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Giroux returns as Flyers down Rangers

The NHL season starts in just eight days and Tuesday night presented the final chance to see the Flyers on home ice before their home opener on Oct. 9. The final preseason game featured a welcome sight.

Claude Giroux returned to the lineup against the Rangers, two games ahead of schedule. With most of the players that will likely make up the roster in a week, the Flyers managed to put their recent struggles on the road behind them in a 4-2 win over the Rangers at Wells Fargo Center.

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Son of Phillies Owner John Middleton Speaks, Slams Fanbase For Lack Of Loyalty

Middleton

The son of Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton took to Twitter to take to give a long rant about the state of the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans.   It started perhaps because he was tired of answering questions about the team.  This Middleton is a Hollywood producer, not the owner.  That is his father's situation.  His father, John Middleton, made his fortune in the cigar business, which he sold for $2.7 billion in 2007.

But yet, Middleton Jr. had this to say:

To whom it may concern, I have not read these articles - not because I'm not interested in fan opinion but rather because false conjecture bothers me - but I have heard from friends in Philly there is wild speculation today over the Phillies. Remember 99% of what you read is totally inaccurate. And one more point brought to my attention. A general partner control baseball operating decisions. Limited partners vote on a variety of things, which may or may not be specifically on the field related. Limited partners are owners, the people involved in said limited partnership are equity shareholders and directors technically. The structure is far more complexed than it appears is being discussed and understood in articles and/or online.

Also, I am a film and tv producer - seemingly confusion there also. But there's this fantastic invention called Google, as well as other sites like IMDbPro (regular often inaccurate). I live in Malibu because I work in LA. 

One thing I can tell you, the Phillies are doing their best in a bad situation. The team just gave you arguably one of the three best runs in NL history, the others being, in my opinion, the 60s Cardinals and 90s Braves. Philly prides itself on being tough, but also LOYAL to its core.

Changes and new additions, rough stretches, these are a fact of sport. Death, taxes, and your sports team will not win the championship every year. So please continue to support a team trying to right its ship, certainly spending the money necessary to do so, and look forward to the upswing and many more years of great baseball, consecutive pennants and division titles, and world championships to come. I'm proud to be a Philadelphian, but I'm not proud a fan base built on LOYALTY is abandoning ship because of a series of bad years.

What I tend to disagree with, and take issue with, is this last paragraph.

1) I did not renew my season tickets for this past season after having a full-game plan for five years straight.   The reason was a lack of changes, a lack of new additions.  I have said time and time again I would pay to watch young players, but paying to watch a few minds try to hold on to 2008 for way too long is not worth my money.  Why should I pay for someone else's personal attachment?

2) I do believe that changes are on the way; I just think that they are happening way too late.  I still feel had this process begun two years ago, stating that changes would have to take place would have more effect.     After two sunk seasons where the team was left to be stagnant and unproductive, there is nobody looking to reject change, which is what Middleton seems to imply.  The fans are hungry for change, but have yet to see it.  While they retain certain affections for certain players, they understand the need for the greater picture to be changed.


If A Team Takes Ryan Howard, The Phillies Might Need To Take Bad Contracts Back

 Much of the talk before the Phillies played Sunday's season finale against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park centered around whether or not Sunday's game would be Ryan Howard's last game as a Phillie.   The fans seemed to wonder as much as well, as they gave Howard a standing ovation as Tony Gywnn Jr. pinch ran for Howard late in the game.  The Phillies, from all that people can speculate, will attempt to move on from Howard, but, do not want to simply release him, as a matter of respect.   Trading Howard will not be easy, but to do so, they must take on bad contracts in return.

Friend of the blog Christopher Smith suggested that the Phillies would be taking in return players that play positions already occupied, but the Phillies will have to take back some players, whether they keep those players or not.   What the Phillies get in return should not matter, as long as the Phillies move Howard so they can commit to some of their younger players.   Here is an early look at who could take on Ryan Howard the player and what the Phillies might have to take back in return, even while paying down Howard's salary.

Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians could be a fit for Howard because they fit two criteria: the Indians have used a left-handed DH the last two seasons who might very well retire, and, they have high-priced players that they wish to dump.  

