Monday, July 16, 2012

Is Shane Victorino On The Way Out The Door?

Will Shane Victorino be the first main piece of the Philadelphia Phillies to be traded?
It’s looking more and more like that is going to be the case.
Early on Monday,’s Jon Paul Morosi reported that one high-ranking executive expected Victorino to be the first ‘big name’ to be traded before the July 31st deadline.
Yes, this executive thinks that the 31-year-old center fielder will be dealt pretty soon, before the likes of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Zack Greinke, Justin Upton, Carlos Quentin, Josh Willingham or Francisco Liriano.  Considering the recent reports about the Cubs wanting to trade Dempster this very week, a deal involving Victorino would have to be right on the horizon for the executive’s theory to be true.
Regardless of when it happens, most Philly pundits fully expect Victorino to be traded sometime within the next two weeks.  It’s not rocket science when one thinks about it.  Victorino, who is making $9.5M in the last year of his three-year deal, is seeking a new five-year contract north of $12M per year.  Considering the Phillies’ current financial situation, and the fact that the team is trying to sign someone much more important to its future success in Cole Hamels, there just isn’t enough money left in Citizen's Bank to ink the Flyin’ Hawaiian.
Teams that have been linked to the trade talks include the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the San Francisco Giants, the Texas Rangers and the Miami Marlins.  Oddly enough, all but one is a National League team.  Who it will be is anyone’s guess, but the Phils’ six-game home stand beginning on Friday could be Victorino’s last in South Philadelphia.
Later the same day, Danny Knobler of reported that the Dodgers have shown some interest in Jimmy Rollins.  He wrote that Rollins is part of a long list of players the Dodgers are looking at and may be the most intriguing.  However, it will all come down to Rollins.  As a 10-5 player (ten years in the bigs, five with the same team), he has the luxury of a full no-trade clause and can choose whether or not to accept any deal.
Meanwhile, other reports have surfaced about the Phillies putting together a substantial offer for Hamels.  It is said that the Phils have no problem giving Hamels a contract much like they did to Cliff Lee (five-years, $120M).  Others believe the Phillies will have to do at least as good as Johan Santana’s six-year, $137.5M deal in order to keep him away from free agency.
Needless to say, the next two weeks figure to be pretty interesting for the Phillies, their management and their fan base.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Good Riddance 'Big Baby' Howard

