Archive for February, 2008

Spring Question: Who Will Win The LOOGY Battle?

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Tue, February 26, 2008 08:57 AM Comments: 5

Saturday’s injury to Brad Lidge underscored what has become the Phillies’ Achilles heel the past few years. There’s never been enough of an offseason upgrade to solidify a broken-down bullpen. Last year, the Phils signed Antonio Alfonseca to pitch late in games, and for most of the season was effective. He was carrying a 3.77 ERA on August 18 and converted 8 of 10 save opportunities during an emergency closer run. Imagine not having him. Who would’ve stepped in when Brett Myers and Tom Gordon went down?

This year the Phils signed nobody to help fill the bullpen; trading for Brad Lidge is a lateral move to get Myers back to the rotation. With a back four comprised of Lidge, Gordon, JC Romero and Ryan Madson, there seems to be stability (albeit very hesitantly) at the back end.

Last year’s front end of the bullpen featured a multitude of young and old: Joe Bisenius, Mike Zagurski, Fabio Castro, Matt Smith, Jose Mesa, Geoff Geary, Francisco Rosario, Brian Sanches, John Ennis, Kane Davis, Yoel Hernandez, etc.  None of these options were that reliable, sans a few good innings from Geary and Rosario. This year’s back end is quite possibly the same game of reliever roulette.

While this probably isn’t the best idea in the world (which I spoke about before), the goal in reliever roulette is to find the right number and stick with it for a good while. So which number will stick?

To open the season, look for anyone: Shane Youman, Castro, Zagurski, Scott Mathieson, Rosario, Chad Durbin. It seems Durbin should have a spot in the bullpen, and Mathieson — if healthy — could prove to be a reliable chip. I worry most, however, about the final lefty spot, which can go to either Youman or Castro, as Zagurski is injured and will be out for a portion of the Spring and beyond.

So who wins the battle: Youman or Castro? Youman will pitch Friday against his former team, the Pirates, while Castro’s first action comes Sunday against the Yankees. Whoever wins needs to be reliable as a one-out lefty, because he’s one JC Romero breakdown or injury away from having the spotlight shine down on him.


Ticket Sales High For 2008; Get Yours Fast!

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Mon, February 25, 2008 12:58 PM Comments: 3

Phillies brass is saying ticket sales are very high so far.

Peter Mucha of the Inquirer talked with John Weber, Phillies vice president of sales and ticket operations, who said season tickets are up by 2,500 so far this season.

Regular seats remain for the July 9 fireworks night, he said, but the April 19 game against the Mets has been selling well.

Of course it has — Mets fans have been snapping up those tickets. I hope you Phillies fans have done the same.

A drawing for the Red Sox series ticket purchasing possibilities will be held March 3. Sign up now here.


Breaking News: Lidge To Miss 3-6 Weeks

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sun, February 24, 2008 04:33 PM Comments: 9

Brad Lidge will be out 3 to 6 weeks as he gets arthroscopic knee surgery. The procedure is tomorrow.

It looks as if Lidge should be back by Opening Day, but this clearly isn’t a good sign. That knee is in bad shape no matter how you slice it. It makes me wonder — after the Freddy Garcia debacle last season — how much the Phillies really investigate player health before making deals.


Commentary: Lidge ‘Issue’ Reveals Real Failure

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, February 23, 2008 09:44 PM Comments: 17

Reports are Brad Lidge hurt the knee that he had surgery on last season. While there’s no word yet on the extensiveness of this “issue,” it’s a clear shot right to the left foot of the Phillies front office.

If Lidge is out for any considerable amount of time (I’m thinking a week of the 2008 season), the Phillies can’t afford it. The relief depth is low on Major League experience, and of the experience, three are injury concerns (Lidge, Gordon, Madson) and one has a very shaky past (Romero). It’s not a good situation.

It’s a clear comment on the Phillies offseason plan. Instead of buying some low-cost relief options (David Riske was always on my radar), they sat pat on the bullpen, claiming they improved it by grabbing Lidge. Instead, they moved lateral, removing one piece (Myers) for another (Lidge). They also removed Geoff Geary and gained Shane Youman. Bottom line: The Phillies made absolutely no improvements on last season’s bottom-feeding relief staff.

Now there’s potential for the Phillies to walk into Opening Day with Tom Gordon as closer. Again. Who’s option No. 3? Romero? Myers again? It’s unacceptable.

The Phillies can salvage any potential problems by buying some of the low-cost free agents remaining. Bob Wickman, Armando Benitez, Antonio Alfonseca and Akinori Otsuka come to mind. None are completely reliable (as we saw with Alfonseca), but they represent able bodies that can do a little work late in games and — most importantly — have experience. You can’t toy around with youth late in games.

The other option is signing a free-agent starter and moving Myers back to the bullpen (making Lidge the setup man if he isn’t injured badly). Who’s available? Well, Kyle Lohse, for one. And my favorite: Bartolo Colon.


