Aug 21, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
This is about the Philadelphia Phillies, but let’s start with the Chiefs. I have always been fascinated by the Kansas City Chiefs of the 1970s. You probably know that the Chiefs of the late 1960s and early 1970s were among the best teams in football. They played in Super Bowl I, and they won Super Bowl IV. In 1971, they went 10-3-1 and lost the game I believe was the greatest ever played — a 27-24 playoff overtime loss to Miami on Christmas Day. For most of those incredible years, they featured SEVEN Hall of Famers: Quarterback Len Dawson, dominant defensive tackles Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, brilliant linebackers Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell, cornerback Emmitt Thomas and kicker Jan Stenerud. I have long believed receiver Otis Taylor also should be in the Hall of Fame. Their coach, Hank Stram, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. We are talking about an all-time team.
But as the 1970s progressed, the players got old. And the Chiefs just, well, they just watched the players get old. The year after the Christmas Day game, the Chiefs went 8-6 with 37-year-old Len Dawson at quarterback and aging players everywhere. In 1973, they were 7-5-2 with the same aging players — they still had enough class to hold their own but not enough youth or energy or exuberance to more than hold their own. In 1974, the Chiefs imploded. They went 5-9 with most of the same players, Hank Stram was shoved out, and the Chiefs would have losing records for 12 of the next 15 years, making the playoffs only once, and becoming such a non-factor that there was serious talk of moving the team out of town.
This comes to mind because in 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies had to make a decision. The Phillies were an amazing team. They had won the World Series in 2008, lost the World Series to the Yankees in 2009 and lost in NLCS to San Francisco in 2010. They were on a spectacular high, and the city was alive with baseball, and the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park was fantastic, and the core of players — Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and so on — were Philadelphia icons. It was a magical time.
But you know — you could see the cracks. They weren’t hard to see. I have little doubt that general manager Ruben Amaro — for all the heat he has taken in Philadelphia lately — saw the cracks. Look:
- Howard had turned 30, he’s the type of player who doesn’t age well, and his production had dropped significantly.
- Utley had turned 31, he missed about 50 games with injury, his power numbers had dwindled.
- Rollins had turned 31 and his offensive production was way down from his MVP season.
- Victorino was about to turn 30.
- Werth, coming off a career year, was a free agent and about to leave.
These were impossible to miss signs. And Amaro, manager Charlie Manuel, ownership, the fans of Philadelphia, everybody had a decision to make: What do you do? Do you break things up now, when things are so good? Do you begin the process of rebuilding when the team is at its height? OR do you double down, add a few big money pieces, hold on tight and hope that the ride will last for a while longer? It’s one of the great questions in sports.
The Phillies, as we know, did not just double down. They tripled down. They quadrupled down. They signed Ryan Howard to a huge extension that would not even kick in for two years, an extension that made absolutely no sense when it was signed and made progressively less sense every single day that passed. But they were committed. Utley was already signed. Rollins was already signed. They signed Cliff Lee to a huge contract, thus securing what many of us called the greatest four-man rotation of the generation — Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. They brought back everybody except Werth — eventually replacing him with Hunter Pence — which meant that their starting team had nothing but 30-somethings. No player under 30 got 300 at-bats for the 2011 Phillies.
And … they were awesome. The pitching staff was so absurdly good, it almost didn’t matter how many runs they scored. Halladay finished second in the Cy Young voting. Lee finished third. Hamels finished fifth. In games when the Phillies scored three or more runs, the 2011 Phillies won EIGHTY PERCENT of the time. That made up 90 of their 102 wins. Yes, the team finished seventh in runs scored. Yes, Utley got hurt again, and Howard’s decline continued, but the season was glorious. Well, the regular season. Then it was the playoffs, and the Phillies lost to the Cardinals in five games — losing the last game 1-0 when Chris Carpenter out dueled Roy Halladay. Howard also got hurt running to first. And it was the beginning of the end.
