December 11, 2004

Phans, your team has phailed you

In parting with the usual chipper tone of BPF, here's a friendly reminder that the Phillies have failed you.

It's important not to lose sight of this fact, not to forget the blown opportunities, the belly-up trades, the deadlines that have passed, the overspending on mediocrity, and a team that's out and out failed to deliver since 1993.

Somehow, as we reflect on the season that ended two months ago, that harsh tone has loosened a bit. Fans seem ready to forgive and move forward with optimism.

Baseball hasn't been played since Boston ended the curse, yet it lives on in sites like this one through stats - the cold hard residue of the '04 season.

Let history, not numbers, put 2005 in perspective
Michael Berquist at A Citizen's Blog, a unique and informative voice on the Web, is making a case for the Phillies to win the NL East in 2005.

Like Berquist, I believe the Braves have a serious challenge to repeat as division champs because of the bodies they're going to lose. It's awfully tempting to write them off, a subject I wrote about a few weeks back. However, I simply can't agree with this philosophy:

"The Phillies don't have to get much better than they were in 2004, they have to stay where they are while the Braves decline."

The Braves are the last team anyone should underestimate, yet that’s exactly what Ed Wade and the majority of experts have done for God knows how long. They're winners of 13 straight division titles, and consistently defy the numbers. The Phillies, on the other hand, have won nothing despite looking great on paper.

If the Phillies philosophy going forward is to sit back and wait, the Braves will turn right around and say "Fine, you can underestimate us until October, when we’re back in the playoffs and you're not."

I'm not here to dispute numbers; I don't write about numbers much at BPF. That doesn't mean there isn't truth to be found in numbers. They uncover answers about how much a player is actually worth, and leave a cold-hard residue long after the last pitch has been thrown.

The numbers, in that regard, do what our eyes cannot. But here's a case where the numbers fail. What numbers would have predicted the season Jaret Wright had? Or Johnny Estrada? Or Nick Green filling in for Marcus Giles at second? Or Charles Thomas stepping into a starting spot in left field? Or Mike Hampton beating the Phils like a dog time and time again.

It's not going to just fall into the Phillies' lap. It’s not going to happen, not with the Braves in the mix, not now, and with Ed Wade at the helm, maybe not ever.

More than player moves he did and did not make, at the core, Ed Wade's biggest mistake has always been underestimating the other guy.

December 08, 2004

Phils add Lieber, years, to rapidly aging team

Despite concerns about his arm, the Phillies signed Yankees right-hander Jon Lieber to a three-year $21 million deal Wednesday. In the past five days, the Phillies have signed or traded for players who will be 35, 37, 37 and 38 years of age when they start the 2005 season.

The Phils scraped together the resources by subtracting $9 million from Eric Milton, who's never had as much good buzz surrounding him as he has this winter, and Kevin Millwood who flopped through two high-priced seasons that included a critical blown game against the Marlins down the stretch in 2003, and health and mechanics issues this season.

Millwood earned $11 million in 2004. That's lights-out ace money. Wow. The Phils shook loose $20 million from the two contracts, spending about $7 million for Lieber, who I'd consider their equal.

Lieber relies on his control to get batters out and is especially tough on right-handed hitters. He can work long, deep, quality games, the biggest problem with the Phils last season. The Phillies press release also said he had a "tendency" to keep balls on the ground, although Baseball Prospectus has him tagged as more of a fly-ball pitcher.

Money, money everywhere
That sound around baseball Wednesday was the "woosh" of starting pitchers quickly being sucked up by other teams. So I say the Phillies should spend the remaining $13 million on one of the last remaining pitching arms available: Carl Pavano, Derek Lowe or Pedro Martinez. Splurge on it. Spend every penny of it on an overpriced arm, just not Eric Milton or Kevin Millwood.

It's Utley time
I fully believe the Phillies have designs on giving 26-year-old Chase Utley the second base job, meaning, there's simply no place to for Placido Polanco, unless Ed Wade is keeping a tight lip about trading David Bell, which seems unlikely.