Jason Giambi has spent the last two seasons with the Cleveland Indians.  However, at 43 years old and with his health giving him issue this season, Giambi may finally call it a career.   Besides being a left-handed hitter with a little pop left, Howard would be able to provide a leadership role to the younger players on the roster.   This was one major reason Giambi was there:

Manager Terry Francona helped convince Giambi to sign with Cleveland prior to last season to provide the young team with a veteran leader in the clubhouse and a potent batter off the bench. Providing leadership has been Giambi's primary focus over his two seasons with the Tribe, and he was thrilled to have that chance.

While the switch-hitting Carlos Santana would likely be the team's primary focus at 1B, Howard could give the Indians an option at DH.   To make this work, the Indians would have to unload at least one of their bad contracts: current 1B/DH Nick Swisher.

Swisher is due to earn $15 million in 2015, $15 million in 2016, and has a vesting option for 2017, should he make 550 plate appearance in 2016.   Swisher likely would not have a starting role on the 2015 Phillies.   What he could do, however, is pinch-hit and fill in at either corner outfield position and first base.  Depending who the Phillies move this offseason (Marlon Byrd? Domonic Brown?) the Phillies could use Swisher in a corner outfield position.

The other bad Indians contract is former Phillies outfielder Michael Bourn.  Bourn has underwhelmed since the Indians signed him to a free agent contract prior to 2013.  When the Phillies signed Ben Revere, I suggested they were getting a lower-priced Bourn.   Bourn has produced less than Revere in his two seasons in Cleveland, partially due to injuries.   Bourn would be someone the Phillies could take back, and then attempt to dispose of his contract, eating some of the money.  After all, they would be willing to eat Howard's money as a sunk cost.

Oakland Athletics

This one would be a tough match.  The Oakland Athletics are always looking for a bargain, and if the Phillies picked up almost all of Howard's contract, they may have a match.   After the Athletics traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the team was near desperate for offense.  Designated hitter Adam Dunn came in from the Chicago White Sox to offer such a boost.  Dunn is in the last year of his contract, and the Athletics will have to try to replace his offense somehow.

The Athletics have many players departing as free agents and will likely need to find a way to bring in options to play in 2015.     Most of the dollars come off of the books for the Athletics for 2015, but they might need to free up some money to fill other needs by unloading someone such as left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty, due $5.5 million in 2015.  O'Flaherty did not pitch for the Athletics until July of 2014, coming off an injury.  The large spike in pay may make him a candidate to be unloaded.

Scott Kazmir is due $11 million in 2015.  While the Athletics got a lot of value from Kazmir in 2014, the backloaded contract could scare them away from wishing to devote this large chunk of their payroll to Kazmir in 2015.  The Athletics will lose pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel to free angency after this season, so they may not be able to part with Kazmir.  However, they will get pitchers A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker back from injury and would certainly add other pieces.

Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers will be faced with many looming free agents this offseason.  They include ace pitcher Max Scherzer and designated hitter Victor Martinez.   The Tigers also have some holes to fill, including the bullpen, where they have struggled mightily.  They may decide that an option such as Ryan Howard as designated hitter at a low cost would be better than putting more money into the 35 year-old Victor Martinez.   The Tigers could use that money to re-sign Scherzer, should he be willing to do so.

Closer Joe Nathan is the one the Tigers would be most eager to dump.   Nathan is due to earn $11 million in 2015.  With a 5-4 record and 5.81 ERA, the Tigers may not wish to make another tightrope walk again out of their bullpen.  The Phillies have no need for Nathan, but if it helps the team move on from Howard, they could stuff him somewhere in the bullpen.   Who knows, maybe the Phillies could flip him for someone willing to take a chance on him.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays only have a couple of bad contracts and they may wish to dump some.  Grant Balfour had a rough 2014 (just 12 saves, 4.91 ERA) and is due to make $7 million in 2015.  Balfour would have to serve as a setup man in the Phillies bullpen, regardless of whether or not Jonathan Papelbon is traded.  Balfour has a $0.5 million bonus built into his contract for being  traded.   If the Phillies flipped him to another team, would that be a second bonus?

