One Month of Christmas, Day 11

Welcome to the “oops” edition! I missed yesterday, so today gets two posts. Here’s the post for Wednesday, December 5th, 2018…

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Oh, Dubliner

How can I forget thee? I can’t, so I went there last night and had a few drinks and some corned beef and cabbage. I’ve seen plenty a Senator there over the years, but last night it was the Chuckster- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was in and out in about three minutes time, while I was outside on the phone. I guess he was in a rush…

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The Phillies Were Right to Hold the line on Corbin

So the Washington Nationals tried their hardest to remain relevant in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, paying Patrick Corbin the bank, and giving him the desired sixth year. Obviously I would have liked to sign him, but I’m glad the Phillies didn’t go six years to do it.

Obviously this doesn’t look like “spending a little stupid,” and Corbin is good, but even the deepest pockets in the NL East have to pick their battles. Save that extra year to get Harper. The Nats don’t have the fanbase to sustain contracts like Scherzer and Corbin, even though attendance has improved. They’re a stagnant, underachieving team that has an owner who’s very rich, but not richer than John Middleton. Use the cash we didn’t spend on Corbin to bury that team once and for all, and take the face of their franchise.

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Don’t Feed the President’s Ego

Donald Trump thinks he behaved during George W. Bush’s state funeral. No, really, just ask him. By not making a total fool of himself, he thinks he did well. I guess if you ignored his twitter account, maybe- but you can’t do that. And besides that, why are we giving credit for him not attacking Jeb all week. I mean really, the man’s a child. Treat him like one.

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One Month of Christmas, Day 3

Good day, today is Tuesday, November 27th, 2018. Christmas is now 28 days away. Here’s today’s random thoughts…

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Paul Manafort? #LockHimUp

Paul Manafort is going to prison. That was true when he was found guilty in his first trial. That was more true when he plead guilty before his second trial. Now that he lied to prosecutors? Lock.Him.Up.

There seems to be a convergence of events that is entirely circumstantial, but you can’t turn away from. First, the revelations that Manafort both violated his plea deal, AND that he had a secret meeting with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, before the Wikileaks attacks on the Clinton Campaign. Second, Jerome Corsi’s bizarre rantings about rejecting a plea deal for perjury- which both seems to be the least of his crimes, and not the crime he’s describing. Third, Donald Trump just submitted his written answers to Mueller’s questions.

The only thing that makes clear sense to me is that Bob Mueller is trying to establish a back channel between the Trump campaign, Wikileaks, and Russia. Manafort probably wasn’t totally forthcoming about something related, Mueller had the goods on it, and the deal fell apart. Manafort is pretty much screwed. This isn’t great for Mueller either, as he loses a star witness. Things are at least beginning to become clear though.

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Goliath is Back, and Goliath is the Phillies?

As I write this, Twitter is buzzing with news that Patrick Corbin is at Citizens Bank Park. The elite left-handed pitcher on the market seems to be high on the Phillies wish list, along with Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, every major free agent, and every major trade candidate.

The Phillies are a big market team, with a big market TV deal. In fact, they’re the biggest market with just one team. They have a low payroll and young team. While 80-82 isn’t a great season, it’s good enough to now buy your way back into the playoffs. They have plenty of prospects to work with, one of the richest owners in sports (John Middleton), and a fan base that can fill the seats in a hurry.

The expectations for the Phillies this off-season are high, but not beyond their abilities as a franchise. I’m obviously most interested in getting Bryce Harper, but Machado, Corbin, Kimbrel, and major trade targets are all fine too. I’m just ready to watch a major superstar hit upper deck homers to right again, like the good ole’ days. The possibilities seem endless, and so does John Middleton’s desire to win. Goliath is back in the NL East.

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Make Gritty the new Flyers GM

Here’s some real talk- the Flyers have been a directionless, “good enough” to make a profit franchise for a long time. Here’s some other tough talk- over that long time, the Flyers keep putting ex-players in charge of the team. They haven’t done so hot though. It’s been 40 years since the team won a Stanley Cup. It’s been almost a decade since they blew up a team that lost in the Stanley Cup finals. The team is perpetually disappointing. The most successful thing they’ve done is make Gritty their mascot.

So, I put in the title here “Make Gritty the new Flyers GM.” I’m not really suggesting that, but I guess I am if they’re really going to let Paul Holmgren call the shots in the organization. Holmgren, the ex-GM that failed in his previous role, was rewarded for losing by being promoted to the Team President. If this is the kind of decision making the Flyers do here again, why not let an orange mascot run the operation?

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Democrats Should Stop Fearing White Voters

Over the weekend, I was watching Roland Martin on MSNBC, and he said something profound- Democrats need to stop fearing white voters. His point wasn’t to ignore them, it was to actually campaign at them. His point was pretty simple- what are they getting for voting for their guns, or against immigrants, or any other social issues? Campaign to them on health care, on education, on wages- because these issues apply to them. Will Democrats win white voters? I don’t know, but it’s unlikely. Will they do better? Most likely. This doesn’t mean stop campaigning to the Democratic base, or stop talking about civil rights. It means walk and chew gum.

