By Bill Campbell
The Phillies were still standing after the draft, but with no deals made. Some sources said the Phils demanded too much for a trade and the July 31st deadline passed with the team remaining at status quo. General Manager Ruben Amaro said that he didn’t ask for “top prospects” in exchange for his older, expensive players. But he didn’t make any deals. A rival team executive reported that the Phillies wanted players who would be immediately ready for the majors rather than prospects to be groomed for the future. Pittsburgh Pirates GM, Neal Huntington, who also did not make any trades, said that the environment for trading was unusual this year, “where it was [an effort to deal] established guys for younger established guys.” In other words, players for the future were not enticing. It’s interesting that none of the top fifty prospects in the midseason rankings kept by Baseball America was dealt. On the topic of prospects, Amaro expounded a bit: “In this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball [is] prospects. I don’t know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years [that] have really come to bite people in the ass….I think teams are really kind of overvaluing in some regards.” He could be talking about himself and the value he’s placed on some guys who’ve come up to the Phillies from the farm system only to be sent back over and over again. This is part of the reason why the Phillies are at the bottom of the NL East with little chance of moving out of it before the season ends.
The only recent deal Amaro has made which has worked out is the one for Marlon Byrd, the 36-year-old Phillies outfielder who has hit twenty home runs and wields a dependable glove in every outing. He hustles on every hit that’s tapped in his direction and he’s a threat at the plate whenever he comes up. Apparently, the Yankees showed some interest in a deal for Byrd but it never got off the ground. His contract includes a vesting option for 2016 and a four-team, no-trade clause that made him less attractive to the market. While Byrd himself said, “It’s a good thing to be wanted” he likely didn’t expect to be traded and seemed content to stay. From my seat, he’s one of the few bright spots on the Phillies’ roster these days. Ruben Amaro has said that he has not overvalued the team’s talent but he can’t deny that the Phillies have spent more than $400 million for a team that is 201-231 and has been outscored by 203 runs since the start of the 2012 season. Those are the facts and, at some point, he’s got to face them.
There were, however, some very interesting deals made elsewhere. The Boston Red Sox sent their ace, Jon Lester, and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the Oakland A’s on Thursday for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick. Recall that the A’s took Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammell off the market in a big trade with the Chicago Cubs. When you couple that with the A’s deal with Boston for Cespedes, you have to think that Oakland General Manager, Billy Beane, is aiming for a serious World Series effort this year. The trade news wasn’t over yet because the Red Sox then sent pitcher, John Lackey, and Class A southpaw, Corey Littrell, to the St. Louis Cardinals for Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly. Later that day, Boston traded left-handed relief pitcher, Andrew Miller, to the Baltimore Orioles for Class AA pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, who was ranked 65th in overall prospects by Baseball America at the start of the season. Tampa Bay also traded David Price to Detroit.
Meanwhile Cliff Lee, who had just returned from two months on the disabled list with left elbow strain, suffered a reoccurrence of that injury in a game against the Washington Nationals on Thursday night. He had made his third start on Thursday and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings before leaving the game with pain in that elbow. After seeing team doctor Steve Cohen in Washington, Lee was asked about rumors that he is done for the year. Seeming resigned to his fate, Lee replied, “At this point, that’s probably the case. I don’t know. I want to pitch, I want to do my job. But [if] my body doesn’t allow me to do it, then I can’t do it.” At this writing, Lee is on the fifteen-day disabled list.