            “He is LeBron James Jr., but worse.”
            Up until about two weeks ago, that was the phrase I used to describe the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard.
            Since then things have only gotten worse for the Magic and their fan base.  So much so that I think Howard might be making a run at the award currently owned by John Edward.  For those who have no idea what I am talking about, click and enjoy.
            I have been an Orlando Magic fan since the early-to-mid 1990s.  Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway was my favorite player growing up.  Some of it had to do with Lil’ Penny and their Nike commercials.  Part of it was his point-forward game that allowed him to shoot and slash at will.  Of course, the Magic having a young and dominate Shaq Daddy didn’t hurt either.
When Shaq left Orlando for Los Angeles I felt betrayed.  How did it happen?  Whose fault was it that the situation had come to this?  I was too young to know what had happened.  Plus SportsCenter didn’t run literally 24 hours at the time.
A few months ago I was in denial about Howard wanting to be traded.  It was happening again.  The best center in the league was once again leaving my team.  I wanted the Magic to do anything and everything in order to make him stay.  I even went as far as messaging him on twitter and telling him that he needed to stay in the Magic Kingdom.
From that time until now, my world has completely reversed.  I have since sent him another twitter message.  However, this one said to do whatever it took to ensure that he would never come back to Orlando.  Who knows if he got it, but isn’t that what twitter is for?
Look what has happened in the time since Howard’s first (denied) trade request.  All he did was complain publicly about the team’s make-up, attempt to and succeed in getting the franchise’s winningest coach fired, not join in-game huddles on national television, nearly get into a fight with his ‘best friend,’ and allegedly accuse management of blackmailing him into singing a contract extension.
With that, I say that I am sorry LeBron.  I am sorry for lumping you into the same group as this baby.  While I did lose some respect for you with the way you went about leaving Cleveland, and the fact that winning just one title in that city would have made you a God forever, at least you didn’t do everything in your power to throw a potentially title-contending team into the rebuilding process.  You may have inadvertently thrown the Cavs into a rebuilding stage, and cop out of proving you can win a title by yourself (cough, Howard, cough), but at least you left without tarnishing your image as a grown man.
LeBron didn’t say anything during his last year in Cleveland.  He said he would talk about his free agency after the season and went about his business.  He didn’t throw his coach and general manager under the bus.  He didn’t demand a trade.  He didn’t flip-flop about his future and cry to the point where his teammates wanted to fight him.
Howard, on the other hand, said he wanted out of Orlando during the middle of the season.  Then he denied it publicly and said that he wanted to stay.  Then he said behind closed doors – which eventually became public – that he still wanted out.
Then, during the stretch run of the regular season, he has the most awkward press conference in sports history.  I respect Stan Van Gundy for coming out and saying that he knew Howard wanted him fired.  He was tired of the BS.  Then Howard walks over, not knowing what the heck is going on, and puts on a performance that has him nominated for this year’s award.
As if it things weren’t already going downhill, after that it was like riding a slip-n-slide down Mount Everest.  Coincidentally, Howard’s back started hurting a few weeks later and was out for the season.  They say he had surgery, but who knows.  I don’t believe anything he says anymore.
Then a report surfaced a few days ago that he and Jameer Nelson had to be separated in practice toward the end of the year.  If Nelson, the one who used to do everything with Howard, wants to punch his lights out – then you know things had to have gotten pretty bad.
As a sports enthusiast and Magic fan, I am personally sick of hearing about Howard.  The player who I once viewed as one of my favorites has become the player I despise the most.  Not for wanting to leave, but for going about it the way he did and being a bleep-ing bleep.  I hope he gets traded to the Wizards or the Bobcats.
That way he can really see what it is like to have ‘no one around him.’

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Phillies Mid-Season Report

            As of Monday, the Philadelphia Phillies had played exactly half of their 2012 baseball schedule.
            Their record at the time: 36-45.  Eleven games back of the first-place Washington Nationals in the National League East.  Eight games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card.
            Never thought I would use the words “back of,” “Nationals” and “Pirates” when describing the Phillies, but I guess there is a first time for everything.
            Things are becoming extremely bleak for the Phils.  And as someone who has tried to remain as optimistic as possible during the team’s injury-plagued and seemingly exciting-less season, I am running out of cards to play.
            I was in the car Monday and had on some sports talk radio about the Phillies.  I only had time to catch two callers, but both recommended making changes to the managerial staff.  Needless to say, I was blown away with how ridiculous it sounded.
            Let me get this straight.  When the Phillies go at least .500 every year under Charlie Manuel, including winning 90-plus games each of the last four seasons, it’s all the players doing?  Manuel had nothing to do with the team’s 2008 World Series title or its franchise-record 102-win season?  However, once the team experiences one sub-par year, which has been marred by injuries and underachieving play by almost everybody on the roster, it is time to cut him loose?  Did those callers forget where the Phils were before Manuel took over?  Did they completely erase the late-90s and early-2000s from their memory banks?
            As someone who has actually sat in the Phillies’ press room, asked Manuel some questions and heard him respond to others, I can say without a shred of doubt that he is still the right man for the job.  While others may think it is time to panic, Manuel isn’t about to jump off the ledge.  He has stayed even-keel through it all.  And it is that personality that had all of his players singing his praises back in 2008.  Manuel should be the Phillies’ manager as long as he wants to be.  After all, I don’t see him stranding runners on third base or coming in out of the pen and blowing whatever lead the team had at the time.
Besides, all the panic is relative.  The fans who are acting as if the sky is falling are a direct result from the team’s success over the last five years.  Now that the Phils have won five straight division titles and have gone to consecutive World Series they have to do it every year.
News flash people: that’s not how things work.  “Stuff” happens.
With all of that said, it is looking more and more as if this will be the year Philadelphia’s reign finally ends.  Or at least takes a one-year hiatus.
The average record of the Wild Card team over the last three years has been 91-71.  In order to get to that record the Phils would have to go 55-26 (68 win percentage) in the second half of the season.  At this point in time, I don’t think that is looking like an achievable task.
Despite the Phillies’ tumultuous first half, they haven’t been a terrible team according to the numbers.  Here are my first-half grades for the team:

