Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Phils Trade Successful-Lee

After talks to acquire Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays fizzled in the past week, the Phillies went out and made a deal with the Cleveland Indians to acquire reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. They sent Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Lou Marson, and Jason Donald in exchange for Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco.

The fact that they were able to acquire Lee without giving up any of the three players Toronto insisted on is impressive, especially since Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro was taking a similar stance on his approach to trading Lee as Toronto did with Halladay. The biggest difference between the two situations is that Toronto is looking to compete much sooner than Cleveland. The Indians are entering a rebuilding stage and so they are willing to take players that still need time to develop.

Knapp was, along with Kyle Drabek and Dominic Brown, an untouchable player in the Phillies' system. He's 18 years old, six-foot five, and already throws a fastball in the upper nineties. In two or three years, it's very possible that he would have been as highly sought as Drabek was this year. Carlos Carrasco has been a highly touted prospect in the organization for a while, he's still only 22, and while he's struggling in AAA at the moment, he still has the potential to put it together and be an effective major league pitcher.

I would have liked to see the Phillies hang on to Marson, especially since good, young catchers are hard to come by and while Carlos Ruiz and Paul Bako handle the pitching staff well, Marson could have been a great final addition to that lineup. Also, back in spring training Jamie Moyer was complementary of how Marson handled the pitchers. Coming from Moyer, that means a lot. I think he should have been in the Phillies lineup this year.

Jason Donald came at an unfortunate time for the Phillies, with a middle infield set in stone with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Donald has also struggled this year and fought injury problems, but he's a great fielder, and the Phillies were somewhat lucky to have a really good prospect at a position they didn't need. If we had a good young catcher, I'd feel less attached to Marson. But the Phillies making this deal without having to give up J.A. Happ or Drabek (or Brown, but he's a few years away) is great.

First of all, the Phillies were looking for a right-handed bat off the bench and they got one in Cleveland's starting left fielder, Francisco. Having Francisco allows the team to send John Mayberry Jr. back to the minors where he can continue to work on the holes in his game.
Lee has had an erratic career, but last year he was nothing short of superb and very deserving of his Cy Young Award. This year, he is 7-9 with a 3.14 ERA, but wins/losses can be deceiving. He should benefit from having the Phillies lineup and he can throw a lot of innings. I'm not a huge fan of Lee, but in this deal the Phillies filled two holes that they were looking to fill, and they didn't have to give up Drabek or even Happ.

However, since they didn't give up Happ, what happens with the rotation? For now, Lee takes over the Rodrigo Lopez slot (Thanks Rodrigo, your service is appreciated), however that's the same slot that was being saved for Pedro Martinez. Also, they have Lee through 2010, so what happens if Kyle Drabek is deemed ready for the majors next year? The Phillies may now have too much starting pitching.

It's possible that Happ is on his way out in a deal for a reliever (George Sherrill?), but getting a reliever would only clog up the bullpen when Clay Condrey, J.C. Romero, and Chad Durbin return. If they do keep Happ, the Phillies now have a rotation of Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton, Happ, and Moyer, with poor Pedro Martinez, who signed with a spot in the rotation in sight, waiting in the wings. Happ could go back to the bullpen, if the Phillies are indeed looking for bullpen help. I'd actually rather see that than them make a trade. They may also have bullpen help on the way in the form of Brett Myers, who is recovering quicker than the team thought he could (apparently it's a miraculously speedy recovery, the trainers are astounded).

For now, the best solution may be to keep Pedro in the minors in case of injury. J.A. Happ is probably now worth more than any reliever they could acquire, and he's been fantastic in the rotation. For that matter, Blanton and Hamels have both pitched remarkably well in recent games, and even Moyer has looked good, not to mention that Moyer belongs in the rotation as a beloved clubhouse figure, unofficial player-coach, and elder statesman, so to speak. While Steven Register may not be the most exciting name to see on a major-league roster, I'd rather let him be the garbage man until the rest of the DL denizens return than go out and make trades simply because the team can. Lee and Francisco were good pieces to acquire. Beyond that, they already have what they need in spades to go after another championship.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Halladay Watch Continues

After the Phillies rejected the Blue Jays' initial trade offer for Roy Halladay (Halladay for J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dominic Brown), the Phillies countered with an offer that the Blue Jays rejected. The Phillies offered Happ, Carlos Carrasco, Michael Taylor, and Jason Donald. The Blue Jays seem to really want Drabek, and the Phillies don't want to give up both Drabek and Happ. The Blue Jays may be waiting to see if another team is willing to go all in and give them the monster deal they're looking for before they choose a winner, if they do at all. The Angels rejected their first offer from the Blue Jays, the Dodgers won't trade Clayton Kershaw, the Yankees don't want to trade both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, and the Brewers and Red Sox are also supposedly in the mix. Two more days...