Vote For Phillies Wall Of Fame Nominees

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, February 23, 2008 05:27 PM Comments: 4

Voting has begun for the 2008 Phillies Wall of Fame.

There are four new people on the ballot this year — Doug Glanville, Jim Fregosi, Gene Garber, Greg Gross.

Here’s the ballot:

Larry Christenson (SP, 1973-83)
Darren Daulton (C, 1983, 85-97)
Lenny Dykstra (OF, 1989-96)
Jim Fregosi (Mgr., 1991-96)
Gene Garber (RP, 1974-78)
Doug Glanville (OF, 1998-2002, 04)
Greg Gross (OF, 1979-88)
Von Hayes (1B/OF, 1983-91)
Jim Konstanty (RP, 1948-54)
John Kruk (1B/OF, 1989-94)
Fred Luderus (1B, 1910-20)
Gene Mauch (Mgr., 1960-68)
Mike Ryan (Coach, 1980-95)
Juan Samuel (2B, 1983-89
Rick Wise (SP, 1964, 66-71)

Vote for your top-three here. Voting ends at 5 p.m. March 21.

And if you want to know my vote, I’d go with Konstanty, Daulton and Samuel, with Dykstra, Luderus and Hayes missing out. I don’t think Glanville will get enough votes, but his inclusion is a nice nod to a somewhat underrated Phillies career.


Report: Lidge Limps Off Field

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Sat, February 23, 2008 12:18 PM Comments: 2

Todd Zolecki has this from Clearwater:

Closer Brad Lidge, the team’s key offseason acquisition that allowed the Phillies to return Brett Myers to the rotation, limped off the field this morning after he caught his spike in the mound while throwing live batting practice on Ashburn Field at the Carpenter Complex.

Lidge had just started to throw batting practice when he stopped after he threw a pitch. Manager Charlie Manuel, pitching coach Rich Dubee and athletic trainer Scott Sheridan conferred with Lidge on the mound.

Lidge then limped back into the Phillies’ clubhouse with Sheridan.

I’m nervous. Supposedly the Phillies said it was “nothing serious,” but isn’t that always how the bad injuries begin? Lidge needs to be worked in slow.


Wagner Responds To Brawl Talk

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 22, 2008 03:25 PM Comments: 9

David Lennon of Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.) wrote about the Phillies-Mets rivalry becoming more a heavyweight brawl than a baseball battle. He spoke to Mets about the growing heat, and especially Jayson Stark’s comments that there “will be a brawl.”

My favorite reaction, the always-quiet Billy Wagner:

“If one of their little 25-year-olds wants to come out and whip my ass, they can brag that they whipped a 37-year-old man’s ass. Well, good for them. It’s always good to play that underdog role.

“If they come out there, though, there’s two things that could happen. I’m pretty sure they’re going to whip my ass. But what if I get a shot in? What if? Then you just got your ass whipped on national TV by the littlest guy in baseball, so think of that ‘What if?’”

Just a memo to Billy: You must expect Zach Segovia to fight you, because he’s the only 25-year-old on the Phils roster. Also, shut the hell up. You’re a little punk. We’d rather swat homers off you in the ninth than swat the smirk off your face.


Follow-Up: Howard Deal Shakes Phillies’ Foundation

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Fri, February 22, 2008 12:16 PM Comments: 6

Jim Salisbury writes today about how Ryan Howard’s arbitration “could translate into a huge season.” Well, anything can translate into a huge season, and from what we’ve seen from Howard, he’s only capable of huge seasons.

Let’s be honest here — Howard’s win strikes very imminently for the Phillies.

The Phillies were 7-0 in arbitration deals before yesterday, and were the only team left undefeated in that category. The Phils have taken pride in their ability to stay out of arbitration cases, showing they can settle with players and keep their team well grounded in a upper-middle level payroll year after year.

Ryan Howard changed all that — if there was one player who could change it, he was the one. Howard’s 129 homers in 410 games illustrate his power. He has quickly ascended to the top of the slugging food chain in the Majors, surpassing larger-than-life players such as David Ortiz in the threat category. His blasts are more music than sports. His personality is booming; moreover, as a black superstar speaking fluent English, he’s easily one of baseball’s most marketable and liked men.

Howard won $10MM for 2008 because his resume was too strong. It was too strong to succumb under the past; it was too strong not to set a precedent. Now it’s too strong for the Phillies. Talk of a deal that could amount to $200MM has been thrown out there. A long-term deal with Howard earning $20MM per year isn’t a stretch.

The Phillies have never faced this problem before. Never. When they inked Jim Thome and Billy Wagner, they doled out big deals, but the franchise also had a slew of cheap players to balance the payroll. Now Howard is worthy of league-best money while the team has to deal with other big-time players: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels. And with these players and more in their primes, it’ll be extremely difficult — hell, impossible — for the Phillies to keep everyone and happy.

Unless they become big-market.