Hitting: A –
At first sight of this grade one might think I am crazy.  However, considering how the Phillies started the season and where they are now, they should be given their props.
As of Monday, Philadelphia was third in hits (749), sixth in stolen bases (72) and eighth in batting average (.264).  It also ranked in the top half of the league in runs (347), homers (79), RBIs (331) and slugging (.406).
Take into account that the Phils have done practically all of that without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and one can see why I am willing to give such a high grade.  They have done better than most teams would have had they lost their two biggest bats.  However…

Situational Hitting: C –
This is why the Phillies have been losing games.
I was shocked to learn these stats though.  The Phils are fifth in the league with the bases loaded (.313), eighth in runners in scoring position with two outs (.260) and 13th with runners in scoring position (.250).  Those numbers kept me from giving them an F.
I can remember countless times this season when the Phils left runners stranded on third with less than two outs.  I am not sure exactly which game it was, but I even recall them leaving a runner on third with no outs.  It was embarrassing.  When it happened, I remember thinking that that was the sign that this wasn’t going to be their year.  The Philadelphia teams of the last five years would have found some way to get that run in.  I mean all someone had to do was hit the ball hard and fair.  That memory alone trumps the semi-decent stats.

Starting Pitching: C
No matter how bad the Phillies’ offense could be, the starting staff was always expected to keep the team in the hunt.  That hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Philadelphia’s starters are a combined 27-33 on the year.  Between the first and sixth innings, the Phils rank 14th in ERA (4.02) and 19th in hits allowed (477) – not exactly quality stuff.  Still, they rank first in strikeouts (445) and fourth in WHIP (1.23) over those innings.
Vance Worley (2.92), Cole Hamels (3.08) and Roy Halladay (3.98) are the only starters with an ERA under four.  Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton are both over four, while Kyle Kendrick is over five.  Blanton and Kendrick are both producing as expected, but Halladay and Lee are definitely far worse.  Furthermore, only Hamels (.232) and Worley (.247) have a batting average against under .250.
To top things off, it was recently reported that the Phils are gauging league interest on Hamels.  I understand the whole money situation, but why they would try to deal the staff’s best pitcher with the most years ahead of him instead of Lee or Halladay is beyond me.

Relief Pitching: D (with Papelbon); Z – (without Papelbon)
Jonathan Papelbon has been everything the Phillies expected.  He is 18-for-19 in save chances, has a 37:7 K-to-walk ratio, a .223 BBA and has given up just 25 hits in 29.2 innings.
Everyone else has been absolutely terrible.  Even Antonio Bastardo has been off.  While he does have a .218 BBA, he has given up 12 earned runs in 27 innings.
From the seventh inning on, the Phils rank 22nd in WHIP (1.36), 28th in strikeouts (239) and 29th in ERA (4.40) – and that’s with the help of Papelbon’s numbers.  Virtually nobody has been able to come in and hold a lead at any point this season.  Anybody who has watched this team on a regular basis knows that this has been the biggest pit-fall.

Defense: B –
Some might think the defense has been a major problem this year and in some instances it has.  But when one looks at the numbers they will see that it might not be as bad as initially thought.
No Phillies pitcher has had more than five unearned runs scored against him.  Many may feel that Lee has been at the brunt of some bad defensive play, but all 41 of the runs that he has allowed have been earned.  In fact, Blanton and Kendrick (five each) have the most unearned runs scored against them.
The Phils have committed 48 errors (T16th) and possess a .984 fielding percentage (T12th).  Sure they are in the middle of the pack, but when one looks at their stats from last year’s 102-win club (74 errors, .988 FP) they will see that there isn’t much difference.  Last year’s 74 errors ranked 29th last year, while the fielding percentage (currently only .004 better) was first.

            How things go in the second half is anyone’s guess.  One can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic at this point.  Personally I wouldn’t argue with a fellow fan if they went either way.  Regardless, here’s to the Phillies’ second half being better than their first.
            Oh, and not trading Cole Hamels.