Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hungry Dogs Run Faster


As we speak there are currently 28 free agent pitchers on the open market.

But some are more like indentured servants than free agents. You may recall indentured servants were first brought to Jamestown by the Virginia Company. They filled a need for cheap labor. People got to come to America and work and usually after 4-7 years, they were set free.

Some of the free agent pitchers available right now are more indentured servants than free agents. Take Kyle Kendrick, for example.

Mr. Kendrick once wore the red pinstripes. He was 74 - 68 over eight seasons with the Phillies. It seemed like he'd pitch a good game, then some bad ones. You'd never know if the good Kyle Kendrick was taking the mound or the get hammered Kyle Kendrick. In all fairness, he was jerked around from starter to long relief, he sometimes didn't know if he was coming or going.

Last season Mr. Kendrick signed a one year deal with Boston for $1 million. But he only pitched in two games and spent the rest of the season at Triple A. His ERA with the Red Sox was 12 something.

So, will Mr. Kendrick, 32, get another shot in 2018 or will he barbecue all summer.

Also in the free agent pool is ex-Phillie Jeremy Hellickson, 30, traded last season to Baltimore at the July deadline for the world famous Hyun Soo Kim and a low-level pitching prospect. Now Mr. Kim is a free agent outfielder and the pitching prospect, Garrett Cleavinger is likely to start the season at Reading.

Like Mr. Kendrick, Mr. Hellickson was up and down with the Phillies, too. Clubs like him because they say he's an inning eater. He'd be perfect for a low-level club like Miami: he'd eat innings while their fans eat hot dogs.

Then there's ex-Phillie, Clay Buchholz. Oh, wow, talk about an indentured servant — a rather rich indentured servant. The Phillies traded infield prospect Josh Tobias to Boston for Buchholz for their 2017 rotation. They gladly picked up the final year of his contract, $13.5 million. He pitched two games for the Phillies before straining his elbow which ended his season. That figures out to be a little over $6.75 million a game.

Free agency is fun, is it not?

Here's one from the free agent list that isn't an ex-Phillie, R.A. Dickey. Mr. Dickey is a real inning eater, too, because he throws a knuckleball. You may recall Mr. Dickey — he pitched for the Mets for three seasons. He's one the Marlins should definitely grab because the entire fan base can go to sleep while the catcher chases the ball around behind home plate. When they wake up it will be the top of the ninth.

In this morning's Inquirer — by the way, if you haven't checked it out the Inquirer is running three Phillies' stories a day out of Clearwater — team president Mr. Andy MacPhail said he might be inclined to stay away from the free agent market for starting pitchers. That could be the smartest thing MacPhail's said in months. Why dish out big bucks over 2-3 years for a possible indentured servant?

The Phillies rotation looks solid in four of the five slots, all young: Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and Nick Pivetta. Instead of throwing money at the fifth spot, how about Ben Lively, 25, or Jake Thompson, 24 (acquired in the Cole Hamels trade)? Both pitchers are at the major leaguer minimum, $500K. Two kids who may be hungrier in the belly than a Jake Arrieta or an Alex Cobb.

Wasn't long ago when philosopher Jason Kelce, addressing the Faithful, said, "Hungry dogs run faster."

Mr. McPhail, save your money and give the ball to a hungry dog.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

They Grew A Pair


ROME, Italy. Here's what the Phillies can learn from the Eagles:

First, indeed, youth can carry a team, just as Carson Wentz did until week fourteen, and just as Rhys Hoskins did on this home run tear late last summer. Wentz was thrown onto the field with no NFL experience — and his college experience was even questioned. North Dakota State? Come on. Hoskins was held back until August 10. It was a mistake not bringing him up sooner.

You should know that I think baseball people — particularly Phillies baseball people — put way too much emphasis on "experience," especially when it comes to young players.

To get to the Super Bowl, Mr. Howie Roseman, VP of Football Operations, made some significant free agent transactions: LeGarrette Blount, Jake Elliott; Alshon Jeffery; Torey Smith; Chance Warmack, Patrick Robinson; Chris Long; Nick Foles; and Torrey Smith.

He traded for defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan with the Ravens for a third-round pick — 74th pick overall — and traded another third-round pick and Jordan Matthews to bring in cornerback Ronald Darby, not a popular move on the team or with the Faithful at the time.

Then, in a swashbuckling move, he grabbed Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi from Miami at the trade deadline.

