Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Phillies: Cole Hamels Trade Possibilities

Cole Hamels would yield biggest return in trade
With the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looming in Major League Baseball, and the Phillies apparently unable to pawn off any of their over-priced, over-aged, or injury-plagued players to contending teams, the possibility that GM Ruben Amaro Jr will try to cash in his biggest chip for premium prospect talent with which to rebuild is growing by the hour.
Tonight up at Citi Field in New York, Cole Hamels will take the mound for the Fightins against the New York Mets. There is growing speculation that this could be his final start in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform. The vultures are circling, reportedly in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Saint Louis Cardinals, and Boston Red Sox among others.
In recent days, numerous TV talking heads, national columnists, and pop-up websites across baseball have been exploding with Hamels speculation and rumors. Frankly, that’s all that any specific would be, wild speculation. However, at least one rival GM has made the statement that Hamels is indeed being floated by the Phils, and that the team is asking an exorbitant price in return for the former World Series and NLCS MVP. This is as it should be for one of the game’s best starting pitchers, still in his prime years.
The sources spit out the usual Hamels facts and statistics, and match him up mostly with easily identifiable contenders and/or cash cows. But the fact remains that, from the Phillies side, Cole Hamels is simply not going to be dealt at all unless the return is a package of at least 3 highly rated prospects with which to accelerate the overall rebuilding plan.
So what would it take, and who can meet the price? Let’s look at the package such a deal would take from each of four top possible Hamels trade destinations:
BOSTON RED SOX: Any deal with Boston would have to start with Mookie Betts, the 21-year old who is the club’s top prospect. He would likely be groomed as the eventual Chase Utley successor at 2nd base for the Phils. The deal would have to include at least one other premium bat, and one premium arm. The bat would preferably be switch-hitting 22-year old catcher Blake Swihart. But 17-year old 3rd baseman Rafael Devers or 19-year old outfielder Manuel Margot might do as a 2nd hitting prospect. The pitcher would need to be either 24-year old righty Allen Webster or 22-year old lefty Henry Owens. Boston appears to have the best package, if they do want to get this done.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Sending Hamels back to southern California might be an ideal match, and the Dodgers have three prospects that could get this deal done, if they want to put Hamels with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. The three are 20-year old shortstop/3d baseman Corey Seager, 22-year old outfielder Joc Pederson, and 17-year old lefty pitcher Julio Urias. If I’m the Phillies, I don’t budge off any of these three. If LA goes for it, it could be the ultimate win-win for both teams. The Dodgers would be 2nd on my ranking of potential deal possibilities.
SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS: The Phillies aren’t going to be getting an Oscar Taveras. But the Cards would need to lead with 23-year old outfielder Stephen Piscotty, their #2 prospect. Then the Phils would need to get a pair of arms from St. Louis from among lefties Rob Kaminsky and Marco Gonzalez, and right-hander Alexander Reyes. This is not as strong as the Boston group. If I’m the Phils, I try to make it the two 19-year olds in Kaminsky and Reyes, and then get Saint Louis to part with another outfielder as well, either Randall Grichuk or James Ramsey.
NEW YORK YANKEES: Any time that you are talking about big deals involving high-salaried players, you have to consider the Yankees as players in the negotiations. Add in the facts that in this particular year the Yanks are on the fringe of contending for both their A.L. East division race and the Wildcard races, that it is Derek Jeter’s swan song and they absolutely would love to send him off with a postseason shot, and their pitching has been struck by the loss to injury of ace C.C. Sabathia. Problem? The Yankees do not have the quality of prospects it would take. Catcher Gary Sanchez and pitchers Luis Severino and Ian Clarkin would have to be in the package, but it would take more. 3rd baseman Eric Jagielo or outfielder Aaron Judge would need to be in the package. Four of those guys just to consider, and the Phils would need to be convinced that they couldn’t do any of the other deals.
It is still a longshot, as far as I am concerned, that the Phillies will trade Hamels at this time. If they are absolutely blown away by one of the above packages, especially the Dodgers or Red Sox packages, then it would be irresponsible of Amaro to not swallow hard and do it. But anything less and they should keep him. A Hamels trade could always come in the off-season, next season, or somewhere else down the line. As long as he stays healthy, he will retain his value.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Baseball Hall of Fame Announces Voting Rules Change

HOF reduces time for players on election ballot
The Baseball Hall of Fame this morning has announced a major rules change. Newly retiring players will remain on the BBWAA ballot and under consideration for enshrinement for just 10 years, down from the 15 years previously considered and voted upon.  

