What We're Thankful For in Philly Sports in 2019

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Thanksgiving is often a time of reflection. A time when people who care about each other come together and discuss the things that they are thankful for.

In the Philadelphia area and even for those fans that don't live in the area, Philadelphia sports teams play a major part in many of our lives.

With that in mind, we polled our Sports Talk Philly experts to see what they are most thankful about in regards to the teams they cover.

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Phillies Sign Veteran Utility Player Josh Harrison

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By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA - Josh Harrison, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

The Phillies have signed their first player in the 2019-2020 offseason.  No, it is not a big name player.  In fact, it is not even a major league deal.  But the Phillies have added a veteran player on a minor league contract that will have the opportunity to be a useful piece off of the Phillies bench in 2020.

According to Matt Gelb of the Athletic, the Phillies have signed utility player Josh Harrison:

Harrison was a teammate of one of the prominent current Phillies.

Making a name for himself in Pittsburgh as someone who could play all over the baseball diamond, Harrison spent 2011 through 2017 playing alongside Andrew McCutchen.  The pair were close friends on the Pirates, and upon McCutchen's trade to the San Francisco Giants prior to the 2018 season, Harrison requested a trade himself.

At the time of the trade, Harrison told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that the loss of McCutchen and Gerrit Cole were hard on him:

“Baseball is a business and I understand that trades are part of the business. While I love this game, the reality is that I just lost two of my closest friends in the game. Cole and Cutch were not just friends, they were the best pitcher and best position player on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now, I am the most tenured member of the Pirates, I want to win, I want to contend, I want to win championships in 2018, 2019 and beyond.

Could Cole join the Phillies too to reunite the trio?

The Phillies will likely be in on Cole.  But for Spring Training at least: two of his former teammates and friends are reunited on the Phillies.  Though a minor league deal, the 26th roster spot in 2020 will make room for players like Harrison.  He just may stick.

In nine major league seasons, Harrison is a career .273 hitter over 878 games.


Phillies, Flyers Court Fans Who Couldn't Care Less About the Phillies or Flyers

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Seeking to capitalize on the growing number of fans not in any way interested in actually watching professional sports, executives of both the Phillies and Flyers have recently undertaken bold initiatives to tap into this burgeoning market.

“We recognize that along with those fans who actively dislike our club and boo vociferously,” an unnamed Phillies executive said recently⃰ who requested anonymity lest he be relieved of his duties for stating the obvious, “there exists a larger demographic that actually prefers not engaging with us at all.”  The Phillies are one of a growing number of MLB clubs seeking to engage these non-engagers by providing a game-day experience designed to enable them to completely forget the fact that they’re not only at a major league stadium but in fact paid good money to be there.  “We try to do whatever we can to make an evening with us feel like an evening without us.  If we’ve done our job, the only time a fan realizes he’s at a Phillies game is when he is swiping his debit card.” 

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Who is to blame for the Philadelphia Eagles mediocrity?

 

 

Lipinski & Watkins are back and placing blame after the Eagles frustrating loss to the New England Patriots.  Carson Wentz has to do better.  Doug Pederson has to do better.  Howie Roseman has to do better.  So...who is to blame for the Philadelphia Eagles mediocrity?

On the podcast

  • Carson Wentz deserves some blame for the loss
  • Is Doug Pederson overrated as a coach
  • Is it time to blow the whole thing up
  • Frost debuts for the Flyers
  • Is a Flyers blow up approaching
  • Colin Kaepernick
  • Steelers - Browns brawl

The podcast is presented by Michael's Glass Company! Serving the Philadelphia tri-state area since 1978.  For all your glass needs, shower doors, windows, & auto glass make it Michael's Glass!  215-338-3293

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Report: Phillies Pursuing Digi Gregorius

The Phillies are expected to be active this offseason.  Despite having a full infield at the moment, the Phillies might be looking for an infielder, and this one has strong ties to the Phillies coaching staff.  According to a report, the Phillies are interested in shortstop Didi Gregorius:

Jon Morosi of MLB.com tweets that the Phillies might make a move that includes the trade or move of incumbent shortstop Jean Segura:

The Phillies do have plenty of options surrounding their current infield.