To me, the Howard arbitration win throws a hammer onto the Phillies traditional missive. Suddenly the Phils are faced with a query — sink into a mid-level, small-market system and let Howard walk off, or give Ryan his big deal when the time comes and become a solid big-market empire. To me, it’s a no-brainer: In a top-5 sports market, as the market’s most popular team, as a now annual playoff and World Series contender, with its major competition and closest franchises being the top-three payrolls, the Phils have to step up and become big-market. Run to $150MM. Hell, go farther.

But make no mistake, the Howard deal has shaken the very foundation of the Philadelphia Phillies. And the foundation’s strength will be tested until the Phillies make their final move on No. 6.


Ryan Howard Arbitration Victory Analysis

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, February 21, 2008 10:48 AM Comments: 21

Defying the odds and historical precedent, Ryan Howard was awarded his arbitration claim $10 million this morning. The victory for Howard surpasses the previously held record (Andruw Jones, $8.2 million) for most money won through a player’s claim.

In a way, I have a feeling that this might just be a short-term victory for Howard. There is no denying that his recent numbers warrant $10 million per year. However, the one knock with Howard has always been the age at which he broke into the big leagues. That is to say, sure he is worth $10 million now; but from the Phillies perspective, this could provide an opportunity to front-load a contract or even knock off a year or two that they might otherwise could have afforded. Moreover, the Phils and Howard still could simply play the arbitration game for another couple of off-seasons, then let Howard become a free agent. So while the arbitrator’s decision today answers one major question, it also unveiled many more still pending.


Ryan Howard Wins Arbitration

Posted by Tim Malcolm, Thu, February 21, 2008 10:45 AM Comments: 2

Today is Ryan Howard’s arbitration case. Will he get $7MM, as the Phillies want, will he get $10MM, as he wants, or will there be a last-minute deal?

UPDATE (10:45 a.m. Thursday): Howard wins.

Looks like the arbitrators were more impressed with Howard and his 2.5 great years as a Phillie. He’ll make $10MM in 2008. Asst. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. thought the sides were close to a new deal. Amaro:

“Close doesn’t get it done.”

UPDATE (4:50 p.m.): We have a quote from Ryan Howard, per Zolecki:

“We’ll see tomorrow. I’m always upbeat, you’d think I’d be anything different? Regardless, we went in, we had a process and we find out tomorrow how it goes. But either way, it is what it is.”

UPDATE (3:25 p.m.): The hearing has ended.

Phillies rep Tal Smith:

“To me it’s nothing more than a continuation of the debate the parties had during negotiations. The only difference [is that] you are presenting your argument to an arbitrator, an impartial panel. I don’t think there’s anything that’s denigrating or demeaning at all.”

No word yet from Howard.

UPDATE (10:15 a.m.): Some reading for you:

Bill Conlin outlines five reasons Ryan Howard will or will not win his case. Most of the reasons are disposable, including “he’ll dress well.” Really, Bill, it comes down to this:

- Short service time, setting a precedent
- One of the league’s most dangerous ever players.

Just fill the column inches, Bill, fill the column inches.

Jim Salisbury, on the other hand, takes a well-versed look at the arbitration hearing process, saying that flat out, the goal is to be $1 above or below the median $8.5 MM.

Michael Radano of the Courier Post had what seemed to be a great talk with Howard, as he said he was in “the chill mode” entering the hearing.

Howard isn’t thinking much about the hearing; instead, he wants to be MVP again.

“That’s who I aspire to be this year. I aspire to be young James. I’m going to go out and try to buy his shoes if they are in a store. I want to be like Jimmy.”

“Young James” is Jimmy Rollins, obviously. We should start calling him Young James.

The hearing has begun.


Arbitration still a foreign language? Here is a link to my post earlier in the month that explained the arbitration process.

My two cents: It’s best to let Howard hang on for another year with the short stick. Yes, Howard is a mammoth slugger, but say you’ve owned an iPod for two years. Yeah, it’s cool, and it’s been great to you. You also know next year you’ll be getting a nice tax return. But you decide to stick with the iPod for a while, shunning the new, versatile technology of the iPhone and any other innovation Apple creates in the next few years. Maybe the iPod will work and be fine for the next few years, but chances are it will become obselete soon, and you’ll wish you had that iPhone.

What does that metaphor have to do with Howard, you ask? Well, Howard could very well be a 35+ HR hitter for the next five, six years, and he could also hit .280 or so during that period. But we all know Howard is made from the Cecil Fielder mold, a mold that quickly becomes a designated hitter and 1 1/2-dimensional offensive player. Yes, Howard is a threat to all pitchers today, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be a threat five years down the road.

Let Howard prove himself once more. There’s no need to rush now. And heck, if Howard wins arbitration (which I don’t think will happen), collect yourself, congratulate him and move on. Let him prove he’s worth $18MM per year or whatever he’s looking for long-term.

Because maybe, sooner than later, that iPod will burn out on you. And you don’t want to go years without a solution.

We’ll have updates as soon as they come.

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