Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's ahead

I don’t want to blame the Phillies’ struggles this season on injuries. I don’t want guys being hurt to be a crutch for this organization. But what are they supposed to do?

I know every team has injuries. I know the Mets have had their share this season too, but I think the Phillies take the cake for players on the DL. Pitchers they were counting on, role players, and their two biggest bats in the lineup. I’m amazing they’ve been in contention for so long this season.

The last two months are going to tell us a lot about this team and the guys on it. Do we have guys that shrink when the pressure’s on, or do we have guys that rise to the occasion and fight adversity? I hope we have more of the latter. I want to see how these guys respond.

I want to see how Charlie Manuel responds. He’s facing his toughest test yet in his third year of managing the Phillies. Forget having a bad bullpen or hole in the lineup to deal with. His job now is to convince 25 guys that they can win ball games without Chase Utley, who was in the middle of one of the best seasons for a 2B of all time. That’s no easy task. He has to motivate these guys to come to the ballpark every day and keep working hard, no matter how bleak it looks, even though guys like Rod Barajas checked out two months ago, but that’s beside the point.

I don’t know what this team is going to do. It’s going to take a junior mint falling from the sky to rescue this team. Let’s take a look at the trade deadline, and why it matters to some of our Phillies.

C Rod Barajas: If anyone expresses any interest in him, do the deal. He’s not needed. We have two guys that can catch, and if you’re hell bent on having that extra catcher on the roster, you might as well give Jaramillo a shot. If there’s a market for Jason Kendall and Jose Molina, there is for Rod Barajas.

IF Greg Dobbs: He’s an interesting name. I don’t think the Phillies will trade him with the injury, but you have to figure that a team is calling about him. He can play at least four positions, and he’s a good lefty bat against right handed pitchers. He has some power and he makes good contact. Probably wouldn’t get much for him, so he has more value as a player with us in 2008 than as a trading piece.

IF Wes Helms: I doubt anyone would want him because of his struggles. He can hit lefties pretty well, which is something teams always love to have off the bench. He can’t play defense, so he would be best served as a pinch hitter, DH or maybe even a first basemen. There probably won’t be too much interest in him, with superior guys like Wigginton still on the block.

CF Aaron Rowand: Can’t trade him now. You can’t give up on the year. You’d like the team to have a plan and direction for 2008, and that could involve trading Rowand, but you’d be giving up on 2007. This team, this city can’t do that. The deal would have to be great to get him, but to get someone to take Rowand, you have to give them an X amount of time to negotiate an extension, and I don’t think he wants to do that.

OF Michael Bourn: He’s the kind of guy a lot of teams are interested in. He’ll be under team control for five more years after this one, obviously inexpensive, and he has some nice potential. We all know about the speed and defense, but if he ever develops gap power, he could be a dangerous guy at the top of the lineup. His eye at the plate makes him even more valuable at the top, and if the Phillies were in a position to buy, Bourn could be a good piece to move.

OF Pat Burrell: No one wants him, even with the hot bat. His contract is just that awful. Hopefully we can squeeze two more months out of him and try it all again in the offseason.

Shane Victorino: You’d have to blow me away with an offer to get me to move this guy. I know you have to give something to get something, but his unique blend of speed and power is great in the lineup. He’s a great base stealer and great defender at all three outfield positions, and like Mark McGwire, he can sock some dingers.

SP Jamie Moyer: It wouldn’t surprise me if a team or two has called about him. He gives you innings and experience. He’s invaluable to the younger members of the pitching staff, so the Phillies should try to keep him around.

SP Adam Eaton: File this guy under the category of “Pat Burrell: Why would anyone want him?”

RP Ryan Madson: I save the most intriguing option for last. He’s entering his second of arbitration, so a team still has a couple more years of his services. That’s huge this year, at the deadline, teams don’t want rentals. They want guys for more than one season. Madson not only provides that, but he’s a talented pitcher. He has three good pitches, and when he’s clicking and has command of them, he’s as good as any other reliever in the league. After the Scott Linebrink trade which saw Milwaukee send a top prospect along with two other farmhands to acquire the reliever, Madson could have some value. The question becomes whether or not you want Madson as a part of your bullpen for years to come, or do you want to try again with some fresh faces? If we move Madson, I don’t know if you can pencil anyone into the 2008 bullpen for the Phillies. We need a big shakeup.

Yeah, that amounted to a whole lot of “keep this guy because we can’t afford to lose him.” That was probably the least insightful thing I’ve ever written, and I’m not exactly Jayson Stark in the first place.

I don’t know where the Phillies are going from here. It’s going to be a tough two months, and I hope these guys can fight through it. Everyone’s going to have to step up. It won’t be easy.

I rarely feel sick to my stomach or upset about losses, especially in baseball where you lose 70 games and you’re in the playoffs. I remember the NFC Championships losses to Tampa BayCarolina, the Super Bowl. Game 7 to the Lightning before the lockout was tough. If I had been a bit older and paid more attention to baseball in 1993, I’m sure I would’ve felt that too. and

However, this one is tough to swallow. Utley’s one of the most beloved athletes in this city right now, and maybe of all time. Losing a talent like him is tough. I can’t believe it. It’s just another blow. I don’t know how much more everyone can stomach before one of our teams finally breaks through. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. This is getting frustrating.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Training Camp Preview: Backfield

With Marty Mornhinweg expected to call the plays the entire season, the backfield can expect the increased workload to last from September to hopefully February this year. In training camp last year, Andy Reid talked about having a big running game and balanced playcalling, but he simply didn’t follow through. Mornhinweg made it happen, and he should have the opportunity to have control for the entire season.

1. Brian Westbrook. This Pro Bowl snub will get back at it in 2007. Despite missing a game due to an injury and not playing week 17 due to clinching the division, Westbrook was among the league leaders in yards and touchdowns. His great receiving ability makes him one of the most unique threats in football today. He was huge for the Eagles late in the season when McNabb went down, and hopefully he still has a key role when McNabb is back in the lineup. He played great in the playoffs and really carried the offense. Westbrook’s goal in camp should be to make sure he’s in shape and ready for the season and get off the football field without hurting himself. He’s the unquestioned starter and there aren’t any major differences in the offense to learn. Get your reps and get ready to go.

2. Correll Buckhalter. After remaining healthy for an entire season for the first time in what seems like forever, Buckhalter added a little bit to the Eagles offense, especially down the stretch. He’s a good back between the tackles, and he also has some good speed. His receiving skills have improved greatly, and he doesn’t fumble the ball as much as he used to.But here’s something Buckhalter has to do: he has to stay healthy for a second consecutive year, which would be the first time in his career. He’s had three serious, season ending knee injuries that have prevented him from stringing together two straight years. He might not get that many reps during the preseason games, both to keep him out of the trainer’s room and to get the younger guys reps. However, he’s still going to have to work hard to keep his carries up. He showed loyalty to the Eagles by re-signing, but draft pick Tony Hunt is looking to touch the ball too.

3. Tony Hunt. I called the Eagles picking him well over a year before the draft. His abilities and style made complete sense for the Eagles, and they made a good pick in the third round. He’s very physical. He can be the bruising RB people have been clamoring for for years, and he’ll be a great compliment to Westbrook. He was able to catch out of the backfield for PSU, and he can also block, so he can do everything Andy Reid asks of RBs. Eventually, he’s going to get his carries, and I think he’ll start to get involved more and more as the season wears on. Potentially, he could be used as a guy late in games to wear down defenses, and even work into a goal line back role, if the Eagles should choose to go down that road. However, history isn’t on rookies’ sides in the backfield. They generally don’t play early under Reid, so Hunt is going to have to show great progress in camp.