Scott Kingery can play at pretty much any infield position.  Segura can play shortstop or second base.  Cesar Hernandez  could stay at second base, or, the Phillies could decline to tender him a contract.  It looks like the Phillies probably will move on from Maikel Franco regardless of other moves.  Both Hernandez and Franco are due arbitration, but the Phillies can decline to offer them a contract or trade them by December 2.

Gregorius famously replaced Derek Jeter as the Yankees shortstop upon Jeter's retirement five years ago. Gregorius played under Phillies manager Joe Girardi and coach Rob Thomson while with the Yankees.  

Gregorius hits free agency coming off of a season limited by "Tommy John" surgery.  Gregorius hit just .238 last season.  However, a recent piece in the New York Post includes a comment from a scout who believes that Gregorius appears to be heading back to his pre-injury ability.  Gregorius is a lifetime .264 hitter.

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Phillies Hire Dillon to be Hitting Coach

The Phillies have (for now) completed their major league coaching staff.  After considering names that included reported candidates Matt Stairs and Chili Davis, the Phillies have settled on their next hitting coach. According to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Phillies have hired Joe Dillon for that role.

Dillon had been the assistant hitting coach of the Washington Nationals, working under hitting coach Kevin Long.  Long was the hitting coach for Phillies manager Joe Girardi in New York.  If Girardi could not hire away his former hitting coach from the Nationals, perhaps this was the next best thing.

The Phillies coaching staff is now complete.  That is, of course, a coach departs the organization.  With Gabe Kapler being hired by the San Francisco Giants to be manager, the Phillies might lose some coaches to his staff.  So far only Ron Wotus has been reported to be staying in San Francisco, though he has been linked to other jobs.

The Phillies recently added Bryan Price as their next pitching coach.

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By Ian D'Andrea on Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/idsportsphoto/46667344905, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link


Proposal Would Eliminate Phillies Minor League Affiliate

Rumors have been swirling for some time that Major League Baseball would be moving to reduce the number of minor league baseball teams in a significant way.  With sub-par facilities cited as the reason, the 2020 system of minor league baseball could significantly change.  The Phillies will not be exempt from the fallout.

According to the New York Times, 42 teams would be eliminated under a proposal from Major League Baseball.  Among those teams reported by the New York Times is the Williamsport Crosscutters, a short-season Class-A Affiliate of the Phillies. In fact, the entire league could be eliminated.

The Phillies have been the parent club of the Crosscutters since 2007, when the affiliate switched from the Batavia Muckdogs.

The Crosscutters play at BT&T Park at Historic Bowman Field.  The venue hosts the annual Little League Classic, a game played surrounding the Little League World Series, which is held in Williamsport.  The ballpark has been open since 1926, hosting several baseball levels and even an outdoor hockey team.

J.J. Cooper of Baseball America first noted the reason for the change last month.

In MLB’s viewpoint, roughly a quarter of all current MiLB clubs far fall below the level of facilities they view as needed for their minor league players. MLB has essentially put the onus on MiLB to find a way to guarantee those stadiums will all reach what MLB deems as acceptable standards in the near future. If MiLB cannot, then MLB has a proposal to simply reduce the number of affiliated minor league teams going forward to the 75 percent of MiLB clubs that MLB deems capable of meeting their facility needs. MLB would work with MiLB and others to ensure the remaining 25 percent of clubs have baseball teams of some sort, but they would no longer be affiliated MiLB clubs.

  The facility itself at Bowman Field is mostly fine; there were substantial upgrades made before the Little League Classic began to bring the field of play up to major league specifications.   But with the entire league set to fold, the Crosscutters could be no more.

The proposal would reportedly move the MLB Amateur Draft to August, which would almost eliminate the need for the league.  Last year's Phillies first round draft pick, Bryson Stott, played for the Crosscutters last season.  The league begins in mid-June and ends in late August or early September.

The other Phillies affiliates would not be touched.