David De Jesus is set to earn $5 million and will require a $1 million buyout after the season if the Rays do not wish to take him back.  De Jesus batted just .248, but contributed an OPS of .748, an improvement of .114 over Domonic Brown.  The left-handed De Jesus, a Rutgers product, is not really a starter at this point, and could provide depth in the Phillies outfield.

Would the Rays want Ryan Howard?  Howard would be a left-handed power option.  If the Rays only had to pay a little bit of Howard's contract they could be interested.  Howard would have led the Rays in home runs and RBI on the 2014 Rays, besting Evan Longoria in both.  Without a dedicated DH, the Rays generally cycled several players through the DH slot in 2014.  

Howard might not mind playing in the Tampa Bay area, where his mega-mansion is located.    Howard would have a half-hour commute to play his home games in St. Petersburg.

Is there hope?

The Phillies want to do right by Howard and not embarrass him with his release.  These four teams are the best matches that I can dream up.  The reality is that there many not be many teams interested in Howard's services.  But, it will only take one.   Simply unloading Howard would make the Phillies better as they would have options to play their young players.   Chase Utley seems destined for first base, which would free up playing time for Cesar Hernandez, who has yet to get a shot at his natural position in the major leagues.


Big Play Breakdown: Eagles at 49ers

There was common theme to two plays that altered the Eagles loss to the 49ers on Sunday. The film shows it perfectly.

When the Eagles failed to score at the end of the game and when they allowed a crazy touchdown to Frank Gore, a mistake that was plain to see proved to be the key factor.

That is the subject of this week's Big Play Breakdown.

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Grading the 2014 Season in Review

The season is over. At 73-89, the Phillies were exactly as bad as they were in 2013, except they finished a spot worse now. The future is bleak, and there is no good pathway forward. None of that matters right now though, because we want to look backwards. I want to take a look at the 2014 team, and break it down further.

The Line-Up: D
The offense was a little bit better than in 2014, but not by a noticeable amount. The line-up still had several major eye-sores, all of which are well documented. Before the season I said they'd be better because they only had two players hit well in 2013, so everyone had to improve. Then I watched this season unfold.

Ben Revere gets a B- overall because he did the things well that he's supposed to do well. He hit for a high average, lead the NL in hits, and finished third in MLB in steals, while hitting his first two MLB homers, and tracking down balls well. His lack of an arm or power hurt his grade, but he was a two WAR player. Jimmy Rollins gets a B for his season, largely defensively aided. He hit for power and manned his position well, and walked more than we're used to. His poor average pulled him down, but he was a 3.6 WAR player. Chase Utley gets a similar for his play, as his glove was still solid enough, and his overall stat-line good enough for a 4.1 WAR. My only beef with his season was a serious dip in power, and a bad second half. Ryan Howard gets a controversial D-, in which we overlook his 95 RBI's because he had many opportunities to drive in runs, and was still a .223 hitter in the end of the season. He can't run and can barely field, he has to hit better than this. He's pegged as a -0.4 WAR player, and that feels generous. Marlon Byrd gets a B- for mashing 25 homers and playing good defense, but would have been higher if he made more contact. His 2.3 WAR season makes him a bit more attractive on the trade market at least. Dom Brown gets an F- for a total dud of a season in which he went for a -1.5 WAR, nearly erasing his 1.7 WAR from last year (and putting him back negative for his career). His .235 average and .634 OPS are absolute garbage, and he's still a bad outfielder. Cody Asche gets a C- for his first full season in the bigs, which might seem a little harsh, but he was a 0.3 WAR player, which is to say very replaceable. His 10 homers keeps him in the C's, as opposed to his .699 OPS. Carlos Ruiz gets a C on the strength of his deceptive 3.2 WAR season, which was almost all defensively driven. He's basically a .700 OPS guy now that is great with pitchers.

The Rotation: C
Well, 2011 they were not. They were the definition of mediocre, and it really did hurt this team. With a bad offense, they needed an A performance. It didn't happen.

