Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why I'm afraid of the Chicago Bears

I return to blogging with this game day entry.

Around the internet this week, there are a lot of people calling this game in the Eagles’ favor. The Bears aren’t very good on the road, but this game is going to be a challenge. I don’t see a lopsided game like some are predicting.

The Bears defense hasn’t been very good so far, but it’s still going to present difficulties for the Eagles offense. They run a defense similar to the fabled Tampa 2 scheme. This means that, for most of the game, the Chicago corners are going to be playing physical with our receivers and jamming them at the line. The Eagles have struggled with this so far in 2007. Their record when the defense doesn’t employ press coverage: 2-0. Their record when they do? 0-3.

It throws off the timing of the passing game. If the receivers aren’t quick or strong enough to get off the line, McNabb is going to take his three or five step drops and not find anyone open. That will make McNabb hold onto the ball too long, and he ends up on his back like we’ve seen throughout the year. Chicago has a great pass rush, so the line is going to have to hold up today.

If the Cover 2 has one weakness in pass defense, it’s how the middle of the defense is open. When the safeties are splitting the field deep and the corners are staying around the flats, the linebackers are relied on to cover just about the entire field. Ask any Tight End at any level of football, and they will tell you they love the Cover 2. It leaves seams and windows open in the defense for them to roam around and make plays. Unfortunately, the Eagles can’t take advantage of this weakness. LJ Smith is out again, and Matt Schobel and Brent Celek haven’t come close to matching Smith’s production so far.

If the Eagles are going to score a lot of points, they need to run the ball. Everyone says that every week, but it’s especially true today. Chicago’s run defense has been awful, and they’re really banged up. The middle of the defense hasn’t been strong for a couple years now, mostly because Tommie Harris spends a lot of time on the sideline and they have little depth behind him. They need to find a way to get as many as 35 carries for Westbrook, Buckhalter and maybe even Tony Hunt.

The Bears have one weapon on offense and special teams. I’m not worried about Brian Griese. He’s going to make his throws, but he’ll always make his share of mistakes. Cedric Benson hasn’t played up to his draft status and contract so far in his career. Muhammad’s physical, but the Eagles can handle him. Berrian’s fast, but the Eagles can handle him. Tight Ends haven’t had success against the Eagles all year, so I think Gocong can handle Olsen. They need to find a way to stop Devin Hester.

He’s obviously a weapon in the return game. This doesn’t bode well for the Eagles, whose coverage units have been mediocre at best in recent years. Gone are the days of someone racing down the field and making a huge hit inside the 20. The kick cover unit just makes you hope the other team doesn’t run one back. They need to do whatever it takes to contain the return game, whether it be punting it out of bounds every time or popping a kickoff up to an up man.

However, last week, Hester showed that he can make plays on offense. He caught an 80+ yard TD to tie up the game against Minnesota. I’m sure the Bears know the Eagles’ corners play sides, so if Lito Sheppard isn’t completely healthy and isn’t playing every snap on defense, I’m sure they’ll try and get Hester lined up against William James. That could be bad news for the Eagles, so hopefully Sheppard can go the whole game.

After all that, I still think the Eagles will win. They’re back at home where they had a little offensive success against Detroit, so hopefully they can duplicate it, or at least score more than 16 points. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this will be an easy game because Chicago’s record is bad though.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A look to 08

After that quick end to the Phillies’ postseason chase, it’s time to look towards 2008. I’m not going to mention any specific potential free agent or trade targets, and I’m only going to look at what we have on the payroll for 2008, how much money there will be to spend and some areas the Phillies need to improve on. For players that are under team control, whether they be in arbitration or not, I’ll try and estimate what they’ll be paid, even though that’ll be pretty tough.

Players that will be under contract


Carlos Ruiz: $450,000 (second year of team control-) He emerged as a very good defensive catcher in his rookie season, and it didn’t take him long to dominate the catcher platoon. Although his hitting didn’t remain hot throughout the season, he’s not that bad of an 8 hole hitter.

Chris Coste: $450,000 (second year of team control-) He didn’t hit well down the stretch, but I still think he’s a decent backup catcher. His defense isn’t very good, but as a bench player, he has some value because he’s not a bad pinch hitter. However, I could see him getting lost in a numbers game, and he still has a couple of option years left.


1B Ryan Howard: $7.5 million (first year of arbitration-) It’s possible that he’s locked up long term and this number could be a little less in the first year of a new deal, but he’s going to get his dough this offseason. Although he set the strikeout record, he was still a huge power threat in the middle of the lineup. Miguel Cabrera got 7.4 in his first year of arbitration last offseason, and I think Howard’s 2006 season will carry a lot of weight.

