Hot time in the old town with the hot corner

figginsWithout so much as a flick of an eyelash, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. set the Phillies’ offseason into full swing. He didn’t have to issue a statement, hold a press conference or even sign anything.

Hell, he didn’t even have to answer any questions because that was already handled for the GM by other people. There was a quick e-mail sent out to reporters regarding Pedro Feliz’s option, and Brett Myers told people that Amaro told him that he oughta just go be a free agent.

So now Amaro needs to find a third baseman to replace the sure-handed Feliz, and a knucklehead to replace Myers. And of course, as written three times on this space already (this is the fourth), the Phillies hope to make a trade for Roy Halladay.

Whispers from Phillies sources is the deal for Halladay could include Cole Hamels.

That still leaves the team down a knucklehead with Myers’ departure. Perhaps they’ll go knucklehead-less?

Anyway, as Amaro hangs out at the O’Hare Hilton in Chicago—the very same hotel O.J. Simpson checked into after flying from L.A. the night of the murders—his off-season plans were laid out in appropriate order:

* Third baseman
* Relief pitcher(s)
* The bench

And if there is enough time or money left over maybe they can find a clubhouse knucklehead to replace Myers. But you know… only if they have time.

The search for a new third baseman is an interesting proposition for Amaro. After all, this is one of those rare cases in which it will be difficult for the GM to mess it up since there are plenty of quality free-agent third basemen. Certainly Chone Figgins of the Angels is the cream of the crop, but the Angels want him back and his asking price is reported to be 5-years for $50 million.

Five years for a guy about to turn 32 might be a bit much, but Figgins could be a valuable piece for the Phillies. No, he’s not much of a slugger, but he would be the perfect leadoff hitter in this lineup. Last year he walked 101 times and has an on-base percentage over .385 in the past three seasons.

Compared to Jimmy Rollins, well… there is not much of a comparison. Figgins’ OBP in 2009 was exactly 100-points higher than Rollins’. Plus, as a leadoff hitter Figgins sees 4.21 pitches per plate appearance. On the Phillies, only Jayson Werth saw more pitches (4.51) and he led the Majors.

choneFiggins also steals more bases than any player for the Phillies, and though he led the league in caught stealing in two out of the past three years, a spring with Davey Lopes could turn him into a 70-stolen base threat.

Figgins would be a perfect table setter for the Phillies’ sluggers and fits in nicely in that he strikes out a lot, too (his BAbip was .356). However, the addition of Figgins would probably rock the boat a little too much because Rollins, for some reason, is the leadoff hitter for life.

He might be the worst leadoff hitter in the big leagues, but Rollins’ is the leadoff hitter nonetheless. Egos are a helluva thing, especially within the space of a baseball clubhouse. Though the Phillies might be better served with Rollins hitting further down in the lineup—like second, seventh—manager Charlie Manuel has bought the idea that he has one leadoff hitter and one only.

Yes, Figgins is the best option for the Phillies. That’s especially the case considering his fielding, statistically speaking, was just as good as Feliz.

Other names that will be whispered into the wind like so many dandelion spores are Adrian Beltre and Mark DeRosa. The fact is, the Phillies have had the hots for both players for years and put the moves on DeRosa during the winter meetings last December. However, neither player is as consistent as Figgins.

Worse, Beltre and DeRosa have had their share of injuries. DeRosa, the former Penn quarterback, has never played more than 149 games in a season (he’s done it twice) and will be 35 in February. Plus, he had surgery on his wrist last week.

Beltre is 13 years into his career and is coming off his worst season. The Phillies can definitely do better.

And certainly they should do better. With the attendance numbers they posted (102 percent capacity for 89 games in the regular- and post-seasons), money isn’t an issue. Plus, with the ever fickle window of opportunity just an injury away from closing, the Phillies aren’t risking all that much by making a move on Figgins (or Halladay, a bullpen piece, and a knucklehead).

Besides, third base is one of those marquee positions for the Phillies, like left field for the Red Sox or center field for the Yankees. Dick Allen played third base. So too did Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen. They seemed to be in a good spot with Placido Polanco at third, but needed guys like David Bell, Tomas Perez, Tyler Houston, Shawn Wooten, Ramon Martinez, Jose Hernandez, Alex Gonzalez, Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, Greg Dobbs, Miguel Cairo, Eric Bruntlett and Feliz to hold down the hot corner.

Hey, you had us at Polanco.

Make a deal? Cole Hamels is no Rick Wise

rick_wiseA quick look at his career transactions shows that Rick Wise was involved in a couple of franchise-changing moves. In two of the instances, trading away Wise actually benefited the team that got rid of him.

