim picking up the tab for everyone in the saloon. They’re lighting big, fat cigars with $20 bills while trying to figure out how they can spend more money and make offers to guys like Mike Lowell.

Good for them.

But here’s the question: why the subterfuge? Why all the, “Mike Lowell? Who is Mike Lowell? We wouldn’t know Mike Lowell if he walked right up and spit into our mammy’s hand purse…” Doing stuff like that is going to give a guy a reputation. It’s going to make the honest, chaste and diligent folks in the local sporting press to believe the worst in a person. They’re going to think that when Pat Gillick says, “No, no, no,” he really means, “Yes, no, yes!”

I don’t know much about poker or the game’s colorful jargon, but I do bad bluffing when I hear it. Based on this, the Phillies should swoop in and steal away A-Rod from the Yankees at any minute.

***
If the Phillies can’t get A-Rod (or Scott Rolen), maybe they can get Randy Wolf? The former Phillie lefty has received an offer from the team about returning for 2008. The team has made a bunch of other offers to other players, too, including right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who has pitched for the past decade in the Japan.

***
Most of my friends don’t follow sports too closely so they sometimes ask inane questions about how I must be a big fan of the Phillies. I don’t think they get it when I tell them that, “I root for the story.” You see, like the stereotypical, self-centered athlete, I just look out for myself.

Anyway, though I don’t really care one way or another which team wins or loses, I do find myself rooting for the success of certain people in the game. In that regard, a hearty congratulations goes out to Jimmy Rollins for being voted the National League’s MVP in 2007 by the dangerous (and fascist) secret society called the Baseball Writers Association of America. If there is one player who respects, understands and reveres the history of the game, it’s Rollins and I’m certain he will represent the award and the new fame that goes with such an honor well.

Kudos to Jimmy.

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?

Down the stretch they come

Aaron RowandWASHINGTON – The Mets had the Heimlich performed last weekend in Florida, just in time to return home to Shea Stadium to host the hapless Nationals for three games. With a 2½ game lead over the Phillies heading into the final week of the season, the Mets have all but wrapped up the NL East.

Based on the numbers from Sports Club Stats, the Mets have a 95.7 percent chance to make it to the playoffs. Only a monumental collapse against the Nats, Cards and Marlins can stop them now.

But for the Phillies, it has come down to the last six games. At worst – minimally – the Phillies can go 4-2. But that number comes without taking the Padres’ results into consideration. By going 4-2, the Phillies would force a one-game playoff in San Diego if the Padres limp home at 4-3. And based on last weekend’s showing against Colorado, it’s possible that Padres could be hitting a bad slump at the wrong time.

Still, there is one gnarly-looking monkey wrench that could be thrown in the middle of all of this:

The Atlanta Braves are coming to town.

Here’s a prediction – the Phillies will sweep the Nationals at the Bank in the final series of the season this weekend. Washington is a tired team, with a spent pitching staff and has nothing at stake when they face the Mets and Phillies this week. The team has its bags packed; lockers cleaned out of the ready-to decay RFK Stadium, and are focused on vacations and chilaxin’ while the playoffs rage. Sure, there’s professional pride and all of that stuff (manager Charlie Manuel was quite laudatory to Nats’ skipper Manny Acta for putting his best players out there last weekend), but tired is tired. The Nats look ready for a break.

So that leaves the Braves, who are clinging to the ledge of the playoff race by their fingernails. Standing three games behind the Phillies, the Braves could climb back in the chase with a sweep and some cooperation from the Padres (and Rockies). Most of all, though, the Braves will be happy to knock out the Phillies from contention. With aces Tim Hudson and John Smoltz scheduled to pitch the first two games of the series, the Braves are not coming to town just to play out the string.

Come on, just one more …
Chuck In just his second start in the last 37 days and first since a three-inning, 65-pitch battle in St. Louis, lefty Cole Hamels looked pretty sharp yesterday’s outing at RFK. In five innings, Hamels allowed just two hits and a pair of walks with six strikeouts. Best of all, Hamels’ fastball looked to have a lot of zip (yeah, zip) on it, which always comes in handy for a guy whose best pitch is a changeup.

