National League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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Washington Nationals

They have the minor league system to do something significant, but looking at their roster and the players they’re due to have eventually returning from injury, they don’t need anything.

Their offense has been somewhat disappointing as they’re 10th in the NL in runs scored. They’re not particularly patient at the plate, but they spent a large chunk of the first half of the season without Michael Morse and Jayson Werth; they lost Wilson Ramos and were playing Rick Ankiel in centerfield.

When they have their regular, everyday lineup out there and put either Bryce Harper or Werth in center to replace Ankiel, they’ll be fine in the run-scoring department.

Their bullpen has been lights out and Drew Storen will be back. In regards to Storen, I wouldn’t put much stock in his rehab results—he got blasted yesterday; as long as his velocity and movement are there, let him get back in shape without worrying about how he pitches.

What do they need? Some bench help? Okay. That’s something that can be acquired after the trading deadline when more teams are willing to clear out some players. Marco Scutaro, Ty Wigginton, Mike Aviles, Justin Turner are names to consider, but the Nats will be perfectly fine if they simply stay where they are and move forward with who they have.

Atlanta Braves

They need to buy but I don’t know if they will.

The Braves could use a big time starting pitcher but as has been the situation in the past, are they going to add payroll to get it?

GM Frank Wren made a big show of looking for a shortstop after Andrelton Simmons got hurt and then was forced to act when Jack Wilson got hurt as well. He traded for Paul Janish.

That’s not a big, bold maneuver.

They’ve been linked to Zack Greinke but I’m not getting the sense that the Brewers are ready to sell. Recently the suggestion was made that they were looking at Jason Vargas. Vargas and the words “impact starter” were used in the same sentence. Vargas is not an impact starter, but if I were a Braves’ fan, Vargas or someone similarly meh is what I’d expect them to obtain.

New York Mets

The three game sweep at the hands of the Braves is being taken as a calamity, but the Mets have been resilient all season long. They’re not buyers and nor are they sellers. They’ll look to improve within reason and not give up a chunk of the farm system to do it. Can they add payroll? No one seems to know. I’d guess that they can add a modest amount in the $5-10 million region and that’s only if it’s a player that the front office believes can make a significant difference and/or they’ll have past this season.

I’d avidly pursue Luke Gregerson for the bullpen and inquire about Joe Thatcher, both of the Padres.

Here’s one thing I would seriously consider: crafting an offer for Justin Upton centered around Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin. The big time pitching prospects in the minors—Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler—are off the table. The Mets could move Lucas Duda to his natural position of first base and get a 25-year-old, cost-controlled, potential MVP in Upton.

The Diamondbacks can consider moving Paul Goldschmidt for pitching.

Miami Marlins

They should probably just stay where they are and hope, but they have little choice but to be buyers.

Carlos Lee was acquired from the Astros to try and fill an offensive void and he hasn’t done much so far. Would they think about including Logan Morrison in a trade to shake things up? Justin Ruggiano is killing the ball in his first legitimate opportunity to play regularly in the Majors and his numbers mirror what he posted in the minors as a regular. But he’s 30. They have to determine its legitimacy.

The bottom line is this: they need pitching in the rotation and bullpen and are running out of time. Francisco Liriano is a target as is Grant Balfour, Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street and any of the other suspects.

Philadelphia Phillies

Here’s the situation: In spite of winning the last two games of their series against the Rockies, the Phillies are still 39-51 and 14 games out of 1st place in the division. They’re 7 ½ games back in the Wild Card race. Some of the teams still in the Wild Card race are going to fade. Realistically it’s going to take around 88 wins to take the last Wild Card spot. In order for the Phillies to reach that number they’re going to have to go 49-23 the rest of the way. Even with Roy Halladay returning tomorrow night, it is an almost impossible feat for them to pull off. If they were playing reasonably well, I’d say, “Okay, maybe they can do it.” But they’re not.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with Cole Hamels as the new talk is that they’re preparing a substantial offer to keep him. Maybe it’s true. But they need to get rid of Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino; see what they can get for Wigginton.