That’s definitely not a knock on Wise or his career. The fact is he was pretty good with more highlight moments than most big leaguers. For instance, Wise was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game many regard as the greatest ever played. Wise came on in the top of the 12th, faced Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez as well as 1977 NL MVP George Foster, and was the pitcher of record when Carlton Fisk hit his famous homer.

Wise was also an 18-year-old rookie in 1964 when he took the mound for the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Shea Stadium in which the opening act was Jim Bunning’s perfect game.

Wise wasn’t nearly as good as Bunning though he allowed just three hits in an 8-2 victory for the first win of his big-league career. One of those wins includes the no-hitter he threw against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium in 1971. Not only did Wise come one walk away from a perfect game, but also he slugged a pair of homers in the game to drive in three of the four runs.

Despite a resume that includes two All-Star Game appearances, a modest showing on the MVP and Cy Young balloting in 1975, as well as 188 career wins—more than Jimmy Key, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Guidry or Sandy Koufax—Wise was better for the teams that shipped him out.

Before the 1978 season, the Red Sox sent Wise to the Indians for Dennis Eckersley. Those were the days before Eckersley was a Hall-of-Fame closer, but for two years he was the ace for the Red Sox staff that should have been in the playoffs at least once. In ’78, Eckersley won 20 games for the Sox while Wise lost 19 for the 90-loss Indians.

That’s not the trade that became the legacy of Wise’s career, though. No, more than the no-hitter and the win in Game 6, Wise might be best known as the player the Phillies swapped to get Steve Carlton.

Some say it’s one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, which is no knock against Wise. It’s just that Carlton was that good.

For the next 15 years Carlton won 241 games for the Phillies, guided them to a championship once, the playoffs six times, and became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award four times. Wise went on to win 113 games for St. Louis, Boston, Cleveland and San Diego over the next 11 years. The Cardinals got two years of 32-28 pitching with a decent 3.24 ERA. That’s not bad, but in his first year with the Phillies, Carlton nearly amassed Wise’s two-year totals with the Cards.

So why bring this up? What does Rick Wise and Steve Carlton have to do with anything these days, considering the Phillies just went to the World Series for the second year in a row?

Well, let’s just use it as a reference point for the idea of history repeating itself.

Chances are there won’t be as loud an outcry if the Phillies were to trade away Cole Hamels in a blockbuster as there was before the 1971 season when they dealt away Wise. After all, though he was coming off a 20-win season, Carlton was still a relative unknown in provincial Philadelphia. Wise, on the other hand, had that no-hitter to go with three straight seasons in which he pitched at least 220 innings, including 272 1/3 in ’71.

At age 25, Cole Hamels is certainly no Rick Wise.

Wise did all of that before the age of 25, too, which just so happens to be the same age as Hamels. Sure, Hamels has the NLCS and World Series MVPs, but hardly is the most durable pitcher out there. After turning in 227 innings during the regular season of ’08 and 35 more in five playoffs starts (totals lower than Cliff Lee in ’09), Hamels struggled through the 2009 season.

He showed up for spring training not as prepared as in years past, but at least he ahd been on TV with Ellen, Letterman and the deer-in-the-headlights, “Who are yoooo?” commercial, a performance so wooden that only Howdy Doody would have been proud.

But the Phillies believe in Hamels. At least that’s what they say publicly. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believes the real Hamels is closer to the one who went 4-0 in the 2008 playoffs than the one who went a combined 11-13 with a 4.61 ERA through the entire 2009 season.

“He’s a top-of-the-rotation starter who had a tough year,” Amaro said. “He had to deal with some adversity for a change. It’s the first time where he’s ever had to deal with some struggles. We fully expect him to come back and be the pitcher he’s always been.”

Why?

cole_hamels“I have to go on the assessment on what we see on him from a scouting point-of-view,” Amaro said. “It would be hard to find a better left-hander in the league.”

Actually, the Phillies already have a better lefty on their staff in Cliff Lee. In fact, it would be hard to find a better left-hander in all of baseball. Teamed with rookie-of-the-year candidate J.A. Happ, the Philllies have a formidable lefty tandem even before Hamels enters the equation.

So why not trade away Hamels—a real bargaining chip—for a better right-handed pitcher. Heck, trade him to Toronto for the best right-hander.

Though they failed miserably in their attempts to deal away Roy Halladay before the July deadline, the Blue Jays will more than likely be looking to move their ace this winter. With just the 2010 season remaining on his contract, Halladay will likely command a multiyear extension only teams like those in New York, Boston and Los Angeles can afford.

With Lee heading into his walk year, too, Hamels represents the stable future in terms of the financial side of things.

But does Hamels represent another shot at the World Series? Who knows? However, team insiders are whispering about a Hamels-for-Halladay blockbuster that probably is just wishful thinking.