ESPN reported that the Phillies are also looking into Cliff Lee, Zach Duke, and Jarrod Washburn. Lee will probably be overpriced and Washburn is an interesting option if they can get him cheap, but perhaps they should think more about trading for Zach Duke. Duke is 26, he's been an ace, even if it's been for a struggling franchise, he can throw a fair number of innings, and what a fantastic young rotation the Phillies would be developing if they can make the deal without giving up Happ. Hamels, Duke, Blanton (who looked stellar in the Phillies' 9-2 victory today against St. Louis - eight innings, and six strikeouts, including striking out Lugo-Pujols-Holliday in the eighth), Happ, and whoever in the back, at this point Moyer/Pedro. There would probably be a pretty sizable price tag for Duke, but it can't be as much as Halladay. I would trade two top prospects (Not Drabek or Brown, but the next tier) and maybe another player for Duke. Getting Duke would be similar to the smaller scale deals that Philadelphia has made in the past few years - Blanton, Kyle Lohse, Cory Lidle, etc., most of which turned out well. We could have King Cole and The Duke. And we could have them for years to come.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Roster Shuffling

Just as soon as it looked like the Phils' bullpen was back in place, in the past few days it has collapsed all over again:

1) On Thursday, J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin were both placed on the 15-Day DL. Durbin strained his right latissimus while Romero strained his left forearm. This is Durbin's first trip to the DL this year, I suppose all his bullpen mates recommended getting some time off, and it came the day after a poor outing against the Chicago Cubs in which he couldn't record an out, allowed two hits, three walks, and three earned runs. In his defense, two days before he pitched three scoreless innings. Durbin has been a workhorse for the bullpen this year and last year, though this year he's had the luxury of handing off some of the long-relief duties to Chan Ho Park. Still, with a rotation that typically doesn't eat a lot of innings, Durbin has pitched 48 2/3 innings. by this time last year, he had pitched 55 innings. Romero has already missed time this year, though not from injury. He missed 50 games due to a suspension for substance abuse. He's been good in his time back, with a 2.87 ERA in 20 games. He's also taken pressure off Ryan Madson. Romero missing time could be a huge blow if it results in added pressure for Madson, Scott Eyre, and Brad Lidge.

1a) The first question I had was what about Sergio Escalona and Jack Taschner. Supposedly, neither had been pitching that well. Apparently, the Phillies are going back to the one lefty in the 'pen philosophy that they employed in 2007 and most of 2008.

2) Romero and Durbin were replaced on the roster by Tyler Walker and Andrew Carpenter. Both have been on the major league roster already this season. Walker came up in June replacing Sergio Escalona who had replaced Kyle Kendrick who had replaced Scott Eyre when he hit the DL. Walker has done well in limited innings with the Phillies. He now has a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings. He allowed two earned runs in his first outing since being recalled, but it's possible that the 33 year-old veteran will step up with more outings. Carpenter had an unsuccessful start in May, in which he allowed 5 runs in 4 1/3 innings. This time, they were hoping he could eat up a lot of innings. Also, if he did well, the 24 year-old prospect might become trade bait for a deadline deal. Not Roy Halladay caliber, but perhaps a lesser-scale deal.

3) Today, Clay Condrey was placed back on the 15-Day DL with a left oblique strain, and Carpenter, after allowing runs in both games he appeared in, was optioned back to Lehigh Valley. They were replaced with former rotation member Kyle Kendrick and 26-year old Steven Register. Kendrick had a couple unsuccessful outings as a member of the major league bullpen earlier this year. However, he's been more successful in the minors of late, bringing his ERA below 4.00. All of his time in the minors has been as a starter, but the logic is probably similar to that of bringing up Carpenter. One of Kendrick's problems was a smaller arsenal of pitches, which might make him better suited to the bullpen. Steven Register was acquired off waivers from the Colorado Rockies organization back in May. He appeared briefly with the Rockies in 2008, and this year for the IronPigs, he's been 1-2 with a 2.88 ERA. I'm skeptical, but with those kind of numbers, it's understandable why they would give him a shot.

So, as of now, the Phillies bullpen consists of:
Brad Lidge
Ryan Madson
Scott Eyre
Chan Ho Park
Tyler Walker
Kyle Kendrick
Steven Register


While up until now, it seemed silly for the Phillies to look into acquiring bullpen pitchers, now they may need to consider it more seriously. The team scouted Arizona closer Chad Qualls recently, and could also look into Baltimore's George Sherrill and Danys Baez among others. However, it might give them more incentive to deal for an ace starting pitcher in the hope that he would take some of the load off the bullpen.

On the starting pitching front, the primary option appears to be Roy Halladay. The Phillies recently turned down the Blue Jays' first formal trade proposal, in which the Phillies would send J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, and Dominic Brown for Halladay. The Phillies don't want to trade both Happ and Drabek and are reportedly hoping to keep Drabek and send another player or two, perhaps Carlos Carrasco. While Ricciardi doesn't seem to think a deal will get done, with this as the first proposal it seems like the teams aren't that far off from an agreement. My guess is that a deal gets done in the next couple days. The Phillies are also looking into Cleveland's Cliff Lee, who GM Mark Shapiro is asking the same price for as the Jays are for Halladay. Lee is good, but if I don't pull the trigger on a Halladay deal, I certainly don't make a similar one for Lee. Personally, I wonder about Cincinnati's Aaron Harang. Recently, it's looked like the Reds may be thinking of becoming sellers, since they're seven games back in the NL Central. The Reds have a good young pitching core and are developing a young offensive core, and so they might be interested in dealing away some of their veterans. While Harang is not of the caliber of Halladay or Lee, he has been able to provide a lot of innings, and he might benefit from the run support that the Phillies offense could provide. He also wouldn't cost as much as Lee or Halladay. There have also been rumblings about Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. I'm skeptical of both, but Washburn has actually been fantastic this season, and appears to get better as it goes. If Seattle decides to sell, Washburn could be another cheap solution.