4. Nate Ilaoa. He’s only a 7th round pick and he’s going to have to work hard on special teams to make the roster in his rookie season, but he has some pretty good talent. He might’ve slipped to the 7th round because he was underexposed not only because he plays several time zones away from everyone, but Hawaii is a pass happy offense that isn’t exactly known for producing runners. Despite his diminutive height, he’s very strong and can run over guys in open space. Obviously, playing in June Jones’ offense has helped him develop an ability that’s key in the Eagles’ offense: he can catch the ball. He used to be a WR until being converted to a RB. Also, because of the heavy use of the shotgun formation, if he wasn’t going out to catch a pass, he would be blocking. He has good ability, but he might just not be good enough to make the roster this year. As a 7th round pick, he should be able to make it through waivers to the practice squad.

5. Ryan Moats. He was drafted to be Westbrook-lite in case we had trouble getting Westbrook re-signed, but there was no trouble. Westbrook is an Eagle for the next few years, and Moats is toiling at the bottom of the depth chart. At the end of his rookie season in 2005, he showed some promise with a couple long TD runs, but he just hasn’t done anything since. Ever since the preseason last year, he’s been tentative. He’s not explosive, and he doesn’t get going north and south quick enough. There are places he could succeed. Someone like Mike Shanahan could discipline him and Moats would fit in their offense. Here, he just doesn’t have anything to add. He brings no unique skill to the offense, and he’s been nothing but a liability on special teams. He was simply a draft pick that got caught in a numbers game and doesn’t have a place here.

6. Reno Mahe? Hopefully not, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

1. Thomas Tapeh. Tapeh won a three way battle for the spot in camp last year, after missing all of 2006 with a serious hip injury. Known as a ball carrier when drafted out of Minnesota, he showed absolutely none of those abilities in 2006. Instead, he became a great blocker, opening up holes for Westbrook all season. His game was literally a 180 degree turn from what everyone previously knew about him. It would be nice if he showed improvement in his ball handling ability. He never picked up any yards running the ball and appeared to be clumsy catching it. If he improves his ball skills just a little bit, he’ll be one of the most complete fullbacks in the league.

2. Jason Davis. A training camp injury forced this rookie season to end abruptly, which was nice for him because it prevented him from being cut. He was undrafted out of college, and he was involved in a pretty good battle for the position before his injury. Even with a broken finger last year, Davis did not want to miss a snap in practice. He’s one of those throwback players that take the field even when he’s hurt, and he wants to make a difference on the field every play. He’s a good blocker, but other than that, not much is known about him. It’ll be interesting to see if this is a serious competition, or if Davis is just there as a camp body.

3. Jeremy Cain. I don’t know anything about the guy. He’s listed as a FB/LS on the website, so I’m assuming he’s here for his special teams, not his fullback ability. He’s also from UMass, making it easy to assume he’s not that good at football. Camp body.

Position Battles: Buckhalter v. Hunt for C.O.P. back, Ilaoa, Moats v. roster limits, Tapeh v. Davis

I expect Buckhalter to assume the same role as last year without Hunt taking away many carries. However, later in the year, I think a guy with talent like Hunt is going to have to be on the field. The Eagles for the most part keep their draft picks on the roster, so Ilaoa has a good shot to hang on this year with the Eagles possibly carrying four backs. I expect Tapeh to keep his job, considering the nice job he did last year recovering from his injury. There’s definitely a lot more to be decided in camp here than there was with the QB’s, so the RB situation is something to keep an eye on.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

In less than one week, rookies and selected veterans will settle in to the dorm rooms at Lehigh University, ready to either begin their Eagle careers, or get them started on the right foot. They may be back in dorm rooms again, but this isn’t college ball anymore. They have to work harder, longer and impress more people to get the playing time they’ve had their entire lives. Even though it’s still baseball season, I think there’s going to be a lot of football on here starting now, and lasting for the duration of the season. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m going to be taking a position by position look at the Eagles heading into the season. I’ll talk about each and every player, their goals in camp and status on the team, highlight position battles and take a look at a projected 53 man roster. Let’s start with the Quarterbacks. Guys will be listed by their ability now, not necessarily who will and won’t make the team. An example of this will be seen later in this QB review.

1. Donovan McNabb. After suffering a serious knee injury against the Titans in 2007, McNabb looks to return healthy in time for 2008. It looks like he’ll be ready to go in camp, but he’s still going to need some rest. There’s still plenty of time before the season starts, so there’s no reason to rush him back. Andy Reid’s not pulling any punches with the offense, it’s going to be the same as it always is. The core of the offense is also still relatively the same, so it’s not like McNabb has to adjust to a new cast. With all the weapons around him, the Eagles can afford for him to take it slow and ease back into action. He’s worked hard to rehab and make it back, so hopefully he can keep that up and start the season. The most important thing for McNabb in camp is to get some reps, especially throwing to Kevin Curtis, and stay healthy.

2. A.J. Feeley. With Jeff Garcia in Tampa, Feeley’s only one play away from getting into the game now. Last year in his limited action against Indianapolis and Atlanta, Feeley did a pretty good job. Playing with mostly backups who don’t see the field much, he threw for a bunch of touchdowns and minimized mistakes. Even though he struggled in his brief stint as a Dolphins starter, he’s always been decent with the Eagles. Gone are the days of McNabb going down and guys like Koy Detmer and Mike McMahon costing the team games. Feeley is more than capable of filling in should McNabb not be ready or if he gets hurt again. He’s going to get some reps with the first team, since McNabb won’t be taking every snap in practice and in the preseason. It’ll be valuable experience.

3. Kelly Holcomb. Acquired in the Takeo Spikes trade as a salary dump from Buffalo, everyone figured he just wouldn’t dress at all this season. Those were the banner days for Holcomb in his Eagle career, because when the team drafted Kevin Kolb, it all but assured he would be cut. He’s an experienced veteran whose statistics indicate he’s very, very mediocre. His career highlight is tearing up the Steelers in a playoff game, which they ended up losing anyway. He would’ve been a good guy to have around for a year, because he provides even more insurance than we already had with Feeley. He’ll be a camp body to take reps while McNabb gets back up to speed, and he’ll probably work closely with Kevin Kolb, helping him get acclimated to the league. If there’s an injury to another QB early, the Eagles could hope a team panics and trades a conditional late round pick for Holcomb or something.

4. Kevin Kolb. The controversial first pick of the Eagles is the worst QB on the roster at the moment, but they’re obviously not going to cut their alleged QB of the future. Kolb will be no more or no less than a clipboard guy this year. He’ll have a chance to get a lot of reps with McNabb recovering from an injury, and that’s a good situation for Kolb. This is the first time in his life he won’t be playing in the spread offense, so taking snaps from behind center will be valuable practice. He’s not going to have to worry about starting a meaningful game for a couple years, so he can take his time on learning the offense and improving his skills.

5. Koy Detmer? No. He won’t be joining the team again this year.

Position Battles: There aren’t any. Everyone’s roles are already defined.

The Eagles have a settled QB situation. As I just mentioned, everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them this season. They have a top of the line starter in McNabb, a good backup, a kid for the future and insurance. This is one of the least interesting positions heading into camp because there isn’t competition for any roles.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Allocation of Resources

If you’re a Yankees or Red Sox fan, this won’t really apply to your teams. For a large majority of the rest of Major League Baseball, it does. The reality is most teams are on a budget. Whether it’s justified or not, a lot of owners have a self imposed salary cap that they do not like to spend over.

