MLB Trade Deadline: Why Didn’t The Phillies Sell?

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The easy answer you’ll find on Twitter and in sabermetric circles is that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is, at best, delusional. At worst, they’ll say he’s an idiot. Neither is true.

The Phillies have lost 11 of 12 and are imploding. They’re old, expensive and have few prospects on the horizon. Amaro doesn’t think they’re contenders—he can’t—and he’s not stupid. He’s made some contractual mistakes, but like anything else unless there’s inside information as to whether these decisions were made by Amaro or through nudging on the part of his bosses, it’s unfair to place the entire onus of the burgeoning disaster on him. It’s just easier for the sabermetric crowd and Twitter experts to blame the GM and pronounce with all the courage in the world what “they’d” do. But there’s an underlying reality with the Phillies that has to be examined before calling the failure to sell a mistake.

  • The demands for Phillies’ players were steep

Teams that called about Cliff Lee were reportedly told that the trading club would have to absorb Lee’s $62.5 million contract (plus whatever’s left for this year) and give up several, significant, close-to-ready big league prospects. The number of teams that had the money, the prospects and the willingness to do this was nonexistent and Amaro knew it. In other words he was saying, “I’ll trade him if I get a metric ton for him.” It’s like being a happily married man and saying, “I’ll cheat if Megan Fox hits on me.” Lotsa luck.

  • No trade clauses and other issues

Apart from Lee, the other players who the Phillies could conceivably have had on the block were either hurt (Ryan Howard), have a no-trade clause they said they wouldn’t waive (Jimmy Rollins, Michael Young), have been awful and obnoxious (Jonathan Papelbon) or they want to keep (Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz).

  • The farm system is barren

Amaro assistant Chuck LaMar resigned in a huff last year because of the lack of attention paid to the farm system and Mike Arbuckle left for the Royals when he didn’t get the GM job to replace Pat Gillick. The Phillies development apparatus is in flux in large part because they either neglected it to pay for the big league product or traded it away to add the likes of Roy Oswalt, Lee, Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence, Ben Revere and Young. Even when they dumped a player like Pence, they didn’t recoup what they traded to get him.

They’ve got a few pieces like the recently recalled Cody Asche and Phillippe Aumont, but there’s not a Mike Trout in their farm system—a player to build around. The decision to focus on the majors and allocate the vast amount of resources there was a conscious one. When Amaro basically exchanged Lee for Halladay after the 2009 season, his intention was to achieve cost-certainty and maintain some semblance of a farm system. By mid-season 2010, when the Phillies needed a pitcher, Amaro made a decision that not many GMs would have when he acknowledged his mistake and traded for Oswalt. He went all-in after 2010 be reacquiring Lee as a free agent and with subsequent decisions including paying a lot of money for Papelbon and Mike Adams.

Do the math: the farm directors who helped put the club together are gone; they gave up draft picks to sign free agents; and they traded away their top youngsters for veterans. Having homegrown talent ready to replace their stars immediately is impossible.

  • A housecleaning would gut the major league roster and attendance

As of now Phillies fans are angry and as always aren’t shy about showing it. Some targets, like Papelbon, have asked for it in both his performance and his comments. If the Phillies traded away every possible veteran asset, the fans would stop caring entirely especially with the football season coming quickly. Citizens Bank Park would be a ghost town in September and few players are going to want to join them this winter knowing that a rebuild is in progress.

For a club that is only now starting to again pay attention to the draft and has few prospects ready to make a dent in an increasingly difficult division, it’s better to tread water, keep the veterans and hope for a renaissance with what’s there while simultaneously trying to restock the minor league system.

  • 2014’s roster will be similar to 2013’s with a new manager

As much as the fans and critics will hate it, the Phillies aren’t going to have room to do much this winter. No one will take Papelbon unless the Phillies are taking a similarly bad contract in return and then they’ll need to find themselves a replacement closer. Rollins won’t allow himself to be traded. Lee is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. Cole Hamels is under contract. Howard can’t possibly be as bad as he’s been in recent years. Halladay has a contract option that is likely to be declined, but don’t be surprised to see him sign a contract to stay and re-prove himself.

Of course these are all qualifications and prayers. The odds of it coming to pass are slim, but this is still a more salable marketing strategy than blowing it up. The one thing that’s essentially fait accompli is that manager Charlie Manuel will be out. The decision as to whether to replace him with Ryne Sandberg or a veteran manager will be made, but it’s safe to say that Manuel’s time as Phillies’ manager is over. As far as changes, you’ll see a tweak here and there, but the general core is going to be the same.

In short, they have no real options other than to hope they players they have will rebound and make a run at one of the extra playoff spots in 2014 because many of their contracts are immovable and they can’t convince their grouchy fans to accept a new five-year plan to rebuild while still coming to the park.  The Phillies didn’t make a dramatic series of trades at the deadline because of these factors. It may not be popular, but it’s the way it is and the cost of putting together the type of team that won five straight division titles and was a preseason World Series favorite for a half-decade. It’s the circle of baseball and the Phillies’ circle is closing with a crash that they can’t avoid or prevent. The only thing they can do is limit the damage in its aftermath.