He built the team to survive injuries, which it did despite season-ending injuries to Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos and Caleb Sturgis.

How did he do all of this?

In 2013 team owner Jeffrey Laurie hired Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Roseman eventually lost his GM duties. He was kicked upstairs, a slap in the face, degraded.

Mr. Roseman said his departure from running football operations gave him time "to think," and think he did. He turned over a roster that went 7-9 last season to 13-3 with a first seed in the NFC.

What happened during Roseman's vacation? Did he take a course in "Building an NFL Team?" or did he grow a pair?" In fact, he was quoted as saying, "My biggest regrets in football are that I haven't trusted my instinct."

Nick Foles deservingly got the Super Bowl MVP, but if they were to give another, it should go to Howie Roseman.

So far, the Wizzard, Matt Klentak, has dipped his big toe in the water. He's made some nice moves: late-inning relief pitchers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. He's signed Carlos Santana. All nice-nice. But there's work to be done. What about Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp? Are they going or staying? How about Cesar Hernandez — a good second baseman but Matt Kingery is on the verge. Is there another starting pitcher in the works?

What about Odúbel Herrera? Is he going or staying?

Maybe Mr. Klentak has it all planned out. We'll know sooner or later, with Spring Training around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report February 14, everybody else soon after.

Or maybe Mr. Klentak is afraid to make a move, afraid to shoot his eye out.

Or maybe he's not making the final decisions. Maybe Phillies owner John S. Middleton and Andy MacPhail, President of Baseball Operations, have to approve everything he does. Or maybe he's just slow on the draw.

I don't know. You can't get anything in the papers. Ever since the Chamber of Commerce and the 'New Institute for Journalism in New Media' took over, I haven't read one negative story on the Phillies. Something doesn't seem right. Too much goody-two-shoes stuff. Has the "People Paper" become the PR paper?

My advice to Mr. Klentak is this: Call Mr. Roseman and invite him to lunch. Find out how he "acted with fortitude, strength, and determination. Find out how he manned up.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Make the Sign and It's Not About Ballentine

ROME, Italy. Major League Baseball is changing, and there is no better time to see that than right now.

Some interesting things are happening.

First, look at the past two World Series winners and how they got there: Chicago and Houston. In August of 2012 the Astros — faced with a multitude of empty seats at Minute Maid Park — were 40 games under .500 and clearly the worst team in baseball. Sure, there were plenty of Houstonians phoning in and asking the Astros why they weren't signing free agent stars to stop the bleeding when they had the money. More than a few canceled their season tickets because they didn't like the answer.

"No way Jose."

The Astros were taking full advantage of the 2012 collective bargaining agreement between the Suits and the Players Association that awarded — no, incentivized is the better word — tanking. And we all know about tanking, right? The Sixers? The new agreement gave the worst teams the most money to spend on amateur talent. That June in 2012, the Astros got the first pick in the draft. They got it again for the next two seasons.

There became a new way to win: Let payroll nosedive, lose, and spend money in the draft. You watched a team win a World Series that did exactly that. Houston used the Three-Ring Sign.

Cub's GM Theo Epstein in 2011 took a team that hadn't won a World Series in 108 years and won it all five years later. How did he do it? Besides hiring a damn good manager, Joe Madden, Epstein used the Three-Ring Sign. Here's the formula for the Three-Ring Sign: 1) Draft smart; 2) make a couple of ingenious trades without giving away the farm, and 3) sign a few free agents to fill in. Nothing real big like Harper or Trout. More on the Carlos Santana level. It's not important to look at each move Houston and Chicago made. What's important is the process they used.

And when you use the Three Ring Sign, you're not good one year, you continue to be good. Houston and Chicago will be right back in it this season.

As you are reading this there are currently over 100 free agent players looking for work, including some elite free agents such as J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Greg Holland, Neil Walker, Logan Morrison, Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and Lucas Duda.

But they're being ignored. Why? Because the game is changing and smart GM's like Philadelphia's Wizard, Matt Klentak, is making The Tree-Ring Sign. Therefore, most of the 2018 free agents go unwanted because they don't fit the new way to win. It will be most interesting to see what happens to them.

Future free agents may reconsider how much they can make in free agency. And how long contracts will be. Did the owners know exctly what they were doing in 2012?

Here's the thing. There's a big fat warning when you use the Three-Ring Sign: DON'T GIVE 26-YEAR-OLD SOMEBODIES LONG TERM, MULTI-YEAR DEALS, WHERE IN THE LAST 3-4 YEARS OF THE CONTRACT, THEIR NUMBERS DROP FASTER THAN THE TIMES SQUARE BALL.

