Breakout! The GM Meetings end without incident

goodfellasFrom the outside it seemed like a blur of three days. All of the general managers of all of the Major League Baseball teams holed up in a hotel near the airport in Chicago very much like Hunter Thompson on the Vegas strip, only many more lawyers and fewer grapefruits.

There, in the heavily fortified compound off the Interstate with free parking, a pool, wireless, a complimentary breakfast, and a quick route to the busiest airport in the country, it sounds like the GMs just had a gabfest. Oh, there surely was plenty of baseball talk, maybe over hand of Texas Hold ‘Em in Epstein’s room where he filled up the tub with ice and loaded it up with a couple of cases of Pabst pounders. Eddie Wade ordered some pizzas. Ruben? Yeah, Ruben was there, too.

He was the quiet one like Ray Liotta in that breakfast scene in Goodfellas, where Scorsese’s mom says, “Whatsa matter Henry, you don’t talk so much.”

Hey, these are baseball men. They live the good life. The really are the Goodfellas.

But aside from a nice hangout at the Hilton with wireless in every room (standard usage fees apply), the GMs really didn’t do all that much in the annual chin wag. Actually, they may have reflected the state of the economy by following up a week at a resort in sunny Dana Point, Calif. by hanging at the Midwest’s version of Northern Jersey. Otherwise, they might have set the table—you know, a handshake here, a the ol’ business card exchange—for the real work that begins once the free agency period opens in earnest next week.

Then it’s off to Indianapolis for the Winter Meetings.

No doubt all the GMs and their staffs will get together to sing this song:

Song completed they’ll go out and spend the working incomes of 10 middle-class families for a guy to pitch the seventh inning.

Hey, these are baseball men. They live the good life. The really are the Goodfellas.

Oh, but that doesn’t mean they came away from Chicago with nothing to show for it. Nope, not at all. Old Ruben sitting quietly in the corner got to present the team’s wants and needs, which are, in order, third base; relief pitching; and a bench piece or two.

He also got to debunk a few rumors as is his wont at such things. In fact, he’s really good at it. Last year at the Winter Meetings at Las Vegas, I had a player tell me point blank and like I was a six-year-old so I could easily understand what he was saying, that he did, in fact, just exit a meeting with management types from the Phillies and was set up to have another one later. When asked how the meeting with the player went, we were told that he did not meet with that player.

It made me feel dumb (well, dumber than usual) until I quickly realized (in the course of 1.5 seconds) what was going on. Technically, no, Ruben did not meet with the player and the term “Phillies” was ambiguous. It was a smoke screen, because really, who cares who Chuck LaMarr talks to?

I grew up around lawyers and know a few of them quite well and they will tell you Ruben was using one of their old lawyering tricks without a J.D.

As an aside, my lawyer friend’s dad (also a lawyer) told me a joke recently:

“What does a lawyer use for birth control?”

Give up…

“His personality.”

But there was a chance for those li’l newshounds out there to chase down so-called rumors that really weren’t rumors to begin with. It was more like a game of whisper down the lane torn from the pages of Hunter Thompson. It’s the stuff we love because if it sticks even for a millisecond, it really doesn’t matter how long it takes to slither down the wall. People like to talk about baseball. This is one of those givens like taxes, death and leaf raking in November.

People really like to talk about baseball.

Only most GMs would prefer it if you didn’t talk about the baseball as it relates to them. They’re funny that way. Kind of ha-ha funny, too.

jeterThough not for the lack of trying, there was some news that came out of the GM meetings from the United Airlines Terminal. For instance, the Gold Glove Awards were announced, which always stirs a debate and gets people worked up over one the more meaningless awards in a veritable trophy shop filled with meaningless awards. People seemed most hot and bothered that MLB coaches and players gave Gold Gloves to Derek Jeter, but not to Chase Utley. That’s fair, I suppose. After all, the best shortstop in the American League plays third base for the New York Yankees, and people in Philadelphia like that Chase Utley dives to catch balls that smoother fielders can scoop up routinely or he falls down to the grass like a inadvertent slip when he has to make a particularly tough throw.

But no one really seems worked up over the fact that the name TULOWITZKI can’t fit on the little plaque beneath the gold painted glove. Or no one cares that the new trendy stat called UZR, used to reflect defensive prowess, is flawed just like every other baseball stat.

All except for home runs. That one is easy to quantify.

Elsewhere, the GMs decided to table the idea of instant replay because they don’t want to be a sport known for its access reliance on progress, digitalized information or computers.