This puts General Managers in a tough position. They have to worry about re-signing their own guys, bringing in free agents to help the club, and all of those guys have to be signed to economical contracts. Making trades to put your team over the top can be tough if the team is right up against the budget.

Building a strong farm system is key for teams in this situation. If you can always have a good prospect to bring up to fill a hole, you get inexpensive talent. This allows you to spend your money on a position of need. Having prospects can also allow a team to make trades and not have to break the bank to make a splash in free agency. This is where the Phillies fail.

They actually have a number of problems. First, as mentioned above, the Phillies might as well not have minor league affiliates. Carlos Carrasco is our best prospect, so you can’t trade him. Other than him, there’s nothing left in the upper levels of the organization. Our prospects are all still in the low minor league levels, which means they have no trade value.

The ownership group is also handcuffing Pat Gillick and keeping the Phillies back. There’s no flexibility for Gillick to go out and improve the team, so he has to do what he can. That puts him in a bad position, but he’s not free of criticism.

The Phillies don’t like to spend any more than about 90-95 million dollars. A few years ago, that’s one of the top payrolls in baseball. However, with increasing player salaries, it’s barely in the upper third of the league now. For a team that can’t seem to figure out how to scout and develop talent, you have to start spending more than that to field a winner.

Gillick isn’t free from criticism though. Let’s take a look at the players the Phillies have under contract and compare their salaries to what they’re producing. I’m going to throw out arbitration eligible and all guys under the Phillies’ control because they have set salaries. Contract information is courtesy of

RP Antonio Alfonseca- 1 year contract worth $700k with up to $800k more available in bonuses: Gillick took a flier on Antonio, and he made the roster out of spring training. His peripherals aren’t the greatest, but he’s been pretty reliable, and he’s done a great job filling in as the closer. He’s unlikely to collect more than half of the bonus money, so he’s still coming pretty cheap. I didn’t like the move at first, but Alfonseca is a bargain now.

C Rod Barajas- 2 year contract, worth $3 million in 2007, and either $5 million in 2008 or a $500k buyout: I hated it then, I hate it even more now. This is money not well spent. With Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste already in the organization, you have to take a chance with what you already have. Barajas adds nothing to the team, and the money spent on him could’ve been used elsewhere. There’s no reason to spend 3 million on a backup catcher.

LF Pat Burrell- 2 years remaining on his contract, worth $13 million in 2007 and $14 million in 2008, features a full no trade clause, more available in bonuses that he will never achieve : This obviously wasn’t Gillick’s signing, but Burrell’s contract is absolutely crippling. He’s owed 27 million over the next two seasons, making him the highest paid Phillie. This presents a problem because Burrell obviously isn’t the best player on the team. After his huge year in which he signed the contract, it didn’t look so bad. Unfortunately, sometimes bad things happen when you backload a contract and the player doesn’t work out. The Phillies may be able to unload Burrell the player, but his contract is unlikely to get off the books until after 2008.

SP Adam Eaton- 3 years remaining on his contract, worth $6.875 million in 2007, $7.635 million in 2008 and $8.5 million in 2009, with up to $500k more per year in bonuses, mutual team option in 2010 worth $9 million or $500k buyout: This was a bad, bad signing. It might be a bit of revisionist history because I kind of liked Eaton when we signed him, but looking back on it, the contract doesn’t make sense. There was no way Eaton could be any more than a 5th His career proves that, and his 2007 backs it up even more. There’s no reason to pay 8 million a year for a 5th starter, because there’s a dozen guys in the organization that would get paid the league minimum to give you the same thing Eaton does. starter.

SP Freddy Garcia- $10 million in 2007: Someone who only won one game is not worth 10 million. Garcia struggled with injuries since camp opened, and now he’s trying to get off the DL after taking a couple months off. The big offseason acquisition turned out to be a huge bust, and it’s part of the reason the Phillies are struggling. Garcia was a huge reason for the optimism coming into the year. When the guy you bring in to solidify the rotation goes down and does nothing, it’s a huge blow.

RP Tom Gordon- $7 million in 2007, $5.5 million in 2008, team option in 2009 worth $4.5 million or $1 million buyout: Another ugly signing. The Phillies definitely needed a closer after Billy Wagner walked, but it would’ve been nice if they could’ve done better. Gordon is an old, injury risk and for three years, it’s a contract that didn’t have a high chance of looking successful. He’s missed just about the entire 2007 season, and with his injury apparently being a torn labrum, no one is hopeful for a strong finish to the year, even though he’s off the DL.

3B Wes Helms- $2.05 million in 2007, $2.15 million in 2008, team option in 2009 worth $3.75 million or $750k buyout: Helms didn’t get a huge contract, but it’s still money that could’ve gone to some bullpen help. He’s traditionally a second half player, so there’s still hope that he picks it up down the stretch. He didn’t handle the transition from going to utility player to full time starter well, and now he’s been relegated to pinch hitting and spot starts. It never seems like the Phillies can land a decent third bagger, and Helms is just more wasted money at the position.

SP Jon Lieber- $7.5 million in 2007: It’s too bad he got hurt and wasn’t pitching effectively. Usually he can give you some decent innings, especially in the second half. At 7.5 million, he’s almost a cheap, experienced back end guy. Unfortunately, getting paid 7.5 million to get surgery isn’t a very good investment. It would’ve been nice if the Phillies could’ve traded him while they had the chance, and now they can just hope that he’s a type A free agent this offseason.

RP Jose Mesa- I’m assuming he’s playing for the minimum: Because nothing else would make sense. If this guy is getting paid any more than the minimum, it’s money that should not be spent. He actually hasn’t been as frightfully bad as a lot of fans would have you believe, but he’s still not very good. It’s a slap in the face to the fans that he was brought back. Not that you can let fans make your decisions, but bringing back Mesa was unfathomable when he left the Phillies.

SP Jamie Moyer- $6 million in 2007, $3.5 million in 2008, with bonuses based on IP: Pretty nice price for an experienced veteran who’s not only a decent pitcher on the mound, but he’s a great mentor as well. Moyer’s struggled as of late, and that’s actually raised questions about whether or not he’ll retire. Even if he’s not very effective, at a price tag of 3 million, you’re getting great value at the back end of the rotation. If he does decide to hang em up, hopefully the Phillies can get him to hang on as a coach.

P Brett Myers- $5 million in 2007, $8.5 million in 2008, $12 million in 2009 with some performance bonuses: I can go two ways with this deal. I have no problems with Brett Myers the pitcher, but this contract sucks if he’s in the bullpen. It’s way too much money. In his final year, barring huge free agent signings, he’ll have the highest single year salary of any reliever of all time. Myers is a good pitcher, but he’s not worth that kind of money. As a starter, you’re getting a top of the rotation guy for a pretty decent price. He has to be back in the rotation.

IF Abraham Nunez- $2.1 million in 2007, team option in 2008: For 2.1 million, you’d like more than a utility infielder who can’t hit. His glove is nice to have in late inning situations and when we have ground ball pitchers on the mound, but his bat is a liability that we can’t have in the lineup very often. We signed him after a contract year in which he filled up admirably for Scott Rolen, but he’s just not a very good player. Someone like Jason Donald could fill in his role next season, and he’s cheaper and probably has a better bat.

