Friday, February 27, 2009

Eaton Gone, Carrasco and Happ Dominate

Major League Baseball's free agent pool receives a hot commodity, as the Phillies release veteran Adam Eaton. There is no need to explain this, or analyze it. Eaton was and is terrible, and good riddance.

After another Spring Training loss on Thursday, the Phillies still must be feeling good about the efforts of some key players. Carlos Carrasco and J.A Happ both pitched extremely well, and Gary Majewski showed signs of returning to his old form.

Carrarso pitched two perfect innings, striking out three batters. Happ allowed just one hit over two innings, with no walks and one strike out. Majewski also pitched two perfect innings, fanning two.

Combining for six innings, no runs and one hit, with six strikeouts and no walks, they dominated impressively. Majewski could fit into the Phillies' bullpen nicely, and the race for the fifth starter could come down to the wire.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Plenty of Positives in 8-2 Loss

The Phillies certainly took a few positives away from yesterday's 8-2 loss to Pittsburgh in their Spring debut. Jamie Moyer started the game, pitching two innings without surrendering a run, allowing just one hit. Joe Blanton followed, allowing one run in one inning pitched, but struck out two batters with no walks.

The Phils jumped on the board first in the third inning, as Raul Ibanez came through with an RBI single, plating Jimmy Rollins. Pittsburgh responded by blowing the game wide open, against two pitchers with little chance of making the big league squad, Joe Bisenius and Scott Nestor.

John Mayberry, a promising young outfielder with a shot at a reserve outfield spot in 2009, knocked in the Phils' only other run in the ninth inning.

The Phils were solid defensively, committing no errors, and even Ryan Howard made a nice stop at first base.

The Phillies will take the positives away from this game and build upon them, not worried about the overall outcome of the game. Today's match up with the Toronto Blue Jays could be huge, as Carlos Carrasco is scheduled to start the game. He is likely to be followed by J.A. Happ and Gary Majewski. There is plenty to keep an eye on with those three taking the hill today. Carrasco and Happ will be looking to out-duel each other, and Majewski is hoping to resurrect his career.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Second Base Preview

Second base has turned into a deep position in the NL East, with several talented all around players. Formerly a position typically reserved for good defensive players, it has evolved into a spot for talented hitters and all star ballplayers.

The Phillies lead the list at this position, assuming Chase Utley is healthy and ready to go come Opening Day, which all signs point to. Utley is the best player at this position, probably on the Planet. He started 2008 on a torrid pace, but his power declined around June after his hip injury. He still finished the season with a strong overall showing (.292, 33,104), but he will bat over .300 this season and should hit more home runs if healthy all season. As we all know, Utley is a five tool player, a tremendous competitor, and simply the best in the business.

Let’s shoot the Florida Marlins some love, with the #2 on the list, and his name is DAN UGGLA, as Florida’s commentators say. Uggla swings about as hard as Matt Stairs every time he steps up to the plate, and is the biggest pure power hitter at second base in the league. Utley may still have a bit more power than Uggla, but he is a typical all or nothing power hitter (.260, 32, 92), striking out 171 times last season. He is also a defensive liability, averaging 13 errors a season during his three years in the big leagues. Like any power hitter, he is prone to slumps, but there were several stretches in 2008 in which he put the team on his back and carried them for a few weeks. Uggla is a dangerous hitter, has the ability to go deep every time he steps up to his launching pad, and single-handedly wins games for Florida.

Atlanta found a strong player in Kelly Johnson, who ranks third on the list. The Braves have tried to trade Johnson several times, but he continues to produce for them. Hitting .287 with 12 home runs and 69 runs batted in last season, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts (113). Johnson is young and has yet to enter his prime, which could see him develop into a .300 plus hitter with around 20 home runs. Johnson has shown flashes of being an elite player, and should develop nicely as he matures. Martin Prado is a solid backup with a career average of .307.

Anderson Hernandez/Ronnie Belliard come in at number four. Hernandez is a talented young player, with less than 200 career at bats. He hit .333 last season and has just one home run in his career. He could develop into a solid top of the lineup player for Washington. Belliard is still a good player with a nice power swing. He lacks consistency, but has the ability to absolutely crush the ball. Hernandez is an outstanding fielder, with all four of his career errors coming as a shortstop. He’s been perfect as a second baseman.

