Phillies 2013 Success Hinges on Halladay, Hamels and Lee

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Here are the facts about the 2013 Phillies:

  • They’re old
  • They’re expensive
  • Their window is closing
  • Their system is gutted of prospects
  • Their success is contingent on their top three starting pitchers

With all the ridicule raining down on Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. for his acquisitions of players who are frequent targets of attacks from the SABR-obsessed in Delmon Young and Michael Young (no relation that we know of), the reality of the situation dictates that the Phillies go all in with players who are the equivalent of duct tape.

It’s the epitome of arrogance to think that the Phillies aren’t aware of the limitations of both Youngs; that they don’t know Michael Young’s defense at third base is poor and, at age 36, he’s coming off the worst season of his career; that they aren’t cognizant of the baggage the Delmon Young carries on and off the field when they signed him for 1-year and $750,000. But what were they supposed to do?

They needed a third baseman and their options were Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis hasn’t distinguished himself on and off the field over the past several seasons and Michael Young was cheaper (the Rangers are paying $10 million of his $16 million salary for 2013).

They needed another outfielder and they were left with the dregs of the free agent market like the limited Scott Hairston, who’s not any better than what they’ve already got; signing Michael Bourn, giving up a draft pick, paying Scott Boras’s extortion-like fees, and having two speed outfielders with Bourn and Ben Revere; trading for Vernon Wells; or signing Delmon Young. Delmon Young hits home runs in the post-season and that’s where the Phillies are planning (praying) to be in October.

This isn’t about a narrative of the Phillies being clueless and signing/trading for bad or limited players. It’s about working with what they have. Amaro isn’t stupid and he tried the strategy of building for the now and building for the future in December of 2009 when he dealt Cliff Lee for prospects and replaced him with Roy Halladay for other prospects.

Amaro, savaged for that decision, reversed course at mid-season 2010 when he traded for Roy Oswalt and then did a total backflip when he re-signed Lee as a free agent. The team has completely neglected the draft for what appear to be financial reasons, leading to the high-profile and angry departure of former scouting director Chuck LaMar.

The decision was tacitly made in the summer of 2010 that the Phillies were going to try and win with the group they had for as long as they could and accept the likelihood of a long rebuilding process once the stars Halladay, Lee, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were past their sell-by date. The signings made this winter are not designed to be lauded or viewed as savvy. They’re patchwork in the hopes that they’ll get something useful from the Youngs; that Utley will come back healthy in his contract year; that Howard is better after a lost season due to his Achilles tendon woes.

As for the open secret that the Phillies no longer think much of Domonic Brown to the level that they’re unwilling to give him a fulltime job and are handing right field to Delmon Young, this too is tied in with the Phillies gutted farm system. Perhaps it was an overvaluation of the young players the Phillies had or it was a frailty in development, but none of the players they’ve traded in recent years to acquire veterans—Jonathan Singleton, Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco—have done anything in the big leagues yet. They wouldn’t have helped the Phillies of 2009-2012 much, if at all. Outsiders can look at Brown’s tools and his minor league numbers and wonder why the Phillies are so reluctant to give him a chance, but in his big league chances, he’s appeared limited and overmatched. There’s a similarity to Cameron Maybin in Brown that his assessments are off-the-charts until he’s actually with the team and they see him every day, then they realize that he’s plainly and simply not that good. The Phillies know him better than anyone and if they don’t think he can play every day, then perhaps he can’t play every day.

The 2012 Phillies finished at 81-81. Even with their offensive ineptitude for most of the season, with a healthy Halladay would they have been a .500 team or would they have been at around 90 wins and in contention for a Wild Card?

This is the last gasp for this group. Manager Charlie Manuel just turned 69 and is in the final year of his contract. Within the next three years, they’re going to be rebuilding with a new manager and young players. In the near term, it’s down to the big three pitchers.

The ages and wear on the tires for Halladay and Lee are legitimate concerns for 2013 as is the shoulder issue that Hamels had last season, but regardless of how the offense performs, the Phillies season hinges on how those aces pitch. If they don’t pitch well, the team won’t win. If they do pitch well, the team will be good for three out of every five days with Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen.

The Youngs, Revere, Howard, Utley, Rollins—none of it matters if they hit at all. It’s the starting pitchers that will determine the Phillies’ fate. Everything else is just conversation.