At least by July 28th, we should have an idea of whether Roy Halladay will be a Phillie.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bullpen Takes Another Hit - But Phils Keep Winning

The Phillies bullpen suffered a 2-for-1 special yesterday, as both J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin were placed on the 15-day DL. Both pitchers were intrical in last year's playoff run and they won't be easy to replace.

Romero has had a tough year, missing the first 50 games of the season due to a banned substance suspension, but had been a solid contributor since, with a 2.87 ER7. Losing Romero means that Scott Eyre will be the only left-handed reliever on the team. Fortunately for the Phillies, Eyre has been brilliant this season, with a 1.77 ERA. However, some of that has to be attributed to luck, as his WHIP is 1.32, compared to last year's 0.77 in his Phillies' stint.

Durbin has struggled this year, after a breakout year in 2008 (though really just a dominant first half), posting a 4.62 ERA in 48.2 innings pitched. He got shelled on Wednseday against the Cubs, surrendering 3 earned runs without getting a single out, effectively ending the Phillies' chance of coming back and earning their 11th straight win.

With Durbin out, Chan Ho Park figures to see a lot more action in middle and long relief. This would have made Phillies fas cringe earlier in the season, but it may not be a bad thing at this point. After bombing as a starter, Park has lit it up in the bullpen, posting a 2.78 ERA. He's been on fire this month, with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings. One just has to hope he doesn't wear down from the extra innings he'll be asked to pitch. Clay Condrey also ought to get some more run. He's been improved this season, but still seems best-suited to be used sparingly or in a mop-up role.

Replacing Romero and Durbin on the roster are Tyler Walker and Andrew Carpenter. Carpenter got into last night's game, but only recorded one out (giving up a run in the process) before he was pulled for Park. He probably won't be good for much more than garbage innings. Walker, however, could be an asset. He looked good in his first stint with the Phillies, posting a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings. It's a small sample size to go on, but as a veteran reliever, at least he's a known commodity.

At least more help could be on the way, as Brett Myers is expected to return in a bullpen role in mid-August. It's hard to know what to expect from Myers, but he excelled in his relief role in 2007, so he should prove to be an asset.

Despite their ailing arms, the Phillies put together a strong win yesterday, beating the Padres 9-4. Cole Hamels had a solid start, allowing 3 runs and 7 innings and the offense looked good once again. Jayson Werth and Pedro Feliz each had 3 hits and Carlos Ruiz hit his 5th home run of the season. The win was the Phillies' 15th in 17 games and they'll hope to carry that success into their next series, as they take on the Cardinals.

The brilliant play really brings into question whether or not the Phillies need to make a deal for Roy Halladay or another starter. Halladay would undoubtedly help the Phillies, as he'd give them a true ace. Much as I love Hamels, he's been very erratic this year. I certainly trust him to get the job done in the playoffs, but he has not been the dominant starter that the Phillies had hoped for (most likely due to the high volume of innings he pitched last year).

But is it really worth giving up Happ, who has been arguably the Phillies' best starter this year and is a strong Rookie of the Year candidate? The question is whether Happ is legit or whether he's the next Kyle Kendrick. However, from what I've seen I think Happ has a chance to become a very good major league starter. He's not the next Cole Hamels, but there's reason to believe he can be a good #3 starter for years to come.

Trading Happ for Halladay would be beneficial, but not nearly as beneficial as trading for Halladay would seem on paper. Yes, they'd be adding a bonafide ace, but the pitcher he'd be replacing was already giving them dominant outings. It would make much more sense to try and hang onto Happ, thus giving the Phillies a rotation that includes Hamels, Halladay, and Happ. (Would we call it the Triple H Club?)

Of course, that's not to say they couldn't try to make a deal for Halladay that doesn't involve Happ. They could instead trade Kyle Drabek. This is where things get tricky. Drabek is the Phillies' top pitching prospect and looks like he could be a great top-of-the-rotation pitcher down the road. BUT this Phillies team is built to win now...or in the next few years. If the Phillies think that Drabek will be ready to contribute in the next year or two, then they should hang onto him and see if he can help them to another title. If not, they should deal him for Halladay and get a title while the window is still open.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sell, Sell, Sell!

While this isn't directly related to the Phillies, as the power balance in the NL East shapes out, here are my thoughts on the Phillies' main rival, the New York Mets.

As the trade deadline approaches, the Mets haven't given any indication about whether they will be buyers or sellers at the deadline. Being a New York franchise, selling doesn't seem like much of an option for the Mets, but this year, they should seriously consider it. First of all, nearing the trade deadline, the Mets are ten games back of the division leading Phillies and they would have to overcome the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies in order to win the division. While I don't think much will come of the Braves this year, the Marlins are due for one of their unexplained second-half surges, and if the Phillies can solidify their rotation with the likes of Pedro Martinez or Roy Halladay, the division title this year could become a dogfight between Florida and Philadelphia. Also, the Phillies may run away with the division, especially if they get a pitching boost. My point is, the Mets probably don't stand much of a chance this year.

