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Phillies' trade options are limited
Bonus notes from our MLB on FOX broadcast of the Cubs-Phillies game on Saturday.
Perhaps you saw the bulletin from Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. last week, the one in which he said the team was unlikely to make any major moves.
I’ll believe it when I see it, but two club officials had almost the exact same reaction, saying with a chuckle, “This time, he actually might be telling the truth.”
Amaro, of course, famously denied pursuing free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee last offseason and downplayed the possibility of trades for Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt before that. But from the moment Amaro signed Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract, he made it clear that the investment would deprive the Phillies of payroll flexibility going forward.
Amaro thought earlier in the season that he might create additional flexibility. But two of his potential chips, right-hander Joe Blanton and closer Brad Lidge, got injured. And righty Kyle Kendrick, earning $2.45 million, suddenly is too valuable to move — the Phillies need to protect their depth.
Some have suggested a trade of right-hander Roy Oswalt, who is earning $16 million in what could be the final year of his contract; the Phils hold a $16 million on option on him for 2012. But Oswalt’s deal includes a full no-trade clause, and moving him would reduce the Four Aces to Three, defeating the purpose of Amaro’s maneuverings the past 18 months.
The Phillies are one of nine teams not currently in compliance with baseball’s debt-service rule, according to a recent published report. The precise impact of that issue is not known, but the team already was over-budget with its $173 million payroll — dangerously close to the $178 million luxury-tax threshold.
Maybe Amaro really is telling the truth this time.
OK, but the Phillies still need a bat
True enough, and manager Charlie Manuel will clamor for more offense, publicly if not privately — the Phillies, according to STATS LLC, have experienced the fourth-largest drop-off in runs per game of any club in the majors (see table).
Still, that is the tradeoff Amaro made in building his dream rotation. Consider the reduction in the Phillies’ ERA from 2009 to ’10 to this season:
2009 — 4.16.
2010 — 3.67.
2011 — 3.15
That’s more than a half-run in one year and more than a full run in two, a staggering improvement.
Manuel, one of the game’s great hitting minds, is understandably frustrated with his diminished offense, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins makes a good point: The Phillies, by scoring so few runs and playing so many close games, put an inordinate amount of strain on their pitchers.
Obviously, it’s less stressful to pitch leading 7-2 than 3-2, and the Phillies would become that much more formidable with just a slight increase in run production. They are 26-3 when scoring four or more runs.
The reality, though, is that this is a different kind of Phillies team, and not necessarily a worse kind.
The Phils, lest anyone forget, own the best record in the majors.
In praise of Quade
I’ll say this right now: It would be a shame if the Cubs’ dismal play cost manager Mike Quade his job.
Quade, 54, spent 17 years as a minor-league manager, seven as a coach with the A’s and Cubs. And look what he inherited in his first major-league managing job:
*A team that has the highest rotation ERA in the National League by a whopping eight-tenths of a run.
*A team that is tied for the NL lead with 52 errors in 63 games.
*A team so decimated by injuries, journeyman Luis Montanez batted third on Saturday against the Phillies’ Lee.
Quade occasionally makes rookie mistakes with his strategy — pitching to Albert Pujols instead of walking him, etc. But he is strong in his beliefs, explaining, for example, that at times he must over-extend his starters to avoid overusing his bullpen. Most impressive of all, he is staying on an even keel.
Many first-year managers in Quade’s position worry about losing their jobs, manage in a panic, enter into a siege mentality.
He’s maintaining a healthy perspective, fighting through adversity without complaint, trying to help his team improve each day.
Nine weeks passed before the Cubs’ top four starting pitchers were healthy together. Three injured right-handed hitters (Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker and Alfonso Soriano) could return this week, while a fourth (Marlon Byrd) remains on the DL. Maybe the team will start to play better as it becomes more whole.
Still, I can see it now: The Cubs hire a new general manager at the end of the season, then bring back Ryne Sandberg, who currently is the Phillies’ Triple-A manager.
