Phils Hire Vasco Da Gama to Explore for Good News.

In Search of the Lesser Achilles.

Well, Roy Halladay is serving up home runs like Bert Blyleven this spring.  Two more today to the Twins in what was another rough outing.  Roy didn’t make it out of the third inning.  I’m not going to get panicky about Roy Halladay, but we’re getting close to the time of Spring Training where we won’t be able to shrug off such a performance.  According to Halladay and other observers it’s been mostly a location issue.  His last two outings have reminded me of poor Cliff Lee starts from 2011.  You could tell right away that Lee didn’t have it, balls were moving into the center of the plate–that type of thing.  The great thing about Halladay has been that even his off days don’t get away from him.  He hasn’t been able to stop the bleeding over the last week.  Not a huge deal, but there will be more eyes than usual on Halladay’s next start.

I’m going to get all the negative stuff out of the way at the start and then finish with a flurry of optimism.  Next up on the cringe list?  Jimmy Rollins’ assessment of Ryan Howard’s Achilles tendon.  Rollins offered the most pessimistic viewpoint of Howard to date on Wednesday, wondering if Howard would play at all this season.  He also added that you could forget about the 1st two months.  I’m sure the Phillies will be thrilled with J-Roll’s candid opinion.  When I saw Howard go down to end last season my initial thought was say goodbye to 2012, but eventually I got caught up in all the “ahead of schedule” stuff like everyone else.  It now appears that Phillies fans will need to get used to the sight of someone other than Howard manning 1st base.

Rollins went on to other some grim thoughts on Chase Utley.  As we know, Utley has yet to appear in a Spring Training game and with Opening Day three weeks away that is getting a little troubling.  A lot of the regulars have already gotten a good 25 ABs.  Utley will be able to get a lot of at-bats in minor league games to catch up some, but is that the ideal preparation?  I think most fans would be more comfortable if Chase had played once a week so far, just to show his face.  Now you have to think about whether he’s had a flare in the knee, or if all the talk about being much better off than last year was just bluster.

Ok–Enough of That.  Plenty of good from Phillies camp as well.  At least we don’t have Chipper Jones, who by all accounts looks horrific, like Joe Namath in a Rams uniform.

1.  Vance Worley had a dazzling 2nd start.  If the Phillies do go into a worst-case scenario mode on offense, they’ll need great pitching to carry them through until Howard comes back or until they can maybe make a move at the deadline.  The big-3 might not be enough, the Phillies will need some wins out of Worley and Blanton and early signs on their form have been encouraging.

2.  Carlos Ruiz is hitting .600ish.  Ruiz has been very limited in his action, but he’s spraying the ball all over the field.  If Ruiz can be the guy who is one of the team leaders in OBP and can hit in that .280 range, it’ll be a huge bonus.

3.  Placido Polanco looks 100 times better than he did at the end of last season.  He’s also been spraying base hits to all fields, which is, what Polanco does.

4.  Those who were concerned about Juan Pierre’s ability to hold up as a 4th/5th outfielder or even start in left if necessary can shift their focus to Scott Podsednik.  Podsednik is having the kind of spring that Pierre wishes he was having, and if he’s worst case scenario for a bench outfielder–it could be much worse.

5.  Dom Brown has continued to struggle in the field, but has shaken the funk that engulfed him at the plate at the end of last season.  Brown has hit several balls hard of late, including a long home run on Tuesday.  It appears that Brown might be returning to prospect form at the plate.  Whether he’ll ever master left field remains to be seen.

 

This Stuff Happened — Fat Tuesday.

When Will the Skinny People Get Their Holiday?

These are called “Fat Tuesday Buns.”  I was going to post the recipe for these bad boys, but then I saw they were filled with whipped cream and almond paste.  Almond what?  Disgusting.  When I saw the picture I thought is was a fasnacht filled with icing.  Major letdown.  Anyway, double your daily caloric intake today.  It’s tradition.

