Monday, June 29, 2015

Andy MacPhail Hired to Lead Phillies Rebuild

At an afternoon press conference, the Philadelphia Phillies officially announced that longtime baseball executive Andy MacPhail will take over as the President of the club. 
MacPhail will take over formally from current President Pat Gillick at the conclusion of the 2015 regular season.
This marks the first time in the 132+ year history of the franchise that the club has hired someone from outside the organization to this most important position of responsibility for all facets of the operation.
In an email to fans, the team explained the situation in this manner: "As president, MacPhail will oversee the entire organization, both its business and baseball operations. For the remainder of the season, MacPhail will serve as a special assistant to Gillick during which time he will work closely with Gillick and chief operating officer Michael Stiles to become acclimated with the club's operations and its personnel."


MacPhail may be new to the Phils, but he is as "inside" and experienced as a baseball insider can possibly get. 
The son of former American League President Lee MacPhail and grandson of former baseball executive Larry MacPhail, both of whom are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he has successfully run Major League Baseball organizations previously.
"I'm confident we're going to be able to get back. It's just a question of when and how efficient we can be to make it happen sooner rather than later" ~ MacPhail
For a decade from 1985-94, MacPhail served as the General Manager of the Minnesota Twins, helping build a team that would win a pair of World Series championships during his tenure.
That was followed by a 13-year tenure as the President and CEO of the Chicago Cubs from 1994-2006, including a two year period in 2000-01 during which he also served as the Cubbies GM.
MacPhail then moved on to Baltimore, serving as the Orioles President of Baseball Operations from 2007-11. 
The O's ownership wanted to keep him on, but MacPhail decided to leave the game due to personal issues, including health problems for his father and a desire to travel and experience some of life outside the game.
Another major development today was a very public appearance by John Middleton, a longtime member of the Phillies ownership group, who appeared to quite obviously be taking a first public step forward as the face of club ownership.
"Andy brings an uncommon blend of old-school experience and new-age thinking," said Middleton. "Old school because he has been building winning teams for over three decades. During his tenure in Baltimore, he greatly expanded the use of statistical analysis in player evaluations. That's the new-age thinking."
Middleton also announced that the organization has been building a statistical sabermetrics department, which he stated will be ready to go by September. 
This marks a huge leap forward for a franchise that has been criticized within the industry for failing to embrace the new statistical evaluations as a personnel tool.
MacPhail realizes that turning around the fortunes of what was a model organization for a decade before sinking to the depths of baseball over the last couple of seasons will not happen overnight. However, he was unwilling to commit to a time frame for contention, either short or long-term.
"I'm confident we're going to be able to get back. It's just a question of when and how efficient we can be to make it happen sooner rather than later," said MacPhail.
Factually, the announcement was clear and MacPhail reinforced that he will be spending the next three months learning about the Phils operations and educating himself on everything, including player personnel and management.
What that means is that any decisions and actions on important long-term matters that will directly affect MacPhail's regime, most directly trading of veteran players such as Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, will be done by the current regime of Gillick and Ruben Amaro.
Certainly in such important transactions, MacPhail will have some input. But he admitted that he will likely only be advising in such matters for the time being. This means that a decision involving both the future of Amaro, and a long-term manager, may wait until the off-season.
For now, Pete Mackanin will continue in his role as the interim manager through the series with the Milwaukee Brewers that begins tonight. 
Gillick did not commit to anything involving the manager position beyond the series, and said that some announcement would come from the club later in the week.
With a longterm managerial commitment likely an important part of MacPhail's new beginning, there would seem to be a strong possibility that Mackanin will finish out this 2015 season as the skipper, assuming that he is willing to take that responsibility. A good organizational soldier, that is a likelihood.
MacPhail has experience, and he is a legitimate outsider, something that the organization has needed. 
With Gillick gone and new decision makers apparently in place, both in ownership and running the baseball organization, Phillies fans can begin to see the sun rising on what has been a long night. 
The sun still has a little time before it rises, but that rising is closer following today's developments.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ryne Sandberg Resigns: What Next for Phillies?