This could impact chances of players like former Phillie, Roy Halladay who recently retired.

Three players who are on the current ballot will not be affected: Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, and Don Mattingly. Each of these players was “grandfathered” to the full 15 years consideration since they have already been on the ballot for at least 10 years.
Per a statement released this morning, as the Hall prepares to welcome new enshrinees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Bobby Cox, the changes will be effective immediately, and will be first applied with voting for next year’s prospective 2015 class of honorees.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Time for MLB to Lift the Ban on Pete Rose

Pete Rose' punishment was never intended as a lifetime ban
Philadelphia Phillies fans who were around to enjoy the emergence of the team as a contender in the 2nd half of the 1970′s know the story well. Despite being contenders every season since 1975. 

Despite 3 straight N.L. East crowns. Despite franchise record-setting, back-to-back seasons of 101 victories in both 1977 and 1978, the Fightin’ Phils of Schmidt, Carlton, McGraw, Luzinski, Bowa, Boone, Maddox, et al simply could not win “the big one” in the post-season.
That team was clearly missing two ingredients. A manager who wasn’t afraid to tell them when they were playing like horsebleep, and wasn’t afraid to sit veterans on the bench for a couple of games in favor of younger players was one. And the other was a no-doubt-about-it locker room leader. A proven winner. Someone who had been over the hump in the post-season, knew what it took, and was fearless in voicing their opinion to other veterans during the difficult times that any team will inevitably face, no matter how much talent they possess.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Phillies Countdown to the MLB Trade Deadline

Marlon Byrd one of several Phils on the trade block
There are just seven days until the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline, and for the Philadelphia Phillies, the number of potential trade partners is diminishing as teams make other deals. Last night, the Detroit Tigers agreed to acquire veteran relief pitcher Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers for a pair of high-level prospects, closing one possible destination for Jonathan Papelbon.
This is a make-or-break point in the career of Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr, at least as far as the increasingly disgruntled fan base is concerned. So with pressure on in the Phillies front office, the team disappearing to the bottom of the N.L. East standings, and the fans disappearing from the once-packed Citizens Bank Park stands, here areseven players that the Phillies could move in these next 7 days:

 JONATHAN PAPELBON

The closer wants to go. The team would like to accommodate him. He is an experienced veteran who has delivered at the highest levels in the most pressure-packed environments on the biggest stages. Who wouldn’t find that attractive?
Unfortunately there are two big negatives with Pap. First, his salary, which is exorbitant for a closer. He is owed $13 million for next season, and has a vesting option for 2016 for another $13 million that he is likely to reach.
Second, he is an eccentric personality, to say the least. Should money really be an issue for a couple of years in an industry bathing in cash? He has a limited no-trade clause, can block deals to 17 clubs. Says he would waive to go to a contender.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Toronto.

Antonio Bastardo. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

ANTONIO BASTARDO

The reliever has a handful of key things going for him. He is cheap, making just $2 million this season, though he does become arbitration-eligible next year. He is relatively young, not turning 30 until September. And perhaps most of all, he is left-handed. He has also had success in a big market.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: every single team that is at .500 or above and thinks it is a contender.

A.J. BURNETT

He was coaxed to play by the possibility of joining Cole HamelsCliff Lee and the 2008 leftovers in one last shot at contending. It hasn’t worked out here in Philly. But the 37-year old proven vet is already in playing shape, and is having another solid season. Not an “ace” but would strengthen most any rotation.
He is owed $15 million next year on a mutual option contract. A team could buy him out for $1 million, but he could respond by activating a $7.5 million player option. The contract shouldn’t be a hinderance. You only get him for this year. If you want him next, would likely have to talk him into playing.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: could be most any contender, but best bets may be Baltimore or Pittsburgh.

MARLON BYRD

What Burnett is to Phillies pitching assets, Byrd is to hitting assets. He turns 37 years old next month, and is a proven veteran having a solid season. He brings right-handed power to a lineup, an increasingly valuable characteristic.
A downside? He can block deals to four clubs that would appear to be potential trade matches: KC, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Toronto. Should be able to be coaxed for the chance to win. An affordable $8 million option each of next two seasons that is likely to kick in if he stays healthy and productive.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Cincinnati, Cleveland, KC, NY Yankees, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay

Cliff Lee not likely to move before the deadline {Picture: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports}

CLIFF LEE

Any team would want a true “ace” caliber pitcher with Lee’s big game pedigree and veteran experience. Problem is, Lee spent a majority of the first half of the season on the DL. He just returned, and laid an egg in his only start back to this point.
Would a team be willing to roll the dice on the vet regaining form? Best bet probably would be for the Phils to get him through waivers and deal him in August, though it might now require an off-season deal to move the popular lefty.
Negatives? He turns 36 years old next month, and is owed $25 million next year, with a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016. The injury this year combined with his age may make that unreachable. Has limited no-trade protection blocking 20 clubs.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Atlanta, Cleveland, NY Yankees, Tampa, Toronto, Washington

GRADY SIZEMORE

Could the Phillies have possibly acquired Sizemore for anything more than the hope that he would play well in an audition for other teams before the trade deadline? He turns 32 years old next week, and missed two years with various injuries and performance issues. But he has fought back gallantly, and has looked excellent.
If a team can limit his exposure, his lefty bat, speed, and veteran experience would be very valuable. No real financial investment required, and could probably be had for a mid-level prospect at most.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Any team that thinks it is a contender and is willing to part with some type of organizational arm with any amount of potential at all.

 THE 2008 GANG


Cole Hamels. Image Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Hamels is the crown jewel, but you likely can’t get him. This would be a blockbuster, and you would need to part with 3 of your best prospects in return. Not many teams have 3 prospects at the level it would take. But he is indeed a true “ace” that could make all the difference for any contender now and for the next few years.
Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins can still play up the middle, can still produce. Neither wants to go anywhere, the team wants to keep both. Odds are they finish their careers in Philly. But JRoll could be coaxed to go back to the west coast to a contender in the right deal.
Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz have had too many issues with injuries and non-performance to be attractive to teams, and Howard has a nearly untradeable contract, but the club would welcome offers on either.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Phillies Fans, It's Even Worse Than You Think

Non-development of Brown has been a Phillies death blow
There is a lot of talk surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies as this year's Major League Baseball trading deadline approaches next week.

Unlike many recent years, when the Fightin' Phils were "buyers" and that talked centered on who they might acquire, this year it is clear that the team is a seller.

The speculation now revolves around which players, if any, will be dealt away before the trading deadline. It is also possible that some could successfully pass through waivers, and be dealt away in August. A couple more could go in the off-season as well. One thing is certain, the years of contending are over.

From 2001-2011, the Phillies were legitimate playoff contenders nearly every single year. That's more than a decade of consecutive excellence from a franchise whose history prior to the mid-1970's was overwhelmingly horrendous. But the players who formed the core of the 2008 World Series champions, the five consecutive N.L. East Division crowns, are pretty much finished now.

Over the last two years, Phils' fans have slowly, grudgingly come to grips with the reality. The glory of the record-setting 2011 team evaporated short of the goal for that "Four Aces" paced club, thanks mainly to Chris Carpenter, the pitcher who barely out-aced Doc Halladay by 1-0 in an NLDS Game 5 pitching gem for the ages. And when Ryan Howard crumpled to the ground in agony as that game ended, it was more of a watershed moment than any of us could possibly realize at the time.

Howard was the big bopper for those contending clubs. He was the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year and then the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player. From 2006-09 he hit more than 40 homeruns and drove in more than 130 runs every single year. Even through 2010-11, he continued to be a 30+ homer, 100+ rbi threat in the middle of the order. But Ryan Howard is now 35 years old, and while he still has power, he is a shell of the hitter who once terrorized opposition pitching staffs.

All across the diamond, the Phillies have aged. Joining Howard in the 35-year old club are fellow 2000's heroes Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz. Returnee Marlon Byrd is 36 years old. Newcomer Grady Sizemore is 31 years old and was out of MLB for all of 2012 and 2013 with injuries. Even John Mayberry Jr is now 30 years old.

On the mound, A.J. Burnett is 37, Cliff Lee is 35, Roberto Hernandez is 33 in the rotation. Cole Hamels is now 30 years old, and Kyle Kendrick turns 30 next month. Jonathan Papelbon is 33, and his perpetually injured erstwhile setup man Mike Adams is now 35.

Being in your 30's for most of us is still pretty young. I remember my own 30's as years where I felt and looked pretty much as I had for most of my 20's. But things are different for a professional athlete. For any athlete at any level, the 30's are when you begin to lose your effectiveness. It happens slowly for some, rapidly for others, but it is inevitable.

The aging problem is only one problem for the Phillies. Another is that they simply do not have enough young talent coming up from their minor league organization to help ease a transition to a new era of contending, and the younger players in the lineup right now have been largely ineffective, to put it mildly.