***

Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is running for President in Russia.  Is this like Perot running?  Perhaps the billionaire is already bored with the NBA.  The Nets beat Jeremy Lin last night, but there doesn’t look to be much promise in the future–even with the move to Brooklyn on the horizon.  Many experts think it’s a forgone conclusion Deron Williams will end up in Dallas.  If he leaves, the team becomes far less appealing to free agents like Dwight Howard.  Prokhorov probably thought he’d be in the Finals by next year–at the latest.  I guess he thinks taking on Vladimir Putin is a chance for him to pick up a much-needed victory.  He’s got to have a shot, right?  The world isn’t shy about electing billionaires or people involved in sport.  I mean, Manny Pacquiao is a Congressman in the Philippines.  Who do you think is the most electable current athlete in the United States?  I’m pretty sure we’d elect Peyton Manning president.  Tom Brady could certainly be a Governor.  Senator Mickelson?

***

Baseball America has its list of the top-100 prospects.  I can remember back in the days when Baseball America was this obscure printing that only the true die-hard fans cared about.  It’s about Minor Leaguers?  Who cares.  Now, prospects are big business.  The publication is in a good spot, because its rankings are used to placate fan bases that trade off star players for prospects, but at the same time it’s understood that the rankings are volatile and ultimately not too reliable (Dom Brown was #4 last year–more on him coming).  For some teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas City or Houston the rankings are the only bright spot in the organization.  In Philadelphia, we’re still undergoing a transition.  Big market fan bases don’t pay as much attention to prospects except to eagerly put them in armchair trades at the deadline.  Recent history shows that’s the new Phillies’ mentality, but it’s still easy to remember a decade ago when all the Phillies had to look forward to was a group of young guys coming up through the Farm System.  The 4 former Phillies in the Top-50 shipped out in recent trades still sting a little bit, especially when the top current Phils farmhand, Trevor May, checks in at #69.

***

This was up at Deadspin yesterday, it’s a piece on the making of the “Homer at the Bat,” Simpsons episode that featured 9 MLB guest stars.  If you haven’t seen it already, I’d suggest giving it a read.  It’s good stuff, especially when considering how the place of the Simpsons in the culture has changed over the years. Get back in touch with the days when it was controversial to wear a Bart Simpson T-shirt (I had one), and there’s also a quote about Steve Sax that some will find pretty entertaining.

***

The news from Clearwater today is about Dom Brown’s renewed confidence.  Brown spent the winter getting a little bigger and according to the Phillies beat writers working a bit with Gary Sheffield.  Sheffield doesn’t appear at first blush to be a great hitting coach candidate, but I imagine he’s good for building confidence.  Everyone needs a hype man.  Brown has been so mismanaged to this point that his expectations have dwindled back down to almost nothing.  It was two Springs ago that we were first supposed to get excited about Dom Brown and now we’re trying to rationalize a mid .700s OPS.  Brown says he’s coming to win a job, but what job would that be?  It seems Brown would be in a partial platoon at-best.  He’d have to have an epic Spring to push aside Mayberry, Nix, etc.  And, even then he’d still be on a short leash because of expectations for the team.  If Brown hadn’t been rushed, if he’d gotten 1100 at-bats the last two years, he’d probably be better suited to a 4th or 5th outfield spot to start, but now you have to wonder if he can afford to go another year without getting regular at-bats.  In other news, Charlie Manuel feels that Ryan Howard is progressing nicely.  Charlie is forever and always an optimist.  You’ve got to give him that.

***

I’m starting to think the Broncos are using their QB situation to keep themselves in the news.  Let’s stay relevant.  In fairness, I’m pretty sure they don’t want Tim Tebow starting in the long-term, so playoff wins be damned–they’re going to keep stirring things up.  First, John Fox said yesterday that he wants two new quarterbacks to compete with Tim Tebow next season.  It’s a volume business.  The Broncos have announced that Tebow will enter next season as the starting quarterback.  How many other teams with a set starter are out there talking about acquiring two new quarterbacks?  Perhaps you wonder what this means for Brady Quinn?  Luckily, GQ tracked down Quinn (and others) for his thoughts on Tebow.  Putting aside the obvious question, why does anyone ever talk to Brady Quinn about anything, Tebow’s backup’s arguments can be summarized in one word: OVERRATED.  Quinn wants his own chance to lead, win and pray (less selfishly).