Hey, just as long as someone closes the retractable roof and shuts down the 10-story HD scoreboard before we leave.

***
As a final note, I’d like to send out my condolences to the Miller Family, particularly Ben, Allison, Gretchen and Chip. You see, Mrs. Cheryl Miller, the matriarch of the Miller clan on Wheatland Ave. here in Lancaster, Pa., passed away on Tuesday.

I grew up down the street from the Millers and often turned their home into an annex of mine. So did the rest of the kids from the neighborhood where we would take over to watch the big game, fight, movie or just hangout or whatever. Frankly, it says a lot about a family if everyone from the ‘hood wants to hang out at their home. For one it means they probably had a pretty good sense of humor about having a veritable bee hive of kids running in and out, and for another, it means people felt welcomed.

Undoubtedly Mrs. Miller fostered that atmosphere. She loved having her kids around and if they brought their friends or the rest of the block along, too, all the better. Now that I’m damn-near an old man and have my own kids, I’m hoping to one day copy off Mrs. Miller and open up my home and family to whomever my kids drag in from the outside.

Mrs. Miller sure had the kindness and the generosity market cornered in these parts. That’s a trait anyone should want to copy.

So in times like these it’s very difficult not to think about how much fun we had with certain people and feel sad that those we shared those great times with are no longer among us. Mrs. Miller was a tremendous lady who raised some pretty damn good kids, including my friend Ben (probably has been the subject of earlier posts on this site), who just so happens to be the best Phillies fan I know.

I’m not smart enough to know much about praying, religion, philosophy or the afterlife, but I’m going to take a little solace knowing that somewhere Mrs. Miller is surrounded by a whole bunch of people having a really good time.

As in heaven just as on earth, of course.

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.

Everything is cream cheese…

There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.

— Coach Finstock from the major motion picture, Teen Wolf

myersI’m not into absolutes. After all, the grey areas are much more interesting. However, there are a few pearls of wisdom – little guidelines if you will – that I undoubtedly will pass along to my sons.

The easy place to start is with Coach Finstock’s words to Michael J. Fox’s character, Scotty, the so-named “Teen Wolf.” Sleep, as we all have learned, is so much more important to one’s health than food. And I’ll wager that it’s probably a really good idea not to play cards with a guy who has the first name of a city as well as a woman with a tattoo of a dagger.

Getting involved? Hey, to each their own.

But it goes without saying that those people generally are much more comfortable with pain than the average dude on the street. Hey, we all know that parents are giving kids goofy names these days, and we also know that self-mutilation is trendy as all get out. But there is nothing about a man named Blaine or a chick with a tramp stamp that strikes fear into my heart. A insomniac named Frisco and a woman with a homemade tattoo of a knife made with a penknife, well, I steer clear.

It just makes sense.

I’ve taken those rules from Coach Finstock and added a few to them over the years. Hang around with pro athletes for a decade in Philadelphia and eyes open a bit. It’s not quite like being in a war, but it’s kind of like being on the fringes of a really big fight. Sometimes, by accident, a stray punch or a thrown chair has a way of bloodying the nose or blackening an eye.

Hey, it happens.

So speaking of blackened eye(s), three-time Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers is apparently walking around with a honey of a shiner these days. Word is he got it from falling out of his wife’s Escalade after an evening out drinking and listening to music at a bar in Jacksonville, Fla. That’s the story for now, anyway. When the black eye was first reported, Brett told the Phillies brass that he got nailed by an errant throw from his four-year old son, Kolt.

That one was a doozy, but it seemed to be the most feasible. Having seen Kolt in action around the ballpark and the clubhouse before and after games, the kid has a helluva of right arm. When the genetics fairy touched young Kolt, they gave the kid his dad’s fastball, but let’s hope they gave him better reading ability or ability to judge a situation better than his old man, too.

Anyway, the story is Brett tripped on some of the kid’s toys when exiting the obnoxious, gas guzzling behemoth. However, according to a report from Dave Murphy over there at High Cheese, there was a fight at the bar/restaurant Myers and his wife were hanging out in. Moreover, Brett and his wife Kim were right in the middle of it, too. The cops showed up though there was no police report and the witnesses all seem to be telling the same story.

Yet despite the black eye, the acknowledgment of a fight, the police presence, the Phillies and Myers are sticking with the fell-out-of-the-Escalade bit. In a text message from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the official line appears to be that they are standing behind their guy:

“As has been published and from what Brett has told me, he was not part of an altercation that occurred at the establishment where he was.”