Got it?

Well whoopy doo. Now you can become a major league general manager.

So what's this mean for the Phillies who will soon want to follow in the footsteps of the Super Bowl Champion Eagles? This: Forget about Bryce Harper or the Eagles fan in California. Neither will come to Philly because they fall into the warning above. The one in capital letters.

DON'T...DO IT!

We all know the Wizard has brought a new game to town and you can see it unfolding. When the timing is right, the Wizard will pull some strings on a trade or two and make some ingenious free agent signings. Nothing big mind you, just a few guys that fit in. Like a Shake and Bake. The Wizard has already taken the first steps, signing Carlos Santana. He collared a new manager, who might get the players laughing — I mean lookit, he already got Howard Erskin hot and bothered over coconut oil. Howard, who knew?

So forget Bryce Harper and that kid from Millville. The Phillies are going to do well this season. If Gabe Kapler can keep them loosey-goosey, and the Wizard manages the Three-Ring Sign — as they say in South Philly:

"Ron, who knows?"


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Monday, January 8, 2018

Winter is a Time for Speculation

Sometimes being good isn't good enough. Cesar Hernandez is a good major league second baseman.

He's got to be the most underrated and underappreciated player on the Phillies 40-man. If not for one slight "situation," he could be the club's second baseman for the next five years. And his price tag is reasonable: He's young and cheap.

Hernandez was paid $2.55 million in 2017. He is unsigned and arbitration-eligible for 2018. The Phillies offered him a contract but the length and amount are unknown. Sources say it could double his 2017 salary. Usually, clubs sign a player off arbitration before trading him.

Last season Hernandez hit .294, with an excellent on-base-percentage of .373 — third amongst NL second baseman, and an OBP ten points higher than the latest free agent signee, Carlos Santana. Besides home runs and RBIs, the biggest differences between Hernandez and Santana are taking walks, Santana 88, Hernandez 61. And Hernandez would have more stolen bases, says Pete Mackanin, if he learned to read pitchers and get better jumps.

What is the slight "situation" regarding Hernandez? Phenom prospect Scott Kingery percolating at Triple-A. The safe bet is the Phillies will trade Hernandez before Spring Training starts in February. But, only if they get the right return. There are a whole bunch of teams needing a second baseman, and a bunch of free agent second basemen — the only notable being Steve Pearce, 34, and 39-year-old Chase Utley. Both have been around a while with numbers that aren't close to Hernandez's.

So while the Wizzard plays his little game of chess, he knows Hernandez could bring a nice return, but he also says he's prepared to begin the season with him at second on March 29.

Meanwhile, the best second base prospect in all of baseball will go to Spring Training to win a job, with or without Hernandez in the way.

Here's something else to consider. Let's speculate that the Wizzard makes a good trade for Hernandez: A middle rotation starter. But, Kingery isn't ready in March. Two million would bring Utley to Philly to finish out his career and keep second warm for Scott Kingery. At the same time, teaching the young Phillies how to play the game.

Might not be so far-fetched considering the team's new manager, Gabe Kapler, came from the Dodgers where he was a Chase Utley admirer.

Just remember, you didn't read about it in the newspapers!

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Has Hope Returned for the Faithful?

Remember Black Friday? The '77 NLCS game four when the Phillies took a 5-3 lead into the ninth and blew it. Danny Ozark 'forgot' to insert Jerry Martin as a late-inning replacement for the Bull, and it cost the Phillies the game and possibly the series

That was 40 years ago, long before there were bench coaches and analytical teams. How did the game exist without replays and data to help defenses shift, and without no-pitch, automatic walks?

And long before the Wizard strolled into town.

Changes are coming to the game, changes from the Suits who run baseball and from the 35-year-old Wizard, now the Phillies GM. Changes that may alter the game as we know it, how we played it, and how we follow it today.

Beginning this season, pitchers no longer have to throw the four waste pitches to intentionally walk a batter. The manager simply signals to the umpire to walk him and it's done. Why? The Suits believe the game is boring, too long, and too slow.