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Dealing With The Closer Issue

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Complaining about closers is like complaining about the weather: everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. The difference between the weather and closers is that something can be done about closers.

Amid all the talk about “what to do” with struggling relievers Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney and the references of clubs who have found unheralded veterans to take over as their closer like the Cardinals with Edward Mujica and the Pirates with Jason Grilli, no one is addressing the fundamental problems with needing to have an “established” closer. Here they are and what to do about them.

Veteran relievers like to know their roles.

Managers like Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, Billy Martin and Earl Weaver had the ability to tell their players that their “role” is to pitch when they tell them to pitch. Nowadays even managers who are relatively entrenched in their jobs like Joe Maddon have to have the players on their side to succeed. The Rays are a different story because they’re not paying any of their relievers big money and can interchange them if need be, but they don’t because Maddon doesn’t operate that way until it’s absolutely necessary.

Other clubs don’t have that luxury. They don’t want to upset the applecart and cause a domino effect of people not knowing when they’re going to pitch; not knowing if a pitcher can mentally handle the role of pitching the ninth inning; and don’t want to hear the whining and deal with the aftermath if there’s not someone established to replace the closer who’s having an issue. Rodney was only the Rays’ closer last season because Kyle Farnsworth (a foundling who in 2011 had a career year similar to Rodney in 2012) got hurt.

Until managers have the backing of the front office and have a group of relievers who are just happy to have the job in the big leagues, there’s no escaping the reality of having to placate the players to keep clubhouse harmony.

Stop paying for mediocrity in a replaceable role.

The Phillies and Yankees are paying big money for their closers Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera, but these are the elite at the position. Other clubs who have overpaid for closers include the Dodgers with Brandon League, the Red Sox with money and traded players to get Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, the Nationals with Rafael Soriano, and the Marlins who paid a chunk of Heath Bell’s salary to get him out of the clubhouse.

Bell has taken over for the injured J.J. Putz with the Diamondbacks and pitched well. The Cubs, in desperation, replaced both Carlos Marmol ($9.8 million in 2013) and Kyuji Fujikawa (guaranteed $9.5 million through 2014) with Kevin Gregg. The same Kevin Gregg who was in spring training with the Dodgers and released, signed by the Cubs—for whom he struggled as their closer when they were trying to contend in 2009—as a veteran insurance policy just in case. “Just in case” happened and Gregg has gone unscored upon and saved 6 games in 14 appearances.

As long as teams are paying closers big money, closers will have to stay in the role far longer than performance would dictate in an effort to justify the contract. It’s a vicious circle that teams fall into when they overpay for “established” closers. When the paying stops, so too will the necessity to keep pitching them.

Find a manager who can be flexible.

A manager stops thinking when it gets to the ninth inning by shutting off the logical remnants of his brain to put his closer into the game. If it’s Rivera or Papelbon, this is fine. If it’s anyone else, perhaps it would be wiser to use a lefty specialist if the situation calls for it. If Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are hitting back-to-back and a club has Randy Choate in its bullpen, would it make sense to use a righty whether it’s the ninth inning and “his” inning or not?

Maddon is flexible in his thinking and has the support of the front office to remove Rodney from the role if need be. One option that hasn’t been discussed for the Rays is minor league starter Chris Archer to take over as closer in the second half of the season. With the Rays, anything is possible. With other teams, they not only don’t want to exacerbate the problem by shuffling the entire deck, but the manager is going to panic if he doesn’t have his “ninth inning guy” to close. Even a veteran manager like Jim Leyland isn’t immune to it and a pitcher the front office didn’t want back—Jose Valverde—is now closing again because their handpicked choice Bruce Rondon couldn’t seize his spring training opportunity and the “closer by committee” was on the way to giving Leyland a heart attack, a nervous breakdown or both.

The solution.

There is no solution right now. Until teams make the conscious decision to stop paying relievers upwards of $10 million, there will constantly be the “established” closer. It’s a fundamental fact of business that if there isn’t any money in a job, fewer people who expect to make a lot of money and have the capability to make a lot of money in another position are going to want to take it. Finding replaceable arms who can be used wherever and whenever they’re told to pitch, ignore the save stat, and placed in a situation to be successful instead of how it’s done now will eliminate the need to pay for the ninth inning arm and take all the negative side effects that go along with it. Games will still get blown in the late innings, but at least it won’t be as expensive and will probably happen with an equal frequency. It’s evolution. And evolution doesn’t happen overnight, if it happens at all.

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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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The Rays-Royals Trade Part I—The Truth

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The Rays traded RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis and a player to be named later to the Royals for OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard.

