caught looking

a blog about the philadelphia phillies. not to be confused, exactly, with "caught looking" the debut album by independent/unsigned/unheard of singer/songwriter greg roth, who is, coincidently, yours truly.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Kid Dy-no-mite

Theo Epstein has resigned from the Boston Red Sox. Despite being a native New Englander, a lifelong Red Sox fan, and a bit pricey on the GM scale, the Phillies should contact him. They should make every effort to interview him and offer him a hand in guiding this franchise, despite his slight record and large-payroll experience. This kid has energy and passion not readily apparent in the other candidates the Phils have brought into the Cit. In order to convince Curt Schilling to accept a trade to Boston from Arizona (probably ot that hard in retrospect), he dined with Schilling at Schill's home on Thanksgiving. Can you imagine Pat Gillick doing that? Pass the yams and shut up, StandPat.

Of course, David Montgomery will not be interviewing Epstein. He will say to himself and perhaps even the media at some point that he felt Epstein wanted too much money and wasn't good fit for the organziation, but it will be entirely because he already has his own protege being groomed for the job, Ruben Amaro, Jr.

And that is truely the Phils' loss.

Shadow GM?

Much like shopping for our own next job, the Phillies' current vacancy position has allowed some level of fantasizing about what the future may hold. In the spirit of the holiday, nothing seems more appropriate than taking a simple idea and dressing it up in a variety of borrowed or bargain-basement bought clothing. Maybe we'll get into working on campaigns. Maybe the Phils will hire a guy with some flair and imagination for what has become, by all accounts, a job marked by a very mentally-boxed-in thought pattern. Maybe we'll get a raise. Maybe the Phils will move some of their blocks around and create a new core which actually equals or exceeds the sum of its parts. Maybe we'll get a shot of adrenaline in our professional life. Maybe the Phils will get a shot of adrenaline in their daily lives.

Or not.

With reports, from when and where still slightly unapparent to us, stating that American League geezer and Moneyball public enemy no.1 Pat Gillick currently occupying the most likely-to-accept slot, the good times for all us dreamers are coming to an end. Imagine all the people upset over hiring a practically-retired old-school executive to run a practically rudderless, old-school franchise steeped in losing tradition and devoid of innovation. Sure, seems like a good fit to us!

Why is this man's name even on the list? Over the weekend, David Montgomery was quoted as saying that a new GM ideally would have an open mind about the two major courses of thought: the old look-and-see mind and the new statistical approach. Both have their merits he said. After having such a discussion with annointed favorite Gerri Hunsicker, why in the name of Bull's BBQ would an old decrepit franchise hire an old decrepit candidate? It really makes little sense and if this follows as the Phils new direction, optimism will make for some lonely nights drinking away frustrations down the line.

Do the Phils, who plucked a PR consultant from the local news channel to try and decipher the deafing screams of disapproval from the public, really think their new, fresh, open mind is located in the body of a nearly 70-year-old hack who traded his farm system for a couple world serieses, bolted to the opposite coast for a cushy executive job, and has spent more then the appropriate level of energy ripping and blasting the most lauded fresh look at baseball scouting and operations of the last 10 years? DOES NOT COMPUTE! DOES NOT COMPUTE! ERROR!

For a franchise that fails so miserably to connect with the local fanbase or attach itself to the personality of the city to go out and hire a dinosaur from outside the country over a local wunderkind of sorts really begs the question:

Is this even a real job?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Mangels in the outfield

First things first: you too can be a sportswriter! Seriously, I don't know who Nick Browne is and I don't care, but because I have a forum to spout off, let me just offer this little bit of advice to the Nickster: don't drop out of dental school, OK? Obviously, you're a natural at pulling teeth because my whole head is feeling the effects after wading through this cesspool of a column. I used to either (a) scrap or (b) totally re-write stories better than this for my college paper and my writers back then were scribbling what amoount to distress codes in between hangovers. Not one sentence in this column can boast the depth of the reflecting pool on the Mall in Washington D.C. and if that reference makes no sense to you, re-watch Forrest Gump. Get a clue or stick to covering junior high field hockey, OK, babe?