I do know this- this will work far faster than waiting for demographic changes to get us to victory.

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My Favorite Christmas Specials?

  1. Rudolph
  2. The Grinch
  3. California Raisin
  4. Frosty

I basically make my picks based on the music. You can’t hate.

The Phillies are Built to Last

There was a certain satisfaction in watching last night’s Phillies win. The Boston Red Sox are certainly not one of my favorite teams, but they are baseball’s best team this year. The Phillies dropped a tough 2-1 battle on Tuesday, but managed to split the season series with a team that should easily top 100 wins. Boston may very well have this year’s AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, but the Phillies didn’t back down from them in any of the four games, in either park. Down 3-0 on Wednesday night, facing a sweep, they fought back and won 7-4. That is a satisfying win.

When you look at the Phillies line-up, you aren’t overwhelmed. Nobody is going to hit .300 in this line-up. It’s highly unlikely anyone hits 40 homers. Rhys Hoskins is probably the only guy that drives in 100 runs, or probably hits 30 homers. They’re a bottom of the league team in batting average. What do they do well? They take a lot of pitches. Their on-base percentages are deceptively good. They’ll probably have six or seven guys hit 20 homers or more. They hit well later in the game. It’s not that they have nothing going here, but they’re not a line-up that impresses you much.

The Phillies are a good team because they can pitch. Aaron Nola has been outstanding. Jake Arrieta has been way better than some fans give him credit for. While they’re inconsistent, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez have all dominated at times, in a season where they all made tremendous leaps forward. The bullpen has become deceptively strong as the season rolls along. This team has pitched it’s way into contention, despite relative youth and inexperience, and one of the worst defensive clubs in baseball.

And yet, despite all of those positives, I’m not sure they will win the division. They are two games back of Atlanta for the first time since the virtual beginning of Summer. Atlanta has a young, ready for prime time offense. They’re beating up on bad teams better than the Phillies right now. Atlanta’s doesn’t seem like the same level as the Phillies, but they’ve done a more than admirable job, and the numbers are way closer than you think. Who wins this division probably comes down to whether Atlanta’s starting pitching or Philadelphia’s offense is better- assuming Washington is who they look like at this point.

In the long run though, the Phillies are poised to dominate the NL East. If you were to ask me what I’d rather have to improve in free agency- starting pitching or offense- I’d take offense every time. We’re coming up on a major off-season, with major available bats like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper on the market, and the Phillies are well-positioned to make monster bids on both. Other than the often-injured Clayton Kershaw, there are less available game-changing arms on the market, and they will be very expensive. Atlanta simply doesn’t have the kind of money the Phillies do either, whether to extend contracts to their own players or free agents.

Even if the Phillies third through fifth starters don’t all solve their consistency issues, the Phillies have a dominating AAA staff that is cruising through the International League, and Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina waiting in the wings to eventually fill in here. The Phillies will not need to dive into the expensive starting pitching market as much as Atlanta and others will. They will be able to spend in free agency to fill in their 2019 line-up, and trade from their depth of pitching to get more bats. With their deep pockets, the Phillies can build a sustained winner. The NL East is going to hate this group for a long time.

An Ode to “The Man”

Chase Utley might be the most conflicting sports figure for me in my lifetime. When I’m honest about him, he’s my fourth or fifth favorite Phillies great from the 2007-2011 era of five straight NL East titles, and the 2008 World Series title (behind Howard, Rollins, Hamels, and Victorino). I love him for being the best second baseman in club history, a leader of the first Philadelphia championship team I ever really saw, and a player who loved the biggest moments and biggest stages. Yet, he never really grabbed my imagination like the other guys I mentioned. I resented in some ways the Philadelphia fanbase rallied to him over other stars of that team, as though he was the only guy that “played hard.” I found the analytics crowd’s argument that he was the best Phillies player of the era, over the team’s NL MVP’s, Cy Youngs, and All-Stars completely unconvincing. In short, I liked Chase Utley, but saw him as a better version of Aaron Rowand, loved by Philly for his “blue collar” work ethic, but not really better than Bobby Abreu in actual performance.

All of this is emotional, non-rational rambling about a player that literally every Phillies fan should love. Chase Utley’s offensive game is top five to ten in the history of the game at second base. He took himself from utterly mediocre to top five in the game defensively at second. He hit homers in the World Series like a man possessed. He played hard every, single, damn day. He teamed with Jimmy Rollins to form the greatest double-play combo not only in club history, but in their era of the game. Ok, he angered New York- which is a positive.

Hearing that Utley will retire at the end of the year is sad, but it’s time. In just over a week he’ll make his last appearance in Citizens Bank Park, and I’m fortunate enough to have tickets to the final day game in Philadelphia. He’s played a few years past his prime, and it’s a good time for him to ride off into the sunset. Does he belong in the Hall-of-Fame? Ask me in two years or so. For now I just want to appreciate the guy who tortured Flushing, Queens, and won us a championship in a great career.