"This is a difficult day, a challenging day, and a tough day for myself. But I am stepping down as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies."
With that fairly simple, straight-forward statement, Ryne Sandberg resigned his position as the skipper of the Phillies. 
He leaves the team having guided them to an overall 119-149 record in one full and parts of two other seasons.
Sandberg took over for previous manager Charlie Manuel in August of 2013, leading the club to a 20-22 record down the stretch of what became their first losing season in a decade. 
In his only full season a year ago, Sandberg's club went 73-89 and finished in last place in the NL East.
At the time of the resignation, Sandberg and the Phillies were 26-48 and buried in last place once again in the NL East. 
For the immediate future, such as the weekend series beginning tonight at Citizens Bank Park, the Phils will be led by Pete Mackanin, who was named the interim manager.
You have already seen many writers and media types step forward with their take on Sandberg's job performance, his approach, and the timing of this turn of events, some critical and some more supportive. 
My own take is that Sandberg was dealt a bad hand, and he played that bad hand poorly.
That said, I would caution anyone, and I have seen this opinion voiced, who thinks that Ryne Sandberg won't ever get another shot at a managerial job in Major League Baseball. 
Not only do I think that Sandberg could get a job, but I think there is a good chance that he will get a shot, and he just may succeed.
All Phillies fans have to do if considering why I feel this way is look into our franchise own somewhat recent past, remember a guy who fans were happy to see go by the name of Terry Francona
Tito managed the Phillies from 1997-2000, compiling a 285-363 record for a .440 win-loss percentage that was nearly as bad as the .428 managed by Sandberg.
We all know what happened after that. Francona took over the Boston Red Sox four years later. 
In his very first season at the helm, he guided Boston to their first World Series victory in 86 years. In 2007, Francona was at the helm as the Bosox then won yet another World Series crown.
From 2004 through last season, Terry Francona has managed in MLB with Boston and Cleveland in 10 of the last 11 years. He has yet to record a losing season, and his all-time managerial record now stands at 1239-1100, including those awful early Phillies clubs.
Ryne Sandberg was not only a player in the big leagues, like Francona, but even more, Sandberg was one of the best all-around players of his generation. He has been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and is considered one of the greatest 2nd basemen of all-time.
He earned industry-wide praise when, wanting to manage following his playing career, Sandberg was willing to go down to the minor leagues and learn his craft. He earned his shot at the Phillies job with hard work and success there.
In six minor league seasons, his clubs went a combined 512-498. His first season team, the Peoria club in the Cubs system, went to the Midwest League title game. 
In 2010, Sandberg was named the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year after an 82-62 season.
Hired by the Phillies as skipper at AAA Lehigh Valley, Sandberg guided that club to its first-ever postseason appearance in 2011, and was named as the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America. 
In short, after a Hall of Fame playing career, Sandberg paid his dues as a minor league manager where he was extremely successful. Clearly, there is something there.
Sandberg also highlighted during his resignation press conference that he saw himself as "old school" in style. Perhaps that style simply doesn't mesh well with today's professional athletes, almost all of whom are making multiple millions of dollars each season.
This particular Phillies clubhouse has been noted by many in the media as leaderless, from a players perspective. It is never a good thing when the locker room has no voice willing to stand up as a peer and call players to accountability.
Much of the problem with these Phillies is that they are either aging, or limited, or injured. But whatever their individual circumstances, the vast majority are not self-motivators. The proof is in the results.
Sandberg did not help his own case, making a number of baffling moves, both in-game and in lineup decisions. He may have had good reasons for making those decisions, but if so, he rarely was able to communicate those in his post-game pressers. 
The fact may simply be one of inexperience in this position, and that he was overwhelmed by this particular job at this particular time.
Sawyer
"I'm 49, and I want to live to be 50." ~ Sawyer, the last Phils skipper to resign in 1960.
That Sandberg was unable to motivate this particular group may not necessarily mean that he cannot motivate any group at all. 
Remember, this team was left for dead before it ever got out of the starting gates. Everyone inside and outside that clubhouse expected them to lose, probably big, and to see a number of key veterans traded away.
The longer the losing has droned on, and the longer that the situation with players having to live with constant trade rumors over their heads has dragged on, the more the morale seems to have deteriorated.
"I'm 49, and I want to live to be 50.
That was the statement made by the last Phillies manager to resign. That manager was Eddie Sawyer, all the way back in 1960. So this has not happened for over a half-century.
These Phillies have a lot of problems. The skipper was one of them, but he was not the only one, and he was far from the worst one. Those other problems remain, from the GM to the President to the players. 
Those other problems will need to be dealt with before this franchise can begin to seriously turn around, and regain the trust of its dwindling fan base.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Future is Soon For Aaron Nola, J.P. Crawford