Now that we're done, it's time to marvel at just how much has happened in Philsland in the past 24 hours. To wit:

1. Phils interview media-annointed and common-sense choice frontrunner for GM
2. Phils consider moving left field fence back
3. Phils will essentially let Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez walk, completing another fantastic long-term trade by Ed Wade
4. Ryan Howard is attributed to as saying that he doesn't mind learning to play left field
5. Marcus Hayes incorrectly asserts that Phils fans will be universally pleased by a re-signing of Billy Wagner

While CL has a strict policy aginst getting too worked up about routine happenings (#1), time-honored ineptitude (#3) and some items on here aren't really even out of the ordinary (#5), the true jaw-dropping moments on here are #s 2 and 4.

First, for the Phils to actually consider, let alone act upon, an idea that is founded in their admitting to some extent previous errors really does suggest that the front office is not as inept as we all generally feel they are deep down inside. Personally, such a move seemed inconceivable a few months ago. Think about it: they are saying (a) this park is not as good as it could be, (b) we need to make this change to get better, (c) we don't mind robbing ourselves of some revenue generation to avoid being the east coast version of the punchline to the Coors Field joke. It's still to early to say how significant this move would actually be -- that is, how much difference is it going to make to pitchers, and certainly, there are many some season ticket holders muttering to them selves for the next few months, sweating out the details -- but the fact that it's even on the table is weirdly encouraging. Since this blog was considering checking the books and trying to move some money around for a Sunday only plan in that neighborhood, this development will be followed with great interest.

The other item, moving Ryan Howard to LF to accommodate scapegoat of the year Jim Thome is not necessarily doomed to fail as quickly as it did last year. There are a million reasons out there to consider this move and almost as many to not do it. For instance, moving the fences back combined with a large, inexperienced left field may re-establish CBP as a doubles hitters park. Another one is that an outfield of Howard, Burrell, and Abreu (unless one is moved in the offseason) will instill in every major league slap hitter the confidence to be the next Jackie Robinson. But one very real reason to do it would be for the exact purpose of moving a healthy Thome at the right time next season, after spring training, during the season, when another team realizes a need and feels the pinch to make a move.

Imagine how things will be when we have a GM. See if you can keep up, Nick Browne.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

All is well

Everyone take a deep breath. The Phils are not going to elevate Ruban Amaro, Jr., or Mike Arbuckle to their vacant GM spot. Just like they were never serious contenders for Brian Cashman, they are not going to let Gerry Hunsicker go by the wayside to Tampa Bay (this is who we're worried about losing him to?) with so much as contacting him. I don't believe that for a second. I'm put my faith in "league source" the same day I decide there is no reason for me to accept a paycheck for a living.

While we would like feel we are smarter than the Phils front office, we can't seriously expect that business as usual will continue to muddle along in the face of such hostility. If the fans truly got Dave Montgomery to let Ed Wade go, Monty is surely not going to turn roght and around and hand the job to someone in house. The Phils, most comfortable in what feels like a vaccuum, will not muke the egregious mistake of not bothering. Yes, they did with Manuel, but no they won't this time.

Cashman, it seems, is good friends with Theo Epstein of all people, and by holding out a bit, not only helped himself with a new contract with the only franchise he's ever worked for, but also helped his pal in Beantown make his case for a raise. Remember, the Sox offered Billy Beane something like a 5-year, $12 million deal; Epstein, an unknown at the time, is making but a fraction of that. GMs are a club just like any other disciplinein the business world. It seems odd, but in between competing with each other, they watch each others' backs.

What you have been witnessing the past few weeks has been a shortlist formulated almost entirely by the media. With no public comments on the search, any information we all get is at best second hand and most times, not even that good. "Leagues sources" -- that fuzzy term for people like, oh, I don't know, Larry Bowa, Harold Reynolds, or the assistant to the weekend sportswriting intern at MLB, are not to be counted on for anything particularly viable. The real meat is nowhere to be found at the moment. That's usually the case with how this PR-challenged franchise operates. Did any of us see the Wade firing coming?

