Phils Re-Claim Lee Through Deal

There is one word to describe the feeling of baseball fans in the Philadelphia area this morning.

No one… and I mean no one… saw this coming.
Cliff Lee returns to the Philadelphia Phillies, agreeing to sign a 5-yr., $120 million contract. And it now forms what is arguably the most prolific starting rotation in Major League Baseball history.
The first four pitchers in the starting rotation read like this.
It just caught so many people off guard. Everyone figured that once they lost Jayson Werth to the Nationals that the Phillies were “cut off” from spending. Talk here in Philly was how they were going to fill the void with lower priced options… Dominic Brown, maybe re-acquire Aaron Rowand.
But just when you think you know all the rules, Ruben Amaro Jr. changes them. And their payroll this year will have to be in the $160 million territory. That is if they trade Joe Blanton and maybe find a taker for Raul Ibanez.
So it ends up being a case where the player didn’t take the biggest pot of cash in front of him. 
Lee wanted to play for the Phillies again. He was clearly disappointed when the Phillies traded him to Seattle. And he told Phillies players that he wanted to be back with Philadelphia.
And now the Phillies have three players that will make more than $20 per season and their four starters will haul in about $80 million.
Ticket price increase in Philly. No worries.

East Races Take Shape This Week

Baseball fans in Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York and Tampa will be glued to their televisions or at their local pub for a cold one (or two) or, for some, glued to their seats at either Citizens Bank Park or Yankee Stadium to watch what should be some of the best baseball of the year.

Even better yet, the next four days will go a long way to determining who will win the AL East and the NL East.
Let’s start in New York where the Yankees hold a slim 1/2 game lead over the Rays. Not only do these game mean winning the division, but they also mean “home field advantage” until the World Series. And while the teams with the two best records in baseball will be slugging it out, remember that the Minnesota Twins are wishing for a four-game split by the teams. Minnesota is the hottest team in baseball since July 4th and only one game behind the Yankees for best record in the American League.
In the National League East, the Philadelphia Phillies hold a three-game lead over the Atlanta Braves and have their pitching set up to send a case of “H2O” to Atlanta… Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt.
As Bobby Boucher says… “Hmmm. That’s some mighty fine H2O you got there.”
Enjoy the games….

Phillies Claim 1st Place

Thumbnail image for Phillies logo.jpgThey were once sitting at 48-47, struggling on offense and on the mound. Even many of the diehards had questions whether the 2010 edition of the “Fightin Phils” would be able to make a run at their third straight World Series appearance.

How the “world” has changed over the last couple of months.
You may remember back to a warm July night in St. Louis. Ryan Howard was back home and Phillies fell to the Cardinals, 5-1, to start their post- All Star Game stretch by losing six of their first seven games.

That was July 21st. And since that loss in the Gateway City 48 days ago, the Phillies have gone on a run that the ’64 Phillies wish they could have had a piece of.

They are 32-14 during that time… a .696 winning percentage.

Sure, the biggest part of that run has been the pitching. For the most part, the starters have been solid and the bullpen has closed the door when needed. But the hitters have really come around to make this team start to look like the teams that made the Fall Classic each of the last two years.

Put it this way…

Right now, the Phillies are the first National League team to reach 80 wins. There aren’t many people that would have said that two months ago.

It is also the first time since May 30th that they sit in 1st Place.

But maybe more amazing is… if the season were done today, the Phillies would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Chew on that one for a while, baseball fans.

Phils Hitters Offensive

First, it was Milt Thompson. Now, what is he excuse.
The offense for the Philadelphia Phillies has been less than stellar for a majority of the season. And it shouldn’t be any surprise that scoring only 18 runs in the last seven games would lead to the Phillies getting swept at home by Houston and Monday’s defeat in Los Angeles, in which they produced just one hit. 
Enter Bob Uecker from Major League…

“One hit. That’s all we got. One Hit.”
But what is more surprising is that they swept San Diego at Petco Park over the weekend. In those games, the Phillies used three of their best pitching performances this year to take out the Padres.

But breaking down the lackluster performances is simple…
– Phils are 6-for-32 with runners in scoring position in the last eight games.
– Only twice in the last 12 games have they scored more than three runs.
– Have now been shutout 11 times this season (shutout 8 times in 2008 and 7 times in 2009).
– Ryan Howard is hitting .111 (4 x 36) since coming off the Disabled List.
– Chase Utley has a .184 BA (9 x 49) in August.
– Jimmy Rollins is batting .246 during the month
Over the last 10 games…
– Placido Polanco is batting .205
– Jayson Werth has a .206 BA
– Shane Victorino is hitting .205

The Phillies hitters need to send out a big “Thank You” to the pitching staff for doing the job lately.
– Phils pitchers have worked to a 2.10 ERA over the last nine games.
– In the month of August, Phils pitchers have allowed 3 runs or less in 18 of the 28 games played.
Yep, so I guess Greg Gross better be worried about a pink slip.

