Pedro Martinez in Red Pinstripes: What’s Not To Like?

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

When news broke last week that the Phillies were talking with Pedro Martinez about a possible comeback tour, my knee—jerk reaction was to pin the tail on Amaro.

This guy is a diva, a primadonna, an ex—Met and hardly a team player. But it is hard to argue with the fact that he will go down in baseball lore as one of the most dominant pitchers of this generation. 

Did it get any better than watching Roger Clemens battle Martinez? Those two shared a ferocity that few starting pitchers are able to maintain. They attacked hitters like closers, and they did it for seven to nine innings per start. 

Of course, the images of Martinez as a Red Stocking and Expo have faded, leaving many people with images of Martinez the Met. As we all know, that Pedro was a far cry from the three—time Cy Young Award winner that the Mets hoped for when they signed him in 2004. 

And that brings us to today…Pedro the Phillie. 

All fans would agree that the deal is fair and the risk is low; as reported, a deal worth $1 million is one—fifth of the amount that Martinez was asking for at the onset of 2008.  With incentives, the contract would net him $2.5 million. It’s a reasonable deal. 

The issue that has divided the fan base thus far is the belief that this guy, a guy that no other team was willing to touch, might not be able to help the Phillies at all. Fans bearing this mindset generally believe that the Phillies would be better off with a minor leaguer, rather than an ex—Met with a history of having an attitude. 

Well, let’s dismiss the notion that Martinez is a Met. Pedro only pitched three years with the Mets…he’ll retire a Red Sock, that’s for sure. He departed New York on bad terms with the team. The same club that signed him to his lucrative contract weren’t exactly  eager to give him a second chance to burn them. Pedro must be licking his chops at the opportunity to spoil the Mets’ hopes of getting to the post—season. 

As for the replacing Martinez with an available minor leaguer, I’m taking Martinez. 

So far this year, the Phillies have trotted out two minor leaguers for spot starts, and although both performed well in short stints, both pitchers (Bastardo and Lopez) also ended up on the disabled list. 

The fact of the matter is that Charlie Manuel would have been left trotting out his third minor league option—had they not signed Martinez—and at some point, the level of talent and readiness drops off. You have to wonder whether anything they have on the farm is ready for a big league call—up at this point. 

Throw out last year and Pedro has been consistent throughout his entire career. Even in 2006 (when his record was 9-8), he made the All—Star team and sported a healthy K/9 and WHIP of 9.3 and 1.108, respectively. 

In comparison, those numbers are better than every other starter on the current Phillies roster in 2009. We all know about the accolades (most notable, three-time Cy Young, five—time MLB ERA leader and a LOCK for Cooperstown), but most of us don’t know about his background.   

Pedro was born to play baseball; his father and older brother were both well known Dominican pitchers. His father, Paolino, played with Felipe and Matty Alou, and was said to be a strong pitcher, often pitching two games in one day. He was armed with a “murderous” major league sinker and a passion for the game.

The Alous have said that Paolino would have made a solid major leaguer, but missed his opportunity, skipping a tryout for the San Francisco Giants because he could not afford cleats.

Pedro’s brother, Ramon, was an Olympian and was signed by the LA Dodgers.

I think that his family makeup is important because it shows a longstanding tradition of baseball. Pride is always an issue for guys like Pedro Martinez.

The other notable point is that Pedro certainly loves the spotlight and he loves to prove himself to new teammates. 

In his first year with NY, he was 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA. In his first year with Boston, he was 19-7 with a 2.89 ERA. In his first year with Montreal he was 11-5 with a 3.42 ERA and with the Dodgers, in his first full season as a major leaguer, he was 10-5 with a 2.61 ERA. 

Furthermore, he has pitched very well in the WBC. It’s not rocket science; he digs the spotlight, and he knows that he’ll get paid if he helps the Phillies win a World Championship.

There are doubts about whether Pedro can stay healthy and fool hitters with reduced velocity. For the small investment, it’s worth the chance to see if he can be anything like the Pedro Martinez of old. 

My $0.02.

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Ibanez Firestorm: Where Do We Go From Here?

June 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

The recent Midwest Sports Fan (MSF) article titled, “The Curious Case of Raul Ibanez: Steroid Speculation Perhaps Unfair, but Great Start in 2009 Raising Eyebrows” is not news to anyone. 

In fact, by now, the once obscure regional blog source probably needs no introduction.  The recent media firestorm surrounding the blog, including a piece on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” has churned over 250 comments and been viewed 14,000 times. 