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Indians Get Ubaldo Jimenez And Go For The Deep Strike

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

In trading star pitchers CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee at the trading deadlines of 2008 and 2009, the Indians acquired 1st round draft picks Zach Jackson and Matt LaPorta; they also acquired Michael Brantley (7th round pick), Jason Knapp (2nd round), Carlos Carrasco (a touted amateur free agent), Jason Donald (3rd round) and Lou Marson (3rd round).

In retrospect, they would’ve been better off keeping both Lee and Sabathia and taking the compensatory draft picks when they left as free agents.

But they didn’t know that then.

It’s short-sighted to let a few deals that didn’t work out in a club’s favor influence future moves so heavily, but it gives some background to the Indians thinking—given that experience—when they acquired Ubaldo Jimenez (pending a physical) from the Rockies for Alex White, Joe Gardner, Matt McBride and Drew Pomeranz.

White and Pomeranz were 1st round picks; McBride a 2nd round pick; Gardner a 3rd round pick.

The Indians gave up a lot, but they’ve seen first hand what can happen with “blue chip” prospects and building for a “future” that may never come. They have a right to be hesitant. A natural response would be that all players are different; all deals are different; and that experience shouldn’t factor so heavily into trading for a young pitcher in Jimenez who hasn’t pitched particularly well since a brilliant start to his 2010 season and whose availability should give some pause to the pursuing teams.

But the questioning glances stem from paranoid rumor-mongering (contingent on that physical). Apart from unattributed speculation, there haven’t been any concrete statements about Jimenez being in poor health or whining about his contract.

Sometimes there’s no smoking gun. Sometimes players are traded because they’re traded and both sides feel it’s the right thing to do.

The Indians are in a terrible division and in a pennant race; they needed a starter and got one in Jimenez days after bolstering their lineup with the underrated Kosuke Fukudome.

Jimenez is not a rental as Sabathia was; he’s not going to be able to demand over $100 million in a year-and-a-half as Lee was; he’s going to be with the Indians through 2013. The players they gave up weren’t going to help them now, if at all; the Indians are supposedly still trying to improve via trade.

The Rockies are fading in the NL West race, shed some salary and brought back a few cheap, young players.

The Indians are going for the deep strike—something I’m an advocate of when the opportunity presents itself.

Go for it.

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The Clock Is Ticking On The Indians

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If you think the Indians are going to get the continued pitching excellence from the starting rotation and especially the bullpen all season long, you can forget it.

Fausto Carmona has proven he can be trusted for the most part; Josh Tomlin looks like the real deal; I’m not sold on Justin Masterson or Carlos Carrasco. The future is positive, but right now they’re still finding their way in the big leagues.

Their offense has been far and away beyond expectations; they’re leading the league in runs scored based on a couple of big outbursts like the 19-run shellacking of the Royals last week. Even if they slow down a bit, once Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana start hitting; Grady Sizemore gets back; and if Travis Hafner stays healthy, they’ll score enough to win a few games.

But it comes down to the pitching and their schedule.

The upcoming schedule is a nightmare with the Reds, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees and Tigers up to mid-June.

They might be back at .500 by then.

With the hot start giving them some cushion, the Indians might finish at or close to .500 this season, but reality will strike and they’ll fade from playoff contention by August. Or sooner.

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Sith Lord Saturday 2.26.2011

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

You’ve heard of Sunday Lightning, well then welcome to Sith Lord Saturday—to be utilized when there’s a load of stuff to address on a Saturday.

  • The Mets, Madoff, MLB and money:

The Mets are starting to look like something out of The Producers.

Is it possible that the annual screw-ups are a matter of design? That the way the club is spiraling into the depths—first on the field and now off—is part of some grand scheme hatched by an amoral puppeteer?

No. It’s not me.

I say it’s probably not a plot. They mean well but aren’t that clever.

The latest in the Mets-Bernie Madoff saga is that the club received what amounts to being a “bridge loan” for liquidity in November; the loan, $25 million, was provided by MLB itself and was not revealed until yesterday—NY Times Story.

This story is ever-evolving and doesn’t have a clear end in sight in time or result. I’m not convinced that the Wilpons won’t be able to wriggle their way out of it; much depends, of course, on how long the lawsuit drags and whether or not it can be settled; the easy answer—that I too have been saying—is that they’ll have no choice but to sell the team.

