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The SportsTalk Shop: Technology in Baseball

August 12, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Technology is all around us, and the sports world is no different. But one may be surprised to know to what extent modern day electronics—whether good, bad or indifferent—are impacting high school sports today.

I have to admit I am certainly on the fence with using so much technology when it comes to sports. I think there are definite advantages when used correctly (television graphics, instant replays, a certain amount of statistical information). I also think graphics, replays, statistics should have its limits and frequently feel bombarded with national networks trying to overplay all their toys, often taking away from the game itself.

But on a local level, there are quite a few advancements that people may not be aware of, and some benefits that local baseball fans may find quite appealing.

Here are some local great baseball minds talking about the advancement of technology in baseball on both the local and collegiate levels, and then we have a few more ‘tech tips’ you might find interesting.

A few other items concerning technology in baseball:

• HS coaches can now stand on the field (many managers are third-base coaches) and, with a click of their fingers, can input data, trends or unique facts that can be used later in the game (e.g., there are programs that track pitching trends what can tell you watch pitch a pitcher is more likely to throw in certain situations, and where he is going to throw it)

• Coaches—again while on the field of play—can look up histories or past tendencies of a given player and, even if they’ve never seen him before, notices an opposing player’s strengths and weaknesses

• Parents and other family members who normally work during baseball games (most high school and college games start between 2 and 4 pm) can follow along with in-game statistics, scores and highlight updates, thereby getting real time results, which is especially helpful if he/she wants to get to the game in-progress

It is a bit bizarre to occasionally see coaches or even players glancing down at their cell phone in the heat of the action. There are also a few old school coaches that still ban cell phone use entirely when they are on the field of play and insist that it is more of a distraction for young people, which far outweighs any positives from using technology.

What are your thoughts on technology in baseball? Is it good for the game, or does it distract you from enjoying America’s Pastime? Share your thoughts with us via email (RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com) and tune in to talk sports with us every Thursday live at 6pm on RCN-TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles Camp & Phillies Thoughts

August 4, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

While I was taking a few vacation days last week, two of the bigger summer sports happenings took place in the Delaware Valley: the opening and first week of Eagles training camp and the passing of the Major League Baseball trade deadline. I thought I’d share this week’s blog to touch on both topics.

First, the Eagles. Here’s a look at insights and predictions from Eagles beat writers and our RCN TV football analysts on the Birds’ first week of camp plus their thoughts on the 2014 squad.

Now, a recap of everything the Phillies did at this year’s MLB trade deadline…

Oh, wait they didn’t do a thing, did they?

Alright, since “you-know-who” let us down again and did not make any deals…let’s try a different approach in analyzing the Phillies’ second straight year of accomplishing NOTHING prior to the non-waiver deadline. And since I’ve been getting hit with emails saying that I’ve been too negative in regards to the Phillies this season (it’s called being realistic, folks), let’s try to be ultra-positive here and see just how the Phillies could actually have a chance at a playoff berth in 2015.

(Before reading further, please note that, even with the extremely high pollen count this summer, I have not exceeded my allergy medication and am of sound mind and body. This is a possible—albeit not probable—way the “Phightins” can have a shot at a playoff next season. So let’s hold hands, think happy thoughts, hum a few bars from Pharrell Williams’s hit, and begin).

1) They have in-house “pieces” that can help.
While I am not over-evaluating most of the current players like GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has apparently done, I think there are some quality players in the organization who, if matched-up correctly, can help the team contend. Remember the 1993 Phillies? They used role players in the right spots (including three platoons and a couple offensive/defensive switches) that made for one of the greatest rides in Philadelphia sports history. Neither Dom Brown nor Ben Revere look like solid, everyday MLB players. But a combination of Revere/Darin Ruf, or, say Brown/Cam Perkins might be a serviceable combination to use in left field. They would still have to improve center field, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Cody Asche can play third, second and left field. Chase Utley (if Ryan Howard is moved) could play first. Maikel Franco could be an everyday first or third baseman or he could complement Asche and Howard at the corners. Grady Sizemore looks like he can contribute at least 75% of the time. What’s needed the rest of the 2014 season are some evaluations of all these players, some tough decisions on which players can help and which need to move on, and a clear plan on a couple of positions that must be effectively upgraded in the offseason.

Still with me? Alright, sing a quick verse of “Kumbaya” and let’s continue.

2) The bullpen is solid—with room to spare.
People desperately wanted the Phillies to part ways with Jonathan Papelbon, including Papelbon, at the trade deadline. It still might happen, but let’s just look at what the Phillies now have in their bullpen.

“Pap” is now on the books for one more year at $13-million with a vesting option, and appears to be on the top of his game. Ken Giles has been stellar and looks to fill out the 8-inning setup role vacated by Mike Adams, who comes off the books after this season. Jake Diekman and Mario Hollands have struggled at times, but still look like legitimate lefty options and combine with Justin DeFratus to form an above-average bridge to the later innings. This allows Antonio Bastardo to look tremendous used solely in a long-relief role (since he seems to lose sight of the strike zone every time he comes into a meaningful game with a small lead). Plus, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Ethan Martin and/or a couple relievers from the mid-level minors add even more depth. If you catch a break and another young reliever steps up (remember Giles started last year in Class-A ball), you actually have a surplus of young, controllable pitchers—a need nearly every other team has—and could use a young arm to help improve your offense. No need to spend a few million on Chad Qualls or Chad Durbin this offseason…the Phillies can concentrate whatever financial flexibility they have elsewhere.