The smartest thing for the Mets would be to start building toward 2010, when they might actually be able to compete. For that to happen, everyone on their DL needs to get healthy - Beltran, Reyes, Wagner, Putz, Maine, Delgado, and so on - and they might need a couple other pieces. However, their minor league system is kind of depleted as a lot of their major prospects have been called up due to all those injuries. The ones who have performed well will probably remain with the Mets and the others who have been busts now have less value. If there are any veterans that they can trade this year in the hope of getting someone better on the free agent market or the trade market next year or to restock their minors, it would be a good idea to do so. They don't need to have a firesale - Santana or Wright shouldn't go on the market or anything like that - but if they give their injured players ample time to get better, and shed some age in preparation to try to dominate next year, they'll have a much better chance of doing so. If they can find a trade partner for Luis Castillo, it would be a good idea to move him. They can sign someone like Felipe Lopez in the offseason. Even someone like Elmer Dessens or Fernando Tatis might be appealing to a playoff contender looking for the last pieces of the puzzle. For the Mets to add at this point would be silly. Let their guys heal, come back next year strong and in position to make a big deadline deal with prospects, and they'll have a much better chance of winning.

Or at least of winning the wildcard - No reason the Phillies can't take the division next year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pedro Signs with Phils; Halladay to Follow?

The Phillies' season just got a little more interesting. While five Phillies were taking part in another disheartening NL loss in the All-Star Game, Ruben Amaro and the front office were hard at work. The result of that work is a new addition to the Phillies rotation: Pedro Martinez.

Pedro will head to the 15-day DL with a mild shoulder strain (not a promising start) but this may be primarily so the Phillies can get him a few warm-up starts before he joins the rotation.

On the surface, it's a questionable move. The Phillies are asking a 37-year-old pitcher who hasn't thrown 200+ innings since 2005 to shore up the back end of their rotation. Based on that there is little reason to believe he'll be any better than the Phillies' in-house options (Rodrigo Lopez, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, maybe Antonio Bastardo again). Especially considering Pedro's unimpressive 5.61 ERA in 2008.

But the thing to remember is that the Phillies' expectations for Pedro are low. They know they're not getting the Pedro Martinez that was, in his prime, the most dominant pitcher on the planet. They don't need him to pitch 200 innings and amass 200 Ks. They just need him to go out every five days for the next three months and give them quality starts. If Pedro gives the Phillies six innings and allows three runs (the definition of a quality start) in every start for the rest of the season, this will have been a rousing success. If, in addition, he can summon some of his old magic and provide a few dominant outings, even better.

So all in all this has to be considered a good move. The Phillies aren't paying much, in fact it's only a $1 million contract (with up to $1.5 million in incentives), so there's very little risk involved. If Pedro struggles and/or gets injured, the Phillies can cut him loose and continue to shuffle in the Rodrigo Lopez's of the world into the fifth rotation slot. But if he is good (and based on this season, a Phillies starter posting a 4.50 ERA would, in fact, be pretty good), the Phillies will get a huge lift to their postseason aspirations.

In all likelihood, this move in itself will not have a huge impact on the season, seeing as most projections suggest Pedro will be about a league-average pitcher. Even if he exceeds that, we're most likely talking about a Joe Blanton-style acquisition, where we add a solid 4th or 5th starter, not an ace.

That said, this could greatly impact the Phillies' ability to trade for an ace. One of the stumbling blocks in the Phillies quest to pry Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays is that it might require giving up J.A. Happ. Happ is a very valuable asset, and not just because he's a promising 26-year-old pitcher, but because he's become a key member of the rotation. Frankly, either Happ or Blanton has been the Phillies' best starter this season (depending on whether or not you want to give Blanton credit for getting a lot more starts), as Hamels has been fairly erratic.

A few days ago, trading Happ (and others) for Halladay meant mortgaging the team's future AND its present, to a degree. While Halladay would surely be an upgrade over Happ, the Phillies would still have been left with a hole in the 5th slot in the rotation. But now, with Pedro in place, the Phillies can seriously consider trading Happ and trying to ride a rotation of Hamels, Halladay, Blanton, Moyer, and Martinez to the World Series. With that group, I would like their chances.

Of course, given the choice, I would still opt to deal prospects from the minors (even the great Kyle Drabek) and retain Happ, if for no other reason than he's proven that he can be effective for the Phillies and they are already a very old team. The Phillies will need starters next season too and, as it stands, they can only be sure about having Hamels and Happ. Myers is a free agent and Blanton is arbitration-eligible. Moyer has another year under contract, but he has really struggled this year and one has to think he'll consider retirement. Even if Pedro fares well in the second half, he'd half to really dominate for the Phillies to consider bringing him back at age 38. And then there's Halladay, who will be a free agent in 2011 and may or may not be interested in signing an extension with the Phillies. So trading for Halladay but retaining Happ would give the Phillies an excellent 3rd or 4th starter this year and a guy they can count on for the next few years as well.

There is one catch to making such a deal. Trading for Halladay and keeping Happ would crowd the Phillies' rotation and one has to think that would force Moyer out. They certainly won't send Pedro to the bullpen after all that work to sign him and Moyer's 5.99 ERA does not exactly inspire confidence for the stretch run. So Moyer would have to head for the 'pen, where it's unclear whether or not he could be of any use. Moyer has appeared in 654 games and 601 of them have been starts, with only one relief outing since 1997 (and that outing came in the 16th inning of an 18-inning Mariners loss to the Rangers in 2004, so it wasn't exactly by design).

