Friday, March 30, 2007

Pocket Change

Under Pat Gillick the Phillies have developed a rather cavalier attitude toward money, at least when it comes to signing and acquiring players through waivers, Rule 5 and below-the-radar free agency. Indeed the organization's willingness to throw away $25,000 here, $50,000 there, on these extraordinarily marginal players, continues to add up. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the large number of pitchers who have come and gone over the past two seasons, most of whom had little if any chance of making the 40-man let alone 25-man rosters. In a few forgettable instances, these guys actually appeared in a game, to disastrous results. Adam Bernero could be the poster boy for all of them.

Jim Warden is merely the latest in a long line of such players. Acquired from Cleveland as a Rule 5 player for $50,000, he had to make the 25-man roster and stick or be offered back to Cleveland for half the original price. That's exactly what happened this past week when he was returned to the Indians. In the end, the number of times Gillick & Co. have gambled and lost on these types is adding up to real money, at least some of which could have been better spent on among other things an appropriate salary increase for someone on whom it can be fairly said the franchise's hopes depend, Ryan Howard.

It all must be pocket change to Mssrs. Gillick and Amaro.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


It's that time of year again, when bloggers, commenters and professional media types make their predictions for the coming season. I will restrict myself to the Phillies and the NL East.

If one quality describes all the teams in the NL East it would be missing ingredients. Every team in the division has significant problems and no team is clearly superior in all departments. That said, I think the final order of finish should be:


The number three slot is a tough one because the Marlins will need repeat performances from their host of youngsters, especially the pitching staff, and we all know how difficult the sophomore year can be. If they suffer a collective reversion to the mean, the Marlins could drop to fourth place.

The top spot is, frankly, less difficult. The Mets lack consistent, dependable starting pitching, but their everyday lineup is the best in the division, even with the aging Carlos Delgado and Moises Alou holding down two spots. They have the best leadoff batter in the game, a terrific centerfielder and third baseman, and a very steady man behind the plate.

The Phillies lack a reliable bullpen from short to long, front to back. Their closer is an injury waiting to happen and as of this writing there is no one on the roster who could step in. They also lack a decent outfield. Jimmy Rollins seems poised for a fine season; Chase Utley will continue to produce and hustle; Ryan Howard may struggle at bat; Wes Helms should improve the offense but not defense; and catching will be lackluster.

If there is one area the Phils were thought to be superior to every team it was starting pitching. This may yet turn out to be true if Brett Myers finally grows up and Cole Hamels continues his development. Jamie Moyer is a real pro and gamer but at his age all we can hope for is sage advice and 8 - 10 wins...if that. Adam Eaton's history suggests a very mediocre performance is in the offing. Freddy Garcia is the wild card of this staff. Which pitcher will show up, the one whose fastball has lost roughly 5 - 8 mph and whose arm shows signs of overuse, or the one who pitched so successfully down the stretch last season despite those factors? Emergency starter/reliever/trade bait Jon Lieber will be hard to count on at this point, especially since he seems destined to start the season on the DL and is, by all accounts, disgruntled to boot.

The Braves will miss Adam LaRoche's bat. Worse, they lack enough starting pitching. They will also miss Chipper Jones from time to time as his injuries force him out of the lineup with considerable frequency. They do have the best young catcher in the league and ageless (he's still young but has been around forever) Andruw Jones.

The Nationals are a bad team.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pressing Matters

By my count Ryan Howard, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell, and Adam Eaton head the list of players who are pressing as Opening Day looms on the horizon. Following closely on this group's collective heels are Matt Smith and Antonio Alfonseca.

Howard has struggled to get comfortable at the plate all Spring. His swing and sense of the strike zone are so out of whack they are affecting his demeanor off the field. Howard reportedly has been testy with some of the media lately, a sure sign all the off-season accolades, banquets, advertising photo shoots and other demands have taken their toll on the normally affable big guy. Throw in the poorly handled contract negotiations the Phillies frankly botched and you have the ingredients for a tired and stressed 27-year old before the regular season gets under way.