They are already experimenting with the following changes in the minor leagues; now in the pipeline and could be here before we know it:

1. Hitters must keep one foot in the batter's box at all times; no longer meandering around home plate.
2. Teams are limited to a maximum of three mound visits a game. A pitching coach comes out, that's one. The shortstop goes over to discuss a pickoff, that's two. The manager and catcher go out to talk, that's three. No more visits.
3. Pitchers have 20 seconds between pitches. If they take longer — rub the ball up, play with the rosin bag, stare out to center and contemplate their navel, an automatic ball is awarded to the batter.
4. Time between innings is allocated to two minutes and five seconds. At a minute and 45, the hitter must step into the batter's box. Strikes and balls will be allotted for breaking the time rules.
5. Teams will have two minutes and 30 seconds to change pitchers.

Like it or not, the shot clock is coming to baseball.

In the low minors, computer systems are used to experiment with an automated strike zone, replacing the home plate umpire in calling balls and strikes.

Even so, it's not just the Suits making changes, but a 35-year-old GM who's started out changing the way Philly plays baseball. First, he cleaned out the old-school team: Mackanin, Bowa, Stairs, Samuel, Morandini, and McClure, all gone. That's not unusual for a new GM, what's unusual is who he replaced them with.

A manager named Gabe Kapler, who's played the game — 12 years with six teams — but has never managed above Single-A. Like his new boss, Kapler is a proponent of advanced statistics, but also of healthy food. As the Dodgers Director of Player Management, he got rid of junk food in the clubhouse and replaced it with healthy, organic food.

He's been saying things like, "We won't have rules but expectations." On his coaching staff, Kapler has two men who could replace him if his philosophies don't pan out. Bench coach, Rob Thorton, who served with the Yankees as bench coach (4) and third- base coach (6). Kapler's third-base coach, Dusty Wathan, has successfully managed many of the young players in the Phillies system, some of which already arrived, or are coming. He's highly regarded by young players such as Rhys Hoskins, Andrew Knapp, and Aaron Nola.

The Wizard is just starting to put his team together. He traded fan favorite Freddy Galvis, opening up shortstop for the young and talented J.P. Crawford. He signed two, highly regarded late-inning pitchers, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, thus letting his young pitching staff know they might be pulled as early as the fifth — whether they have a lead or not — thus preserving their elbows and shoulders.

Next, the Wizard signed Carlos Santana, a steady 'get on base guy,' an excellent fielder who can serve as mentor to the young players.

The Santana signing wasn't a big name, big money contract kind of deal — although $60 million over three years is nothing to sneeze at — but a guy who will give the Phillies 110 percent every game. Over the past two seasons, he's averaged 95 walks. There'll be a lot of young eyes on him from the dugout watching him take pitches and work the count.

It was a positive and stunning move for the young GM.

The Wizard has more to do. A lot more. Before spring training starts in February, there'll be more trades and perhaps another free agent signing or two. Or maybe not. Klentak is under no pressure to win now, but to put a solid, winning team on the field.

Nevertheless, whatever happens between now and the opening game in Atlanta on March 29, one thing is for sure: The 2018 Phillies will be a fun and interesting team to follow.

I can sense it; feel it on the streets from the people in South Philly and in the Reading Terminal; on the buses and subways of the city.

Hope has returned to Philadelphia.

Merry Christmas.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Good Move or No?

Pete Mackanin couldn't do it. Nor could Matt Stairs, Larry Bowa, or Juan Samuel.

Even "Mick-eeee More-EN-DE-NEE," couldn't.

Maybe this will work.

Following in the footsteps of Jim Thome, Carlos Santana has left the Indians after a seven-year career and grabbed the money in Philly. Cleveland made a "qualifying offer" to the switch-hitting slugger — a one year deal worth $17.4 million.

On Friday, Santana signed a $60 million, three-year deal with the Phillies; and therefore the Indians get the Phillies' second-round draft pick in June. So not only does the signing kill one younger, promising player — Tommy Joseph — but snags another in the June draft.

A qualifying offer is baseball speak: "So, you're thinking of leaving? Here's a qualifying offer for $17.4 million for next season. Now go see if you can get a nice three-year deal so we get a high draft pick." And that's exactly what happened.

But here's the thing. In 2017, Cleveland Indians first basemen Carlos Santana, who turns 32 in April, hit 23 home runs. Tommy Joseph, 26 — hit 24. Santana had ten more RBIs (79) than Joseph (69). It should be noted that last season Santana had 71 more at-bats than Joseph. Okay, duly noted.

There's more than a difference in age. Surely, at the end of his new three-year deal, Santana, at 35, it's unlikely he'll be in the market to sign another. He's got his money, so how hungry do you think Santana will be? Tommy Joseph, on the other hand, had an okay season, but is yet to prove himself. How hungry do you think he'll be?