But Manuel yanked Hamels out of the game after just five innings because he had thrown 76 pitches. The skipper did this even though Hamels retired the last eight hitters he faced and didn’t seem to be taxing himself all that much in working through his last three innings.

Could Hamels have pitched into the sixth without overextending himself?

Sure, he said… But then again, Hamels acknowledged that he doesn’t exactly have the best history with injuries.

“It’s a little difficult to say when they don’t let me know what my pitch count is,” Hamels told the writers. “That would be nice. I know my body better than anybody else. I guess that’s the whole point in asking. But I think it takes that experience to have the say-so. I think it would be easier for Jamie Moyer to say, ‘No, I’m going to go back out there,’ than myself.”

Manuel was in one of those damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t, second-guessing situations that has pretty much defined his three seasons in Philadelphia . But, Manuel explained, Hamels has to be treated very gingerly for the time being.

“Cole is still on a rehab, of course,” Manuel said. “We would have loved to leave him in there.”

So it just figured that as soon as Hamels exited the game, reliever Antonio Alfonseca came in during the sixth and gave the Nats the lead they would never relinquish.

Revisiting Eddie
Ed Wade We were even more busy than usual last Thursday when the news of ex-Phillies GM Ed Wade had taken over the same post with the Houston Astros. During an eight-year run that was marked by rebuilding and underachieving, Wade became “a lightning rod for the negativity” at the end of his time with the Phillies.

So when I first heard the news broadcasted over the car radio, I nearly had to pull over so that I could properly decipher the announcement.

Instead, I drove on.

That initial start gave way to rational thought. Of course Ed Wade was going to get another job as a Major League general manager. Why wouldn’t he? Wade is a good “baseball man,” who has given his professional life to the game. He has also worked at just about every job there is in Major League ball, and is generally well-liked all across the profession.

So why wouldn’t he land in another GM position? Guys like Ed Wade always land on their feet, except, of course, when they don’t.

Anyway, Jim Salisbury’s column on Wade in Sunday’s Inquirer was very interesting. You should read it.

Wade chooses not to wonder about the one’s that got away

bloody sockDramatically, the TV cameras zoomed in on the blood-stained baseball sock where the picture explained in great detail the heart of a pitcher that carried 86 seasons of shattered hopes and dreams of a self-proclaimed Nation.

At the same time, velvet throated announcers and poetic scribes proclaimed the pitcher’s greatness using words like determination, guts and hero.

But what they all failed to mention is the fact that he wanted to be here. He wanted to be one of us. To paraphrase W.C. Fields, if all things were equal, Curt Schilling wanted to pitch for the Phillies or Yankees, not the Red Sox.

It’s funny how things work out. Instead potentially pitching his adapted hometown Philadelphia to the playoffs for the first time since he did it in 1993, Schilling has the Red Sox two victories away from their first World Series title since the Woodrow Wilson Administration. So instead of a bloody ankle in front of the crowd at Citizens Bank Park, millions around the world are watching the one that got away.

Interestingly, the only way everyone gets to watch the pitcher once described by his boss in Philadelphia as a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four, is because the team’s doctor performs an innovative operation that involves suturing a torn tendon sheath. The technique involves stitching the tendon in place so it won’t fall over Schilling’s ankle when he pitches.

His victories over the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS and in Game 2 of the World Series were described by Fox commentator Tim McCarver another former Phillie as a “performance [that] will go down forever in New England baseball lore.”

Go figure.

Had general manager Ed Wade been able to work out a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks last November, who knows if the Red Sox would be two wins away from exercising nearly nine decades of ghosts. Who knows, if Wade had ponied up Brett Myers, as the Diamondbacks reportedly asked for, instead of Carlos Silva and Nick Punto, which Wade reportedly offered, maybe the St. Louis Cardinals with castoffs Scott Rolen and Marlon Anderson would be wrapping up a title against the Yankees.