Amaro had to see this. Manuel had to see this. But what was there to do? The Phillies had to double down again — they were too far in to fold now. They signed Jim Thome. They signed Jonathan Papelbon. They signed Juan Pierre. They signed Chad Qualls. At this point, it was like Amaro was jamming his fingers underneath the window, trying to keep it from closing. There was some vague talk about getting younger — start prospect Dom Brown was about ready, young Vance Worley had shown some moxie as a 23-year-old pitcher, but that was basically window dressing. They were old (or “experienced”). They were declining (or “accomplished”). Amaro knew all about the holes in the boat. He believed it had enough strength and experience to make it to shore one more time. He really had no choice but to believe it. He had made his bet.
The boat didn’t make it to shore. Halladay collapsed. Howard caved in. Utley got hurt again. Victorino at 31 wasn’t the same player. Like those early 1970s Chiefs, the team had enough class to break even — they finished 81-81. But the ride was over. This year, the Phillies came in as a bloated and ancient team of the past. They have tried to get younger. The lineup now has players in their 20s, the rotation too. But the team is 15-games under .500, in fourth place, and manager Charlie Manuel was fired.
Manuel talked with CSN Philly’s Leslie Gudel and in his folksy way said that he knew the Phillies were doomed the last two years and seemed to blame the Phillies for not adding pieces. I can’t blame him for feeling that way — I mean the guy just got fired and I’m sure he’s hurting — but I kind of think he’s talking out of pain. I suspect he believed. I think they all believed. That’s the human equation. The Phillies could have played it differently when they were the best team in the National League. They could have gotten rid of Howard, traded Utley or Rollins or both, gotten a lot younger, not signed all those old players to patch the holes, taken a step or two back in order to take a step or two forward (and heard the screams and boos that come with such maneuvers). They chose to ride it out. It was the human thing to do. And it led to where it always leads.
Dec 11, 2013, 8:34 AM EST
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated retweeted an interesting story from the UK involving Newcastle United of the Premier League. You can read it here. The upshot: Newcastle has sent around letters to newspapers telling them that they will no longer be able to interview players unless they pay the club for privilege to do so.…
Dec 11, 2013, 7:02 AM EST
At a time when concussions have become the most significant injury on the minds of athletes, coaches, teams and — increasingly — the legal system, baseball will move today to consider abolishing home plate collisions. As Derrick Goold reported this morning, this past weekend, team trainers and medical officials were told in a presentation here in…
Dec 11, 2013, 12:06 AM EST
Bob Elliott cuts to the chase in the Toronto Sun: Colby Rasmus is on the market and has been offered to two teams by the Blue Jays for starting pitching. Toronto probably wants a good, cost-controlled starter in return for the 27-year-old Rasmus, who had an .840 OPS, 22 homers and 66 RBI in 118…
Dec 10, 2013, 11:14 PM EST
The Cardinals got most of their offseason shopping done early this year, but the club still wants to add a right-handed-hitting infielder to provide insurance behind young second baseman Kolten Wong. And there may be a specific target in mind. According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Cards spoke to the agent…
Dec 10, 2013, 10:17 PM EST
Bob Nightengale of USA Today has the scoop on the Yankees’ reliever search … The #Yankees would love to grab two relievers and have had lots of internal discussions about Joaquin Benoit — Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 11, 2013 Benoit registered an exceptional 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 73/22 K/BB ratio in 67 innings this…
Dec 10, 2013, 9:21 PM EST
From FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi comes word that the Cubs, Pirates, Royals and Braves are among the teams with interest in free agent Jason Hammel. The Giants requested the 31-year-old’s medical records at one point earlier this offseason, but they’ve apparently moved on after signing Tim Hudson and re-upping with Ryan Vogelsong. Hammel, who’s said…
Dec 10, 2013, 8:37 PM EST
Mark Mulder hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2008 and chronic left shoulder issues robbed him of his ability to effectively retire batters by early 2006, but the veteran southpaw has been working on mechanical changes to his delivery between rounds of golf and he wants to sign with a team this winter…
Dec 10, 2013, 7:55 PM EST
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post has the story: Let there be no confusion: [Ryan] Zimmerman will remain the Nationals’ everyday third baseman in 2014. But, Zimmerman confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the Nationals’ plans for him next season include spot duty at first base. Zimmerman will take some grounders at first base during spring training,…