Frankly it's just hard to see the Phillies doing that to one of the best-liked players on the team and the premier elder statesman of the game. It just seems like bad karma. But most likely it will not be an issue, as trading Happ for Halladay makes a lot more sense now than it did a week ago. We'll see if it happens, but at least for now we can be pleased that the Phillies revolving door of #5 starters has come to a halt.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Live from (Watching) the 2009 All-Star Game

Following the rousing success of last year's inaugural People's Phillies Blog All-Star Game coverage, we're back once more. Last year we were treated to a thrilling (and at times embarrassing) game that seemed like it would never end. Of course, the result was familiar with the American League winning yet again. Not that it saved them in the World Series. (Eat it, AL elitists!) Still, it's safe to say it would be considered an upset if the NL won, even in a National League ballpark.

As we go through the introductions, there's a horrifying shot of Ryan Franklin's beard/goatee/whatever. Can we censor that or something?
8:15: Josh Hamilton is introduced. I'm still mad at him for skipping the Home Run Derby. Seriously, how boring was that yesterday? No exciting storylines (even if Hamilton's story was WAY overdone) and Prince Fielder was the only one worth watching at the plate.
8:18: I still can't believe Shane Victorino is an All-Star. Not that he hasn't had a great season, but would anyone really have predicted that? And now he's starting. Crazy world.
8:20: Now the "all-stars among us" are trotted out. I'm sure they're all great people and it's a nice gesture, but I'm none of their moms so I don't really care.
8:27: And now all the players close in on the "all-stars among us" for some kind of super group hug. That just looks awkward. Okay, now that that's done with, can we have some baseball please?
8:31: The Jurassic Park-style theme music! It's back! Oh, how I missed it.
8:47: Is it just me or is there something really weird about the All-Star Game being sponsored by that Orphan movie.
8:48: Apparently Tim Lincecum is sporting a "bionic arm." Sweet, we've got a cyborg on our team. Who knew?
8:52: Not a great start for Lincecum. Ichiro nearly homers on the first pitch, before it goes foul, then he lashes a single to right. Derek Jeter steps in next and gets hit by a pitch. Now Joe Mauer comes up looking to give the AL an early lead.
8:56: Mauer hits the ball less than a foot, as it lands directly in front of the plate. Molina fires to third for one out and David Wright's throw to first was off the mark, so Mauer is safe.
8:57: Teixiera grounds one to Pujols, but he can't handle it. Utley gets to the ball but not in time to stop a run from scoring. AL leads 1-0. Isn't Pujols supposed to be the best fielder on earth? That's what ESPN told me. The error is unacceptable.
8:59: Lincecum finally gets out of the inning, but not before the AL adds another run, making it 2-0. Not a good start if the NL wants to break their all-star slump.
9:05: Halladay faces Utley in a matchup of potential future teammates. However the result is fairly mundane as Utley grounds to first. Now Pujols steps in, hoping to make up for his error.
9:07: Pujols smokes a grounder to third, but Michael Young picks it and throws to first, giving Halladay a 1-2-3 inning. Take notes, young Lincecum.
9:12: Nice battle by Halladay at the plate, but Lincecum strikes him out looking.
9:21: The NL finally gets a hit off Halladay, as Wright gets a broken bat bloop single to center field.
9:22: And Victorino follows with a "real" hit, lining a single to right. Great scoring chance for the NL here, with Molina up now and likely a pinch hitter on deck.
9:23: Molina hits a single up the middle. Wright comes around to score and the throw from Hamilton goes to third, but the throw ricochets off Victorino and he'll also score. Tie game, 2-2. Now Fielder steps in to pinch hit with a runner on second. Fielder slices a ball just barely fair and it bounces into the crowd for a ground rule double. Good thing too because Molina is no guarantee to score from second on a base hit. And with that the NL takes a 3-2 lead.
9:32: Ryan Franklin gets through a scoreless inning and America survives his brutal facial hair...somehow.
9:38: Easy inning for Buerhle, as we're through three innings.
9:52: The pitchers have dominated the last few innings. Zach Greinke just finished off Victorino in a perfect bottom of the fourth inning.
9:59: Crawford singles off Chad Billingsley and Ichiro slaps on to the right side of the infield. Rather than take the easy out at first, Utley turns and fires to second to JUST get Crawford. Heck of a play.
10:01: Now Pujols flashes the leather. He makes a diving stop of a Jeter ground ball and then fires to second for the second out of the inning. Jeter is in safely at first so now Mauer comes up with two outs and one on.
10:04: Mauer rips a double down the left field line and Jeter comes all the way from first to score. Tie game, 3-3.
10:05: Another diving stop by Pujols gets the NL out of the inning, as Teixiera is retired. Great defense by the NL in this half-inning, but it wasn't enough to hold the lead.
10:14: Another inning and another double switch by the NL. It just occurred to me that Charlie Manuel is the perfect manager for the All-Star Game since wasting an entire bench by the ninth inning is a specialty of his.
10:25: Pujols gets a nice ovation as he's pulled for Adrian Gonzalez. After all the hype, Pujols really did nothing at the plate, but at least he made some great plays in the field.
10:35: Brad Hawpe nearly gives the NL a 4-3 lead, ripping Papelbon's first pitch to left, but Crawford snares it, preserving the tie. Great catch. Tejada follows with another first-pitch deep fly ball that is caught at the warning track. Now Jayson Werth steps in for his first action of the day.
10:39: Werth battles but strikes out swinging on a full count, ending the inning.
10:44: Curtis Granderson hits a deep fly ball over Justin Upton's head that bounces off the base of the wall and past Upton, into center field. Werth fields it and fires to third, but not in time, as Granderson slides into third with a one-out triple. Heath Bell is then ordered to intentionally walk Victor Martinez, setting up the double play. However, it won't be an easy one to turn with Adam Jones at the plate.
10:48: Jones hits a long fly ball to right and it's more than deep enough to bring Granderson home, giving the AL a 4-3 lead.
10:52: Heath Bell strikes out Ben Zobrist to finally get out of the inning. We'll see if the NL can rally.
11:01: After Gonzalez draws a 2-out walk off Joe Nathan, Hudson grounds a single up the middle. It skips off Bartlett's glove and Gonzalez makes his way to third. And that brings up St. Louis' own Ryan Howard with a chance to tie the game or give the NL the lead.
11:06: Howard works a 2-2 count but goes down swinging to end the inning. Lame.
11:12: K-Rod gets a 1-2-3 inning thanks to a tremendous running catch from Werth. How about a Phillie and Met teaming up. Doesn't feel right, but I'll take it.
11:20: Tejada pops out to end the game and Rivera gets his record-setting 4th All-Star Game save. Another disappointing performance from the NL, but clearly we don't need homefield advantage to win the World Series, so it's no big loss.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Coste Sets Sail as Ibanez Returns

