Friday, July 30, 2010

Roy Oswalt to the Philadelphia Phillies is Like a Do Over for Ruben Amaro

June 10, 2010 - Denver, Colorado, U.S. - MLB Baseball - Houston Astros pitcher ROY OSWALT throws during a 5-4 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Exactly one year from his first blockbuster trade, Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro pulled off another high profile trade to acquire an ace hurler. And, like a year ago, the acquisition of Roy Oswalt seems to push the team to the front of the contending pack in the National League and possibly all of baseball.

Despite being under fire at times, the young executive has demonstrated a clear willingness to make bold moves in the quest of bringing another World Series Championship to Philadelphia. It might be best summed up- no regrets, no fear. 

Last July's acquisition of Cliff Lee propelled the Phillies to a second straight National League Pennant and brought them to the brink of a repeat of winning it all. This year's deal could prove to be exactly what the current team needs to overcome the NL Eastern Division deficit. 

And, perhaps even more importantly, a pair of righty Roy's split up by lefty Cole Hamels would make the Phillies a highly daunting postseason opponent for anyone. 

It also stands to reason that the best starting pitching trio in the "Bigs" will be like a non-narcotic  Valium for hitters who have been pressing a bit for a couple months. Last season's team seemed to breath a collective sigh of relief when Lee displayed his dominating presence and the team took off. 

Just like last year's trade, Amaro seemed to come away with the better end of the deal and a huge boost for the Phillies' lofty aspirations. Short of re-acquiring Lee or getting a do-over on the December deal that sent him to the Pacific Northwest, landing Oswalt was the next best thing. 

And, what makes it especially impressive is that RAJ was able to get his old boss Ed Wade to pay more than half of the salary owed to the hard-throwing right-hander over the balance of this season and next year. 

Parting with 2009 Sporting News Rookie-of-the-Year pitcher J.A. Happ is difficult considering his fine performance thus far and his low price tag, but otherwise Amaro did not have to part with any of the team's most prized prospects. 

The team had been very high on young speedster Anthony Gose, but concerns started to surface about his plate discipline. The ability to retain top prospects such as Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Trevor May, and of course, Dominic Brown make this a coupe. 

Besides the psychological boost that the acquisition of Oswalt provides throughout the Phillies clubhouse, it may also have an equally deflating effect on the competition- specifically the Atlanta Braves. 

At the end of yesterday's action, the Braves find their once commanding lead narrowed down to 2.5 games. Oh, and by the way, the team breathing down their necks featured a splashy debut of baseball's number one prospect on Wednesday and then added one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 10 years yesterday. 

Thursday's deal goes a long way towards erasing the lingering unrest associated with the trade of  last year's postseason hero for three  prospects rather than taking a shot at greatness in 2010. 

The consensus still tilts heavily towards the opinion that the Phillies would have been better off hanging onto Lee, but Amaro deserves a lot of credit for swinging this deal to corner the market on stud starters named Roy while having the Astros foot half the bill. 

Besides the unknown of how young players will fare in coming seasons, the only concerns center around Oswalt's health and the financial implications going forward. The All-Star hurler has had some history of back problems and some believe that Oswalt's additional salary burden will negate any chances of the team resigning Jayson Werth. 

Apparently Amaro and the Phillies' medical consultants are confident that Oswalt's back will be fine and all will get a chance to render their own assessment when he takes the mound tonight in Washington. As far as Werth goes, it appears the club will have the rebounding slugger's services for the balance of this season, so all will defer that issue until this chapter is closed. 

This all comes at a time when Phillies hitters seem to be catching their stride. Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, and Jimmy Rollins have all elevated their performances in the second half, which has played a big part in the team's current eight game winning streak.  

Just a week ago, hopes for the 2010 season seemed to be fading quickly. One stellar homestand and one masterful trade later has the Phillies suddenly looking like the team to beat again. 

Surely, they still have work to do as they currently sit behind the Braves in the NL East and others in the Wild Card race. With Chase Utley and Shane Victorino still on the DL and Jimmy Rollins nursing a foot injury, they will not be at full strength for the foreseeable future. 

Although the fear factor may have jumped up a bit around the league, other teams will certainly not rollover for them. But injuries and current record notwithstanding, the Phillies now certainly appear to have the fire power to surge ahead. 

The Oswalt deal would seem to signal acknowledgement that both Amaro and organization executives realize that the thought process behind last winter's transaction might have been flawed. Another bold, masterful move on July 29th once again is about as close to a "do over" as it gets, though. 

Props to RAJ.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Trading Jayson Werth Is The Wrong Answer for the Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies Jayson Werth high fives teammate Raul Ibanez as he crosses home plate after hitting a home run in the sixth inning of game 3 of World Series in Philadelphia on October 31, 2009. UPI/John Anderson Photo via Newscom

Last November, the Philadelphia Phillies had found themselves in one of the most enviable positions in all of sports. 

They had just won a World Series Championship and followed it up with a repeat, albeit unsuccessful, trip to the Fall Classic. The organization possessed a tremendous nucleus of talent just entering their prime. 