Reading between the lines there it sounds like it’s all on Brett. Smartly, the “witnesses” also are telling the same stories and since there is no police report, looks like all we have is a black eye from an ill-fated exit from a tacky car.

So let’s get back to Teen Wolf for a second:

Let’s add one more caveat to Coach Finstock’s advice… don’t get into a bar fight across the state from the ballpark where you are scheduled to do a rehab assignment the next day. Also, don’t do this in a contract year, and especially don’t get involved in an “altercation” just four years after an arrest where the prosecutors want you to plead guilty to assault and battery, serve two years’ probation, enter a program for spousal abusers and undergo an outpatient alcohol abuse evaluation.

Follow those rules and everything else is cream cheese.

Don’t feed the animals

rubenREADING, Pa. – Sitting here in the main press box in First Energy Stadium for the latest addition of the Pedro Martinez comeback and I have a few notes to pass along. We have been informed via a note tacked on the wall that we are not allowed to approach any member of the Phillies front office staff here at the ballpark.

It says:

“Members of the Phillies front office will be in attendance. They are not to be approached for interviews at any time regardless if Martinez has come out of the game…”

Seriously, it says that. Charley Kerfeld and/or Ruben Amaro Jr. are off limits, which is fine since the first-year GM is about as obtuse as they come.

Here’s the thing – I think even Ruben would think the sign is funny. Especially because, you know, he runs a BASEBALL TEAM. I could see a sign that read, “Please don’t approach the President of the United States of America,” or, “Please don’t approach the Queen of England,” or, of course, “Please don’t approach the dancers…”

But “members of the Phillies’ front office?

All these years I totally underestimated the delicate genius that is Ruben Amaro Jr. My promise to you, dear reader, is that I will exercise more caution when I “approach” him in the future.

*

floydriverThe whole reason I wanted to write this little post is to relay a press release I got in the ol’ mail box this afternoon. In fact, the headline enough was all I needed, but when I continued to read, it just got better and better.

Anyway, the headline:

Floyd Landis set to take on Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams in a three-point shootout

Not making this up. Seriously. Floyd Landis, the (infamous) bicycle racer will be in a shoot off against Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz and the Olympic gold medal basketball team from the 2008 games in Beijing.

That’s enough right there. Just the thought of Floyd going up against Deron Williams is ridiculously funny. But funnier yet is the first paragraph of the release that reads:

According to Floyd Landis of the OUCH Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis, the last time he was even on a basketball court, let alone practicing three-pointers, “was probably when I was 15.”

So no, Floyd has no chance in hell. Considering that Williams made 70 three-pointers in the NBA last season, was second in the league with 10.8 assists and also got 19.4 points per game, Floyd really is in trouble.

“Trouble,” however, is Floyd’s middle name. In addition to the three-point shootout, which will take place before the Tour of Utah, Williams will race against Floyd in a time trial. That’s good for the pro cyclist, however, Floyd is clearly focused on shooting down the NBA star.

“Cyclists are usually really good basketball players, so I’m not concerned,” Floyd said.

So there’s that.

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?

Good for you… now do it again

The Phillies have a magic number which is a pretty good indicator that the Phillies are putting the squeeze on the rest of the NL East. Any combination of wins coupled with Braves’ losses equaling 66 gives the Phils the division three-peat.

Insert Phil Hartman doing the sarcastic clap here:

Strangely, we’re in a stage of the Phillies’ history where simply winning the division isn’t good enough. Call it the price of success. A few years ago the Phillies could get away with adding guys like Paul Abbott and J.D. Durbin to the rotation and no one would bat an eye.

That’s just the way they did things back then.

But with success comes expectations. So instead of Abbott and Durbin, or a trade to add a strong middle-of-the-rotation guy like Joe Blanton, we want more and Ruben Amaro and his posse know it.

So we get Rodrigo Lopez, a pitcher out of the game for two years after Tommy John surgery, instead of Abbott. Lopez once won 44 games in three seasons for some run-of-the-mill teams in Baltimore. He has pitched in a bandbox against the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox and come out on the other side to talk about it.

And after the surgery Lopez may have lost some of his velocity and snap in his curve, but he’s made up for it in savvy and experience. Not to compare the two, but sometimes it seems as if the guys who come back from serious surgery have the look of a guy who as been to war. They have seen some things – grown up. They nearly had something very valuable taken away from them and know how fleeting a baseball life can be.

Lopez, however, hasn’t guaranteed himself anything even though he has been a cog in the new-look rotation that has allowed just two runs in the last 25 innings. That’s because Pedro Martinez threw 63-pitches over four innings of a simulated game on Tuesday morning. Chances are the three-time Cy Young Award winner will be ready for Major Leaguers by the first week of August, which just might mean curtains for Lopez.