However, one thing is for certain. If Schilling landed back home instead of Boston, Terry Francona would probably still be the bench coach for the Oakland A’s instead of the manager for the Red Sox.

It’s funny how things work out.

Francona, of course, is the manager Ed Wade fired after the 2000 season and replaced with recently fired Larry Bowa. Since leaving town, Francona has worked for the Indians, Rangers and A’s before hooking up with his old ace and taking Boston on its historical run. Actually, some have written that good old Tito is the perfect manager for a team that is a self-described band of idiots.

“I’m very happy for Terry Francona. I had a great fondness for Terry when he was here and it was a difficult for us to remove him as manager,” Wade said. “I talked to him at the end of the year when they had a crucial series against the Yankees and I told him I was very happy for him.”

Easy-going and friendly, Francona makes long-lasting relationships wherever he goes, particularly with his players. In Philadelphia, Francona was especially tight with Mike Lieberthal, Randy Wolf and Rolen. Before the World Series started last weekend, Francona told reporters about the special relationship he had with Rolen when they were both in Philadelphia.

The same could not be said for Wade and the rest of his staff in the front office. Actually, Wade has gotten pretty good at dodging questions about Schilling and Rolen. Sometimes he’s even a bit cranky about it.

“As far as players, I mean I can sit there and say, ‘Schilling was with us, Rolen was with us, Marlon Anderson was with us,’ the same way the Marlins can say, ‘(Kevin) Millar was with [them] and (Edgar) Renteria was with [them],’ and Anaheim can say, ‘we probably should have never got rid of Jim Edmonds,'” Wade said. “Look at the rosters and see how many home-grown players are involved on each side and how many guys came from somewhere else and the situations that dictated making that happen.”

Yeah, but what about those fans that tune in to the World Series and see a reunion of old Phillies. Aside from Francona, Schilling and Rolen, Anderson latched on with the Cardinals as a decent left-handed bat off the bench after Wade non-tendered him. Then there’s Sox’s setup man Mike Timlin, who the Phillies received from St. Louis in the deal for Rolen, and John Mabry, who spent a short time in 2002 with the Phils before being shipped away for Jeremy Giambi.

Then there is Game 3 starter Jeff Suppan, who the Phillies could have had at the trading deadline in 2003. Instead, Suppan went to Boston before hooking up with the Cards and becoming their top pitching during the postseason. Reportedly, the Phillies could have had Derek Lowe, the winner in Game 7 of the ALCS, for Kevin Millwood.

Is there any wonder why a lot of fans watching the series think to themselves, “Why couldn’t that be us?”

“Yeah, we could bring [Mike] Schmidt back. We could have had it so he wouldn’t have retired in ’89,” said Wade a bit smart-alecky. “I understand why fans do that and I understand how memories fade over time and reality sort of becomes blurred over the years.”

“There’s nothing I can do. I can’t stand here and say Rolen said, ‘there’s no amount of money that we could give him that would make him want to stay in Philadelphia.’ Or that Curt Schilling didn’t pull me into the back room of the trainer’s room at Shea Stadium and tell me he wanted to be traded. I can say those things, but then people would say, ‘Yeah, but you’re messing up a perfectly good story with the facts.'”

But he’s not messing up the story for the Cardinals because they got to the World Series with Rolen. And he can’t mess it up for the Red Sox fans either, because they think Francona and Schilling are going to do something that several at least three generations of Americans have never seen.

Who knew that it would take Terry Francona and Curt Schilling to break the Curse of the Bambino?

So who is going to help the Phillies break their malaise? Carlos Beltran? Nomar Garciaparrra? Carl Pavano? Randy Johnson?

Who?

“I won’t be happy until we’re playing,” Wade said, singing to the choir. “It’s not any fun being a non-participant regardless of how close the games have been.”

He can say that again.

E-mail John R. Finger