For years, Citizen's Bank Park has continued to be filled to capacity with energetic, passionate fans. And, despite trading away a handful of prospects to acquire one of the very best pitchers in the game the previous summer, the Phillies organization was still loaded with top notch prospects.

The future seemed bright. The present seemed even brighter. 

Then the Phillies brain trust, with General Manager Ruben Amaro in the public forefront, began making decisions that seemed more rooted in economics than athletic acumen. 

Surely, economics are a large part of modern day professional sports, but it can be argued that it's better to take some one time financial hits than to lose prime-aged, winning talent. The latter is much harder to come by and contributes to earning back the lost dollars associated with writing off some ill-advised decisions.

With injuries, and those previous decisions, the Phillies find themselves currently in a much less enviable situation. The 2010 season seems to be unwinding around them as losses mount and the deficit grows— while everyone anxiously awaits for the team's annual second half surge to kick in. 

Unfortunately, the vibrant, winning baseball that punctuated the previous three seasons post all-star performances seems nowhere to be found. At this point, the Phillies appear to be a team headed nowhere but home to watch the postseason. 

Yes, there is still time to catch fire and capture a playoff spot, but the overall aura of the club increasingly suggests that it is unlikely. Manager Charlie Manuel has continued to talk about the team needing a spark, yet new box scores come and go with no ignition in sight.

The minor league pipeline is no longer bulging with the prospects to acquire another Cliff Lee to light the fires of hope and propel the team on a victory run through the pennant stretch. 

And, importantly, Amaro and the Phillies seem poised to compound previous questionable decisions with another questionable decision— once again rooted in economics.

One way or another, last December's trade of Lee was prompted by economics. The Phillies were wary of giving him a large, long-term contract and/or felt they could not afford the luxury of carrying his $9 million 2010 salary on an already bloated payroll.

Of course, previous questionable economic decisions such as the lucrative contracts handed to Jamie Moyer, Raul Ibanez, and Joe Blanton were key contributors to the expanded payroll and ultimately the decisions around Lee.

The Phillies find themselves in a similar situation now as 2009 All-Star right-fielder Jayson Werth nears free agency. Because of the predictable void left by dealing Lee last winter, rumors abound that Amaro might be looking to trade Werth to get prospects to acquire a quality starting pitcher. 

The line of thinking goes that the Phillies have a future star in Dominic Brown waiting in the wings to take Werth's spot. 

This is flawed thinking and is driven once again by economics.

Brown should clearly be taking Ibanez's place in the everyday lineup— not Werth's. Anyone would be hard pressed to find an argument otherwise and here are the main reasons why:

1.  Werth is a better player than Ibanez in every aspect of the game— hitting, power, fielding, throwing, and running. 
2.  Replacing Werth with the left-handed hitting Brown makes an already left leaning lineup further imbalanced. The lack of a slugging righty in the middle of lineup would almost surely be a fatal flaw easily exposed by the opposition. 
3.  Werth is just entering his prime, whereas Ibanez is nearing the end of his career. 
4.  Werth is much more versatile than the left-field only Ibanez as he can play all three outfield positions and even catch in a pinch.
5.  Werth has been in a funk for a couple months, but the probability of him breaking out are tremendously greater than Ibanez, who's "slump" has now reached a year. 
6.  Werth has been money in the postseason— Ibanez not so much.

The best scenario for this season and the next few years would be to sign Werth to an extension and form a talented young trio of outfielders. The dilemma that Amaro and the Phillies organization have is that they are hamstrung by the aforementioned large contracts. 

The thought of landing Roy Oswalt sounds enticing, but it also would seem to suggest that the Phillies are willing to raise their salary budget. If so, the Phillies could afford to re-sign Werth and take on Oswalt's salary if they were to find a way to trade Ibanez, Blanton, and forego next year's option on JC Romero. 

About the only way that happens is if the Phillies would agree to absorb salary expense on each player. It would be worth doing that rather than head down the slippery slope of tearing up a team built to win over the next few years. 

It remains to be seen what it would take to pry Oswalt away from the Houston Astros. Perhaps Blanton could be packaged in the deal along with a couple existing prospects to land the veteran right-hander. 

If not, the Phillies would be better off passing on Oswalt and concentrating on setting themselves up with a dynamic, balanced everyday lineup for the next few seasons. If that means taking some near-term financial hits, as painful as it might be— the Phillies should do it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Can Walk-Off Weekend Propel the Philadelphia Phillies to Second Half Success?

Oct 26, 2008 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA - 104th Major League Baseball's World Series between the winners of the American and National Leagues. The Fall Classic 2008 is between AL - Tampa Bay Rays and NL - Philadelphia Phillies. Game Four. PICTURED: RYAN HOWARD singles against the Rays in the third inning. The Philadelphia Phillies faced the Tampa Bay Rays in game four of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies took 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay Rays Photo via Newscom

The Philadelphia Phillies first half struggles are well documented. A disappointing road trip and three game match-up against the division leading Atlanta Braves left them with a 43-40 record and six games out of first heading into the final weekend before the All-Star break. 

