Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Last Refuge

I was out of town the day Charlie Manuel was fired so I am a little late to the "party".  Nevertheless, here goes:

Firing managers is usually the last refuge of inept general managers and Ruben Amaro's sudden dismissal of Manuel was a classic case in point.

Manuel wasn't a great strategist, nor was he a adept at moves such as the double switch.  He was a players' manager, well-liked by most who passed through the Phillies' clubhouse during his tenure.  What he did not deserve was to be dismissed with a month and a half remaining in this, his final contract year.  Amaro was responsible for failing to begin the rebuilding process after last season.  He could not be held responsible for the rash of injuries to key players, but he failed to fill holes on this squad, especially in the outfield and bullpen, and he signed free agents and resident players to ruinous contracts.

For this, Manuel was fired.  It's always easier to fire the manager.  Isn't that the baseball axiom?

Friday, August 09, 2013


Don't get me wrong (as sure a sign as any I expect to be misunderstood), who wouldn't want Chase Utley as his team's starting second baseman?

Few if any professional athletes in this city's history have ever been more admired and respected.  In this space I have sung his praises, strongly suggesting fans never take him for granted.  We watched a dedicated, talented and fiercely competitive Utley lead the Phillies from the wilderness to the Promise Land.

So why am I puzzled the Phillies signed him to a two-year deal worth $27 million with incentives that could extend the pact another three years and $48 million?

Well, Utley hasn't played a full season, or what passes for a full season with a few days off here and there, in several years.  The Phillies' alleged brain trust is gambling again.  Their track record isn't stellar.  For every Cliff Lee there is a Jonathan Papelbon.  For every Cole Hamels there is a Ryan Howard.

Second base may be the second or third toughest position, catcher being number one and first base perhaps being number two. First basemen get stepped on periodically.  Second baseman get knocked down regularly.

Utley has missed a lot of time due to chronic knee ailments.  This year he also went on the Disabled List due to an oblique strain.  The day his contract extension was reported, his picture appeared on the front page of the sports section sliding hard into home plate.   He only knows one speed:  full out.

Utley is still a very productive hitter and an adequate second baseman.  At his age he needs time off even were his knees not a problem.  He also made it clear he wanted to remain a Phillie.  He grew up in this organization, came to maturity in it, and became more or less the face of it, albeit in a quite way.  Utley acknowledged  when re-signing he'd spoken to other players in his position who'd switched teams late in their careers.  "The grass isn't always greener...," he proclaimed.  How could you not like a guy who likes you!!??

The contract is a gamble.  The Phillies are betting he still has about 125 games a year in him for at least two more years.  I wouldn't bet again them...or against Utley.  Still, it's a huge bet.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Et Tu, Bastardo?

Very little can surprise me these days, so the news Phillies' reliever Antonio Bastardo received a 50 game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis case produced a yawn.

The alleged brain trust of MLB is determined to clean up the game.  Good luck, fellas.  This latest round of suspensions came about largely if not only because a disgruntled employee or investor (I cannot remember which and I am too lazy to look it up) blew the whistle in the first place.  Being jilted, wronged or insulted remain powerful incentives for revenge.

One thing is certain in big-time sport:  athletes are going to continue to cheat as long as they develop a walk-on-water syndrome from an early age and as long as huge riches are in the offing.  From an early age the ones who show talent are pampered and showered with gifts, both hard and soft.  They are told they are special, that they are subject to a different set of rules and standards.  They are never told they could be caught; indeed, even if they were warned most of them wouldn't believe it.

Inevitably, some great rich talents are caught in the net like the mighty Lance Armstrong or Alex Rodriguez; and, as we learned again today, so are some poor schmucks like Antonio Bastardo.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Sinking Fast

The Phillies stood pat as the July trade deadline passed, which is to stay they stood upstream without the proverbial paddle.

Was it any wonder?

The Phils had little to trade.  Oh, sure, they had a few commodities of widely different values, but each of those came with enough baggage to negate any final transactions.  Of these, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon stand out.  Lee is still a fine pitcher, but he's owed a ton of money.  It was also notable he developed a stiff neck as the deadline approached and missed two starts.  Timing is everything.

Papelbon is the most overpaid free agent closer in baseball history.  Not the career saves leader.  Not the all time strikeout leader.  Not the most respected closer (especially by his own teammates).  No, just the most overpaid.  He is in decline though still decent.  No one wanted to take on his salary or his personality.

Michael Young is a competent journeyman player with a mediocre glove.  His type aren't a dime a dozen but they aren't difference makers either.

So, the Phils continue to age and decline.

As the deadline approached a number of articles pointed out Ruben Amaro and the Phils' alleged brain trust had done pretty well in these matters over the years.  They had given up a lot of prospects, few of whom have panned out in their new uniforms, and gotten some pretty solid players in return.

That was then.

Papelbon may have angered a lot of fans and teammates when he moaned aloud after the Phils' seventh or eighth straight defeat that he didn't come here "for this", but you have to wonder if Cole Hamels, who signed a long-term deal last year, Cliff Lee, who was happy to return here two years ago and other aging veterans like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins must be thinking the ship is taking on water fast and there are no life boats or shorelines in sight.