2B Chase Utley: $7.5 million (second year of long-term contract-) Utley’s salary takes a big jump from 07 to 08, but he deserves every penny. I think he would be MVP if he didn’t break his hand. After 06, I didn’t think there was any way the guy could get better. He did. Hopefully he surprises me again.

SS Jimmy Rollins: $7 million (third year of long-term contract-) After predicting the Phillies would topple the Mets in spring, Jimmy was not only proven correct, he might be awarded with the MVP award after a career season. He does so much for this team, and his contract is really looking like a bargain now.

3B Greg Dobbs: $475,000 (third year of team control-) Dobbs was a nice surprise for the Phillies in 2007. He was a waiver claim from Seattle, killed the ball in spring and forced the Phillies to eventually add him to the starting lineup. He can’t hit lefties and he doesn’t play defense very well, but at the very least, he can be a part of a platoon at several different positions.

3B Wes Helms: $2.15 million (final year of FA contract-) Helms was a huge disappointment in 2007. He was expected to strengthen the bottom of the Phillies lineup and provide some much needed power from 3B. He did neither, and eventually lost just about all of his ABs. He’s a relatively cheap bench player, so I’m not going to complain about the 2 mil.


Pat Burrell: $14 million (final year of long-term contract-) After a miserable May and June which saw Pat lose a lot of starts, he became one of the best players in baseball in the second half. He ended up with 30 home runs and really did a good job picking up the slack when Utley got hurt. Some people want him traded now that he may have a bit of value after his hot finish, and I disagree. There’s only one year left on his deal and it’s tough to replace production like we got from him.

Michael Bourn: $450,000 (second year of team control-) He provided a nice spark off the bench with his game changing speed. For a few starts in June when Burrell was sat down, he collected a few hits and played good defense. You’d love to keep someone as fast as he is, but there are some teams that will be calling for him, and he could be used as trade bait to improve the pitching.

Shane Victorino: $475,000 (third year of team control-) Victorino really developed in 2007. This was his first full year of starting and he emerged as a great defender and a great base runner. He could end up having 20 home run power and if he becomes a bit more patient, he could be dangerous at the top of a lineup. As is the case with Michael Bourn, his tools could garner interest from several teams and could be used to improve pitching. However, with Aaron Rowand likely on the move, he could take over in CF for the Phillies.

Jayson Werth: $2.5 million (first year of arbitration-) Werth struggled early on in the season, but he got hot after returning from a wrist injury and did a great job of filling in after Victorino got hurt. He’s great against left handed pitchers so he could be valuable as either a platoon player or a good bat off the bench.


Cole Hamels: $500,000 (second year of team control, likely to become a super two after next year-) Cole has clearly became the ace of the staff, and had he not gotten hurt, he could’ve potentially won 20 games. He had a bit of a down period in the middle months of the season, but overall, he had a breakout year and is developing into one of the best starters in the league.

Brett Myers: $8.5 million (second year of long-term contract-) What’s Brett doing here, you might ask? I’m penciling him back into the rotation. I just think it makes sense. You’re paying him starter’s money; he’s had success as a starter; you have a huge hole at the top of the rotation. You have to do it. In this free agent market, it’s going to be easier and cheaper to find a good reliever than it will be to find a top of the line starter like Brett.

Kyle Kendrick: $400,000 (first year of team control-) The Phillies and their fans were pleasantly surprised with what they got from Kyle after a June call up. No one expected him to stick, and he made some good starts in big games down the stretch. His peripherals indicate that he might not be as good next year, but he always seemed to get out of jams.

Adam Eaton, or at the very least, his contract: 7.635 million (second year of FA contract-) I don’t know if he’s going to pitch here in 2008, but I’m going to lean towards “yes” because no one except Dave Littlefield would ever take his contract. Littlefield being out of a job, the Phillies will be stuck with him for the duration. There’s no way he can be this bad again next year, right?

Jamie Moyer: 5.5 million (final year of contract extension-) Jamie was pretty inconsistent in 2007, but he had two great starts to finish the year, and I hope we haven’t seen the last of him. He can generally throw enough innings to keep you in the game, and he’s durable, which is huge at the end of the rotation. His influence over younger guys is irreplaceable.


Tom Gordon: 5.5 million (final year of free agent contract-) He was hurt for much of the year and in April he might’ve cost the team some games, but he was big in late September. He cannot be the closer next year, but as a set up man, I’m fine with one more year of Gordon.

Ryan Madson: 2.5 million (second year of arbitration-) Losing Mad Dog to a shoulder injury really depleted the pen, and he could’ve made a world of difference. He was consistent in a 7th inning role and has been one of the team’s best relievers the past few years. Hopefully he can come back healthy and contribute again in 2008.