To make matters worse, the Phillies were staring at a four game series against the surging Central Division leading Cincinnati Reds. The potential existed to be deeply buried at the figurative mid-season breaking point.

But, then something unlikely and uncharacteristic for the challenging 2010 season occurred— the Phillies found a way to pull off a series sweep and restore their hope for the second half. 

And, as big as it was to string together four victories, it was even more amazing considering the manner in which it was done. 

All four games could have gone either way. The first three were won on walk-off hits in extra innings— two of which landed in the outfield seats.

On Thursday night, the game seemed headed for the same recurring nightmare of the past two seasons when Brad Lidge blew a save opportunity in the ninth, allowing the Reds to knot the score at 3-3 with two outs. But, rather than allow the game to turn into another frustrating defeat, they hung in until back-up catcher Brian Schneider ended the game in the 12th with a home plate victory dance after depositing a ball well into the right field stands. 

The next night, the Reds jumped out to an early lead and appeared headed to an easy victory sporting a 7-1 lead after adding an insurance run in the top of the ninth. What followed was something even the most optimistic Phillies fans could not conjure in their minds with late game heroics a fading memory. 

A small rally blossomed into an eruption when "below-the-Mendoza" Gregg Dobbs jacked a 434-foot, three-run bomb to cut the lead to 7-5. An out and a walk later, minor league fill-in Cody Ransom smacked another home run to stave off defeat. 

This time, after holding the Reds scoreless in the 10th, a Raul ibanez double was followed by Ryan Howard's big fly into the left field seats. For the second consecutive night, the hometown heroes finished the evening with a team-wide celebratory scrum at home plate. 

Fast forward to game three on Saturday night. Ace Roy Halladay demonstrated his considerable pitching skills once again, shutting out the league leading offense through nine innings. 

Unfortunately, as has often been the case this year, the Phillies could muster very little offense themselves. In fact, rookie Travis Wood was shockingly heading towards baseball immortality by firing a perfect game before Carlos Ruiz led off the ninth with a double. 

Wood escaped trouble, and the teams traded bagels until the bottom half of the 11th. Ruiz smacked another double and scored on Jimmy Rollins clutch two-out single to kick off the now familiar nightly celebration. 

The series finale on Sunday was not a walk-off, but was definitely another nail biter. This time, the Phillies used the same Ruiz double, Rollins single combination to plate a run in the third inning and rode a brilliant Cole Hamels pitching performance to a 1-0 lead heading into the ninth. 

Of course, some drama ensued when Lidge was called upon to nail down the save. This day, he was up to the task, demonstrating better command and his signature slider. 

For the weekend's work, the Phillies crept a little closer to the Braves and are now breathing down the necks of the second place New York Mets. Just 1/2 game out of second, the Phillies start the second half 4 1/2 games in back of the Braves. 

Besides the psychological lift of feeling that they are within striking distance, the manner in which the Phillies were able to sweep the Reds could provide the necessary boost they need to make another divisional run. 

As skipper Charlie Manuel noted, the team seemed to be missing a spark. Neither fans or players seemed to possess the confidence that this year's team had its customary late inning heroics in its figurative DNA. 

Perhaps this past weekend's events will restore that former feeling of invincibility and swagger that has permeated the team over the previous three seasons. 

And, make no mistake about it, that missing mojo will be instrumental to realizing the lofty goals set forth before this injury riddled season. 

The Phillies find themselves in the uncustomary position of playing catch-up, but a little mojo— and the return of the walking wounded— will go a long way towards recapturing the NL East. The Braves are good and will keep the pressure on, but perhaps players and fans will look back at "Walk-off Weekend" as this year's turning point.    

10 MLB Stars Whose Careers Ended Far Too Soon- Part 11

Part 11 of 11

Roberto Clemente

The Late MLB Great Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente played 18 terrific seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972. He was an integral part of two separate World Series Championship teams in 1960 and 1971. 

Clemente was a 15-time All-Star selection, won a dozen Gold Glove Awards, was awarded the 1966 NL MVP, and was named the 1971 World Series MVP. The strong-armed right fielder batted .317 over his career with a .475 slugging percentage. 

As good as he was on the field, Clemente was even better off it. He donated countless funds and personal time to help others less fortunate than himself.

On the last day of the 1972 season, Clemente smacked a double to register his 3,000th major league hit. Regrettably, it would be his last.

On New Year's Eve, while on a mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente's plane crashed into the ocean— killing all aboard. Just months later, the Baseball Writers of America held a special election to induct him into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In recognition of Clemente's humanitarian efforts and death while serving others, Major League Baseball now annually presents an award bearing his name to a player who exhibits similar outstanding service. 

10 MLB Stars Whose Careers Ended Far Too Soon- Part 10

Sandy Koufax
Part 10 of 11

Sandy Koufax

Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax is unarguably one of the most talented pitchers in the history of baseball. Regrettably, health problems forced him to walk away from the game at the peak of his career. 

The 1966 season was both his finest- and final- campaign of his abbreviated career. Koufax won his third Cy Young in four years when he went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and 317 K's. 

