Archive for June, 2014

hartnellWhen Ron Hextall was named General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, it signaled a seismic shift in the franchise’s future mindset. Gone are the days of rampant overspending for aging veterans. Instead, Hextall has brought with him the mentality that built the Los Angeles Kings into a mini-dynasty. That is, a philosophy of building through the draft and locking up young talent so they can grow into stars with the team.

On Monday afternoon, that shift in philosophy saw its first victim. Scott Hartnell, a mainstay on the Main Line for seven seasons, was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for former Flyer RJ Umberger and a 4th round draft choice. A charismatic fan-favorite, Hartnell had long been known for his charitable efforts, Sideshow Bob’esque hair style, and a painstaking reputation for bad penalties at the worst of times.

Through it all, the veteran winger had his ups-and-downs. His brutal 2009-10 campaign ushered in a career season two years later, when Hartnell combined with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr to lead the upstart Flyers into the second round of the playoffs. That season, the 32-year old scored a career high 37 goals, thanks in large part to the proficient playmaking skills of his valuable linemates. Still, Hartnell was always one to cater to the Philadelphia faithful. His hilarious, offbeat persona gave fans something to root for, even when the Flyers were struggling to contend in 2013.

But, friendly antics and fan favoritism can only take you so far, as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards learned three years ago. Hartnell’s contract, levied by former GM Paul Holmgren in 2012, will see him earn $4.75 million per season for the next five years. At 32, that doesn’t make him the least bit overpaid. At 37, it certainly could. It was a problem that Hextall had to deal with, especially with the likes of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek all set to earn raises over the next couple of years.

Hartnell’s less than clutch performances the last few postseasons didn’t help his cause. The man who was so integral to the team’s 2010 Eastern Conference championship had just one goal in his last 29 playoff games. That’s fewer than Dan Carcillo alone had in the Rangers’ opening round playoff victory over Philadelphia in April. With Giroux’s prime years on-the-horizon, Hextall knew that the Flyers had to find a more dynamic winger to put opposite Voracek on the team’s top scoring line. Hartnell’s defensive liabilities, coupled with his penchant for taking penalties, prohibited him from being adequately utilized in a bottom-six role. When Columbus came calling for the red-haired rocket’s services, Hextall had no choice but to listen.

In exchange, the Flyers returned one of their best young prospects from a decade ago in Umberger. The veteran winger was traded in 2008 to the Blue Jackets for a 1st round pick (Luca Sbisa). At that point, Umberger was still a center. He was also coming off of a spectacular postseason run in which the now 32-year old scored 10 goals in 17 games. With Richards, Carter, and Danny Briere already on the roster (and Giroux swiftly moving up the pipeline), Holmgren cut bait on Umberger. The Pittsburgh, PA native played six solid if unspectacular seasons in Ohio, becoming an alternate captain and scoring over 20-goals four times.

umbergerThe last two seasons have been difficult for Umberger, as the youth movement in Columbus took playing time away from the veteran. Still, despite playing on the third line for much of the season, Umberger managed to score 18-goals in 2013-14, just two less than Hartnell managed on the Flyers’ top scoring and powerplay units. It’s the veterans’ moxie, speed, and leadership that endeared him to Hextall, who sacrificed Hartnell to land a potential penalty killer and third line fixture over the next three seasons.

No, the Flyers didn’t save much immediate money on the deal, as Umberger’s $4.25 million contract is merely $500k less than Hartnell’s was per season. They do, however, get a better fit for their current roster, as well as future cap savings once Umberger’s dollars come off the books in 2017.

By dealing a fan favorite for a former Philadelphia phenom, Hextall was able to shift the future dichotomy of a franchise that is approaching 40-years without a drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup. The re-signing of Schenn followed on Monday. What the future holds in store, nobody knows. With the draft just two days away, there’s little doubt that the team’s new GM knows exactly what he’s doing as he tries to turn this crop of almost-weres into potential championship heroes.