It’s not their year and if they sign Hamels that will probably assuage the angry fans—to a point—if Ruben Amaro Jr. concedes the season and gets what he can for the veterans who definitely won’t be back.

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The Phillies Need Cole Hamels

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Ruben Amaro Jr. has no intention of giving up on this season or the next several seasons. He said as much—link. Privately he knows the situation is bleak for 2012, but given the age and guaranteed contracts on their roster, how can they conceivably let Cole Hamels leave as a free agent without a viable offer? It’s getting close to the point where the Phillies have to realize that this simply isn’t their year. They’re not there yet, but it’s a few weeks away—conveniently coinciding with the July 31st trading deadline.

After what happened with Cliff Lee having been traded away and then choosing to re-sign with the club a year later, it’s conceivable that the Phillies would check with Hamels to see if he’d be willing to be traded to a contender for the remainder of 2012 so they could re-stock the system and then go after him as a free agent.

Let’s look at the contracts, the guaranteed money owed for 2013 and beyond and the viability of re-signing Hamels.

Lee is owed $87.5 million through 2016.

Roy Halladay will be paid $20 million in 2013 and has a club option for $20 million at 2014.

Ryan Howard is signed for $95 through 2016.

Chase Utley is owed $15 million next season.

Jonathan Papelbon is owed $13 million annually through 2015 with a vesting option at $13 million for 2016.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million through 2014.

Hunter Pence is a free agent after 2013.

All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz has a ridiculously cheap $5 million option for 2013 that, barring catastrophe, will be exercised.

Kyle Kendrick is signed for $4 million next season, but they can find a taker for him.

Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Placido Polanco are free agents after this season. Forget Blanton and Polanco coming back and it’s hard to see Victorino being re-signed either.

The Phillies’ current payroll is $172 million.

Lee’s getting a $3.5 million raise next year; Papelbon slightly less than $2 million. Pence will get a raise in arbitration of $4-5 million. They’re slashing between $28 and $36 million (give or take) after Victorino, Blanton, Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Jose Contreras and Kendrick are gone.

Their payroll is going down, so technically this talk that they can’t “possibly” keep Hamels is inaccurate. They can afford to keep Hamels.

The question is will they do it during the season? Will they trade him and hope to re-sign him? Will they trade him and just let him sign wherever? Or will they keep him and take their chances retaining him in free agency?

If what Amaro said is true in terms of keeping the team together until they disintegrate, the Phillies don’t have much of a choice: they have to have Hamels in a Phillies’ uniform.

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Talk of the Phillies’ Demise and Fire Sale is Premature

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Too much is being read into random comments from invisible sources as to the Phillies’ intentions at the trading deadline. If indeed the Phillies have yet to send scouts to have a look at any players they might have interest in—Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Zack Greinke, Huston Street, Francisco Rodriguez—it doesn’t indicate that they’re not open to adding any of those players. The truth is that much of the scouting that goes on for name players is done to make sure they’re healthy. How much information that they don’t already have is going to be gleaned by following Greinke around for the next month? Not much.

So too is it silly to interpret the rumor that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is calling around to see what the market is for Cole Hamels as a definite sign that Hamels will be traded. Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard are expected back within the month and Chase Utley is just getting back into the big league swing.

They’re 11 games out of first place. That’s hard to make up. But they’re only 6 ½ games out of the Wild Card lead and there are two Wild Cards to shoot for in a mediocre National League. Unless they’re trailing by double digits in all three playoff possibilities at the end of July and their veterans aren’t performing, they’re not going to unload Hamels and Shane Victorino for the sake of it.

For a veteran team with an already gutted farm system, it makes little sense to start building for the future when they’re locked in with heavy contracts for Howard, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. There will not be a full housecleaning in Philadelphia no matter the circumstances.

Just for the record, understand this: THEY’RE NOT TRADING LEE!!!!