With arthritis continuing to make pitching and daily life increasingly painful, the Los Angeles Dodgers lefty walked away from the game at just 30 years of age. Koufax's 165-87 record, 2.76 ERA and 2,376 strikeouts in just 2,324 innings made him a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee.  

10 MLB Stars Whose Careers Ended Far Too Soon- Part 9

Part 9 of 11

The Late Kirby Puckett
Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett was a five tool player who enjoyed an excellent 12-year career with the Minnesota Twins. Sadly, tragedy suddenly ended his baseball career and then his life. 

During the 1995 season, Puckett woke up without vision in his right eye one morning. A 10th consecutive All-Star season was interrupted and Puckett was forced to suddenly retire. 

Eleven years later, Puckett suffered a stroke and he passed away at just 45-years of age.  

The Twins center fielder batted .318 over his career and annually finished high in the MVP voting. Puckett won six Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, and was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2001. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Latest Cliff Lee Deal Validates the Philadelphia Phillies' Blunder

Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher Cliff Lee pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the eighth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series in Philadelphia on on October 18, 2009. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

Yesterday's trade of Cliff Lee confirmed what a majority of Philadelphia Phillies and their fans suspected to be true all along— last winter's deal was a terrible blunder. 

On one hand, the team might take solace in the fact that Lee was shipped to the Texas Rangers rather than their divisional arch rivals, other National League contenders, or the World Champion New York Yankees— in that order. 

On the other hand, Ruben Amaro and the entire Phillies organization have to be consumed with the sinking feeling of what could have been. 

The first lament is that Lee could have helped form the best starting rotation in baseball— one capable of carrying an injury riddled club through a challenging 2010 season. Perhaps they might not be in first place at this juncture, but they would be considerably better positioned for a fourth consecutive NL East title. 

The second lament is that today's deal offered proof positive that the Phillies essentially gave away one of baseball's best pitchers when his stock was probably at an all-time high. 

Lee has widely been considered the crown jewel of this year's annual mid-summer swap meet. Several teams had been rumored interested to highly covetous of the Cy Young lefty for a simple reason. 

Lee could instantly take them to the next level, whether it be legitimate playoff contender or World Series favorite. 

The Rangers deal validated his worth, as did the "imminent" trade to the New York Yankees that fell through earlier in the day. Both clubs offered a top 15 prospect (as rated by Baseball America and many other scouting pundits) along with other talent in exchange for the all-star hurler. 

The Yankees were willing to part with baseball's top catching prospect, and pre-season fourth rated prospect overall, Jesus Montero as the headliner with two other players. Speculation was that an injury to one of the prospects caused the Mariners to back away from the deal. 

Instead, Seattle opted for switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak from the Rangers (the 13th rated prospect heading into the season) along with Blake Beavan and two other players. Smoak was the team's  top draft pick in 2008, and Beavan was the first rounder a year earlier. 

In contrast, the Phillies received the 93rd rated prospect according to Baseball America heading into both this season and last season— along with Tyson Gillies and JC Ramirez. 

Amaro spun the trade of Lee as a necessity to replenish the farm system that had been severely depleted in the trade to land the pitcher the previous July and the deal to obtain Roy Halladay. Finances were also cited as big contracts to Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Raul Ibanez, and arbitration pressures helped push the team's payroll towards $140 million. 

Those debates aside, the Mariners-Rangers deal highlights how badly the Phillies missed the mark in extracting value in return for the toast of last year's postseason. Just weeks removed from the Yankees World Series triumph over the Phillies, all of baseball was still abuzz about Lee's fabulous performances. 

Lee had used the game's biggest stage, along with a fabulous 22-3 Cy Young campaign the previous season, to cement his place as one of baseball's very best pitchers. With free agency pending after the 2011 season, pundits anticipated a mega-deal on the horizon. 

Somehow, though, Amaro and the Phillies parted with the highly impressive hurler for considerably less than what the Mariners were able to get a half year later. And, it stands to reason that Lee's value would have only decreased between then and now as he has half the shelf life. 

Philadelpia accepted the 93rd ranked prospect versus the 13th ranked prospect that Seattle received— after turning down the 4th ranked prospect. 

To put this into a Phillies fan's perspective, that is roughly the equivalent of accepting Lou Marson or Jason Donald in lieu of Dominic Brown.  

Considering that the Rangers also included another highly touted No. 1 selection, it becomes even more lopsided.  The cumulative value of the other players involved in each deal can be debated, but the disparity in headliners is dramatic. 

As further evidence of the Phillies blunder in trading Lee, one needs to look no further than the Halladay deal itself. In order to obtain the big right-hander, the team shipped out the 25th, 29th, and 81st rated prospects.

Although many might argue that Halladay had the superior resume to Lee and is a notch above, most would agree that the separation between the two is very slight. 

It does not take a math wiz to figure out that the Phillies paid dramatically more for Halladay than they accepted for Lee— and that the differential is tremendously greater than that between the two all-star pitchers. 
Surely, signability of each player factored into the equation and clouded the comparison, but the latest deal now gives us additional backdrop to assess the move that shocked the Phillies fanbase last winter. 