Let’s look at the trade from the standpoint of the Rays, the Royals and the players involved.

For the Rays

Trading away name players—specifically pitchers—for packages of minor leaguers has become the template for the Rays under their current regime. They did it with Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson. As much as their GM Andrew Friedman is worshipped for his guts and willingness to make a deal a day too early rather than a day too late, the get-back on those trades has been retrospectively mediocre. In those trades, they got a lot of stuff, the most notable up to now is Matthew Joyce, whom they received for Jackson. Apart from that, they’ve yet to show a big bang from any of those deals and mostly got salary relief.

Friedman stockpiles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not turn him into Branch Rickey and prepare his bust for the Hall of Fame just yet.

In this trade, the Rays cleared Shields’s $9 million for 2013. He has a club option for $12 million in 2014 with a $1 million buyout. They also got rid of Davis and his $7.6 million guarantee through 2014. (He has club options through 2017.) They received Myers, one of baseball’s top hitting prospects who, ironically, looks like a clone of Evan Longoria at the plate; they received Ororizzi, Montgomery and Leonard. Of those last three, Odorizzi is the only one close to big league ready.

Friedman maximized what he was going to get for Shields and the youngsters will certainly get a chance to play in the big leagues without the pressure and expectations to perform they would’ve been subjected to elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean they’ll become stars.

Considering the Rays’ financial constraints and strategies of bolstering the farm system by trading their veterans, this is a great move for them.

For the Royals

In 2012, the Royals were expected to take the next step (sort of like the Rays did in 2008) and have all their accumulated top draft picks vault them into contention or, at least, respectability. It didn’t work.

At some point a team has to try and win.

The Royals saw what happened when they acquired a scatterarmed and talented lefty, Jonathan Sanchez, before the 2012 season and he was about as bad as a big league pitcher can possibly be before getting hurt. Montgomery’s mechanics are heinous with a stiff front leg and across-his-body delivery; he has a power fastball with zero command and a curveball he’s yet to bridle. The young starting pitchers the Royals had developed have either faltered with inconsistency (Luke Hochevar) or gotten hurt (Danny Duffy).

They also saw a top young prospect Eric Hosmer experience a sophomore slump and exhibit why it’s not as easy as making the gradual progression with massive minor league production translating into big league stardom. The struggles of Hosmer clearly had an affect on how they viewed Myers and when he was going to help them.

With Shields, they get a proven 200+ inning arm that they have for the next two years. With Davis, they’re getting a potential starter who can also give them 200+ innings and he’s signed through 2017. We know what Shields is; Davis was very good as a reliever in 2012 and his overall numbers in two years as a starter have been mediocre. The Royals had a pitcher who’d struggled as a starter, was moved to the bullpen, pitched very well and was shifted back to the rotation. His name was Zack Greinke. Davis doesn’t have Greinke’s stuff, but his bloated ERAs from 2010 and 2011 stemmed more from individual games in which he got blasted. He’s a control pitcher who, if he doesn’t have his location, gets shelled. A pitcher like that can be a useful starter.

These are not rentals and they’re not desperation acquisitions for a GM, Dayton Moore, under fire. We’re already hearing from the armchair experts on social media making references to “cost certainty,” “team control,” and “upside.” They’re words that sound good as a reason to criticize. Most couldn’t tell you whether Myers bats righty or lefty. He’s a name to them. A hot name because he’s put up big numbers, but just a name.

It’s silly to think that the Royals don’t know what they have in their prospects, especially when the same critics make a great show of crediting Moore’s assistant Mike Arbuckle for his shrewd drafting that netted the Phillies Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and others. But in the interests of furthering the agenda to discredit the trade from the Royals’ standpoint, it suits the argument to suggest Arbuckle doesn’t know how to assess Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery and Leonard.

Did the Royals make a trade to get better immediately and take the heat off of the GM? Possibly. Or it could be that they’ve seen firsthand the ups and downs of developing and playing their own youngsters, know that there are no guarantees, looked at a winnable AL Central, a weakened AL East and West and extra playoff spots available and decided to go for it.

2013 is Moore’s seventh year on the job. It does him no good to leave all these youngsters for his successor to look “brilliant” similar to the way in which Friedman was assisted by the posse of draft picks the Rays accumulated under Chuck LaMar because they were so terrible for so long. The list of players—B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann, Davis, Shields, Jake McGee, Carl Crawford and Jeremy Hellickson—were there when Friedman took over as GM. That’s not diminishing the great work Friedman’s done. It’s fact.

Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler make a solid, young, and controllable foundation to score enough runs to win if they pitch.

And this has nothing to do with Jeff Francoeur. He’s a convenient buzzword designed to invite vitriol and indicate ineptitude.

Now with Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, they can pitch.

When Friedman or Billy Beane makes a big trade, it’s “bold,” when Moore does, it’s “desperation.”

