Thursday, September 10, 2015

Phillies Need to Break-Up Their 'Old Boy Network'

His term as club president of the Philadelphia Phillies is drawing to a close, and on his own way out, aging Baseball Hall of Famer Pat Gillick continues to demonstrate the "old boy's network" mentality regarding the franchise front office that has soured so many fans.
Gillick will always receive his just due around these parts for making the right moves as General Manager in adding the final pieces that elevated the already-in-place Ed Wade nucleus over the top to a 2008 World Series championship.
But as the years moved along, fans have recognized for a long time now that both Gillick and his then Assistant GM and hand-selected successor, Ruben Amaro, were horrible in their evaluation of prospect talent and the handling of the minor league system.
"I think that there is a more positive feeling about Ruben than there was 90 days ago." ~ Gillick
Any rudimentary examination of the Phillies drafts between the years 2006-2010, when Gillick was the GM and Amaro his assistant, and then when Amaro first took over, reveals that truth.
On Amaro's watch, the Phillies have regressed every single season. Slowly at first, but steadily. After that '08 World Series it has gone like this under Amaro: '09 - lost World Series, '10 - lost NLCS, '11 - lost NLDS, '12 - .500 record, '13 - losing record, '14 - losing/last place, '15 - worst record in baseball.
In a typically excellent interview by Kevin Cooney for 'The Intelligencer', Gillick is quoted on the possible return of Amaro, whose contract expires at the end of this season, as the GM in 2016: 
I think that there is a more positive feeling about Ruben than there was 90 days ago,” Gillick said. “I think that the deals that we made -- and Ruben was the guy in the front of the deals, Andy and I were there to support him -- I think the fans and media realize that we have a plan and we want to carry that plan through. When you have a plan -- that gains support.”
How insulated do you have to be from reality to make a statement such as that one? 
Not only have I not observed a "more positive feeling about Ruben", but I have noticed little positive feeling about the possibility of his return at all. In fact, just the opposite.
Philly sports fans are passionate and knowledgeable, and not easily swayed by organizational talking heads or their puppets that occasionally pop up in the media. 
The overwhelming majority of feedback that I have gotten on this topic, and it has been a lot in recent months, is strongly against Amaro.
Will the last 3-4 drafts actually yield pieces that will make a real difference in returning the Phillies to relevance? 
Will the pieces obtained in the trades of veterans Jimmy RollinsMarlon ByrdCole HamelsJonathan PapelbonBen Revere, and Chase Utley amount to anything of use?
We can speculate on those things in a positive way all that we want. I absolutely hope that something in the evaluation process has changed in a positive way, and that at least a half-dozen of these recently acquired kids will pan out and become the foundation for a longterm winner.
But the fact is that, short of a couple of encouraging months from Aaron Nola, success for any of those pieces, be they draft or trade acquisitions, is still a question mark to be determined in the future.
The fact also remains that this organization was forced to deal away a high-value, and extremely popular asset in Cole Hamels while still in his prime, specifically because the team had been allowed to deteriorate around him due to decisions made during the Gillick and Amaro years.
If players have to go in order for a page to be turned by the organization, and if the names in the lineup have to get younger so that the team has a brighter future, then the exact same thing needs to happen at the front office level, and the vast majority of the fan base recognizes that fact.
Ruben Amaro cannot be allowed to return as the General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies beyond the end of this current season. 
If the organization truly cares about telling its fan base that a new day is dawning, a full housecleaning of the old faces, that "old boy network" that previous regimes have been so fond of perpetuating, has to noticeably change when Andy MacPhail takes control.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cornelius Randolph Begins His Phillies Journey