The purpose here is not to pile on, but rather provide some additional objective analysis of a trade that was widely panned at the time and could go down as one of the worst in team history. 

Amaro rightfully received ample praise for his 2009 seasonal body of work that helped the team make a second straight World Series appearance. Specifically, his refusal to give away his prized prospects for Halladay and instead acquire Lee with second tier players was the type of genius that earns you " MLB Executive of the Year."

Regrettably, he followed that up with the tandem ace swaps shortly after the season-ending defeat to the Yankees that seemingly reversed that genius and has weakened the team's chance's for this season and beyond. 

Amaro's rationale in acquiring Halladay can be understood as he was willing to sign a long-term contract. Making it an either/or situation with Lee is much harder to understand. 

But, if is was absolutely necessary to part with him, it seems abundantly clear that the rushed, lightly negotiated manor in which it was done yielded far less than true market value. It seemed that few teams even knew that the Phillies might be willing to trade their ace. 

Of course, the actual performances of the three players acquired by the Phillies last December has done nothing to dissuade this notion. Since being demoted to Single-A, Aumont has improved his record to 2-6 with a 6.53 ERA. Gillies is hitting .238 in Double-A. And, Ramirez is a so-so 6-4 with a 4.22 ERA between Single-A and Double-A. 

Perhaps RAJ will pull off another brilliant move that will propel the current teetering club to a successful year? Or, perhaps he will figure out a way to clear payroll, resign Lee in free agency, and/or maneuver the team back to another championship in the near future?

But, in the meantime, the Philadelphia faithful are left with a sick feeling that another triumphant trip down Broad Street may have been foolishly given away. And, hearing about yesterday's trade was like eating some spoiled sushi on top of an already upset stomach. 

The Phillies have done many, many things right over the past several years— and in many ways have been the model organization. Unfortunately, last December's trade of Cliff Lee was one very big blunder.      

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Philadelphia Phillies: Four Desperate Measures for Desperate Times- Part 5

July 04, 2010 - Detroit, MI, UNITED STATES - epa02236806 Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Cliff Lee trows against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan, USA on 04 July 2010.

Part 5 of 5

4. Trade for Cliff Lee

As they say, the best defense is a good offense. Perhaps the opposite is also true- the best offense is a good defense?

Trade for Cliff Lee and you have accomplished both. 

Swallowing pride and finding a way to bring last year's postseason hero back to the club would serve as a pre-emptive strike. With top contenders reportedly interested in Lee, including the two New York teams and LA Dodgers, the Phillies could prevent their key competitors from jacking up the degree of difficulty for success. 

On the flip side, if you are having a hard time putting runs on the board, another stud starting pitcher seems the perfect antidote. 

The fact that Lee, like Halladay, has a penchant for going deep into games, thereby reducing the need to call on the bullpen, just adds icing to the cake. 

So how could the Phillies pull that off? Perhaps they could start by offering back the "talent" they received for Lee in December and sprinkle in a Jarred Cosart? If that doesn't do it, throw in Anthony Gose. 

Unless the Mariners know they fleeced the Phillies with "fool's gold" this winter, the three plus two package would seem worthy of a three month rental and dumping $4 or $5 million in salary. 

And, for those of you concerned about replenishing the team's talent pipeline, the Phillies will get a nice parting gift of high draft picks should Lee walk. 

It seems unlikely that the Phillies would be willing to commit the dollars necessary to keep Lee as his price ascends on the open market (read "New York Yankees") after the season, but in the meantime, the ace lefty could do wonders for a sagging team of stars.

Philadelphia Phillies: Four Desperate Measures for Desperate Times- Part 1

Philadelphia Phillies: Four Desperate Measures for Desperate Times- Part 4

Phillies Top Prospect Dominic Brown
Part 4 of 5

3. Promote Dominic Brown

As previously mentioned, Ibanez's "slump" has now reached about a year. The plethora of topped balls to second, warning track flies, and whiffs over that time sadly signals that it may be time to give up hope that Raul is going to come out it. 

Meanwhile, Dominic Brown continues to terrorize minor league pitching. His combined 2010 stats between Double-A and Triple-A are a robust .330 batting average with 17 HRs and 53 RBI in 74 games. 

Can you say "Jason Heyward?" Its time for the Phillies to throw caution to wind and install their prized prospect in Ibanez's slot. 

Bring him up, put him in left, and drop him behind Werth in the lineup. Why waste time and talent trying to trade for an offensive  solution when one sits right in front of their eyes?

Philadelphia Phillies: Four Desperate Measures for Desperate Times- Part 1

Philadelphia Phillies: Four Desperate Measures for Desperate Times- Part 3

May 11, 2010: Garrett Atkins for the Baltimore Orioles at bat during a game against the visiting Seattle Mariners at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. The Mariners beat the Orioles 5 - 1.

Part 3 of 5

2. Sign Garrett Atkins

The Baltimore Orioles recently released Garrett Atkins to make room for a young prospect. The Phillies should seize the opportunity to sign him with Utley and Polanco both on the DL. 