The Santana signing seals Joseph's death sentence. So now, everybody with half a brain knows the Phillies must trade Tommy Joseph. Clubs may sit back and offer low-level minor league prospects to get a younger Carlos Santana — aka Tommy Joseph.

Granted, Santana's on-base-percentage is higher; but Joseph hasn't learned patience and swings at bad pitches. Younger players do that.

On top of everything else, the deal moves Rhys Hoskins out of his normal — comfortable? — position to left. I hope they know what they're doing.

Even so, the Santana signing may be a move for something bigger, something even more important than home run and RBI statistics. That is, the mentoring of Maikel Franco. It's not uncommon for a team to bring a player in to help other players. The Phillies are not happy with Franco's progress. He should be hitting at a higher average, stroking ten more home runs a season, driving in more runs, walking more and striking out less. Did I miss anything?

Nobody, it seems, has been able to motivate the 25-year-old Franco. Could the Phillies have signed Carlos Santana — known for his patience (high number of walks) and his work ethic — to help Franco "find himself?"

Both players are from the Dominican Republic, and having Santana on the field, in the dugout and in the locker room as a positive mentor for the struggling Franco, may have been the young Matt Klentak's best move yet.

In trading Freddy Galvis rather than Franco, it's obvious the Phillies have not given up on Franco. Santana's signing could be even more proof that the club thinks Franco can become a better major league hitter.

He just needs the right mentor.

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Welcome to Philadelphia Gabe Kapler and may you bring us another World Series championship!

It's not like Pete Mackanin had a Stengelese career as the Phillies manager. Over roughly two and a half seasons, he lost 286 games and won 174. But as the patron philosopher, Charlie Manuel, once said, "If you ain't got the horses then you ain't goin' to no Devon horse show." Sort of.

Mackanin wasn't headed to Devon with the players Klentak got him. Even so, you have to trust the process. Unfortunately for Pete Mackanin, he didn't get the Brett Brown treatment at the end.

The Phillies used him like a worn out mop and now they're gitty over Ernest.

Dusty Wathan seemed like the perfect heir to the throne. Another baseball lifer who just happened to land in Clearwater, Reading, and Lehigh Valley, when the horses Charlie spoke of were moving through on their way to the City of Brotherly Love, Rizzo statue or no.

But it doesn't matter because Ernest came along and took the horse out from under Wathan.

Meanwhile, the Faithful is scratching their collective heads. Images of Ernest do not match with what the Faithful know about Phillies' managers. Usually, in this town, managers come from the long line of the good ole boy network: Older, white men who've spent years honing their craft — usually in the minor leagues — to become a Major League manager. Some had it, some didn't. Some had the horses and some didn't. Gene Mauch, Charlie, Jim Fergosi, Dallas Green, Larry Bowa, Danny Ozark; the list goes on. There've been token interviews, such as the Juan Samuel interview this time. The Phillies have been league leaders in token interviews.

Historically, the Phillies have been slow as a snapper crossing Florida's Alligator Alley when it comes to minority players: it took the Phillies ten years after Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier to sign a black player. John Irvin Kennedy. In the spring of 1957, Kennedy became the Phillies first black player; he played just five games with the Phillies and never played another major league game.

The Phillies have never had an African American manager, nor have they ever had a Jewish manager — Ruben Amaro, Jr., was a general manager. Amaro is Jewish.

Until now.

When he takes the field on March 29, 2019, in Atlanta, Gabe Kapler will become the seventh Jewish manager in major league history and the first Jewish manager in Phillies history.

Kapler is also the youngest manager in Phillies history, 42. He played for six teams over a 12-year big league career. He was a Boston Red Sox outfielder when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 2004.

But there's more here to the Gabe Kapler story. He's part of a shift the major leagues are making toward analytics. That is, analyzing baseball statistics that measure in-game activity on each and every player. Or, analyzing data to get an edge. Next spring, watch ML baseball teams shift their defenses for different hitters. It's a perfect example of using statistics to predict where a batter is likely to hit the ball.

For the first time ever, the Phillies are part of the future, not the last step in the past.

Bravo to Matt Klentak and whoever else was involved in hiring Gabe Kapler. I wish him every success possible and will be following his every move in the spring.

Oh, and Gabe, I'm only kidding about Ernest. Sort of.

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