3) Nola…Franco…Castillo?
There are a few names that could (quick! grab a four-leaf clover) become major players for the Phillies in the next year or two.

This year’s first-round draft pick Aaron Nola is on the fast track to the Big Leagues. He was just promoted to Double-A Reading and will make his first start this Wednesday, and it’s very likely he will be a candidate for the Phillies’ ’15 rotation out of spring training. He projects as a #3 starter, but any warm body who can get outs will be welcome considering the team has only one of its current pitchers (Cole Hamels, although David Buchanan will probably be called up this week) under contract for next year.

I’ve seen Franco play in Triple-A quite a bit and have spoken with him three times this season, and I really think he will be a steady major league hitter. He could be one of the big power bats the team has been lacking, although I don’t think they can go into next season anointing him as their clean-up hitter. He’s a hard-working kid who respects the game and spent a lot of time in spring training talking to the veterans (especially Jimmy Rollins) about what it takes to be a successful big leaguer. At worst, he’s a platoon option at either of the corner infielder positions for 2015.

Rusney Castillo is a 27-year old Cuban outfielder that the Phillies saw work out (once publicly and once privately). Not much is known about him, but he may be a player the team must make an “all-in” push for. He’ll require mega-bucks, but if he’s as good as advertised, he could be a right-handed bat w/speed and pop who takes care of your center field dilemma.

4) The Phillies need to make three “shrewd” and perhaps, slightly dangerous, off-season additions.
(OK, here’s where we REALLY need to think warm fuzzy puppies, big, yellow-smiling faces and a line or two from a Strawberry Alarm Clock song).

The Phillies need to make at least three well-calculated additions, with at least one risky enough to make a Riverboat gambler blush. They’ll probably need to add one or two starting pitchers and one or two position upgrades to improve the offense. They’ll also probably have to move at least one core player—somewhere—to make it happen. Let’s see how next season could play out with the current players in-tow:

2015 Projections…the Starting Rotation:
SP – Cole Hamels
SP – (Free Agent #1)
SP – Cliff Lee (if healthy)
SP – A.J. Burnett (if he doesn’t retire)
SP – Buchanan / Nola / Gonzalez (and/or Roberto Hernandez, who might have earned a return to Philly based on his latest outings)

Outfield (any combination of):
Marlon Byrd (if he’s not traded), Castillo (if signed), Sizemore, Revere, Brown, Ruff …plus, a major free agent addition #2

Corner Infielders:
Howard (if he’s not released), Franco, Asche and/or a major free agent #3

Middle Infielders:
Utley, Rollins, and your utility guy

Catchers:
Carlos Ruiz, Wil Nieves, Cameron Rupp

Let’s look at the free agent position players first. Corner infield possibilities include Hanley Ramirez (a lifetime .300 hitter with current OBP of .370 and SLG of .462 this year), Pablo Sandoval (the 27-year old’s numbers are down this year which could make him more affordable) and Chase Headley (the Phillies have had rumored interest in him for years). In the outfield, Nelson Cruz (his OPS is up from a year ago) and Melky Cabrera (he could set a career high in HRs this year) will be available. Also, a player like Yasmani Tomas, who’s similar but not as polished as Jose Abreu (per mlbtraderumors.com) could help the Phillies’ offense.

Available pitchers include Max Scherzer (who is almost certain not to re-sign with Detroit since they’ve added David Price), James Shields (109 wins, 3.77 ERA and 21 complete games for his career) and Jon Lester (unless he was serious about returning to Boston with a once-removed hometown discount). With an improved offense, you don’t think a rotation of Hamels, Shields, Lee, Buchanan, Hernandez or Gonzalez and, with any luck, Nola can’t at least get you to .500—a stone’s throw away from the second wild card spot? And imagine if they could lock up Scherzer instead of Shields to anchor that rotation?

But hey, isn’t all the Phillies’ money tied up in the aging contracts of Howard, Lee, et al?

Well, hop aboard my rainbow-colored chariot and keep an eye on a few items going forward.

One, the waiver wire. A number of Phillies players will undoubtedly be placed on waivers this month, by which a team can claim a player and therefore pick up ALL remaining money on the player’s contract. Yes, you get nothing in return–unless you agree with that team to work out a trade–but even Penny Lane wasn’t built for free. If any team gets desperate and takes on a hefty contract, that’s additional bucks the Phillies have to work with to sign free agents.

Secondly, the Phillies’ new TV contract. They’ll get $2.5-billion dollars in 2016, and by the end of that season, you’ll have a number of the big-money contracts (Lee, Byrd, Rollins, Ruiz, Papelbon, Gonzalez and perhaps Utley) all expiring. If they go over the salary cap for 2015 (note: first-time cap offenders pay a much smaller penalty), then they’ll be able to afford the added expense of the higher luxury tax, if they go over it a second time in 2016.

All this is possible if the Phillies truly believe what they have been saying over the last several years…that they will not rebuild, but will only retool, and look to be competitive each season.

Of course, the first decision to make is whether or not Amaro returns as GM next year. And while 98% of fans (and this might be a conservative estimate) have been clamoring for his firing for some time, remember this: if you bring in a new general manager, you’ll pretty much have to guarantee him a “honeymoon” season, which means you can throw 2015 out the window. I’ve clearly been off the RAJ bandwagon for some time now, so I’m not clamoring for his return by any means. But if they make a front office move, I would think they’d go in a completely new direction, which means at least one year – perhaps two – of rebuilding.