Rowand's Spring has been so horrible manager Charlie Manuel sent him home to rest for a few days, this after spending the last three months presumably already resting at home. I'd like to hear the spin that makes a virtue out of that decision!

Pat Burrell's health and welfare are being questioned far and wide (outside). Apparently, everything from his feet to his eyes are the subject of speculation. No one need speculate about his batting stroke, however, which he forgot to unpack when he arrived nearly a month ago. In searching the web for information about Burrell's current contract, I stumbled across an item from the happier times when he signed it several seasons back. In the piece he spoke of how warmly Philadelphia fans had embraced him and of his plans to purchase a permanent residence in the area. As far as I can tell, he never followed through on the latter decision. As for the fans' hugs and kisses, well, let's just say their ardor has cooled. My advice to Pat would be to hold off on any real estate decisions for the moment.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Will The Real Phillies Team Stand Up!?

Most of you out there are probably too young to remember the original reference for my headline, but the meaning is clear nonetheless.

Yesterday, many of the regulars on whom the Phillies are counting heavily stepped up and delivered led by Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels. Of the three, Hamels had previously endured the roughest spring, but in his outing versus the Twins he was solid. The one chink in Hamels' armor since arriving in the big leagues is his tendency to give up home runs, occasionally in bunches. He isn't exactly pitching in the best ballpark in the majors for such proclivities, but his otherwise stellar stuff and great work ethic should more than compensate for the long-ball weakness. Meanwhile, Utley and Rollins have had very positive training camps and seem poised to do their best to get their mates off to a fast start...for a change.

The same cannot be said for Adam Easton, who continues to unimpress. Eaton insists he will be ready when the opening bell is rung, but his performances to date have hardly quieted those who felt his signing was, a) expensive; and, b) a gamble.

Jon Lieber, whose current address should be officially listed as Limbo, FL, has already walked the path between the bullpen and starting pitchers' mound more in everyone's imagination (including his!) than in reality as news spread last week that starter Freddy Garcia might miss some time with biceps tendinitis soon to be followed by reports of Lieber's own soreness and possible disablement. The latest reports now suggest Garcia may be ready to take his regular turn (number three spot) the first week of the season while Lieber might be out for an indeterminate amount of time. Lieber's trade value cannot exactly be very high under the circumstances while his value to the Phils' starting rotation remains in doubt as well.

The bullpen, especially from the left side, remains an utter mess. Neither Fabio Castro nor Matt Smith has acquitted himself well to say the least. Smith was my mid-Winter candidate for potential darkhorse of the staff. Now, he is in serious jeopardy of falling into greater darkness, namely obscurity, at AAA Ottawa. Castro has done absolutely nothing to improve his stock either.

Pat Burrell has also had such a miserable spring manager Charlie Manuel is already sitting him before the real action begins! Is it possible the Phils could release Burrell down the road? I don't know how much of his remaining contract is guaranteed, but, frankly, I'd rather see someone like Michael Bourn given a chance to play than suffer through Burrell's protracted death rattle. Aaron Rowand hasn't done much with the bat either. The upshot of all this is that Pat Gillick has few if any real bargaining chips to dangle in the hopes of finding help.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I decided to officially begin my Spring Training today by tuning into my first Phillies broadcast of 2007. I was driving from errand to chore to errand so I tuned in 1210 just in time for Larry Andersen to call back-to-back home runs off of Adam Eaton to straight-away centerfield. According to Andersen, on the second one Shane Victorino never even turned around.

Great start, I muttered to myself as I turned off the radio.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


What's next? Freddy Garcia flies back to Philadelphia for a routine exam?

Every single report out of Florida about the veteran right-hander suggests his fastball continues to be MIA. What's troubling about this state of affairs is that the reports are identical to those from the end of last season. When White Sox GM Kenny Williams traded Garcia to the Phils it was generally believed to be because the 31-year old pitcher was in his final year prior to free agency, had a lot of mileage on his arm and would bring two prospects in return in that order. It now appears number two was really number one.