But what happens if the Phillies are able to swing a deal for ace Roy Halladay (or a pitcher of that ilk)? What happens if Amaro can make that type of deal and not lose J.A> Happ, who goes then? Jamie Moyer? Cole Hamels? Joe Blanton?

Definitely not Happ or Pedro.

Yes, these are strange times for the Phillies. Winning has a way of changing things more than we realize. Probably more than the Phillies realize, too.

Travels with Charlie

kerfeldCharlie Kerfeld was a pretty decent pitcher in his day, so when general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sent him to the Dominican Republic for a thorough scouting report on Pedro Martinez, he sent someone who knows his stuff.

Plus, who wouldn’t want a trip to the Dominican this time of year even if it was for work? Ol’ Charlie Kerfeld probably could have used an extra day to work on his tan, too.

Kerfeld, of course, is a special assistant for Amaro these days, but back when he was playing for the Astros in the 1980s, ol’ Charlie (or is it Charley?) looked like he knew how to have fun.

Take a look at Kerfeld after the Astros clinched the NL West in 1986… does that guy know how to party or what?

Here’s Charlie:

Oh, and how about that plumage growing out of the back of Charlie’s cap… it’s like a rare, exotic bird.

Pedro Martinez anyone?

pedroJamie Moyer turned in a quality start on Wednesday night, which is no small feat.  After all, heading into that game nearly every other batter reached base against the 46-year old lefty this month. Moreover, that one ugly inning reared its head again for Joe Blanton on Thursday afternoon.

Just when it looked as if the big right-hander had turned the proverbial corner, up came a couple of bloop hits and a three-run homer to bite Joe in the rear. Just like that and a five-spot was stuck on the board.

Cole Hamels? Yeah, he looks like he’s back to form. And Brett Myers? Sometimes what you see is what you get.

So it goes that if the Phillies are going to parade down Broad Street for a second straight year, they are going to have to get the pitching together. After all, that’s how they did it last year. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Every team wants pitching and because the quality stuff is spread so thin, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have to get creative if he wants to bolster up the worst rotation in the Majors.

How creative? We’re not sure. But how is this for an idea…

Pedro Martinez.

Yeah, that’s right… why not take a flyer on Pedro Martinez?

Look, we know all about it. Pedro is 37, he gets hurt a lot and his best days are clearly in the past. Last season for the Mets, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts – clearly the worst season of his big league career and the third season in a row where he missed a significant portion of the season because of injuries.

After going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 2005, Martinez went 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts in three combined seasons. When his contract ended after the Mets choked away another September, they just let him walk away – and so did everyone else for that matter.

But really, Pedro’s worst season ever is still significantly better than what Moyer, Blanton and Chan Ho Park have done this year and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the 46-year-old lefty a two-year deal. It would take significantly less – like a prorated deal for the rest of the season – to bring Martinez on board.

Better yet, if he doesn’t pitch well the Phillies can always say, “Adios.” No harm, no foul.

eatonThat might not be the Phillies style though. Apparently going after someone like Martinez might be thinking waaaaaaaay out of the box. Or was it? Last spring the Phillies took a chance on veteran Kris Benson and when it was clear he couldn’t pitch, they cut him loose. Since then Benson signed on with Texas where he has appeared in four games and has a 7.80 ERA…

That’s the same ballpark as Moyer and Blanton.

Plus, when ex-GM Pat Gillick knew he wouldn’t be able to sign Randy Wolf, he panicked and gave a three-year deal to Adam Eaton.

Remember how well that turned out? Yeah, well it still wasn’t as bad as Moyer, Blanton and Park have been this season.

Yes, the plan is for the Phillies’ staff to pitch better and based on past performance that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still, what if those guys don’t turn it around? What then? It just seems silly not to take a shot on someone like Pedro Martinez when bigger projects like Eaton, Park and Benson were signed up with seemingly not a second thought.

Vote for Pedro? Shoot, how bad could it be?

*

Note: We’re going to be away from the ballpark for a couple of days while my wife recovers from an appendectomy and pneumonia. As soon as the ol’ girl gets her mojo back, we’ll be back at the ballpark.

Until then… hospital food!

Adam Eaton graphic from The Baltimore Sun

End of the line?

moyerJamie Moyer pitches for the Phillies tonight, which is kind of a big deal. Sure, he’s going for career win No. 250, but more than that, he really, really, really needs to pitch well.

You know, for a change.