OK, I’ll step off of the Magical Mystery bus now. If you think I have totally lost my mind…or if there might actually be an opinion or two you agree with, feel free to email me at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us each Thursday live at 6pm on “RCN SportsTalk” to discuss/debate in more detail.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Baseball Trade Deadline

July 29, 2014 By Matt Kennedy Leave a Comment

With Chris Michael taking a few vacation days off this week, we ask “RCN SportsTalk” co-host Joseph Lynnwood Craig to offer his opinion on a hot issue going on in the sports world. Joe has his own 30-second segment on the TV show (in which he usually runs well-over his time limit) in which he sounds off on a local or national sports issues each week, and he’s been chomping at the bit to get an opportunity to express his views on the “SportsTalk Shop” blog.


The baseball trade deadline is this week and so far there has been no movement from the Philies. This is not surprising. The Phillies should just sit pat until the season is over. At that point, they need to make changes at the General Manager, scouting, and player development level. Once new people are in place, then player changes can take place. Trust in the present G.M. and staff is non-existent and changes in decision-makers have to take place first. And that’s Joe’s take.

What do you think of “Joe’s Take” on the plight of the Phillies and the trade deadline? Post a comment below on whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Craig’s opinion.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: BML Playoff Primer

July 21, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

 

It has been another great season for the Blue Mountain League—especially when you consider that it is an expansion year. Entering the final week of the regular season, there are still many important games yet to be played that will determine which teams will make the 2014 playoffs.

And to be clear, even with so many teams so close together in the standings, the baseball this season has been of good quality rather than mediocrity. I believe all those fighting for the six playoff spots are strong teams who have had outstanding seasons. I honestly haven’t seen a “bad” or poorly played ball game in years (including our broadcasts, covering games for “RCN SportsTalk” and just attending games as a fan). The games are low-scoring with very few errors and good pitching each night. With that in mind, we take a closer look at all the teams that I have seen in person that are fighting for a playoff berth.

Bulls
The Bulls have ascended from the middle of the pack to recently taking over the #1 spot in the league (including two dramatic wins on RCN-TV that were part of their second half success). Player/Manager Mike Cudwadie spoke with me about the team’s approach a few weeks ago: don’t make mistakes and take advantage of every opportunity the opponent gives you. They have nine players with a batting average of .300 or better (with at least 33 plate appearances) and their pitchers collectively have a very impressive 2.65 ERA. Their key turning point this year was coming back from a 7-4 deficit with one out in the 7th inning to winning the game in extras.

Giants
I am thrilled to see Manager Ed Wandler’s team very much in the hunt for the top spot in the playoffs. No team has had more hard-luck losses over the last several seasons. Wandler has taken lumps in previous years by acquiring very young talent. However, he has groomed them through more than their share of one-run losses while building his players’ confidence and fundamentals for the game. Pat Kregeloh and Preston Koehler have two home runs each and have combined for 25 RBI this season. Ben Hammel, Justin Aungst and Darron Whitmore are the Giants’ pitchers who have the most wins heading into the regular season’s final week.

Royals
The 2012 BML champs had spent nearly the entire regular season in first place (their lead vacillated between one and three games over the last month). The team boasts some of the league’s best hitters in Ricky Rivera, Ian Burley, Logan Winchester and Dave Toth and three of the top pitchers (Ryan Amey, Jeff LaPorta and Jim Sawyer—all with ERAs under 3). Despite several tough opponents during the final week, Hellertown should qualify for the postseason and will be a very tough match-up in a short series with three great starters anchoring their pitching staff.

Dodgers
Like Northampton, the Dodgers have had some tough previous seasons and have had their share of tough losses so far this one as well. However, they have overcome adversity this season and find themselves in the heart of the playoff hunt. They feature arguably the most dangerous hitter in the league—Matt Edwards—who is hitting about 80 points lower than his career batting average and is due for a breakout week. The team overall is hitting just .227 but has seven pitchers with an ERA under 3. They will close out their regular season with another team fighting for its playoff life, the Orioles.

Orioles
This team seems to be the most volatile in that they have bounced between being anywhere between second to tenth in the standings during the season. They also could be very dangerous in the playoffs. I think Player/Manager Dave Stoudt has done a tremendous job of mixing a ton of young talent in with some of the league’s most established veterans. The Orioles also lost a few quality players from a year ago but the young guys have stepped up and will benefit now that they’ve had two turns through the schedule. They have one of the best receivers in the BML in Doc Neiman, a player capable of hitting anywhere in the lineup, and six-time All-Star Justin Jackowicz has pitched to a miniscule 1.18 ERA while leading the team in innings pitched.

Creekers
I thought Player/Manager Eric Schmitt made some great additions to his team over the last two seasons–one of them being Eric Forth, who is currently second on the team in both home runs and RBIs. But the story of Martin’s Creek season belongs to stellar southpaw C. J. Saveri, who has won eight of the team’s 11 victories so far this year, and has posted some awesome numbers, including ERA (1.72) and WHIP (1.08). The question I’ve been hearing from the long-standing BML faithfuls has been whether or not other pitchers will step up. If they do, and the bats hit the way they are capable of, the Creekers could still defend its 2013 BML crown in the postseason.