The future of MLB will be on display on Sunday, July 12th, 2015 in Cincinnati as dozens of the game's top prospects take part in the Futures Game during All-Star Week festivities. 
Among the players participating will be the Phillies top two prospects, both moving ever closer to their big league debuts.
Pitcher Aaron Nola was selected by the Phils with the 7th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft out of Louisiana State University. 
Nola just turned 22 years old in early June, and was just recently promoted from AA Reading to AAA Lehigh Valley.
In his first two AAA starts, Nola has shown that he belongs. He is 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.947 WHIP there, with a 14/2 K:BB ratio over 12.2 innings in which he has allowed just 10 hits.
J.P. Crawford overcame a preseason injury, starting late but making his own mark, earning his own promotion from High-A Lakewood to AA Reading. 
In his new AA assignment, Crawford has stepped up his game, hitting .298 with a .402 on-base percentage in 122 plate appearances.
The odds are that Nola is putting himself in line for a September call-up, at the latest. Think something similar to Maikel Franco a year ago. 
Crawford is likely to spend the rest of the season at Reading, though if he should really dominate, he could force a promotion to AAA later in the summer.
It is not a stretch to imagine a Phillies left-side infield at some point in the 2016 season featuring Franco at 3rd and Crawford at short. 
Those two guys will at some point be manning those positions behind Nola on the mound. They are all key pieces to the future, and that future is coming soon

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jonathan Papelbon Holding Up His End

With the Phillies clinging to a 2-1 lead in the top of the 9th inning this afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, the ball was turned over, as it has been for the vast majority of the last 3+ seasons, to Jonathan Papelbon.
Much as he has over those 3+ seasons, Papelbon successfully closed out the game, striking out Matt Wieters swinging to clinch victory for the Phillies. 
This one ended a 9-game losing streak. So there have not been many Save opportunities of late for the closer. Still, he has managed to accumulate 13 of those for at team that has won just 22 times.
A vocal segment of the fan base has targeted Papelbon for criticism and derision during these last couple of frustrating seasons. 
A couple of times, that has been warranted, as the big righthander is prone to emotional outbursts and unfiltered verbal honesty.
But those couple of highly publicized incidents aside, Jonathan Papelbon has been by almost any measure one of the most, perhaps the single most positively productive player for the Philadelphia Phillies over the last few seasons.
"The Phillies should not just give Papelbon away...it's Papelbon and it's everyone else, and the Phillies should get something legitimate back for him." ~ Mark Normandin, SB Nation
This year, with trade rumors continually swirling around him, sending him everywhere from Toronto to Miami to the south side of Chicago, Papelbon has not only continued to succeed on the field, but has pretty much been a model citizen off the field as well.
On the field, the closer has a 1.05 ERA, 1.013 WHIP, and his FIP is at the 2.44 mark, all outstanding figures. 
He has allowed just 19 hits in 25.2 innings, with a 30-7 K:BB ratio. He has allowed just one homerun, after yielding just two all of last season.
Off the field, Papelbon has been fairly quiet, with no outrageous verbal quotes, not overly dramatic antics, no public outbursts of any type. 
He knows what is at stake, and when asked, he has been honest about his own and the team's circumstances.
Quoted by Randy Miller at NJ.com following today's victory: "Nobody wants to lose. Nobody in this clubhouse likes losing. We're doing everything we can to come to the yard every day and prepare ourselves to win a ballgame."
That is the kind of team-first attitude that Papelbon has exhibited all the way back through spring training. 
Earlier this season, Papelbon became the Phillies all-time Saves leader. He now has 118 with the club. 
And despite obvious lost velocity, he has learned to use his other pitches to get outs. His K/9 ratio is at 10.5 for the season, the highest that figure has been since 2012.
As Mark Normandin wrote recently for SB Nation, "The Phillies should not just give Papelbon away. He's so, so good, and the vesting option isn't a burden when he's as lights-out as he's been. Someone will make a play for him...it's Papelbon and it's everyone else, and the Phillies should get something legitimate back for him."
Phillies fans should be actively cheering for Jonathan Papelbon at this point. He is keeping his mouth shut for the most part, letting his pitching do the talking. That pitching has been outstanding the vast majority of the time, and he has made himself a valuable asset. 
Papelbon has done his part. Now it's up to club management to do theirs.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