I don’t see it that way. The Rays did what they do with a freedom that other clubs don’t have to do it; the Royals made themselves better. It’s not the “heist” that it’s being framed as to credit Friedman while torching Moore. Both clubs get what they needed in the immediate future by making this trade.

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The Red Sox Are Different, But Are They Better?

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Calling Shane Victorino a “fourth outfielder” as Keith Law did yesterday on Twitter is flat out wrong and obnoxious in its wrongness, done so for affect. He’s not a fourth outfielder. He’s an everyday player who provides speed, pop, good defense, versatility, and toughness. His subpar 2012 season was an aberration because he was placed in an unfamiliar situation of having to bat either third or fifth for the Phillies due to injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley; he was singing for his free agent supper; and was traded to the Dodgers in July, adding more uncertainty. Statistics can’t quantify the mental adjustment it takes for a player to adapt to different circumstances, responsibilities, and a new surrounding cast. Victorino is best-suited to bat second and presumably that’s where he’ll hit for the Red Sox.

Does this add up to him being worth $39 million over three years to the Red Sox? (Some reports have it at $37.5 million.) They obviously think so. It’s a lot of money for Victorino and, as of right now in spite of the flurry of acquisitions and subtractions the Red Sox have made since mid-season 2012, they’re not much better than the .500 team they were before they cleared the decks in August. Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and David Ross turn them into a more likable team than the dour and infighting group they were with Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, but as for being “better”? No.

As has been proven repeatedly—and exemplified by the 2011 Red Sox—hot stove championships mean nothing. Nor do accolades or criticisms for an unfinished product. The Red Sox aren’t done shopping because they can’t be done shopping. What they’re doing now is abandoning the fractious and dysfunctional with what appears to be a cohesive statement of purpose and conscious decision to return to the grinding, tough-it-out Red Sox of a decade ago.

But it’s not a decade ago and the players they’re acquiring with GM Ben Cherington calling the shots, along with a new manager in John Farrell aren’t going to bring back those days when it was possible to write the Red Sox and Yankees down in ink for a playoff appearance and eventual collision and be safe in the knowledge that it wasn’t probable, but likely.

They still need pitching in the starting rotation and bullpen—both of which are woefully short; they have to come to a decision of what they’re going to do with Jacoby Ellsbury and their stash of extra catchers; and they need to do more than simply go in the opposite direction from collecting the biggest names on the market to “feisty, dirt-caked” tough guys before thinking they’re “back”.

Rather than spend their money spaced out over 5-7 years as they did with Carl Crawford and John Lackey—neither of whom were fits for Boston—the Red Sox decided to go shorter term and big money for Napoli and Victorino. Instead of dumping their prospects for Gonzalez, they’re holding their prospects and signing veterans. They might trade Ellsbury for pitching and bring back another tough as nails player and one of the few who acquitted himself professionally as a Red Sox in 2012, Cody Ross. The Victorino addition is a signal that they’re willing to move Ellsbury to get some pitching because if they weren’t looking for someone who could seamlessly shift to center field, they could’ve signed Nick Swisher, presumably for that same amount of money.

The short-term/heavy pay deals are less onerous and intimidating than the huge numbers they gave to Crawford and Gonzalez. If they don’t work, the players will be gone by 2016 and the club will have had time to rebuild the farm system while maintaining a semblance of competitiveness in the big leagues.

Competitiveness isn’t what the Red Sox and their fans are accustomed to. They’re used to a World Series contender each and every year. With the additions they’ve made, they’re certainly better than they were, and they’re less loathsome; but Farrell has proven nothing as a manager and his main attribute to the Red Sox was that he was there during the glory years and the players don’t hate him as they did with Bobby Valentine.

This team is okay. Not great. Not bad. Not in desperate straits like the Yankees.

Before jumping back on the Red Sox bandwagon, however, it has to be understood that “okay,” “likable,” “professional,” and “organized,” are not going to cut it as stand alone attributes. The team is different. That doesn’t make it good.

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The Blue Jays Managerial Search and the ESPN Disease

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Jim Riggleman isn’t a bad idea as manager for the Blue Jays, but he hasn’t heard from them. You’d never know that unless you followed the story after what Buster Olney said on Twitter:

The Jays are close to announcing their next manager. Two of the final names they discussed were Jim Tracy and Jim Riggleman.

There’s sufficient ambiguity in this tweet to explain it away after Riggleman’s own agent said there had been no contact between the Blue Jays and Riggleman. He also said that Riggleman would be very interested in the job. It could be said that the name was kicked around by the Blue Jays; that the two sentences are unconnected; that Olney has a source telling him this; or that ESPN told Olney to say something provocative regarding the Blue Jays while they’re a hot topic to accumulate some webhits to ESPN.com.

