The SportsTalk Shop: The Case for Trading Cole

Although I was deeply disappointed the Phillies made zero non-waiver trades before the Major League Baseball “deadline” and have since dispatched only Roberto Hernandez for just a couple low-level minor leagues (or cash considerations), I am not one of those people who think they should simply jettison any or all marquee names off their roster without due cause.

First of all, trading players like Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard, Antonio Bastardo and Kyle Kendrick right now won’t get you much more than Hernandez did (unless you agree to pay most or all of Howard’s and Papelbon’s remaining salaries). Even a team as desperate for bullpen help as the Tigers haven’t offered enough to whet the Phillies’ appetite. Secondly, the Phillies have gone out of their way to retain older, yet fan-adored players who do have trade value—Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz—and there wasn’t even a whiff of a trade rumor involving any of these veterans. That leaves just one player…and perhaps only one player…that can be used to obtain players to kickstart the Phillies’ woeful offense and help fill major gaps in the starting rotation.

Colbert Michael Hamels.

I do not take this option lightly. I covered the Phillies beat when there was a rush to trade Curt Shilling—and the team obliged—only to be completely disappointed with the four players they got in return. Shilling went on to lead two different teams to three World Series championships and was a Cy Young runner-up three times. Only Vicente Padilla really flourished with the Phils—and even then it was a little touch-and-go with the fiery right-hander on what you’d actually get out of him on a given day. The other three players (Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee) never lived up to their billing, and the team went years before they found a bona fide, “takes us to the promised land” ace, which happened to be—Cole Hamels.

A true number-one pitcher is one of the hardest commodities to groom, and only a handful of teams have the financial resources to even get in the running to buy an ace through free agency. Decades go by before some teams are lucky enough to possess a dominating, lights-out type of pitcher for more than a couple of seasons. But with the Phillies floundering in last place and only a handful of gleaming, yet distant prospects in the team’s organization, trading Hamels has to be something the team is willing to do for the right price, and word is there will be options available this winter.

There have been recent rumors about the Red Sox supposedly offering some of their young players (including Christian Vasquez, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and the once-coveted prospect Xander Bogaerts) to Philadelphia in an off-season deal. I think the Phillies would need to hold out for a team like the Cubs or the Dodgers, who each have at least four young players/blue-chip prospects, to get involved in any trade-Hamels sweepstakes. All three of those teams have cash and the need to pick up a front-line starter, but if you deal a player like Cole, you need to get back at least three players who MUST contribute on the big league level (no need to think too hard to remember the Cliff Lee to Seattle deal).

If you can help solve issues the Phillies’ need to address this off-season (eg., starting pitching depth, improving your defense, improving your offense, adding an everyday outfielder et al), then you need to pull the trigger and deal Hamels.

But Phillies president David Montgomery—whether he believes what he’s been saying or not—has continued to insist the team will not rebuild and wants to remain a playoff contender every year. If they trade Hamels this off-season, doesn’t it mean that they can flush any hope of a post-season appearance down the proverbial toilet for three or four seasons?

Enter free agent-to be, Max Scherzer.

(Wait a minute, Chris…you’re telling me the Phillies would add ANOTHER multi-millionaire, 30-something player to their current projected 2015 salary, which is in excess of $140-million–and that’s just for 17 players?)

Yes, the Phillies would still have to unload a player, or two, from its multi-mega-million dollar core. They would have to ship Howard to an American League team and get next to nothing in return. They might have to pay a team to take Papelbon off their hands. Perhaps you have to throw in one of your weighty contract guys in a Hamels deal (and therefore forfeit a fourth young prospect in return). But Scherzer, a 30-year old who, unlike Roy Halladay or Lee (the second time he was acquired) would be right in the middle of his prime when he arrives in Philly. In effect, you’re flipping Hamels for Scherzer AND three or four quality players that will help your offense and starting pitching.

Consider the following roster minus Howard and Papelbon when you start to look ahead to the 2015 Phillies team—keeping in mind this does NOT include adding the three meaningful bats and/or starting pitchers to your staff along with Scherzer, which could augment/improve what you already have/are stuck with.