Cole Hamels gets an A+ despite his 9-9 record, because he threw 204.2 innings, struck out 198, had a 2.46 ERA, and did this all on a bad team. Don't ask me how his WAR went down to 3.8. Cliff Lee gets a C- that is pretty tough, and mostly driven by his injury and a lack of innings. The Phillies needed more, and while it's not his fault, they didn't get it. His 1.7 WAR feels deceptive. A.J. Burnett gets a C on the dot for being the "replacement pitcher" at one WAR. His MLB leading 18 losses match up with his 200 plus innings. Kyle Kendrick gets a C- for a tough year in which he threw 199 innings and lead the team with 10 wins, but had a 4.61 ERA and posted 0.4 WAR. David Buchanan gets a B- for his rookie season, a year in which he posted a 3.75 ERA and threw 117.2 innings in the big leagues. He posted a 0.6 WAR season. Jerome Williams also gets a B- for his short stay in Philadelphia. In a year he was on three teams, he produced 0.3 WAR. Roberto Hernandez stay in Philadelphia was a positive one, earning him a C though, because in the end he was very average. His WAR for the season was -0.5.

The Bench: F
You pick a bench to hit, unless you're Ruben Amaro Jr., and you're not good at your job.

Wil Nieves surprised me enough to earn a C+, producing 0.3 WAR this season. Tony Gwynn Jr. hit .152this season, so it's no shock he's an F. He somehow is only -1.0 WAR. We said goodbye to old friend John Mayberry Jr. and his .212 average, but he still gets an F, for his 0.2 WAR. Reid Brignac didn't make it through either, with his .222 average and -0.2 WAR combining to get him an F too. Jayson Nix might well have been the worst of them, hitting .120 and posting -1.0 WAR across three teams, good for an F-. Andres Blanco is the unsung hero of the group, hitting .277 and producing a homer on his way to 0.3 WAR, and a C+ from here. Darin Ruf didn't really get chances, but produced 0.4 WAR, and a similar C+. Freddy Galvis also had limited opportunities, but wasn't so good, so he gets an F for his -0.4 WAR season. Ditto for Cesar Hernandez with an F for his -0.5 WAR season.

The Bullpen: B-
The start and the finish were two different worlds. Parsing them out isn't easy.

Jonathan Papelbon was an A on the season, posting a 2.04 ERA on his way to a 39-for-43 season closing games, worth a 1.8 WAR. Ken Giles was even better as an A+ for his 1.18 ERA and 1.7 WAR season. Jake Diekman overcame a slow start to strike out 100 batters and earn a B from me. He needs to work on his command, but his 1.1 WAR suggests he was solid. Justin De Fratus gets an A for his 2.39 ERA and 0.5 WAR on the season. Mike Adams gets an injury-riddled C for which he pitched much better (2.89 ERA), but wasn't on the field. He had 0.3 WAR. Antonio Bastardo earns a surprising C+ from me on the strength of finishing below a four ERA (3.94) and being a 0.7 WAR guy. Mario Hollands pitched very well for a while, then kinda hit a wall, but ends up as a C- for an overall 4.40 ERA. He was a -0.1 WAR guy. B.J. Rosenberg is an F, producing a -0.7 WAR. I have no idea why I rate Phillippe Aumont, but he and his -0.3 WAR in five games, but he's an F-.

OVERALL- D
The team didn't make the post-season, it didn't reach .500, and it was the same as last year. That's unacceptable, and that's a D. Had they lost 90, I would have went lower, but this tells the story as best as we need.

Still shorthanded, Flyers fall to Rangers

Playing four games in five days can be taxing on any team. In the preseason, there is no need for a team's regulars to be burned out that early. 

So with the B team dressed for the second straight, the Rangers were able to power their way to a win as the Flyers fell for the second straight night by a score of 6-3 at Madison Square Garden.

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What Went Right, 2014 Philadelphia Phillies Edition

 
Here's what went right with the 2014 Phillies, as few as this list is:

  1. Cole Hamels- He might have been the least lucky pitcher in baseball, but he was really, really good. His opening month health scare not withstanding, his year was nearly perfect.
  2. Ken Giles- The young righty was dominating with his high-90s gas. The most important pitch for him was his devastating slider though.
  3. Marlon Byrd- This move seemed like an overpay in the off-season, but it paid off. Byrd lived up to any expectation I had at least.
  4. Jonathan Papelbon, on the field- I'd say 39 of 43 with an ERA around two is pretty great.
  5. David Buchanan- I had no expectations here. He was very good.
  6. Jake Diekman- He started poorly, but he finished strong and struck out 100 batters this season.
  7. Ben Revere- Another slow starter, but he finished with a great run, leading the NL in hits.
  8. Justin De Fratus- Not much can be said bad about his season.
That's about it for this season.