I have not seen the other teams battling for the top six playoff spots, but the team that I keep hearing about is the Yankees. They have three very good starting pitchers, which is key to winning in the postseason. They also have several impressive hitters and don’t hurt themselves defensively. With many of these teams playing each other in the regular season’s stretch run, it’s still impossible to get a solid idea of which teams will make the playoffs.

Which teams have impressed you in the Blue Mountain League? Which players also deserve some praise for having an outstanding season? Feel free to post your comments here or email us your sports opinions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and be sure check out some of RCN-TV’s final broadcast on Tuesday, along with our coverage of the BML this season on RCN On-Demand.

 

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The End of the Innocence

July 15, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The End of the Innocence
Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world….

But “Happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

–Don Henley, “The End of the Innocence”

This song came to mind the other day following a conversation I was having with some of our RCN-TV crew members about, strangely enough, the Philadelphia 76ers. At that time, there were rumors about potential deals the Sixers could make, and one of the more prominent ones discussed included Jeremy Lin coming to Philly. During our debate, one person said that Lin might be the best available player to help the team this year—to which I quickly jumped in and said that they’re not looking to acquire him to help the team win this year. I explained the, uh hem, logic, behind the philosophy that the 76ers don’t want to improve this year. In fact, having a significant improvement this season could set the franchise back years. Let me explain…

For folks not familiar with the peculiarities of the NBA salary “cap,” the 76ers are trying to peel away as much money as possible to try to clear cap “space,” so that they have funds down the road (aka, 3-4 years from now) to acquire big name talent. The flip side of that is there is also a salary “floor” where the team must spend a certain amount of money to avoid paying a penalty. What the Sixers are trying to do is find the most expensive (overpaid?) player(s) they can find to help them get to the salary minimum, but make sure they don’t acquire enough “quality” players so that the team struggles again this season and has a better chance of a lottery pick next summer.

The benefit of acquiring Lin or an expensive option like him (he has since gone to the Lakers) is that they could pick up a player with a big enough contract so that they wouldn’t have to add additional players to get to the salary floor. The Sixers are looking to avoid bringing in additional “better” players because higher quality players mean the team would win more games—which is clearly not something they want to do. To put it another way, the team would rather bring in one slightly better player with a huge contract (like Lin), instead of having to bring in, say, three quality players making less money to avoid running the risk of winning more games.

To people who are not familiar with this new, ‘unique’ strategy, this approach to building a sports franchise may seem somewhat bizarre. Yet most Philly sports fans have accepted and even embrace the “together we build” mantra and are perfectly willing to be successfully bad for the near future (although I don’t think some fans realize just how long this may actually take). If successful, it will probably be the mold that other teams use for years to come.

In full disclosure, I have basically been on board with this strategy from the beginning. Sure, I did a double-take when the team traded away their only premium piece in Jrue Holiday last year. And I certainly had to catch my breath in last month’s NBA draft when the team selected injury-riddled Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, who, if he plays for the 76ers at all, won’t be available until 2016. But when I stopped to consider “the plan” the team adopted, it all seemed to make perfectly good sense.

Until I said it out loud.

Is this really what professional sports is turning into…and what exactly are we grooming the sports fans of the future to accept?

If my son was a Sixers or pro basketball fan—which he is not—how exactly do I explain this “anti-winning” strategy to someone under the age of 16, and have it make enough sense to get them interested in the sport? Should we encourage our young people to ignore badly played basketball for the next two to three seasons because we really don’t want to win anyway? Do we put the parental control lock on the Sixers for three years until they become something worth watching? Or do we follow another team and show examples of how well they play only to then “bandwagon-jump” over to the 76ers when (if) they start having a winning season? This is the Delaware Valley after all, and the proposition of the third idea disgusts me.

In the meantime, the young people in Eastern Pennsylvania will find some other things of interest to them…the Eagles, Flyers, video games or what have you. Hopefully, they’ll somehow find a way to get excited about the sport of basketball and learn about the excitement of the sport by watching some local high school and college teams. And IF the team is good by the 2017-18 NBA season, possibly the novelty of a winning pro basketball team will attract older kids back to the sport.

Or perhaps we need to start teaching kids about all the business aspects of sports before we tell them to work on their free throw shooting or teach them how to figure out players’ rebounds-per-game averages. Maybe it’s time to sit our young people down and say that, while winning is stressed, and sometimes, over-stressed, at the lower levels, there are certain situations when it’s OK if we don’t go all-out and try our best to succeed.

Perhaps we should be having more adult-type conversations on how the modern sports world is evolving, and cut back on teaching sports fundamentals, the histories of our favorite teams and simply, having fun with games.

Maybe it is the end of the innocence.

 

SportsTalk Shop: MLB Trade Deadline: Phillies Pitchers

July 9, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

In my last blog entry, we took a look at the “tradeable” Phillies position players.  This week, we take a unique look at what Phillies pitchers could be dealt, and what the team could get in return.

“Take My Pitchers, Please”
Jonathan Papelbon
Antonio Bastardo
Mike Adams
Jeff Manship

Neither Papelbon nor Bastardo have been model teammates while in Philadelphia.