The first round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft unfolded on the evening of Monday, June 8th, 2015 and was broadcast via the MLB Network
The Phillies held the 10th overall pick, and there was much speculation as to whom the club would select.
I had hyped the possible selection of a 2B/OF from the University of Cincinnati by the name of Ian Happ. We'll never know if the Phils would have made that choice, because the Chicago Cubs swiped Happ with the 9th pick, just ahead of the Phillies.
When that 10th pick finally rolled around, a trio of highly rated shortstops were all off the board. In fact, those players went 1-2-3 in the Draft: Dansby Swanson to Arizona, Alex Bregman to Houston, and Brendan Rodgers to Colorado.
Also off the board by the time the Phillies selected were a trio of pitchers in Dillon Tate (Rangers), Tyler Jay (Twins), and Carson Fulmer (Chisox), as well as a pair of outfielders in Kyle Tucker (Astros) and Andrew Benintendi (Bosox).
"There's no doubt we feel he's got a chance to be a hitter in the major leagues that hits for both average and power." ~ Phils' scouting director Almaraz
Still on the board was lefty Brady Aiken, the first overall pick in the 2014 Draft who did not sign with the Astros after the team became concerned about physical issues. Aiken instead agreeing to play with IMG Academy, and so was again available this past June.
Some thought Aiken was the best prospect out there if healthy. But that was the rub, he wasn't. The Astros fears of a year ago proved founded, as he lasted just a single inning at IMG before having to undergo Tommy John surgery in March. So any team selecting him would be doing so under that cloud.
The Cleveland Indians would eventually select Aiken, seven picks after the Phillies would pass on him. 
The announcement finally came: with the 10th pick in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Philadelphia Phillies select shortstop Cornelius Randolph of Griffin High School in Georgia.

In a first round mock draft that I released just days earlier, I had slotted Randolph in at #21 to the Kansas City Royals, who were reportedly high on him and following him closely. 
Also, I had by then switched up my own Phillies prediction to Tucker. However, he went at #5, as the Astros' second of two early picks.
While I had Randolph down at #21, that was in no way a reflection on what I thought of his talent. It was simply my prediction of where he was likely to go based on all of the chatter that I was sifting through in the days and weeks leading up to the actual draft process.
So the selection for the Phillies was Randolph, and immediately began the positional speculations. After all, the Phillies already had J.P. Crawford in the organization as a highly rated shortstop prospect.
"There's a lot of suitors in the draft and you really didn't know what was going to go on above him," said Scott Boras, Randolph's high-profile agent, per Megan Montemurro at Delaware Online. "...I think that this player carries with him one of the least risk factors of high school age players because he has a pro swing now."
In many such situations, an organization will not concern itself with such positional problems early on in a player's developmental process. 
The Phils could have just let Randolph stay at shortstop, and either let him play himself off the spot, or switched him somewhere else down the road if it became apparent that Crawford was indeed their longterm man.
The Phillies brain trust decided that was not in the organization's or the player's best interest, and immediately made Randolph an outfielder
Putting him out in left field would allow him to mostly concern himself with hitting. After all, his bat was the main reason that he was selected in the first place.
"I was very interested in signing an offensive player and somebody who I believe in the future is going to be an impact bat. A future middle-of-the-order bat. A three or four," said Phillies scouting director Johnny Almaraz, per Matt Breen for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"We love his bat," Almaraz said. ". . . There's no doubt we feel he's got a chance to be a hitter in the major leagues that hits for both average and power."
At Griffin over the course of his junior and senior years as provided by MaxPreps, Randolph had played in 50 games. 
He batted .510 during those high school years, with a .613 cumulative on-base percentage, eight homers, 60 RBI, 69 runs scored, and a 1.537 OPS.
On June 17th, less than ten days after being selected, Randolph signed his first pro contract, part of which earned him more than $3.2 million in bonus money and made him a ridiculously wealthy teenager overnight.
After a quick stop at Citizens Bank Park for some BP with Phils living legends Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, Randolph was sent to the Phillies rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate, and he made his professional debut on June 25th.
It would be a memorable debut for the sweet-swinger who bats left-handed and fields right-handed, ala Bryce Harper
In that first game, Randolph went 3-3 with a walk vs the Pirates affiliates, slashing a triple, scoring a run, and driving in a run. Two days later, Randolph banged his first professional home run against the Tigers.