Geoff Geary: 1.1 million (second year of arbitration-) I’m not positive on whether or not this is Geary’s second year, but I’ll go ahead and say yes. He got hit hard in the early and middle parts of the year, but he came back to the majors and really gave them some key innings late in the year. He’ll probably come back in a middle relief role next year.

Julio Mateo: 1.5 million (team option-) At this price, I see no reason why they wouldn’t pick up the option. He was a mediocre pitcher in Seattle, but in a bullpen that prominently featured Jose Mesa and Antonio Alfonseca, we could use mediocre in those middle innings. We didn’t see him in 2007, but he should get a shot to make the team out of camp in March.


C Rod Barajas: $500,000- It’s either this or pay him $5 million. I don’t think so.

3B Abraham Nunez: $175,000- I like his glove, but it doesn’t make up for how bad he is at the plate.

Jim Thome

DH Jim Thome: 5.5 million- I like the guy, but I’m sick of him being on the payroll.

That all totals up to $82,260,000. Of course, my team control and arbitration estimates could be and probably will be way off, but they’re just there to give us an idea on how much we’re spending. With that in mind, let’s look at some of our free agents and the contracts I think they’ll sign:

Free Agents

CF Aaron Rowand: 4 years, 48 million- This is a lot of cash for a guy who’s coming off a career year. I think I’m going to have to pass on him, as much as I like the guy. Money needs to be spent on pitching, and we just might not have that much cash to go around this offseason.

RP J.C. Romero: 4 years, 16 million- Game 3 aside, Romero was a shutdown reliever after joining the Phillies. He absolutely has to be re-signed. He’s effective against both right and left handed batters and despite the walks, most people were confident with him coming in the game every time.

2B Tadahito Iguchi: 2 years, 8 million- If he’s willing to come back and learn third, with no guarantee for at bats, you almost have to pull the trigger on this. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will be. He’s a good contact hitter who plays a solid all around game. He’s a great guy to have off the bench, but he’s going to want to play.

Freddy Garcia: 1 year, 9 million- Not all of that will be guaranteed, but a team’s going to be taking a chance on his health. I think he’ll end up in the AL again so he doesn’t have to hit. He wasn’t happy about being taken out because his AB was coming up, and he prefers the management style of the American League.

Jon Lieber: 2 years, 16 million- He was out of shape again, and it might’ve cost him a decent contract. However, with teams in dire need of pitching, someone’s going to spend this much on him. He probably wouldn’t be a bad guy to have at the back of the rotation, but at that price, I’m going to have to decline.

I’d like to bring back Iguchi and Romero, so we’ll add 8 million onto my payroll projection, putting the Phillies at $92,260,000. The owners like to stay around the $95 million mark, but with this year’s great attendance and additional playoff revenue, let’s say they’ll bump it up to $100 million.

I think the Phillies might look to do a few things in the offseason. Some questions can be answered internally, but some free agents or trades will have to be added or made.

They might choose to add a third catcher again. Carlos Ruiz has gotten to the point where he doesn’t need a veteran, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Jason Jaramillo gets the nod. He’s a good defensive catcher who wouldn’t be bad starting 20-30 games.

If they buy out Nunez and Iguchi doesn’t come back, they’ll probably want a defensive specialist infielder. I’m now high on Jason Donald, but he only played at High A Clearwater in 2007. He plays very good defense and could move all around the infield, but he might not be ready for the majors. Defensive infielders can be had through free agency.

If Rowand walks, they’ll want to add another OF. This guy could be a left handed bat to platoon with Werth in right, or maybe a righty to pinch hit off the bench against a left handed pitcher. That sentence did not answer any of your questions.

If they trade Bourn or Victorino, another new OF will be needed. In this case, I think the answer could come from the system in Javon Moran. Since they’d be trading one of their speedy guys, they’ll want another athlete to replace them. I don’t want to see Chris Roberson ever again.

Do they want to add another starter? Even if Myers goes back to the rotation, I think they’ll try. You obviously can’t count on Eaton, so if you can improve the back end, it would be nice. Unfortunately, cheap free agent solutions probably won’t be out there, so Gillick’s going to have to get something done with a trade.

If Myers does in fact go back to starting, you need a closer. I don’t have confidence in Gordon doing it. Otherwise, middle relief is fine. There are a couple closer options out there, both in free agency and trades. There are some teams with some pretty deep bullpens that could part with one of their relievers to upgrade elsewhere.

So after making the playoffs in 2007, there should be reason for optimism in 2008. Although we already have a lot of money committed, there aren’t that many holes to fill. With an increased payroll and hopefully smarter spending, this team could be right back in the thick of things next year.