SS Jimmy Rollins- $7 million in 2007, $7 million in 2008, $7.5 million in 2009, $7.5 million in 2010, team option in 2011 worth $8.5 million or $2 million buyout: This looked like a bad extension when Wade inked him to it a few years ago, but right now, it’s looking great. Rollins is a great player who almost has about 4.5 tools. He’s signed to a cheap contract, especially considering the deal Michael Young signed last year. Rollins is a part of the core of this team, and his price makes him even better.

RP J.C. Romero- Minor league contract: This is a bargain for someone like Romero. He’s not as good as he once was, but he’s as good as we can get in the bullpen. He allows a lot of baserunners, but he always seems to get out of jams. He’s pretty effective against lefties, and Manuel is getting confidence in him against righties as well. He could be a part of this pen for a few years if we choose to bring him back.

2B Chase Utley- $4.5 million in 2007, $7.5 million in 2008, $11 million in 2009, $15 million in 2010, $15 million in 2011, $15 million in 2012, $15 million in 2013, has the most ridiculous no trade clause I’ve ever seen: It’s ridiculously back loaded, and if Utley falls off towards the end, it’s going to be another Burrell situation, but I don’t think we’ll have that problem. Utley’s a more consistent hitter and doesn’t seem like he’ll have a career where he falls off a cliff. For one of the best hitters in baseball, it’s almost a discount, and hopefully the Phillies can become contenders before that salary jumps up to 15 a year.

OF Jayson Werth- can earn up to $800k: He’s pretty meh. As a utility player, he has a decent glove at the corner outfield positions and he’s an okay pinch hitter. He’s not getting paid much at all, so that’s a plus. His wrist injury is bothering him again, so he’s going to be on the DL a bit, but hopefully he can come back and contribute.

So there’s a huge chunk of the payroll. Let’s take a look at a few things.

- $20.375 million on 4-5 starters (why do we have three of these guys?) 21% of the payroll

- $12 million on the last two innings of the bullpen, 13% of the payroll

- $3 million on Rod Barajas, 3% of the payroll

- $30.3 million on players that have been on the DL, 32% of the payroll

It looks like some better decisions are going to have to be made to get this team moving in the right direction.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Looking back and subsequently looking forward as well

At 44-44 at the All-Star Break, the Phillies define mediocre. They’re inconsistent; they had that period where they swept Atlanta and the Mets in their stadiums, and they’ve also looked bad against bad teams. They’ve had some rough injuries, some rough breaks and some great highlights. There’s reason for pessimism, and I’ll get into that, but consider this: last year, the Phillies were 7 games under .500 and 12 games behind the Mets. This year, they’re at .500 and only 4.5 games back. There’s less ground to make up, and with the Phillies being a traditionally strong second half team, there’s still a chance they make the playoffs.

Here are my ratings for the first half, and predictions for the second half. I’ll give a player a letter grade, that’s arbitrarily based on how they’re doing, and what their expectations are. Position players are sorted by number of plate appearances, and pitchers are sorted by innings pitched.

SS Jimmy Rollins


.286/.329/.518 71 R 16 HR 53 RBI 15/19 stealing

Projection: .282/.330/.505 130 R 25 HR 95 RBI 28/34 stealing

After declaring the Phillies to be the team to beat, Rollins has done his part to back that up. He’s hitting the ball with more pop than ever before, and with the exception of a few lapses, he’s played solid defense. He’s making consistent contact, but his plate approach from the spring in which he was more patient and took some walks is gone. He’s also not as efficient stealing bases as he has been in year’s past.

Chase Utley


.325/.401/.571 64 R 15 HR 68 RBI 6/7 stealing

Projection: .320/.390/.560 120 R 30 HR 120 RBI 11/13 stealing

Every time you think this guy stops growing, he finds a way to get a little better. Utley is going to shatter career highs in almost every offensive statistic, and he’s playing great defense this year to boot. He’s on pace to break the previous ML record for doubles, but Magglio Ordonez is also on pace to do it, but he’s going to hit more than Utley. He’s going to see a big of a dip in his rates, but it’s tough for anyone to keep up what he did. He’s definitely an MVP candidate if the Phillies are in the race.

Shane Victorino


.277/.346/.429 55 R 11 HR 37 RBI 27/29 stealing

Projection: .275/.345/.440 95 R 20 HR 80 RBI 51/55 stealing

Shane gets a higher grade because he’s doing better than anyone anticipated. When he was hitting at the top of the lineup, you would’ve liked to see him get on base more, but if he’s going to keep hitting 5th and 6th in the lineup, his power is going to be a useful tool. Davey Lopes has done a great teaching Victorino how to become a better base runner and stealer, and his athletic ability is really paying off.

Aaron Rowand


.310/.385/.478 52 R 11 HR 43 RBI 5/6 stealing

Projection: .310/.380/.465 110 R 23 HR 90 RBI 9/11 stealing

In his contract year, Aaron Rowand brought his bat back to the table. He was hitting very well before his injury last year, so fans are left wondering what could’ve been. This year, healthy, Rowand’s having probably his second best season, only behind his breakout 2004 campaign. He comes from the frustrating Eric Byrnes school of defense, but his highlight catches are still fun to watch.

Ryan Howard


.256/.377/.555 39 R 21 HR 67 RBI 0/0 stealing, thankfully

Projection: .275/.400/.585 90 R 43 HR 130 RBI 0/0 stealing

Not exactly an outstanding follow up to a 2006 MVP season, but leg injuries have dampened Howard’s effectiveness. He’s been crushing the ball since coming off the DL, and that’s why he’s the first guy here that’ll see a significant jump in his numbers. He’s still struggling against breaking balls thrown from lefty pitchers, and hopefully he starts seeing the ball better soon.

Pat Burrell


.215/.378/.408 32 R 11 HR 37 RBI 0/0 stealing

Projection: .225/.385/.430 55 R 20 HR 75 RBI 0/0 stealing

Ah, Pat. If his at bats made you cringe last year, you probably vomit in the 2007 season. He’s obviously having a rough year. His strike zone judgment is questionable, and he has a tough time making contact sometimes. He’s got a lot of power. He works hard. He just can’t do it right now. It’s hard to see him play like this because he’s just as frustrated as everyone else, and Pat really is a nice guy. His contract is an abortion and you expect your highest paid player to do more than this.

Carlos Ruiz


.272/.329/.401 24 R 3 HR 29 RBI 2/3 stealing

Projection.275/.335/.420 50 R 5 HR 60 RBI 2/3 stealing

Ruiz has been a streaky hitter, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless. He stole back the catching job that should’ve rightfully been his to begin with, and he’s been a decent bat at the bottom of the lineup and decent behind the plate. His plate discipline could stand to be a bit better, and that would lead to him hitting some more pitches hard, but after the production we’ve been getting from C in recent years, I’ll take it.

Wes Helms


.267/.327/.382 14 R 3 HR 24 RBI 0/0 stealing

Projection: .275/.335/.420 35 R 13 HR 60 RBI 0/1 stealing

They say Wes has always been a second half player, but it would’ve been nice for him to show a pulse in the first 80 games. It took 150 some ABs for his first home run, and from a guy who signed a contract with the expectance of him to hit for power, he hasn’t done it. He should be a better player from here on out and earn some more starts at third, but he’s been a disappointment so far.

Abraham Nunez


.263/.317/.323 18 R 0 HR 13 RBI 1/1 stealing

Projection: .260/.315/.325 30 R 1 HR 20 RBI 1/2 stealing

He hasn’t been as bad as last year, but that’s like saying James Thrash didn’t drop as many passes as last year. At one point this season, he was hitting close to .300, but that lasted as long as Bill Barber’s tenure as coach of the Flyers. I guess his defense as good, but the defense doesn’t even have to be on the field when he bats. That’s not good. I’m not even sure why I’m projecting him to hit a home run. Maybe it’ll happen in the 10,000 loss.