The Mets round out the list with the aged and seemingly washed up Luis Castillo. Once a tremendous all around player during his Florida days, Castillo has struggled to stay healthy, his average and stolen bases have severely declined, and his extra base hits have all but evaporated. He hit just .245 last season, and at 33 it appears his best days are long behind him. Recently acquired Alex Cora went from Boston to New York, and if anything, could be a better option than Castillo only for defensive purposes. Cora is a veteran utility player, with a solid glove and can get some key hits here and there. Either way, the Mets are very weak at this position.

Please see Rich's 2nd base preview on his blog.

Update from Clearwater

With the first exhibition game right around the corner, the Phillies are preparing for live action. The Inquirer reports Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton are scheduled to pitch in Wednesday's opener against Pittsburgh. No decisions have been made regarding following games, as the Phils face off with Toronto, Cinncinati and Tampa Bay on Thursday, Friday and Saturday respectively. Saturday's match-up with the Rays will be featured on CSN at 1pm, and being an exhibition game, we can root for Pat Burrell to go yard; as long as it comes off a pitcher with no shot at the Majors.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Invitation from Phillies Nation

Brian from Phillies Nation has invited me to cover the Phillies' farm system for his blog. Brian runs a great blog with a ton of interesting stories and features. Please check it out, and my first post should be up there, as well as here on my blog shortly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cairo will Fight for Spot

It's not the sexy move, but the team signed Miguel Cairo to a minor league contract, giving him an opportunity to earn a spot on the team during Spring Training, and giving the Phillies another possible insurance policy should Chase Utley not be good to go in April.

Cairo is a solid utility player who has spent time with seven different teams, compiling a career .266 batting average. He does not figure to be the solution to the team's search for a right handed bat off the bench, with just 27 career home runs in 13 seasons in MLB. He is a very solid defensive player that has played pretty much everywhere but pitcher and catcher, and can put the ball in play and get on base. He figures to compete with Marcus Giles and prospect Jason Donald as Utley's replacement, should be need one. All three players will have a difficult time making the big-league club if Utley is healthy, as the Phillies would prefer a right handed bat with more power to come off the bench.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Eaton Wants to Pitch in 09

Adam Eaton says he plans on pitching in 2009. That's all well and good, but no one wants him. The Phillies have made several attempts to trade him, looking for teams to pick up only $1 million of his remaining $8.5 million contract, but found no takers.

"Obviously, it hasn't been the best fit here," Eaton said. "I haven't had two good years. I need to establish myself again. It might not be here. It might be somewhere else. It's nobody's fault, by any means."

It won't be here. It can't be here. Please don't let it be here.

How can he say it's nobody's fault? The Phillies made an effort to make him a starting pitcher, throwing $24.5 million at him. They also have him 49 starts to prove his worth. He rewarded them with an ERA just over six, a losing record, a horrendous strikeout to walk ratio and a ton of home runs balls served up.

He was terrible during his time here, plain and simple. No one can blame him for wanting to continue his career, and milk money out of another organization that he won't produce for, but don't duck the blame. He thinks he is being noble for not blaming the Phillies, but he is really being anything but by not putting the blame entirely on himself, because it was his fault completely.

Hey Adam, I hear the Mets are accepting applications. You could always say "Hey, you guys need an Aaron Heilman replacement." Just don't change anything when pitching for them. Keep pitching as you did here, you're perfect as you are.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

NL East Preview, Week 2. 1st Base

The NL East is stacked with talented first basemen. Each player has several strengths, and a few weaknesses. Leading the gifted bunch is the big man, Ryan Howard.

Howard is a perennial MVP candidate each year, putting up monster power numbers and often carrying the team through the stretch run in September. He has developed into the marquee home run hitter in Major League Baseball. After winning the rookie of the year award is 2005, he became just the second player in MLB history, first since Cal Ripken Jr., to win the MVP award the following year, by taking the crown in 2006. The stats speak for themselves; he hit 58 home runs in 2006, 47 in 07 and 48 in 08. He also drove in an average of 144 runs each of those years. He is prone to entering long streaks, as all power hitters are. While he has carried the team on his back, he has also struggled over long periods of time, and is prone to a large number of strikeouts. Still, at the end of a long season, his production numbers always even out. His largest inconsistencies lie in his defense, strikeouts and batting average. Howard is putting in extra work this offseason to improve his defense and put the ball in play more consistently. All things aside, Howard is still one of the best players in MLB, and is easily the best first baseman in the division. Greg Dobbs fills in nicely as Howard’s backup, and even Chase Utley has played a few games at first base for the Phillies since 2004.