After a lengthy DL stint, Raul Ibanez is back. He didn't play in last night's game, a 3-2 Phillies victory over the Pirates, but he is expected to start tonight and tomorrow, before heading to St. Louis for the All-Star Game.

To make room for Ibanez, the Phillies placed Chris Coste on waivers. Coste was picked up by the Houston Astros, ending his short but memorable tenure with the Phillies. Statistically Coste was never a great player, except perhaps in his rookie season (at the tender age of 33) when he batted .328. However, Coste still managed to become a fan favorite, serving more than adequately as a backup catcher and pinch hitter. For the last few years he had served as a useful foil to Carlos Ruiz, as his offensive ability made up for his so-so defense, but this year his offensive numbers suffered and Ruiz's improved, making Coste somewhat expendable.

I have no problem conceding that Ruiz is a better catcher and should get the bulk of the playing time, but what was the harm in keeping Coste the backup? By ridding themselves of Coste, the Phillies just made Paul Bako their backup catcher. This is a very confusing decision. It can't be about age because Bako is 37, one year older than Coste. It's not about hitting because Bako is batting just .174 and has a career OPS of .620, compared to Coste's .724 OPS this year.

The only thing it could be is Bako's defense and perhaps some leadership qualities. It's hard to argue with Coste's intangibles, considering his incredible backstory and the fact that he earned a World Series ring last year. It seems especially odd to get rid of Coste within a week of the franchise choosing him to read Lou Gehrig's speech.

For the record, I found that whole Gehrig speech thing to be extremely strange. Don't get me wrong, it was a great speech made by one of the best to ever play the game, but no matter how noble a speech it was about his terminal illness. Okay, so they were trying to raise ALS awareness, but wouldn't it have made much more sense to just play the speech on the big screen rather than pick out individual players to recite a 70-year old speech about Gehrig's personal experience?

Anyway, back to the Phillies. The only logical justification for replacing Coste with Bako is that Bako's defense and game-calling abilities are significantly better than Coste's. That may well be true, but was Coste really that bad? One has to think his offense more than makes up for it, at least when compared to Bako. If they wanted an improved backup catcher, it would have made more sense to call up Lou Marson, though perhaps they'd rather him get more at-bats than he would be allowed as a Phillies backup.

To Bako's credit, he has called some good games recently. He called both of Rodrigo Lopez's starts as well as strong outings from Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton. The Phillies are 4-2 in games he's started, with the only poor start coming from Cole Hamels in the Phillies' 11-1 loss to the Braves. In fact, they've won the last 4 games that Bako has started, so perhaps he's doing something right.

However, the most confusing thing about this decision is that the Phillies didn't just do the obvious thing and send John Mayberry back to the minors. While the Phillies are certainly a better team with Mayberry on the bench as an extra outfielder than with three catchers, one has to think Mayberry would be much better served by starting in the minors than he will be as a pinch-hitter for the Phillies. Theoretically he gives them flexibility as far as giving the Phillies a potential defensive replacement and pinch runner, but would the Phillies really use him to replace any of their starting outfielders (all of them All-Stars)?

The only logic I can see to keeping Mayberry up is that the Phillies may not be so confident that Ibanez is fully healthy. That would make it a very curious decision to take him off the DL, but keep in mind that Ibanez is a few days away from playing in his first All-Star game (as a starter, no less) at age 37. There's no way to know if he'll ever make another All-Star team and it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Phillies knowingly brought him back a little early so that he could get some major league at-bats in before his All-Star debut. If they had not brought him back for this series, many eyebrows would have been raised if he took the field in the All-Star game, potentially jeopardizing his Phillies season, or at least that's how it would've been perceived.