SP – Scherzer
SP – Lee
SP – Another mid-level/cheaper option pitcher like Ryan Vogelson, Jason Hammels, Jorge De La Rosa or Edinson Volquez SP – Dave Buchanan SP – Aaron Nola / Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

Closer: Ken Giles
Set-up: Jake Diekman
RHP Long Relief: Justin DeFratus, Ethan Martin, Gonzalez
LHP Long Relief: Mario Hollands, Bastardo

Catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Wil Nieves / Cameron Rupp

Infielders: Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Mikael Franco, Cody Asche, Freddy Galvis/Cesar Hernandez/Andres Blanco/Reid Brignac (utility guys)

Outfield: Marlon Byrd, Grady Sizemore, Ben Revere, Dom Brown, Darin Ruf and either Rusney Castillo (who may accept a team’s offer as early as this week) or—don’t forget about my ‘surprise signing’ for next year (mentioned in my 8/4/14 blog entry)–Yasmani Tomas.

Would this be enough to get you to re-mortgage your house in lieu of buying 2015 World Series tickets? No. But this might help turn the Phillies in the right direction, while still giving the budget-minded people in the Phillies’ front office reason to expect more fans will come out to Citizens Bank Park in 2015. Plus, with the money the team will be getting in their new TV deal after the following season, mixed with the Phillies own prospects like Roman Quinn, J.P. Crawford and others currently progressing in the lower minors, the future might not be as far away as it feels right now. Even if you have to wait a few years for things to come together, Scherzer would only be 32 for Opening Day 2017, and signing him to a likely six-year contract would mean he would finished his deal by age 36 (which will be Lee’s age next week—and he still has up to two more years on his current pact).

Hey, there’s not many people currently on the Phillies payroll who could honestly dispute that the team right now is anything other than a disaster. You have to start somewhere, and right now, one of the most viable options would see Hamels, a Phillies World Series MVP, pitching his final game in Philadelphia pinstripes this September.

What do you think the Phillies’ next moves should be? Do you think they should trade Hamels…and what should they get in return? Email your opinions to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us this Thursday as we talk about the Phillies, their minor league options and Major League baseball on ‘RCN SportsTalk’ live from 6-7 pm.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Ways to Fix the Phillies

Last week I gave my trimester grades on a season-gone-wrong for the Phillies through the first two months of the season. Today we take a look at how the team should proceed from here:

1) Trade AT LEAST one of the core players
I know this will be extremely painful to the Phillies front office to part ways with one of their most marketable players, but it has to happen. The Phillies have to change the mentality and the look of this franchise and show everyone – the fans, the community and the players themselves – that no one is untouchable. The debate over trading Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Marlon Byrd and others is gaining the momentum of a runaway freight train. The Phillies should be open to seeing which of these players would bring you the greatest return value for next year and pull the trigger on a deal. You need to improve this team in multiple ways, and with very few minor league options on the horizon, the only way to start accomplishing this is by dealing a major piece NOW.

2) Acquire a “dirt-baller”
Think Larry Bowa, Pete Rose or more recently, a Randy Ready or an Aaron Rowand. A high-energy guy, perhaps not the greatest talent, but someone who understands the game and will play it the right way. I’m not a big fan of the “WAR” statistic (wins-above-replacement), but those numbers do have some merit. You need to bring people that will help you find ways to win ball games and the Phillies need to find players who at least have a positive number in that category (eg., Ben Revere has a -0.4 WAR as of last week, Cesar Hernandez a -0.6, Tony Gwynn Jr. is a -0.8, Dom Brown is a -1). Each season the St. Louis Cardinals have rosters littered with players who know how to play the game and execute the fundamentals. I’m hard pressed to find very many younger players on the Phillies’ current 25-man roster who have shown the ability to do the same, and someone must be brought in to start doing that.