Carlos Delgado ranks second, but barely. If his 2007 campaign was simply a fluke, the ranking is more than justified. But if Delgado fails to repeat last year’s effort, he will not live up to the hype. Delgado has been a long time star in the league, but in 2007, just his second year with New York, he hit just .258 with 24 home runs and less than 90 runs batted in. He rebounded amazingly in 2008, hitting .271 with 38 home runs and 115 runs batted in. He has made just eight errors each year, over the last three seasons. He is aging, at 36, and it is difficult to foresee exactly what production the Mets are going to get from Delgado. He is not nearly as strikeout prone as Howard, and plays a solid first base, whether he is producing at the plate or not. Former Phillie Marlon Anderson is listed as Delgado’s backup, and has been one of the better pinch-hitters in baseball the last few seasons. Delgado is remarkably resilient, and should be in the lineup producing on a daily basis.

The much improved Washington Nationals place third, with veteran Nick Johnson. After returning from an injury in 2008, which kept him out the entire 2007 season, he struggled in his 109 at bats, hitting just .220 with five home runs and 20 knocked in. Johnson is now healthy and ready to return as one of the better first baseman in baseball. He hit .290 in 2006, with 23 home runs and 77 RBI. Johnson has had a consistent bat and a great glove throughout his career. He is healthy and ready to go, but the only question is whether or not he can return to his previous solid form. Ronnie Belliard is now listed as Washington’s backup at first and second base, and should be an excellent backup should Johnson get hurt or struggle. Belliard has struggled with inconsistency as well, but has a great power swing and is a solid player. Either way, Washington should be set at first base.

Casey Kotchman of Atlanta edges out Florida for the fourth spot. After starting his career in 2004, Kotchman played for the Angels until being traded to Atlanta last season. After the trade Kotchman hit just .237 with two home runs and 20 RBI. His 2008 numbers aren't bad though, as he hit .287 with 12 long balls and drove in 54 for Anaheim prior to being relocated. He puts the ball in play about as well as anyone, plays a tremendous first base, and had a respectable .269 career average. Kotchman will come into his own in Atlanta in 2009, and continue to play at a high level. Most of his time spent in Atlanta in 2008 came after the Braves had all but been eliminated from postseason contention, and had to play in meaningless games. The Braves have improved themselves heading in 2009, which should give Kotchman a boost in his play out of the gate. Martin Prado is a very solid backup for Atlanta, hitting .320 last year.

Florida is the most difficult team to rank at this position, because of the uncertainty. The promising youngster Gaby Sanchez is listed atop Florida’s depth chart. Sanchez was promoted for a cup of coffee last season, hitting .375 in just eight at bats. In AA last year, he hit .314 with 17 home runs and 92 RBI. He has talent and potential but is impossible to rank ahead of any of his competitors, as he has no Major League experience. The Marlins are in a puzzling situation; it seems clear that Jorge Cantu should be Florida’s first baseman, and Dallas McPherson should be given an opportunity at third. Cantu went through an offensive resurgence last season at third base, but struggled mightily in the field. His defensive struggles prompted Florida to move him to first base on several occasions to bring a defensive replacement in for third. McPherson, meanwhile, excelled in the minors in 2008, hitting .275 with 42 home runs and 98 runs batted in. He is not a great third baseman, but is an improvement over Cantu. Cantu did play much better at first base than he did at third. Should Florida move Cantu to first, Florida could have a very good run producer at the position. As it turns out, they may already have one in Sanchez. Only time will tell.

Be sure to see Rich's 1st base breakdown at his new and improved blog!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Big Man in Town

Ryan Howard and the Phillies came to terms on a three year, $54 million contract today. The three years will cover Howard's arbitration eligible time in Philadelphia, and now he can focus on baseball and not worry about another arbitration hearing.

The $54 million averages $18 million each season, which is exactly what Howard was looking for in 2009. It is a solid deal for both sides, as Howard doesn't have to worry about how much money he will be making and has financial security, and the Phillies don't have to worry about his pay increasing over the next three years.