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New York Yankees v Cleveland IndiansSix years ago, Grady Sizemore was considered one of the best players in baseball. Hailed as a five-tool talent, the former Cleveland Indians’ star could do everything his manager asked of him on the diamond. But, a cavalcade of injuries have taken their toll. A player once believed to be the league’s next great superstar is now nothing more than another career tarnished by time.

Today, the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a minor league contract with the 31-year old outfielder, who was released by the Boston Red Sox earlier this month. With Boston, Sizemore hit a paltry .216, with an even uglier .612 OPS. The power was gone, as a player who once rocked Cleveland with 33 bombs in 2008 managed just 2 while wearing Red Sox colors. Even worse, his patience, once considered to be among the most refined in the game, has disappeared. Sizemore struck out 41 times in 185 at bats with Boston (with just 19 walks). Those numbers should fit in well with the Phillies’ organization, never considered to be dynamos at reaching base via the walk.

davis_st2275_sptsSizemore will receive the league minimum if he makes the Phillies roster. To do so, he’ll need to show improvement with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, where the veteran will report. If Sizemore doesn’t return his performance to the days of old, the outfielder has an ability to opt out of the contract at the All-Star break.

While Sizemore’s numbers in Boston weren’t very impressive, he did stay healthy. It’s also not as though he’ll have to leap frog the a crop of world-beaters in order to crack the Philadelphia lineup. None of the Phillies’ starting outfielders has an OPS above .778, and 2013 All-Star Domonic Brown has worse numbers in Philly than Sizemore did in Boston. It’s not out of the realm of reality to imagine Sizemore finding playing time by July in red pinstripes.

For the Phillies, the deal makes sense. They’re not on the hook for any real financial obligation (Boston is paying Sizemore $1.25 million for the rest of the season), and they’re already one of the oldest teams in the sport. So, why not add another AARP card to the mantle? If Sizemore cracks the lineup, he’ll at least provide a little bit of depth at a position of need. Still, considering his age, injury history, and lack of recent production; there’s very little reason to get excited about Sizemore.

citizens 2Not too long ago, Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park was baseball’s mecca. Fans from near and far traveled hundreds of miles not only to see the Phillies play. But, to experience the ambiance of 45,000+ screaming Philadelphians. Now, thanks to years of failed efforts from Ruben Amaro, “the Bank” is a barren wasteland. Gone is the sea of red and missing are the clever fan groups. A once passionate fan base has been left for dead. As the Phillies falter, so too does attendance, and that, my friends, could impact the ball club in many ways in the future.

The team’s impressive sellout streak, which lasted 257 games, is no more. That record ended in 2012. The Phillies currently rank 13th in attendance in Major League Baseball at 30,382 per game. That ranks them behind such powerhouse markets as Denver and Milwaukee. That’s paid attendance, after all, as the cavernous confines of the home town stadium is now painted blue with empty seats on a night-by-night basis. The argument could be made that this is a league wide epidemic, as none of the league’s 30 franchises are averaging a sellout in 2014 (the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the way, selling 98.3% of tickets on average). But, one thing is clear, the allure of Phillies baseball is no more, and the blame goes solely on the shoulders of the team’s general manager.

$25 million a year for Ryan Howard. $26 million per season for Cliff Lee. These are contracts signed by Philadelphia when they were still printing money every evening. Now, as ticket sales look more and more like a Wednesday matinee of Disney on Ice, one has to wonder how the team’s future moves will be influenced by the failure to sell tickets. When attendance falters, so too do concession and merchandise sales. Not too many people are lining up in Ashburn Alley to spend $9.75 on a cheesesteak. Nor are any 8-year old boys asking their fathers to spend $150 on a Domonic Brown jersey. Instead, fans are more content to stay home and watch Ready, Set, Cook reruns than spend their hard earned money on a team that hasn’t earned the right to be watched in years.

citizensWill the team’s lack of financial flexibility, combined with a ridiculous $175 million payroll, cripple their hopes of future contention? One has to believe that the once frugal ownership group, who only started paying players realistic salaries when the fans started paying attention, will revert back to their old ways. Unfortunately for them, the contracts that Amaro levied to the current crop of underachievers are stuck on the books. But, as another wasted season hits the warm summer months, the failures of today’s roster will greatly impact the makeup of future lineups. With Howard, Lee, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon, and Cole Hamels all locked up long term, the team will likely find it difficult to stretch payroll any larger without a solid commitment from the fanbase. A classic catch-22, the team needs attendance figures to improve the team; but, the fans need an improved team to attend the games. The problem is currently without an answer, as no one knows what the future holds in store for Amaro and Co.