Greg Dobbs


.288/.320/.529 25 R 7 HR 34 RBI 1/1 stealing

Projection: .290/.330/.520 15 HR 72 RBI 2/2 stealing

The Natural has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball. After being claimed off waivers from Seattle over the winter, Dobbs hit the cover off the ball in Clearwater and earned a roster spot. Because of other players’ struggles, he started getting more and more at bats, and now he’s showing what he can do. His fielding leaves something to be desired, but he’s a good bat to have in the lineup.

Rod Barajas


.213/.341/.389 15 R 4 HR 9 RBI 0/1 stealing (why was he attempting a steal?)

Projection: .211/.340/.387 16 R 4 HR 9 RBI 0/1 stealing

That’s right. I’m calling the DFA. He was supposed to provide the vaunted pop at the bottom of the lineup. He hasn’t. He was supposed to be a solid defensive catcher. He’s not. He was supposed to be a veteran leader. Strike three, you’re out, like many of your at bats. It’s a shame that fans have to deal with this clown and his tomfoolery behind the plate. I don’t know how a catcher that’s afraid to block the plate lasted more than two weeks in the majors.

Jayson Werth


.235/.333/.353 13 R 3 HR 10 RBI 0/1 stealing

Projection: .250/.345/.365 20 R 5 HR 18 RBI 1/2 stealing

It’s tough to evaluate Jayson because he came off a serious injury and he’s landed back on the DL with the same injury in the past couple weeks. He’s been okay as a pinch hitter and a decent spot starter in the OF. He had a rough time in the field in the Florida series, but he’s been better as of late. Hopefully he can come back healthy and contribute off the bench some more.

Michael Bourn


.256/.337/.329 17 R 0 HR 5 RBI 13/13 stealing

Projection: .265/.350/.350 40 R 1 HR 20 RBI 30/31 stealing

Hopefully Michael can keep getting some more playing time. After a strong spring, he was the last player on the 25 man roster when the team came up north. His outstanding speed is an annoyance to teams on the bases, and he’s an incredible in the outfield. You can’t teach the good eye he has, and whenever he moves up a level, he’s always been able to adjust. There’s a possibility of a trade.

Chris Coste


.364/.391/.500 2 R 1 HR 1 RBI 0/0 stealing

Projection: .315/.350/.490 20 R 4 HR 25 RBI 0/0 stealing

Everyone’s favorite utility player should be back for good this season. Each time he was called up, he showed the same bat that made him a fan favorite last year. He’s not as bad behind the plate as a lot of people want to have you believe, and we all know he can hit the ball. The rest of the team loves the guy and he can play, so there’s no reason for him to be in Ottawa or Reading anymore.

Cole Hamels


10-4 3.72 ERA 118.2 IP 1.21 WHIP 124 K 29 BB

Projection: 17-8 3.80 ERA 210 IP 1.22 WHIP 216 K 50 BB

There has been no sophomore slump for this All-Star. Hamels dominated right out of the chute in 2007, and despite some June progress, he’s given Phillies fans hope for the next decade. His command has been better this season, and his strikeouts are up. His one problem this year has been allowing the long ball, especially against right handed bats. Sometimes his change can get elevated, and it’s an easy pitch to hit. He’ll learn. He could have a cabinet full of Cy Youngs before his career is over.

Jamie Moyer


7-7 4.43 ERA 113.2 IP 1.30 WHIP 66 K 35 BB

Projection: 14-12 4.30 ERA 214 IP 1.25 WHIP 110 K 65 BB

Souderton’s own has done exactly what the Phillies expected when they brought him in. He’s not going to strike guys out, and he’s not going to throw complete game shutouts. He’s going to go out, give you 6 innings, keep you in the game and be a decent pitcher. Moyer’s only had a few rough starts, and otherwise, he’s kept the Phillies in games. Guys like Cole Hamels can learn a lot from Jamie.

Adam Eaton


8-5 5.69 ERA 104.1 IP 1.50 WHIP 67 K 48 BB

Projection: 13-12 5.50 ERA 195 IP 1.45 WHIP 100 K 90 BB

A lot of people said he was overpaid to begin with, and his first half has done nothing to dispel that notion. I don’t know how the Phillies have won with him on the hill so much. In Spring Training, if you would’ve told me that he would’ve been one of three starters to make all of his starts, I would’ve called you crazy. I think his record is going to catch up to his actual performance, and he’s going to be a problem coming down the stretch.

Jon Lieber


3-6 4.73 ERA 78 IP 1.45 WHIP 54 K 22 BB

Projection: Out for season

Lieber started off the year on the DL, and then came off the DL in the bullpen, due to our, at the time, surplus of starters. That seems like a long time ago. He stunk in the bullpen, so the Phillies swapped Jon and Brett Myers. He had a couple nice starts, and then besides his game in KC, things went downhill from there. Everything culminated in a foot injury that’s keeping him out for the rest of the season. His Phillies career is over.

Freddy Garcia


1-5 5.90 ERA 58 IP 1.60 WHIP 50 K 19 BB

Projection: 4-6 5.40 ERA 1.45 WHIP 80 IP 70 K 25 BB

The Phillies big offseason acquisition proved to be the biggest bust in baseball. He was hurt in spring training, came back hurt and didn’t tell anyone, and Charlie Manuel finally got him to admit his shoulder was sore. Garcia is about to begin a throwing program on his way back, but it’s difficult to tell when he’s going to come back. I think he’ll give us 4-5 starts down the stretch and be just a little better than before.

Ryan Madson


1-2 3.66 ERA 1 save 46.2 IP 1.31 WHIP 39 K 20 BB

Projection: 3-3 3.50 ERA 3 saves 88 IP 1.30 WHIP 70 K 37 BB

Madson is a mystery. He has three good pitches, but at times, wildness gets the best of him. Sometimes, he’ll walk guys at the least opportune times, and it hurts the team. Since the first series of the season, he hasn’t lost a game, so I guess that’s a positive. Otherwise, he’s been pretty reliable in middle relief, and he’s a durable guy that I’m glad we have in the pen.

Geoff Geary


1-2 5.31 ERA 39 IP 1.51 WHIP 24 K 16 BB

Projection: 1-2 5.15 ERA 50 IP 1.45 WHIP 30 K 20 BB

Geoff just got worn out. Although his peripherals indicate his ERA probably should’ve been a bit higher last year, he was a reliable guy out of the pen. Early in the season, he did a great job with inherited runners, but Manuel went to the well a few too many times. He’s a pretty good pitcher, but the wear on his arm is a bit too much. Hopefully he can get straightened out and come back soon, because he can contribute.

Brett Myers


1-2 5.50 ERA 6 saves 36 IP 1.47 WHIP 51 K 18 BB

Projection: 2-2 5.10 ERA 21 saves 56 IP 1.35 WHIP 70 K 25 BB

After moving from the rotation to the bullpen, a move that’s still very controversial among fans, Myers was a great closer before he got hurt. Now, we’re waiting and waiting for him to start rehab and come back. It’s been pushed back several times, so the optimism of Myers returning and being effective is dwindling. If he’s back and healthy, he’s going to be a huge part of the pen down the stretch.

