December 15, 2009

Happy halladays.

I hate the fact that Philadelphia Phillies fans have to wait a year, maybe more, to determine the true worth of the Roy Halladay trade.

Truths: Roy Halladay is better than Cliff Lee. Roy Halladay is signing a reasonable (relatively speaking), short extension, something Cliff Lee would almost certainly not do. Roy Halladay is probably the best pitcher in baseball, and he's become that despite facing the potent Yankees and Red Sox lineups 15 times a year.

But what I keep coming back to is that we could have kept Cliff Lee. If the Phillies had offered Jamie Moyer arbitration (and a one-year contract) last year rather than a two-year deal...if the Phillies had non-tendered Joe Blanton last week, or traded him for peanuts (don't try and convince me no one would take Joe Blanton; they just wouldn't give us value back)...then the Cliff Lee salary dump (and trust me, the Mariners prospects may be decent, but they weren't their best; it was about losing $9 million from the payroll) might not have to happen.

But instead, we're paying Jamie Moyer around $8 million this year, and Joe Blanton will probably clock in about there, as well. Hindsight is 20/20, and it's easy to nitpick moves made in the past. And more specifically, its probably unreasonable to expect Ruben Amaro to cut ties with Joe Blanton with no Halladay deal right on the cusp. But moves like these, short-sighted decisions that ended up bloating our payroll, along with an openly professed desire for Halladay, allowed the Blue Jays and Mariners to rake us over the coals in the manner that they did.

The Jays might not have gotten a king's ransom for their ace, but they got two of our top three prospects and a solid catching prospect. And the Mariners got our postseason hero, a former Cy Young winner with World Series excellence added to his resume. And we had to trade that postseason hero because in 2010, we owe Moyer and Blanton together a Halladay-esque salary.

As a result of this trade, are we a better team in 2010? Probably in the regular season, as Halladay could easily win 20 games in the National League. But in the playoffs, Halladay can't start more than two, maybe three games a series. And Lee won the two games he started in the World Series. Unless Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge return to form, the Phillies probably won't win another title in 2010.

Are we a better team in 2011? That's the real question. Logic dicates that 2011 was the year Michael Taylor was going to take over for Jayson Werth and Kyle Drabek was going to fill a hole in our rotation left by Joe Blanton. But now, both of them play elsewhere, and the Phils may have to turn to more expensive free agents as an answer.

To be successful in baseball for an extended amount of time, you need to mix young, cheap talent with older, exorbitantly paid superstars. In Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, we certainly have the latter. But of the former...well, we're a bit limited. And that could cause a lot of issues down the line.

I will be the first to admit that once we see Roy Halladay take the mound on Opening Day, all this talk won't matter. And I also understand that prospects are not guaranteed to evolve into contributing major leaguers, which is why we shouldn't really lament the loss of Taylor and Drabek. But I think that, with some foresight and creative thinking, we could have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels leading the rotation in 2010, and near-Rookie of the Year J.A. Happ would be in the number four slot. That's a rotation that beats even what they're putting together in Boston, and it kills me that Rube didn't make it happen. Maybe I'm expecting too much from him after the "right-place, right-time" perfection of the Lee/Francisco trade.

That said, all we can do is adore Roy Halladay and hope one or two of Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez pan out. But I know that when I heard on Monday afternoon that we were trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners and then sending Mariners prospects (and Taylor) to the Blue Jays for Halladay, I loved it. I would miss Cliff Lee, but we were keeping Drabek, and we were trading Lee with a purpose. I could live with that. But once the Lee deal and the Halladay deal became separate entities, and the Lee deal began to look like a knee-jerk move made by a team suddenly lacking the upper hand, my enthusiasm turned into skepticism.

I love Roy Halladay, but he can only pitch once every five days. Whether Ruben Amaro can put good pitchers on the mound the other four days, not to mention eight solid players behind them, well, that's become the real question the Philadelphia Phillies will have to answer.

December 12, 2009

Even stevens.

For the record, I support the firing of John Stevens and the hiring of Peter Laviolette.

I don't think Stevens was the right guy to take this team to the next level, and I like the idea behind a tough, demanding coach that'll shake those Flyers who grew up with Stevens out of their comfort zone.

I also believe that firing Stevens will help Mike Richards grow as a captain. It sounded like Richards wasn't sure how to handle the addition of Chris Pronger to the locker room, with a lot of talk about Pronger being afraid to step on Mikey's toes and a damaging lack of communication between the two.