Overall, Randolph would appear in 53 games in which he came to the plate 212 times. He rapped out 52 hits and walked 32 times, finishing with a .302 batting average and .425 on-base percentage. 
That late June homer would prove to be his only round-tripper of the season, and he finished with 15 doubles, 34 runs and 24 RBI.
Perhaps just as encouraging as his offensive performance was his defensive play. Randolph learned and adjusted well to the outfield. 
In 335.1 innings over 41 games (he served as the DH a dozen times), Randolph handled all 63 of his defensive chances cleanly.
While he still has work to do in order to improve himself defensively, it is already apparent that he should be able to meet the modest defensive demands of the left field position. If he can become a plus defender as he develops, that will be a bonus for the Phillies.
The Phillies aren't worried at all about the lack of over-the-fence power. That is frequently the last piece to come for such a young hitter. What was readily apparent was his all-around hitting ability. 
Next will come further tests as he begins to advance up the organizational ladder next season, where he likely will begin at A-level Lakewood.
While Cornelius Randolph is still a few years away from reaching Citizens Bank Park, an arrival not likely to happen much before the 2018 or 2019 seasons, Phillies fans can be encouraged by his first season in the organization during this summer of 2015.
Next year, fans with early interest in his career can take the nearly 70 mile drive over to Lakewood, New Jersey and watch Randolph as he continues his rise up the ladder with the Lakewood BlueClaws. 
In a few years, he should come along to make a hopefully contending Phillies team even more dangerous.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ex-Phil Schilling a Witch Hunt Victim

By now, most people are aware that former Phillies 1990's pitching ace Curt Schilling was recently suspended from his gig covering the Little League World Series for ESPN, and removed for a week from his Sunday Night Baseball broadcast on the network.

What most are unaware of is the true reason: a "witch hunt" mentality which saw his actual actions distorted completely by the numerous people who dislike his outspokenness and his politics.

Now the rest of this post is going to deal with difficult topics like "math" and "truth", so if you have a rough time with either of those, or prefer your "sports" in the tame realm of scores and trades and such, you might want to just move along.

But if you genuinely care about why it is important that you NOT blindly follow the anti-Schillites, not allow yourself to take part in this partisan witch hunt, then please, read on.

Let's first address what actually happened to cause the suspension. Schilling was accused of making, or more appropriately sharing, an "anti-Muslim" statement. He was further charged by some with comparing Muslims to Nazis. Some never actually state what it is specifically that he said or shared, just that whatever it was, was "offensive" in some way.

Here is the specific post that caused all of the uproar, unfiltered:


Now let's see what this posting and graphic does not do: nowhere does it compare "Muslims" to "Nazis", instead it compares Muslim "extremists", radicals such as ISIS and al Qaeda, to 1940 German "extremists" known as Nazis.

If you disagree with this graphic or his tweet, is your argument that Nazis were not extremists? Is your argument that there are no Muslim extremists? Is your argument that Muslim extremism is not a genuine problem in the world today?

Yes, there are extremists of all ilks: religious, political, sociological. And not all Nazis were Germans. But if your answer to any of the questions in that last paragraph is "Yes", that any of those statements is not true, then you are simply wrong, and you are ignorant of the truth of world events. I would ask, where were you on September 11th, 2001?

What DOES the graphic do: it compares the extremism of the Nazis of 1940 to the extremism of Radical Islam today. It also lists percentages. Maybe your problem is with the math, or the statistics?

In 1940, the population of Germany was approximately 70 million. Meanwhile, the Nazi Party membership in the country has been estimated at 5.3 million and rising by that year.

The point? That the graphic shared and commented on by Schilling is correct in regards to that issue. In fact, it may even be understating the 1940 problem. Do the math yourself.

In 2010, the global Muslim population was estimated at approximately 1.6 billion. Anti-extremism activist and national security expert Brigitte Gabriel, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, was quoted as follows:

"The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent, according to all intelligence services around the world...You're looking at 180 million to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization..."

Now keep in mind, she didn't mention violence by Muslims anywhere in that statement. The destruction of Western civilization, according to the radical Islamist fundamentalists, would involve simply the replacement of our current democracies with adherence to Sharia Law, however such a change can be attained.