Yesterday Garcia left action after one inning complaining of a sore bicep that will be examined. During his brief stint his fastball apparently topped out at 85 miles per hour. The last thing the Phillies need is another Jamie Moyer-type pitcher in the starting rotation. According to Jim Salisbury, there is a chance Garcia might begin the season on the DL. Among other repercussions of such a move, Jon Lieber, who only yesterday was sent to the pen, would reclaim his spot among the starters. If Pat Gillick were considering trading Lieber for bullpen or outfield help he can forget it.

The worst aspect of all of this is that it would appear Gillick didn't do his homework, a pattern that is becoming all too familiar. More and more it appears Gillick acts as much on hunches as on anything else in making personnel moves. All that we need now would be for him to trade Aaron Rowand back to Chicago.

Oh the ironies.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Few Bricks Short

It's a perennial question at this time of year, as predictable as the daffodils that begin to pop up through a late March snowfall. Will the Phillies finally make it to the post-season after thirteen consecutive years of failure?

Despite the presence of stars Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and potential star Cole Hamels, the answer once again is likely to be No! The Phils simply have too many holes. The shame of it is they knew they had them before the end of last season but management failed to fill them.

Apart from the aforementioned players, the starting rotation is generally thought to be one of the league's finest. I remain skeptical. The staff consists of a putative ace who has never produced as expected, an ancient veteran who has yet to make a complete tour of his new league, a young phenom who has all the tools but not the experience, a mid-career horse whose bread-and-butter pitch deserted him at the end of last season, another mid-career hurler who has spent more time on the sidelines than the mound the last few years, and another aging veteran who is generally thought to be on his way out of town if someone useful can be had in exchange. Pardon me if I don't find that sextet awe-inspiring.

The problems on offense are certainly mitigated by the trio of infielders who can hit for average and power and score runs. The addition of Wes Helms at third base should represent an improvement on offense at that spot. Defensively, the infielders are not among the league's best with the exception of Rollins. Howard may be good but has much to prove with his glove. Utley gets to almost everything and is sure-handed, but has some problems still with the pivot and does not have the greatest arm. Helms is not a good fielder.

The outfield also fails to inspire much confidence with Pat Burrell hoping for yet another resurrection, Aaron Rowand hoping to stay healthy enough to contribute and Shane Victorino hoping to continue his development. There isn't a front-line player among them.

Catching is in the hands of a good veteran receiver of little offensive merit and a youngster who needs to prove he can hit big league pitching consistently and inspire confidence in the guys throwing to him.

The bench offers the usual assortment of guys looking to revive their careers or simply sustain them.

The spring training numbers have been awful but no one really takes those too seriously. The negative correlation between great grapefruit stats and the regular season is well documented. The trouble with the Phillies is that they never addressed their deficiencies between October and February. More than a few blog commenters have wondered if Pat Gillick has another move up his sleeve -- a March surprise if you will. Maybe Gillick is a better poker player than previously thought, but I doubt it. He began setting the stage to improve his club at the trade deadline last year when he rid himself of some salary obligations and he furthered filled the coffers with savings from players he chose not to re-sign. But he didn't spend a lot of the proceeds and savings on the help he still needs, especially in the bullpen, and now he appears to have little choice but to play the hand that was dealt him.

Friday, March 16, 2007

In Passing

Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn died yesterday. Normally, I don't speak ill of the dead but I will make an exception in this case. The imperious Kuhn was a disaster during his fifteen year run. It would be difficult to single out one item from his resume and say it was his worst hour but the snubbing of Henry Aaron is certainly a contender. Kuhn did not attend the game in which Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record, a blatantly racist act for which the commissioner offered no plausible explanation. Kuhn will also be remembered for authoring the phrase "for the good of baseball" as he invariably acted otherwise in issuing a number of unilateral decisions including voiding a major trade by his chief nemesis among the owners, Charlie Finley. Free agency arrived coincidental to Kuhn's tenure as did the DH, playoffs, realignment and significant expansion. It can be fairly said Kuhn left baseball worse off than when he arrived.