If they’re asking for the moon in a trade for Hamels, they’re going to have a hard time getting it with the pitching that’s likely to be available in Greinke, Ryan Dempster, the under-team-control Matt Garza and Jason Vargas. The talk that Amaro let it be known that he wants four to five prospects—four to five!!!—is tantamount to calling the Nationals and asking for Bryce Harper and the Angels for Mike Trout. There’s no harm in asking, but it’s not going to happen.

Given their poor season and the new draft rules that limit the amount of money that can be spent in the draft, the Phillies might be better-served to keep Hamels and Victorino and take the draft picks after the season if they depart. A bad year for the Phillies—say 75-87—would net them somewhere between the 8th and the 12th pick in the 2013 draft. Combine that with the compensation picks for other teams signing Hamels and Victorino and they’re in position to bolster their flagging farm system and have money to improve the big league club.

Don’t be so quick to think the Phillies are dead and that a fire sale is pending, because it’s not.

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ESPN, Hamels and the Home Run Derby—Consume Your Empty Calories

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Anderson Cooper just came out of the closet—TheDailyBeast.com.

It’s no issue to me one way or the other.

If he worked for ESPN he probably would’ve done it as a part of the promotional carpetbombing for the All-Star Home Run Derby (brought to you by State Farm).

You’re being fed empty calories of the mind.

Only the people that started ESPN know if their initial intent over 30 years ago was to create a go-to place for sports information. They were visionaries in the explosion of cable TV at a time when wide swaths of the country and world didn’t have it and didn’t know what it was.

There’s a possibility that they were hoping to make a load of money with the endeavor and get out.

It’s doubtful that they were looking that far ahead, but it’s possible.

Of course that’s led to sports content based on public demand that has little-to-nothing to do with sports news.

The network has developed into a cash machine and a caricature of what a sports network that focuses on sports should be. It’s an embarrassing comedy skit. And it’s real.

Presumably it was inevitable when corporate fealty supersedes evenhanded information and analysis.

During last night’s Mets-Dodgers game the inundation of marketing for the insipid Home Run Derby was such that there was a mention of it at every possible opening. Anyone who simply wanted to watch the game was a captive audience and, like something out of A Clockwork Orange, there was no alternative but to watch.

I could almost see the copy placed in front of the broadcasters and hear the control room telling them to talk about the Home Run Derby. Repeatedly there were discussions of this ridiculous and boring display as if we’re supposed to invest ourselves in it from now until it takes place and then eagerly wait until next year to do it all over again.

The new twist is that we’re back in the schoolyard waiting to see who the cool kids select. Who will team captains Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp pick?

Who cares?

ESPN constantly referred to it; the people in the booth Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona along with the sideline reporter Buster Olney relentlessly talked about and dissected it as if they really cared about it and weren’t doing what they were told by the network. There were polls for the fans and other interactive gimmicks to generate webhits, viewers, texting fees and other money-accumulating tactics.

Give MLB and ESPN credit for turning the days before the All-Star Game—days that were generally languid affairs—into a way to make a lot of money. Taking their cue from the NFL in terms of gouging fans with junk they don’t need, it’s the American way.

But don’t think for a second that ESPN is still a sports-centric entity. They want money and don’t care how they get it. In the ESPN era, the line between athletes and media is non-existent. Everything is about content designed to generate cash. That’s why you see stories about Tim Tebow and, if you’re paying attention, wonder why there’s a story about Tebow in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing happening with him or the Jets. That’s why there will be rampant discussion of Bryce Harper or Tiger Woods whether they’re doing something worth talking about.

And then there are the trending topics based on what people are searching for through their websearch engines.

Even though the Phillies are performing their due diligence and preparing for the possibility of putting Cole Hamels on the market, there will be endless stories of the “rumors” of Hamels’s potential destinations if and when he’s traded.