Moyer hasn’t been very good this season. The 8.15 ERA and opponents’ .344 batting average against him is part of it, but most telling are the last three starts the 46-year-old lefty has turned in during May. In those three starts Moyer has given up 22 hits, 19 runs, six homers and seven walks in just 12 1/3 innings.

Yet Moyer isn’t in jeopardy of being moved out of the Phillies’ rotation. That already happened yesterday when Chan Ho Park was shifted to the bullpen and lefty J.A. Happ slid into the vacant spot, and Park hasn’t been nearly as bad as Moyer.

Then again, Moyer has had rough patches before. In fact, there was a four-start jag in 2005 (April 30-to-May 18) where he gave up 23 runs and nine walks in 13 2/3 innings. The lefty rebounded from that rough patch to finish the season at 13-7 with 200 innings

But Moyer wasn’t 46 then and he hadn’t just finished pitching deep into October for the first time ever. He also hadn’t just signed a two-year deal in which he held out for more money.

Yes, Moyer is getting $13 million in base salary with incentives that could take the worth of the deal to $20 million. He also will get $250,000 each for 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings pitched. In 2010 the base salary can reach $4.5 million and he will receive $250,000 each for 150 innings and 23 starts, and $500,000 each for 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings, and 25, 27, 29 and 31 starts.

Moreover, Moyer has a no-trade clause in which he can block deals to six teams, but no more than four in a specific league.

There’s no such clause for what happens if Moyer gets moved out of the rotation or pitches poorly.

Still, not a bad deal for a 46-year-old lefty with a fastball that can’t break glass and a three-game stretch in which opponents are hitting .400 off him with an on-base percentage near .500.

Moyer’s age was “a concern” as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted when announcing the signing, but he said the team wanted to show a “commitment” to the veteran pitcher.

Make that a veteran pitcher with no versatility, a two-year deal and a no-trade clause.

Of course all this goes away if Moyer pitches well again…

Or retires.

Stuck with ’em

Phillies Mets BaseballBaseball guys like to trot out the clichés when there are no words or reasonable ways to describe the action on the field. Lately, the one most used by the Phillies has been “That’s baseball,” which has replaced, “It is what it is,” as the cliché de guerre.

Those phrases have been reserved for those hard hit balls from Jimmy Rollins that found gloves instead of turf as well as the opposite – when the balls hit off the Phillies’ pitchers find the grass (or the stands) rather than mitts.

Crazy thing that baseball.

Nevertheless, as the first significant landmark of the long season approaches (Memorial Day), there have been some constant themes of the season that we just can’t shake. For instance, there is Rollins and his streakiness, Raul Ibanez and his hotness, Cole Hamels and his healthiness and, of course, the starting pitchers and their ineffectiveness.

Here it comes in black and white:

The Phillies enter tonight’s game in Cincinnati with a 6.35 starter’s ERA. Only Boston and Baltimore in the hitting-happy American League are even within shouting distance of the Phillies’ starters with a 5.76 ERA.

Uglier? The Phillies’ starters have an ERA almost two runs higher than the league average, while the opposition is hitting .308 against them (yes, that’s the worst in baseball) while reaching base at a .376 clip.

Again, it’s the worst in baseball.

Here’s one more thing about the starters and their awful numbers… the starter’s OPS is a robust .921, which kind of makes it seem like they face Alfonso Soriano with every hitter.

Get an OPS of .921 for a career and get ready for a ceremony in Cooperstown.

Here’s the amazing part – the Phillies are tied for first place in the NL East. In other words, sometimes a good offense is the best defense. However, the Phillies can’t expect this to keep up because it never does. At some point they will need to pitch well and pitch well consistently.

Yes, duh.

Along with the catchphrases like, “That’s baseball,” and, “It is what it is,” manager Charlie Manuel has brought out the time-tested classic, “These are the guys we have.” That might very well be code for, “Hey Ruben, get us some help.”

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s line about the team needing to perform better is code for, “I’m trying, but good pitchers cost a lot.”

The worst of the bunch are Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton and Chan Ho Park. Currently, Blanton has the sixth-worst ERA in the Majors at 6.86 and if Moyer had been able to accumulate enough innings in his seven starts, his 8.15 ERA would be the worst.

Think about this for a second – a 46-year old pitcher going just 35 innings in seven starts for a 8.15 ERA and a 1.042 OPS against… yeah, Steve Carlton wasn’t even close to being that bad when the Phillies waived him in 1986 at age 41.