Chase Utley Or "Rick" Orders Hoagie At Tony Luke's In South Philadelphia

 Phillies second baseman Chase Utley always was the shy type.   That could be why when ordering a hoagie and french fries at Tony Luke's in South Philadelphia, Utley reportedly used a fake name.   Local journalist Jason Wolf reports that when placing his order at the local eatery, Utley used the name "Rick" for his order.

Utley has homes in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and the San Francisco area, which presumably he will soon visit.   Without a Tony Luke's there, I cannot blame Utley for grabbing an authentic sandwhich while he can.

While Wolf does not believe the employees were convinced that he was "Rick", why ask for his name if they recognized him?   Utley presumably cannot get very far in the City of Philadelphia without being recognized.  It is not unusual for athletes to use fake names while out in public.  Derek Jeter once identified himself at Starbucks as "Philip" in Greenwich Villiage, New York.

 


What Went Wrong, 2014 Phillies Edition

Picture by Richard Wilkins Jr.
Some initial thoughts on what went wrong in 2014:

  1. Cliff Lee's health- If you stopped here, this team was doomed from this. I'm not blaming Cliff so much, he's in his mid-30s and this happens at that age. I'm blaming the Phillies for this killing them off. Cliff is simply that important to this team, and it showed.
  2. Dom Brown- It's not just that Dom had a bad season, or a bad attitude it seemed- it's that the Phillies were banking on him. He was the bridge from the old players to a new regime, he was going to be an MVP contender. We thought 2013 was a break-out year, but it was a break-out month really.
  3. Bobby Abreu had a bad spring training game in right, and our GM is stupid- You pick your bench to hit, not to play defense, unless you're Ruben Amaro Jr. Now, Abreu's bad day in the final 96 hours of spring training did cost him a spot, but more symbolically serves as a reminder that he was cut and Darin Ruf was never committed to, but Tony Gwynn Jr. and John Mayberry Jr. were on the team for months. The bench selection produced an incapable bunch.
  4. Early bullpen losses- You might question me putting so much emphasis on the bullpen blowing 1/5 of the April and early May games, because it was early. Fair. On the other hand, this team needed a good start to feel like a contender again. This team couldn't hit enough to sustain giving away games. This hurt.
  5. Ryan Howard- I hate to do this to a Phillies legend like this, but he hit .223. His OPS was .690. He lead the league with 190 strikeouts. His 23 homers and 95 RBI's don't negate those awful numbers. He had to be old Howard for this team to contend. He's not.
  6. Chase Utley's bad second half- What? Yeah, Utley was horrible after the All-Star game, and seemed to tire. This should be fixable in 2015, but it didn't help in 2014.
  7. Burnett and Kendrick- I should be happy we got 400 plus innings from our third and fourth starter, but I watched them. Neither was very sharp this season, and it hurt bad.
  8. Sandberg's hands were tied by the front-office- He wanted to bench Ryan Howard, and the GM supported him. He basically had benched Dom Brown, but then started to play him again, oddly. The front office was making non-baseball decisions, at least I think, and it hurt the team.
  9. Some bad guys got starts- I put this on Sandberg. Too many at-bats for Jayson Nix, Tony Gwynn Jr., and the other garbage on that bench. Galvis and Hernandez never broke out either, which was disappointing.
  10. The team wasn't shook up at all- The team was out of it since June, at least. They never dumped guys off the roster and shook it up. A younger team might have played harder down the stretch. This group never was shook up though at all, and just got older and worse.

Weekly Report Card: Offensive struggles prove costly in 1st loss

Slow starts and offensive struggles finally caught up with the Eagles in Week 4. It wasn’t a clean game for either side, but when it came down to the wire, the Eagles simply weren’t good enough to beat the 49ers, not this week.

There are still plenty of things for the Eagles to work on and correct as they head into the final two weeks before the bye week. Based on the way Week 4 went, the preparation for Week 5 should start with improving in all areas before honing in on certain aspects.

Here is this week’s report card.

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