It’s yesterday’s news.

But if I didn’t give my two cents, I feel like I would be missing an opportunity to make a important plea to take a step towards turning the page on the steroids era.

Living in Philadelphia means that I have a responsibility to root for my home team and since this is something that has been in the national media that concerns one of my own, my knee-jerk reaction was to feel like we were being attacked. 

As the defending world champions, this team and its players might as well paint an 8,000 square foot bulls eye on the infield dirt at Citizen’s Bank Park. It’s reasonable to understand why anyone in my situation would feel appalled at the remarks. 

But in retrospect and in combination with the barrage of biased things that I have heard and read from the local media outlets, I think that it’s important to put aside my hometown bias and make a case for Commissioner Selig and Ibanez to do the right thing:

Let’s take the test and get it over with.

It’s pretty clear that blogger J-Rod stopped short of accusing Ibanez but it’s still shocking for us to read an article that links a player to possible steroid use without any hard evidence. Journalists typically shy away from libel and slander. 

But this was no ordinary journalist (bloggers don’t really count, do they?) and the subject matter is the black cloud that continues to loom over baseball; performance enhancing drugs.  

As I write this, the greatest right handed hitter of this generation is serving a 50 game suspension for using Performance Enhancing Drugs.  

It’s pretty clear that while awareness and testing may be improving, the threat of testing might not be enough.  

We can’t turn our heads at situations like this; it starts with vigilance and needs to end with accountability. 

You see, speculation without accountability is what allowed this problem to exist in the first place. We were all skeptical about what we were seeing; longstanding records were being shattered with relative frequency by towering middle aged giants. In hindsight, it was fairly obvious what was going on but no one wanted to step up to the plate and hold these guys accountable 

In my opinion, it’s grossly unfair to Raul but it’s almost necessary. His training regiment and desire to live up to his contract surpasses even his lofty output and for that reason I do trust his word.  However, I also recognize that vigilant skepticism is the only thing that is going to bring back trust. 

In this situation, my hometown bias takes a backseat to the game.  

Ibanez says that he is willing to be tested and I would like to see him go through with it.  In fact, as a clean player, he needs to realize that the skepticism is healthy and embrace it. 

I don’t blame him for reacting the way that he did; it’s wrong for any member of the media to mention, by name, a player in a speculative piece like this.  But his indignant denial is not going to cure the issue. 

We need a figure that we can root for and trust.  This is an opportunity to have the entire baseball fan-base saying, “RAAAUUUULLLL!”

My $0.02.

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Antonio Bastardo: The Phillies’ Most Coveted Pitcher Not Named Carlos Carrasco

May 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

Make no mistake about it, the Phillies are in the market for a pitcher.

Cole Hamels aside, their rotation is a mess; Brett Myers might be heading for the DL, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton have a combined ERA of 6.75, and J.A. Happ is largely unproven. Meanwhile, reports suggest that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been very busy talking with other clubs about acquiring a starter. 

While the odds of landing Jake Peavy seem slim, the small chance that it could happen is enough to ponder what it would cost. 

The Padres would be looking for some near-MLB-ready pitchers with top-of-the-rotation potential. Under that assumption, two names emerge: Carlos Carrasco and Antonio Bastardo.

The common belief has always been that Carrasco is untouchable. The Phillies have been grooming the 22-year-old fireballer for five years and, even though he has struggled a bit in 2009 (0-6 with an ERA of 5.81), it is unlikely that they would give up on him now. 

Enter 24-year-old left-hander Antonio Bastardo.

Rumor has it, Bastardo has been surfacing in Peavy talks…at first, I was all about a trade that could land a top-tier pitcher for a minor league arm not named Carrasco, but ESPN’s Jayson Stark has said that Bastardo has been drawing comparisons to Johan Santana. That comment obviously raises an eyebrow. 

Upon further review (and with the help of some people that have seen him pitch), while Carrasco has been slow to develop, Bastardo, on the other hand, has been consistently good. Carrasco may have the better arsenal, but Bastardo seems to have the wherewithal to put it all together. 

He boasts a low-90s fastball with a lot of movement, a killer changeup, and a potentially devastating, yet unrefined, slider. He strikes guys out at an alarming rate and could develop into a major league starter or reliever. 

He has been a fast riser, jumping from Single-A to Triple-A in two years, but has risen to every challenge, thus far. Optimally, the Phillies would keep Bastardo and use him as an immediate impact left-handed reliever or groom him as a starter to put pressure on Carrasco, but the question remains, “Why has Bastardo avoided everyone’s radar?” 