* * * * * * * *

Feed a fever? Starve a cold? Who can remember. My father-in-law used to advise if you did nothing for a cold it would go away in seven days but if you treated it aggressively it would come to an end in about a week. So, are hitters supposed to be ahead of the hurlers in Spring Training and the early part of the season? I can never remember. Every year I have to Google that notion and in the end I still don't know.

One thing is certain, however, Spring Training records mean bupkas, especially for pitchers, so I am not going to worry if Cole Hamels has a 7.00 ERA and Fabio Castro and Matt Smith are lit up every other outing. Pitchers worry more about establishing a rhythm or working on mechanics and a new pitch than they do Grapefruit League statistics. On the other hand, if batters are not getting good wood if any against the assortment of major, minor and really minor pitchers they face in March, that cannot be a good sign, can it?

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One of the most intriguing stories to come out of Spring Training to date has been the news that the Indian's C.C. Sabathia, Marlins' Dontrelle Willis and the Phils' Jimmy Rollins have joined forces to promote baseball to young black athletes.

According to a 2005 report by the University of Central Florida Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, only 8.5 percent of major leaguers were African American _ the lowest percentage since the report was initiated in the mid-1980s. By contrast, whites comprised 59.5 percent of the majors' player pool, Latinos 28.7 percent and Asians 2.5.

Sabathia is quoted as saying "It's not just a problem - it's a crisis." The trio, all from the Bay area, is working to promote the game in the inner cities through sponsorships and funding for equipment. Tori Hunter of the Minnesota Twins is also involved and is planning to sponsor a tournament of the best black amateur teams from across the country.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stating The Obvious One Drip At-A-Time

Ah, Pete Rose, practitioner of the Chinese Water Torture method of contrition.

First he didn’t bet. Then he didn’t bet on baseball. Then he didn’t bet on the Cincinnati Reds.

Only apologists of Hall of Fame stature could still support this guy's reinstatement to baseball’s good graces. Sadly, they will be heard from soon enough despite his ongoing confession by inches.

The Sooner The Better

It must be a little awkward to be Jon Lieber these days. Not everyone can be Best Bargaining Chip and Best Insurance Policy at the same time.

Everyone agrees the Phillies as currently constituted enter the coming season with a few serious question marks remaining. Chief among these is the back end of the bullpen where the absence of an experienced left-handed set-up man and emergency closer spells trouble. Not far behind is concern over the overall outfield with an unpredictable Pat Burrell in left, oft-injured and weaker-hitting-all-the-time Aaron Rowand in center and inexperienced and out-of-position Shane Victorino in right. Next to last but not least is the defense on the left side of the field where neither Wes Helms nor Burrell will win any Bronze Gloves let alone Gold ones. And finally there is the overall health of the starting rotation that includes the oft-injured Adam Eaton and Cole Hamels, the aged Jamie Moyer and the newly “svelte” but previously out-of-shape Brett Myers (For you statistics mavens out there, the rate for regaining weight lost is astronomically high.)

More than a few pundits have suggested Lieber provides the solution to a few of these areas. Long rumored to be the team’s best trade bait, his stock may not be as high as it once was, but veteran starters remain in chronic short supply and should attract buyers as the season openers approaches. More than a few teams with pretensions toward contending are having trouble finding enough healthy arms to fill out their rotations. Lieber might not bring the second coming of Goose Gossage but he might fetch a decent reliever.

On the other hand, in recent days some observers have suggested the Phils should keep Jon Lieber as insurance lest one of the remaining five starters goes down with an injury. Such notions let alone luxuries ignore a few issues, namely Lieber’s own spotty history of health and conditioning – he’s been on the DL many times in his career and does a reasonable impersonation of the oversized truck he drives on numerous others -- hardly qualifies him as much of an insurance policy. Moreover, he has a well-documented history of starting out very slowly so forget for a moment the value Lieber might bring in return and consider this: the Phils won't benefit much in the opening weeks of the season by retaining his services, so the earlier they move him the better.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pat The GM

This much we know about Pat Gillick:

He likes Hawaiian shirts.