Halladay, teamed with Lee, Happ and Joe Blanton, gives the Phillies the best starting staff on the planet. The only way a team with guys like that doesn’t get to the World Series is because of injuries or bad luck.

If the goal is to win right now and take advantage of that always fleeting window of opportunity, then a move on Halladay isn’t just logical, it’s necessary.

Hamels may very well fulfill his promise like everyone says. But then again, maybe not. We’ve already seen what happens when accolades, awards and a new contract are bestowed on Hamels. In fact, he can barely top 190 innings.

Yes, Hamels may very well turn out to be the next Steve Carlton…

But maybe he ought to be Rick Wise first.

Sizing up the rotation now and later (a.k.a. Hamels for Halladay)

pedroWhile we’re waiting for the Angels and the Yankees to decide the American League champion, and as the Phillies take that last official day off, maybe we oughta play a little hypothetical…

You know, just for fun.

So let’s dive right in with the World Series starting rotation. We know—though not officially—Cliff Lee will pitch in Game 1. Chances are Lee will pitch in Game 4 and Game 7, too. After that, it kind of depends on which team the Phillies play. If it’s the Yankees, who wouldn’t want to see Pedro Martinez take the mound at Yankee Stadium? In fact, in the celebratory clubhouse after the Phillies, Pedro was lobbying/serenading pitching coach Rich Dubee about starting a game at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have to get there first, which is another story, but also Pedro has an ERA near 6 in his last handful of appearances in the playoffs against the Yankees. That’s where all that “Who’s your daddy” stuff came from.

Of course, Pedro pitched a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem against the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS, but that game was at Fenway Park. In Yankee Stadium during the playoffs, Pedro has 15 strikeouts and 14 hits in 13 1/3 innings of two starts. The Red Sox lost both of those starts with Pedro checking in with a 0-1 record and a 5.40 ERA.

The Yankees don’t play in that stadium anymore, though. It’s still standing there empty with overgrown grass and a crumbling interior while the Yankees and the city of New York argue over who gets to tear it down.

No, these days the Yankees have a new Yankee Stadium that cost more than a billion dollars to build, has cracks on the cement ramps that reportedly will cost millions of dollars to repair, and the best press-box food in the business.

So there’s that.

Even though it’s not the same place and Pedro pitches for the Phillies and not the Mets and Red Sox, the New York fans are still obsessed with the guy. If the TV Networks are going to ruin the organic nature of the game by forcing longer commercial breaks between innings, night games in November and Joe Buck upon us, couldn’t they mandate that Pedro pitch a game at Yankee Stadium?

Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

“I don’t think you can go wrong with Pedro Martinez,” Brad Lidge said. “He’s such a big-game pitcher. And then when you see what he did against L.A., he’s pretty impressive.”

And oh yeah, Pedro wants it. He lives for the show and the drama. The Yankees in the World Series at Yankee Stadium? Oh yes, bring it on.

“That’s my home, did you know that? That’s where I live, you need to understand. The Yankees? Get your ticket, you’ll find out fast,” he said as champagne dripped off his face following the clincher over the Dodgers.

But does it make sense? With the DH and the American League-style of game in the AL park, the Phillies might be better served with Cole Hamels pitching in Game 2… or would they?

Numbers-wise, Hamels stinks in these playoffs. Six of the 20 hits he has allowed in his 14 2/3 innings have been homers, which is amazing when one considers that Hamels gave up zero homers in seven of his last regular-season starts and just seven total runs in five postseason starts in 2008.

Still, it’s interesting to wonder how different Hamels’ NLCS would have been if Chase Utley would have been able to make a good throw on a potential inning-ending double play in the fifth inning of Game 1 at Dodger Stadium. Hamels made the pitch he needed to get out of a jam.

As (bad) luck would have it, Hamels gave up a homer to Manny Ramirez a couple of pitches after the botched double play.

So what do we have other than Cliff Lee in Game 1 and Pedro and Hamels in one of the next pair of games? Well, there’s Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ who both will start the World Series in the bullpen. If needed, one of those guys could get a start in the series but that probably depends on the opponent.

In 15 career games against the Angels Blanton is 3-7 with a 3.48 ERA and two complete games. In four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA.

Happ has never faced the Angels, but in his first start of the season in 2009 at the new Yankee Stadium, he gave up a pair of runs on four hits in six innings.

cole_hamelsMeanwhile, both the Yankees and the Angels hit .286 against lefties this season, though the Yankees’ lefty hitters were significantly better against lefty pitchers.

