On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Phillies add an ace, future still intact

A few weeks ago, I used this space to implore Lower Makefield Township resident Ruben Amaro, Jr., to trade for Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay. I said that losing any number of minor leaguers was worth it to add the best pitcher in baseball to the Phillies' starting rotation.

Well, after a few weeks of exchanging names back and forth, the Blue Jays asking price for Halladay became too great when they wouldn't budge from their demands of rookie of the year candidate J.A. Happ, in addition to the Phillies' top three minor league prospects.

After balking at the Blue Jays' outrageous request, the defending World Champions of Baseball (I still hear Harry Kalas' voice every time I write that) added Cliff Lee, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, without giving up Happ, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown. As a result, major kudos go out to the Phillies general manager for bringing in a pitcher who is almost as good as Halladay, yet comes with a far lower price tag.

With this trade, the Phillies have cemented their place in October, boasting two top-of-the-rotation aces in Lee and Cole Hamels, along with the best offense in the National League. Lee doesn't guarantee the Phillies a return to the Fall Classic, but his presence gives them a better starting rotation than any team they would encounter along the way.

All things being equal, I would rather have traded for Halladay, but by no means is this the typical "this guy is good enough" trade that we have all grown accustomed to seeing out of Philadelphia teams. Without a doubt, adding Lee is the big blockbuster deal that we hoped for every July, yet never saw come to fruition.

Since the start of last season, Halladay is 31-14 with a 2.72 ERA, but Lee's numbers are on the same level, having compiled a 29-12 record, with a 2.79 ERA. This year, Lee has struggled to find the win column, going just 7-9, but that is the result of the pitiful run support he has received. He still has posted an ERA of 3.14, which ranks seventh in the American League, but his team has scored three runs or less in 12 of his 21 starts this season. Looking at the Phillies' offense, he shouldn’t have to worry about that in the next two months.

While it is obvious that both pitchers would be welcome additions to Phillies' starting rotation, which ranks 21st in the majors in ERA, the cost of adding Halladay was just too great.

By going after Lee, the Phillies were able to hold on to the building blocks of future playoff runs, instead of seeing that window close when Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge and several others are wearing different uniforms after 2011.

Happ has been a revelation for the Phillies, going 7-1 with a 2.97 ERA as a rookie. Splitting time between Clearwater and Reading, Kyle Drabek has baffled minor league hitters, going 11-2 with a 2.78 ERA, along with 123 strikeouts in 128 innings pitched. Taylor and Brown have been equally impressive, as each outfielder is hitting above .300 for the season, while showing 30-30 potential in the process.

In comparison, the prospects in the Lee trade are all on the decline. Jason Knapp, a highly touted prospect who is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, is the centerpiece of the deal. While in Lakewood (Low-A), Knapp struck out 111 batters in 85.1 innings, but is not dominating, posting a 4.01 ERA against kids who are fresh out of high school. Lou Marson is a good prospect, but not a guy worth keep around when a Cy Young winner becomes available. Marson is hitting .294, but isn't defensively sound enough to push Carlos Ruiz for a job on the Phillies.

The other two players in the deal - Carlos Carrasco and Jason Donald - were top prospects coming into this season, yet both have faltered in Lehigh Valley.

There was a time when Carrasco was the next best thing in the Phillies' system, yet in 2009 he has disappointed, going 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA in 20 starts for the Iron Pigs. Donald was a contender for a spot on the big club during Spring Training, but didn't do enough to crack the 25-man roster, and since then, his stock has dropped exponentially. He was a .300 hitter each of the last two seasons, yet hasn't been able to figure out Triple-A pitchers, hitting just .236, with one home run, and did not show the glove or arm necessary to play third base when Pedro Feliz's contract expires.

After all of the on-the-field numbers have been dissected, the dollars and cents are also on Lee's side, as Halladay would have cost the Phillies approximately $22 million through 2010, while Lee will cost approximately half that amount. Next year, Lee's option is for just $9 million, compared to the $15.75 million option in Halladay's contract.

Overall, would the 2009 Phillies be better with Halladay compared to Lee? Slightly, but remember, Halladay could come up on the wrong end of an October pitchers' duel just as easily as Lee could, and if that happens, we still will have a bright future for 2011 and beyond.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Eagles should sign a veteran running back

While the Phillies have pulled a week in front of the Braves and Marlins in the National League East, the biggest buzz around the area is for Eagles training camp.

I’ve done some reading about the Eagles on the national level lately, and there are quite a few magazines and writers predicting our Birds to be playing in late January, and possibly even early February. Based on the rest of the teams in the NFC East and, in fact, the entire conference, I can’t say that I blame them for making these predictions.

Even with the confidence that I have in the Eagles as an entire team, I still feel a few positions are lacking, including defensive end and running back.