One thing is certain, Citizen’s Bank Park is no longer Philadelphia’s hottest craze. With rising ticket and concession prices and a falling win total, the Phillies are going the way of many past franchises whose management left their fan base for dead. Will anything change in the short term? Not if Amaro is still the team’s GM come 2015. No, things won’t change in Philadelphia unless ownership finally takes a stand. It took them five years to listen to the faithful and fire Ed Wade. Three seasons later, the city was celebrating their first world championship in 25-years. The fans have made their point by not showing up. Let’s see if ownership makes theirs by telling Amaro to act like those same fanatics, and stay home on game day.

nbadraft lottoOn June 26th, the NBA Draft will commence. For many teams, it’s an opportunity to build depth and find the next key bench contributor in their quest to take the championship away from LeBron James and the Miami Heat. For the teams in the lottery, however, the draft is a breeding ground for hope. After a season of despair, these fruitless franchises will put their faith in one of a collection of 20-year old prodigies with aspirations of greatness. History suggests that most will fail, as the likelihood of an NBA Draft bust grows the deeper one picks in round one.

Still, the 2014 draft promises to be one of the best in recent memory, and Skood Sports celebrates the Philadelphia 76ers’ tankapalooza of 2013-14 by doing our first NBA mock draft since 2012. Without further ado, let’s begin the 2014 NBA Mock Draft Lottery.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – C Joel Embiid, Kansas

After spending nearly the entire year as the consensus #1 overall pick, Kansas F Andrew Wiggins appears likely to fall out of the top spot on draft day. Instead, his collegiate teammate could land in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, who stocked up on veteran help at the trade deadline in hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2010, instead find themselves with the first overall pick. This is, of course, thanks to the quirky mechanization of the draft lottery process.

This is Cleveland’s fourth #1 overall pick since 2003 (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett). Despite the presence of Wiggins and fellow swingman Jabari Parker, Dan Gilbert’s club is likely to take big man Joel Embiid. A combination of the 7-0, 250 lb. behemoth along with the speedy and dynamic Irving will be too much for the Cavaliers to ignore. While Embiid might not be the surest thing in this draft, his upside and size is enough to make franchises drool. The 20-year old former soccer star has only played basketball for three years, and projects as a Hakeem Olajuwon type talent.

2. Milwaukee Bucks – SF Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

I find it hard to believe that Milwaukee, a team without a marketable talent, will pass on Andrew Wiggins. Some believe that Philadelphia will orchestrate a trade to get the man they want. But, if no deal comes, the Bucks would be foolish not to act. Coming into the 2013-14 college basketball season, many predicted Wiggins to be the best prospect since LeBron. An inconsistent freshman season at Kansas has tempered expectations a bit. But, there’s no denying Wiggins’ athletic ability and potential. Will Wiggins come into the league and dominate like some #1 picks do? Probably not. But, when we look back at this draft in ten years, he’ll be the one that Cleveland will most regret not pulling the trigger on.

3. Philadelphia 76ers – SF Jabari Parker, Duke

While he may not have the immense upside of Wiggins or the towering girth of Embiid, Jabari Parker is an excellent consolation prize if the 76ers can’t land the guy that they covet. The most pure scorer in the draft, Parker seems a guarantee to one day average over 23 points-per-game. Defense will forever be his weakness, as the 19-year old doesn’t project the same amount of intensity on that side of the ball. But, his natural scoring ability, tremendous shot for a 6-9, 240 lb. forward, and freakish athleticism will make him a force to be reckoned with. The fact that he’s the most NBA ready of all the top prospects in this draft will help Philadelphia, who would field a very young lineup of Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, the #10 pick, and Thaddeus Young next season.