Quade signed only a two-year contract, so the team might consider him expendable. Dismissing him, though, would be wrong. With this team, Quade hasn’t had a chance.
A player who gets it
A few weeks back, I wrote about how Twins closer Matt Capps gave a perfect answer when I asked him about adjusting to different bullpen roles. Capps basically said it’s no big deal; players are well-paid, and it’s his job to succeed in whatever role the team assigns him.
Well, we now have a contender for “Best Answer of the Year” — Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena, who has the built-in advantage of being one of the game’s most eloquent players.
I asked Pena if he is uncomfortable knowing that the Cubs signed him for only year, and that — in theory at least — another free agent such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder could replace him next offseason.
“I’m being honest when I say this: I don’t give it much thought,” Pena said. “I feel like I’m a Cub. I’m not thinking, ‘I’m a Cub for a year.’ I’m just saying, ‘I’m a Cub.’ In my mind, that’s the way I view it.
“If I’m going to be here for this ballclub, playing my heart out every single day, then I must believe inside of me that it is eternal. I can’t sit here and say, ‘I’ll be here a couple of months.’ To think that way would show a lack of respect for my teammates, a lack of respect for the fans, a lack of respect for myself.
“I’m a Cub. I have suffered our losses, enjoyed our wins. I’m eager to enjoy many more wins and help this ballclub. We want it to happen immediately, this year. But I can also see myself being a Cub for a while.
“That’s the mentality that serves me well, gets the most out of me on the field. That’s the way I view the entire situation, regardless of what the business of baseball might be.”
Pena, 32, got off to a miserable start, batting .175/.286/.171 through May 2, with no home runs in 70 at-bats. Since then, he has batted .248/.388/.504, with nine homers in 117 at-bats.
Amaro, the Phillies’ GM, was criticized all last season for trading Lee to the Mariners, in part because the prospects he acquired all performed poorly.
Well, those prospects are starting to come around.
Double-A right-hander Phillippe Aumont profiles as a potential closer — he throws 94-95 mph with a nasty breaking ball, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 39-to-9 in 29 2/3 innings.
Aumont’s Double-A teammate, righty J.C. Ramirez, is 5-4 with a 3.57 ERA as a starter, and the Phillies believe that at worst, he could be a major-league reliever.
Outfielder Tyson Gillies, finally recovered from a hamstring injury, was activated Friday at Class-A Clearwater.
“We’re going to get some players out of it,” Amaro said. “Gillies can play. He just has to stay on the field.”
Standing up 2 cancer
The bow tie I wore on Saturday was for Stand Up 2 Cancer. I’m forever astounded by the number of people who are touched by the disease. In that regard, members of the Cubs, Phillies and other major-league teams are no different than you or me.
*Cubs left-hander Doug Davis underwent surgery to remove a cancerous thyroid from his neck in 2008.
*Cubs outfielder Tony Campana suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma when he was 7, underwent surgery to remove a tumor and had chemotherapy for eight months.
*Cliff Lee’s 10-year-old son, Jaxon, had a form of leukemia as an infant.
*Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and his fiancée, Melissa Martin, both are cancer survivors.
Manuel, by the way, has been named the 2011 Humanitarian of the Year by the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia.
The last Phillie to win the award?
None other than MLB on FOX's Tim McCarver, who was the first-ever recipient in 1988.
And finally ...
Cliff Lee grew up in Benton, Ark., but his love for Philadelphia is one reason he wanted to come back to the Phillies.
Lee bought a condominium for his family in an exclusive high-rise in Center City, right in Rittenhouse Square. He said that fans often recognize him, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“They’re sports fanatics — they support the team,” Lee said. “I don’t know how they sell out every single time, but they do. They can get on you when you do poorly. But you’ve got to respect that they’re here.”
The Phillies have sold out 158 straight games at Citizens Bank Park since July 7, 2009.