I like Olney. He’s got a thick skin; he can take a joke without freaking out in a “how dare you question me?!?” tantrum; and he writes his columns and reports without vindictiveness or self-promotion, but the ESPN Disease pops up on occasions in which he and other mostly respectable reporters toss something out there that they know is, at best, a twisted exaggeration. One would assume that they’re enacting an editorial order. Similar to a few years ago when there was a “rumor” from somewhere that the Cardinals and Phillies had discussed a trade of Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard, there was a brief uproar with factions arguing and screaming about the mere concept; with Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. livid at having to answer questions as to the possibility of a story he knew nothing about. Olney was a guest on ESPN News at its height and the host asked him something to the tune of, “How close is this to happening?” as if, barring a zombie apocalypse, it could’ve happened. And I can picture a drooling zombie looking at Pujols and Howard and grunting, “Nooooooo!!!!” in between guttural growls and throaty sputters. Even zombies know better.

The ESPN employees go along with the program, entertain the nonsense, talk about Tim Tebow, and “report” this stuff because it’s their job, but what they miss is how this style of journalism diminishes quality people and their credibility when they’re forced to engage in cheap attention grabs.

As for the Blue Jays managerial search, the two names that Olney dropped—Tracy and Riggleman—would actually be good choices for that situation. The Blue Jays need to hire an experienced manager and, with the collection of talent they now have, it doesn’t have to be someone with the resume of Joe Torre for it to work. It just has to be someone who knows the terrain; who has managed in the big leagues; who won’t tolerate the same terrible fundamentals as former manager John Farrell did; can deal with the press; and will be respected by the veterans.

Riggleman has the baggage from his resignation from the Nationals hovering over him, but he’s always implied that there’s more to the story than we know. If he’s going to be interviewed for a big league managerial job, he’d better have a ready and reasonable explanation why he walked away from the Nationals amid the perception that he was throwing a tantrum because the club refused to exercise his 2012 option.

Tracy, despite his critics, is a good manager who got a bad rap with the poor endings in his prior stops managing the Dodgers, Pirates, and Rockies. He has all the attributes I mentioned above, the players have always liked him and played hard for him, he’s sound strategically, and is good with the press.

If I were making the decision, before anything else, I’d call Tony LaRussa and see if he’s bored with retirement and if he is, would Dave Duncan like to come along as well? They already reportedly inquired with Bobby Cox and Cox said no, so why not LaRussa? It’s a tailor made situation for him with a rabid fanbase and the new challenge back in the American League. He might be competitively recharged after a year away. He surely seemed to enjoy himself at the All-Star Game.

The Blue Jays cannot make the same mistake they did with Farrell. In addition to all the other problems Farrell had in his two seasons, his eyes were cast back toward Boston with a lusty gaze and the players didn’t think he knew what he was doing. They were right. He didn’t. This Blue Jays team can win, but they’re more likely to fail if they hire a cheap, convenient alternative to manage the club rather than someone who’s got the bona fides to maximize their talent.

That could be Riggleman; it could be Tracy; it could be LaRussa; or it could be someone else—it had better be someone who has the known ability to do the job unlike the last manager GM Alex Anthopoulos hired, Farrell. After so many years of expectations and waiting and hoping, 2013 is the Blue Jays chance and they can’t afford to blow it, especially on an unknown field boss.

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Figures of Attendance, Part III—the Genius Can’t Conjure Fans to Come to the Park

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When discussing attendance and its connectivity or lack of connectivity to publicity and results, how can we ignore the Athletics? They’re still pining for a new park in San Jose with the Giants an example of how a new, fan friendly park can help attendance. Would a new ballpark in Oakland help the A’s replicate what the Giants have done? No. The A’s have rarely drawn fans when they were on top of the world and not; when they were the subject of creative non-fiction like Moneyball to turn their GM Billy Beane into a deity or when they were awful for years and living off their GM’s reputation of being “smarter than the average bear”. A new ballpark in Oakland isn’t going to fix that. It’s a football town and the current population doesn’t have the money to pay for the seats no matter how reasonably priced some of them are. The A’s of the late-1980s were an anomaly because they were the highest-paid team in baseball despite not having the resources to be that if the owner ran the club as a business. The Haas family saw the team as a local and public trust; they were willing to take a loss financially to win on the field and they did. When the landscape changed, so did the attendance and payroll. When the Beane-A’s were in their heyday and winning 100 games in 2003, they still wound up 8th in attendance. The 2012 A’s have a good, young team and are 12th in the AL in attendance. That won’t change unless they get the new park in San Jose, something the Giants are understandably resisting.

The Giants did it right for their market. They build around Barry Bonds when he was the home run king and putting up cartoon numbers to go along with his cartoon muscles; they let it decline to 90 losses when they were making the transition from “build around Barry” to “build around pitching” and they’re drawing near the top of the NL again.