Bidding Wars, Widespread Panic, Etc.

Ed Wade Not as Dumb as he Looks.

Four consecutive playoff appearances, a doubling of the payroll and a couple of favorable trades have just added to Ed Wade’s reputation in Philadelphia as a whipping boy.  I was as surprised as anyone that Wade got another GM position, but if I looked at it honestly, perhaps I shouldn’t have been.  Houston was a team with payroll limitations, they probably wanted to build from within, they weren’t in a terribly different spot than the Phillies were during Wade’s tenure.  He did put together a decent team, ultimately failing to end a playoff drought, but many of his pieces are still in place.  If you are among those who give all the credit to Mike Arbuckle, I suppose I don’t have a great argument for that, but the point is, Wade is not the blithering idiot that many perceive him to be.  He hasn’t done a great job in Houston, but 160 million dollar payrolls tend to make people better GMs, and Wade has never had that luxury.

The truth is, a Hunter Pence deal may be Wade’s only chance to save his job.  Houston is under new ownership, they’ll be looking to possibly clean house, they want to further cut some fat from the payroll, so if Wade is going to stick around he’s going to need a blockbuster package for Hunter Pence.  The good news for him is that it appears a bidding war may be at hand.

The supply of hitters was thin to begin with and with Carlos Beltran going to another NL contender the Braves and Phillies are both feeling a sense of urgency.  Not only have the Giants improved, but the Braves just struggled in a series against the Pirates and put Brian McCann on the DL.  The Phillies lost 2 of 3 to the Giants sending the Phillies fan base into a level of panic that I didn’t even know existed.  I’ll save another rant on the Phillies fan for now, perhaps until after they play four more in San Francisco, but I’m sure even Ruben Amaro realizes he’s not in the best bargaining position.  Add to all that the news that Astros would like to complete a deal by today and it’s likely someone is going to pull the trigger on a very sweet deal for the Astros, regardless of Ed Wade’s involvement.

Of course with the increased interest in Pence there comes the inevitable backlash.  Pence strikes out too much.  He doesn’t hit for enough power.  He’s just an average outfielder with a flashy arm.  He’s been unusually lucky on balls in play this year.  I’m not making that last one up, there are stats for such things.  People are setting themselves up for an “I told you so,” moment if Pence hits .175 in the NLCS and one or more of the would be traded prospects develop.  You just hope that Amaro has the deal in the proper perspective.  Hunter Pence wouldn’t have won that game for the Phillies last night. If there is a problem, and I’m not sure there is, it is more likely that the players the Phillies are already committed to are not good enough.

I’m still in favor of a trade for Pence assuming the deal is within reason.  What is within reason?  I’d certainly give up the Cosart/Singleton package.  They are too far away to be worried about.  Single-A pitchers, regardless of how highly they are regarded have a very low success rate.  Cosart has flashy stuff, but he’s far from unhittable.  He’s 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP.  For reference, Cole Hamels had a career WHIP in the minors of 0.95.  His ERA in 200 minor league innings was 1.43.  That’s a super prospect.  That’s approaching can’t miss.  Cosart is all projection, and if you listen to the doubters like the ones that have started popping up for Pence, a lot of people think the Phillies’ so-called “Baby Aces” are nothing more than a bunch of guys who project to be 3rd or 4th starters.

And, you could say the same with Singleton, though at least he’s uncommonly young for his level, but he’s still a projection guy.  If the deal includes those two prospects and Domonic Brown, then I think you’ve gone too far.  Pence can’t make that much of a difference.  The re-tooling, if this team is not good enough, would have to come in the off-season. If you were talking Brown and maybe a single prospect for Pence, then I’d be really tempted, because I see in Brown a guy that should still be in AAA.  I see a guy who needs to make adjustments and I see a guy who isn’t an instinctual baseball player.