Two nights later, A.J. Burnett was ejected in the bottom of the second inning for complaining about home plate umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone. Within moments, Manager Ryne Sandberg was tossed too as a heated argument followed. Afterwards, Sandberg faulted both Guccione and Burnett. “I thought both guys were in the wrong. A.J. can’t get tossed and I thought the umpire was a little early on the ejection.” Burnett had questioned a couple of Guccione’s calls in the first and second innings and he didn’t like one of the calls that Guccione made leading up to Anthony Rendon’s three-run homer in the second. Rendon hit a 3-1 pitch. Jayson Werth was up next and Burnett threw one pitch, outside the strike zone which was called a strike. He made a gesture to the umpire after the pitch about his call and Guccione sprang up and threw Burnett out. Sandberg ran out to plead the pitcher’s case and things got more heated from there, with Burnett needing to be restrained from going after the umpire who also was very angry. Burnett finally left the field but not before rolling the baseball toward Guccione – a move he later regretted. “That’s uncalled for,” Burnett said after his first ejection in a sixteen-year career. “But everything else, it all just happened.” Speaking about the toss-out itself, the pitcher said, “It was a little quick. I did ask him twice in the first and second innings if [a pitch] was out or down. Then I threw purposely out of the zone (to Werth) and I said the same thing except as more of a statement than a question, like, ‘That was out,’ and that was it. A pretty quick trigger. [I think] it was one of those things where he felt I showed him up in front of 40,000 people.” The game went from bad to worse after that. Phillipe Aumont came in for Burnett and allowed 8 hits and 6 runs. Phillies hitters struck out 11 times. Washington’s starter, Jordan Zimmerman, had an excellent outing and the Nationals trounced the Phillies, 11-0.
Mention must be made of Cole Hamels, who has been pitching well all season but has little to show for it. His 6-6 record reflects the lack of hitting his team mates have supplied to support the gems he has thrown, outing after outing, this year. On Sunday against the Washington Nationals, Hamels threw another one with seven innings of one-run ball. The run was scored on a Cody Ashe error when Denard Span hit an RBI single with two outs in the third. It was Ashe’s fault and not Hamels’ that the Nats got on the board. Hamels’ stats since June first are more than impressive: in 92 2/3 innings over 13 starts his ERA is 1.46 and he has allowed only 69 hits, walked 24, struck out 95. Yet he is 5-3 since that date, and of the three wins two of them were by just one run. On Sunday, the Nats’ Stephen Strasburg also pitched a beauty, striking out ten during seven shutout innings. But the Phillies couldn’t buy a run and Hamels got the 4-0 loss. He seemed philosophical about the result and the season after the game saying, “Any time you go up against a guy like Strasburg, and I’ve been able to match up with him a few times over the last few years, it’s fun. He and I are just trying to compete at the highest level and put up as many zeroes as we possibly can against each other. It brings the ultimate competition out.” Hamels is, at heart, a true competitor and he seems to have maintained his edge on the mound despite the lack of hits from his team at the plate. The Phils had just three hits on Sunday and were shut out for the thirteenth time this season — the second time in two games. With or without the runs, Hamels is sure to go out there again this week and throw his best effort all over again no matter the final score. In a bleak season, he’s one of the few bright spots.
There was a short piece on the wire over the weekend about Jim Thome, who hit 322 home runs while wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform. On Saturday, a statue of Thome was unveiled behind the center field wall at Progressive Field. Thome officially ended his career as an Indian after signing a one-day contract at home plate that evening. Later on, in a classy move, Jason Giambi presented Thome with the No. 25 jersey after consulting with team management about it. Giambi had been wearing 25 on his back but felt it was only right that no one else wear it again once Thome retired. Thome was touched by Giambi’s gesture and expressed his thanks on the field. Few would argue against such honors for Thome, who was one of the true stars of his time. He ended his career with 612 home runs, a .276 batting average and 1,699 runs batted in, playing at first and third base and as a designated hitter. Thome was named to the All Star squad five times in his career, once in 2004 while with the Phillies (2003-2005).He played some pretty good ball while he was here and endeared himself to fans when he returned on a one-year deal for the 2012 season. Jim Thome never won a World Series but he’s a sure bet for Cooperstown when his time comes. Good luck to him.
Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Eric Desjardins will be inducted into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame this coming season. Lindros and LeClair will be honored on November 20th before the game against the Minnesota Wild. Desjardins will be feted on February 19, 2015 before the Flyers meet the Buffalo Sabres. Team president, Paul Holmgren, said in a statement, “All three players are among the greatest in the history of the Flyers and are very deserving to join our Hall of Fame.” The trio, who took the ice in the 2012 Winter Classic alumni game at Citizens Bank Park, will join the twenty former Flyers who have been inducted in the team’s Hall of Fame. The team began to honor its alumni with this recognition back in 1988. Congratulations to them all.
At this writing, there are 33 days left until the Eagles open their season at the Linc. But who’s counting?
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