Kendrick, Blanton Seal Their Fate

Blanton.jpgKendrick.jpgOK, so no one really expects either Kyle Kendrick or Joe Blanton to make a post-season, if the Phillies are able cut down their M*A*S*H* list and get their starting eight in the lineup all at the same time.

And with the recent acquisition of Roy Oswalt, forming as CSN Philly’s Michael Barkann calls them… H2O (Hamels, Halladay, Oswalt), the starting rotation is pretty set.
That leaves just a few scraps on the plate for the other two. And this past week showed why the Phillies went out and traded for Oswalt. 
You just can’t trust either Kendrick or Blanton in a big spot. Kendrick has earned that reputation. Blanton was important to the 2008 World Series team, but has been a .500 (or sub-.500) pitcher for the last two seasons and has a knack for loaded up on his pitch count as fast as loading up your plate at an Old Country Buffet.
For Kendrick, it is either “the penthouse or the outhouse”. He has made 22 starts this season, allowing two runs or less in ten of those games and allowing four runs or more in the other 12. Many people say his biggest problem is lack of a “put away” pitch… something which he can strike out the batter, instead of either running a deep count or seeing four or five balls fouled off.
Blanton is also well known for racking up 100 or 110 pitches over five or six innings. And unlike Kendrick who has seven starts in which he has allowed one earned run or less, Blanton has not had a start in which he has allowed fewer than two runs. 
So, enjoy the bench, gentlemen. 
Who knows, maybe Blanton can be used as a pinch-hitter in the World Series again.                       

Breaking Down The Oswalt Trade

The Phillies are hoping for a third straight year that a 2nd half trade will propel them into the World Series.

In 2008, the Phils traded for Joe Blanton (giving up INF Adrian Cardenas, LHP Josh Outman and OF Matt Spencer. Last year, they traded four prospects to Cleveland for LHP Cliff Lee. Blanton and Lee posted a combined 11-4 record after first joining Philadelphia prior to post-season play.
Now, they have Roy Oswalt in the fold. Pitching for a struggling Houston Astros team, Oswalt is 6-12, but with a 3.42 ERA. Now it is Oswalt who must pick up the slack and help his new team into the post-season.
Phil Garner, who managed Oswalt from 2004-07 and a trip to the 2005 World Series, said that his former ace was at his best when pitching in another pretty good trio with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte (2004-06). Garner said that he thrived on the internal competition… to be the best of the three. And Garner may have been right. Oswalt was 55-30 in those three seasons, including his only 20-win seasons in 2004 and 2005.
Now, Oswalt gets to work with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. And the Phillies have their playoff rotation set two months before the post-season starts.
And teams trying to get to the World Series in this era are looking to put that pitching “trio” together. The Yankees had it last year with C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Pettitte. The Cardinals have it in 2010 with Adam Wainright, Chris Carpenter and rookie Jaime Garcia, as do the Red Sox (Beckett, Lester, Lackey).
But this trade works for the Phillies on many other fronts…
The Phillies didn’t have to trade OF Jayson Werth or prized prospect Jonathan Singleton to get the deal done… there is a high ceiling for Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar, but both are playing at Class A, still at least three years away from making a mark in the Majors.
They receive $11 million from the Astros… this cuts Oswalt’s $23 million in salary for this season and 2011 almost in half for what the Phillies will have to pay him.
They got Oswalt to waive his no-trade clause… so the Phillies could make a deal sending Oswalt away prior to his option year in 2012 and not have to worry about the potential trade being blocked.
They have Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt set through 2011… so the Phillies will be a threat to win another World Series both this year and next.
But it is also the financial end that was an important piece to the puzzle, no matter what the Phillies say.
So much was made of the perceived $140 million plateau for the team’s payroll. Many fans believe that is the main reason that Cliff Lee is now pitching for the Texas Rangers. The Phillies brass still say it was the poor early negotiations with Lee’s agent that forced the trade to Seattle in the off-season.
But if you break down what Oswalt’s salary numbers mean for the next couple of seasons, you get the following…
2010- Because the Phillies are getting $11 million back from the Astros, the remaining $5 million in salary this year for Oswalt is gone. He is a “freebie”.
2011- Oswalt is owed $16 million, which is actually only $10 million after you post the remaining money from the Astros. 
The Phillies will lose Jamie Moyer’s $8 million salary as his latest injury seems to all but end his time in Philadelphia. The team also gets back $3 million from former players owed money. Then, the Phils must make decisions on Chad Durbin, Greg Dobbs, Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero ($9.2 million total).
All of those moves will decide whether or not the team will be able to make a run at re-signing Werth. The Phillies may have to get a bit creative, similiar to Blanton’s contract, by backloading the money to keep him in a Phillies uniform.
After 2011, the Phillies will have Raul Ibanez’s $12 million come off the books, as well as Danys Baez, but they will have to talk to Jimmy Rollins about a new contract, as well as Cole Hamels.
With Hamels having a re-birth this season, he is going to command a big raise, giving the Phillies a starting rotation with paychecks close to what the N.Y. Yankees have.
But on the field, this is a “win-win” because it puts the Phightin Phils right back in the hunt for a trip to the World Series.
The Battle Continues…
For those reading this outside of Philadelphia, there is a perceived war going on between the Phillies and the Eagles as to who really controls this town.
For years, Philly has been owned… lock, stock and barrel… by the Eagles. Well, that started to change and culminated with the Phillies winning the World Series in 2008. Since then, it seems that each franchise has tried to “one-up” the other with important news to grab the headlines.
Today was no different. The Phillies trade for Roy Oswalt. The Eagles, not to be totally swept off the back page, sign DE Brandon Graham, their 1st Round Draft Pick, at a time when NFL teams are struggling with 1st Round contracts due to the pending lockout in 2011.
Line Of the Day
Credit to Comcast Sportsnet’s Michael Barkann for this one (and the Phillies merchandise people should be on this quickly).
The new trio of Halladay, Hamels and Owalt should be called… “H2O”.