Much like the simplistic nature of the argument from stat people who suggest that every team should be run a certain way, it’s a logistical impossibility for the Yankees or Red Sox to allow their clubs to degenerate to 100+ losses and maintain fan attendance, advertising, concession sales and other ancillary moneymakers as the Rays, Astros and Athletics have. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to maintain a winning club while preparing for the future with a deep farm system when he basically exchanged Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and prospects in a frenzied series of deals. But it didn’t work and fan anger was palpable enough, team struggles so evident that the plan was abandoned in the middle of the 2010 season when he traded for Roy Oswalt and re-signed Lee as a free agent after the 2010 season. He signed his veteran players like Ryan Howard to ludicrous contracts; imported Jonathan Papelbon; ignored the draft and gutted the system. The team has come apart and the Phillies’ oft-mentioned sellout streak has ended.

No kidding.

The Phillies’ fans are quick to jump on and off the bandwagon and boo everything that goes by while on it. The team is 10 games under .500 and has conceded the season with their trades of Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and by again listening to offers on Lee. Of course the fans are going to find other things to do.

With these clubs, it’s win and they’ll come back. Simple.

The Rays are allowed to run their team as they do because of the lack of interest on the part of the fans; because the media isn’t hounding them to do something; because they’re not maintaining attendance—there’s no attendance to begin with.

The Astros are in total flux right now and are tantamount to an expansion team preparing to play in the American League in 2013; they’re on the way to losing 110 games and GM Jeff Luhnow has cleared the decks of every veteran on his roster. He’s getting a pass because the team was so rancid when he arrived and there’s a new owner in place and they’re as bad as a team gets right now. He’s new and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Read Part II here.

Read Part I here.

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August Waivers Rodeo—National League

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Yesterday I looked at American League players who are going to get through waivers. Now let’s look at the National League.

Jayson Werth, OF—Washington Nationals

Werth has a full no-trade clause and is due around $100 million from now through 2017. He’s just returned from a wrist injury. By playoff time, the Nationals will benefit from his presence; he’s got playoff experience from his Phillies’ days and has had success while there.

Jason Bay, LF—New York Mets

He might as well take over as GM for any club that claimed him because that job would be open immediately upon his arrival. He might be traded somewhere in an exchange of contracts.

Andres Torres, CF—New York Mets

Someone might take him for a low-level prospect. He’s under team control for 2013, but the Mets are going to non-tender him if he’s still with the organization.

Jose Reyes, SS—Miami Marlins

There’s $96 million on his deal from 2013-2016. Given the way the Marlins operate, it’s safe to say that another team is going to be paying it off sooner or later. Maybe sooner. Maybe later. Who knows? No one’s claiming him. He’s not a player around whom to build.

Mark Buehrle, LHP—Miami Marlins

The contract: $11 million in 2013; $18 million in 2014; $19 million in 2015.

With the new ballpark and the pressure on the front office, the Marlins have to put forth the pretense of being competitive in 2013 and Buehrle can still pitch while not costing much for his skills in 2013.

Given the history of the Marlins under Jeffrey Loria, what did the agents of these players—Reyes and Buehrle—think when they got these backloaded deals? That this time there wouldn’t be a sell-off? This time they were going to keep the team together, win or lose? Reyes and Buehrle wanted their guaranteed money and they got it. They might be playing in space by the time the contracts bloat, but so what? They’re getting paid.

Carlos Lee, 1B/OF—Miami Marlins

He has a no-trade clause to 14 teams and isn’t afraid to exercise it. Someone will take him in late August as a righty bat off the bench hoping that a change wakes up his power bat. He’s a free agent at the end of the season.

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Miami Marlins

The Cubs are paying most of his salary, but he’s been dreadful. The Marlins will end up just releasing him. Barring seven straight no-hitters, Zambrano’s contract kicker for 2013 (activated if he’s in the top 4 of the NL Cy Young voting this season) is not going to be activated. In that event, he also has to be judged “healthy” at the end of this season. Whether that’s physically and mentally is unknown. He has a no-trade clause, but why wouldn’t he waive it?

Ricky Nolasco, RHP—Miami Marlins

He’s signed for 2013 at $11.5 million. Claim him and they’ll give him to you.

Heath Bell, RHP—Miami Marlins

HA!!!!

John Buck, C—Miami Marlins

He’s batting under .200 and hits the occasional homer. He’s owed $6 million for 2013 and throws well enough from behind the plate.

Greg Dobbs, 3B/OF/PH—Miami Marlins

He signed a 2-year, $3 million contract for 2012-2013 and has pop off the bench. Someone like the Tigers would take him for the stretch run.

Ryan Howard, 1B—Philadelphia Phillies

$105 million on his deal through 2016 and is batting under .200 since returning from Achilles tendon surgery.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

He might be worth a claim since he’s signed through 2013 at $15 million. His knees are a major issue, but he can hit.

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

$13 million guaranteed annually through 2015 with a $13 million vesting option. It would take a lot of courage for a team to claim him and for the Phillies to simply let him go. They have designs on contending in 2013, so they won’t dump Papelbon.

Jimmy Rollins, SS—Philadelphia Phillies

Take him and watch him plummet.