 


Book Review: May 17, 1979 -- When the Phillies, the Cubs, and the Wind All Blew

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Kevin Cook watched a four-decade-old baseball game on the internet and decided to write 253 pages about it.  Or at least that’s how it feels.  Although his book is officially titled “Ten Innings at Wrigley,” the first two-thirds of it screams, more appropriately: “Three Hours on YouTube.”  For Cook’s book is, frustratingly, largely as advertised: a summary of every at-bat that occurred during each half of the ten innings played between the Phillies and the Cubs that long ago afternoon.  No exceptions. 

At least Cook chose an interesting game.  The May 17, 1979 game between the Phillies and Cubs ended 23-22 in favor of the powder blues, with home runs rocketing over the ivy with abandon.  It was a fun game to watch.  I should know – I watched it in real time as it was happening.  Or at least all but the first few innings of it, as I didn’t get home from school until after the Phils had staked the seemingly insurmountable lead the Cubs would then proceed to surmount.  Regardless, it was a fun game.  The wind was blowing out, the sun was shining, and everybody was hitting.  Pete Rose, my new favorite player (having been signed away from the hated Reds the previous offseason), had three hits, Larry Bowa had five, and the Phils seemed primed to run away with the National League East once again, their fourth divisional title in succession.  For the ’79 Phillies that May, everything seemed to be coming up, well, roses.

It didn’t turn out that way, of course.  The May 17th game would be one of the last highlights of the season for the Phillies, as injuries and, probably more damaging, overall locker room grumpiness, doomed them to a fourth-place finish when all was said and done.  The Cubs, being the Cubs, could boast of even fewer highlights in 1979; they were on their way to another season in the wilderness and everybody knew it.  When the wind was blowing the right way at Wrigley, though, even they could be counted on to provide some thrills.  And on this day, it was and they did. 

Cook takes the reader through every at-bat in every inning, chronicling the Phils’ large early lead and the Cubs’ comeback.  They’d eventually tie the game at 22 before losing, of course, in the 10th on, what else, a Mike Schmidt home run.  If you’re a Phillies fan of certain vintage, you’ll probably enjoy the name drops sprinkled through the text such as Randy Lerch, Ron Reed and – wow! -- Rudy Meoli.  (If this isn’t the first time you’ve thought of Rudy Meoli in decades, you’re most likely a Meoli.)  And older Cubs fans will most likely chuckle upon encountering such long-forgotten names as Larry Biitner and Mick Kelleher.  Fans of both clubs might even do what I did – open their laptops and bring up the game itself to take in a few innings and bask in the analog nostalgia.

Which highlights a major problem with the concept of the book.  With the game itself so easily accessible, it’s unclear why anybody needs such a detailed summary of it on paper.  More problematic, those watching the game on YouTube will probably do what they’re likely to do when reading the book – stay for a few innings and then tune out.  It was just an early season game between two teams going nowhere, after all.  Not all that much to get excited about. 

I’m going to assume that Cook was not responsible for the book’s subtitle: "The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink," but it does him no favors.  Marrying the game to the idea that baseball was on the brink brings with it an expectation that at some point the larger historical significance of the game will be broached.  To his credit, Cook doesn’t go there, perhaps realizing that the game, itself, doesn’t have any.  It was just a game, after all.  A fun game, yes, but that’s about as far as it went or can possibly go.  Was baseball “on the brink” as the subtitle suggests?  Perhaps, but on the brink of what, exactly?  Cook never says and it’s not clear how this game contributed to anything more than an enjoyable afternoon for those like me who were lucky enough to have watched it. 

The book’s final hundred pages do go a bit beyond the game that afternoon, discussing in clipped fashion the 1980 Phillies, Dave Kingman, Bill Buckner and Cubs reliever Donnie Moore, whose postscript was nothing short of ugly and tragic.  These tales are interesting but have been told before, mostly in deeper dives than Cook attempts here. 

The one exception of note is Cook’s telling of the feud between Kingman and Buckner, which hasn’t received as much ink as it probably should.  As well, the hypothesis that Kingman, of all people, and as retrograde as he could be personality-wise, might actually have been a primitive version of the modern day power hitter, (a “three true outcome” hitter if ever there was one back in the ‘70s) is a fascinating one.  So, too, is the notion of the contact-hitting Buckner as, in retrospect, a portrait of the type of hitter soon to go out of fashion.  As Cook teases here and there throughout the book, Kingman represented the future of baseball and Buckner the past, and the two players hated each other largely because neither could understand the other’s approach to the game.  A study of this relationship would be fascinating.  Fingers crossed that one day we’ll get one.