3) Stop evaluating with rose-collared glasses
John Mayberry, Jr. last year had a WAR of -1.2 and the organization REWARDED him with a near $ 1.1 million raise. He’s had three different seasons to prove himself as a starting outfielder, a platoon outfielder, than a fourth outfielder, a capable pinch-hitter…and has not delivered in any of these roles on a consistent basis (despite a dismal first eight weeks, Mayberry fans would argue he’s deserved more money based on the red-hot June he’s having offensively). The Phillies say Darin Ruf is not an everyday player…fine, then show me a young player who is. Sticking with Revere, Brown and the like when you no longer have reasons to believe in these players is fool’s gold that the team has continued to purchase for three years now.

4) Stop tolerating mental mistakes
Jimmy Rollins made a innocent comment about preseason games being meaningless and he was benched three days IN SPRING TRAINING. If Mayberry can’t shag a fly ball against the fence, then don’t put him out there anymore until he can. If Revere doesn’t remember to tag up on a fly ball with less than two outs or isn’t taking the appropriate lead off a base, then bench ‘em, outright ‘em or option them to Triple-A. Granted, there’s not many major league available players waiting in the wings right now, but giving these guys repeated chances and watching them fail multiple times with mental lapses is not working. I’d rather see Triple-A players Steve Susdorf or Clete Thomas try to fight their way to remain on the big league roster than to see listless players (Brown) not running hard to first base.

There’s another issue to address here: Ruben Amaro, Jr. The current Phillies general manager is pretty much in a no-win scenario, of which he is responsible for creating. If he conducts a massive fire-sale over the next two months, he’s admitting that his five-year plan of sustaining what was a World Series contender has failed miserably, thereby inviting a changing of the guard to take place. If he does nothing, or next to nothing, during the next few weeks, then he could be fired for not being proactive in correcting this out-of-control team. There’s no easy road here and accomplishing the above-listed tasks will not be easily achieved mid-season, but actions must start coming…and soon.

I do believe Amaro’s hands were tied somewhat in trying to rebuild this team a few years ago. Remember that in 2011 Ruben stated that the team needed to take a different direction: produce more runs, work counts, play more fundamentally sound baseball and similar comments. The moves that have transpired since that time are mostly contrary to that belief. Like him or not (and I certainly have not agreed with very many of his decisions over the last three years), Amaro is still an intelligent man with a solid baseball background. I don’t believe he completely gutted this team without outside influence, whether it be pressure to keep popular players in town, bad advice on player evaluations, poor scouting reports, or a combination of all three.

Full disclosure: I backed Amaro when he was making the trades for Lee, Doc Halladay, Hunter Pence, et al, while ravishing what top prospects were a part of the system. I don’t believe I was the only one in the Delaware Valley that enthusiastically bought in to the ‘win now’ mantra and threw caution to the wind when making those deals. I remember the euphoria that ensued when the cash vault was opened and we woke up hearing of Lee’s triumphant return to the Phillies. We all salivated over the “Four Aces” rotation during the thrill ride that garnished 102 regular season wins, and no one back then was worried about Jonathon Singleton, Kyle Drabek and the other prospects exiled to acquire those major chips. I for one was prepared to sacrifice several years of bad baseball for one more World Series championship….a second title that never materialized.

What in-season moves to you think the Phillies should (or will) make this summer? Do you think Amaro will be retained or even make it through the 2014 season? Post a comment below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this year’s Phillies team.

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies 1/3 Season Report Card

OK, Ruben. You didn’t listen to me. Nor did you listen to most Phillies fans when it came to our free advice on how we could bring the team back to playoff contention…or even recapture our interest in the club.

But before the season spirals out of control even further, I’m going to offer my unsolicited critique on this year’s team to Ruben Amaro, the Phillies General Manager. Forget the mid-term grades – we need a comprehensive analysis here at the one-third mark of the regular season–before it is too late and 2014 turns into a complete waste of a baseball campaign. So today I’ll evaluate the best and worst points of the Phillies this year and have broken down the players into the following categories. Next week I’ll be back with my suggestions on where the team should go from here.