4. Orlando Magic – PG/SG Dante Exum, Australia

The least exposed player in the top-five is easily Dante Exum, who played in front of sparse crowds in Australia during his high school days. The 18-year old has the most offensive potential of any guard in this draft, something Orlando could certainly use after grabbing the defensively stout Victor Oladipo in last year’s draft. Exum’s biggest strengths are his size (6-6) and speed. The kid doesn’t have a great shot, and he’s very raw. For an Orlando team that’s in no rush to contend, Exum is a solid pick for the future.

5. Utah Jazz – PF Noah Vonleh, Indiana

A late riser up the draft boards, Vonleh could go as high as #4. Solid in every aspect of the game but spectacular in none, the 6-9, 245 lb. big is considered to have a very high ceiling despite an average career as a Hoosier. His long arms and solid size will make him an adequate defender even at a young age, something Utah has lacked down low. For a big guy, Vonleh is deceptively quick, and his persona as a “gym rat” will only serve to polish a game that already has loads of potential.

6. Boston Celtics – PF Julius Randle, Kentucky

Assuming that they don’t trade for T-Wolves PF Kevin Love, the Boston Celtics will take the best player available at #6. At this point, that BPA is easily Julius Randle. After a solid freshman campaign at Kentucky, Randle showed that he is among the best-of-the-best in this deep draft. The 6-9 forward’s biggest strength is his strength down low and ability to overpower collegiate bigs. Now, whether or not that trait transitions to the NBA is a question. But, many consider Randle to be one of the most NBA ready players because his style of play translates well. For Boston, NBA ready is the name of the game, as the Celtics and their faithful appear unwilling to sit through another miserable campaign like the one that just ended.

7. Los Angeles Lakers – PG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

I don’t think that this is the scenario that Los Angeles envisioned when they sat in the lottery room last month. Falling to pick 7, then missing out on the top power forward prospects, leaves the Lakers to take Marcus Smart. This isn’t to say that Smart can’t be a solid player at the next level, and the 20-year old’s leadership qualities will be huge as the Lakers look to rebuild their aging core. But, Smart doesn’t offer the same upside as some of those who preceded him in this mock. He may end up fitting in well in the City of Angels, though, as Smart’s dynamic playmaking ability and passion for determining the outcome of games makes him a solid piece for the future as the Lakers look to rebuild from the rubble.

8. Sacramento Kings – PF Aaron Gordon, Arizona

This athletic, rebounding machine won’t turn 19 until September. For a Kings team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Gordon was 10, finding solutions to their woes is integral. Other than DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento doesn’t have any bigs who they view as a long term solution. With other options like Doug McDermott or Dario Saric available at this pick, the Kings elect instead to grab the best defender and rebounder of the bunch. Gordon is raw. But, his youth and upside make him a solid pick at #8.

9. Charlotte Hornets – SG Nik Stauskas, Michigan

The Charlotte Hornets (boy, does it feel good to say that) took Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller in recent years, so selecting another front-court player seems unreasonable. Enter Stauskas, who remains as the best available scoring option left. The former Wolverine is a pure shooter with NBA range (44% from beyond the arc). His quick release and competitive nature will make him a solid fit in Charlotte, where scoring has always been a challenge.

10. Philadelphia 76ers – PF Doug McDermott, Creighton

This pick would make more sense if Philadelphia were able to land Wiggins, as Parker’s selection already invigorates the 76ers’ pathetic offensive attack. But, snagging Dougie McBuckets at pick 10 would be difficult to deny. The most advanced prospect in the lottery (and the only senior taken in the top-10), McDermott offers an unparallelled offensive game, with a sweet jump shot and the ability to step in and play right away as an offensive role player. On the other hand, the former Blue Jay is not going to be an asset defensively, and he seems like a better fit for a team that is closer to contending than Philadelphia. Still, the 76ers could use all the scoring they can get, and slotting McDermott into a role behind Parker/Thaddeus Young would give Philly a potent punch of depth.