I’m not going to be able to sit here and wait to see if a deal happens today, so let’s just set the stage.  What if the Braves get Hunter Pence?  What if the Phillies get Pence?   I hate to use an advanced stat here, but according to WAR, Hunter Pence would only make the Phillies a couple of wins better over the course of an entire season than they’d be if they played Dom Brown.  And, the same would go for the Braves.  Is there a difference between winning 98 and 100 games?  Not really, all this is boiling down to a projected NLCS.  Pence would put the winning bidder in a better position to advance, but only marginally.  Will Hunter Pence win or lose the NLCS for the Braves or Phillies?  No.

The Braves fate is probably more tied to the health of Brian McCann and Chipper Jones.  Or perhaps whether their bullpen can continue with their abnormal workload.  I’d say the Phillies will be more reliant on Placido Polanco coming back healthy.  Putting him back into the 2-hole instead of Michael Martinez would have more of an impact than switching in Pence for Dom Brown (especially if Mayberry continues to have some success in his platoon role).

What the fans want, and this drives me crazy, is a sure thing.  They want to believe that if the Phillies trade for Hunter Pence then a World Series is guaranteed.  They can relax, I guess?  But, there are no guarantees and honestly if you told me right now the Phillies were going to win the World Series that would take all the fun out of the next few months.  I’d be happy they won, but what’s the point?  Do you walk into a movie theater and ask someone to tell you how it ends?  If you want to be someone who is terrified of the Giants, or if you want to be a doom and gloom person, settle in for a long ride, because what if the Phillies do trade for Pence and then go out to SF and lose 3 of 4?  Are you shutting off your TV for the rest of the year?  Get some perspective.

 

Learning From Armchair GMs.

Listen Up, Ruben.

Beltran to San Francisco and Cain beats Hamels all on the same night.  Bitter pill.  I said last week that I wouldn’t be thrilled if Beltran ended up in San Francisco, and I still wouldn’t call it good news.  Look at San Francisco’s outfielders. They’re all worse than Beltran by a good margin.  He’s not going to rejuvenate their whole offense, but he gives them some one swing potential that they were sorely lacking.  And, not only was that trade completed, but the Phillies played out a little NLCS deja vu last night that has sent a good portion of the fan base into a panic.  Matt Cain, if you haven’t heard, is now Bob Gibson.  With Kendrick going against Lincecum tonight, they might as well cancel the rest of the season.

It certainly wasn’t a great effort from the Phils last night.  I sat there in the stands and watched them collect four hits and one fortunate run, but I saw them hit some balls hard.  It’s not like Cain piled up 16 strikeouts.  He was very good, I’m not saying the Phils should have scored 5 or 6 runs, but they had some chances.  Chase Utley ripped a ball to center with the tying run on base in the 8th, but to read the game story it sounds like a can of corn.  And, I think that’s because part of the fan base (and the writers who cater to them) wanted this to happen.  They want to jump out of their chairs and yell, “See! We lost to the Giants again!  We’re not good enough!  I told you so!”

The Giants are a good team, and if the Phillies met them in the playoffs it would be a stout test, because you aren’t going to score a ton of runs off them (add whichever bat you’d like it doesn’t matter) and I fear that Charlie will perpetually be outmaneuvered by Bruce Bochy.  I still can’t fathom why Rollins is bunting a guy over last night.  All due respect to Mikey Mart, but I’m taking my chances on Rollins getting a base hit.  Especially since he doesn’t bunt much and Wilson Valdez is very slow for a man of his dimensions.

But forget about that, the result last night triggered quite the reaction online.  If you ever want to see Phillies fans reduced to their simplest ingredients, the comment threads at Philly.com are always a good place to look.  Now, in response to the game last night, you can’t take them too seriously.  It’s just raw emotion.  You might as well run over someone’s dog and then ask them for a comment.  That’s what happened last night.  But, what about on wounds that aren’t so fresh.  Surely there are educated people out there.  What about the Beltran deal?  And Pence, what are the thoughts on him?  Let’s take a look.  A sampling of the 125+ comments from yesterday’s Philly.com article:

“Neither Beltran nor Pence have fantastic numbers batting RH this year–the main reason we need them.”