In the short-term, Moyer and Blanton aren’t going anywhere. In fact, Moyer has another season left on his contract. When asked if a move to the bullpen were possible for Moyer, pitching coach Rich Dubee said, flatly, “No.”

If only Moyer could face the Marlins every time out…

The only option for now is for lefty J.A. Happ to take over a spot in the rotation for Park. Of course Park just lasted four outs in Sunday’s start against the Nationals directly on the heels of back-to-back strong outings in which he gave up just two runs and eight hits in 12 innings. But of the underperforming trio, Park is the only pitcher with versatility.

Besides, Memorial Day is approaching. Since 1968, more than half of the teams in first place at that first signpost go on to win the division.

*

  • Jason Kendall of Milwaukee got the 2,000th hit of his career last night. He only needs 48 more to tie Johnny Bench… Jason Kendall gets more hits in his career than Johnny Bench? How does that happen?
  • The Nationals’ Cristian Guzman is leading the National League with a .385 batting average, but for the first 37 games of the season his batting average and on-base percentage were the same. Yes, that’s right, Guzman had not walked once. That changed on Monday night when he got a free pass in the fifth inning of the Nats’ 12-7 loss to Pittsburgh.
  • On Sunday Brad Lidge broke his streak of six games of allowing at least one run. During his streak the Phillies’ closer had one save, and allowed 11 hits and nine runs in six innings.

On another note, Geoff Geary, one of the pitchers Lidge was traded from Houston for, has had streaks of five and four consecutive games in which he allowed at least one run.

Check it out.

Betting on Raul

raul-ibanezHuge slumps aside, Pat Burrell was an integral part of the Phillies’ victory in the World Series last year. Actually, his only hit of the Series set up the WFC-winning run. As a result, he got to lead the parade down Broad Street atop of a Clydesdale-drawn beer truck with his wife and dog.

C’mon, you remember.

Anyway, it should be no surprise that Burrell’s replacement in left field and the batting order has received a bit of attention as the most-anticipated season in team history quickly approaches.

Both The New York Times and Sports Illustrated have pinned a portion of the Phillies’ success on whether or not Raul Ibanez can continue his string of 100-RBI seasons. Hitting fifth in the lineup behind the Phillies’ big hitters, Ibanez should get his chances to drive in a few runs.

At least that’s the reasoning behind why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Ibanez for three years and allowed Burrell to walk.

From SI:

Burrell’s other shortcoming was at the plate, where he was just as prone to kill a rally as a hanging curve. “Raul doesn’t give us as much raw power as Pat, but we felt like he was going to be a more consistent hitter,” says general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Manuel echoed the sentiment when he used the word consistent three times in 10 seconds while talking about Ibañez.) Burrell hit .215 in the second half of 2008 — the same average he had in the first half of ’07 — and he hit .234 with runners in scoring position for the entire season. Ibañez, on the other hand, has been largely immune from peaks and valleys; in his seven seasons as a regular, he’s never hit worse than .260 in a half. And he’s a career .305 hitter with runners in scoring position.

So there’s that. Ibanez makes more contact, has a better batting average and, thus, drives in more runs than Burrell. But Ibanez’s left-handedness also puts manager Charlie Manuel in a tough spot in the late innings.

As SI suggests, maybe a slight lineup adjustment makes sense:

Having replaced lumbering Pat Burrell in leftfield with lumbering Raul Ibañez, the Phillies find themselves with the 3-4-5 part of their lineup batting exclusively from the left side. That will be a major tactical issue late in games, when opposing managers bring in relief specialists to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Ibañez in high-leverage situations. All lefthanded hitters struggle against such lefties as the Braves’ Mike Gonzalez and the Mets’ Pedro Feliciano. Sliding Jayson Werth (career .374 on-base percentage, .545 slugging versus lefthanders) into the fifth spot ahead of Ibañez would force managers to choose between making a pitching change or taking a bad matchup, a decision that will come up repeatedly in the 36 games Philadelphia plays against its top two division rivals.

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of the right-handed hitter for the bench. Gary Sheffield is all the talk for now, but (for a lot of reasons) doesn’t seem realistic. Besides, Sheffield is a big name that gets people talking – certainly the Phillies have been pretty good at getting people to talk lately.

Maybe a slugger like Willy Mo Pena – recently released by the Nationals – might be the big right-handed bat the Phillies need for the bench?

The easy money

President Obama was in Peoria, Ill. on Thursday to discuss the woeful state of the economy at a Caterpillar plant. There, the heavy machine manufacturer in Jim Thome’s hometown and the former employer of Chuck Thome, Jim’s dad, for 40 years, announced that it was going to cut 22,000 jobs.