After trying to deal Papelbon last year and finding no suitable takers, the Phillies closer has increased his trading value with his lights-out performance this season.  There are several teams that would love to upgrade their back-of-the bullpen and a few of them (think American League teams) have some quality young pieces that the Phils could seek in return.  With several young Phillies’ arms now having success in the Majors, albeit some on a very small sample size, Papelbon is now expendable and will probably be one of 3-5 stoppers dealt by the deadline.  Bastardo has pitched well now that Ryne Sandberg has taken him out of big-game situations and is using him in more long-relief, pitching-when-trailing-roles, which hopefully potential trade partners have not noticed.  Numbers-wise, he’s been stellar and would make a nice pickup for a team needing a second-lefty out of their pen.  Unfortunately, I don’t think he brings much in return (a number of teams in the Phillies division have expressed interest, but will not give you a big chip that will come back to haunt them in return).  Given his inconsistency and drug-suspension, Bastardo has probably worn out his welcome in Philly anyway and shipping him this month would enable the Phillies to take a flier at a former prospect needing a change of scenery.

As far as Adams and Manship, they both were pitching well before going down with injuries and won’t be back until August at the earliest.  Only Adams has a chance of making a miraculously fast recovery, pitch well enough to show teams he’s healthy, and still do it all in time to make himself attractive to a contending team … all before the waiver deadline in August.  Even then, you probably won’t get much in return.  In the end, both of these pitchers will probably not return anyway once this season concludes.

“Pitchers On The Bubble”
A. J. Burnett
Kyle Kendrick
Roberto Hernandez

All of these pitchers could be dealt.  At the same time, all of these pitchers could be pieces for next year’s Phillies rotation.  Remember, the team has said multiple times this spring and summer that the intent is to compete again in 2015 and you need to keep some reliable pieces in your rotation for next season.  Burnett will clearly be the most attractive of these three names to potential trade partners, given his success and his contract.  He would also be the most beneficial to the Phillies going forward to help lead the rotation, especially if Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels is dealt.   Kendrick will most probably command another price increase this offseason.  The Phillies would love to turn the page on this inconsistent pitcher and have a younger arm with more potential (once they acquire one) to take his spot in the rotation for ’15.  But since “KK” will be a free agent this off-season and everyone knows the Phillies want to unload him, they won’t get very much in return.  Hernandez is in the same boat with less up-side.  He’s been inconsistent this season and will not bring much in a trade, except for some salary relief.

“Only for a King’s Ransom”
Cole Hamels
Cliff Lee

I know people have been anxious for the Phillies to trade Cliff Lee and, to a lesser extent, Cole Hamels for some time in order to capture several “big name” up-and-coming prospects.  To them I say this:  Be careful what you wish for!

Remember, this is the front office who traded Lee for two prospects no longer in the organization (and a third likely to be dealt or released by next year).  Also, remember the team wants to compete in the near future and Lee, albeit with some injury baggage this year, has been a durable ace in many big games.  Lee is also younger than Burnett and more likely to help the Phillies when they return to contention.  Plus, Lee will not bring back as much as he would have if not for his elbow problems.  Unless the Phillies get blown away for either pitcher, I think it’s more likely that Lee is dealt this offseason—if at all—and Hamels stays put for the long-term.  Top tier pitchers are a rare commodity and the Phillies had to sell their souls (aka, their farm system) to acquire top aces in Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswald.  It’s not easy to pick up a big name, and the organization must be absolutely sure of the players they would get in return if they entertain serious talks about these two players.

“You Can’t Touch This”
Ken Giles
Jake Diekman
Justin DeFratus
Ethan Martin
Mario Hollands

Earlier this year on “RCN SportsTalk” and here on this blog, I predicted that the Phillies young bullpen arms would surprise people and be one of the highlights of this year’s team.  While that prophecy did not look too good after the first month of the season, the Phillies have built a solid stable of young relievers that the team can build around for many seasons.  These players are much more valuable than anything you could see by just looking at their statistics.  Young, controllable and inexpensive talent is the most glaring need in the Phillies organization.  In fact, most of the names above won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2016 at the earliest, so it is imperative that the team does not move more than any one of these young pitchers.  The only way I would part with one of the relievers in this category would be if it’s a deal-breaker that includes a package to unload some of the “untradeable” and expensive position players AND would be part of getting you quality pieces (ie., offensive upgrades) in return.

Which pitchers would you like to see the Phillies trade and which should stay?  What areas of need must the Phillies look to fix in the month’s going forward? Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com or post a comment below and join us this Thursday as we talk about baseball of all sorts with former baseball coaches and managers on ‘RCN SportsTalk.’

The SportsTalk Shop: Trade Deadline Countdown: Position Players

July 1, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

We’re under a month away from the Major League Baseball trading deadline.  The Phillies, after a brief five game win streak, have fallen once again into the NL East basement.  With the lack of life shown in the team’s most recent series again the Braves, the speculation over what possible moves the Phillies could/should/might make are reaching a fevered pitch (forgive the pun).  Today, I break down the latest news and insights and throw in my own one-and-a-half cents’ worth on the “tradeability” of the Phillies position players (pitchers will follow in my next blog entry).  Players are rated on a scale of 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely) in three categories: how easily they could be traded, chances they will be dealt and, in my humble opinion, SHOULD they be shipped away.

CHASE UTLEY
After a torrid start, Utley has rather quickly slumped badly over the last several weeks (his batting average over the last month is lower than Ben Revere’s).  He’s also made several glaring physical and mental errors in the field that have hurt the team.  Is there something wrong with him?  Utley–being Utley–is remaining tight-lipped.  Should this be the time to unload the team’s most popular player and gain arguably the biggest return of any position player?
TRADEABILITY:  8 (even at his age, his ability, track record and team-friendly contract make him an ideal pickup for several bigger market teams).
WILL THEY: 2 (the Phillies organization has resisted trading away its core and highly marketable players, and Utley’s departure would be met with the most resistance from the fan base).
SHOULD THEY: 1 (the Phillies insist they will not rebuild, and Utley is an ideal player who can lead newer players–whoever they are–over the next two to three seasons).