He can be candid, even blunt, about his team's prospects.

He likes to take a flyer on marginal players.

He likes players with whom he is already familiar.

He trusts his eyes more than he trusts printouts.

He doesn't appear to want a long tenure here or anywhere else for that matter.

The shirts are more or less appropriate for the summer game albeit not everyone's taste. In the end, no one cares how the GM dresses; all we care about are the 25 men who dress every day with numbers on their backs.

Last year Gillick announced his team would not be ready to contend in 2007. Then he proceeded to unload one of its most successful members among others and the remaining players responded by going on a tear that fell just short of the playoffs. Noticeably, Gillick has remained silent on the team's prospects since then and has made several moves that have strengthened the club. The consensus is he still has at least one more move to make, namely, acquiring bullpen help. His relatively busy off-season does not suggest he still regards the Phils as also-rans.

As for the Rule 5 players, career minor leaguers, cast-offs, recovering wannabes and other diamonds-in-the-rough Gillick is forever bringing into camp for a look-see, it's been noted by commenters such as RSB that his time and that of his scouts and coaches might be better spent concentrating on drafting and developing prospects, including those from abroad. Gillick's love of these fringe players is not unlike playing the lottery every day; harmless but not worth a lot of one's time or hopes.

The whole matter of acquiring or signing players with whom one is familiar is perhaps one of the most troubling inclinations of the Phils' GM when one considers the list and how they've done in Philadelphia. Certainly Ryan Franklin and Arthur Rhodes are the most prominent retreads to under perform when reunited with Gillick, but there have been others. Someone needs to remind Pat that familiarity still breeds contempt more often than not. Just ask former Flyers' GM Bob Clarke who had a similar penchant for acquiring players he'd previously traded, though in his case more often than not he was beset by pure second-guessing.

As for the whole matter of traditional versus sabremetric evaluation, it is more difficult to determine what role and in what percentages each plays in building a modern baseball franchise. Gillick may be antipathetic to the new math but surely there are some in his organization who believe in and practice it. Gillick is on record as saying he'd fly across the country to meet face-to-face with a prospect, seasoned or not. There's nothing wrong with that approach in an era when virtually all kinds of business are too often conducted facelessly behind LCD's. The bet here is someone back at the ranch is looking at WHIPS and OBP's, too, perhaps not as much as in Oakland, Boston or other cities but surely to some extent.

How long will Gillick remain in Philadelphia? If the team makes it to post-season in 2007 but exits after the first round, he will likely remain one more season and try to better that showing. If they fall short again, he may decide he's had enough and retire somewhere that offers an ample selection of Hawaiian shirts at the ready.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's Still Early, Right?

White Sox GM Kenny Williams is generally considered an astute judge of talent and where the Phillies are concerned he might be even more so. When he traded Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome and salary considerations he correctly determined that the former might be a fearless defender but a mediocre hitter while the latter still had lots of pop in his bat and would revert to form.

Having made one beneficial trade with the Phillies, Williams came back for more an off-season later, dealing starter Freddy Garcia, who was one year from free agency, for prospects Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. Word out of the American League toward the end of last season was that Garcia had lost something on his fastball. Now comes word out of Florida, with caveats from the Phillies of course, that Garcia's fastball is still lost in action, or, as one scout is quoted by Jim Salisbury after watching the big right-hander throw, "right about where he was at the end of last year."

Pitchers are brought along slowly and carefully during Spring Training, or so the thought goes, so it may indeed be too early to judge exactly where Garcia's mssing fastball is supposed to be at this date in early March, but it cannot be an encouraging sign.

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Bill Giles, receding partner in the Phillies' constellation of owners, has apparently co-authored an autobiography which has just been published. Entitled Pouring Six Beers At A Time (I am going to resist buying or reading Giles' collaborative effort in order to learn exactly what that means), it is apparently filled with accounts of his nearly four decades in baseball.