–Of course, Hunter Pence is a right-handed hitter, so this year, hitting right-handed his numbers are: .307/11/62

The only “sure thing” about Ed Wade is that he’s getting fired at the end of the season.”

 –Well played.

“This is the dumbest article Bob Brookover has ever written.”

–The article was written by Matt Gelb.

“The Giants are a threat in the post-season because they always get hot at the right time like they did last year.”

–Of course, before last year, they hadn’t been hot at the right time since 1954.

FIP, WAR.  You should stick to fantasy baseball, Gelb.  Maybe you can become a GM…and acquire high UZR and high WAR players that should win 120 and then complain how unlucky it was when they finish under .500.”

–It always comes back to the metrics.

“Relax girls, keep are panties pulled up…plenty of time.”

–If only the are/our hadn’t crossed him up.

“Again, what has friggin Dominic Brown shown anyone to warrant such elite status in the organization?! Are you serious?! He’s a butcher in the field and can’t hit. He’s the LAST guy I want in the field in the latter portion of Game 6 or 7 of the NLDS, NLCS or World Series! The LAST! Dom Brown untouchable is a laughable premise. So please, let’s keep it real up in here: Hunter Pence is one of the best outfielders in baseball, and is an above average hitter. INCLUDE BROWN IN A TRADE FOR PENCE, IF NECESSARY!”

–Not sure if this was written before or after Dom’s adventure last night.

Dom Brown has the same potential that Jeff Stone had.  How many All-Star teams did Jeff make?  ZERO.”

–Brown reminds me more of a poor man’s Von Hayes.

Using advanced Sabermetrics, we can determine with a high degree of accuracy Vance Worley’s likely stats for the rest of his career.”

–Sarcasm.  I chuckled.

How about thinking out of the box when it comes to a blockbuster deal? Would the Phillies consider trading Howard and a high-rated minor leader prospect for Pence and another relative high-paid veteran prospect (Brett Meyers) cand help the Phils now or be traded for someone else useful. For Houston, this arrangement would help reduce the burnden of taking on Howard’s contract. The Phils could throw in a few million if need be. They could also bring up one of the presently blocked, left-handed first badmen. Houston’s GM, given his ex-Phillies ties, might be interested in acquiring Howard if it could be done without breaking the bank.”

–To summarize that’s Howard and a prospect for Pence and a “veteran prospect” like Brett Myers.  The Phils will then have room for Matt Rizzotti.  And, if it’s too much of a burnden (sic) for Houston, just toss in a few million.

“Dom Brown is a mutt.  I’d drive him to Houston if that’s what it takes.”

–The Astros are stingy with relocation allowances from what I hear.

See that?  The answer is in there somewhere.  You just have to know where to look.

Charlie Flexing Job Security Muscle.

Figurative Muscle.

Charlie Manuel has been chatty this year.  It started almost immediately when a couple of weeks into the season he complained about the Phillies’ lack of long balls.  Of course, at that point, the offense was scoring plenty of runs, but Charlie didn’t like the manner in which they were being scored.  Home runs count double you see, once on the scoreboard and once more in your heart.  I think Charlie has finally realized that this team isn’t going to have many 5-homer games, or 50-run weeks, but that hasn’t kept him from obliging the local media with plenty to write about.  His favorite topics have been touched on the last couple of days.  He wants a right-handed hitter, and if you want to complain about the hitters–go talk to the guys swinging the bat.

There was an article in today’s paper that was a great representation of just how comfortable Charlie has become in his role as Phillies manager.  He’s not going anywhere.  He knows it.  When talking through the issues the Phillies have on offense, Charlie completely passed the buck.  He exonerated himself and his coaching staff.  You want to know why guys are getting themselves out on breaking balls when they are ahead in the count?  Go ask the player.  You want to know why they don’t take the occasional walk?  Go ask the player.  It’s perfectly logical and accurate, of course.  I don’t think even the most delusional Phillies fan thinks that Manuel and Co. are preaching, “swing at bad pitches ahead in the count,” but it’s still something you’d rarely hear a manager say.  Usually, you’d get, “we’re working on it,” or, “we’re going to get better.”  This time, Charlie basically said he’s tired of hearing about it, and if you don’t like it, you can kindly kiss multi-million dollar contract.