The Phillies surely know better than to do anything that would put his season at risk, but it would not be at all surprising to me if they deliberately brought him back a little early to get him prepared for the game, while at the same time avoiding a media firestorm. If this is indeed the reason, it would explain why Mayberry is still on the roster: He may yet receive considerable playing time due to Ibanez's incomplete recovery. I mean, if Ibanez really was 100% right now, why wouldn't he have started last night's game?

All in all, handling Ibanez this way is a very nice gesture, facilitating his first All-Star appearance, so I'm not entirely against it. (And keep in mind, the idea that he's being brought back early is pure speculation on my part and could be entirely untrue.) I just hope it doesn't hurt the Phillies down the road, whether because of Ibanez's injury flaring up or due to the loss of Coste.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Beggar's Halladay?

J.P. Ricciardi, the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays has said that their ace, Roy Halladay, could be available in a trade. With that in mind, Halladay could easily become the CC Sabathia of this year. It's a smart move by Ricciardi to let teams know that he could be had. There is a noticeable lack of quality starting pitching available and there are many teams, including the Phillies, who are desperately seeking pitching, so Ricciardi can put out a high price tag.

However, the difference between Halladay's situation and Sabathia's situation last year is that the Blue Jays still have Halladay under contract for another year for a reasonable price, and the Blue Jays are much closer to being a contender than the Indians were at this time last year. Now, the Blue Jays are only 8 games out of first place in the division, though still behind Tampa Bay, Boston, and New York. Last year, on July 9th, Cleveland was 15 games out of first place and at the bottom of their division. The Blue Jays also have many more pieces in place for a potential playoff run, while Cleveland has been in a rebuilding phase and had little hope of resigning Sabathia. Essentially, Toronto has much less of a reason to trade Halladay than Cleveland had to trade Sabathia.

Therefore, it will be a lot harder to pry Halladay away and it will cost a lot more. It will also cost players that are major-league ready. Last year, the Phillies fell short in the Sabathia sweepstakes. This year, they have more prospects of interest in their system. The Blue Jays could be interested in J.A. Happ, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, and their three "untouchable" prospects: Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown, and Jason Knapp. The question is whether or not the price is too steep for Philadelphia. The Phillies would have to give up multiple top prospects for a 32-year old pitcher who they would only be guaranteed to have for another year and a half. Halladay also has a bit of an injury history. Once again, comparing Sabathia and Halladay, Sabathia was younger and has been far more durable throughout his career. If Halladay isn't traded this year, the Blue Jays don't extend his contract beyond 2010, and they decide to trade him next year, he probably won't be able to command as high a price tag as Sabathia.

For Ricciardi to get the most value from trading Halladay, now is the time to make a deal. As for the Phillies, Halladay would be a great immediate fit for them, but the starting pitching has been better lately, since Hamels, Blanton, and Moyer have been more effective of late, J.A. Happ has been successful as a starter, and it might be worth giving Rodrigo Lopez (assuming his injury last night doesn't cost him DL-time) and Carlos Carrasco a shot at securing the last rotation spot before they trade away their entire prospect corps for Halladay.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Phils Hands Reds Worst Loss Ever

As big as the Phillies sweep of the Mets was in terms of the standings, fans hoped it would serve as an even bigger momentum builder. Well, they may have been right. The Phillies absolutely devastated the Cincinnati Reds last night, scoring 10 runs in the first inning on the way to a 22-1 win.

Shane Victorino, Greg Dobbs, and Chase Utley all homered in the first, and Cole Hamels had an RBI double. Jimmy Rollins continued to show signs of breaking out of his season-long slump, going 3-for-4 with a double and 2 walks. In doing so, the Phillies knocked out Johnny Cueto with 2 outs in the first inning. Cueto's ERA jumped from 2.69 to 3.45, by virtue of allowing 9 earned runs in 0.2 innings.

The Reds did manage a run in the second, as Jonny Gomes hit a solo shot off Hamels, but the Phillies continued to pile it on, leading 16-1 after four innings. The game was so out of hand that Charle Manuel brought in pinch runners for Utley and Howard in the bottom of the fourth.

Cincinnati turned to backup shortstop Paul Janish to pitch the bottom of the eighth...and the Phillies noticed. They tacked on two more runs on hits from Victorino and Eric Bruntlett, and then Jayson Werth hit an opposite field grand slam, to make it 22-1. To Janish's credit, he did manage to strike out Pedro Feliz to end the inning.

Scott Eyre pitched a scoreless ninth to finish off the Reds and give them their most lopsided loss in franchise history. Eyre wasn't exactly dominant in his first appearance since returning from the 15-Day DL, putting runners on second and third with no outs. However, he managed to get out of it, on a shallow fly ball, and a pair of strike outs.