11. Denver Nuggets – SG Gary Harris, Michigan State

Aaron Brooks, Randy Foye, Evan Fournier, and Nate Robinson. That’s the list of guards currently on the Denver Nuggets’ roster. Something tells me that Denver is going to make improving that position a large priority this offseason. Harris, while undersized (6-4), is well rounded in every facet of his game. An unselfish player, the former Spartans’ star is young enough to develop his game at the next level while still being competent enough that he could play significant minutes right away. For a Nuggets team that is one year removed from contention, finding players that can contribute immediately is crucial.

12. Orlando Magic – SF Dario Saric, Croatia

After grabbing diminutive guard Dante Exum earlier, the Orlando Magic boost their size and interior game by landing Dario Saric, a native of Croatia. This SF/PF hybrid presents a matchup challenge for opposing coaches. He’s too quick to be guarded by power forwards and too large to be denied by swingmen. An aggressive rebounder, Saric would fit in quite well on an Orlando team that is willing to wait for success to return to Disney World.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves – SF Rodney Hood, Duke

Another Blue Devil is off the board, as sweet shooting swingman Rodney Hood lands in Minnesota. The T-Wolves aren’t likely to find Kevin Love’s replacement at 13. But, the 6-8 Hood is a valuable asset to poach from the board at this point. His best strength is his scoring ability, as Hood can shoot the lights out of the gym. While the T-Wolves may lose Love, they still have one of the more dynamic playmaking PG in Ricky Rubio. Grabbing him a scoring option from the wing would alleviate some of the pain of losing Love’s 20 points-per-game.

14. Phoenix Suns – SF Kyle Anderson, UCLA

While Anderson’s teammate, Zach LaVine, is probably the best player available; the PG doesn’t really fit a need for Phoenix, who boasts impressive depth in the back-court. Instead, the Suns grab Anderson, whose size (6-9, 230) and ball handling are unparalleled at this point in the draft. Anderson leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to speed and scoring. But, a team with Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Gerald Green already possesses enough quickness to contend. After all, the Suns did win 48 games last season.

henrikl

For Henrik Lundqvist, the King of New York, a 2-0 deficit is nothing to write home about.

Of course, home is an ocean away. The native of Are, Sweden sees his team in an early series hole against the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. This despite the fact that New York hasn’t trailed the entire series, with both losses coming in overtime of games that the Rangers led throughout. Tonight, the 32-year old netminder will have to steal the show like Broadway’s best, as Madison Square Garden hosts its first Cup Final game in 20-years.

In game two, Lundqvist was frustrated with the lack of a goalie interference call on Dwight King during Los Angeles’ comeback. The Kings’ forward was arguably pushed into the crease by a Rangers defender. But, Lundqvist was adamant that the referees were to blame. “I’m extremely disappointed on that call or non-call,” said Lundqvist. “They’ve got to be consistent with that rule.” While the reffing wasn’t Cup caliber, neither was Lundqvist, whose team blew a duo of two goal leads in game two after choking away a similar L.A. deficit in game one.

If there’s one thing that Los Angeles is, it’s resilient. The Kings overcame a 3-0 series deficit in round one against San Jose before slaying Anaheim the following round despite once trailing 3-2. Now, Los Angeles has the upper hand, as they’ll look to take a commanding 3-0 lead on the Rangers’ home ice. If New York is to avoid sinking into oblivion, it will be up to Lundqvist to keep them afloat.

henrik-Lundqvist2“At the end of the day, we’ve got to take care of business, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault. For Lundqvist, business is that of a monarch, ruling over all with a steady glove hand. His success determines that of the Rangers, who rode their Swedish sensation past Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Montreal. More production out of Brad Richards and Rick Nash would be optimal. But, it’s the play of Lundqvist between the pipes that keeps the oil burning in New York.

For the Kings, tonight could be the beginning of a coronation. For the Rangers, this is the evening of their reckoning. It’s do or die in Manhattan. A loss, and this once promising playoff chariot evaporates into a pumpkin. A win, and Henrik Lundqvist will once again be king; if only for a day.

ronhextallAs the Stanley Cup Final continues to offer NHL fans extraordinary excitement, fanatics from The City of Brotherly Love anxiously await the NHL Draft, to be held at Wells Fargo Center, later this month. That weekend, for all intents and purposes, will be the beginning of new GM Ron Hextall’s promising tenure atop the Flyers’ front office. For Philadelphia, a city without a Cup for nearly 40-years, the time is now for new leadership and a broadened philosophy.

