SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Blue Jays Blew It

I'll be the first to admit that Cliff Lee isn't Roy Halladay, but he's a darned good pitcher and the Phillies got Lee for a lesser group of good prospects than the Blue Jays demanded.

Yes, Baseball America rated Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 10th ranked prospects in the Phillies' organization (a few of last year's top 10 -- pitcher Josh Outman and SS Adrian Cardenas, went to Oakland in the Joe Blanton deal) going into the season. Last year, you could have argued that Carrasco was the Phillies' top pitching prospect and Donald the top position-playing prospect and won the argument. But a lot has changed in a year.

Carrasco, widely projected as a solid #3 starter with upside, lost his way at AAA Lehigh Valley this season. He's far from a suspect, but he's not the gilt-edged prospect he was a year ago. He might need a new start in the Cleveland organization, but he's a ways away from proving that he belongs in the bigs in any capacity, let alone as a high-ceiling starter. Marson is a good receiver and decent hitter, although he hasn't shown that much power. He's a major-league catcher, for sure, and the question is whether his bat can sustain him in a starter's role. Again, this season hasn't been as good as previous seasons. Donald had an amazing fall, playing among the best baseball in the Arizona Fall League. He's been hurt for part of the season at Lehigh Valley, but he has failed to build upon the stellar press clippings of a year ago. He could be a starting SS or 2B, has good power, and is a good player. Not sure if he is the next Ryne Sandberg, but you have to give up value to get it, and Donald is good. Knapp is a young kid who was on the DL at low-A Lakewood. Big kid, great fastball, potential closer, but a long way away. Bottom line: the first three aren't the sure things they were a year ago, and Knapp has a lot of upside. Decent deal for Cleveland, excellent one for the Phillies.

The Phillies got to keep starting pitcher J.A. Happ (whom I believe will be dealt for a closer before Friday afternoon, perhaps to Arizona for Chad Qualls or Baltimore for George Sherrill, for the simple reason that with Lee the Phillies have four lefty starters and six starting pitchers overall when you count Pedro Martinez), top hitting prospects Michael Taylor and Dominic Brown, and top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek. That's pretty good considering they added last year's AL Cy Young Award winner to their rotation. I still say that the bullpen is a big question mark, and that the Phillies need to make one more move to sure it up before Friday.

As for the Jays, well, they missed a golden opportunity with the team that was in the right place at the right time with the right resources. The Phillies are printing money, they can make a deep run, and they have lots of prospects. By starting with their "wish list" demand and refusing to back off, the Jays doomed themselves to failure. From a psychological standpoint, negotiation is all about give and take, and the Blue Jays failed to play into the dynamic by refusing to budge. Most people on the other side expect movement, so perhaps they should have asked for Happ, Drabek, Brown and Michael Taylor and let the Phillies counter. Perhaps they did, we don't know, but press reports suggest that they didn't. And, if they didn't, they didn't negotiate well.

Also, did they misjudge their bargaining power? Yes, they have arguably the best pitcher in the AL, but they couldn't auction him because apparently only one team (Philadelphia) was willing to come to the auction. It doesn't seem like the Angels, Rangers or Yankees were real players, and from reports on the ESPN ticker it didn't appear that the Red Sox had made an offer. If that's the case, they had much less leverage than they think. Check that -- the Phillies actually had more leverage because they were more successful in playing Toronto off against Cleveland than Toronto was in playing Philadelphia off against anyone. Because Toronto failed to see that, they're still holding onto Halladay and are likely to keep him through the end of the season. As a result, his trade value will drop.

Would it have been so bad for Toronto to have received Happ, Brown, Marson and Donald? That would have been a pretty good package. They would have gotten a #3 starter in Happ, the Phillies' top position-player prospect in Brown, a catcher in waiting in Marson and a replacement for Mario Scutaro at short (they could have sent Scutaro to the Phillies, who could have kept him and cut Eric Bruntlett, who is having a bad year). And they might have even been able to get one more prospect from lower in the minors, perhaps Knapp. Instead, it's unclear who their suitors will be in the off-season, especially if they don't want to trade within their division. And, as the clock ticks, so does Halladay's trade value diminish.

The Blue Jays misread the market for Roy Halladay and blundered big-time in the process.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tragedy at Citizens Bank Park

Saturday afternoon two groups got into a scuffle at McFadden's, a restaurant-bar in Citizens Bank Park. According to the linked article, McFadden's ejected the group, but the fight continued.