I think that if Victor Abiamiri can stay healthy for the entire season, he will be an excellent first and second down defensive end, which would allow Juqua (Thomas) Parker to move back into the role of blitz specialist, where he excelled in 2006, getting to the quarterback six times in limited playing time. In that role, along with Chris Clemons, Parker can make an impact on obvious passing downs, instead of being worn down by road-grating offensive tackles on running plays.

With Abiamiri back in the fold, the only position of need on the Eagles would be at the running back spot.

Whether or not Brian Westbrook is fully healthy (has that ever been the case?), the Eagles need another running back.Westbrook is the starter, LeSean “Shady” McCoy is the Westbrook of the next decade, having a very similar skill set as the man he was drafted to replace, and Lorenzo Booker fills the role of disappointment on the roster, which Greg Lewis, L.J. Smith, Reggie Brown, and Reno Mahe have all previously filled.

McCoy’s role this season will be to take some of the load off of Westbrook’s shoulders, not be a change-of-pace back. Assuming he picks up the plays and the blocking assignments, McCoy could see as many as 10-15 touches per game this season because Westbrook clearly was not himself last year, posting the lowest yards per carry and yards per catch of his career. If Westbrook comes back healthy and dynamic, McCoy will be brought along slower than if Westbrook looks like he is running on the bald tires from last season.

This means that the Eagles still need a running back to replace Correll Buckhalter, because Buck did different things than Westbrook, running with a north-south, one-gap style.Because they only need someone to come in for five to 10 touches per game, the Eagles could look in the nearly-over-the-hill section of the free agency market, which is currently stocked to the ceiling with running backs, including Edgerrin James, Warrick Dunn, Michael Pittman, DeShaun Foster and Deuce McAllister.

(On a complete side note, just mentioning Foster’s name brings back my hatred of Mark Simoneau for missing not one, but two tackles on Foster’s one-yard touchdown run in the NFC Championship game against the Panthers. If the Eagles could have held the Panthers to a field goal on that drive, it would have been a one-score game late in the fourth quarter instead of a two-score game, and maybe they could have pulled off a comeback!)

Looking at that group, Dunn is the obvious name that sticks out, because the Eagles made a run for him several years ago. However, we can probably cross him off the list because, at 187 pounds, he would be the smallest running back on the Eagles, and not be an adequate replacement for Buckhalter.

The one thing that the rest of the running backs have in common is their size and their ability to catch passes out of the backfield. All four of the remaining running backs are at least 220 pounds, and other than Foster, they all have 60-catch seasons on their resumes.

Because of their similar skill sets, I would look at the durability of the player, along with how he would fit in the Eagles’ locker room.That last characteristic immediately takes James out of the picture based on how often he was seen sulking and requesting a trade out of Arizona last year.

Durability is a question mark for the three other running backs, but McAllister is the only one who has shown that he can handle being a backup without causing trouble.

More importantly, he has the ability to pick up first downs in short-yardage situations, and carry the load for a week if necessary, and knowing Westbrook, it will be necessary.

Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week, we’ll talk about what to look for if you go to Eagles Training Camp in Lehigh, along with the amazing run of the red-hot Phillies.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Forget Pedro, go get Doc

Being in the crowd on Wednesday, October 29, 2008 as the Phillies won their second World Series title in franchise history is a night that I will never forget. I would love to relive that night again this year, and what Lower Makefield resident Ruben Amaro, Jr. does in the next few weeks could determine whether or not I get that chance.

Because the Phillies’ general manager lives within the coverage area of this newspaper, I am writing directly to him when I say: “Go get Roy Halladay!”

I fully expect the Phillies to win the National League East for the third consecutive season because the Mets are hurt, the Braves can’t hit, and the Marlins are too inexperienced to hang around for the next three months. However, once the calendar turns to October, I don’t believe that the Phillies have enough pitching to repeat as the “World Champions of Baseball.”

Ruben, you made an excellent decision when signing Raul Ibanez to play leftfield, instead of Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu or Milton Bradley, but now is the time to make the biggest decision a general manager can make: preserve the future or go for broke.

In my opinion, when Roy Halladay is considered “going for broke,” you can’t sit around and think about the future. It’s not like you would be mortgaging the future for an overpriced, back-of-the-rotation arm like Jason Marquis or Jarrod Washburn (do Eric Milton and Cory Lidle ring any bells?), you would be getting one of the best pitchers in baseball for the past decade.

Not only is Halladay a true ace, he would be perfect for the Phillies and Citizens Bank Park. Adding Halladay and his 1.31 career groundball-to-flyball ratio to the starting rotation would finally give the Phillies a true groundball pitcher. Halladay is also a workhorse, throwing at least 220 innings in each of the last three seasons, and his propensity for finishing what he started—19 complete games in his last 81 starts—would help the Phillies bullpen, which has been overworked this season due to a starting rotation that has a 4.98 ERA at the All Star break.