So let me be the first person to express my total support for the second baseman of the future, Chase Utley. Defense comes with experience. It's a small sacrifice to give up some defense to allow the development of potential run-producing weapon, who's hit at every level as a pro so far. And everyone around the organization likes him. A lot.

Keeping Polanco would be the safe thing to do, and I'm tired of safe. Let the young guys learn and play if they're ready. That's the approach taken by the best team in Philadelphia, the Eagles, who make it a rule not to resign guys over 30 with few exceptions (Brian Dawkins). Utley spent the exact right amount of time in the minors to develop his talent.

That, folks, is why you draft them.

The oldest catchers in baseball
The fact that Mike Lieberthal, 33 in January, and Todd Pratt, 38 in February, represent the oldest tandem of catchers in the majors should finally expose a gross mishandling of that position by the Phillies.

There's a quarter tank of baseball left in their systems, and they're good to have around, but the time has come and gone to inject a young catcher into the backup role. The resigning of Pratt, a decent, affordable and servicable backup, should be viewed as a failure to develop a better solution within the system.

December 06, 2004

Chat with Ricky Ledee, 4:30 EST

Former Phillies outfielder Ricky Ledee stopped by the BPF chat room earlier to field some of your questions, including questions about Barry Bonds, steroids and the Hall of Fame. Hours later, he was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers to a two-year contract. Here’s a portion of that transcript.

tAggert099: is anyone here? is ricky ledee here? hello?

tAggert099: eh???

Ricky Ledee: Sorry for the holdup. I’m stopping by Berks County on my way to NY to see “Movin’ Out” with Marquis Grissom. He’s waiting in the car, so I’m in a hurry. I’m ready for your questions now.

Doug, Fleetwood, Pa.: Ricky, after you were traded to the Giants, you really struggled to get it together. How come?

Ricky Ledee: First of all, I’d like to say that Philadelphia was a great place to play baseball. I have nothing but great memories and admiration for the fans. We tried to give you a winner. It’s a good group of guys: J-Roll, Bobby. We still communicate through our fantasy football league message board. Ryan Madson is in the lead, but I’m hot on his tail! Go rickys_wrecking_crew! As for San Fran, it was a tough adjustment. Obviously, Barry was a big distraction, obviously Jason Schmidt was a distraction with his “political rants.” Pedro Feliz showed up before a game one time in a new H2, and Jason was going on and on about SUVs and the environment. I say, if you have the money, why not???

Dennis, Reading: What are the chances we’ll see you back in Philly? Has E. Wade called you?

Ricky Ledee: I’ll have to speak with my agent, but as far as I know, they haven’t contacted me. Speaking of Ed Wade, guess what? I ran into him at Blockbuster just before I was traded and saw that he was returning “Unfaithful.” It’s not a nudie movie or anything, but that’s a pretty steamy selection.

tAggert099: kenny lofton! lol!

Ricky Ledee: That’s right, Kenny Lofton. How about that? They trade me for Felix, then trade Felix for an aging centerfielder. I don’t know what Ed’s thinking – he’s got Diane Lane on the brain, that’s what.

Mark in Bernville, Pa.: Ricky, I think you were the Phils’ best bench player last year. You got on base, hit a bunch of pinch-hit homers. Why no love? Why didn’t we see you more?

Ricky Ledee: Lieby kept making that argument, too. He said I should have played more, and kept referring to this book about “win shares,” and this whole new way of thinking about baseball. I didn’t really understand it – I was just doing what I’ve always done. I’m the first to admit that I stink in the outfield—I’m no Doug Glanville—but Lieby said it doesn’t matter because, in the grand scheme of things, my bat makes up for it. I tried to explain that to Larry, that I had good “win shares,” but it didn’t seem to help. Larry took Lieby’s book and locked it in his desk drawer. I have time for one more question, Marquis is waiting.

Ron in Topton: Where do you think you’ll be next year?

Ricky Ledee: Who knows? But for now, I’m off to NY. The open road is calling me and Marquis. Billy Joel, here we come!