It’s a smaller part of Charlie’s other refrain and that is that he’s not happy with this lineup as it is currently constructed. The Phillies have been better since Chase Utley got back, but there still seems to be a glaring hole at one of the corner outfield spots, if not both of them.  If I read one more Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer article I may go cross-eyed, but it looks like Charlie wants to continue to beat that drum himself.  He was specific about it on Tuesday, saying point-blank that he wanted a right-handed hitter (Benny San Fran’s feelings be damned).  The right-handed bat issue is a long-term problem for the Phillies.

Right now, they’re fine.  They are in first place, playing pretty well, and the National League is still not much of a powerhouse.  It looks like no team will average 5 runs a game, and if you want to look at it another way, the Phillies have yielded a grand total of 7 runs in 4 games against the Cardinals this season, and they have the NL’s 2nd best offense.  They took 3 of 4 from Cincinnati and the league’s highest scoring offense.  And, despite scoring 87 fewer runs than Boston they have just a 13 run difference in run differential.

Charlie is looking way down the road, though.  He’s probably assuming this team is going to make the post-season.  As it is now, they could certainly take their chances.  They could pitch their way to the World Series.  It almost happened last year.  If Roy Halladay can get Cody Ross out, you’ve got a different series.  The only real roadblocks in terms of an intimidating offense that you’d have to match run for run are in the American League, and even then, as we saw last year sometimes the pitching still wins out.  The question is how comfortable do you want to be?  I know most fans want to be much more comfortable, and it looks like Charlie feels the same way.

It’s understandable.  I think two of the most disappointing Phillies this year have been Ben Francisco and Dom Brown. That may seem like a harsh assessment of Brown, but he’s had a couple of highlight reel games that overshadow a lot of mediocrity.  It’s also probably not his fault.  He should still be in AAA.  Francisco hasn’t been right since the 2nd week of the season.  Right around Charlie’s call for more homers, actually.  A guy that swung for the fences anyway, seems to be perpetually locked in a quest to hit the ball 500 feet.  He looks like he’s pressing, he looks like he never got comfortable in his everyday role, and the worst part is, he may be ruined as the valuable platoon guy he was last season.  Francisco needs to relax and Brown maybe needs to acknowledge an adjustment to tighten up some of the cavernous gaps in his swing might be necessary after all.

The Phillies are twenty games over .500 with these problem children and AAA resident John Mayberry getting a lot of time in the outfield.  Do they want to keep that going through the rest of the season and the playoffs?  Or do they want to bring in a right-handed hitter?  Is Josh Willingham really that much of an upgrade that it would warrant trading off some prospects?  We know how Charlie feels on the matter, and we’ll see if all that power he’s accumulated over the past four years is enough to give Ruben a little nudge.

***

Just of note, an interesting game tonight for the Phils.  Another chance to look at the mystery that is Roy Oswalt and more significantly a chance to sweep St. Louis and cap a 4-2 trip.  Oswalt might be the most difficult athlete to read I’ve ever seen.  Sometimes it looks like he’s ready to go home to Mississippi, sometimes he looks great, sometimes you wonder if he’s lost the drive or just really hates the media that much.  Who knows?  Be nice to get a win, especially since St. Louis has apparently not heard of getaway day, and they have an 8 o’clock start and a flight before hosting Oakland tomorrow.

***

So, OJ was going to confess to Oprah for a minute there.  That was fun.  Here’s something unrelated, have you seen the recent spike in popularity of militant intramural/adult league manager emails?  Someone bitches out their entire team in a group email and then it ends up on Deadspin?  I’m thinking of trying to put together a phony one of those and see if they’ll post it on Deadspin.  Thoughts?  Which sport?  What should I be bitching about?  I need a little project to work on.  My mind is wandering a bit.  Last night during Jeopardy I was thinking why people don’t give phony answers when they’re way behind?  Like a guy is 20,000 ahead of you, why not buzz in on the last question and be like, “Who is your Mom?”  Would they edit that out?