When the Phillies Cole Hamels Deal Will Get Done

In reading along my Twitter feed, following comments on Facebook, and in fielding questions via DM and email, the question keeps popping up, now with a bit more regularity: when are the Phillies going to trade Cole Hamels?
There is really a very simple answer to that question, though I doubt that it will be satisfactory to everyone. 
That simple answer is: when someone meets the admittedly and deservedly high price for his services.
The Phillies are very publicly involved in rebuilding their team, so that high price will be in quality prospects. Not just one prospect, but multiples. 
A team who wants Hamels should expect to pay with two of their very best prospects, as well as another 1-2 possible mid-level prospects tossed in for good measure.
Before we examine the possible trade partners, and some prospects who should be involved in any discussions, let's take a look at what the acquiring team will receive.
Cole Hamels is a 31-year old, left-handed, 9-year veteran of MLB. He has made at least 30 starts in the last 7 consecutive seasons. 
He has just one season (2009) in which he has allowed more hits than innings pitched. He has struck out at least 194 batters in 6 of the last 7 seasons. 
In the current season he is 5-5 for the worst team in baseball, with 70 hits allowed in 87.1 innings, and a 91-30 K:BB ratio.
Also, Hamels is payroll certainty. He is signed through 2018 at $23.5 million per season, with a team option for 2019 at $20 million even. So an acquiring team has an ace for at least four more years beyond the current season, at current day rates. 
With a number of big name free agents pitchers hitting the market this off-season, the cost of such a player is sure to skyrocket. All that, and the Phillies have said they would pay part, most, or all of the contract, depending on the return package.
With all that in mind, we're back to "but when will he be traded?" 
The answer is, he may not be. Or the answer is, in the next few days. Or the answer is, in a month or so. 
Again, the bottom line answer, if you didn't get it earlier, is this: when someone meets the admittedly and deservedly high price for his services.
Let's take a look at some of the obvious and rumored potential suitors, and what they might have to offer (alphabetical by organization): I left out teams like the Tigers, Yankees, Royals, and 1-2 others simply because I don't think they have the pieces to get it done.
Hamels Devers
3rd baseman Devers should be high on a Phillies demand list from the Bosox for Hamels.
Early line favorites stretching back to last off-season, Boston is seriously struggling, in last place in the AL East and 6 games below the .500 mark. 
However, in a division where no one is running away, they are just 6.5 out, and just 5 out of the 2nd Wildcard. 
Problem? A number of teams ahead of them, not all of them will fade. Boston needs to do something, and do it fast, if they want a shot in 2015. 
The Red Sox have a pair of position prospects who should be on the "must" list in Rafael Devers and Manuel Margot. The add-ins then could include an arm such as Brian Johnson or Matt Barnes, maybe even centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

Hamels Edwards
Edwards almost certainly would have to be sent from Cubs to Phillies to get any Hamels deal done.
Currently holding an NL Wildcard spot, still within range of Saint Louis in the NL Central, the Cubbies are hotly rumored to be after closer Jonathan Papelbon. Could there be a package deal discussed? 
Pitcher C.J. Edwards probably has to be the centerpiece coming back. The others in the package would come from among pitchers Duane UnderwoodPierce JohnsonJake Stinnett, and Carson Sands, and outfielders Billy McKinney and Albert Almora.

Hamels Phillips
Part of any Astros package would likely have to include a bat, such as outfielder Phillips to the Phillies.
Suddenly the darlings of MLB, are the Astros for real, or are they a year or two ahead of realistically contending? Acquiring an ace like Hamels to front their rotation for the next 4-5 years would be a perfect move. 
Houston holds a 2-game lead in the AL West, and is right in the battle for the AL's best overall record. 
There are a ton of interesting pieces here for the Phils to assemble a package from among pitchers like Vincent VelasquezJosh HaderLance McCullers, and Michael Feliz, outfielders Domingo SantanaTeoscar Hernandez and Brett Phillips, and infielder Colin Moran. This could be a perfect fit.

Hamels Newcomb
Angels could probably put a package together, but it has to include Newcomb (pictured) or Heaney to Phillies.
Some have speculated that the Halos don't have the prospects to get such a deal done. I beg to differ, but maybe that's because I like their young lefty arms Andrew Heaney and Sean Newcomb more than those naysayers. 
This might even require the Phillies receiving both of those young arms in return. If the Phils think a bat like Kyle Kubitza could hit enough to win a corner outfield spot eventually, this might work. 
Would the Angels be willing? Big market, competition from Dodgers, divisional competitor in Houston getting much better. They need something like a Hamels deal. Kids may be worth it to them.