Let's say her figures are greatly exaggerated. Let's say that the low figure in the graphic is closer to truth. Doing that math, 5% of 1.6 billion is 80 million radical Islamists.

These people want our society changed to one obedient to Sharia Law. If you don't know already, research how such a change would affect women, homosexuals, alcoholics, gamblers, those having unmarried sex, and frankly anyone who is not a Muslim.

If you don't see the analogy to 1940, especially with actively violent groups such as ISIS, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, and numerous other groups waging violent Jihad, then I would suggest that your first and most important effort should be in removing your head from the ground in which you have it buried.

Curt Schilling added his own little statement to the graphic. As seen above, Schilling tweeted out: "the math is staggering when you get to true numbers."

When there were 5 million Nazis and rising in 1940, we saw the destruction and violence they were capable of wreaking on the world in just a few years. When we see that "the math" Schilling talks about results in some 80 million radical Islamists today, well, if you don't agree with him that the numbers are staggering, again, I suggest the problem is yours, not his.

I also suggest that the problem is ESPN's, which put out the following official statement:

"Curt’s tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company’s perspective. We have removed him from his current assignment... pending further consideration."

I ask them, and those who have subsequently attacked Schilling, even calling for him to be outright fired from the network: what SPECIFICALLY was "completely unacceptable" about this tweet? And to ESPN, what IS your "company's perspective" on those specifics?

I would absolutely love to hear anyone from ESPN, or anywhere in fact, explain with specificity to the kids playing in the Little League World Series exactly why Curt Schilling was suspended from broadcasting their games.

My take? Political and social liberals, radical Islamist apologists, and simply those who just plain don't like Schilling because they think he is a big mouth in general all raised their voices, and ESPN acted rashly and with cowardice.

If you don't like Curt Schilling, that's one thing. If you simply think he is a bad broadcaster, that his opinions on baseball are hogwash, or that his voice is like chalk on chalkboard to you, fine. But guess what, that's why God made chocolate and vanilla. We all like and dislike a lot of things.

To take our personal dislike for a person and turn it into a witch hunt that calls for him to be vilified publicly as a human being, and to lose his livelihood? That's something else entirely.

One factor that I am not aware of, and one that has not popped up anywhere in public, is the idea of a contract between Schilling and ESPN. Is he under contract, one that specifically lays out policies on refraining from commenting in public forums on societal issues outside of baseball or sports while under their employment?

Curt Schilling is 5th on the Phillies all-time franchise Strikeouts list, 7th in Wins, 9th in Innings Pitched, and 7th in WHIP. That makes him a Top 10, possibly Top 5 all-time starting pitcher for a 133-year old franchise.

Plenty of Philly media types consider Schilling a big mouth. He is, and has frankly called himself one as well. None of those critics of his style can speak badly about his performance on the field.

None of those outstanding career baseball statistics would excuse reprehensible speech or behavior by Schilling. This ain't that. This is a witch hunt, plain and simple.

Sports fans and media members, anyone who cares about freedom in America, especially those who care about freedom of speech, should be supporting Schilling - loudly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Big Jim Thome Reaches Middle Age