In a nearby parking lot, costing a 22 year-old patron his life. You can read all about the tragedy here.

Citizens Bank Park is a nice place. I take my family there. It also sells out pretty regularly, and the team is rolling in the dough. The most popular vendors are those who sell beer (at about $7 a pop). And the team sells a lot of it.

That's interesting, given that many who travel to the game drive. The stadium is conveniently located for fans from South Jersey, northern Delaware and suburbs to the west, south, north and east of the city. Given the lack of traffic accidents (I'm less sure about DUI arrests), it's a good bet that many fans come with designated drivers.

But there are a few things that the Phillies can do better on the alcohol front, as follows:

1. Ban tailgating from all lots surrounding the stadium. The reason? I couldn't get into my normal lot about a month ago and ended up in the lot adjacent to Lincoln Financial Field. I was one of the last cars to get into the lot. Still, there were plenty of open spaces, but I had trouble finding a space. Tailgaters, many of whom had plenty to drink before the game began, took up multiple spaces, either sitting in folding chairs or playing games. (Why anyone would find a tailgate on asphalt in the heart of a hot city appealing is beyond me). Most wouldn't budge. Finally, I got near an open space where the tailgaters looked less challenging, and I heard one of them say to another, "Let him in, he's got a kid with him." Great, my 9 year-old, the human shield.

A friend once went to a Flyers' playoff game at nearby Wachovia Center a few years ago, the same night of a "dollar dog" night at the park that typically attracts a college-age crowd. So drunk and rowdy were the Phillies' fans after the game that they blocked traffic, stood before his car refusing to move, and otherwise were disruptive. It was an embarrassing display of behavior.

2. Stop beer sales after the fifth inning. This is an easy one. Signs abound on the highways in Pennsylvania that pronounced "Buzzed driving is drunk driving." Let's make sure that buzzed driving doesn't happen by taking away the suds after the game is half over. Why take any risks? Do the Phillies need that much extra money from post-fifth inning beer sales? I don't think so.

There are plenty of ways to have fun without either alcohol or excessive alcohol. The Phillies are a great team with a great organization, but even the best need a reality check from time to time, and the Phillies need one on this topic.

Because people who drink too much can do bad things.

Advice for the Phillies and Blue Jays

This report indicates that the talks between the Phillies and the Blue Jays for ace Roy Halladay aren't going well. The reasons -- the Phillies don't want to part with their top minor-league pitching prospect, Kyle Drabek, and the Jays aren't back off their initial trade request that consists of Rookie of the Year candidate J.A. Happ, Drabek and 6'5", 220-pound OF Dominic Brown, viewed as the best position-player prospect in the Phillies organization.

Let's separate the two issues, because they aren't one and the same. As to the first, well, the Phillies might have to bite the bullet and take a risk that Drabek, who has already undergone arm surgery, will turn into the next John Smoltz (traded for Doyle Alexander, who helped lead the Tigers to a division crown). As to the second, in most negotiations you don't lead with your ultimate "wish list" result. Instead, you lead with something that you'd be willing to come down from reasonably. So, for example, a reasonable negotiator experienced in the art would be well within reason to infer that if the Jays initially asked for Happ, Drabek and Brown, they'd be willing to settle for less. That doesn't mean that they'd be willing to settle for less than Drabek, but certainly less than Happ, Drabek and Brown.

So, it could be that the Phillies aren't reasonable in being unwilling to peddle Drabek. After all, you have to give up quality to get it. But that doesn't mean that the Phillies are being unreasonable. It just means that they have to figure out what "lesser than full wish list" combination of players the Jays would be willing to take. For example, what if they offered the following combination: AAA hurler Carlos Carrasco (once viewed as a middle-of-the-rotation starter), Drabek and Michael Taylor (and OF now at AAA Lehigh Valley who has had a stellar minor-league career). Or, alternatively, Carrasco, Drabek, Taylor and catcher Lou Marson (another good prospect but perhaps expendable now that Carlos Ruiz seems to have the Phillies' job for a while). That's a pretty good package, and the Phillies don't have to yield Happ. Put differently, there should be room to make a deal so long as the Phillies aren't required to yield all three of Happ, Drabek and Brown.