Just yesterday I suggested that the reluctance to sell now is due, in part, to not wanting to have the profit that would accompany such a full blown sale left sitting there for the plaintiffs to take immediately.

But the more I think about it, the less appropriate is for a still-developing story to be analyzed on the fly.

People have criticized Mike Francesa for his attempts to clarify the saga by speaking to experts and taking calls from people with knowledge of the law, stocks and banking. After the first few days of the usual Francesa self-proclaimed expertise, he showed deference and admitted that he doesn’t know much about this as he tried to sift through the information he was getting.

That’s the point.

We only have bits and pieces of information and there are very few people with the breadth of knowledge and experience to interpret what’s happening to come to a reasonable and well-thought-out conclusion.

It’s all chatter now. Small, isolated jagged shards of information that, left alone, don’t tell the whole tale. But that’s all we’re getting.

It’s irresponsible for people to be predicting a sale; a bankruptcy; or vindication when few know or comprehend the scope of the situation.

We won’t know until we know. It has to play itself out completely.

  • In Brown we do not trust:

I’m not sure why the Phillies didn’t take a chance on Manny Ramirez.

They clearly don’t trust Domonic Brown as their everyday right fielder and are looking for a competent, “just-in-case” veteran who can play right. They looked into Jeff Francoeur before he signed with the Royals; and have asked the Nationals about Mike Morse.

Morse would be a fine pickup for the Phillies—a Jayson Werth-type gamble of a player who’s never gotten a chance—if the Nats are dealing him.

I doubt they will. The Nats offense is weak and I sense that Werth will be playing a lot of center this season with Morse in right to boost the offense.

The Phillies have a tendency to make absolutely sure their in-house products are ready before letting them play full time in the big leagues. They did so with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and J.A. Happ—all three of whom could’ve been productive big leaguers before they got the chance.

In fairness to the Howard situation, his way was blocked by Jim Thome and they had nowhere to put him.

The others were held back until their mid-20s.

You can’t argue with the Phillies development apparatus, but Brown is the one player they refused to trade in the flurry of deals for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, et, al. They can’t give him a legitimate chance to play?

One could argue that the decision to hold said players back is financial; that they want to get full production from them in their prime years before having to pay them big money. You could blow the financial sanity argument away by looking at the lunatic contract they gave to Howard to preclude his free agency.

I can’t escape the fact that the Phillies are looking for a right field bat; that Manny signed for nothing with the Rays; Charlie Manuel was a father-figure to Manny; in the Phillies offense, he’d be an ancillary piece; and in the ballpark, he’d hit his homers.

They put up with Werth’s attitude, could Manny have been much worse?

  • Slow and steady editing; thinking before hitting publish:

Some people shouldn’t indulge in stream-of-consciousness reactions before commenting.

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated is one such person.

He appears to have deleted the tweets, but I know he said them because I saw them and commented on them as they happened. It’s not a big deal, but Heyman said something to the tune of the Indians were making nice under-the-radar signings to improve.

Chad Durbin and Orlando Cabrera might be nice signings for a team like the Yankees as veterans to bolster to the current roster, but the Indians?

At risk of betraying the mysteryyyy of my upcoming book, the signings of Durbin and Cabrera are likely to spur the Indians from a record of 67-95 to a record of….67-95.

The Indians could be slightly better than that if a vast array of “ifs” come to pass.

If Travis Hafner stays healthy…

If Grady Sizemore recovers from micro-fracture surgery…

If Carlos Santana develops into the Victor Martinez-type hitter he’s shown minor league evidence of being…

If Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson show anything as starters behind Fausto Carmona

If Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta hit…

If, if, if…

These tweets were following the criticism of Luis Castillo for not showing up to Mets camp early; then Heyman made snide comments about being “sick” of Castillo and that the club should release him and sign David Eckstein.

Thanks for the input and idiocy after: A) Castillo wasn’t required to arrive early; and B) the player’s brother was having surgery.

There are clever analytical responses that are inherent to credibility—this is required for an outlet like Twitter.

Heyman’s missing it.

There’s being witty without being mean.

He’s missing that too.

Not only is he weak (he blocked me on said apparatus known as Twitter—literally for nothing other than pointing out that he’s got no sense of humor); and he’s somewhat vicious in a wimpy, passive-aggressive sort of way.

It’s not a positive trait to have especially if he can dish it out and not take it.