Antonio Alfonseca


3-1 3.93 ERA 6 saves 34.1 IP 1.66 WHIP 12 K 12 BB

Projection: 3-3 4.50 ERA 10 saves 60 IP 1.60 WHIP 20 K 18 BB

A couple things make Antonio hard to project. His peripherals don’t match his ERA at all. That’s a problem. He’s injured. That’s been affecting his performance. Finally, he’s not even supposed to be the closer. At any rate, he’s been one of our better pitchers, and hopefully he can continue to keep the screw ups to a minimum. His sinker is nice in CBP.

Kyle Kendrick


3-0 4.40 ERA 30.2 IP 1.40 WHIP 10 K 10 BB

Projection: 7-5 4.50 ERA 100 IP 1.40 WHIP 40 K 25 BB

The Phillies have only lost one of Kendrick’s starts since making the jump from Reading. His moving fastball and breaking pitches make him a good fit for CBP. He gets into some tough jams with a lot of baserunners, but he doesn’t back down, and he finds a way out of trouble. He’s tough to project because he doesn’t have a great body of work so far, and if the Phillies trade for a starter and Garcia comes back, he’s the first to go.

Francisco Rosario


0-3 6.64 ERA 20.1 IP 1.97 WHIP 17 K 11 BB

Projection: Stats stay the same because I think his reign of terror is over.

Rosario was a reclamation project taken on by Pat Gillick very early in the season. He has an electric fastball that may or may not be close to the strike zone. He has no command of it and has even less command of his breaking ball, whatever it may be. He looked outstanding in some outings when guys couldn’t catch up to his fastball, but otherwise, he stunk. He’s on the DL where he should stay until next year.

Clay Condrey


3-0 7.36 ERA 18.1 IP 1.75 WHIP 12 K 8 BB

Projection: 3-0 7.30 ERA 20.1 IP 1.75 WHIP 13 K 9 BB

After being the luckiest man since Lou Gehrig last season, Condrey has been neither lucky nor good this year. He’s been up and down from Philly to Ottawa all year, and he’s cleared waivers every time. No one wants the guy. He allows too many runners and walks too many guys to be anything close to effective. He’s going to be a waste of a 40 man roster spot next year if he’s still around.

Mike Zagurski


1-0 4.70 ERA 15.1 IP 1.37 WHIP 14 K 7 BB

Projection: 2-1 4.40 ERA 30 IP 1.35 WHIP 30 K 12 BB

He started off in Clearwater this year like everyone else, but he was a Thresher, not a Phillie. After a promotion and a cup of coffee at Reading, Zags was up in the bigs. This large, jolly character has been a solid addition to the bullpen, but sometimes he struggles with his command. If he cuts down on the walks, he’s going to be an effective major league reliever, who will hopefully be able to get righties out as well.

Yoel Hernandez


0-0 5.02 ERA 14.1 IP 1.26 WHIP 13 K 1 BB

Projection: 1-0 4.65 ERA 20 IP 1.25 WHIP 18 K 3 BB

I wish all of our relievers would attended a Yo-el seminar on throwing strikes, but unfortunately, he was hit around a couple times and finds himself back at Ottawa. I expect to see him back at some point this year because his command really was pretty good when he was here, even if he was pitching over his head a little. He’ll probably be back in September.

Jose Mesa


0-1 4.73 ERA 13.1 IP 1.28 WHIP 4 K 6 BB

Projection: 0-2, 4.65 18 IP 1.30 WHIP 6 K 7 BB

All fans need to bite the bullet and admit he hasn’t been that bad since we got him. He walks too many guys, but he doesn’t give up hits, and he might even be a bit unlucky this year. I still think he’ll be one of the first to go when push comes to shove, and we won’t have to deal with him much longer. I still can’t believe we brought him back. We’re that desperate.

Brian Sanches


1-1 4.22 ERA 10.2 IP 1.31 WHIP 5 K 9 BB

Projection: 1-1 4.20 ERA 15 IP 1.30 WHIP 6 K 11 BB

I can’t imagine this guy gets that many more innings this year. It’s just not possible. He walks way too many guys, and you just can’t have that from a relief pitcher. Every outing is an audition for the role of Casey Fossum in some sick Broadway musical about the Rays. His K rate isn’t good at all. I can’t believe he was a former second round pick. It’s unfathomable.

Tom Gordon


1-1 4.82 ERA 5 saves 9.1 IP 1.71 WHIP 11 K 4 BB

Projection: 2-2 4.50 ERA 30 IP 1.50 WHIP 35 K 15 BB

It was a bad contract to begin with, and Gordon has really struggled since the All-Star game last year. His fastball has lost velocity and his curveball has no break. He’s not healthy, and the Phillies really hurt the team by allowing him to pitch in April and not letting him get healthy. Hopefully he can come back and contribute, but I have my doubts.

J.D. Durbin


0-2 7.56 ERA 8.1 IP 1.92 WHIP 8 K 5 BB

Projection: 0-2 7.50 ERA 10 IP 1.90 WHIP 9 K 6 BB

Here’s some more shit that won’t stick. He was bad in his start after he lost confidence in his curveball, which was actually being thrown for strikes. He lost command of everything, walked guys and he just hasn’t been very effective. I see the potential, but until he can reach it, he has to get his confidence back in the minors. I just don’t know if we can get him through waivers.

Zack Segovia


0-1 9.00 ERA 5 IP 1.80 WHIP 2 K 1 BB

Projection: We won’t see him again this year, for the good of the Phillies and his future.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen him, but you may wonder why I didn’t give him an F. Just refer back to a column way back in April, and you’ll get my thoughts on that game. Segovia has bombed in the minors since then. His already alarming K rates were down even more, and he’s walking guys. He’s back at Reading now, where hopefully he can get his career moving on the right path.

J.A. Happ


0-1 11.25 ERA 4 IP 2.25 WHIP 5 K 2 BB

Projection: 1-2 5.50 ERA 20 IP 2.00 WHIP 18 K 6 BB

He had an awful ML debut against the Mets, and he was sent back to Ottawa when we didn’t need him any longer. Next week, we will need him until we acquire another starter. He’s going to be a decent pitcher eventually, but he could use a little more seasoning. His sinker is going to be a good asset at CBP, if he’s not traded before he can settle in here.

Matt Smith


0-0 11.25 ERA 4 IP 3.75 WHIP 1 K 11 BB

Projection: Surgery.

After a solid month in which he got some key outs in key situations last year, Smith sucked in his brief stint this season. His pitches were all over the place and his walks were obviously very frequent. After doing poorly in the minors as well, it was discovered that he had elbow problems, and TJ surgery was imminent. He’ll wind up taking next year off, and maybe he can contribute in 09.

Fabio Castro


0-0 12.27 ERA 3.2 IP 2.46 WHIP 5 K 5 BB

Projection: 0-0 12.00 ERA 5 IP 2.30 WHIP 6 K 5 BB

The young lefty who sat at the end of the pen for much of last year didn’t make the cut when the team came up north. After Matt Smith failed, he joined the team and picked up where Smith left off. He allowed too many runners and too many runs to score. He has pretty good stuff, but he’s still really young and needs some refinement. He could be a decent pitcher in the future.

J.C. Romero


0-0 0.00 ERA 3 IP 1.67 WHIP 4 K 3 BB

Projection: 1-1 3.50 ERA 25 IP 1.50 WHIP 20 K 12 BB

Romero was a scrap heap pick up from the Red Sox. He had a good ERA in Boston, but he had a problem with walking guys and allowing base runners in general. With Mike Timlin coming off the DL and Boston having a deep bullpen in general, Romero was expendable. He’s been okay so far. He’s again allowing runners, but as long as they don’t come around to score, he’s as good as it gets in our bullpen.