However, it appears to be quite unreasonable for the Jays to stick with their initial offer and not yield. They obviously haven't listened well to the Phillies or are confident that someone else might enter the fray seriously enough and make a rich enough offer to cause the Phillies to yield in this game of chicken. It's a big gamble. If they win, they're smarter than the rest of us and I'll stand corrected regarding this post. If they end up keeping Halladay, then it's a sign that they misjudged the market, will ride their ace to another fourth-place finish and either trade him before the 2010 trading deadline or fail to do so for similar reasons and end up losing him after next season (where the quid will be a supplemental first-round pick in the 30s overall and another team's first-rounder).

If the Jays are willing to move off their initial position, they can make a deal by tomorrow. I do agree, though, that the Indians' Cliff Lee won't be much cheaper (and I think that Halladay is a better bet). Lee's salary is much more attractive than Halladay's (by about $10 million), he's signed through the end of next season, and his team's GM, Mark Shapiro, pulled off one of the all-time trades 7 years ago when he dealt Bartolo Colon to Montreal for three prospects -- Lee, 2B Brandon Phillips and OF Grady Sizemore. Talk about being able to judge talent!

So here's some advice for the Phillies: see what Toronto asks for, see what Cleveland asks for, and try not to trade anyone that Cleveland asks for, knowing that despite the Indians' current state Mark Shapiro knows talent (and you don't want to be the GM in a deal that yields Lee, Sizemore and Phillips, or the current-day versions thereof). But make the deal for Halladay if you can, get a possible closer before the deadline, and then work hard to repeat -- because it's within your grasp.

And here's some advice for J.P. Ricciardi, a well-schooled GM and a bright guy: you can be the prettiest girl on the block, but you only can go to the dance with one guy. Translated, that means that you should work the phones hard and take the best offer you can, because it's like to be much better than what you'll get a year from now when you're seeking to offer Halladay for rental for the highest bidder. Halladay's value will drop because the suitors only will get him for one season's pennant race instead of that and a full season. Don't cut your nose off to spite your face -- make the best deal.

And don't posture publicly to try to bully or humiliate your trading partner, and close the leaks now. Get the deal done, and then trade your high-priced players and rebuild. That's your mission, and anything less before Friday will be a failure.

Mets' Fans Shouldn't Fret Too Much Because. . .

the Phillies, to a degree, are in the same boat.

A caller to New York's WFAN recently blasted Mets' executive Tony Bernazard for running the Mets' farm system into the ground. He noted that there are a bunch of old players (late 20's, even early 30's) on the Mets' AA roster. He cited that point as a sign that the Mets' farm system is in real trouble.

Well, I checked the AA and AAA rosters of the Phillies, and, truth be told, most of the guys on those rosters won't make the majors. Only a few are bona fide prospects, some might have a chance to fill in at the back of the bullpen or in a pinch-hitting role, but most are career minor-leaguers who are older than 27 and many who are about 30. It seems that this is the way of the minor leagues, so Met fans shouldn't despair at the proliferation of career minor leaguers on AA and AAA rosters. It makes sense, given that not everyone can make the majors, to have some good players at AAA and AA to provide good proving grounds for the elite prospects on their way up and a holding pattern for players who could serve as insurance policies down the stretch.

Where the Mets' fans have reason to be upset is that their farm system only has 3 top prospects according to the guys on the FAN. That's not enough, especially when compared to the nearby competition 90 miles south in Philadelphia. Still, the Phillies' fans aren't too giddy, because for many years their farm system wasn't any good. Now, it's bearing fruit, but it wasn't always that way.

Met fans also shouldn't be so hard on their team. How many teams could lose Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, a good starter (John Maine) and their set-up man (J.J. Putz) and contend? The answer is none. You could have the best G.M. of all time and he couldn't heal those wounds. So, be patient, your team will revive itself, if not this year, then next.

Baseball TV: Doofus Alert

Every broadcast focuses upon hitters. Which means, of course, that you see fans behind home plate and near the dugout (depending on the camera angle and whether the hitter is left-handed or right-handed).

Will those who are in the field of vision stop talking on their cellphones and waving as though they were survivors of a shipwreck at the TV cameras? You look like idiots. Can you do something to preserve your dignity? Perhaps tip your hat, smile, act like you've been in those seats say ten times previously?

Because collectively you're getting to be pretty hard to take.

Unless, of course, the team you favor is mashing the ball and leading its division.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Class Act of the Day, Month and Perhaps Year

The Tampa Bay Rays gave ChiSox pitcher Mark Buehrle a standing ovation after he completed his perfect game against them.