And so, I beg everyone: give it time. Don't expect the worst. In fact, expect nothing, if it makes you feel better. But let's not be ridiculous. The Phils concerned enough about money and image to not hire from within this time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The waiting is the hardest part

So far, the 21st century has provided one constant for Phillies' offseasons: they have been about addition. From added payroll to generally applauded big name signings to a handful of young blood on the everyday scorecard to the new ballpark, they Phils have always entered the winter months looking to bolster the core. There was never talk of breaking things up or making dramatic structural differences, only "tweaks", that dreaded, back-handed synonym for taking the same old dice and trying to roll them from another angle, only to crap out with the same old unlucky seven each time.

Well, this offseason figures to be different. This is the first Phillies offseason in which subtraction is the main objective of the equation. It's certainly the case in the front office -- out with the old GM, in with the hold on a minute! Not a good precedent. No one in charge of personnel and its currently the worst kept secret in Major League Baseball that Jim Thome is sitting square on the trading block. Obviously, this was inconceivable a year ago, but age, injuries, declining production, and unplanned obsolescence due to Ryan Howard have rendered the big fella, once the cornerstone of the franchises' playoff and championship hopes, a veritable distraction in South Philly (for those who still pay attention anyway). And yet, have any of us heard a peep from Thome? Has he given one interview since opting for season-ending surgery? He has been sentenced to a kind of purgatory which is more like a default Hell in the City of Brotherly Get the Hell Out of My Face, You Bum.

So, as the Phils presumably attempt to strip some of the dead skin off the body of work near Broad and Pattison the past few years, the real questions are not who, but where. Where in the world are we going to send our gang of over-30s and what could we possibly expect back in return? Since I want to keep these entries a little shorter, I'll spare you the beleaguered speculation of this prospect for that veteran and cut right to the point: the market is severely limited. That is, based on payroll and situations, the Phils have exactly four options this winter: the Yanks, the Red Sox, the Angels, and the Mariners. Of the 11 teams with payrolls in excess of $80 million, those are the only American League clubs on the list. It's hard to imagine a smaller payroll or national league team taking a chance on Thome and his shoddy defense and even more improbably that the Phils will deal him to a division rival. Further inspection is even crueler.

The Red Sox are out. Despite having a nice porch, all the better to homer with, this is not a Theo Epstein type of move. My guess is, they're saving their money for Wagner. The Yanks, with Giambi at first, would be hard pressed to grab an older version of their existing first baseman, even if it was to DH. Ironically, their unlimited payroll probably dooms this acquisition, since having the power to buy whatever they want might lead them to believe that they can do better. They also need pitching more than another set of bad knees. That leaves the Angels and their desire for a right-handed power hitter and the Mariners, home of our favorite tradebait rumor this offseason, the overpaid Adrian Beltre. It seems ludicrous to me that Seattle would jettison a young big contract at one corner for an older big contract at the other. There would be a zero net gain. Throwing in David Bell would make the deal a larger zero net gain. No, that is not a quote from Cliff Claven, that is the truth. Bell had a nice year in 2004. It will almost certainly be his last such.

So, offseason negotiations with the Angels notwithstanding -- Mike Scoscia is just the kind of guy would might take on a Jim Thome -- my prediction is this: 2006 will see a repeat of the practical yet annoying Placido Palanco / Chase Utley drama, only with new cast members. Jimbo starts the season as the most expensive pinch-hitter, part-time starter in the majors while Ryan Howard sits against lefties and quietly curses the Phils front office for not being able to sort this kind of thing out sooner, clearer -- again. Beat writers across the nation will have a boilerplate story to dust off and -- ugh -- "tweak" until late June when Thome is shipped to the AL, most probably to the Angels or a semi-competitive team with a major injury at 1B/DH.

