Archive for July, 2014

gwynn

It was impossible not to notice Major League Baseball’s salacious lovefest for Derek Jeter at last night’s All Star Game in Minneapolis.From start to finish, the game was less about the superstars compiling both rosters and more about Jeter’s spectacular 18-year career.

That’s all well and good. But, what was easy to miss was the league’s celebration of two baseball legends who passed on this year, Tony Gwynn and Don Zimmer. That’s because the league and the game’s television network, FOX, completely and utterly dropped the ball, failing to recognize these goliaths of greatness at all during the four hour festivity.

Gwynn, who died from cancer at the age of 44 last month, attended 15 Midsummer Classics as a player, one more than Jeter. Recognized as one of the most feared hitters of all time, this gentle giant boasted a career .338 batting average and won eight batting titles. Elected into the Hall-of-Fame in 2007, Gwynn’s celebration was conspicuously absent from the evening. Was it because Gwynn played his entire career in San Diego, a much smaller media market than Jeter’s? Perhaps. Or, was it just further evidence that MLB has no idea what they’re doing when it comes to marketing their product to the masses?

Zimmer is perhaps best known to a younger generation of fans as Pedro Martinez’s punching bag. But, this legendary coach, who brought his contagious personality to 10 different clubhouses as a coach, was an All Star in his own right, attending the annual event as a Cub in 1961. The former Red Sox and Yankees coach passed away last month, as well. The failure of MLB to provide any sort of acknowledgement for Zimmer or Gwynn was inexcusable. zimmer

Was the nonstop infatuation with Jeter over-the-top? Yes, it was. But, it was most definitely deserved. The 40-year old shortstop has spent his entire career emitting class in a world devoid of it. However, the league’s failure to recognize its fallen heroes raises the question as to whether or not we put too much stock in media markets and money.

The last two seasons, we’ve seen Yankee legends ride off into the sunset with one last farewell tour. For Jeter and Mariano Rivera, MLB pulled out all the stops. But, what about for the last non-Yankee Hall-of-Famer to celebrate a season long finale? In 2012, Atlanta Braves 3B Chipper Jones was named to the NL All Star roster as a replacement for the injured Matt Kemp. Did Kansas City (the host of that year’s event) or the league celebrate for Jones the same way they have for Rivera and Jeter? No. Instead, Jones got a minor round of applause and a few gifts from the masses in attendance.

What MLB did for Jeter last night was appropriate. As one of the best of all time, the Yankees’ legend deserved one final hurrah. But, what wasn’t acceptable was the league’s failure to recognize the crowning achievements of those who have fallen. For Gwynn and Zimmer, there will be no more magical moments. For their loved ones, the league had a chance to immortalize their achievements one final time. Like they did with the 1994 player strike, the 1990s steroid saga, and the 2002 All Star Game, MLB once again dropped the ball.

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Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies

As the All-Star Game approaches, the Philadelphia Phillies’ season inches closer to its tipping point. Gone are the days when Ruben Amaro Jr. was the most active buyer on the market. Instead, the 37-51 Phillies and their GM need to prepare for D-Day. That moment will come on July 31st, when the MLB non-waiver trade deadline expires.

It’s unlikely that the Phillies will part ways with either Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels. The former because of arm trouble that has crippled his value. The latter due in large part to his gargantuan contract, as well as his role as one of the few home grown aces in team history. But, Philadelphia still has plenty of bargaining chips, and they’ll have to utilize them wisely if they hope to avoid the same mistakes that have set them down this path.

Remember Hunter Pence? The former Philadelphia right fielder is heading to another Midsummer Classic this month. He’s also a prime example of how not to operate at the trade deadline. Pence was acquired in July, 2011 in exchange for a collection of celebrated prospects, including RHP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton, and OF Domingo Santana. All three of those youngsters are currently contributing on a surprisingly successful Houston Astros ballclub. A year after Pence arrived in the City of Brotherly Love, he was unceremoniously shipped to San Francisco for pennies on the dollar.

For a player that has won a World Series and been to an All-Star Game in orange-and-black, Amaro landed nothing of substance. Nate Schierholtz lasted all of two months with the club before being released. He’s now one of the best hitters on a mediocre Chicago Cubs team. Meanwhile, the two prospects that Amaro acquired from the Giants, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin, have yet to find success above the AA-level.

For Amaro to avoid another catastrophic fire sale, he’ll need to determine what the team’s philosophy is. Should they be willing to deal their veterans for measly returns so long as it means one less catastrophic contract on the books? This is the method that they took with Pence. Or, should Amaro hold off and wait for the perfect deal, even if it means paying a portion of the future contracts due to players like Jonathan Papelbon and Jimmy Rollins?