Dec 10, 2013, 7:08 PM EST
As first reported by MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, the Mets have re-signed right-hander Jeremy Hefner to a one-year contract. No word yet on the financials. Hefner was non-tendered by the Mets earlier this month after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in late August. He’s likely to sit out for the entire 2014 season, so this deal…
Dec 10, 2013, 6:43 PM EST
Now that the Diamondbacks have found their coveted power bat in Mark Trumbo, the club’s offseason focus has shifted to starting pitching. David Price of the Rays, Chris Sale of the White Sox and Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs are some of the names that have been frequently suggested, but ESPN’s Buster Olney says the…
Dec 10, 2013, 6:19 PM EST
Pirates lefty Justin Wilson was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2013, posting a 2.08 ERA in 73 2/3 innings while holding left-handed batters to a .200/.266/.235 line. That performance has apparently caught the attention of the rest of the big leagues. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi tweets that the Pirates “have been overwhelmed…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:46 PM EST
A lot of managers are great in press conferences. It doesn’t mean they’ll be great in the dugout. But given the P.R. week the Seattle Mariners have had, I think having Lloyd McClendon speak off-the-cuff in a funny, smart and engaging way is a good thing. Here were two of his quotes from the press…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:27 PM EST
With second base now off limits for a good decade or so, the Mariners have to be open to moving Dustin Ackley and/or Nick Franklin. According to CBS Sports.com’s Jon Heyman, the Mets, Padres and Yankees have already inquired about Ackley. Ackley, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, has hit a modest .245/.315/.354…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:14 PM EST
Major League Baseball has apparently made it its mission to reduce the amount of money teams can spend on international and amateur talent. There are now hard caps and slots and it has made it much harder for teams to build on the cheap as opposed to going out into the free agent market. Because,…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:43 PM EST
All the Brett Anderson rumors can stop swirling now: Oakland has traded the left-hander to Colorado in exchange for left-hander Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Chris Jensen, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com. Anderson has been mostly injured since mid-2011, throwing just 80 innings during the past two seasons, but he’s still just 25 years old…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:36 PM EST
Bengie Molina left his position as Cardinals assistant hitting coach to take a job on the Rangers’ coaching staff and now Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that David Bell will replace him in St. Louis. Bell retired in 2006 after playing 12 seasons in the majors, including four years with the…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:15 PM EST
Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Rangers are interested in free agent right-hander Bartolo Colon, but that they’re not willing to go beyond a one-year deal. I’d be wary of Colon on anything more than a year-to-year basis too, but given that the Mets, Mariners, Orioles and Royals have all expressed some…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:02 PM EST
Making an already busy day for Arizona even busier, Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that the Diamondbacks have offered former Yankees right-hander Joba Chamberlain a one-year, $3 million deal. Presumably the Diamondbacks would use Chamberlain as a reliever given that he hasn’t started a game since 2009. He had a 4.93 ERA in 42 innings…
Dec 10, 2013, 3:21 PM EST
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was a guest on MLB Network Radio from the winter meetings and dropped an interesting tidbit about the Robinson Cano negotiations, saying that Cano’s representatives made New York a counter-offer to re-sign for $235 million. Numerous reports throughout the offseason suggested that Cashman and the Yankees wouldn’t go beyond around…
Dec 10, 2013, 3:00 PM EST
3:00 p.m. EST update: A source told the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro that the deal is done. The Diamondbacks will get Trumbo and two players to be named, and they give outfielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox and left-hander Tyler Skaggs to the Angels. Left-hander Hector Santiago will go from Chicago to Anaheim. Trumbo…
- Media paying for athlete interviews? Not likely. But watch this stuff closely anyway. 2
- Rockies acquire Brett Anderson from A’s 12
- D’backs, Angels, White Sox agree to three-team Mark Trumbo deal 64
- Ranking MLB managers by . . . handsomeness 78
- Curtis Granderson: “A lot of people have told me real New Yorkers are Mets fans” 61
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (113)
- Robinson Cano “didn’t want to play” for Joe Girardi (110)