Monthly Archives: November 2009

Interview: Paul Hagen examines the off-season

Hagen on "Daily News Live"

BY SHAY RODDY

There’s always a lot to talk about this time a year, and as the hot stove warms up while the Winter Meetings approach. The Phillies have issues at third, in their bullpen and on the bench and are looking to improve in other places as well.

Paul Hagen is the incredible baseball writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and former president of the Baseball Writers Association of America. I got the chance to talk to him this morning about the issues facing the NL Champions this off-season and how they might deal with them once the Winter Meetings start this week.

SHAY RODDY: What’s the Phillies biggest need this off-season?

PAUL HAGEN: I guess there are two ways to look at that. Their biggest need this offseason are for Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge to prepare themselves mentally and physically to be able to perform in 2010 the way they did in 2008. But I guess the question was meant to ask what’s the biggest thing the front office needs to do. And that’s been pretty thoroughly discussed: Figure out who plays third base and strengthen the bullpen.

Personally, I’d like to see them add another solid starter and find an option for Jimmy Rollins at the leadoff spot. But I recognize that they won’t/can’t spend to get the pitcher and that the best guy out there to bat first is probably Chone Figgins, who also looks to be beyond what they want to spend.

SR: Is there a good reason that the Phillies let go of Feliz?

PH: A case could have been made to keep him. But it’s usually not a good idea to bring back a lineup intact. There needs to be some change from year to year and that was probably the obvious place to upgrade. He’s not a very disciplined hitter. Of course, they knew that when they signed him. I do find it curious that they’ve publicly stressed defense when discussing bench players, but seem to want to get rid of Feliz becuase of offensive deficiencies even though he’s obviously excellent in the field.

SR: Who do you like to play third in 2010?

PH: My first choice would be [Placido] Polanco, even though he would be playing out of position. My second choice would be [Adrien] Beltre, on a low-base-with-incentives one-year deal.

SR: Which struggling Phillie from 2009 will turn things around in 2010?

PH: [Cole] Hamels.

SR: Does Charlie Manuel get a free pass because he’s a champion or is he really the best manager for this team?

PH: Um, not really sure to respond to that. In the end, it’s a bottom line business. He’s one of two Phillies managers to ever win a world championship, one of two to finish first three straight years, the only one to take them to the World Series twice. I don’t think anybody ever “gets a pass.” Every year is a new season and you always have to prove yourself again. But does Charlie Manuel get a lot of credit for what the team has accomplished? Of course.

SR: You’ve been covering baseball for a long time. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen on a baseball field?

PH: I wouldn’t know where to start, but I did see Pat Corrales send seven straight pinch-hitters to the plate when he managed the Rangers. I saw back-to-back inside the park home runs in Yankee Stadium once. I saw Bert Blyleven pitch a no-hitter and then be traded before he made another start. It’s really true that when you go to the ballpark you might see something you’ve never seen before.

SR: Will the Phillies return from the Winter Meetings with a third baseman?

PH: Can’t answer that. Since they seem pretty intent on filling that opening via free agency and since the market is developing slowly this year, it’s entirely possible they won’t.

SR: Evaluate Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s first year as a general manager.

PH: That’s an interesting question. Obviously, the [Cliff] Lee trade was a coup. Signing [Raul] Ibanez was the right thing to do. Signing Pedro [Martinez] was interesting, although I’m not sure that it turned out to be a plus when all was said and done. On the other hand, his blind insistence that J.C. Romero would be fine for the postseason backfired. That forced the Phillies to use [J.A.] Happ out of the bullpen for most of the playoffs, which is certainly open to second-guessing. And it’s hard to know how much of it was Ruben and how much was [special adviser to the GM Pat] Gillick advising from behind the curtain. But, again, bottom line. They went to the World Series. Give him a solid B.

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Out of Left Field: Tiger doesn’t deserve it

BY HOMER PLATE, Contributor

OK, I’ve had it. A few years back, Brett Myers had an on-street scuffle where he gave his wife a swift knock on the noggin. Apparently, they were both sauced. I wouldn’t know because I don’t drink. I don’t need booze to pummel a woman (yes, I’m joking). That is the ultimate no no. While Brett Myers is and should be forever ashamed about what he did, I have a feeling this growing Tiger story is going to make the Brett Myers story pale in comparison.

And this is my problem. While athletes are supposed to be role models, at what point do we stay the hell out of their lives? Do we really care that the Myer’s clan is out getting hammered then going outside and hammering each other? Do we care if Tiger gets bitch slapped by the misses? We do. And I can tell you why. Because we are a pathetic bunch of poor, envious hypocrites.

I want all of you out there in the land of judgement to tell me that you have never had a fight with your spouse or significant other. If you say no, then not only are you the poor, envious hypocrite, you are also a liar. This has nothing to do with athletes or celebrities getting a free pass. This has everything to do with the fact that while we can judge Tiger and Brett on anything they do while they are playing their game, what they do when they leave the ball park or golf course is their business.