That's a great sign of good sportsmanship.

The Phillies Are Also Scouting Closers

Interesting article by MLB.com's Todd Zolecki regarding the Phillies' hot pursuit of Roy Halladay. Zolecki reports that the Phillies are also looking at Diamondbacks' closer Chad Qualls and Orioles' closer George Sherrill.

Smart thinking. I was wondering last night about the horrible ironies the Phillies could suffer if they traded similar-caliber prospects to the Jays that the Expos did to the Indians 7 years ago when they acquired Bartolo Colon (they landed Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore). Zolecki's article indicates that the Jays are looking for a Colon-like exchange, or, a similar exchange that Baltimore received from Seattle for Erik Bedard. The similarities in those two deals is that the team that traded the star did much better than the team that got the star. If that's what the Jays are looking for, the trade probably won't happen.

The ironies, of course, would be a) that Halladay gets hurt and doesn't contribute, b) that the prospects turn out to be superstars, or c) that Halladay excels but with the injuries to the Phillies' bullpen and the below-par performance of Brad Lidge, the bullpen costs the Phillies the World Series. So, it makes sense to pursue Halladay and a closer -- the Phillies do need help in the bullpen.

Will they acquire Halladay? This morning's Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Jays have asked for rookie-of-the-year candidate J.A. Happ and the Phillies' best pitching and position playing prospects -- AA pitcher Kyle Drabek and High A outfielder Dominic Brown. Is that too rich? It might be the right deal if the Phillies can ink Halladay to a 2-year contract extension, guaranteeing that he'll be in Philadelphia through the 2012 season, when he'll be 34. There's plenty of time until it's July 31, so lots can happen between now and then.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Guts in Pittsburgh

Or call it chicken, but the two most-tenured Pirates, SS Jack Wilson and 2B Freddy Garcia, rejected the Pirates' offer of contract extensions and will not counter. You can read about the negotiations -- or lack thereof -- here.

The Pirates are in a difficult spot. As the article points out, they lack prospects to replace their double-play duo. They're on the verge of their 17th straight losing season. They realize that the market for all players save the Roy Halladays has droppsed, and they recognize that you can get a replacement SS on the market for far less than what Wilson is making and what they offered. Still, they made what looked to be "in the ballpark" offers, only to get rejected flat-out.

And that takes some guts. The Pirates' front office risked aggravating its fan base by making this unpopular move, but it's the sort of move that franchises have to make to be successful. Heck, the Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid has made this sort of move for almost a decade, and while the Eagles' fans openly disdain the discaring of players like Brian Dawkins, history has proven Reid to be a great judge of when a player's value has diminished. The record -- and the polling data -- doesn't lie. Reid is viewed as being among the top 5 coaches in the NFL, and the Eagles have been to 5 NFC championship games in the past years.

Pirate fans right now would settle for a winning season, let alone a run at the playoffs. And to get there, the Pirates' front office have to do just what they're doing -- making value-oriented moves, playing the right kids, and fortifying their pitching staff. The Pirates will again be sellers in the next 10 days, and if they can move closer Matt Capps to a contender for a few prospects and perhaps Sanchez, who swings a good bat, they'd be wise to do just that.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and it will take a few more years for the Pirates to re-position their team and make a run in the ever-takeable NL Central. Playing hardball with Wilson and Sanchez -- despite their popularity -- is a good start.

Why the Phillies Should Trade for Roy Halladay

Before the Eagles start training camp, the huge talk in the Philadelphia sports world surround whether the Phillies should trade a bunch of prospects and perhaps a current Major Leaguer or two for the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in the American League.

There are two schools of thought.

Those opposed to the trade recoil in horror at the thought of trading the next Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, the next Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen, the next John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander or the next Adam Jones and four other good prospects for Erik Bedard. They are equating the prospects subject to speculation -- pitchers Kyle Drabek and Jason Knapp and outfielders Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor -- to Halladay, Chad Billingsley, Darryl Strawberry and Darryl Strawberry (the latter two, of course, without the off-the-field problems). And, of course, no one wants to trade such a potent foursome for just one Roy Halladay. Then the talk turns to whether the Phillies should trade J.A. Happ as part of the deal. Happ is 7-0, looks to be a good middle-of-the-rotation starter, has good poise, etc. Those opposed to the trade just don't want to part with Happ.