As Inquirer columnist Don McKee points out this morning, among other tidbits Giles notes his genuine surprise upon learning former Texas Rangers general partner George W. Bush was elected governor of Texas. "Frankly," Giles writes, "when this occurred I was shocked. I could not picture George Bush as a governor let along President of the United States. I pictured Bush more as the perennial social chairman of a college fraternity."

McKee further cites Giles' prediction that Bush will one day be Commissioner of Baseball. So, there you have it. If Giles is correct, Bush can fail utterly and with tragic consequences at the most important job in the world and land on his feet as Commissioner of Baseball.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Around The Horn

Had David Bell hit .280 during his four years in Philadelphia the innuendo in the wake of reports linking him as a customer of an internet pharmacy under investigation might not be so widespread nor as nasty. So much for a presumption of innocence. It is just as likely he ordered the six packages of human chorionic gonadotropin through the Alabama-based pharmacy because a friend or teammate recommended it rather than the local drugstore, but that wouldn't make nearly as good a story. Calls for Bell to come forth and provide an explanation are not unreasonable and, under the circumstances, are probably in his best interest. By the same token, snide remarks about the apparent lack of performance enhancement these substances provided him are the stuff of cheap shots and internet rumor-mongering. Unlike many of the players suspected of abusing performance enhancement substances, Bell had a well-documented chronic back condition.

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The Phillies have already announced they plan to use closer Tom Gordon sparingly at the beginning of the season if not throughout the entire campaign. Last year Gordon pitched several back-to-back-t0-back games and eventually went down with arm troubles. Let's see how Charlie Manuel feels when and if crunch time comes in successive games in April and the desire for a quick start overrides prudence with regard to the 39-year old pitcher. If the Phillies do have a backup plan, now is the time to put it in place.

Presumably there are at least a few pitchers already on the squad who are quietly auditioning for the backup closer and set-up roles, but talk of Brett Myers moving to the pen is utterly ridiculous. Apart from having the wrong temperament (as I previously noted), the Phillies aren't so deep in starting pitching that they can afford to have one of their top ones leave the rotation.

Unless they move Jon Lieber for another arm in the pen, help is likely to come from someone already in camp. Among the names bandied about are Fabio Castro and Matt Smith. Castro's greatest shortcoming may be his youthful inexperience and control. Let it be noted, however, that he has at least as much if not more experience than college pitchers who have made the jump and that he has a live arm and, apparently, little fear. Though he was roughed up yesterday against the Pirates, only one of the four runs he surrendered was earned. The reincarnation of Goose Gossage isn't going to retire the side if his teammates kick the ball around.

My nominee for emergency closer all along has been Smith. He proved himself last year in a big game against the Astros and reiterated how valuable that experience was in a recent interview. He, too, didn't fare well against the Pirates yesterday, but Spring Training games, especially early ones, are hardly the measure of any player, especially pitchers.

* * * * * * * *

Abraham Nunez will see playing time this year, usually starting in about the eighth inning as a defensive replacement for Wes Helms. Carlos Ruiz will see more playing time as it becomes apparent to the Phils that they need his bat more than they need Rod Barajas' glove and language skills.

The aforementioned Lieber's stock may not be all that high at the moment, but as March winds down some team in serious need of a starter is going to part with a player of some immediate value. While some believe another established outfielder would be useful, the bullpen remains the most pressing need. It's always tough to give up a starting pitcher for someone who will only appear sporadically for an inning or two instead of a position player who might appear more regularly, but the pen remains the area of greatest concern for the Phils and the outfield should be decent with Burrell, Rowand, Victorino, Bourn and Werth. Over at Beerleaguer there has been much debate among commenters regarding Victorino's value. Last year he had his first opportunity to play regularly for large periods of time and handled the job well. He is a first-rate if sometimes reckless outfielder with a great arm and a free-swinging, impatient batter who might easily improve with a starting role guaranteed. Swift as he is, he hasn't learned how to steal bases, but coach Davey Lopes has made him a project this Spring. Some question if he is more valuable in center than right field, an argument I would agree with, but unless the Phils package Rowand in a deal with Lieber, that shift remains highly unlikely.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Psst! Wanna' Buy A Bridge?