I already heard Howard Eskin on WIP laughing and making jokes about what is coming down the road from this story. It seems to me that the dumbest man in Philly media had a personal episode a few years back and he whined his way out of it. I think it should have been made perfectly clear at the time that not only do we not care what goes on in the personal life of Eskin, the vast, vast majority of us don’t care about any part of him, personal or professionally.

I should be clear that I am not saying that spousal abuse should be ignored in any way. What I am saying is that we all have heated arguments and should they involve violence it should be handled by the parties involved and if need be, the law.

But I love it when the “media,” (which is a synonym for “vomit used to make money”) claims that celebrity means that you are held to a higher standard and that is part of the gig. We do not deserve to know what goes on in the lives of athletes and celebrities. Unless of course their kids are waving guns at traffic lights, but that’s just good, clean fun.

So over the course of the next few weeks, while the greatest living athlete and soon to be the greatest athlete who ever lived gets dragged through the spousal abusive mud, all of you can bask in the glory of knowing that they are people just like you.

The only difference is they have the talent, dedication and work ethic to make millions and attain global celebrity status while your claim to fame is taking a leak in the sink while they work.

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Out of Left Field: It’s all Charlie’s fault!

BY HOMER PLATE, Contributor

As I think back to last year’s parade (funny, think parade in Philly and it’s usually Mummers, not championship) I began to play out how the 2008 playoffs and World Series were won. There are many things you can point a finger at, but one glaring thing always comes back to haunt me: Mr. Charlie Manuel.

Now, before we all get our trunks in a tizzy, I realize he is the first coach or manager to bring a title to Philly since what, 1891? Yes, he does deserve a pass for that. But we also have to remember that Phil Jackson won championship after championship on a team that arguably could have been managed by Helen Keller.

Here’s my thinking. Last year, the rotation was Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton. In the middle innings you had Romero and Madson and Lidge to close the door. This year, you could argue that the rotation of Lee, Hamels, Blanton and Happ is far superior to last year. So if you are so damn scared of not having middle relief, why not go with that? If they get you through six or seven you don’t need middle relief.

My point is, if you have a five story building on fire, you don’t sit there and spit at it, you just go with what got you there (hopefully a fire truck). My feeling is that Charlie tried to get way too creative with this Happ and Blanton junk out of the pen. He had a solid rotation all season and when he got to the big dance, he decided to get cute. I guess he saw the big, bad Yanks and panicked a bit. Like I tell investors, think of the stock market as porn, as much as you wanna watch it, you can’t. Charlie should have done the same thing, ignored the Yanks and just let his rotation work for him.

And the final thing that blew the cork off the bottle (or in this case put the celebratory cork back in) was the final game of the series. Fifteen pitches in and Pedro looked exactly like my sister. Okay, so my sister is not Latino, not a guy and she is 5-2 and 378 pounds but she sure looked like Pedro that night with his school zone fast ball.

Loyalty is fine to a degree. But when you leave during a windup to grab a snack and return to see the swing it’s obvious the guy has a problem. Pedro should have been yanked like a West Virginia molar in the 2nd inning.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but in this case I think we need to remember what we saw and hope that 2008 wasn’t just a huge streak of pitching and big Chuck wasn’t a one year wonder.

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Moyer Doing Well After Surgery

BY NICK STAFFIERI, Contributor

Hometown hero Jamie Moyer is doing well after a surgical procedure on Friday to clear some blood that collected from his hernia surgery back on October 2. This was the second time Moyer had been hospitalized following that surgery. The first came on October 7 because of an infection.

Moyer was admitted to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital on Tuesday and the plan is that he will remain there until Monday, November 30.

Phillies physician Michael Cicotti expects Moyer to be ready in February when Spring Training kicks off for the 2010 season.

Moyer had become a fan favorite during the Phillies successful run to the 2008 World Series partly due to his local ties and partly due to his performance. Moyer, who turned 47 on Nov 18, is currently on the roster as the fifth stater in the Phillies rotation behind Lee, Hamels, Blanton and Happ. He will be entering his final year of a two year deal he signed shortly after the 2008 season.

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Filed under Breaking News, Nick Staffieri

Holiday Giveaway #1!

BY SHAY RODDY

Ladies and gentleman, the moment you’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. On this Black Friday, we bring you the first of three Holiday Giveaways. This giveaway is a “Headliner,” where we ask you to put your slug on the photograph shown. Winner gets a Philies keychain bottle opener free of charge from our friends at Wholesale Keychain.

Here’s how this little contest is going to work: Put your caption in the comments section. Make sure the email address you enter is valid. Then use the “Thumbs Up”  button to vote for your favorite caption. Whoever’s caption receives the most votes wins.