Over the past few summers, former GM Paul Holmgren has sacrificed stability for the capacity of the big splash. Some moves have paid off and others haven’t. While the abomination that was the Ilya Bryzgalov contract was bad, it’s the long-term, cap crippling deals that Holmgren handed out to the likes of Scott Hartnell, Vincent Lecavalier, and Mark Streit that will ultimately affect how Hextall runs the next few offseasons.

Still, this is a team with a Stanley Cup core. Claude Giroux is locked up long term. As are Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, and Andrew MacDonald. With the exception of the previously mentioned trio of overpaid veterans, no other skater is signed 130215151956-steven-stamkos-single-image-cutbeyond 2016. That leaves Holmgren’s successor with an abundance of cap space over the next few years. As it stands, the Flyers will have over $26 million to spend in 2016, when the likes of Steven Stamkos (pictured), Anze Kopitar, Milan LucicBrent Seabrook, and Keith Yandle will be free agents.

Now, there’s no guaranteeing that the Flyers will approach these targets, or that they’ll even be available come that time. Philadelphia also will have to deal with the trifling task of locking up Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn to new contracts, the latter of whom becomes a restricted free agent next month. But, as it stands, the Flyers appear well positioned to attack the market vociferously in a couple of years. Until then, Philadelphia might have to be more frugal with their money.

The Flyers only have around $6.5 million to spend this summer (with just under $5 million more coming off once Chris Pronger is put back on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) this fall). With young defensemen Mark Alt and Shayne Gostisbehere (pictured) potentially NHL ready by 2015, and the promise of Scott Laughton’s graduation to the NHL approaching, Philadelphia’s immediate needs are few.

The impending loss of Kimmo Timonen, either to unrestricted free agency or retirement, is something to keep an eye on. Timonen struggled at times last year, finally looking like the 39-year old that he is. His speed has diminished and his hesitancy to shoot on the power play has increased. In Streit, the Flyers have an immediate replacement at the top of the man-advantage umbrella. In Gostisbehere, many reckon they have the long-term solution at the same spot, as well.

Other needs may include a top-six winger to pair with Giroux and Voracek, as well as a netminder to replace backup Ray shayneEmery. But, how will Hextall go about patching these blemishes? One would hope that he wouldn’t fall into the same trap that Holmgren did, signing veteran free agents to long term deals without the likelihood of long term success. Such examples of upcoming free agents who fit into this criteria are Dan Boyle, Andrei Markov, Mike Cammalleri, and Matt Niskanen.

Instead, the Flyers should try to fix their short term problems with players who could be long term assets like Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan. Or, Hextall could take a page from his former employer, the Los Angeles Kings, who sit two victories from their second championship in three years. L.A. found success through shrewd trades (Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Gaborik), as well as brilliant drafting (Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick) instead of cap crippling long-term free agent deals.

For some Philadelphians, the idea of the same cast of characters returning for another run in 2014-15 is a disparaging one. Many faithful are only pleased when the dollars are flowing and the newswires are active with rumors. But, the truth is that Philadelphia’s financial situation and lack of immediate needs will handicap Hextall in his first offseason in charge. A splash for a scoring winger is possible, but not incredibly likely given the checks that they’re writing to Lecavalier and will soon be providing to Schenn. Barring a trade of one of those two, can Philadelphia afford to spend upwards of $5+ million a year on a winger and relegate someone making $4.5+ million to the bottom-six?

Hextall has his hands full running one of the most successful franchises in the sports’ illustrious history. He’ll be even busier thanks to his predecessor’s previous problems. For a team without a title since 1975, patience is not a virtue. But, it’s something that the fans will likely have to continue preaching, as they have for what is soon to be four tiresome decades.

It’s no longer a matter of if. Instead, it’s a matter of when.