Those supportive of the trade argue that the Phillies are really primed to win now, that most prospects don't turn out to be all-stars, that pitchers get hurt (and that Drabek already has recovered from arm surgery), that Happ hasn't beaten a team with a winning record and could be the 2009 version of Marty Bystrom, the rookie pitcher in 1980 who came up in Septemer, went 5-0 and hasn't been heard from since. They argue that you have to pay a steep price in terms of prospects because Halladay is signed through 2010 and, if the Jays were to keep him, they'd get a supplemental #1 pick and the #1 pick of the team that signs him. So, it stands to reason that if the Jays were going to trade Happ, they'd want at least 3 prime prospects, perhaps 4.

I tend to agree with the pro-trade side. Happ might not turn into Bystrom, but I'm not so sure he'll turn into Warren Spahn, either. Yes, lefties develop late, and Happ could have a long career, but we're talking Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in the American League. As for the position-playing prospects, I am torn. On the one hand, they sound really good, and the Phillies' track record of late in developing good position players has been better than it had been, say, from 1985-2002. Still, that doesn't mean that all of the mentioned players will turn out to be stars, but it stands to reason that one of them will. After all, you want the other team to get some value in a trade like this; otherwise, it will make it hard for you to trade in the (near) future, because people will wonder whether you're really offering anything of value. That said, with teams having omnipresent scouting these days, it should be hard to slip something by another team anyway.

So, let's be reasonable here. You want your team to give up as little as possible, but you want your team to land Roy Halladay. We all agree on that. The question is whether the Phillies' front office can get Halladay without giving up, say, all of its top four prospects in this trade. And, it depends on what other teams -- the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees -- are willing to offer.

The trade sweepstakes will be interesting to watch, but players like Halladay aren't available all that often when a) you have good prospects to trade and b) your team is primed to contend for several years. Those facts should motivate the Phillies' front office to try to get this trade done.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Phillies-Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday

My son and I sat so far toward the left-field foul pole that there was no left aisle where we sat -- my seat was up against a fence. The seats were good, though, and gave us a good view of Jamie Moyer's 600th Major League start, the defensively overrated David Wright's misplay of a foul pop-pu and Omir Santos's botching of a routine foul pop-up. You can't give a Major League team five outs in an inning, let alone the Phillies, and not pay for it.

A friend who's a Mets' fan texted, offering how pathetic the Mets' are. Look, the Mets are faltering, but they're missing Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, J.J. Putz and John Maine (I'd throw in Oliver Perez, but many Mets' fans want to throw him out). Anyway, the Mets are formidable competitors, and they will go on a streak at some point in the second half.

The Phillies are hurting, too. Raul Ibanez's groin pull has taken longer to heal than expected, Clay Condrey and Scott Eyre are on the DL and Brett Myers, who came on strong at the end of lasst season, probably won't return this season. Cole Hamels may be suffering from the "gap" syndrome -- a young pitcher typically doesn't fare well in a season following a season where he pitched many more innings than he did the year before. Buck Showalter highlighted this at the beginning of the season, and he may be onto something.

Still, the Phillies have the best record in baseball over the past 5 years in September and October, so look for them to stay in the hunt, make a key move, and battled hard through the end of the season.

Princeton No Longer Will Publish Media Guides

I've always wondered about why Princeton didn't decide to discontinue the publication of media guides earlier. After all, after men's basketball (whose fortunes, while on the rise now, had waned over the past 10 years), who would read such guides other than a) the people on the team, b) parents and c) alums who played or who donate money. But the media? Hard to imagine that women's water polo or men's fencing has such an audience that they require the publication of a media guide.

I recall driving cross country about 25 years or so ago and stopping overnight near Omaha. One of the lead articles in the sports section was that the University of Nebraska (then a perennial top-5 program) had just published its media guide for football and that it was going on sale the following morning, with the line scheduled to begin at 8 a.m.

I laughed aloud, because in the Ivies (even back then) you couldn't sell media guides and, heck, who would stand in line for them? Trees will get saved, human capital will be re-deployed, and the greens at Old Nassau will be happy.

I haven't read whether the university is going to eliminate player profiles, though, on the internet. That would be a shame, and I doubt that the university would be going so far as to fail to publish pertinent facts on the website, if for the recruiting value if for no other reason.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Carlos Santana is in the Indians' Organization

Yes, the possiblities for the introductory song are endless once this phenom catcher makes the majors. He may not be as valuable to Johan, but from what Baseball Prospectus has written, he's the real deal.

And, no doubt, smooth.