At that point, this new era -- promising, yet curious as it is -- will finally begin for the Phils, their new GM, and us.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Five for fighting

As October draws to a close, the expectations for the Phillies' offseason are bubbling upwards, if only inside all our minds. This very well could be the most active winter months for the hometown club that we've seen in perhaps our lifetimes, at least for those of us born roughly around the time Michael Jack entered the majors. That is, these should be so active and for the first time since the later half of the Clinton years, we won't be subjected to the half-hearted moves of a thin-skinned, non-baseball hothead as our GM. Well, assuming we hire a GM, of course.

In terms of positions, the area of the club which has gotten the most attention -- and rightly so when you take a gander at who's representing each circuit in the World Series -- is starting pitching. While some teams' pitching staffs are clearly built to endur the regular season while others are better suited to post-season, both Houston and the ChiSox seem perfectly suited to both. The Phils on the other hand, have more or less proven to be suited to neither.

If you'll indulge me in another of what is sure to be my usual rudimentary comparison, let's see how the Phils stack up against the two WS contenters. Below is a list of wins and WHIP of the starting pitchers:

Astros 89 wins overall
Clemens 13 // 1.43
Pettitte 17 // 1.65
Oswalt 20 // 1.20
Backe 10 // 1.02
Astacio/Roderigez 13 // about 1.1 between the two

As you can see, the five starting spots accounted for 73 wins by the starters, of the 89 the ballclub had in the regular season. That's about 82%. I was a little surprised by Pettitte's and Clemen's WHIP. Both are a little higher than I would have thought for two pitchers so heralded throughout the season, especially Clemens when you consider how low his ERA was all season. Conversely, I had no idea Backe's was so good. Now the White Sox.

White Sox 99 wins
Garland 18 // 1.17
Buehrle 16 // 1.18
Contreras 15 // 1.23
Garcia 14 // 1.47
Hernandex/McCarthy 12 // about .80 between the 2

The Sox has a total of 75 wins from their starters out of 99, about 76%. Not quote the correlation to the Astros that I had expected. Admittedly, I included the WHIP, not to analyse it, but to provide some perspective since wins are completely misleading. It does, I think give you some indication of what is expected from the starters. As for the playoffs, it would seem that Chicago's big three might be a little stronger than Houston's, just based on raw stats. But that's not the point of this entry. On to the Phils staff.

Reports from the Phils are that Vicente Padilla will be allowed to walk and Ryan Madsen will be given every opportunity to become part of the rotation. Members of the blogosphere called for such a thing in mid-season when Wolf went down and Ed Wade decided not to trade for a proven starter. Based on Madsen's repertoire (fastball-change more suited to starting) and his success in the minors as a starter, there is reason for gaurded optimism that Madsen will pan out. Should he, that leaves exactly one starting spot left. Let's take a look at what we got, using this past year's wins, forcasting that the Phils will/need to win 90 games and the starters should bring home the bacon at an 80% clip:

Phils: projected 90 wins
Lieber 17 // 1.21
Myers 13 // 1.21
Lidle 13 // 1.35
Madsen ?? // 1.53
Open slot

For the starters to get to 80% or 72 wins, assuming their pitchers turn in about the same numbers (maybe 2 wins less for Lieber, 2 more for Myers), the Phils need 29 wins from Madsen and their yet undetermined starts. If there were to get 12 from Madsen, not an unreasonable number for a first-year starter with some big league experience, they would need 17 out of the other slot. That slot would almost have to be a 1-3 man for the Phils to be a serious playoff team in the mold of the two pennant winners.

The top candidates in-house are Robinson Tejeda, Eude Brito, Gavin Floyd, and Cole Hamels. Brito is only a frontrunner in the respect that he is a lefty, while Tejeda has the most experience (and least control) of the thin bunch. Hamels is not expected to pitch winter ball due to his back problems, so he may be a candidate for middle relief shoudl he make the club. That leaves Floyd, the former can't miss prospect, and he was shelled all year at AAA after throwing a real nice gem against the Cardinals.