Placido Polanco, INF—Philadelphia Phillies

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and is hurt. If he’s healthy by late-August, someone might take him if the Phillies pay his buyout.

Kyle Kendrick, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

He’s set to make $4.5 million in 2013 and isn’t very good.

Clint Barmes, SS—Pittsburgh Pirates

He’s hitting .211 and is signed for 2013 at $5.5 million.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

K-Rod will get through and be traded for nothing in late August. Perhaps being in a pennant race as a set-up man will get him back in form—possibly with the Angels or Rangers.

Randy Wolf, LHP—Milwaukee Brewers

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and could help a contending club as a back-of-the-rotation veteran.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B—Milwaukee Brewers

He has a guaranteed $30 million coming to him beginning next season and no one’s taking that.

Alfonso Soriano, LF—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs will have to pay his salary of $36 million in 2013-2014 or take a similar contract, but he still has power and someone would take/exchange him.

Carlos Marmol, RHP—Chicago Cubs

A $9.8 million salary for 2013 makes him essentially unmovable unless the Cubs pay it. He still strikes people out, so someone would probably take him for free.

Barry Zito, LHP—San Francisco Giants

There’s $27 million remaining on his contract in 2013 with the buyout.

Juan Uribe, INF—Los Angeles Dodgers

What a disaster. And he’s got $8 million on his deal for 2013.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Colorado Rockies

He’s an effective reliever, but has $4.5 million due him in 2013 with a buyout for 2014. The Rockies probably won’t move him whether he’s claimed or not.

Ramon Hernandez, C—Colorado Rockies

He’s a backup making $3.2 million in 2013.

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2012 Trade Deadline Analysis—Philadelphia Phillies

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The Phillies are kindasorta cleaning house.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is Omar Minaya with a championship ring, a better grasp of the English language and without the scouting skills and likability. It’s easy to say that because Amaro was the GM when the Phillies made 3 or their 5 straight playoff appearances that he’s the one responsible for putting the team together, but what deals did he make that were laudable? He spent money and took the veteran players—Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay—other teams were trying to unload while doling out ridiculous contracts on the likes of Ryan Howard. The people who built the Phillies during this run were Pat Gillick, Mike Arbuckle, Chuck LaMar and, while his name is reviled by Phillies’ fans, Ed Wade.

Now Amaro is starting a retool. It’s not a rebuild. He’s trying to change on the fly and that is very hard to do for the better GMs around baseball. Amaro is competent and willing to accept mistakes and adjust accordingly, but that’s doesn’t make him one of the “better” GMs around baseball.

They may not be done dealing because all of their stars are going to get through waivers in August because of their contracts.

OF Shane Victorino was traded to the Dodgers for RHP Ethan Martin and RHP Josh Lindblom. Victorino is a pending free agent and one would assume that he’s going to play leftfield for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp is the alpha-dog in LA and he’s not having his position usurped. Victorino steals bases, racks up the extra base hits and has pop. He’s also accustomed to pressure.

Martin was a 1st round pick (15th overall) of the Dodgers in 2008; he’s been a starter in the minors and has a very simple, gentle motion that bodes well for his durability. He can be wild, but doesn’t allow many homers.

Lindblom throws hard, but gives up a lot of home runs for a reliever, 9 in 47.2 innings this season. He’s effective against righties and lefties and can function as a set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon.

In the other big trade made by Amaro, he sent Pence to the Giants for OF Nate Schierholtz, RHP Seth Rosin and C Tommy Joseph.

Pence is going to get a massive raise in arbitration this winter and is a free agent after 2013. Since the Phillies 2012 season is shot and they’re going to try and contend in 2013, holding onto Pence made little sense (rhyme!!!) if they weren’t willing to sign him long-term and the return on this trade was more than what they’d get for him in the winter or at the 2013 deadline.

Schierholtz is a journeyman outfielder with occasional power. He’s good defensively and with the Phillies so short-handed, he’s going to get a chance to play semi-regularly. The Phillies have to see what they have in Domonic Brown for an extended period; he’s going to be 25 next month and has done everything he can possibly do at Triple A. Either he’s a 4-A player, won’t make it with the Phillies and needs a change of scenery, or will be an important part of the Phillies 2013 lineup. What use he is to the Phillies has to be determined once and for all.

Rosin is a big (6’5” 250) righty reliever in A ball; he racks up the strikeouts and has been closing. He reminds me of Brad Penny. Joseph is a 21-year-old catcher and former 2nd round draft pick in 2009; he has power and a strong caught stealing percentage behind the plate.

The Phillies took steps to rejuvenate a flagging farm system, but with the commitments they still have to veteran players Rollins, Howard, Chase Utley and Halladay, it’s not clear whether these minor league players they acquired are part of the Phillies’ future or will be auctioned for other veterans to replace the ones they just traded. With Amaro, either is possible.