I digress....

Billy King has just been named the third best GM in the nation by Writing in the Daily News, Chuck Bausman said he had to do an "electronic 'pinch me'" when he read that one.

Bausman offered this "explanation": According to, GMs were graded on two things: performance vs. the performance of their predecessor, and payroll relative to the league median when compared to their predecessor. Because winning is more important than payroll, double-weighted winning percentage to penalize a GM who cut costs but also hurt his team's winning percentage. Did the GMs get extra points for best-dressed?

What could I say that Bausman didn't say better: [King's] record doesn't make him the third-best GM in Philly, much less all of sports.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Let's begin by acknowledging Ryan Howard's salary increase of more than 100% is nothing to sneeze at. Let us further note his salary is the largest ever paid to a player with fewer than two years total service , exceeding the $690,000 Kerry Wood earned in 1999. And finally, let us not forget the increase matches that paid to Albert Pujols, the current barometer for all things excellent in baseball.

That said, the Phillies have blown yet another public relations opportunity, something at which they excel. In the scheme of things the magical one million dollar mark would have probably left all parties happier, even the Phillies brass, who now must answer questions regarding their reluctance to establish Howard as the new standard when it comes to early financial rewards. The Phillies could have saved face if that's what they wanted by giving Howard a salary of $999,999.99 even though it is clear Howard and his entourage would have been happier had the figure increased by one penny.

As the old saying goes, baseball is a game of inches.

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Chris Coste nearly worked his way onto the 25-man roster in 2006 with his great Spring. Still, he was the last cut a year ago as the Phillies headed north and had to wait until the season was underway before getting his summons to the Show.

At this early juncture of the Grapefruit League Greg Dobbs is the odds-on favorite to win at least one of the bench spots given his quick break out of the gate, but it is early. With Karim Garcia also in camp, the competition for the two open spots will be keen. Coste is a fan favorite who provides a lot of versatility. Garcia was brought back from two years in Japan and given a contract that guarantees his release if he doesn't make the 25-man roster. And Dobbs is making loud noises with his bat.

It's a nice dilemma for the Phillies to have at this point, but something will have to give as April approaches. Since both Dobbs and Coste have minor league options remaining it would appear one slot is Garcia's to lose, but the Phils have a recent history of bringing in lots of bubble-type players only to release them in short order.

* * * * * * * *

Jim Salisbury has an excellent piece in this morning's Inquirer on Cole Hamels' impressive and exhaustive workout regimen to strengthen his back. If nothing else it is an impressive display of the young southpaw's determination to remain healthy and make a serious contribution to ending the Phils' long playoff drought. Salisbury and teammate Aaron Rowand refer to Hamels as a "ghost" presence mainly due to his absence from the clubhouse as he toils in the training room in a daily routine of exercises far more rigorous than those of your average major league ballplayer. That sort of commitment may not induce his teammates to hit the weights and measures at quite the same pace, but it will no doubt make a deep impression.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hope Springs A Trick or Two

Kyle Drabek just found out what it's like to play with the big boys. No, not those big boys (the major leaguers he's been hanging with for a week or so) but the college big boys. The Phillies first round draft pick last year would have been a college freshman had he continued with his book learning, but he opted to head straight for professional ball and leave the books and aluminum bats to others.

Drabek got the start yesterday in the Phils' first tilt of the Spring and promptly surrendered a tremendous home run to Florida State University's leadoff batter, a second baseman with allegedly limited power. I assume the second baseman guessed right and Kyle, well, he guessed wrong. By the way, the guy used a wooden bat.

Dare we say back to school?