In a perfect world where human emotions were irrelevant, Pronger would probably have the C. He's done it before, and he has the demeanor and the skills to lead in every facet of the word. But Mike Richards is the face of the franchise, the man with the 12-year contract and the team's leader, for better or worse. I don't think anyone regrets that decision just yet, but Richards needs to grow and mature. And he will. The guy is only eight months older than me, and if you asked me to lead with an intimidating 35-year-old future Hall of Famer looking over my shoulder, I'd probably be a little hesitant as well.

It sounds like Richards took a lot of the blame for the coaching change, which is only partly true but definitely the right way for him to view the situation. Whether Stevens's style was holding the team back or not, more consistent play would have saved the man's job, and the Flyers did not provide that. As the captain, that falls on Mikey, and I think in the end that kind of kick in the ass will make him a better player and leader.

That being said, the timing wasn't right. Even though the Flyers looked awful, there didn't appear to be the need for an immediate change. Did Stevens lose the locker room? Unlikely, although Pronger didn't sound too distraught after the fact. Clearly Paul Holmgren lost faith in his coach, and that's understandable based on their recent play. But rather than inspire the team, the coaching change seems to have added to the pressure on the Flyers. A thrashing of the Islanders notwithstanding, the power play has remained painfully stagnant and implementing Laviolette's new system is going to be difficult with the team in the middle of a horrible slide.

A midseason outright coaching change, rather than the temporary promotion of an assistant, is rare. Laviolette was Holmgren's man, no question about it, and maybe he didn't want to take the chance that he'd slip away to another team after the season. But for now, a team with extremely high Stanley Cup hopes is playing like a team expecting a high draft pick.

The talent is there. If they can keep Claude Giroux on one of the top two lines, I think it'll restart his maturation process that began last year. JVR looks like a stud, especially considering how young he is, and hopefully the offensive output provided by the defense at the start of the season re-emerges. They need Blair Betts and Darrell Powe back, and they need Ray Emery to get healthy, as well. It'll be a shocker if they don't make the playoffs, and even if they sneak in, they'll be a debilitating matchup for Boston or Pittsburgh in the first round.

But all this probably could have been done with John Stevens. Right now, the Flyers are a team in turmoil, and when the axe falls next, it'll fall a little higher up on the food chain. Holmgren got his coach, but it might cost him his job.

December 9, 2009


I have a friend named Walt Schwenk, and he has a friend named Jeff Pearlman. And they've given us all something very special.

Walt enjoys music that the hypercritical and musically pretentious would never give the time of day. I'm talking about Hall & Oates, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, Chicago, 38 Special. Bands and artists that were incredibly successful, made large sums of money and sold out countless arenas and stadiums in their heyday. Bands and artists that are now, in many circles, considered a joke.

It's not that he doesn't like "good" music. He enjoys Springsteen, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, a good number of musicians that are both respected and critically acclaimed.

But he makes a point to emphasize his love of this kind of music, music often from a lost era, music that seems cheesy or over-the-top or just flat-out fake.

And this is music that Pearlman calls the "Best of Walt's Gay Asshole (BOWGA)". It doesn't matter why that makes sense -- it just does. It's perfect. Pearlman and Walt even have an audition process -- Pearlman puts a song on, and if Walt spreads his legs in agreement, the song is part of BOWGA. But if Walt folds one leg over the other, much like a lady, the song is rejected. Walt is tough but fair; he's proud of his musical tastes, and as his friend (and fellow fan of forgotten masterpieces), I love it, too.

In fact, I might like it more than he does. We're constantly swapping new additions to BOWGA, setting up Pandora stations for our favorite BOWGA artists and introducing ourselves to unexpected or repressed works of art.

And I think it's time to introduce our tastes to the world, but with a twist. These gems are what I am listening to now, my current favorites in this unappreciated genre:

Don Henley - "Taking You Home"
Ignore the Big Fish video attached to this song. Walt may not even include this in BOWGA, but he should. Don Henley's most known work probably came with The Eagles, but his solo albums cannot be denied. His masterpiece is The End of the Innocence, which features hits like "The End of the Innocence","The Last Worthless Evening" and "The Heart of the Matter". These are all terrific songs, probably worthy of BOWGA, but "Taking You Home" from 2000's Inside Job features unnecessary African American backup singers, a light R&B feel and inclusion as one of my favorite Henley compositions.