A couple seasons ago, Atkins was a rising star for the Colorado Rockies. Although he has slumped over the past two seasons, he is worth the risk for a couple reasons. 

Atkins would instantly provide better defense, and worst case equal offense, as the badly slumping Gregg Dobbs. Additionally, by filling this hole with a free agent, the team can preserve its sparse bargaining chips for other needs.  

It's worth mentioning that Atkins was Utley's college roommate, so perhaps his influence might assist in a turnaround. If the former Rockies third baseman could rediscover his swing, he could do some damage at the Bank and replace Utley's left-handed presence.  

Philadelphia Phillies: Four Desperate Measures for Desperate Times- Part 2

Philadelphia Phillies Citizens Bank Park
Part 2 of 5

1. Take on payroll

The Phillies have already committed close to $140 million in payroll for this year's team. This is surely a big number and a major departure from the organization's small market mentality of the not too distant past. 

But that being said, the team cannot afford to let that get in the way of what it needs to do to salvage this season. The Phillies need to be willing to take on additional payroll considering the hand they have been dealt. 

Failing to do so would be like buying an expensive house and failing to insure it or repair broken water pipes. 

Fans continue to turn out in droves, resulting in sell-outs every home game. Even hastily scheduled "away games" at Citizen's Bank Park come within a relative handful of capacity. 

The team owes it the fans and themselves to spend a little bit more to protect what has already been invested. 

If another team is willing to dump salary expense to get rid of a high priced player such as Miquel Tejada, Matt Capps, Bobby Jenks, or Jose Lopez and asking for little in return— jump on it. 

Philadelphia Phillies: Four Desperate Measures for Desperate Times- Part 1

Apr. 12, 2010 - Philadelphia, United States - epa02114295 Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is greeted by teammate Placido Polanco after Utley homered in the fifth inning, also scoring Polanco, during the home opening baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA 12 April 2010. The Phillies won 7-4.

Part 1 of 5

In just a matter of days, things have gone from bad to worse for the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Injuries and losses continue to mount, all the while the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets have increased their lead in the NL East.  And, division aside, the Phillies currently sit fifth in the Wild Card standings.

After a brief revival from the offense, it has seemingly gone back in the tank. Heck, pitchers must be starting to feel like they need to hurl a perfect game to win— although that almost didn't work for Roy Halladay. 

When the team does manage to get a lead, the pitchers seem to squander it away. Although it would be  premature to conclude, the back-end of the bullpen scenario is starting to evoke memories of 2009— which, if you were vacationing out the country last year, is not a good thing.  

The prevailing sentiment amongst the Phillies organization is that there is no need to panic, but these are quickly becoming desperate times for them. 

Over the past few days, the team learned that they would be without baseball's best second baseman for a minimum of eight weeks. And, that only speaks to time off the field rather than a return to Chase Utley's normal standard of play— which may not happen at all this season. 

They also learned that their regular third baseman (and best option to replace Utley) will be out for at least another four weeks. It adds insult to injury that Placido Polanco is the one player who has hit consistently for them all year and currently sits second in the National League batting leaders. 

Additionally, the news on the rehabilitation of its other injured players hasn't been particularly encouraging, either. 

Abling the Disabled

Ryan Madson and J.A. Happ are considered two key components of the 2010 pitching staff, but the team has largely been without their services. Both are working themselves back into shape for a return, but neither has been particularly impressive. 

The two hurlers have struggled to hit 90 on the radar gun, which tends to suggest they might not be physically ready or healthy. Also, it is difficult to envision either of them having much success in getting major league hitters out with an El Duque fastball.

Regular catcher Carlos Ruiz remains on the DL with a concussion and this week's medical update on his progress was less than encouraging. Meanwhile, back-up catcher Brian Schneider went down with thumb injury described as similar to, but not as serious as, Utley's.

With emergency receiver Paul Hoover having been swept away by the Florida Marlins a few weeks ago, the Phillies were forced to resort to calling up Dane Sardina to handle the regular duties. Although he has provided more pop than the big name players left in the team's lineup, his presence surely highlights how the current team is a shadow of what was supposed to be.  

And, speaking of the big names left on the field being asked to pick up the slack— where have they gone? 

The Able Bodies

Raul Ibanez's slump has now just about reached a year. 

Ryan Howard is keeping his average near .300, but that is not why the team signed him to a $125 million extension. Everyone knows he is getting the big bucks for the big flies- and an overdue  power display would go a long way towards carrying the club with key offensive players out. 

Jayson Werth jumped out to a great start and appeared to be poised for a monster year. His output has taken a nose dive— and it seems that it has taken his confidence along for the ride. 

Not surprisingly, Jimmy Rollins continues to struggle to find his stroke after a long layoff. 

After being a model of consistency for the past three years, Shane Victorino has scrambled to get above .250 all season. To be fair, though, his defense, baserunning and power production have been superb. 

All-in-all, the trend lines are not good and the forecast does not look promising. 