HEAD OF THE CLASS
Despite the poor record, there are several strong positives on this year’s team. Relievers Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Mario Hollands and Jake Diekman each have had a few unforgettably bad moments during this very forgettable season. Aside from that, they have been nearly as good as one could have asked. Papelbon has been lights-out as the team’s closer and looks like a shoo-in to make the All-Star team after the team spent a good chunk of time this past winter trying to unload him. Overall, Adams and Diekman have been very steady middle-to-late-inning guys, getting called in to extinguish opponents’ rallies. In addition, Diekman, along with Hollands, who most people knew nothing about at the beginning of spring training, have served as useful two-inning bridges in several Phillies’ wins in getting the team to Papelbon. Both Hollands and Diekman can be counted on as two of the few reliable young arms going forward, and Adams and Papelbon both could be used in trades if this season continues to unravel (again, more on that in next week’s blog entry).

Fans also have to be happy with what they have gotten out of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. Utley has been leading the league in doubles and, as of this past weekend, was on a pace to set a new Major League record for a season. Rollins is closing in on the Phillies’ all-time hit record and has kept his on-base percentage around or above .350 all season. While most people were not impressed with the Byrd signing in December, he has been one of the most consistent bats on an incredibly inconsistent offensive team, and has certainly added respectability with his defense in right field.

VERY SOLID
A.J. Burnett was a guy I was hoping they’d sign this off-season and, although they waited until the outset of spring training to do so, has filled in the “number 3” spot quite nicely. He hasn’t been stellar nor consistent in every start this year, but has been solid enough to balance this rotation and make the starting pitching staff one of the strengths of this year’s team.

Also, for a number-five starter, I have to give solid marks to Roberto Hernandez, a player I quite honestly wasn’t expecting much out of this season. With an ERA under 4.00 and the flexibility to come out of the bullpen in a pinch, this is a move that you actually have to give Amaro and Company credit for. I’ll also put Wil Nieves in this class and give a definite “B” for his efforts. In addition to admirably filling in behind the plate and hitting over .275 so far, his greatest attribute may be that he has adequately filled in the backup catcher’s spot, deflecting attention from another trade gone south that sent previous number-two catcher Eric Kratz and a minor league reliever to Toronto for Brad Lincoln (see below).

OK BUT WAS EXPECTING MORE OUT OF…
I have to be honest – I’m a big fan of Chooch, but was frankly expecting more out of Carlos Ruiz than one home run, 10 RBIs and a slugging percentage lower than Nieves’, his backup (through June 2nd). While his on-base percentage is leading the team, I am disappointed at a number of bad pitch selections he has made this year. With all the young arms coming out of the pen, I have to place the blame on the experienced Ruiz for not taking charge and for making some questionable calls behind the dish. I had defended the Phillies signing this 35-year old catcher to a three-year deal, largely in part due to his ability to handle pitchers behind the plate. A little better offense and a few less mistakes in pitch selection might have helped the Phillies have a better shot at being closer to .500 than they are presently.

I’ll also put Kyle Kendrick, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in this category. While they have had moderate-to-very-good success on the hill this year and each deserves a few more wins, they each have had meltdowns at inopportune times—and a team like this year’s Phillies club that needs everything to go right to contend, can’t afford to have mental lapses. I’ve seen each of these players make base running errors and/or pitiful attempts at laying down bunts which, for the money they’re making, is inexcusable.

One may put Ben Revere in a “failing” category but honestly, why would anyone expect him to be anything more than what he has shown throughout his career? He’s a slap hitter with excellent speed who will steal bases when he gets on and will provide some highlight film material with great catches in the outfield. He also has no arm, is prone to base running and route-taking mistakes and has never shown the ability to work a count or coax walks. Revere showed these traits in Minnesota and again last year in Philadelphia. This brings me to my biggest, most grating issue with the Phillies—why do you expect something from players when there’s no evidence to suggest a result different from what you’ve been getting? It’s been a reoccurring issue for three years now and, in my opinion, will continue until the team takes a more practical approach to building a team.