Be mindful of your audience and refrain from using inappropriate material. Your caption will be disqualified if I deem it necessary.

Here’s our photo, let the fun begin!

Photo: Al Tielemans/ Sports Illustrated

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The Rosin Bag: Let’s See What Sticks

BY HOMER PLATE, Contributor

Not soon after the Phils made a valiant effort to repeat as baseball’s world champions, the rumor mill started churning out more studs then the Chippendale’s in a sperm bank.  Obviously, Figgins and Halladay were at the typical names being tossed around as those on their way into town.  It’s a name that could be on the way out that was the biggest shock.  Our fearless, sometimes brainless, but always playing at 110 miles an hour centerfielder, Shane Victorino.

I realize that most media outlets in the City function simply incite people to listen (and call in).  I will never forget back in college when a local sports talk radio show actually detailed that in an employment ad.  It read, and I quote, “Must be able to take opposing opinions to generate listener’s calls.”  I always wondered how Eskin got a job up until that day.

But let’s get back to the harsh and frightening reality of what losing Victorino would do to this club.  You could get an answer simply by walking outside and reaching your hand inside someone’s chest and ripping their heart out.  They’d be dead in just a few minutes.  So would the Phillies.

You could take away Chase Utley and besides the sudden rise in inventory of hair gel at the local hair salon, the Phils would move on.  You could take away Ryan Howard and other then not being able to navigate off of the reflection of that 200 Karat bling in his left ear, the Phils would move on.  I’m not too sure Cole Hamels knows he’s still here so we surely could move on if he left.  But our heart and soul?  The team would not recover.

You can talk all day long about 45 homers and 130 RBI’s.  You can watch with amazement as Cliff Lee mows down hitter after hitter.  But the intangibles like motivation and intensity are something that money can’t buy.  And Shane Victorino defines both of those words.

Obviously we hope that the front office isn’t looking at this as a money situation.  When the local scalpers are driving Bentley’s we know that everyone is making money, and plenty of it.  While I’m not suggesting that the Phils become the Yankees and go out and buy a championship (and even the Yanks only won one with the currency kids), they certainly need to look beyond the numbers and make the right decision here.

One only needs to look at guys like Bobby Abreu, Allen Iverson and Donovan McNabb.  They sure as hell have better have a lot of bells on their toes because they will never have rings on their fingers.  For all of the downside from a baseball mental perspective that Victorino may bring, and I can argue that even they are few, he is the heart of this team.  If the rumors are true, I certainly hope the Phillies brass seriously reconsider not wanting to overpay for our heart, because not too long after he boards the plane and leaves town, this team will die.

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Answer to third baseman question is all in the numbers

BY NICK STAFFIERI, Contributor

The hot name for the Phillies to replace Pedro Feliz at third base is Mark DeRosa.  Before anyone automatically writes our tickets to the 2010 World Series with that, I would like to take some time to analyze the real problem that lies at the Hot Corner for our Fighting Phils.  Since these decisions are all about numbers, let’s take a moment to analyze them.

Pedro Feliz has been the Phillies third baseman for the past two years.  Feliz wore #7 on his uniform.  In 2009, Feliz hit .266 with 12 home runs and 82 runs batted in.  Not impressive?  It just so happens that this marks the best offensive year at third base for the Phillies since Scott Rolen hit .289 with 25 home runs and 107 runs batted in.  Scott Rolen wore #17 on his uniform.  Stay with me on this.

Prior to Feliz, there was Abraham Nunez.  Nunez wore #3 and had a combined 48 runs batted in over the two seasons with the Phillies.  David Bell, wearing #4 on his back, had one good season out of three from 2003 to 2005.  Add into this mix #9 Thomas Perez with a career .240 average and a 2003 season with only 5 home runs and 33 runs batted in with 298 at bats.  The last player with consistently good offense from the third base position was #17 Scott Rolen.  How about Todd Zeile’s one season at third base in 1996?  He wore #27 and belted 20 home runs with 80 runs batted in.  #15 Dave Hollins had back to back 93 RBI seasons in 1992 and 1993.  Charlie Hayes, #8 on his uniform, before that?  Unimpressive.  And, of course, #20 Mike Schmidt manned the Hot Corner for the previous 18 years.

In analyzing all of these numbers, it is clear to see that getting offensive production from the third base position for the Phillies has been quite a struggle for the past 20 years.  The real problem, however, lies in what numbers we are looking at.  So what do we learn from all this?  Phillies third basemen who have worn single digit numbers on their uniforms have not produced any offense while others wearing double-digit numbers have.  Quite a revelation.  This leads to the potential for Mark DeRosa as the next Phillies third baseman.  The only problem with DeRosa?  His current uniform number is #7.

My opinion?  I don’t sign DeRosa until he agrees to wear #25 on his uniform.

Nick Staffieri is brand new to the High Hopes team. Send e-mail to nstaffieri@highhopesblog.com.

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