From this pundits’ perspective, here are the most likely Phillies to be dealt by the end of this month:

1. RHP Jonathan Papelbon

For a guy who everyone thought was done, “Paps” sure has done well for himself in 2014. The All-Star caliber closer may have lost a few MPH on his heater. But, that doesn’t mean that he can’t still provide top-notch relief at the back end of a bullpen. Having allowed just 1 ER in his last 10 appearances, Papelbon is hot at the right time. His contract ($13 million guaranteed for 2015 with a vesting option at the same price for 2016) might give some contenders pause. But, a team in need of a playoff proven closer should be willing to give the Phillies something of value, especially if Philadelphia eats a chunk of that salary. RHP Kenneth Giles’ emergence also gives the Phillies a young replacement in the likely event that Papelbon is no longer in red pinstripes come August.

2. RHP AJ Burnett

One of Amaro’s prime free agent acquisitions from last winter, Burnett has pitched just about as one would expect the veteran to. At 5-8, 3.92, his classic numbers aren’t beautiful. But, a lack of run support and a brutal bullpen early in April hurt the 37-year old righthander. Burnett has a modified no trade clause, so he’d be able to at least partially dictate where he ended up. But, a playoff proven, power pitcher who can go 7 innings nearly every start is something that contending teams would love to have. Add to that the fact that Burnett is unlikely to cost what an ace like David Price will, and Amaro should have teams lining up for a guy who still has some gas left in the tank.

3. OF Marlon Byrd

Another one of Amaro’s offseason signings, Byrd has had a mostly up-and-down campaign. But, on the surface, his power numbers are intriguing enough that if Philadelphia wanted to get out of the second guaranteed year of his contract, they probably could. It’s unlikely that the Phillies would get much short of salary relief for unloading the veteran. But, his .266-18-52 line coupled with an impressive .814 OPS (.982 vs. LHP) should make him an enticing acquisition for a contending team searching for a right handed power bat.

4. SS Jimmy Rollins

The franchise’s all-time hits leader is very unlikely to be dealt. But, he still makes this list for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a dearth of solid two-way shortstops in the National League right now. Outside of Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, the NL is a barren wasteland of offensive talent at that position. While Rollins is far from the player that he was from 2005-2009, he still brings Gold Glove quality handiwork to the diamond and a professional approach to the dish. Rollins was apprehensive when asked if he’d waive his 10 and 5 no-trade provision prior to breaking the team’s hits record. But, when asked again after that achievement, the 35-year old appeared much more willing to oblige. His name and reputation would also help sell tickets at his new destination.

5. OF John Mayberry Jr.

I suppose that if the Phillies were ever going to get anything for Mayberry, they already would have. Amaro has had this veteran outfielder on the market for the better part of two years now, with nobody dumb enough to take a nibble on the bait. Let’s face it, Mayberry will never be more than a fourth outfielder at best (and more fittingly a AAAA depth outfielder). He’s no longer young (30-years old) and has never hit for average (career .242 hitter). Even worse, Mayberry is enduring one of the worst slumps of his career right now, as the former Texas Rangers prospect is 3 for his last 24. I could see the Phillies just cutting bait on this guy, but for what?

Don’t count on seeing Ben Revere or Domonic Brown dealt. The latter is at the valley of his value, and trading him now would be a new low for Amaro when it comes to timely decisions. Revere, meanwhile, is still relatively young and playing at an above-average level. Unless the Phillies can get something of significant value for him, I see Big Ben staying put for now. Pitchers like Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo are also possible candidates to be traded. But, the return on either would be so miniscule, that even mentioning them here seems like a waste of time.

Regardless, a lot is about to change at Citizens Bank Park. A month from now, many of the familiar faces that we grew up cheering for will be playing in other venues. For Ruben Amaro, the semester is almost over and the final exams are fast approaching. It’s time for the Phillies’ GM to prove that he’s the man for the job. If he doesn’t, then it might not be his job to perform for much longer.

Every year, NHL General Managers open their boss’ checkbooks on July 1st only to be let down by their investments months richardslater. In 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the colossal mistake of spending $5.25 million per season for 7-years on grinding forward Dave Clarkson. The former New Jersey Devil rewarded them with a putrid 11 points in 60 games. The Philadelphia Flyers were also victims of a similar crime, spending $4.5 million for 5-years on Vincent Lecavalier. The veteran did tally 20 goals in his first season in orange-and-black. But, injuries, inconsistency, and a lack of fit in Craig Berube’s system will likely doom Paul Holmgren’s final major contract with the club.

But, some of today’s deals made Lecavalier’s look like chump change. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If this is true, then commissioner Gary Bettman is running an asylum. Below is a list of the top-5 best and bottom-5 worst deals from the opening hours of NHL free agency. All salaries listed are per-year:

The Best

1. Chicago Blackhawks sign C Brad Richards (1 year, $2 million)

Richards is no longer the player that he once was. Nor is he the player that the Rangers believed him to be when they signed him to a 9-year, $60 million contract three years ago. But, the 34-year old is still a productive, top-six center. After being bought out by New York following their Stanley Cup defeat, Richards moved swiftly to sign a team friendly, short-term deal with the Blackhawks. Chicago will likely place Richards on their second line. He’ll instantly add leadership and playmaking ability at a bargain price for a team that was already a contender for the 2014 Stanley Cup.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins sign D Christian Ehrhoff (1 year, $4 million)

Another buyout victim, Ehrhoff was sent packing by the Buffalo Sabres last month after three-years of relatively average play under a 10-year, $40 million deal signed during the same frenzy as Richards’ mammoth contract. The 31-year old is still a millerproductive offensive-defenseman, scoring 6 goals and adding 27 assists for the worst team in hockey a year ago. Pittsburgh needed to find a replacement for the departing Matt Niskanen (more on him later), and they did so without sacrificing future cap space.