While it would be great if the Phillies could have saved a few of those runs for the rest of the series, a win like that is a major statement and should strike fear into the hearts of National League pitchers everywhere.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Independence Week Recap

1) Rodrigo Lopez was called up to take Antonio Bastardo’s spot in the rotation. Lopez hadn’t made a start since 2007 when he was with the Colorado Rockies and went down with arm trouble. The Phillies signed him to a minor league contract in the off-season, knowing that they might have rotation problems, and Lopez was doing extremely well in the minors. The Phillies chose to bring up Lopez over prospects Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Carpenter, and former rotation member Kyle Kendrick, among others. He looked good in his first start, pitching six shutout innings and then allowing two runs in the seventh inning before being removed with one out. With slim pickings for starting pitching on the trade market, Lopez would be a convenient answer to the hole in the rotation.

2) When Rodrigo Lopez was brought up, he took the roster spot of…none other than…Jack Taschner (admit it, you were expecting me to say "Sergio Escalona."). Taschner was acquired from the San Francisco Giants this past off-season for Ronny Paulino, in order to have another veteran lefty in the pen, knowing that J.C. Romero would be serving his suspension for 50 games. Not long after Romero returned, lefty Scott Eyre got injured. In 21 games, Taschner was 1-1 with a 5.20 ERA. He started off being fairly effective, having a 3.92 ERA in April and May. But with Escalona having been more effective recently, and Romero back, the Phillies decided to get rid of Taschner, giving him the opportunity to find a chance on another major league roster.

3) However, Escalona didn’t get to stay too much longer. Scott Eyre was activated from the DL and Escalona in turn was sent down. Now, the only bullpen pitcher left on the DL is Clay Condrey; besides him, the core of our bullpen is back. However, this will surely not be the last we see of Escalona. Eyre has said that this is going to be his last year, so come next year, the Phillies may be perfectly happy to have Escalona in the bullpen.

4) The Phillies are scouting Pedro Martinez as a possibility for the rotation. Before, the team had said that it wasn’t interested in Pedro, but with so few available options for pitching, they’ve decided to at least look into the possibility. Scouts didn’t seem too impressed the last time they watched Pedro worked out, the main diagnosis being that he had lost his speed. Pedro was most effective as a power pitcher, and now that he’s older, it’s not surprising that he’s lost velocity and is less effective. I would like to see how Rodrigo Lopez does for a few starts before the Phillies panic and seriously consider signing Pedro. Frankly, if Pedro were worth signing, he would have been signed already. Freddy Garcia was signed this off-season and Pedro remained on the open market. What does that say?

5) The Phillies are sending three players to St. Louis for the All-Star game. Chase Utley will be starting at second base (surprise, surprise), Raul Ibanez will start in the outfield (it is indeed a country for old men – Ibanez got the most votes for the NL outfield), and Ryan Howard will be a backup. Utley was expected, Ibanez deserves it, but sending Howard is kind of curious. He’s batting .252 and has 20 HR, which is obviously very good, but there are other first basemen with better numbers. My first reaction, not having seen the entire All-Star roster was, ‘Seriously? Howard over Adrian Gonzalez?’ Well, it wasn’t Howard over Gonzalez. In fact, the NL roster has four first basemen: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Gonzalez, and Howard. This would make a lot of sense if the game was in an American League park and the DH rule was in effect. But, it’s not. Not really sure what Charlie, Joe, and Tony were thinking. It’s probably Charlie’s way of thanking Howard for last year. Shane Victorino is an option for the final roster spot, and a worthy candidate, though Mark Reynolds has been fantastic for Arizona.

6) The biggest news of the weekend, however, was the Phillies sweep of the rival Mets in Philadelphia. After being swept by the Braves on the road, the Phillies came home tied for first place in the division with Florida, with Atlanta and New York breathing down their necks. Friday featured the promising Phillies debut of Rodrigo Lopez, in which the Phillies pounced on Livan Hernandez for seven runs and the Mets could only get three innings out of him. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Chase Utley all had multiple hits and Jayson Werth hit a home run as the Phillies went on to win 7-2. The second game, Jamie Moyer pitched into the seventh inning and only allowed one run, Victorino and Pedro Feliz each had three hits and Brad Lidge got his 15th save of the year as the Phillies won 4-1. Lidge looked like the Lidge that was so successful last year for the Phillies. Apparently, sending him on a trip to the DL did him some good. If Lidge is able to hold down the bullpen, the Phillies will have one less inning of a game to worry about. On Sunday, Joe Blanton outdueled Johan Santana as the Phillies swept the Mets in a 2-0 game. The only two runs in the game came from solo home runs by Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Blanton pitched into the eighth inning and Lidge came in to strike out the side in the ninth. It was an extremely important and extremely promising looking series for the Phillies. All three starting pitchers looked great; Lopez’ debut looked good, Moyer was effective, and Blanton has continued his recent success. If Blanton can be a more productive member of the rotation, he is as good a candidate as any to assume the vacancy atop the rotation left by Brett Myers. It would take a huge deal of pressure off the Phillies and they could look into getting a bottom of the rotation type starter – a Jarrod Washburn or Bronson Arroyo. Also, it looks like Brad Lidge is back. Lidge looked dominant in the second two games of the weekend, and he was a huge part of the team’s success last year. To have a healthy Lidge for the second half of the year will make a huge difference and they’ll have a much easier time staying on top of the division. Also, Jimmy Rollins is warming up. He had hits and RBIs in all three games. Hopefully the team’s performance this weekend is a sign of good things to come.