JIMMY ROLLINS
Now that he has captured the Phillies all-time hit record, there have been several stories written about whether or not Rollins would waive his no-trade clause–opinions seemed tied directly to whether the team is winning or losing.
TRADEABILITY: 5 (he’s nearly achieved his easy goals, which would activate another guaranteed contract, which makes him harder to deal, along with his advanced age and declining numbers in recent years–although his batting average is up from where it was a year ago).
WILL THEY: 5 (the team has to move someone, and there will be several teams in larger markets who could use a proven infielder who has a history of big hits and leading his team to a championship, which adds to his trade value).
SHOULD THEY: 2  (the Phillies “shortstop of the future” –J.P. Crawford–is at least two years away and currently playing Class-A ball in Clearwater.  Plus, the team would miss Rollins’ underrated defensive ability, which has continued to be stellar throughout his career, regardless of any offensive slumps).

CARLOS RUIZ
As has happened several times this year, when a player is about to be a factor in the 2014 season, he gets hurt (see Darin Ruf, Jeff Manship, Mike Adams, Reid Brignac, et al).
TRADEABILITY: 3 (his concussion makes him a liability, and there are very few teams in need of catching help that could afford his player-friendly contract).
WILL THEY: 4 (less likely than Rollins to be dealt, although if a playoff-chasing team loses a starting catcher during the season’s second half…).
SHOULD THEY: 6 (his defense and ability to handle pitchers have made him a valuable part of this team even when he’s not hitting, but he’s getting older at a difficult position and will become even more injury prone, and unloading his contract would help free up money for the “retooling” efforts).

DARIN RUF
Seems to constantly be in someone’s doghouse in the organization (and no one knows why for certain), and Ruf’s pair of injuries have not helped his cause to stay on the big league roster this season, although, when healthy, he could be the team’s left fielder if Dom Brown continues to struggle.
TRADEABILITY: 9 (he’s shown flashes of power and, in the right situation, could boost a team’s offense for a club needing a designated hitter, a solid first basemen or average left fielder on defense).
WILL THEY: 7 (the organization has stated often they don’t seem him as an everyday player, and given Ryan Howard’s situation–see below–there may not be a full-time place for him under the team’s current front office).
SHOULD THEY: 4  (I can’t help thinking a power-hitting right-handed hitter who could spell Howard and at least platoon in left would help an offensively-starved team, but he could be packaged to bring back some value, and another injury or poor showing the rest of this year could drastically reduce his trade value).

MARLON BYRD
Maybe the brightest highlight of this team’s position players…he now leads the team in home runs.
TRADEABILITY: 8 (could help multiple teams as a outfielder, DH or a right-hand pinch-hitter/spot starter; a smaller market team would have to be in dire need to soak up his contract or get the Phillies to eat some dollars).
WILL THEY: 7 (it wouldn’t be the first time the Phillies left themselves offensively-barren in the outfield).
SHOULD THEY: 5 (he’s the team’s only proven right-handed power bat and the organization insists they want to remain competitive; plus, when the Mets traded him they didn’t exactly obtain a young Jeff Bagwell-type in return, and he was a year younger and under a more team-friendly contract, so I don’t think he can bring back much to help the team’s future).

RYAN HOWARD, DOM BROWN, BEN REVERE, JOHN MAYBERRY
These players, along with most of the reserves on the roster, are either untradeable because of their contract (Howard), or would get you so little in return, there would be very little point in dealing them, unless you get lucky with a “change of scenery” type of player.  It’s doubtful any high-level minor league player–save Mikael Franco–would get you too much in return individually and only a skilled trader could bundle several of these players to get you anything significant in return.  Only a team desperate for a “some power but little average” bat like Howard could get you some value in return, but even then you’d have to suck up a lion’s share of Howard’s remaining money-owed on his weighty contract.

Which players do you think will stay with the team after the trading deadline?  Which players should the team look to acquire in return?  Send us your comments and keep an eye out in the coming days for my next blog entry taking a look at the latest news on the possible Phillies pitchers who could be on the move.  And don’t forget to join us on “RCN SportsTalk,” Thursdays live from 6-7 pm to talk baseball with us!

The SportsTalk Shop: All-Star Football Preview

June 25, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

This Thursday marks the official end to the 2013-14 scholastic sports calendar year—the McDonald’s All-Star High School Football Game–played each year at Nazareth’s Andrew Leh Stadium. It is a special time as we honor our local gridiron stars one final time (for those not playing at the collegiate level) and the event raises money for a great cause.

While football is extremely competitive in the Eastern Pennsylvania region, this game is special because it showcases talented athletes one more time and, in many cases, makes long-time rivals, teammates. The one reoccurring comment that I hear year after year about this game is the memories that are created by playing in this contest. By combining one team’s great players with another’s great players, they have an opportunity to truly admire each other’s talents, can talk about how they gained their skills and share stories from their high school careers. There are many friendships forged during the weeks leading up to this game, and many student-athletes enjoy the on-field banter that takes place with new teammates. Friendships also develop with the players they are playing against for this game—sometimes facing athletes they have never had a chance to see up-close-and-personal during their careers.