Still, it’s worth noting that the debate seems to be using Hamels in either Game 2 of Game 3 and whether he’s ready to face the Yankees lefties in Yankee Stadium. But as long as we’re throwing things out there, how about this:

Would you trade Cole Hamels this off-season? Oh, not for just anyone because good pitchers have tough seasons all the time. Hamels is only 25 and his best days are clearly ahead of him—why else would the Phillies have signed him to a $20 million deal last winter?

But the Phillies will be a contender for the World Series again next year, too, and there were times when the starting rotation lacked consistency. Certainly Hamels was one of the biggest culprits in that regard.

So here it is: Let’s say the Blue Jays come back to the Phillies looking to move Roy Halladay, who is headed into the final year of his contract…

Would you send Hamels to the Blue Jays for Halladay? Would that be the one pitcher the Phillies could trade away Hamels for?

Hey, nothing is going on (as far as we know), but think about it—Hamels for Halladay?

Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation followed by J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez and Joe Blanton… that could work, right?

Family history repeating itself?

drabeks

Selected in the 11th round of the 1983 draft, Doug Drabek was the property of four different organizations before his son Kyle was born in 1987. In fact, Doug’s rights were held by the Twins, White Sox and Yankees before he made his Major League debut.

So it’s kind of interesting that the son of the 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner and first-round draft pick of the Phillies in 2006 is in such an interesting spot. Kyle’s dad was once the proverbial player-to-be-named-later. No one ever coveted Doug Drabek as a minor leaguer until he actually got to the big leagues and proved he could pitch.

And pitch he did.

From 1988 to 1993, Doug tossed at least 219 innings and averaged 245 innings per season, counting the playoffs. He also never missed a start during that six-year span, won 71 games and finished in the top 5 in the Cy Young balloting three times.

The older Drabek was The Horse of the rotation that Charlie Manuel always talks about. He was the type of pitcher that gave the manager, pitching coach and bullpen a break every five days.

Now here’s where it gets interesting – when Doug Drabek was his son’s age (21), he was dealt from the White Sox to the Yankees organization and got a promotion from Single-A to Double-A. The following year (1985), Drabek spent the entire year in Double-A before starting ’86 in Triple-A for a handful of games.

At age 24, Doug Drabek was in the big leagues for good. For six years of his 12-season career he was one of the best pitchers in the National League, though hardly a Hall of Famer. After he signed a big free-agent deal with the Astros, Drabek won just 42 more games in the big leagues and by 1998, the career was over.

He was just 35.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Roy Halladay pitches until he is 35. That means he has three more years to go, which, if history (the Phillies, family and natural development) is an indicator, three years should be the time when Kyle Drabek is in the big leagues for good.

That is if he stays healthy long enough to make it to the big leagues.

Comparisons between father and son are inevitable. Why not … it’s easy. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they say, and besides, Doug Drabek was a really good pitcher until the end. However, it seems as if the only thing the Drabeks have in common when it comes to pitching is that they both are right-handed and have the same last name.

Otherwise, Doug Drabek was crafty. He struck out a bit more than five hitters (5.7) per nine innings in the Majors and had roughly the same ratio (5.4) in the minors. Doug was efficient as a pitcher. He threw a sinker and made the most of his pitches. Even when he was racking up more 250 innings per season, Doug never averaged more than 109 pitches per game.

This season Kyle Drabek has 118 strikeouts in 122 innings. He’s has a big fastball which he used to rack up 74 whiffs in 61 2/3 inning in his first crack at advanced Single-A for Clearwater. More importantly, the injury issues seem to be behind the 21-year-old and he made the transition to Double-A rather seamlessly.

In other words, the kid knows how to pitch. So much so that Manuel didn’t compare him to his dad, but to another hard-throwing right-hander…

seaverTry Tom Seaver.

“It’d be tough for me to trade Drabek,” Manuel said. “I like Drabek because he’s strong in his legs and his hips and he’s a drop-and-drive kind of pitcher. I’m not a pitching coach but I like his mechanics and I like where he comes from and he’s a strong-bodied kid, like a Tom Seaver type or a Bartolo Colon, and he’s got that kind of stuff. And he’s young, and I think he has a big upside to him.”

But Roy Halladay… name three pitchers in the big leagues that are better than him. If Manuel wants The Horse, there he is. In fact, Halladay could get traded to the National League tomorrow and still likely get votes for the AL Cy Young Award. If Halladay were to join the Phillies and spend the remainder of his contract in Philly, a three-peat is not an unreasonable thought.

So here it is – what should the Phillies do?

• Bank on a can’t-miss kid with the pedigree and big right arm.
• Go for the short-term glory because titles come twice in 126 years in these parts.

Certainly they are tough questions and one that might keep general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. awake at night. But is there a wrong answer? Is this a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t situation?

Anyone have a crystal ball?