NEAR FAILURES
Despite the fact that Ryan Howard provided one of the top moments of the season—a walk-off home-run against Colorado last week, there are 25 million reasons why he has not lived up to his weighty contract. While his defense has improved, he came into this season as the single-most important offensive player who needed to play like he did before signing the massive contract extension. Despite his team-leading home run and RBI totals, his inability to have success off of left-handed pitching is becoming alarming. Since 2011 in now more than 250 at-bats against southpaws, he strikes out a whopping 43% of the time. Mix in Howard’s paltry .301 OBP and .434 SLG versus all pitchers and you’re left with the fact that he is just not the power-hitting force he once was. Again, if there were other players around him to pick up the slack—or if other more potent bats were acquired this past offseason, his weaknesses would not be as glaring. But since so much of this season’s potential was based on Howard’s return to being one of the most powerful bats in all of baseball—rightly or wrongly—his performance this year can only be considered slightly above failure.

One more time, for the Phillies to expect miracles from the likes of Dom Brown, Antonio Bastardo, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernadez, John Mayberry Jr. and count on these guys doing something beyond what they’ve never consistently done before are Amaro’s biggest gaffes as the GM. For the last five years, we’ve hear it said that it’s time for guys to step up, and five years later, we’re still looking for guys to do so in right field, left field, the bullpen, the bench and now, third base. Bastardo and Galvis had quality campaigns going in 2013 before drug suspensions ended their season and called into question just how natural their successes were. None of these players has stepped in to grab the opportunities presented to them and, for most of these players, one could argue no one should count on them any longer.

OY-VEY!
Jayson Nix, Shawn Camp, Luis Garcia, Jeff Manship (prior to this past weekend’s Mets series), Brad Lincoln, Phillippe Aumont…OK I’ll stop here before you get too depressed.

INCOMPLETES
While Darin Ruf, Cody Asche, Miguel Alfredo Gonzales, Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin were players looked at having key spots on the team early in spring training–and may or may not hold a larger role in the Phillies future–I don’t think you can critically analyze the performances of these players thus far because of the injuries they’ve sustained.

What areas do you think need the most improvement? What other glimmers of sunlight do you see from this disappointing season-to-date? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and check back here as I outline my plan on what I feel the next steps should be for the Phillies this season.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Minor League Outlook

 

Much has been made about the “advanced” age of the Phillies as the 2014 season commences. Regardless of the degree of success of the parent club, it is essential for the long-term success of the organization that the team produces major league talent through its farm system.

Here are some thoughts and expectations from some of the Phillies minor leagues players themselves and then more insights on players within the Phillies organization to watch this summer.

Here are more opinions on the Phillies’ prospects…

1) Maikel Franco has spoken often about working hard and doing what’s necessary to improve and become a major league ball player. While he is the most advanced, top prospect within the Phillies organization, he is very focused on trying to improve his overall game. He showed no preference to which position he will ultimately play and said he feels comfortable at playing both first and third base, stating that footwork and improving his mechanicals for the pitchers’ throw-overs are his main defensive goals to work on this season. I was impressed by the lack-of-ego persona he’s exhibited in our conversations this spring and he is a very likeable future star that Phillies fans can easily root for.

2) There is now a sign in the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouse that says “Respect the Game”, and that message is being echoed by the players throughout the team’s farm system. Cameron Rupp, Steve Susdorf and Andres Blanco have all repetitively made mentions to me about playing the game the “right way” and the need to make good decisions and to play hard at all times.

3) Barry Enright is one of the “older players” (28) that the Phillies brought in to add starting pitching depth. While his numbers last year were not impressive (a ERA north of 7.00 with the Angels’ Triple-A team last season), I was struck by how much he talked about a young pitcher’s ability to pitch when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Instead of complaining or using that as an excuse, he stressed (and I have a feeling new pitching coach Bob McClure has emphasized) the need to try to throw strikes consistently even when you don’t have good stuff on the mound. Eliminating walks is a major need for this organization’s pitchers, and it’s important that the players seemed to be getting that message.