Enjoy these three years while you can, because this is likely the last contract Howard will ever sign with the Phillies. In 2011, he will receive some monster offers, and he will follow the money. Good to have him locked up for the next three years though, with his salary not being an issue.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

N.L. East Breakdown Week 1: Catcher

Depth Chart and 2008 #s

Atlanta Braves: AVG HR RBI
Brian McCann .301 23 87
Clint Sammons .148 1 4

Florida Marlins:
John Baker .299 5 32
Mike Rabelo .202 3 10

N.Y. Mets:
Brian Schneider .257 9 38
Robinson Cancel .245 1 5
Ramon Castro .245 7 24

Philadelphia Phillies:
Carlos Ruiz .219 4 31
Chris Coste .263 9 36
Lou Marson .500 1 2

Washington Nationals:
Jesus Flores .256 8 59
Will Nieves .261 1 20

Catcher is a complicated position to judge; the above numbers are secondary in importance. A backstop must be rock-solid behind the plate, and handle the pitching staff well. After that, for most catchers, anything beyond that is considered a bonus.

5. Washington
4. Florida
3. Philadelphia
2. New York
1. Atlanta

Atlanta wins this race hands down. McCann is one of the best catchers in baseball, consistently hitting around or over .300 and hitting about 20 home runs every year. He is a solid defensive catcher, blocks the plate well and has a strong arm. Any franchise would be lucky to have a catcher like McCann; and his pitching staff loves to throw to him. Sammons is difficult to judge, with just 57 career at bats. He is still a prospect and could develop into a nice backup, but McCann has over 500 at bats the last few seasons and leaves little need for a backup.

Schneider is a good catcher for the Mets with a little bit of power, accompanying a solid average and good defensive skills. He throws well from behind the plate; but had some injury problems last year. Castro is good for some power numbers as a backup, but both Castro and Cancel are below average catchers. If Schneider gets hurt, their lack of depth will be a problem.

Philadelphia could just past New York as the second best catching squad in the division, because of their depth and if Ruiz continues his tremendous play from 2008’s postseason. Ruiz is rock-solid behind the plate, blocking a plethora of Brad Lidge’s sliders in the dirt. He handles the staff extremely well, and his offensive numbers received a boost in the playoffs and the second half of the season last year. Coste is a good backup catcher with a strong arm and more power than Ruiz. However, he is aging and his skills have declined over the last few years. Marson shows a tremendous amount of potential, and should be the backup for this team. Either way, the Phillies are set in terms of depth at the position, and only room for improvement is Ruiz needs to prove he can be consistent offensively.
Photo Source: Sports Illustrated
Florida found a nice little surprise in Baker last year, who had a strong season after being promoted in 2008. He is more of an offensive catcher though, his defensive skills are lacking. Rabelo is an average backup, nothing the Marlins would want in their starting lineup every day if Baker went down with an injury. Baker is also unproven over time, and no one knows what to expect from him in 2009. The Marlins have been searching for a catcher, so stay tuned to see if they find someone before next season.

Washington is likely to finish last in a lot of categories, this being one of them. Flores put up solid numbers, but was not impressive handling the pitching staff or working behind the plate. Nieves is also rather average, and really just goes unnoticed. Neither of the catchers are bad, but neither really has a strong point either.

It doesn’t matter that Flores’ .256 average is higher than other catchers’ in the division, because those other players are more skilled catchers. Offense remains a secondary statistic for the men behind the mask.
Please go to FightinPhillies to see Rich's Catcher break-down.

Position Breakdown

In the weeks leading up to the regular season, I will be doing an N.L. East position breakdown. Each week, I'll break down all the players at each position on all five teams in the division, and rank them.

I've invited Rich, whom I've joined forces with at FightinPhillies, to do the same thing so we could compare rankings and have a bit of a "debate." If he is interested, check out that blog as well for his breakdowns to go along with mine.

So-Long Flash

Tom Gordon is nearing his official departure from Philadelphia, as he appears close to signing a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It became clear the team had no intention of bringing Gordon back in 2009 after declining his option in October. He had a few high notes during his time in Philly, but his three years were mostly injury plagued.

Gordon did bring some value to the Phillies with his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence. He had a long and distinguished career, and his insight down the stretch was beneficial to the other players on the team.

Details of Gordon's negotiations are unknown, and it remains unclear whether Gordon is in search of a major league deal; but a minor league contract with incentives is the most likely scenario.