Cliff-LeeFor the once thriving Philadelphia Phillies, the time has come to explore dealing LHP Cliff Lee at the trade deadline. At 24-30, the Phillies are mired near the bottom of the NL East. Their sinking ship, held together by the aging patchwork of Ryan Howard’s $25 million Achilles tendon and Chase Utley’s $15 million balky knees, is capsizing before our very eyes. The only option left is to sell, sell, sell. Is Ruben Amaro the right man for the job? Probably not. But, he’ll have to be. As Phillies’ ownership seems content with letting the veteran GM go down with the ship.

Lee, 35, is still out with arm trouble. So, if Philadelphia hopes to get anything more than 10 cents on the dollar, they’ll have to see him return within the next month. At 4-4, 3.18, and boasting a sparkling 61:9 K:BB ratio, Lee has shown that he’s as competent as ever at the top of the rotation. With one year left at $25 million and a vesting option in 2016 at $27.5 million, the Phillies would likely be forced to eat some money in any deal involving Lee. But, in a market devoid of high end arms, Lee could be the grand prize come deadline day. The cherry on top of one lucky contender’s delicious shopping spree.

When the Phillies’ surprisingly inked Lee that fateful evening in December, 2010, it was believed to be the beginning of a new era in The City of Brotherly Love. With Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels already in tow, Amaro burnt the midnight oil to sign Lee, the best free agent on the market. Lee has held up his end of the bargain, going 41-29 with a 2.83 ERA since that night. But, the aggressive erosion of the Phillies’ offense, coupled with the rapid aging of the rest of their core, has left the once proud franchise in a state of disrepair.

Citizen’s Bank Park is no longer the place to be in Philadelphia. Gone is the record shutout streak and sea of red; replaced with falling ticket prices and islands of empty blue seats. At this rate, how long will it be before ownership orchestrates a massive fire sale? By dealing Lee, they could begin to rebuild what has already become a discombobulated mess.

There will no doubt be plenty of suitors. Teams like Detroit, Baltimore, and Toronto in the American League will join the bidding. Keep an eye out for the Angels as well as they continue to stalk the first place Athletics in the AL West. If Philadelphia chooses to deal their ace inside the National League, they’ll find welcome takers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well.

But, the one team that may be best equipped to land Lee is Boston, as the defending champion Red Sox boast an impressive farm system and the financial flexibility to make a deal work. With Jon Lester a free agent at season’s end and John Lackey set to make $500K next year on a team option, the Red Sox will have the funds and the need to approach the Phillies regarding Lee. Boston’s farm system is vast, with Major League ready arms like Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby de la Rosa, Brandon Workman, and Allen Webster all potential targets. Their minor league supremacy stretches to the diamond as well, as infielders Garin Cecchini, Brock Holt, and Mookie Betts join catchers Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart among a deep crop of prospects. If the Phillies do in fact shop Lee, the Red Sox are perhaps best equipped to put together a package enticing enough to get Amaro to finally pull the trigger.

redsoxFor Boston, the deal makes sense. They’d acquire a bonafide postseason performer who throws strikes and knows how to pitch in hostile markets. It’s also unlikely they’d have to surrender ace prospect Henry Owens or MLB regulars like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley. In a division as tight as the American League East, Lee could be the difference between a division title or a berth in the Wild Card Game. A rotation of Lee, Lester, Lackey, and Jake Peavy come playoff time would allow Boston to forget about the enigma that is Clay Buchholz, whilst threatening Detroit for the claim of best rotation in baseball.

For Philadelphia, a deal with the defending champions also seems rational. The Phillies would be able to clear up at least a little bit of salary, while also landing valuable prospects at positions of need. Other than JP Crawford and Maikel Franco, Philadelphia’s minor league infield depth is laughable. An influx of Boston’s amateur talent would go a long way to making this team a contender again come 2015.

The time is rapidly approaching for a decision to be made, and decisions are made by those who show up. Will Ruben Amaro wait idly in July once again? Or, will the Phillies’ GM recognize that his hourglass is almost empty, and that now is the time for action? These are the questions that will soon be answered; with the answers deciding the fate of Philadelphia’s baseball future.