For many athletes, it can be a sacrifice…giving up your first few weeks of summer vacation or summer college prep classes, practicing in pads and equipment in 90-degree heat, getting yelled at by coaches (although not nearly as loud as in the fall) when you run the wrong play in practice, et al. But to a man, I’ve never heard any athlete say that he did not enjoy participating in this event.

Here are a few thoughts from the participating coaches and players on how they’ll approach this year’s contest, and then I have a few areas to concentrate on for the game itself.

As far as the actual game, keep an eye on the quarterbacks in this year’s contest. I remember two years ago when a group of talented QBs like Nosovitch, Harding and the like all graduated, there was one sports columnist who said that the passing ability would dip a bit. But I remember seeing young players, then sophomores, with amazing potential and a number of those athletes developed into outstanding quarterbacks in their own right. The All-Star game’s rules usually lend themselves to helping a passing attack, but I think some of these signal-callers have something to prove and will want to air it out one more time on a local stage.

Also, keep an eye on the center of both team’s defenses. While sometimes undermentioned by us in the media, there were some outstanding defensive tackles, middle linebackers and safeties this past football season—and not just at the big schools. Palisades, Southern Lehigh and Catty, to name a few, had some of their top defensive players—EVER—in the school’s history. While the smaller schools sometimes get outshined in terms of publicity, this Thursday will be an excellent time to showcase all the tremendous defensive players in the Eastern Pennsylvania region.

What other players and positions will you be watching for Thursday’s game? Who do you think will win? Send us your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in Thursday’s live at 6pm as we talk local sports issues with you!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The New “EPC”

June 19, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I would like to put in my one-and-a-half cents on the biggest high school sports story this month in the Lehigh Valley area. The merger between the “Lehigh Valley Conference” and the “Mountain Valley” conference to form the new “Eastern Pennsylvania Conference” or “EPC 18” for short, is a major accomplishment. I present in today’s blog a few opinions of my own, along with reactions from the new league’s administrators and local sports personalities.

Here are a few of the highlights of the EPC 18:
• 3 divisions for “most” sports (one division with teams from the old MVC, a 2nd division with Allen, Dieruff, Becahi, Freedom, Liberty and Easton and a 3rd division with the remaining “LVC” teams)
• 8 teams qualifying for “most” sports’ playoffs (3 division winners & next 5 teams w/best div. records). Seeding for these playoffs will be based solely on best division records (ie, a division winner is not guaranteed one of the top three “seeds”)
• Football is split into 2 divisions (one is the old MVC schools, plus Allen, Dieruff, Becahi) with two “cross-over” games with the other division
• Football will have 2 winners (one from each division); there will be no “conference champion”
• Wrestling with have a “three-tier” system and teams’ status will be recalculated each year based on the previous year’s success
• Sports with fewer participating schools will have adjusted divisions, playoff schedules and formats

First a few of the positives.
There is clearly no perfect way to align all the schools and their sports teams together, but the league organizers have been successful in many ways trying to balance the league as much as possible. I am encouraged by some of the non-athletic programs, among them one spearheaded by Nazareth’s Rusty Amato, to be included in the new league. Since the MVC was facing an uncertain future with just six teams potentially entering the 2014 school year, this merger definitely helps those schools maintain a solid sports schedule going forward. And, contrary to some people’s views in the Lehigh Valley area, there are a number of high quality sports programs from the Poconos and it will not be a ‘cake walk’ to play against all the teams from the former-MVC. I think the Pocono schools that have struggled against the Lehigh Valley teams in the past will benefit and continue to improve by being a member of this conference.

My biggest concern is that the attendance at high school sporting events–which appears to be declining in some districts in recent years–may suffer. There’s no question a Whitehall/Becahi football game or a Nazareth/Easton baseball contest (which will not happen in 2015) would draw more interest than, say Becahi’s football team playing East Stroudsburg-North. For “big games” or come playoff time, it may be harder for parents and fans to travel from one extreme area—geographically speaking—to attend the event at the opposite end of the conference’s territory. Also, and this pertains mostly to football, you lose the option of playing a school from outside the district during the regular season. Coaches would use this opportunity to travel to a different venue or give players a chance to see a different style of play—something that would help a program that has state playoff aspirations.

Plus, I don’t see how prior concerns of an “uneven playing field”–justified or not–will be solved solely based on the new league concept. However, with the dawn of the new era and a regenerated feeling of good-will in the sports community, one can hope past issues will not resurface.

League scheduler and long time sports administrator Mike Schneider told me that he feels the griping over the travel concerns is overrated and I trust he’ll be correct. After all, it is true that many Lehigh Valley schools already play teams from the Poconos as part of their non-conference schedule. I do feel there could be some issues because of the weather. While games scheduled in the southern, slightly warmer regions have a better chance to get played, the games to be played up north are more likely to be postponed, which may force a tougher playing schedule for some teams. Also, many Mountain Valley schools are going until June 25th or later for their school year, which could cause scheduling nightmares for athletic directors. However, the officials in our area have done tremendous work coordinating events around postponements (this past year is an excellent example) and I’m confident they’ll overcome any logistical issues that may arise due to postponements.

Here are some additional thoughts and reactions about the EPC 18 from local personalities (additional interviews and details are available by viewing our June 5th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” through Video-on-Demand):

There have been a long line of bad feelings expressed between certain sports programs and school districts…wounds I am hopeful that will heal in time. I am cautious, but very optimistic about the new EPC. I am excited for the opportunity to become more familiar with all the players, coaches and administrators from our neighboring schools to the north and am anxious for the fall 2014 sports season to get underway. I also wish all involved a very pleasant and restful summer season. I think the region’s athletic directors certainly deserve one!