Michael Bolton - "How Can We Be Lovers?"
Another friend of ours, Chris Foran, loves Michael Bolton. Far more than any young man should love Michael Bolton, in fact. But he hates this song. No one is sure why -- the part where the music drops out and Bolton belts out, "WE CAN WORK IT OUT!" is probably a top-ten all time moment in recorded music. Plus, Mr. Bolton has a wonderful message -- a relationship is best built upon a solid foundation of friendship. Which is probably why I've drunkenly tried to hook up with so many of my female friends.

REO Speedwagon - "Time for Me to Fly"
Now this is one I know Walt can get behind. Much like Mr. Henley, the Speedwagon has numerous songs worthy of BOWGA -- "Can't Fight This Feeling" and "Roll With the Changes" leap off the tongue. But "Time for Me to Fly" is the perfect mix of ballad and rock, describing the difficulties of relationships while affirming that freedom from said relationship will cure all old wounds. I really want to sing this at a karaoke bar, preferably to a girl I've recently broken up with.

Annie Lennox - "Walking on Broken Glass"
The inclusion of John Malkovich in the music video is a welcome surprise, even though the 18th-century costumes are a little odd. At the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame show that recently aired on HBO, I was disgusted to see that Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin dueted on an Aretha Franklin song. How could Aretha foresake "Broken Glass"? As if she's ever done better. Another song I regret to say I've never performed karaoke to.

Phil Collins - "I Wish It Would Rain Down"
And finally, one of my all-time favorite songs. The music video stars Collins, Jeffrey Tambor and Eric Clapton, and it follows an alternate version of Collins' career where a demanding Tambor ruins his big shot at fame. But the song itself is so multi-talented; it can play so many roles. It can be a tale of heartbreak, of confession, even a key asset on my iPod shuffle running mix. Phil Collins gets a lot of flak, and sometimes rightfully so. But he has a dozen songs, maybe more, that are genuinely well-made and fun to listen to. In my opinion, Mr. Collins should be the spokesman for BOWGA. Much-maligned, successful beyond belief, unfairly shunned by popular opinion, a master of pop music. If people could accept Phil Collins and his music into their lives, the world would be a better place.

December 7, 2009

Back in the high life again.

Allen Iverson and Placido Polanco have returned to Philadelphia.

Only one of these two men will have any impact on a world championship run, and its the demure Dominican. But if a sports team's success related to the amount of headlines it received on, well, the last two weeks would have you believing that the Sixers are the city's gold standard.

And that's not to say I do not appreciate and understand the Iverson media blowout. Allen Iverson was a terrific player, and his introduction during tonight's 76ers re-debut was truly a special moment. It brought back memories of the 2000-01 76ers, a blue-collar team led by Iverson and beloved by the city.

It also made me kind of sad, as all of us basketball bandwagon hoppers finally had to think about how far the sport has fallen in Philadelphia. The Wachovia Center sold out tonight, and if the Sixers start playing competitive basketball, that plus the Iverson influence will get attendance back to acceptable levels. But ever since 2001, the team has either underachieved or flat-out sucked, and the fans have responded accordingly. When that kind of negativity pervades a franchise, it takes a lot to turn things around. Just ask Placido Polanco.

When Polanco left the Phillies in 2005, they too were underachieving. An 88-win season was enough for a close second place in the NL East, but a collapse in the final few weeks of the season left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. The team was talented (Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, the emergence of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard) but untested, prone to slumps and seemingly unable to come through in the clutch.

Fast forward to what will soon be 2010, and Baseball America has named the Phillies the Organization of the Year. Even September's World Series loss to the New York Yankees seemed acceptable...well, as acceptable as a loss can be in Philadelphia. Utley and Howard are perennial MVP candidates; Cliff Lee should be a serious Cy Young candidate next year.

You can talk about how it was the right players in the right place at the right time, or you can stress that the Phillies were smart to get a capable leader in Pat Gillick and the perfect players' manager in Charlie Manuel. Either way, the Phillies are the toast of the city, and the Sixers currently reside in the gutter.

Getting Allen Iverson will grant them a brief reprieve, albeit a joyous one with a special player we should feel blessed to watch again. But more than anything, it allows us to compare to the team that ruled in 2000 and the team on the throne in 2010. Both Iverson and Polanco seem happy to be back, and we are happy to have them both. But ironically, this time around Polanco's brilliant contact hitting will inspire more debate, discussion and (hopefully) excitement than Iverson's flash and flair.