If the Phillies organization wants to salvage any hope from its great pre-season promise, it seems time for desperate measures. Star-laden teams don't come around that often, so throwing in the rally towels for 2010 is not an option.  

Here are four measures the Phillies need to take before this season gets away altogether. 

10 MLB Stars Whose Careers Ended Far Too Soon- Part 8

Part 8 of 11

The Late Thurman Munson

Thurman Munson

He was a perennial All-Star catcher and the on-field quarterback of the New York Yankees throughout the 70's. Thurman Munson eventually became team captain, including on the 1977 and 1978 World Championship teams.

Munson was elected to the AL All-Star squad seven times in 11 seasons. Additionally, he was recognized with the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards as well as three Gold Gloves. 

Playing the most physically demanding position, Munson batted .292 over his career. In the post season, he took his game to the next level, hitting a lofty .357 over 30 games.

Late in the 1979 season, while practicing flying his new jet, Munson crashed while landing and was killed. He was just 32, leaving his wife, three children, and millions of adoring fans behind.

10 MLB Stars Whose Careers Ended Far Too Soon- Part 7

Part 7 of 11
Former Astros Hurler J.R. Richard

J.R. Richard

After being used sparingly for most of his early career, J.R. Richard emerged as one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball from 1976 to 1980. During that period, the 6' 8" right-hander accumulated an 84-55 record with a 2.79 ERA.

Richard's big league career came to a sudden end in 1980 when he suffered a stroke while throwing prior to a game. Although he continued to work towards a return, Richard never made it back to the major leagues before finally calling it quits in 1984. 

Prior to the debilitating stroke, the towering Richard was an intimidating presence on the mound, featuring one of the best fastballs and sliders in the game. Twice he led the National League with over 300 strikeouts in a season.

Richard fell on hard times after his playing days were over. Two divorces and a failed business deal left him homeless. After finding refuge with his church, Richard went on to become a pastor himself and a leader of youth baseball programs in Houston. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Philadelphia Phillies' 10 Item Checklist to Overtake the Braves and Mets- Part 12

Part 12 of 12
Top Prospect Dominic Brown

The Final Word

Overall, the Philadelphia Phillies' 2010 season has not gone according to plans thus far and will not for the foreseeable future. Like the Mets a year ago, the injury bug has hit the team hard.

With key players such as Utley, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, Madson, Happ, and Chad Durbin currently residing on the disabled, it is unknown when the team might be close to full strength.  

It will likely require 95 wins or more to capture the NL East in 2010. Consequently, unless other compensating factors emerge such as a trade or extraordinary performances by others, the Phillies may need a perfect score on all 10 of these items to overtake the Mets and Braves.

Tougher competition and a seemingly unending stream of obstacles might make this season the Phillies' greatest challenge in recent years. 

And, with few bargaining chips and little payroll wiggle room, the organization is likely going to need to find the formula for success from within. Could one ingredient be in the Lehigh Valley?

Stay tuned— it should be an adventurous ride ahead.

Philadelphia Phillies' 10 Item Checklist to Overtake the Braves and Mets- Part 11

Part 11 of 12

10. Develop a sense of urgency

One understandable and natural byproduct of a successful sports team such as the current era Phillies is to get lulled into a false sense of security. 

Simply put, because the Phils have been able to finish each of the last few seasons with a rush that captured them the division crown, players can come to expect that the same will happen again. 

At one level, this can instill a sense of calm and over-arching self-assuredness that will get the team through rough spots and high pressure situations. 

But, it can also cross a fine line into a lack of urgency— or even complacency. It can be very dangerous to believe that everything will fall into place once again and all work out in the end. 

In 2007, a strong closing finish by the Phillies along with a Mets collapse turned a 7 1/2 deficit into a division title in 17 games. Expecting a similar occurence moves toward the probability of catching lightning in a bottle twice. 
Philadelphia Phillies 
The following year, although to a lesser magnitude, the Phils once again surged past the Mets in September. Last season, a strong stretch run provided a comfortable lead that proved enough to hold off the late surging Marlins and Braves. 

An improved Braves team and healthy Mets club seem to have raised the bar for 2010, especially since easy wins against the Nationals will not be so readily available to boost the Phillies cause. 

Confidence and a bit of swagger is good, but adding in a sense of urgency to grab the pole position and keep rivals chasing would be even better. 

Philadelphia Phillies' 10 Item Checklist to Overtake the Braves and Mets- Part 10

July 04, 2010 - Detroit, MI, UNITED STATES - epa02237001 Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Cliff Lee (L) gets a hug by Felix Hernandez after the left the game after the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan, USA on 04 July 2010. The Mariners beat the Tigers 8-1. Lee was the winning pitcher.

Part 10 of 12

9. Cliff Lee is not traded to the Mets or Braves

This one is largely out of the Phillies control, but needless to say would inflict a painful blow. For fans, and perhaps some players, who never bought into the rationale for trading away last season's postseason hero, a Cliff Lee trade to one of the Phils' chief rivals would add insult to injury.

Considering that the Seattle Mariners are mired in dead last with little hope to dig its way to the top, and Lee is almost surely going to test the free agent waters at season's end, it is an overwhelmingly safe bet that he will be moved before the trade deadline. 