What are your thoughts on the “new” EPC? What do you feel are the positives and negatives of the merger? Post a comment here or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll be sure to talk about the new league throughout the 2014-15 school year.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Ways to Fix the Phillies

June 9, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Last week I gave my trimester grades on a season-gone-wrong for the Phillies through the first two months of the season. Today we take a look at how the team should proceed from here:

1) Trade AT LEAST one of the core players
I know this will be extremely painful to the Phillies front office to part ways with one of their most marketable players, but it has to happen. The Phillies have to change the mentality and the look of this franchise and show everyone – the fans, the community and the players themselves – that no one is untouchable. The debate over trading Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Marlon Byrd and others is gaining the momentum of a runaway freight train. The Phillies should be open to seeing which of these players would bring you the greatest return value for next year and pull the trigger on a deal. You need to improve this team in multiple ways, and with very few minor league options on the horizon, the only way to start accomplishing this is by dealing a major piece NOW.

2) Acquire a “dirt-baller”
Think Larry Bowa, Pete Rose or more recently, a Randy Ready or an Aaron Rowand. A high-energy guy, perhaps not the greatest talent, but someone who understands the game and will play it the right way. I’m not a big fan of the “WAR” statistic (wins-above-replacement), but those numbers do have some merit. You need to bring people that will help you find ways to win ball games and the Phillies need to find players who at least have a positive number in that category (eg., Ben Revere has a -0.4 WAR as of last week, Cesar Hernandez a -0.6, Tony Gwynn Jr. is a -0.8, Dom Brown is a -1). Each season the St. Louis Cardinals have rosters littered with players who know how to play the game and execute the fundamentals. I’m hard pressed to find very many younger players on the Phillies’ current 25-man roster who have shown the ability to do the same, and someone must be brought in to start doing that.

3) Stop evaluating with rose-collared glasses
John Mayberry, Jr. last year had a WAR of -1.2 and the organization REWARDED him with a near $ 1.1 million raise. He’s had three different seasons to prove himself as a starting outfielder, a platoon outfielder, than a fourth outfielder, a capable pinch-hitter…and has not delivered in any of these roles on a consistent basis (despite a dismal first eight weeks, Mayberry fans would argue he’s deserved more money based on the red-hot June he’s having offensively). The Phillies say Darin Ruf is not an everyday player…fine, then show me a young player who is. Sticking with Revere, Brown and the like when you no longer have reasons to believe in these players is fool’s gold that the team has continued to purchase for three years now.

4) Stop tolerating mental mistakes
Jimmy Rollins made a innocent comment about preseason games being meaningless and he was benched three days IN SPRING TRAINING. If Mayberry can’t shag a fly ball against the fence, then don’t put him out there anymore until he can. If Revere doesn’t remember to tag up on a fly ball with less than two outs or isn’t taking the appropriate lead off a base, then bench ‘em, outright ‘em or option them to Triple-A. Granted, there’s not many major league available players waiting in the wings right now, but giving these guys repeated chances and watching them fail multiple times with mental lapses is not working. I’d rather see Triple-A players Steve Susdorf or Clete Thomas try to fight their way to remain on the big league roster than to see listless players (Brown) not running hard to first base.

There’s another issue to address here: Ruben Amaro, Jr. The current Phillies general manager is pretty much in a no-win scenario, of which he is responsible for creating. If he conducts a massive fire-sale over the next two months, he’s admitting that his five-year plan of sustaining what was a World Series contender has failed miserably, thereby inviting a changing of the guard to take place. If he does nothing, or next to nothing, during the next few weeks, then he could be fired for not being proactive in correcting this out-of-control team. There’s no easy road here and accomplishing the above-listed tasks will not be easily achieved mid-season, but actions must start coming…and soon.

I do believe Amaro’s hands were tied somewhat in trying to rebuild this team a few years ago. Remember that in 2011 Ruben stated that the team needed to take a different direction: produce more runs, work counts, play more fundamentally sound baseball and similar comments. The moves that have transpired since that time are mostly contrary to that belief. Like him or not (and I certainly have not agreed with very many of his decisions over the last three years), Amaro is still an intelligent man with a solid baseball background. I don’t believe he completely gutted this team without outside influence, whether it be pressure to keep popular players in town, bad advice on player evaluations, poor scouting reports, or a combination of all three.

Full disclosure: I backed Amaro when he was making the trades for Lee, Doc Halladay, Hunter Pence, et al, while ravishing what top prospects were a part of the system. I don’t believe I was the only one in the Delaware Valley that enthusiastically bought in to the ‘win now’ mantra and threw caution to the wind when making those deals. I remember the euphoria that ensued when the cash vault was opened and we woke up hearing of Lee’s triumphant return to the Phillies. We all salivated over the “Four Aces” rotation during the thrill ride that garnished 102 regular season wins, and no one back then was worried about Jonathon Singleton, Kyle Drabek and the other prospects exiled to acquire those major chips. I for one was prepared to sacrifice several years of bad baseball for one more World Series championship….a second title that never materialized.

What in-season moves to you think the Phillies should (or will) make this summer? Do you think Amaro will be retained or even make it through the 2014 season? Post a comment below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this year’s Phillies team.

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