Starting his major league career, he was undrafted and largely unimposing (5’11”, 165 pounds), thus he has never projected higher than a middle-of-the-rotation guy. Video suggests that he has grown a bit and bulked up since those early days, certainly helping his case. 

Mechanically, the knock against Bastardo has always been a lack of confidence in his secondary pitches (slider and changeup). 

It is possible that he has solved these issues and hit a growth spurt. 

It is also possible that he has surpassed Carrasco as the Phillies’ top prospect, which makes you wonder whether they’re thinking about moving the wrong guy. 

Ideally, the Phillies keep both and figure out a way to make do with what they’ve got, but, with the rest of the division moving forward, Amaro knows that the Phillies can ill afford to go through a stretch without a bona fide No. 2 starter.

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies: Not the Start They were Hoping for, but They’ll Take It

May 7, 2009 by  
Filed under Fan News

Doesn’t April seem to last an eternity?

For those of us working in the financial services industry, the word April conjures up images of angry and impatient taxpayers. 

Across most of the country, torrential downpours and volatile temperature swings are the norm. For a select few, April is the start of a long and grueling baseball season.

April has never been kind to the Phillies. The inaugural first pitch barely left the hands of ex-GM Pat Gillick and the natives were already sharpening their spears. 

You see, at that moment, the reality was settling in: The Phillies are known for digging themselves into a hole, and they did everything they could to make us believe that that was happening again.  They dropped three out of their first four games and lost early season “Gimmes” against the Braves and Padres. 

Yet, the first month of the season is behind us and, get this, the Phillies stand alone in first place. 

While that might seem like a head-scratcher, it’s not that surprising. The Phillies are a resilient bunch and have proven their propensity for defying the odds.  But clawing back into first place has not come cheap and it has not come easy. 

Bright spots early on have been the bullpen and the re-emergence of the never-say-die attitude that fueled the Phillies towards their second straight NL East title in 2008. 

Their seventh win of the season (4/24 vs. the Marlins) might be the most indicative of the type of season that it has been so far. Limited to three hits over the first eight innings and trailing 0-3 in the ninth inning, the Phillies mounted a seven run barrage in the ninth inning propelling them to a come-from-behind victory.

Wins of the “come-from-behind” variety have been the norm in the early going.  The heart attack kids have certainly tested pacemakers throughout the Delaware Valley.  The newest addition to the roster has definitely been the talk of the town.  Raul Ibanez has left us saying, “Pat Who?” with all due respect to Mr. Burrell, as Ibanez is the biggest reason why the Phillies are currently seated in first place in the division.  He has exceeded even the most lofty expectations and has the town chanting, “Rauuuuuulll!” with every base hit and sliding catch. 

The glaring question marks surround the depth of the rotation and the health of the Phillies pitchers. 

Cole Hamels started the season on the mend and has not been able to hit his stride.  A comebacker to the shoulder spelled an early exit from one start and an ankle injury ended another.  Hamels is the ace of the staff and any extended absences will make it nearly impossible to repeat last year’s success. 

The back end of the rotation has also been very inconsistent, and at some point, short outings will tax the overused bullpen.  Brad Lidge had shown signs of wear, but has been pretty good since sitting out three games with left knee inflammation. 

Giving up the long-ball has plagued the pitching staff, and the Phillies don’t have a starter with an ERA lower than 5.35 (Phillies pitchers have already given up 46 HRs this season… on pace for an alarming 350 HR).  Jimmy Rollins has started slow but predicts that he’ll hit .400 in May and thankfully the rest of the offensive juggernaut has carried the team thus far. 

There is no doubt that if this team is going to vie for another World Series title, Rollins is going to need to pick it up. 

The future seems to be hope-filled for the Phillies.  Hamels is scheduled to start later this week, and Chan Ho Park has proved to the managerial staff that he is capable of the type of performance that won him the job in spring training. 

Joe Blanton is coming off his best performance this year to date and JC Romero is halfway through his 50-game suspension. 

The Phillies cannot survive unless their roster is healthy and rested; Charlie Manuel will need to trust some of his role players to fill in for his starters.  Regular rest will be critical over the next two months as the team tries to retain first place and remain healthy for the stretch run. 

All in all, given past struggles, the Phillies should feel pretty good about where they stand and cautiously optimistic about the prospects of repeating. Their recent success will remind other teams that the Phillies are still the defending champions, so the bulls eye will reemerge.

But if there’s anything that we have found out this month, it’s that this team is up for a fight.   

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies