Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ryne Sandberg on the Early Hot Seat?

In an article today for CBS Sports, MLB insider Jon Heyman put Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg near the top of his "MLB Managers on the Hot Seat" list. 
But is Sandberg really in danger of losing his job this season?
Normally to lose your job as a manager in Major League Baseball, one of a handful of situations has developed. 
Your team disappoints, falling short of expectations. The loftier those expectations, and the worse the performance, the greater the chances of a firing.
"No way he should take the hit for what's gone on over there." ~ Heyman on Sandberg
The other principle ways to get fired are to reveal yourself to simply be incompetent, or to perform an act or say something that is so egregious that you leave management no other option, or to have just been around for awhile without reaching a certain level of success.
It would be extremely difficult to fit Sandberg into any of these categories. 
The team's own upper management wrote them off months ago. The national press sees them as the likely worst team in baseball this season. You cannot fall short of expectations when there are no expectations.
It is highly unlikely that Sandberg commits an act or makes a statement that gets him fired. He is a consummate professional. A disciplined Hall of Fame player who fought his way back up the chain, becoming a winning manager at the minor league level, positioning himself for just this very opportunity. No way he blows it on stupidity.
You cannot say that things have gotten stale around him, since this will only be his second full season at the helm. 
And look at the roster that he inherited: a once-great but aging core of high-salaried veterans, and marginally talented youngsters.
For anyone in a position of responsibility with the Phillies to have the temerity to hold Sandberg as incompetent because he could not win in this dysfunctional situation would be the height of chutzpah. 
He certainly did not have any part in creating this horrific roster situation - but they did.
There is only one excuse for firing Sandberg: the scapegoat scenario. The team is awful and losing at an embarrassing pace, the fans are staying away in droves and complaining up a storm, and there appears to be no hope.
In such situations, certainly Ruben Amaro and Pat Gillick are not going to resign, admitting the truth, that it was mostly their fault. No, it is much more likely that the old adage "you can't fire the players" will come into play.
If the people who hired Ryne Sandberg really believe that he was the right man for the job, then they should not even consider dumping him until they give him some real talent with which to work.
For me, the jury is still out on Ryno longerm. But no matter how bad it gets in 2015, the problem is not likely to be in the manager's office.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Aaron Nola Impressive in Phillies Debut

On Friday afternoon in a rain-shortened game at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida the New York Yankees demolished the Philadelphia Phillies 10-0 in Grapefruit League action.
It would seem to be a pretty dreary result, particularly for the Phillies pitching staff. But in actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.
The most interesting and important aspect of this game involved the Phils' main pitcher on the day, and from that perspective, things went very well for the club.
Taking the mound against the legendary Yankees franchise was none other than 2014 first round draft pick Aaron Nola. The team's top pitching prospect was making his first-ever appearance in Phillies red pinstripes.
Nola was scheduled to make a start in the game. But the ominous weather forecast and the Phils' desire to get game work in for Jonathan Papelbon resulted in the unusual situation of the closer making the start.
"The Phillies should be very excited about him." ~ ARod, on Nola
Papelbon allowed a walk and struck out a batter, got his work in, and turned the game over to Nola. 
So the 6'1, 195-pound righthander finally took the mound to start the top of the 2nd inning with the game still scoreless. When he left after the 4th, it was still scoreless.
Nola went 3 innings, scattering 5 hits, walking none, and struck out four New York batters. He left a big impression on the visitors, including Alex Rodriguez
As quoted by Ryan Lawrence at Philly.com, ARod stated that Nola has a "Good arm. Power slider. Power changeup. I think he has a bright future. ... The Phillies should be very excited about him."
Nola's four K's came in his final seven opposing hitters, and included not only ARod, but also veterans Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley.
CSN's Neil Hartman did a nice feature on Nola earlier, prior to this start, including an interview with the pitcher: "Phillies Focus
Aaron Nola
Nola tossed 3 shutout innings, struck out 4, scattered 5 hits. (Photo: Baseball Betsy)
Aaron Nola is a Louisiana native, born in Baton Rouge, and was first drafted out of Catholic High School by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 22nd round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft. 
He declined to sign, instead attending LSU where he became a consensus All-American and a Golden Spikes Award finalist a year ago.
The Phillies then made Nola their first round pick in last June's Amateur Draft, the 7th overall selection. 
He appeared in a dozen games between High-A Clearwater and AA-Reading, going 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA. He allowed 49 hits in 55.1 innings, with an outstanding 45:10 K/BB ratio and a 1.066 WHIP.
Nola will start out the 2014 season as a key member of an extremely talented Reading Phillies rotation that should include fellow highly-rated prospects Jesse BiddleZach Eflin, and Ben Lively
If he stays healthy and effective, it is not unreasonable to think that he could get a shot with the big league club at some point later in the summer.
For one dreary weather afternoon in the Grapefruit League in Florida, Aaron Nola gave the Phillies and fans watching on TV a glimpse into what is a hoped-for warmer and brighter future with the National League team in Philadelphia.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Phillies Are Billion Dollar Losers

Forbes magazine has released it's annual appraisal of Major League Baseball, and they have valued the Philadelphia Phillies franchise at more than $1 billion for the first time ever.
The Phils are the 10th-most valuable franchise in MLB this year, down from their 6th place ranking a year ago. A lot of that drop in value comes due to the loss of star players, the repeated losses on the field, and the loss of fan support as a result.
Still, the Phillies as a whole rose from a valuation in the Forbes 2014 evaluations at $975 million to their current $1.25 billion ranking. 
Major League Baseball overall is now a $36 billion entity, one of the largest and strongest sporting groups on the planet.
Back in December, I looked at the current situation in which the team has found itself, dumping high-salaried and aging veterans for young prospects as the on-field losses mount, and the team plummets in both the standings and the eyes and wallets of the wider fan base beyond the most hardcore.
The problem with the Philadelphia Phillies clearly is not a financial one. They are not restricted in any way by finances in improving their organization. 
They have the money to put together an industry-leading analytics department, scouting and development department, and to make whatever outlays are needed in salary, bonuses, and inducements to acquire both amateur and big league talent.
What Forbes does not address is key to the club's ability to bounce-back, not only to respectability, but to regularly winning. 
That key is not the increased money coming in 2016 from a massive new Comcast broadcasting rights contract. The key remains a change in the decision-makers themselves.
Also back in December, I gave fans a look into a possible brighter future, with a possible future change in the Phillies power structure under John Middleton, a longtime member of the team's ownership group.
The youngest of those with an ownership stake in the Phillies, Middleton may be positioning himself to take over a majority share of that ownership in the coming months. That would have to be considered an improvement in the on-field and organization-wide competitive outlook for the franchise.
Phillies Gillick
Gillick had an "interim" tag removed, and is now the officially the team President of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)
As long as Bill Giles and David Montgomery continue to make decisions at the top of the organization, Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro will remain in charge of personnel. 
As long as Gillick and Amaro remain in charge of personnel, the team will flounder.
That is a difficult truth for some to swallow, but there is no other conclusion that any logical person who actually examines the organization over the last 10-12 years can draw. 
The vast majority of the 2008 championship pieces, and the decade-long 2001-11 great run, were put together by people other than Gillick and Amaro.
It has been pointed out here numerous times, but is worth stating once more. The Phillies bottom line since Amaro took over as GM is as follows: lost 2009 World Series, lost 2010 NLCS, lost 2011 NLDS, finished .500 in 2012, losing record in 2013, last place finish in 2014. There is no escaping that steady downward progression.
Click into the link provided in the middle of this article, and read the December piece again. The monetary value of the Philadelphia Phillies is strong, and is likely to only get stronger, more valuable, in the coming years. 
But unless there is change in ownership and decision-making, a billion or two in value is not going to matter on the field.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Final Phillies 2015 Opening Day Roster Fights

Weather permitting, at 3:05pm on Monday, April 6th, the Philadelphia Phillies will take the field to open the 2015 MLB regular season with an Interleague game against the Boston Red Sox.
The spring training process of workouts and Grapefruit League games is beginning to sort out the players as the coaching staff and management will cut down to a final 25-man roster for the Opening Day ball club.
Over the past week, the Phils shipped out a number of players to minor league camp, allowing those players to get in more regular playing appearances and more focused instruction from the minor league coaching staff as they continue to develop.
The reassignment of those players has begun the focus at the major league level on the final makeup of that 25-man roster. 
A number of the roster places are, health-permitting, already determined. But a handful remain up for grabs as the team enters it's final two weeks in Clearwater.
The 15 players who have roster spots sewn up include 7 position players and 8 pitchers: Ryan HowardChase UtleyFreddy GalvisCody AscheCarlos RuizBen RevereGrady SizemoreCole HamelsAaron HarangJerome WilliamsDavid BuchananJonathan PapelbonKen GilesJake Diekman, and Justin De Fratus.
Feb 27, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; Oliver (52) pitches during spring training workouts following photo day at Bright House Field. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
In addition to those, the following four (4) players would appear to have the team made, barring some unforeseen developments: Cesar HernandezCameron Rupp, and Rule 5 picks Odubel Herrera and Andy Oliver.
That would leave a half-dozen spots up for grabs over these last two weeks. 
Some of those spots will be determined by injuries. In fact, some of the roster decisions being assumed here already include injuries built into them.
For instance, everyone knows that Cliff Lee is done, and that Chad Billingsley will not be ready and will begin on the DL. 
Also, outfielder Domonic Brown is injured, and this evaluation assumes he will begin the season on the DL. With those situations factored into the roster equation, here is how I see the final battles shaping up.

PITCHING

The Phillies are likely to keep 2-3 more arms at the majors level to start the season. If there is another starter needed due to injury, or if the Phils simply decide to keep him as a long or alternate option, then veteran righty Kevin Slowey has a good shot. The other possibility for that role would be Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
Feb 27, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; Aumont (48) throws a pitch during spring training workouts following photo day at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2015; Clearwater, FL, USA; Aumont (48) throws a pitch during spring training workouts following photo day at Bright House Field. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
Frankly, Slowey has outpitched MAG, and deserves the spot on merit. Merit doesn't always win out, as the Phils have a larger financial investment in the Cuban. 
Unless there are a couple of rotation injuries before the opener, only one of these two may make the cut.
A trio of pitchers may be battling for a shot in the major league bullpen: Jeanmar GomezLuis Garcia and Phillippe Aumont
The 28-year old Garcia has done nothing to lose a spot. He has pitched seven innings across seven games, has three Saves, and has allowed just three hits, with a 7/1 K:BB ratio.
The 27-year old Gomez is the most experienced of the group, with parts of the last five seasons spent in the big leagues with Cleveland and Pittsburgh, including 46 starts and 74 relief appearances. He has a 1.35 ERA this spring, but has allowed eight hits across six innings.
Aumont is out of minor league options, meaning that he would have to clear waivers in order to be sent to the minor leagues. He carries a hefty 4.50 ERA, but has pitched well in general. In six innings across five games, Aumont has allowed eight hits with a 7/1 K:BB ratio. His problem? Three longballs given up.
If the nine pitchers identified as having Opening Day roster spots hold up as healthy, and assuming no trades (Hamels/Papelbon), then it's likely just two of the five from among Gonzalez, Slowey, Gomez, Aumont, and Garcia make the team.

POSITION PLAYERS
With Hernandez out of minor league options and a good fielder, he would appear to have a spot sewn up. Still, the Phils are going to need another backup infielder, preferably one that can play several positions if needed. 
Soon-to-be 31-year old Andres Blanco has received a lot of playing time this spring, but he has not produced the most.
Mar 14, 2015; Lakeland, FL, USA; Bogusevic (17) hits a long fly ball during the sixth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
To this point, the Phils have gotten more out of 28-year old Cord Phelps, who has played in parts of the last four MLB seasons with Cleveland and Baltimore. 
Phelps has been excellent this spring, hitting .345 with a .472 on-base percentage. Phelps has played 2nd, 3rd and shortstop in the majors.
In the outfield, assuming Brown starts on the DL, and assuming the Phils do keep Rule 5 pick Herrera, a no-brainer at this point, we could see 3 of the 4 players from among Darin RufJeff FrancoeurBrian Bogusevic, and Jordan Danks make the team.
If all the players mentioned here do hold up as healthy, and none are traded, a final actual decision may come down to whether or not to keep one of the outfielders or one of the pitchers.
Do the Phillies go with 14 position players and 11 arms, or 13 and 12, to open the season? Just one of many questions that will be answered in less than two weeks.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Ryne Sandberg and Paul Molitor to Make History

This afternoon at 1:05pm, the Philadelphia Phillies are scheduled to play hosts to the Minnesota Twins at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.
That might normally not be a matchup to elicit a great deal of interest outside of the two organizations, or their most hardened fans. 
But thanks to a couple of Baseball Hall of Famers, there will be a larger spotlight on the proceedings than usual this afternoon.
The Phillies are managed by Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. The Twins are managed by Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor
It is believed that this will be the first time that two Hall of Fame players have matched up against one another as a manager.


The two ballplayers are contemporaries, though they starred at the same time in opposite leagues at a time when there was no Interleague play. 
However, both Sandberg's Cubs and Molitor's Brewers did hold their spring training in Arizona, so it's not as if they were strangers.
Ryne Sandberg, as most around here know, began his career as a Phillie. He was the Phils' 20th round selection in the 1978 Amateur Draft, breaking in with the team for a 13-game cup of coffee at the end of the 1981 season. 
He was then dealt to the Chicago Cubs along with Larry Bowa for shortstop Ivan DeJesus. Sandberg went on to play 15 seasons in a Cubs uniform, becoming one of the greatest 2nd basemen of all-time. 
He was the 1984 National League MVP, an NL All-Star for 10 straight years from 1984-93, an NL Gold Glover at 2nd base for 9 straight from 1984-92, and was the NL Silver Slugger winner at 2nd base in 7 seasons.
Molitor played for three different organizations, all in the American League, over the course of a 21-year MLB career, making a lasting mark with each of them. 
He began with the Milwaukee Brewers, who made him their 1st round selection, the 3rd overall pick, in the 1977 Amateur Draft, a year before Sandberg was picked by the Phils.
Molitor
Molitor was drafted a year before and then entered the Hall of Fame a year before Sandberg
He broke in with Milwaukee in 1978, finishing 2nd in AL Rookie of the Year voting as a 21-year old. 
He played for 15 seasons with the Brew Crew, helping lead the 1982 team to the American League pennant, the organizations only ever World Series appearance.
After moving to Toronto, Molitor helped the Blue Jays win their 2nd consecutive World Series crown in 1993, and was named the Most Valuable Player of that '93 Series against the Phillies. 
He then finished up his career with three seasons for his hometown Twins, the team he now manages.
Over his career, Molitor amassed 3,319 hits while scoring 1,782 runs and stealing 504 bases. He was a 7x AL All-Star, won 4 Silver Sluggers, and had nine Top 20 MVP vote finishes, including as the AL MVP runner-up during that 1993 campaign in Toronto.
Molitor was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2004 with 85.25% of the vote. 
Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame on his third ballot in 2005 with 76.2% of the vote. 
And so, Molitor was drafted a year before Sandberg, and ultimately reached the Hall of Fame a year ahead of him as well.
On getting the Phillies full-time gig beginning last season, Sandberg was just the 2nd Hall of Famer to ever be named a manager after being enshrined, the first having been Ted Williams with the old Washington Senators way back in 1969.
A number of men were named as managers prior to their being eventually enshrined as players at Cooperstown. 
Included among them were Yogi BerraBob LemonTony Perez, and Frank Robinson
Of course, there was no Hall of Fame until 1936. A number of players later enshrined were managers before it's inception, including Ty CobbTris SpeakerWalter Johnson, and Christy Mathewson.
The game today will be televised back to local Philadelphia viewers on The Comcast Network. The game will be aired again at midnight our time, 9pm Pacific time, on the MLB Network.