4) The Phillies look to be in good shape behind the dish. At many levels of the organization, the Phillies can boast two solid catching options. Rupp heads the list of catchers and spoke about the importance of having competition to make everyone better. He also identified some solid goals to work on defensively this season, to go along with his impressive offensive potential. Veteran Koyie Hill also started the year at Triple-A and has major league experience with several teams. Two former blue-chip prospects, Tommy Joseph and Sabastian Valle, still have potential and will share time at Double-A. Andrew Knapp has perhaps the highest ceiling of all the young backstops in the organization and Deivi Grullon is looking to build on a solid season in the Gulf Coast League last summer.

5) I continue to have the same opinion of Jesse Biddle as I did midway through last season. Like in the limited times I saw him pitch at Reading last season, he needs to develop that consistency (there’s that word again) in throwing strikes to reach the parent club. I don’t believe he will be the next Cole Hamels, as I’ve heard some fans assume, and I think he’ll be more of a #3 or a #4-type of pitcher in the major leagues. I would love to be proven wrong as the lefty does have impressive stuff.

Which players do you think can be future stars with the Phillies? Which players would you like to see playing at the Big League level right now? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com with your opinions and baseball observations.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: 2013 Phillies Judgement Day

The Day of Reckoning is Coming … Soon!

The time for evaluating the current Philadelphia Phillies ball club is nearly over. There are very few games left for any one player to try to disprove what he actually has shown in his ability through the first 74 games of the regular season. The now pseudo-trade deadline — and with so many teams still in the hunt for the extra wild card spot (can you believe the Padres are actually ahead of the Phils?) — is a month away, and some very long, hard decisions will have to be made regarding some of the longest tenured, and most beloved Phillies ball players of all-time.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can kiss Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins & Philly fan favorites good-bye over the next 30 days. However, decisions will have to be made to realistically pursue offers to trade these athletes that will go down as the greatest players in club history at their respective position. Names like Utley and Rollins will be given serious consideration someday for baseball’s most precious honor — the Hall of Fame. But that is — or at least — SHOULD BE IRRELEVENT NOW. This Phillies team is NOT going to win a World Series as is. They are not “a player or two” away, nor is one more player returning from the disabled list going to put this team over the top. They cannot wait any longer — they have to change the dynamics of these teams, and unfortunately, they are being buoyed by players that are practically UNTRADEABLE due to their weighty contracts.

Consider these facts about the Phightin’ Phils that are indisputable, and are contributing directly to the team’s current status (as of this writing) of four games under the 500-mark and an ebbing eight-game back of the division-leading Braves:

• The fact that Cole Hamels has accumulated 11 losses before the second day of summer is UNACCEPTABLE. The Phillies pour the majority of their “free agent monies” into Hamels’ pocketbook and pretty much denied the team from trying to add any type of significant offensive has — at least for this season — proven to be a major mistake. Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and J. R. Richards in their prime would have difficulty pitching to a .500-record with this offense behind him, and the fact that King Cole has had lapses in concentration even when given a lead cannot be tolerated when so much was riding on this season (in particular, his pitching arm).

• The fact that Ryan Howard (while riding his current $125-million contract) is battling an injury does not excuse his poor approach in the batters’ box. If he cannot base his back foot and launch mammoth home runs to even the deepest ball parks, as he has done in the past, then he has to change his approach and find a way to drive in balls via other avenues (i.e., hitting the ball the other way, working the count late in games when the team is down by more than one with no one on base, et al). The fact that his batting average dropped 15-points when Dom Brown was moved behind him for “protection” while Brown went on one of the most torrid offensive tears this team has seen in decades is proof that Howard’s lack of ANY significant offensive production (he took TWO ‘golden sombreros’ over the last several weeks) does not have, or worse yet, no longer has, the ability to carry this team means this team has to make some major changes over the next month.

These are the team’s leaders. They have not been on the disabled list nor have any other acceptable excuses, and they have not lived up to the trust the Phillies’ front office put upon them — rightly or wrongly — this past winter. The players they have around them are simply not good enough to overcome these glaring shortcomings.

What other major problems are contributing to the Phillies dismal record through the first three months of the season, and what SHOULD the Phillies do before the “trading deadline?” Post a comment with your thoughts on this team’s future and what moves you think need to occur this summer.