Until then we have this.  Enjoyable enough on its own terms but, like the game it describes, once it’s over you’ll wonder what it was all about in the larger scheme of things.

Kevin Cook, Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, With Baseball on the Brink.  New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2019.  253 pp.  Cloth, $28.00. (This review, along with numerous reviews of baseball books, will be featured in an upcoming issue of NINE: A Journal of Baseball History & Culture)


For the Phillies, the Timing a J.T. Realmuto Extension Matters

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It is certainly more than fair to say that the 2019 season debut of J.T. Realmuto in a Phillies uniform went very well.  In July, Realmuto was named to the National League All-Star team.  After the season, hardware followed: a Rawlings Gold Glove award and a Louisville Silver Slugger award.  The Phillies certainly would like to keep such a player around.  However, timing will be important here.

The major consideration for the Phillies right now is the competitive balance tax, or the "luxury tax".  The Phillies have money, but to add top talent in 2020, the Phillies need to be very mindful of where they stand under the tax.  While the Phillies might even be willing to exceed the threshold, there are baseball reasons to avoid the limit; how much a team exceeds that spending level affects draft picks and compensation over free agents.   

But that does not mean that the Phillies will be kept from re-signing Realmuto.  They just need to get the timing right.

Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that the Phillies are indeed interested in re-signing Realmuto, but will play the competitive balance tax game:

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

But Salisbury said that the Phillies and Realmuto are indeed "talking"; both sides have to know what's at stake here.

The reason is that for competitive balance tax purposes, the final number is calculated based upon the average annual value of contracts, not a player's salary this season.

For example, the Phillies will pay Jake Arrieta $20 million this season.  However, in competitive balance tax terms, the final year of his contract will count for $25 million.  That is because the Phillies paid Arrieta $30 million in 2018 and $25 million in 2019.  $30 + $25 + $20 = $75 million, divided by three is $25 million.

This keeps teams from signing a big-name free agent and backloading it.  When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to a five-year, $124 million contract, Lee was paid $11 million the first year, with much of the money paid later.  Present-day, they would be assessed not on the amount of cash going out the door, but the total dollars minus the years, so they would have been assessed for just under $25 million according to the current system.

So that one-year contract for Realmuto would cover the final year of his arbitration.  The sides could agree to do an extension but not actually file it until 2020 is under way.  That way the average annual value would hit the Phillies next year, when Arrieta and David Robertson are off the books, representing $37.5 million towards the competitive balance tax.

That means there is more room for the likes of Gerrit Cole or other starters, provided the Phillies can land them.   Phillies owner John Middleton has said that he would hope to 

So the news sounds good for the Phillies: the club could have some room under the competitive balance tax number and have Realmuto long-term.


The Phillies Are Interested in Gerrit Cole, But So Are Many Teams

The free agent prize of the 2019-2020 free agency is pitcher Gerrit Cole.  The Phillies have a clear need for starting pitching and the team still has money to spend, albeit maybe not the "stupid money" of last offseason.  According to a report, the Phillies will be in on Cole, but there are many other teams as well.

Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports there are many involved:

So how much would a record deal be?

So far the largest deal is David Price's seven-year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.  That's an average of $31 million a season.  Max Scherzer got $210 million over seven seasons, and Zach Grenke received six years, but at the largest rate on an average annual value - $34.4 million per season.

Does this mean Cole needs seven seasons at $35 million per season?  Eight years?  The Phillies can probably suck up one year of Jake Arrieta on the books and replace him with cheaper talent, such as Spencer Howard or Adonis Medina in a year.  So while the move may be uncomfortable, the Phillies could make it work.

The report from Jayson Stark of the Athletic on Tuesday suggested that the Phillies will try to be opportunists; if Cole is sitting available at the end, the club could be the last man standing.  Phillies general manager Matt Klentak says that they will be willing to go big for the right player.

Could Cole be that player?  He very well could be. But there will be many other teams to contend with for his services.

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