The worst part of all this is that we’ll no longer see Pence’s acting turn looking like Corky from Life Goes On in pushing bread.

But, as they say, life goes on.

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Your 2012 Trade Deadline Reality Check for a 2011 “Guaranteed” World Series Participant—Part II

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In this vein, I discussed the Red Sox yesterday. As a postscript, they shouldn’t let a series win in Yankee Stadium delude them into thinking they should do something drastic to salvage a doomed season. It would only make things worse going forward.

Today it’s the other 2011 “guaranteed” World Series participant on the docket and they’re having a far worse season than the Red Sox. I’m talking about the Philadelphia Phillies.

In 2011, the Phillies had put together an “unstoppable” starting rotation and, unlike the Red Sox, they fulfilled their part in the bargain by winning 102 regular season games before getting bounced in the first round by the Cardinals.

Currently 45-57, an unfathomable 16 ½ games behind the Nationals in the NL East and 9 games back in the Wild Card race, they can forget this season. There’s not going to be a 50-10 run to 95 wins this year. With most GMs, I’d say they understand that and will act accordingly, but Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been haphazard in his decisions. To his credit, he learned from his mistakes and rectified them such as when he traded Cliff Lee away and accepted that he’d left his club woefully short on pitching and traded for Roy Oswalt at the next trading deadline; then he turned around and re-signed Lee.

I doubt there’ll be a blockbuster addition of a bat to gloss over a team that’s 12 games under .500 and reeling after experiencing what the Mets have experienced for years in their house of horrors known as Turner Field in a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Braves. The Braves looked like they took glee in kicking the Phillies after the Phillies (in a retrospectively regrettable decision) ably assisted the Cardinals by playing all out in the last three games of the 2011 season and completed the Braves’ collapse from a post-season berth they should’ve clinched in mid-September.

The Phillies are done for 2012, but that doesn’t mean they can’t prepare for 2013 with much the same core cast. They don’t have much choice with some players. Jimmy Rollins has two guaranteed years left on his contract and is a shadow of his former MVP self. There’s talk of dealing Hunter Pence to free up money, but all that would do is create another hole they’ll have to fill—it’s not going to happen. Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton will be traded. Ty Wigginton and Juan Pierre are probably going as well. Placido Polanco would’ve gone too if he hadn’t been placed on the disabled list with a sore back. If he’s able to play, he’ll get through waivers in August and be traded.

Truth be told, they’re not going to get much for any of the above players. The Phillies will get some volume for their dilapidated minor league system and save a few bucks to bolster the veterans they’re going to have for the foreseeable future. This team in 2013, 2014 and 2015 hinges on the players in their early-to-late 30s, Roy Halladay, Lee, Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and the other star-level players signed long-term Jonathan Papelbon and the newly signed Cole Hamels.

With Hamels, the Phillies were faced with signing him or signing someone else’s free agent and given his post-season accomplishments and that he’s able to handle the tough town of Philadelphia, keeping Hamels made sense, even for $144 million. There’s not going to be a rebuild in Philadelphia. It’s this crew or bust and they do have the foundation for a rebound in 2013.

There was a stupid concept of them trying to trade Papelbon. It’s ridiculous.

Other speculation has centered around Lee. They’re not trading Lee now and if they even consider it after the season, they’re in essentially the same spot as they were with Hamels in a different way. Any trade would have to bring back a Major League ready player whether it’s a centerfielder and/or a young pitcher who’s going to give them the 200 innings they’ll be surrendering with Lee. They’d also be hamstrung in where they could trade Lee due to the $87.5 million remaining on his deal after this season and his limited no-trade clause. Are they moving forward with a top 3 rotation of Halladay, Hamels and Vance Worley in 2013? For a team whose window is rapidly closing? I highly doubt it. If Lee is put on the block, it would be a year from now and only if 2013 is a repeat of 2012.

That there would be a thought of trading Lee as a “well, maybe we could…” tells me that Lee’s decision to re-sign with the Phillies after they’d unceremoniously dumped him following the 2009 season was a business decision on both ends and there wasn’t all that much “love” with the City of Brotherly Love for Lee and the Phillies. He didn’t want to pitch for the Yankees and the Phillies offered the most money and a venue that his wife preferred. I’m also getting the impression that Lee is a frontrunner. When the team was rolling to 100 wins and he was notching shutouts, all was wonderful; when he’s got a record of 1-6 as we enter August, he’s making faces at his outfielders’ misplays and putting forth the attitude of, “What do you want me to do? I pitched great, these guys can’t score or catch the ball.”

And that’s not good.

The Phillies need to accept reality and that reality says they’re not going anywhere in 2012 and their only hope against spiraling to a 100-loss disaster by 2015 is if their veterans find their games and are healthy and they’re able to clear enough money to import proven commodities to surround them.

This is the team they have and there’s not going to be a housecleaning. It’ll be more of a moderate refurbishing, nothing more.

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