My Top Ten Phillies Prospects List

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At the end of each January, good news rings in my head- “Spring Training is coming!” There’s nothing better than the return of baseball to me, but sadly I’ve only once been to Clearwater for the Grapefruit League season (2011). This year, Spring Training fever has been delayed a little bit, in favor of Super Bowl fever, but baseball is my main love, in the end.

The 2018 Phillies should be a better team than the 2017 version. Some of the top young prospects in the organization have now arrived. Some are about to. Even so, the main intrigue in the Phillies universe, at least for one more Spring, is in the prospect world. Last year I went to 42 professional baseball games, and approximately half of them were minor league games. I expect that to be the case again. I spent a lot of time watching minor league games on TV too. With all that baseball, I was bound to have a top ten prospects list. Here is my version of that Phillies list:

  1. J.P. Crawford-SS- Philadelphia- A tough first half of 2017 dropped Crawford from being nearly the top prospect in baseball to the 30’s in most rankings. I think they’re all getting it wrong. Crawford actually impressed me, even in his struggles, holding up his fine defense and gifted plate discipline. The Phillies probably moved Crawford along a little fast, but his second half in AAA was so good that he got a September call-up, and played well enough that he is the likely Opening Day Shortstop of the big league club now. I still a first division starter, if not better, in Crawford.
  2. Sixto Sanchez-SP- Clearwater- So this guy is basically the consensus arm to watch. He’s one of the few prospects I haven’t seen live, but I’ve watched plenty of him to see the talent. He has a legitimate power fastball, with movement. He’s got breaking stuff that is electric. He’s got stuff, lots of stuff. This Summer could be a lot of fun to watch.
  3. Franklyn Kilome-SP- Reading- So Kilome’s control and command might not be finished products. Even so, I see this Summer as the Summer he leaps forward. Kilome can throw a baseball very fast. He’s lanky, and deceptive. His breaking stuff is capable of being MLB stuff. At the least, I see a back end of the bullpen arm. At the most? He could arrive for 2019.
  4. Scott Kingery-2B- Lehigh Valley- So, Kingery is the top rated second baseman on MLB Pipeline. The guy I saw is a really, really good player. He’s a plus hitter, has a good glove, and has plus speed. Even so, I think some have jumped ahead of themselves in over-rating Kingery. Yes, he hit a bunch of home runs, in Reading, where everyone seems to hit a lot of home runs. His power numbers came back to Earth in AAA. Does this mean he isn’t the future at second base? Of course not. I just am not as completely convinced he’s a dramatic upgrade on Cesar Hernandez, let alone worthy of comparisons to 2008 Chase Utley. He’s absolutely a future MLB starter type, and maybe even a star, but I want to see how 2018 gets started before we crown him. Even so, be excited.
  5. Mickey Moniak-CF- Lakewood- So people were rating the 2016 #1 overall pick as the top guy in the system, in some corners. He got off to a good start in Lakewood, but then tailed off badly as the season went on. I haven’t given up on his sweet swing though. Moniak was playing his first full season of professional baseball. He was playing against mostly older players, players with college experience. Growing pains were to be expected. Expect Moniak to bounce back fine.
  6. Jorge Alfaro-C- Philadelphia- Alfaro tailed off after a fast start in AAA. He had some concerning splits in his slash line, especially in his OBP. Even with his plate discipline issues, Alfaro’s ability keeps him on this list. He has plus power and a great arm, the kinds of tools that could make him an elite starting catcher. Still though, since he’s out of options, he will have to improve his shortcomings in Philadelphia. If things work out though, he’s got elite talent.
  7. Adonis Medina-SP- Clearwater- He doesn’t throw 100 mph, and he’s not the kind of big frame you expect in a top of the rotation guy, but Medina has three pitches and guys don’t hit him hard. He probably projects in the mid-to-back-end rotation range, but he continues to defy expectations at each level.
  8. Adam Haseley-CF- Clearwater- Last year’s top pick out of Virginia could move fast this Summer. He went from Rookie League to Williamsport, and from Williamsport to Lakewood in his first partial year in pro ball. Like Kingery, he’s a top talent from an elite college program, so we may see very quickly if he is going to work out. His first year suggests he will hit his way to the majors in short order.
  9. Jhailyn Ortiz-OF- Lakewood- Ortiz was expected to hit for power when the Phillies signed him at age 16. He hit .302 this past Summer though at Williamsport, and the 19 year old seems ready to make the jump to full season. His talent still suggests special capabilities ahead.
  10. Jojo Romero-SP- Clearwater- The lefty throws four pitches for strikes, and he’s had solid success early. This is a big year for him to prove that his early success was real.

CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE- Enyel De Los Santos- SP- Reading, Thomas Eshelman-SP- Lehigh Valley, Cornelius Randolph-OF- Clearwater.