So, where does that leave us? In need of a 15-17 game winner, a WHIP under 1.30, preferrably a lefty not named Ted Lilly, with a contract that is not too big and doesn't run through 2006 only, ona team that needs a slugging corner outfielder with a big contract. Now, what team with that kind of need, has that lying around?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

May we have this dance...someday?

Two days ago, you would have thought the world was ending in east Texas. Another storm had ravaged the Gulf side of the Lone Star state and the locals were silent. Dead silent. Disaster seemed to strike a second or third time, only this time the name was not Katrina or Rita or some other innocuous name from who-knows-where. This time, the name tag read Albert Pujols and the smirk he wore as he smacked a ball 400-plus feet in the 9th inning Tuesday was absolutely Moonshot Manny-esque.

In the media, the writers, specifically the night owls who tirelessly work the unforgiving AP beat, were lambasting the Astros as losers. Failures. Chokers. Bums! They pointed out the franchise’s propensity for losing big games, for never getting to the big dance, for choking versus the 1980 Phillies at home for God’s sake, then again 6 years later against the Mets! Both teams went on to win the prize. From what was penned in the last 48 hours, you half expected the suits to be readying the paperwork for Houston’s dismissal from the U.S. back to Mexico. They disowned that city faster than one could say San Juan Hill.

Are we being dramatic here? Maybe, but if you had combed the wire and read the reports, you would have thought the ‘stros were DOA in St. Louis. The stories weren’t kind and the writers seemed to be waiting for Houston to collapse yet again. What a story that would make!

The writers should have known better. If anyone saw this team’s toasting of their closest pursuer this year, our own Phillies, they would have known this is not a choking team. Down a game or two in the standings, they came into south Philly and stole three straight games from an unusually resilient squad at Broad and Pattison by doing what? Just enough to win each time. Stealing a few bases. Grabbing a few early runs. Throwing good pitches. Knocking a dinger off a former teammate, who by the way is the premier closer in the league we’re told. It’s the kind of thing that makes you like a team, really. They battled back. They hung on. Now, they faced the same killer that got them last year and this time they took them down. Pretty sweet revenge.

Oh yeah. They lost 30 of their first 45 games this year. They had an anemic offense in something of a hitter’s park. They lost their biggest slugger to an injury. They couldn’t score enough runs for the guy with the best ERA in baseball to win more than a dozen games. Their closer made less than the cost of an average house in about 10 major markets in this country.

In short, they were everything the hometown nine were not this year. The Phillies, if they are serious about improving their team and their franchise, should look no further for a gold standard than the National League’s representative in the World Series this year, a team that sent them home by a margin of exactly one game this year. They should start by hiring their former GM and proceed to put together a team of quality arms and hungry position players.

Finally, if Dave Montgomery decided to fire his former GM after witnessing the Astros’ marathon win in 18 innings over the Braves, he should rewind that tape and rewatch it every day until he collects enough fire in his Braod Street belly to do a lot more housecleaning.

Just changing lightbulbs is not going to do it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Always be closing

Nowhere is the Phils current malaise in finding and integrated a new GM more frustrating than in the area of their contract talks. And so, in reading today's report on how the Phils front office is upping their offer to retain the services of one Billy Wagner, esq., closer extrordinaire and media-savvy loose cannon, one can only hope Wagner's inflated sense of self gets the best of him and he walks. Why? Certainly not because Wags isn't one of the elite closers in the baseball -- he is. However, as it was stated very eloquently on another blog, he has become a luxury item the Phils can't really afford (given their current payroll and declining attendence) at a position where they can make a better decision (assuming they CAN make better decisions) about how to fill that need.

To put the Phils' blogoshere's discontent with succumbing to Wags's contract demands in perspective, let's a take a very rudimentary look at the market. Here, listed in order of saves, are the top 20 closers in baseball last year, with their squad, saves, WHIP, and '05 salary next to their names.