Joe Bisenius


0-0 0.00 ERA 2 IP 2.00 WHIP 3 K 2 BB

Projection: 0-0 0.00 ERA 4 IP 1.50 WHIP 4 K 2 BB

He was on the roster until one of our pitchers got back, and he pitched two innings without messing up. That’s all we could ask for. He pitched well during the spring, and he was a candidate to earn a spot on the roster right out of Spring Training, but he didn’t. He got hurt and struggled a bit in the minors, but when September call ups roll around, he should get another shot.

Anderson Garcia


0-0 13.50 ERA .2 IP 3.00 WHIP 0 K 0 BB

Projection: Same numbers.

I don’t think we’ll see much of this conspicuous character. He’s a retread from some other organizations, and he isn’t good. We brought him in to stop the bleeding, and he only caused more of it. He’s not a very good pitcher, and hopefully he doesn’t even give us innings in September. The Phillies are in the race. We can’t afford to be running out Anderson Garcia’s.

There you have it. The first, and hopefully second half Phillies. There’s potential to make the playoffs there. We have the roll and the meat, we just need to bring in the cheese from somewhere to complete our proverbial cheese steak. Yeah, I went there.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Flyers Future- Boom or Bust?

Alright, that’s a bit extreme, but before the off-season began, the Flyers had a few different roads they could head down.

1) Develop a young nucleus that can compete now and in a few years. This would’ve been great. Some of the pieces are already there. The Flyers could add some more young talent through smart drafting with a couple pretty good picks, and then along the line, add a free agent or two to fill holes and complete your team; continue heading in the positive direction they started when Paul Holmgren took over.

2) Aggressively fill holes with free agents and trades to get back into the playoffs immediately. This would be taking the Bob Clarke approach: using veterans to make the team better now with no regard to even the very next year. This was when the Flyers had the worst farm system in the league. It allowed for some competitive teams, but now, with the salary cap, it’s hard to build a team with promise this way.

3) Blow everything up, scrap the rest of the decade and try again in 2010-11. This was pretty unrealistic from the get go, and completely unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for every organization, especially for one like the Flyers that has been historically pretty successful with a great fan base. This would involve putting a lot of faith in your scouting and development departments and hoping you can get a few new superstars.

A mix of one and two is the way to build a team. Obviously, as Paul Holmgren, you don’t want to take a while to get this team back on top. Ed Snider and the fans aren’t patient enough for that. You don’t need to take as long to do it as Pittsburgh did, because there are already a lot of young pieces in place. With Gagne, Carter, Umberger, Richards, Upshall, you’ve got a good mix of forwards. There’s some scoring potential, playmakers and even a little physical play. Defensively, Pitkanen, Coburn, Parent and even Kukkonen to an extent provide hope for the future. Throw in a couple draft picks and prospects and you’ve got a young core that’s only getting better.

Obviously, the Flyers sucked last year. Everything went wrong. Beyond the injuries, this team had a couple fatal flaws. They had no forecheck. They couldn’t sustain attacks, they couldn’t fire enough shots, and they couldn’t score goals. They were awful defensively. They weren’t physical, they were caught out of position and they couldn’t clear the puck. They couldn’t close out games. They couldn’t score on the power play. Who knows how it would’ve been if their penalty kill wasn’t so good?

From the time Bob Clarke “stepped down” to the end of the season, the Flyers took positive steps. They traded guys that weren’t contributing like Alexei Zhitnik and Kyle Calder, and picked up guys like Braydon Coburn, Lasse Kukkonen and Martin Biron. Holmgren had to suck it up, and admit that the team wasn’t good enough to win this season. He had to move some guys and set up for a better future when he had the chance.

The Peter Forsberg trade was the ultimate sign of going in a new direction. Holmgren traded away a great player, a great guy and a fan favorite for pieces for the future. The Flyers got a future 2nd pair defenseman, a winger who needed a change of scenery and a couple draft picks. This trade absolutely helped the future of the team, and there was still a chance Forsberg comes back in the offseason.

Fast forward to the offseason. John Stevens, Holmgren, Brett Hull, everyone sees the holes on the Flyers. They need a top line center to set up Gagne. They need to add a forward or two that can play physical in the offensive zone. Most importantly, they need to upgrade their defense.

Holmgren gets a head start on everyone when he trades for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell. I already talked about these guys, I’m not going to waste space and do it again. Refer back to a previous article of mine from June if you want my thoughts.

The draft comes and goes, and to a lot of people’s surprise, myself included, the #2 pick isn’t traded. With it, the Flyers select James Van Riemsdyk, a big winger from the US team. He’s attending New Hampshire in the fall, and he’ll probably play there a couple years, and then get into pro hockey. It’s tough to draft for need in the NHL draft, but when there’s a bunch of prospects equal to each other and no one really stands out, the Flyers opted for depth at a position lacking it in their system.

With only one huge need left to fill, Holmgren set his sights on the top three centers available, like about two dozen of the NHL GMs: Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Briere to the Flyers was logical; he fits a huge need and he has several friends on the team. Holmgren made it happen. Briere signed quickly for 8 years and 52 million.

Is the contract a bit long? Yeah. Is that a lot of money to commit to one guy? Certainly. But that’s how you improve your team through free agency. That’s how you get out of the gutter. The Flyers needed a marquee player to play with Gagne and get him the puck. Considering that Briere probably took less money to come here, the Flyers made a great move. It speaks volumes to your organization and commitment to winning when a top free agent is willing to leave a great team and take less money to play for you.

Are the 07-08 Flyers set at this point? No. You don’t want your GM to be done adjusting the team on the first day of free agency, but unfortunately, Holmgren does the first thing I disagree with: He trades Joni Pitkanen.

The Flyers acquired Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul for Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson. Don’t get me wrong. Smith will be able to contribute. He’s a tough guy that brings more physical play to the defense. If we can find a place for Lupul, he’ll be able to score some goals too. I don’t have a problem with the guys we’re getting themselves.

I don’t see how you can trade away Pitkanen. Yeah, I know he struggled. He had a bad +/-, he was out of position on defense, he didn’t take enough shots, people have a laundry list of complaints about him. The fact remains he’ll only be 24 when the season opens and he has great potential. He’s a big body that can skate well, and those kind of guys don’t grow on trees. Trading someone like him because of a bad year is very shortsighted.

Another thing that doesn’t make sense is the salary we’re taking on. We’re on the hook for Jason Smith for a couple more years before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. We’re on the hook for Joffrey Lupul for a couple more years before he becomes a restricted free agent. Both of these guys are making more than Pitkanen was scheduled to make this year. We’re getting older and taking on salary. These aren’t things you want to do as a retooling team, especially one with key players such as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and R.J. Umberger looking for big raises next year.

Take it for what it’s worth, but Eklund has a couple sources saying that Teemu Selanne might be interested in joining the Flyers. I know Eklund doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to a lot of hockey fans, but he hasn’t been that bad this offseason. If this is true, and Selanne signs with the Flyers, there’s going to be a lot of excitement for this team. Of course, it means moving someone like Knuble to make room for Selanne on the roster for both salary and ice time reasons, but it’s an on-ice upgrade, so it would be a nice thing to do. It was great of Knuble to re-sign here while he was injured when he could’ve just finished the year and walked, but sometimes, you have to throw away loyalty and improve the team.