Domonic Brown is 26 years old. He was supposed to be the key player, the impact bat that would take over in the middle of the lineup by now and keep the team contending. As time passes it becomes more and more clear to anyone who knows anything about this game: Dom Brown is awful at baseball. He is a terrible outfielder, an undisciplined hitter, and repeatedly makes bone-headed plays in the field and on the bases.

I am not totally giving up on centerfielder Ben Revere. He has no arm whatsoever, but he does have speed that could play on a regular basis. He could very well be in the midst of a .290+ hitting, 50 stolen base season. The next 3-4 years will be his prime. With the right players around him, he wouldn't be a weak link.

Darin Ruf is now 27 years old. He has not been able to take a regular role with the big league club and run with it. He definitely has shown some right-handed pop, but may be a man without a position, not quite good enough for the outfield, and stuck behind the untradeable Howard at 1st base. Even if he did get regular at-bats, he might be nothing more than a poor man's Pat Burrell type.

Cody Asche is just 24, and he is a generally heady player who makes occasional tremendous plays at 3rd base. But he also has very little power, and is a below-average hitter overall. That, and he is going to have to move eventually, either to 2nd base or the outfield. If he can handle the position defensively, his bat might actually play at 2nd. As an outfielder, his type of offensive production would make for a 4th or 5th guy at best.

Perhaps the one area where the team may turn out to have some young, impact talent is in the bullpen. 23-year old Ken Giles looks like he could be the closer-of-the-future. Jake Diekman (27) and Justin De Fratus (26) seem like they can be effective out of the pen over the next few years. Jonathan Pettibone (23), Ethan Martin (25), and even Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (27) may also be able to provide productive innings there.

Asche is going to have to move due to the looming presence of the Phillies top hitting prospect right now, 3rd baseman Maikel Franco. Coming off a tremendous season in 2013, the soon-to-be 22-year old has had a disappointing season with AAA Lehigh Valley. In ideal circumstances, he could probably use another full AAA season to really get himself ready. These are not ideal circumstances, and odds are that he gets rushed into an early callup.

Among the other top prospects for the team with the most potential impact, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who could be the JRoll heir apparent, is just 19 years old and playing in 'A' ball. If not rushed himself, he is probably at least 2-3 years away. Starting pitcher Aaron Nola was just drafted last month out of LSU, and at 21 years old he could reach Philly by 2016. It is hoped that he eventually teams with 22-year old Jesse Biddle in the longterm rotation. Biddle suffered a setback this year, and may also not reach the big club until 2016.

Every other prospect in the Phillies system has major questions to answer, either health-wise or developmentally, before they can even be in a discussion as potential help for the team in the next couple of years. Cesar Hernandez? Roman Quinn? Tommy Joseph? Aaron Altherr? Carlos Tocci? Severino Gonzalez? Will any of these guys be impact major leaguers?

It is possible that in two years, Cole Hamels is fronting a competitive rotation that features some starting pitcher(s) acquired by the team, supplemented by Nola and Biddle emerging for the future. The bullpen could have jelled into a formidable group. But that's only half the game. In the field, it's hard to imagine a productive infield with Howard, Utley & Rollins at 37 years of age. Maybe Franco is here playing well, maybe Revere is a solid centerfielder.

Of course, there is the possibility that Hamels may not even be here by then himself. Multiple reports as the 2014 trade deadline approach are saying that the team would deal Hamels away, if they could get 3 top prospects in return. That might actually not be a bad move, but would be completely dependent upon who those prospects were. Hamels is the one elite, in-his-prime piece. If the club deals him, it must get it right over the long term.

There appears to be only one way for the Phillies to get good again in a hurry: spend money and acquire young free agent talent. The team will indeed have plenty of money to spend, thanks to their new TV contract with Comcast. But other teams are locking up their best young position players with longterm deals. Dream boy Mike Trout is not a free agent until 2021.

Perhaps as much of a key as anything will be the individual making the decisions as the team attempts to re-tool or rebuild. I have seen nothing whatsoever from Ruben Amaro Jr. as a General Manager that leads me to believe with any confidence that he is capable of making the best decisions. But it appears that, at least for now, he has the support of ownership. In the end, that fact may be what finally sinks this once majestic ship.

With the former champions aging rapidly, no prospects appearing that they will be fully ready in 2015, the likelihood that even if traded, none of the aging players will yield many good, young players in return, and the fact that the person making all of the decisions appears incapable of doing so successfully, the situation with this team is likely even worse than many people realized.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MLB July 2014 Power Ranking

You don't know them, but KC is baseball's best team
We're officially halfway through the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season, and while some teams are getting hot, such as the new team atop the rankings, others are collapsing, such as my hometown Philadelphia Phillies.