All-Star Season Underway With Roster Announcements

It is the time of the year that many Minor Leaguers love. When their manager calls them into the office to let them know that they will play in the league All-Star Game. And for several prospects from the teams that many of us follow (Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Phillies) will be playing in the Triple-A All-Star Game.

The Phillies Class AAA affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, will host the Triple-A All-Star Game.  Players appearing in that game will include..


C Jesus Montero (Yankees)… Still just 20 years old, Montero is the “the future” of that position for the Yankees once Jorge Posada retires. He has just a .250 BA for Scranton-Wilkes Barre so far this season with 6 HR and 32 RBI. After a slow start to the season, Montero started to heat up in June with a .283 BA. Montero is in line to play a full season, which is the most important thing for him right now after missed about 40 games last year due to injury.

SS Eduardo Nunez (Yankees)…Nunez has rounded into form both from a physical standpoint and his play on the field the last two years. This year for Scranton, he is batting .309 with 3 HR, 38 RBI and 15 SB after a strong season in 2009 at Trenton (.322, 9 HR, 55 RBI). One of the stats that stands out for Nunez is his left/right hitting. He has a .308 BA against righthanders and .312 against lefties.

Thumbnail image for Mathieson.jpg

P Scott Mathieson (Phillies)…The one-time starter has become one of the best closers in the Minors now after missing the better part of 2 1/2 years due to TWO Tommy John surgeries. Mathieson, in 30 games, is 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA and, most importantly, has recorded 14 saves.
RP Jonathan Albaladejo (Yankees)… Is also another closer that has recovered from an arm injury to have great success this year. But Albaladejo’s road was a bit different. Now 27 years old, he was drafted by Pittsburgh, released and then signed by Washington and then acquired in a trade by the Yankees.. He missed most of the 2008 season with a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. But the 2010 season has seen him dominate the Triple-A level (2-1, 1.17 ERA, 24 SV). Right-handed hitters are batting just .106 against him. But Albaladejo is doing it with runners on base (.098 opp BA) and in scoring position (.103 opp BA).
OF Bubba Bell (Red Sox)… Is putting up strong numbers at Pawtucket after spending all or parts of the last three years at Double-A. While that isn’t great for his career goals, Bell has a .305 BA in his first taste at Triple-A. he had a strong month of June with a .348 BA, but it seems like he doesn’t project more than a reserve outfielder with on 4 HR and 5 SB this season. Bell did show power earlier in his career with 22 HR and Class A Lancaster in 2007, but that ballpark plays like a wind tunnel. He also hit 13 HR in Double-A in 2008 at hitter-friendly Hadlock Field in Portland, ME.
Also congrats to INF’s Andy Tracy and Cody Ransom of Lehigh Valley for being named starters. They are two guys who are career Minor Leaguers that have done a good job for the Phillies Triple-A team. Ransom was actually the Opening Day 3B for the Yankees in 2009 due to A-Rod’s hip injury and has 16 HR and 51 RBI for Lehigh Valley this year. And the 37-year old Tracy has been a solid performer with the Iron Pigs for three seasons. The Mets organization placed LHP Pat Misch on the team.
Congratulations to all.
We will look at the Eastern League prospects tomorrow.