Chad Cordero Was 47 // .97 // $346,500
Bob Wickman Cle 45 //1.26 //$2.75 mil
Francisco Rodriguez LAA 45 //1.14 //$440,000
Trevor Hoffman SD 43 //1.11 //$5 mil
Mariano Rivera NYY 43 //.87 //$10.5 mil
Joe Nathan Min 43 //.97 //$2.1 mil
Brad Lidge Hou 42 //1.15 //$500,000
Danys Baez TB 41 //1.33 //$3.75 mil
Todd Jones Fla 40 //1.03 //$1.1 mil
Jason Isringhausen StL 39 //1.19 //$8.25 mil
Derrick Turnbow Mil 39 //1.08 //$322,000
Billy Wagner Phi 38 //.84 //$9 mil
Francisco Cordero Tex 37 //1.32 //$3.875 mil
Eddie Guardado Sea 36 //1.19 //$4 mil
B.J. Ryan Bal 36 //1.14 //$2.6 mil
Dustin Hermanson CWS 34 //1.10 //$2 mil
Ryan Dempster ChC 33 //1.43 //$2 mil
Miguel Batista Tor 31 //1.43 // $4.75 mil
Brian Fuentes Col 31 //1.25 // $328,000
Braden Looper NYM 28 //1.47 //$5.3 mil

As you can see, Wags is already the second highest paid closer in baseball, behind Mariano Rivera and let the record show that for as long as this blog exists, the Yankees shall heretofor never be used as a benchmark for what to pay a player. An argument can made that Rivera has earned his dough through saving the backend of a handful of World Series rings; Wags has done no such thing, whether his fault or not. On the bottom end, the incredibly mediocre Braden Looper further proves the Big Apple's penchent for price inflation. Wags's .87 WHIP was the best of any closer's last year, so in his eyes, as he looks at what Rivera is paid, he has something of a case. If he can get that kind of money out of, say, Boston, more power to him.

However, there are other ways to fill this need. Of the Top 20, there are only 5 closers who made less than $1 mil last year. The Phils certainly don't need to be one of those clubs. On the other hand, there were only 5 closers who made $5 mil or more last year, including the two NY closers previously mentioned. The Phils can't afford to be one of those clubs.

Granted, the thought of having a nearly automatic 9th inning guy seems to negate Wags's price tag in many fans' eyes -- visions of MesaMeltdown, v. 2003, still dance in our heads, as do the '05 squad's combined 17 blown saves. But, who the Phils get to fill this role is the second part of an equation which should start with the determination that this $10 million could be spent more wisely elsewhere and is by most other teams in the majors.

But breaking up is hard to do, I guess.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Now, this is what I call an "off season"

And so, after spending the 2005 season as a seriel commenter on a half dozen blogs about the phillies, today I officially throw my hat/scarf/other garment into the ring with the "launching" of my on blog on the same. Why, you ask? Guilt, of course. Everyone's a got a blog but me. But more honestly, my comments are getting longer and longer and it only stands to reason that if I have serious opinions, they theoretically could sustain a dedicated home.

So, I give you "Caught Looking," in honor of many things, least of all Pat's Burrell's unprecedented ability to take a long look at the last pitch he sees before slouching back to the dugout, a victim of the K, and most of all, the entire franchise's annoying ability to work on its problems unimaginaitvely and seemingly out of order.

Case in point: conducting winter meetings and pursuing personnel issues before hiring a GM. The offseason, especially the first month after the end of play, is arguably the most important month of the year in a GM's tenure. So, if a team can navigate those waters without a GM, why bother even hiring one. If you don't need that steward for the organization's highest priorities and most pressing business, why go out and hire one for the lesser times? Logically, it makes no sense and exposes the Phillies' default existence as an organization with poor judgment.

Wait, I'll do you one better: if a team says it is looking to hire outside the organization, what possibile rationale could that organization have for saying "the GM search can wait, we'll handle these meetings in-house." Isn't that the whole problem to begin with? Does no one at the Phils' front office see how Groucho Marxian that irony really is?

Either my watch has stopped or next season is already dead.