In reality, the Phillies are not going to trade Hamels until July 30-31st if they trade him at all. They’re going to wait until then to see where they are in the standings and how they’re playing. They’ll gauge the market, their chances for a playoff run and how Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are coming back from injuries. The Phillies are just as likely to be buyers at the deadline looking for bullpen help, another starter and a bat as they are to trade Hamels.

The guess here is that if the Phillies are within single digits of a playoff spot, they’ll hold onto their players and be buyers. If they’re facing a double-digit deficit and their veteran players aren’t performing, they’ll sell.

The ambiguity gives the websites—ESPN, MLB Trade Rumors, MLB.com and the team websites—time to blast their webhits up and spur the conversation of what “might” happen. With the increased webhits go increased advertising dollars.

As for the argument that they’re giving the people what they want, if the population is inundated with coverage of an event, a segment of that population is going to purchase it or pay attention to it. Social media like Twitter and Facebook increase the demand regardless of accuracy. That’s why you’ll see as many as five different “rumors” from five different outlets all in one article or blog posting and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous some of them are or that they’re coming from nowhere with imagined “sources” as their catalyst.

It’s circular. It’s an infomercial that they hide with the shady, “It’s what the people are asking for.” But if they’re hypnotizing the viewers into asking for it by hammering them over the head, are they asking for it or are they being tricked?

It’s this type of thing that can drive a person mad.

The key is that the person is still paying attention.

Load up on the brain-sugar. It’s not adding anything of value, but so what? It will satiate your hunger. Never mind if it makes your head fat. You don’t care and, as a result, nor do those feeding you.

Eat up!

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Thome The First Phillies’ Domino To Fall

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Now that Jim Thome has been traded from the Phillies to the Orioles for two low level minor leaguers, no one’s come up with a realistic answer as to why he signed with the Phillies in the first place.

It only made moderate sense for the Phillies hoping that he’d be happy as a pinch-hitter and DH in inter-league play. It would be the height of arrogance (possible) that the Phillies were looking forward to a World Series for Thome to be the DH in the AL parks.

But did both parties really think Thome was going to be able to play first base?

In what world is Thome—even as he’s turning 42 in August—mentioned in the same breath with other former Phillies’ pinch hitters Greg Dobbs, Ross Gload and Matt Stairs?

Thome can still hit and be productive as a semi-regular DH in the American League. That’s why re-signing with the Phillies made little-to-no sense for him and was done far too early in the free agent process to give the pretense of preplanning on either side. It was a rushed reunion like divorced spouses rekindling a relationship and hoping it would work out a second time.

But those types of reunions rarely work out.

The return to Philadelphia was a decision based on sentimentality and the friendship between Thome and Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel.

As curious as the signing was in November, this trade is more curious.

Considering Thome had played 4 games at first base this season, Ryan Howard’s pending return had nothing to do with this trade. Thome was a pinch-hitter and Howard is their everyday first baseman. There’s no connection between the two.

The only obvious answer as to why this trade was made is that this is beginning of a Phillies’ sell off.

There’s no other explanation. Perhaps they’re going to give it another 3 weeks to see where they are before going full bore into sell mode and trading their two big name pending free agents Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, but they’re preparing for that eventuality.

Even with the return of Chase Utley, they’ve lost 4 straight games. They’re 36-44, 10 ½ games out of first place in the NL East and 7 ½ games out of first in the Wild Card. The deficit can be overcome, but they have to win a few games of their own to do it.

They’re not auctioning Hamels and Victorino on July 1st, but you can bet if teams are calling GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to inquire about those two players, Amaro’s telling those teams that they’re not available…yet. He’s telling them to keep in touch and is thinking about what he wants in exchange for Hamels and Victorino.

You can also bet that the Phillies’ scouts are fanning out to look at the minor league systems of the teams that are calling about Hamels and Victorino so they have an idea of what to ask for if they do put them on the market.

Thome was the first domino.

If the Phillies don’t start winning soon, the other ones are going to fall by the end of the month.

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