3. Vancouver Canucks sign G Ryan Miller (3 years, $6 million)

No, Ryan Miller didn’t boost his stock with a porous performance in St. Louis last spring. But, the former Olympic goalie is still among the top-ten netminders in the NHL. After their brutal debacle a year ago, in which the Canucks traded both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver needed to find a franchise goalie in the worst of ways. Enter Miller, who still has a few good years left. The difference between Miller and Luongo at this point is minute. But, the disparity in their contracts is large. For a team that many believed to be heading for a dark ages of sorts, the Canucks had a very solid opening day of free agency.

4. New York Rangers sign D Dan Boyle (2 years, $4.5 million)

No one will confuse this iteration of Dan Boyle with the one that was an All-Star for a decade with Tampa Bay and San Jose. But, the Rangers should enjoy a phenomenal power play quarterback and leader in the locker room. The 2004 Stanley Cup champion can still put up points from the blue line, even if his speed and agility have taken a hit with age. At just 2-years and $4.5 million per season, New York could afford to risk signing the 37-year old.

5. Minnesota Wild sign F Thomas Vanek (3 years, $6.5 million)

One of the few impact forwards available on the open market, Vanek had his sights set on Minnesota since the season began. Despite stops in Long Island and Montreal, the 30-year old will best be remembered for his many years anchoring the Buffalo Sabres’ scoring line. Vanek can still score with the best of them, and he’ll make for the perfect compliment on the Wild’s first line across from Zach Parise. Getting him at just 3-years was a real coup for a Wild team that is a goalie away from being a true Stanley Cup contender.

The Worst

1. Washington Capitals sign D Matt Niskanen (7 years, $5.75 million)

Are you kidding me? I think we all knew that Niskanen would be overpaid this offseason. I also think we all now know who will be the first player bought out from this crop of free agent talent. Niskanen enjoyed a career year in Pittsburgh last season, tallying 10 goals and 46 points on an offensively loaded roster. New GM Brian MacLellan is picking up where his predecessor left off, providing fodder for the bloggers by giving out not one, but two (more on that in a moment) brutal contracts to veteran defensemen. Niskanen is only 27, so the length of the deal isn’t that atrocious. But, at $5.75 million per season, this deal promises to turn sour quicker than a Jay-Z concert at a CPAC convention.

2. Washington Capitals sign D Brooks Orpik (5 years, $5.5 million)

Washington had money coming into this offseason. They decided to spend it on two veteran blue liners whose best days are likely behind them. The 33-year old Orpik isn’t exactly a bad player. But, his numbers were quite pedestrian (2 goals, 11 assists) even for a defensive specialist on a loaded Penguins team. The financial terms are about right for today’s age. But, a 5-year deal for a 33-year old entering his 13th NHL season will likely ruin the Capitals in a few seasons. What else is new for one of the worst run franchises in the NHL?

3. Calgary Flames sign D Derek Engelland (3 years, $2.9 million)

Deryk+Engelland+Toronto+Maple+Leafs+v+Pittsburgh+b2pwzfq5vZjlWhat’s with these GM’s signing former Penguins defenders to absurd deals this afternoon? The Flames had tons of money, a product of not being competitive for over half-a-decade. But, signing a borderline 6th defenseman to a long term deal isn’t the right way to spend their riches. It would be one thing if Engelland brought anything to the table besides an ability to knock someone’s teeth out. But, this 32-year old middling blue liner just won the lottery, even if he’ll have to live in Calgary for the next few years to earn the payout.

4. Edmonton Oilers sign F Benoit Pouliot (5 years, $4 million)

It wasn’t too long ago that Pouliot was considered one of the league’s biggest draft busts. Now, he’ll soon be a massive free agent bust as well. Edmonton had a need for gritty forwards, as the majority of their top-9 is comprised of young, talented yet raw projects. Still, giving a player who tallied a mere 36 points in 80 games for New York a 5-year contract is the height of stupidity. I give it two years before Pouliot is right back on the market, a victim of Edmonton’s volatile buyout option in 2016.

5. Florida Panthers sign C Dave Bolland (5 years, $5.5 million)

Bolland is a nice player. The 2010 Stanley Cup champion will routinely tally 40+ points and play a solid, refined two-way game. But, that doesn’t mean he’s worth nearly $30 million on the open market. Florida’s made it a routine to sign former Blackhawks stars to bloated contracts since Dale Tallon left Chicago to become the Panthers’ GM. Whether or not this contract is as bad as it seems remains to be seen. But, it’s pretty darn clear that the Panthers spent this money merely because they had to, as hitting the salary cap floor is as difficult for some teams as staying under the ceiling is for contenders.