Thanks go out to the folks at the Fangraphs website, whose statistical rankings and breakdowns for each team on offense, defense, and pitching form the core of the statistical evaluation and analysis that make up my own monthly MLB rankings. Below are the top teams at this halfway mark. If your team is not on this list, you have no shot at post-season baseball in 2014. None. Your team should likely be a seller as the trade deadline approaches.

POWER RANKING - JULY

1. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Are you as surprised as I was when I added it all up, and the top team in baseball turned out to be the Midwestern boys from KC? The Royals haven't been to the post-season since George Brett led the 1985 team to it's lone World Series victory, the 7-game controversial victory over Saint Louis that likely would never happen had replay been a part of the game back then. In 2014, the Royals were shutout on June 1st to fall into last place in the A.L. Central Division, 4 games below the .500 mark, 6 1/2 games out of first place. They proceeded to go 17-9 the rest of the month, including a 10-game win streak. The Royals are baseball's top defensive team, rank 8th on offense, and rank 9th in pitching. This has become a well-rounded team that must be taken much more seriously. A month ago, I highlighted the June Power Ranking article with this statement: "...if you're not mentioned...you're not going to the playoffs. Period." The Royals were not mentioned. Too soon to say if I was right, but the odds say they still will have a tough road to the post-season.

2. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
The top team in the rankings a month ago remain right there a month later. The A's are the only team in baseball sitting 20 games over the .500 mark, and they hold a 5 game lead in the A.L. West. The team is tied with the division-rival Angels as the best offensive club in the game, they rank 8th on defense, and their pitching is 10th rated. The Athletics also gained some stability by signing a new lease that will surprisingly keep them in Oakland for at least another decade. The stats say they are pretty much dead even with the other top four teams on this list, and they should remain a top contender all season long.

3. ATLANTA BRAVES
A month ago, the Braves were among the 'Best of the Rest' category, not having made my Top 10 in the June rankings. And based on the N.L. East standings, they have actually regressed. The club was 6 games over .500 and owned a 3-game lead after action on June 1st, and now they are 7 games over .500, but own just a half game lead on Washington. But statistically, the Braves are improving. Their offense is fringe-contender at #10, but they are the 5th ranked pitching team, and their defense is rated 4th in the game. They will need to hit better as the summer moves along if they want to hold off the Nationals for the top spot in the division, but there is no reason that they shouldn't continue to contend both there and in the Wildcard race.

4. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cards have moved up slightly from their #6 slot a month ago, and remain one of the top contenders in the National League. The loss of Michael Wacha may test their rotation, but they seem to have a knack for overcoming those types of losses, plugging in from a deep, talented minor league system (Phillies take notice.) They are basically dead even with the Braves in the NL ranks, and with the A's & Royals overall, so right now the Cardinals have as good a shot as anyone to win it all this year. They are 9th in offense, 7th in pitching, and 3rd in defense overall in Major League Baseball. In short, the Cards are a team without much of a weakness.

5. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The #3 overall team a month ago, the Halos began June in 2nd place, 4 games over .500, 4 1/2 games behind the Athletics. They ended the month 10 games over that .500 mark, but were still in 2nd place, and had slipped to 5 1/2 games back. In short, they are playing as well as anyone in the American League, but they are trying to run down a talented Oakland club, and not making much headway to this stage. The Angels are tied with the A's as the top offensive teams in all of baseball, and they are 6th in defense. But their 20th-ranked pitching staff is keeping them from making a big move. This is a team screaming for trade to add a more consistent, veteran option to the rotation, and a truly reliable closer.

6. BOSTON RED SOX

7. CINCINNATI REDS

8. SEATTLE MARINERS

9. WASHINGTON NATIONALS

10. TAMPA BAY RAYS

Best of the rest: 
Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees,
Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates

My call:
Despite KC's big improvement this month, the Tigers remain the class of the A.L. Central, and it will be difficult to catch them barring major health issues for Detroit. Ditto with the A's in Oakland. The A.L. East remains up in the air completely. In the N.L., the East will clearly be a battle between the Nats and Braves. In the Central, the Brewers hold baseball's biggest lead. I still believe that the Cards and Reds will make runs at them, possibly the Bucs as well. In the West, the Dodgers are the best team, but the Giants may be able to battle them tight all year.