In that same game Jimmy Rollins drew a leadoff walk, no doubt in order to silence all his critics and change the subject from his bravura to his patience. Nice touch, Jimmy.

No word yet out of the Chicago White Sox camp on how awesome former Phils phenom Gavin Floyd looks. Personally, I can't wait for the first report that says he has guys bailing at the first sight of his 12 to 6 curve.

Aaron Rowand for relief pitching is one of the ongoing rumors of this Spring, but the bet here is the fearless one ain't going anywhere. The Phils are too shallow across the outfield and can ill afford to give up Rowand's experience. The excess commodity remains John Lieber...on and off the field.


Man does not live by metaphor alone...fortunately. The unlamented Chris Webber was quoted in this morning's Inquirer as saying this about his new teammates on the Detroit Pistons, "It feels really good to be with a group of guys you can trust and go to war with."

Guess what, Chris, basketball can be very rough, but it ain't war. Just ask the guys in Iraq.

* * * * * * * *

Word out of Florida is that Brett Myers would be willing to go the bullpen in a pinch. Bad idea on many levels but let us just choose one: wrong temperament. Here's a guy who has a history of rattling when the game isn't on the line.

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In one of the boldest challenges yet to Bud Selig's idiosyncratic rule over the dominion of baseball, at least two prime abusers of supplements, Mssrs. Bonds and Sheffield, have both announced they will not cooperate with George Mitchell's investigation. Bonds refusal came via his hired mouthpiece who insisted his client will not answer questions while still under threat of an indictment by a grand jury. Sheffield, speaking for himself, labeled the investigation a "witch hunt". The guess here is Selig will back down rather than evoke executive privilege for "the good of baseball" as one of his predecessors put it. Everyone knows he just wants Bonds to go away. As for Sheffield, let's just say the Commissioner is not about to tinker with the newest member of the Detroit Tigers just when that franchise has finally become a contender again.

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The Philadelphia 76ers may be the best bad team in recent NBA history. First, they stink up the league despite the presence of two superstars. Then, they trade one and buy out the other in an attempt to right the ship. Instead, they continue to lose but a little less often. Next, some of their remaining youngsters combine with a few of the newcomers, step up and assume command as the team reels off a couple of good wins only to get blown out in a couple of bad losses. And so it goes, one or two up, three or four down. Finally, they beat one of the best teams in the league, which had an incentive to play well as it tried for a record fifteen straight wins against Eastern division teams on the road. (Small matter that the Suns went after the record with two starters out with injuries.)

Their coach, beloved as a player here in another era, has struggled in his leadership role and his mentor and an ex-76er coach is waiting in the wings.

All the while, people wondered if these Sixers didn't realize their up-and-down play was jeopardizing the number of balls they'd have in the upcoming draft lottery.

Frankly, I am impressed with some of this team's players for the first time in memory. They could have laid down and quit a long, long time ago but fellows like Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver and Andre Miller have underscored what it means to be professional.

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On the other side of the Wachovia Center, however, we have the Philadelphia Flyers, who are just plain horrible. Every time there is a glimmer of hope for this once-proud franchise someone else goes down with a terrible injury or someone else plays a miserable game (especially in goal) and whatever little momentum forward has been generated slides downhill faster than Sisyphus. Anything that could go wrong has; anything that might go right does not. There are so many holes to fill on the ice and off it would take another miracle on ice to straighten things out.

If one player epitomizes the mess this club is in it is goalie Robert Esche. Once considered the future of the franchise in goal, Esche probably first wore out his welcome when he spoke candidly during the lost season of a few years ago. Then, his outspokenness, a rash of injuries and Bob Clarke's notorious misjudgment of talent and human nature combined to put Esche in the doghouse. With the acquisition the other day of Martin Biron, Esche's days in Philadelphia are clearly numbered.

There has been such a revolving door in the Flyer's locker room the last few seasons, one wonders if anyone will notice Esche has departed. One thing is certain: the Flyers could save time and money by handwriting the name plates of players on tape when placing them above the stalls.