Hamels Urias
With shortstop Corey Seager likely out of the equation, Urias would likely have to be in a Hamels package.
The Dodgers are in first place in the NL West, but they lead arch-rival and defending World Series champion San Francisco by just a single game. This is a team with Series aspirations of their own, and a budget to match. 
Sure, they have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke already. Still, SoCal kid Hamels would really make them difficult to beat in the regular season, the first step towards that goal, and a matchup nightmare in the playoffs. 
Keeping him from crosstown Angels and division rival Giants and Padres also important. 
Julio Urias likely has to be the linchpin in a deal, though the Phils might go for LA's top two draftees, Walker Buehler and Kyle Funkhouser. Toss in an outfielder such as Alex Verdugo, maybe a pitcher like Zach Lee or Joe Wieland. There are pieces here to do a deal.

Hamels McGuire
McGuire as a 2nd piece, with either of two pitchers, Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon, as the lead could get a Bucs deal done.
Any interesting match from both sides. The Bucs could package one of their two top prospect arms, either Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon, along with catcher Reese McGuire, and perhaps an outfielder such as Austin Meadows or Harold Ramirez, and get this one done. 
Whether Hamels would want to go to Pittsburgh is another matter. But the pieces are here for a deal, and the Pirates, who have made the playoffs each of the last two seasons only to quickly disappear in them, should be looking for a next-step type move. This would be it.

Hamels Piscotty
Piscotty not a boomer, but he is a nice outfielder with good bat-to-ball skills who could slot well into RF in a Hamels package. It would take more, however.
Another interesting team, the Cards are again doing their perennial World Series contender thing. However, the loss of ace Adam Wainwright may prove a longterm, or playoff, crippling blow. 
Picking up Hamels would be the perfect fit. And with his wife being a Midwest gal, and their history of winning, it's likely Hamels would find it a fit. 
There are enough pieces, but they would have to include outfielder Stephen Piscotty, pitcher Marco Gonzalez, and likely another arm such as Alex Reyes, Rob Kaminsky, or Jack Flaherty. Perhaps catcher Carson Kelly as well, depending on the arms combo.

Hamels Hedges
One of the top catching prospects in the game, Hedges would certainly have to be in a Padres package.
Along with the Red Sox, one of the leading contenders for a Hamels deal going all the way back to winter. The main reason? It's Hamels' hometown. It's also a great place to pitch, the antithesis to Citizens Bank Park. 
The Padres went out and improved their lineup this off-season, but are still sitting just at the .500 mark. They are just five games back in the NL West, trailing both the Dodgers and Giants, but are also just 3.5 out of the 2nd Wildcard. 
This season is still there for the hometown faves. If they part with catcher Austin Hedges, an outfielder from among Hunter RenfroeRymer Liriano, or Michael Gettys, and an arm or two such as Casey Kelly or Colin ReaThere is a deal to be made here as well.


Hamels Alfraro
Alfaro would need to be in a Rangers package, probably with a pitcher such as Jake Thompson, and another piece as well.
This would appear to be another good match, need and prospects-wise. The Rangers need a big arm like Hamels at the front of their rotation. Just 2.5 games behind the Angels, Hamels would likely be the difference in this division race for either team. 
Texas is still also just a game out of the 2nd Wildcard. So this is a difference maker for them. 
The pieces are definitely here: catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitcher Jake Thompson, outfielder Nomar Mazara, perhaps a secondary arm like Luke Jackson. Would Hamels take a deal to the Lone Star State? 

Would the Jays make Pompey available? Would Hamels accept a deal to Canada? Huge questions for a Jays deal.
Would the Jays make Pompey available? Would Hamels accept a deal to Canada? Huge questions for a Jays deal.
This is another deal where the pieces are there, and where the need aligns up perfectly. The Blue Jays may already be the best team in the AL East. They have begun to make a run, moving over the .500 mark in recent days. They are right in the middle of both the division and Wildcard races. 
But everyone around the team and across baseball knows, they don't have the starting pitching to sustain this run. Adding Hamels answers that question, and this is another team in on Papelbon as well. 
If the Jays give top pitching prospect Daniel Norris, outfielder Dalton Pompey, catcher Max Pentecost, and perhaps another arm such as Miguel Castro, they could have a perfect deal for both Phillies pitchers. 
But would the Phils' arms go to Canada to pitch for a contender? HUGE question, that might be answered with money.