Looking at the Phillies roster as it is currently constructed, the proverbial “window of opportunity” closes after the 2011 season. Joe Blanton and Jayson Werth are free agents after the 2010 season, and then Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero are free to walk away after the 2011 season.

Unless a Steinbrenner is interested in purchasing the Phillies, we need to maximize the output of this core group before it is too late, because all of them are going to command more money or years than the Phillies are willing to (or reasonably should) commit to these players.

I don’t care how good we all think Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Dominic Brown, Lou Marson and Jason Donald are, if the Toronto Blue Jays want any combination of these players, then we should be asking to see their passports.

Yes, these are the hot names in the Phillies’ farm system this year, but since Cole Hamels made his Major League debut in 2006, how many of the “hot names” have flamed out? While J.A. Happ is pitching like a solid number two starter, where are Carlos Carrasco, Jason Jaramillo, Michael Bourn, Gavin Floyd, Chris Roberson, Josh Outman, Scott Mathieson, Adrian Cardenas, Brad Harman, Greg Golson, Gio Gonzalez or Mike Costanzo? More importantly, the Phillies have other players like Anthony Gose, Travis d’Arnaud, Jason Knapp, Joe Savery, and Vance Worley developing in the farm system as the next “hot names,” not to mention John Mayberry, Jr., and Antonio Bastardo who are Major League ready right now.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a Cy Young Award winner in the prime of his career than a bunch of guys who we all think will be good, but based on recent history, probably won’t be worth anything in three years.

While it is obvious to everyone that Halladay would improve the Phillies, my guess is that it all comes down to money, but this time, there is no excuse not to make the blockbuster trade.With $25.5 million coming off the books with the contracts of Adam Eaton, Geoff Jenkins and Brett Myers expiring, the Phillies have more than enough money to pay for the raises that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and several others are due to receive in 2010.

There has to be room in the budget to cover Halladay’s 2010 salary, and according to several reports, the Phillies received a large insurance claim on Myers, which would pay for the remainder of Halladay’s salary this season.

Maybe I’m being shortsighted, but if Kyle Drabek is expected to be a staff ace someday in the future, why not trade him for a guy who is a staff ace right now and can pitch twice in each playoff series for the next two years?

By the way, none of this takes into account that something is obviously wrong with Cole Hamels, who has won just one start in the last six weeks.


Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week, we’ll talk about what went wrong and what went right in the first half of the season for the Phillies.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

State of the NL East: Midseason

As baseball’s midsummer classic approaches, the Phillies find themselves clicking on all cylinders once again, despite June being one of the most frustrating months of baseball that I can remember.

The Phillies went just 11-15 last month, and adding in the first two games of July, they had a terrible stretch in which they won just seven of 24 games, yet the Fightins never dropped to the second line in the National League East standings.

During that woeful period of baseball, the Phillies dealt with a complete meltdown of their starting pitching, which included a span of more than two weeks (June 8 to 22) without a starting pitcher winning a game. The June swoon also included the failed “Ryan Madson Experiment,” which saw the eighth-inning specialist fill in for Brad Lidge at closer, and, to quote Chris Berman, stumble, bumble and fumble away more games than he could save.

After being swept by the Braves, the Phillies looked as though their grip on the division had faded, and all of their mojo was gone, but into Citizens Bank Park walked the hated New York Mets, and three games later, the Phillies were once again the team to beat in the division, and the starting pitching was suddenly a point of strength.

In their sweep of the Mets, the Phillies sent to the hill a guy who hadn’t started a game in the majors in more than 700 days, and a 46-year-old who had an ERA over 7.00 at home this year in the first two games. In the third game, Joe Blanton brought out the broom, outdueling Johan Santana in a 2-0 victory.

Throw in a 22-1 beatdown of the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, and the Phillies have officially regained that swagger that was missing for nearly a month. More importantly, jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first inning gave Cole Hamels the type of pressure-free outing he needed to get back on track and win his first start since June 4.

While analyzing the Phillies’ chances at a three-peat in the division, the one thing that jumps out among the other teams is injuries. While Brett Myers, and his replacement, Antonio Bastardo, are on the disabled list, the Phillies suddenly are nearly as healthy as ever, as Lidge and Scott Eyre have returned to the team, and Raul Ibanez looks like he will rejoin the big club sooner, rather than later.

The rest of the division, however, is not so lucky.