Not that there wouldn’t be excitement if the Flyers are Selanne-less going into the season. They made some moves and they’re clearly out of the basement. There’s some potential for the Flyers this year. They should be back in the playoffs, where they belong. That’s the bottom line.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


If the President commits a crime, he’s held accountable by Congress, through the impeachment process.

If I’m stocking shelves as a grocery store and I put in a pint of vanilla ice cream with the tomatoes, I have to be accountable for my mistake.

If things go wrong, a leader has to be accountable for what happened. Accountability exists everywhere. Everyone has to be accountable for their decisions. If a person screws up, it’s there responsibility and they have to own up to it. Sports are no exception.

Everyone in every sports organization has accountability. The peanut vendor has to sell his peanuts. The assistant to the traveling secretary has to book hotels on road trips. The grounds crew has to take care of the field every day. Most importantly, to the fans anyway, the players have to play. The players have to do their job.

When an athlete is drafted and pushed through the minor leagues (if applicable), and gets playing time, he’s expected to play his sport competently. Goalies have to stop the puck. Power forwards need to rebound. Catchers need to block home plate (wait, what?) Quarterbacks need to throw touchdowns.

“For who? For what?”

This immortal quote in Eagles history from Ricky Watters embodies the athlete that doesn’t feel accountable for his actions. Watters ended up having a good career for the Eagles, but he’ll be more known for short arming a pass in his first game. There are plenty of guys like him that don’t for responsible for wrongdoings. Rod Barajas couldn’t care less that he can’t block the plate, as long as he gets his paycheck at the end of the week.

On the other hand, there are the leaders. The guys that put it all on the line every game, and if something doesn’t go their way, they take the blame. No shrugging it off or pointing fingers. These are the Donovan McNabb’s, The Jamie Moyer’s. Hell, even Jon Lieber owns up when he makes a bad start, in which the defense and bats completely fail around him. Teams should strive to get more of these players.

Teams can practice accountability too. The Phillies do a little bit, and Pat Gillick is certainly better than Ed Wade with accountability. Gone are the days of Mike Williams getting opportunity after opportunity and doing poorly in each one. Gone are the days of Doug Glanville batting leadoff.

In are the days of Ryan Franklin getting cut. In are the days of Alex Gonzalez being forced into retirement. In are the days of Rod Barajas being… well, Pat’s almost there.

The Devil Rays are a team learning accountability. Last year, guys like Travis Lee, Tomas Perez and Travis Harper had multiple chances to prove they aren’t major league players, but it took until the end of the season for Tampa to finally say, “You know what? We can’t have this.” That was the end of Lee’s career.

In 2007, more changes are being made. Jae Seo and Casey Fossum were kicked out of the rotation. Ben Zobrist was optioned because he couldn’t draw a walk. Before, these performances would’ve gone largely unnoticed and ignored. Now, these guys are getting the playing time at the level of baseball they deserve.

That’s a concept in the same vein of accountability: a player gets what they deserve. This was something Ed Wade failed on. It didn’t matter how many doubles Chase Utley hit or how many homers Ryan Howard smashed. These guys were going to have their hands held through the system, and it ended up costing both of these stars a year or two in their careers. Hell, Phillies fans are lucky Howard’s even on the team.

Teams can improve the atmosphere of their ballclub by practicing these. Fans are appreciative when a hot prospect is called up or when a struggling player loses playing time or gets optioned. Not that teams should be letting the fans make the decisions, but it makes everyone that much more excited and interested in the team. Teams win more games when they use this balls to the wall style and don’t wait too long to cut their losses.

So we’ve gone over accountability in sports and the real world. However, something’s missing…

… Where is it for MLB umpires?

I can’t say that all sports officials aren’t accountable for their jobs, because David Stern disciplined an out of line official when he challenged Tim Duncan to a fight. I applaud Stern for what he did. Joey Crawford was an instigator that Sunday afternoon, and he has been his whole officiating career. He wants to make himself a part of the game, when he should merely make sure the game moves along smoothly and fairly.

Bud Selig needs to take a page from Stern’s book. Just this page, though. We don’t need Selig to try and change the way baseballs are made or institute a dress code policy. What he does need to do is sit down with his umpires and say, “Guys, you gotta do a better job. You have to bear down, focus and make the right calls, or there are going to be consequences.”

In the past month, the Phillies have had two incidents that stand out among others. Against the Tigers, Phillies starter Adam Eaton and a host of relievers were absolutely squeezed, but the Tigers’ staff had a strike zone as big as Joey Eischen. I’m going to keep the bellyaching to a minimum, but the strike zone was simply not consistent. The walks weren’t there, but in constant 2-0, 3-1 counts, a pitcher can’t throw the pitches he wants to. The Phillies ended up losing, with Catcher Carlos Ruiz, Charlie Manuel and Steve Smith getting ejected along the way.

In the 8th inning, one inning after the bullpen exploded, Carlos Ruiz loses his cool. He starts a discussion with umpire Bill Welke, has a few choice words for him and gets ejected. Charlie Manuel predictably (and correctly) comes out to stand up for his player. Steve Smith, in the smartest thing he’s done all year, has seen what’s been taking place, and he has some words for the crew as well.

The point is umpires have to do their damn job! I don’t care if the strike zone is big or small, but it has to be the same thing for both teams. If a pitch six inches off the plate is a strike for Justin Verlander, then it better be for Yoel Hernandez. If a pitch down the middle is a ball for Cole Hamels, then it better be for Todd Jones.

Carlos Ruiz was suspended a game, Steve Smith three. That’s completely unfair. These guys hung in there for 7 innings against a great starter and a great team, and after taking another punch in the face, they couldn’t take it anymore.

I can’t say if the Phillies would’ve won the game if Welke was a better umpire, but take a look at this one:

On Tuesday night, the Phillies nursed a one run lead. It’s impressive they were leading this game in the first place, after walking batter after batter and showing an inability to get guys out. In the 9th with one out, Carlos Lee was batting against Antonio Alfonseca with the bases loaded. Ground ball to short. Rollins flips to Utley and that’s one. Throw to Howard and that’ll end the ball… wait, no. He was safe?

Howard clearly caught the ball a step before Carlos Lee crossed the bag. However, for whatever reason, Lance Barksdale, the first base umpire, called him safe. This isn’t a judgement call. It’s not like the strike zone, which I guess can be open to interpretation. This is black and white! He was out, or he was safe! You can’t mess that up, it’s inexcusable!

The Phillies ended up losing the game. You can say that maybe they shouldn’t have put so many guys on base, or you could point to other opportunities the Phillies didn’t capitalize on earlier, but the fact is, Lance Barksdale blew the game. He flat out messed up. I can conclusively say that he cost us the game. The last out was recorded. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. The Phillies had a win. He took it away.

What does Barksdale do? He apologizes. He talks to Charlie Manuel, and says he’s sorry for making the wrong call. Well, you can stuff your sorrys in a sack, mister. That doesn’t do us any good. That’s not going to give us the win back. We can’t go back and allow the Phillies to slap hands in the middle of the diamond to congratulate each other on the victory.

Where’s the discipline? Nowhere to be seen. Both guys were back on the field the very next day. For those scoring at home, they displayed gross incompetence at their job, and they were allowed to continue with no punishment.

If I make a mistake on the job, I get in trouble. If Dhani Jones misses too many tackles, he gets cut. If MLB Umpires blow a call, they get a pat on the back. Something isn’t right. Sorry, but the world could stand to lose the second coming of Don Derkinger umpiring first base.

And by the way, thanks for the kind words left on an earlier entry. I’m glad to see someone’s reading.