Chuck Thome retired as manager for Caterpillar in 1993 and no doubt knows some of the people who will be affected by the job cuts… and then some.  Actually, those job losses could change just about everything about the town where Jim Thome grew up and first learned how to hit a baseball. The Peoria the Thomes knew might never exist again.

After all, in Washington, D.C. on Friday afternoon, Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs gave an answer to a question that had to make folks in Peoria shudder. Even if the President’s stimulus bill works, there was no guarantee that Caterpillar’s CEO Jim Owens would hire back any of the 22,000 folks whose jobs disappeared.

Just like that they could be gone forever as if picked up and carried away by a soft breeze.

“He’s not saying, ‘I’m going to rehire U.S. employees or even Peoria employees,’ ” said Rick Doty, president of the United Auto Workers Local 974, which represents thousands of Caterpillar workers.

To call these tough times doesn’t quite describe how rough things are for regular Americans.

Meanwhile, a little farther south from the White House, another press briefing was taking place. And in an indirect way this presser had something to do with the economic stimulus. At least it did to Ryan Howard, who met the press for the first time since signing a three-year, $54 million contract.

So for that first press conference Howard came adorned with shiny diamond earrings the size of hubcaps and some bling on his wrist that could cause carpal tunnel. While the rest of the country struggles, Howard is flush. Over the next three years he will take home a little more than $111,111 per game. That’s a figure more than twice the amount of the average household income ($50,233) in the U.S. in 2007, according to the U.S. Census.

Yes, for one game, Howard will get nearly twice the pay that the average American family brings home in a year of going to work every day.

Not bad work if you can find it. But then again it seems as if any work is good work if folks can find it.

Continue reading this story …

Lidge signed for 3 more years

After a spate of surprising moves made by the Phillies this week, one has to wonder if there is more coming. Could a big trade be looming on the horizon? With the team in first place in the National League East and the team’s brass on the record indicating that they would like to bolster its pitching staff, it’s a fair assumption.

That assumption is greatly enhanced by the developments this week.

It started on Tuesday when the club announced that it had coaxed maligned Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers to accept an option to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in order to iron out his difficulties on and off the mound. A season removed from working as the team’s closer, Myers struggled with the transition back to a starting role in 2008. In 17 big-league outings, Myers was 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA and had allowed a Major League-leading 24 home runs.

Upon accepting the… ahem… mental rehab trip to the minors, Myers told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he preferred pitching out of the bullpen and saw a future as a big-league closer.

“I want to be great, and honestly, I realized last year that I’d only be a good starter,” Myers told the Inquirer. “I felt like I had rock-star status as a closer. I enjoyed the bullpen. I felt like they liked me in that role. But it was easier to get a closer than another starter. (Closer Brad) Lidge has done a hell of a job for us. I don’t think I could do better.”

Based on the developments on Sunday morning, the Phillies don’t think Myers could (or can) do better, either. As a result, general manager Pat Gillick announced that the club had agreed to a three-year contract extension with Brad Lidge worth $37.5 million. The deal lasts through the 2011 season with a club option for 2012 plus a few performance incentives and bonuses thrown in.

So if Myers is going to pitch for the Phillies in the future, it won’t be as the team’s closer. Yet then again, the Phillies did sign Myers to a three-year deal worth $25.75 million before last season to be a starter.

Clearly, the Phillies were serious about that.

“People have drawn the conclusion that he would rather close, and that may be the case, but let me put it this way: There’s a lot of things in life that a lot of people don’t want to do. But you’re getting paid, and you’ve got to show up for work and do the best job you can,” Gillick told reporters on Sunday morning. “He’s a gamer, and I think he’ll give 100 percent whether he’s in a closer situation or as a starter.”

Frankly, Gillick and the Phillies need Myers to start.

“We’re kind of stubborn. We think that Brett can start,” Gillick said. “We don’t see reason he can’t start. If he gets his mechanical issues straightened out down there, I don’t see any reason he can’t be in our starting rotation.”

Myers began his minor-league stint last Wednesday in Allentown for Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he allowed three runs and five hits with six strikeouts in five innings against the Yankees top Triple-A club, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The big right-hander will make his second start in Allentown on Monday against Louisville and Reds’ top pitching prospect, Homer Bailey. But whether Myers will be elbowed out of the Phillies’ starting rotation appears to be up in the air, too. Of course if Myers irons out his trouble, which Major League and Minor League coaches say is mechanical and mental, then, yes, the Phillies will have a spot for him.