Florida, who probably will present the biggest challenge to the Phillies the rest of the way, lost their closer, Matt Lindstrom. As we all saw when Madson took the ball in the ninth inning, closing out games is an entirely different animal compared to the seventh or eighth innings, so the Marlins, who managed to pull into a tie for first place with the Phillies for a day last week, might have a wild and stressful few weeks ahead of them.

Moving to the talented, yet always underachieving Mets, they have more injuries than any team should be forced to endure, but I’m not going to complain about that. The Mets’ disabled list is a who’s who of all-stars and free agent acquisitions, as Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez and John Maine are all watching helplessly as the Mets fade into obscurity in the division.It’s unclear when the Mets will be able to bring in the reinforcements, but it needs to happen soon, or else only the lowly Washington Nationals will prevent them from being basement-dwellers.

The Braves, who could be a dangerous team if they ever learned to hit the ball, are still waiting for Tim Hudson to come back to the rotation, and starting second baseman Kelly Johnson just went on the DL with tendonitis in his right wrist.

Baseball really is a funny game. For the last few weeks, the Phillies were banged up and couldn’t win a game even when it was gift-wrapped and placed in front of them. Now, just four days after being swept by the Braves, which included two Madson meltdowns, the Phillies are rolling and in better shape than anyone in the division.


Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Two drafts, two different directions

Before the Phillies won the World Series last October, Philadelphia had 25 well-documented years of futility. Throughout that time, each of the four major teams had their share of ups, downs, and near-miss heartbreak.

In the last 25 years, however, the only team that gave it all and went for broke each and every season was the Flyers, and this year is no different. Whether it was trading for Eric Lindros, or bringing in Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher, or adding Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell in the same offseason, the Flyers always have a “win now” approach, and adding Chris Pronger to the defense definitely says the Flyers are trying to win it all this year.

All season, the Flyers could score goals in bunches, but stopping the puck from finding the back of the net was a problem. Part of that dilemma was that Martin Biron lacked the fundamentals necessary to be a consistent goalie (I promise a future column completely ripping on fired goaltender coach Reggie Lemelin), and part of the problem was a defense that lacked a powerful, front-of-the-net defenseman.

Pronger, despite his advanced age of 34, steps in as the Flyers best defensemen. Timonen is still the best open-ice defensemen, but in front of the net, and especially on the penalty kill, there’s no one better than Pronger at clearing out some room for the goaltender to see what’s coming.

More importantly, how many times last season did a rebound end up in the back of the net because our defensemen didn’t move whoever set up camp in front of the goalie? This year, when guys like Evgeni Malkin and others try to make their home in front of the crease, Pronger will be there to make them pay for it. And hopefully some of that work effort and gritty play will rub off on Braydon Coburn, who regressed last year. With the right teaching and motivation, Coburn could be the next Chris Pronger.

Switching sports, the day before the Flyers went all-in by essentially trading a 25-goal scorer and three first-round picks for Pronger, the Sixers told their fan base that the 2009-10 season will not be championship season.

I honestly don’t think there was any player in the NBA draft who could lift the Sixers to greatness, but picking Jrue Holiday over Ty Lawson says that the Sixers are packing it in before the season even starts. But, as someone pointed out to me, with the Cavaliers getting Shaquille O’Neal, and the Magic trading for Vince Carter, can you really blame the Sixers for not thinking that this is going to be their year?

Looking at Holiday, he could be an amazing talent in a few years, but if the Sixers, who have made the playoffs a stunning two seasons in a row, wanted to compete this year, Lawson should have been the pick.

Lawson averaged more than 16 points and six assists per game while leading North Carolina to the National Championship. In comparison, Holiday played one season at UCLA, and averaged eight points and three assists per game, all while not even playing point guard because Darren Collison was better than him. By the way, Lawson shot 47 percent from three point range, while Holiday shot 31 percent. Couldn’t the Sixers have used a guy who can actually shoot the ball?

This pick is the exact reason why first round picks are merely add-ons in cost-saving trades in the NBA. Too many teams try for a home run with an over-hyped, flashy player who turns out to be worthless, instead of a player that they know will contribute.

Instead of picking Lawson, who will be a solid point guard in the NBA and could immediately help the Sixers this season at the point and from beyond the arc, they went with Holiday, who couldn’t even start at point guard for his college team, all because after a few years of experience and nurturing in the NBA, he MIGHT turn into a top point guard. Or he might be worthless like more than half of the first round picks this decade (I looked back, and found numerous first rounders who are averaging just 10 points per game for their careers).

Since the Flyers last raised it, 33 teams have gotten their hands on Lord Stanley’s Cup, but with Pronger and a little maturity from Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and the rest of the party bunch, this year could be the Flyers’ year. In contrast, it has been 26 years since the Sixers triumphantly held up the NBA title, and drafting Jrue Holiday means that the coming season definitely will be year number 27.

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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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