There can be little question as to the positive impact that slugging 1st baseman Jim Thome had on the Philadelphia Phillies organization upon signing with the club as a free agent in the off-season prior to 2003. 
As he turns 45 years old today, middle-age in a normal lifespan, it's a nice time to take a look back.
Thome was aggressively wooed by the organization following a dozen glorious seasons with the Cleveland Indians. During those years, Thome slugged 334 home runs, drove in 927, and earned every bit of his tremendous .287/.414/.567 slash line without a hint of PED involvement.
He also had helped the Tribe move from antiquated Cleveland Municipal Stadium, jokingly known as the "Mistake by the Lake", into Jacobs Field, Cleveland's version of the new 'retro' ballparks that began springing up around MLB during the mid-90's.
In their new digs, Thome and a bevy of young stars helped the Indians go from doormats to perhaps the most dangerous team in baseball, and to the verge of a World Series victory. 
He was a 3x AL All-Star, a Silver Slugger winner, and in his final two season's with the Tribe, finished 7th in the AL MVP voting.
Thome was brought in to add veteran leadership and winning experience to the Phillies, to add legitimate pop to the middle of the batting order, and to help the team pack The Vet in it's final season and carry over excitement and a real chance at winning in the new Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies had begun to look like a contender over the previous two seasons. Under manager Larry Bowa, the 2001 team had battled Atlanta right into September. But the 2002 team disappointed, finishing just 80-81. It would prove the organizations only losing season between 2001-2011.
The 2003 version of the Phillies included not only Thome, but also newcomer 3rd baseman David Bell, veteran holdovers Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal, and young stars Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell
During the season, a 24-year old 2nd baseman named Chase Utley would join the squad, challenging and eventually unseating incumbent 2nd baseman Placido Polanco.
Thome proved to be just what the doctor ordered, just what the organization paid for, as he bashed 47 home runs, just one shy of Mike Schmidt's franchise record at the time. He knocked in 131 runs, and in his first National League season finished 4th in the NL MVP race.
The Phillies battled down to the season's final weeks for the NL Wildcard berth. But a late swoon left a bitter taste in the mouths of the players and fans. 
The Phils lost seven of their final eight games, including a crucial 3-game sweep at the hands of the Florida Marlins, finishing with an 86-76 record, 5 games behind the Fish, who would go on to win the World Series.

At the end of that 2003 season, Thome helped the team close down Veteran's Stadium, their home since 1971. Schmidt himself raised Thome's arm as a sign that not only the slugger title, but the role of leader had been officially passed to the big man.
Expected to contend in the 2004 season, the Phillies did indeed finish in 2nd place in the NL East. However, with another 86-76 record, they finished 10 games behind front-running Atlanta. 
More disappointing perhaps was that again they missed out on the Wildcard, finishing just six games behind the Houston Astros.
Thome was again the centerpiece of the contending Phillies lineup that year, bashing 42 homers with 105 RBI. However, there was a growing situation in the organization. 
A 24-year old slugging 1st baseman named Ryan Howard was destroying the minor leagues to the tune of 46 homers and 131 RBI. Clearly now, Thome was blocking the future.
As the 2005 season began, a now 34-year old Thome started slow, with just one homer through the month of April, followed by a 3-week stint on the Disabled List. 
He returned at the end of May, and played through June, before his injuries caught up to him and ended his season, and his Phillies career at that point.
Thome would return to the team for a 2nd show, signing as a free agent again with the team in the 2011 off-season. 
The Phils had won 5 straight NL East crowns at the time, but Howard had been seriously injured at the disappointing end to those 2011 playoffs, and it was unknown if he would be ready to play when 2012 began.

Thome was used mostly as a backup and pinch-hitter in April of 2012, spent the entire month of May back on the DL, but then returned in June and got hot. That hot streak, however, coincided with the team's collapse.
The Phils opened June of 2012 just 2.5 games out of 1st place, and looked like they could again contend for a 6th straight division crown. 
But after winning on June 1st, the Phillies lost six straight, eight of nine, and 15 of 21. For the first time in years, it became obvious that they would not contend.
On June 30th, the Phillies traded Thome to the Baltimore Orioles, ending his career in Philadelphia for a final time.
In his nearly three full seasons in red pinstripes, Jim Thome became a beloved fan favorite. His #25 shirsey and jersey are still popular around the ballpark to this day. He helped the team move from the .500 level to the verge of contention, and from the old age of The Vet to the new age at The Bank.
Now Thome moves into middle age, having retired following that brief stint with the Orioles at the end of 2012. 
For his career, Thome bashed 612 home runs. Cleveland, where he played for parts of 13 seasons, and where he is even more beloved than here, erected a statue in his honor.
Thome has returned to Philly a number of times, most recently for last month's celebration of his ex-teammate Burrell becoming enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame. We can expect to see him back for similar reunions and events in the future.
He will be eligible for Baseball Hall of Fame consideration in 2018. Thome should receive considerable support, and he could even become a 1st or 2nd ballot Hall of Famer.
If that should happen, expect to see a strong contingent of Phillies fans show up wearing red at Cooperstown in the summer in which he is enshrined.