Heading into the season, Atlanta's starting rotation was considered a key strength. An injury to Jair Jurrjens and a 1-9 start by Kenshin Kawakami has put a little chink in that armor, so renting an ace for the pennant run might not be out of the question.

The more likely destination would be the "Big Apple." Over the past week, speculation about the Mets' interest in Lee has heated up. GM Omar Minaya has a history of rolling the dice by trading prospects for veterans and obtaining Lee would probably make them the instant favorite amongst baseball pundits. 

Should Lee land with another elite team such as the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals, Red Sox, etc— it would also make the Phillies quest for another World Series title much more challenging. But first things first, so near term concerns would revolve around their own division rivals. 

There seems little hope that the Phillies would craft a pre-emptive strike and re-acquire the pitcher they dumped for a trio of long-range prospects. The team's dearth of minor league talent, bloated payroll, and clumsy handling of the Lee deal last winter make it unlikely, so they can only hope that a team like the Rangers wins the sweepstakes. 

10 MLB Stars Whose Careers Ended Far Too Soon- Part 6

Part 6 of 11

The Late Lyman Bostock

Lyman Bostock

Lyman Bostock was a budding young star who was senselessly murdered in the last week of the 1978 season. The talented outfielder was gunned down while visiting a relative on a road trip to Chicago. 

Bostock began his career with the Minnesota Twins in 1975, batting .282 in approximately two-thirds of a season. He followed that up by hitting .323 and .336 the next two seasons before signing a lucrative free agent contract with the California Angels.

When Bostock slumped badly in his first month, he attempted to give salary back to the Angels organization. They refused the gesture, so he donated his salary to charity. Of course, he turned things around to end the season in the top 10 batting leaders. 

Besides accumulating a .311 lifetime average, Bostock displayed fine skills as an outfielder and was stand-up teammate. Then at just 27-years of age, appearing to have his best playing days ahead of him, Bostock sadly and suddenly lost his life to an unknown gunman. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Philadelphia Phillies' 10 Item Checklist to Overtake the Braves and Mets- Part 9

May 15, 2010- Milwaukee, WI. Miller Park..Philadelphia Phillies Chase Utley steps to the plate, Utley had 2 RBI doubles off of Brewers starter Chris Narveson..Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 6-10..Mike McGinnis / CSM.

Part 9 of 12

8. Chase being Chase

The recent struggles of Chase Utley illustrated how important his offense is to the Phillies success. 

Because of his remarkable consistency as a fixture in the three hole over the previous five years, his production tends to be taken a little bit for granted. The brownout that dropped his name from the NL leader boards to journeyman territory noticeably undermined the offense.

The team's fortunes turned around about the same time Utley emerged from his extended slump. 

Now that it has been determined that the thumb injury will likely keep Utley out of action for eight weeks, this issue has substantially grown. His absence could prove to be a huge blow to the Phillies hopes.   

This is not to suggest that the team will pack it in with Utley lost for an extended period of time, but most everything else has to go right— and maybe then some— to compensate.

For instance, Jimmy Rollins playing like it was 2007 all over again or Ryan Howard taking his trademark second half surge to a monster level would do wonders. Or, perhaps a trade for the next Tad Iguchi would bridge the gap. 

Chase being Chase is clearly part of the Phillies' secret sauce. 

Philadelphia Phillies' 10 Item Checklist to Overtake the Braves and Mets- Part 8

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher J.A. Happ reacts after walking Los Angeles Dodgers' Andre Ethier with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the National League championship series of at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California on October 16, 2009. Los Angeles Dodgers' Russell Martin scored a run on the play. The Dodgers won the game 2-1. UPI/Lori Shepler. Photo via Newscom

Part 8 of 12

7. J.A. Happ is back and productive— or Kyle Kendrick makes a leap in consistency

After initially pitching out of the bullpen,  J.A. Happ replaced an ineffective Park and became the team's second best starter over the balance of the 2009 regular season.  Had the team not acquired Cliff Lee at the trade deadline, Happ would have been considered their most successful starter. 

Had Happ not had such a fine rookie campaign, and later had the Phillies not acquired Lee and Pedro Martinez, it is highly doubtful that they would have even made the postseason. 

The young lefty was clearly a key component to last season's success as he gave the team a strong chance to win virtually every time he took the mound.  

Happ just completed his fifth rehab start and is clearly not pitching at the same level that earned him Sporting News Rookie of the Year honors. He is starting to re-gain his command, but his velocity is 5-8 mph lower than normal.  

A return to health and form would provide a huge boost to the 2010 club. Right now, that appears to be an iffy proposition, so it could be some time before the form re-appears despite the indication that he is feeling better. 

Should that not materialize, current fill-in Kyle Kendrick needs to take his game to the next level to find better consistency. He has turned in some fine performances, but also some very poor outings as well. 

Monday night's loss left Kendrick with a 4-3 mark and 4.88 ERA. If the team hopes to win another division title, they will need better from Happ or Kendrick.