However, all indications are that the team will had another arm to the rotation. Rumors abound, of course, with names like starters C.C. Sabathia, Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett, Jarrod Washburn, Greg Maddux, Bronson Arroyo and Randy Wolf, as well as reliever Brian Fuentes linked to a potential trade with the Phillies. Moreover, advance scouts from the Twins (Dennys Reyes? Livan Hernandez?) and Mariners have been watching the Phillies closely during the past week.

Yes, the future will be interesting for the Phillies.

While Myers’ place in the Phillies future is the great unknown, Lidge, 31, the closer acquired from Houston for Geoff Geary, Mike Costanzo and Michael Bourn last winter, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Though he could have tested a very lucrative free-agent market this winter, Lidge figured that all things being equal, he’d rather be in Philadelphia.

“Coming into the year, I knew that this was my free-agent year, but pretty early on, I started really enjoying everything here,” Lidge said. “I understand what [free agency] could be like, but for me, this is an easy decision. I’m enjoying everything so much here. I don’t know where I could go that would have a team with a better opportunity to get to the World Series, to win a World Series. For me, that’s the most important thing, so where better than Philadelphia.”

The Phillies appear to have gotten a relative bargain with Lidge, too. During the past three winters, Billy Wagner signed a four-year, $43 million contract with the Mets; B.J. Ryan signed a five-year, $47 million deal with the Blue Jays; and Francisco Cordero signed a four-year, $46 million contract with Texas last winter.

Based on Lidge’s statistics so far (19 saves in 19 chances, an 0.77 ERA in 35 games and 47 strikeouts in 35 innings) he could have earned a fatter paycheck if he played the market.

The Phillies, obviously, went going to let it come to that.

“Right out of the chute, when we made the trade, we knew this wasn’t going to be a one-and-done type of guy,” assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in announcing the deal on Sunday morning. “We view Brad as somebody who can help us contend for many years. We all know how important it is to close out games you should win. This is an important piece to our organization’s future.”

Interestingly, Lidge has thrived in Philadelphia after a rough ending to his time in Houston. Between a few injuries and a crushing home run allowed to Albert Pujols during the 2005 NLCS, Lidge struggled with effectiveness and his confidence in his last year with the Astros. But during the second half of the 2007 season, Lidge regained what was missing and has reestablished himself as one of the best closers in the Majors.

The fact that some hitters say his slider is the nastiest pitch in the game certainly helps, too.

Nevertheless, Lidge has found himself with the Phillies.

“I think if you’re closing and you’re going through a rough time, it’s difficult no matter where you’re at,” the newly named All-Star said. “I was really excited for this challenge. For whatever reason, coming in here, I felt like this was where I needed to be. I enjoy the fact that the fans here are so passionate about the game. That gives me a lot of energy. I love it here.”

And Philadelphia loves him back… so far.

Next, is a deal for Pat Burrell in the works?

Stay tuned.

Coming up: The team that loved Tom Gordon and even more from the Olympic Trials.

Back to The District

WASHINGTON – We’ll dive into the new, somewhat flavorless (knee-jerk reaction) Nationals Park shortly, but in the meantime, we’re not at RFK anymore.

Nope, not at all.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s the camera-phone view from my seat in the press box:

press box capitol

Meanwhile, as far as Phillies news goes, pitching coach Rich Dubee said starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick would be in the bullpen for tonight’s game against the Nationals. However, Kendrick would pitch in relief only “if it’s an emergency.”

Kyle KendrickThe reason Kendrick will take in the game from the bullpen is because he tossed just 12 pitches in his rain-shortened outing against the Blue Jays at the Bank yesterday. So rather than have Kendrick throw just 12 pitches in 10 days, the Phillies are going to make use of the right-hander as best as they can.

“In all likelihood, he’ll pitch Thursday,” Dubee said.

Thursday’s outing would be one day ahead Kendrick’s normal turn, which means the Phillies should have some well-rested starting pitchers heading into the road series with the Nats and Astros.

Perhaps that means the Phillies are in no hurry to get a pitcher like Kris Benson healthy and ready in the near future. Benson, a free-agent that went to spring training with the Phillies, is working his way back from an arm injury that caused him to miss all of last season. During his spring work with the Phillies, Benson had some shoulder tendonitis and a groin strain.

“He’s going to have to show some improvement if he’s going to pitch in the big leagues,” assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “He has to pitch like a big leaguer. Just because he’s down there throwing doesn’t mean we’re going to bring him up.”

Benson can opt out of his deal with the Phillies on June 1 if he is not pitching in the Majors.