Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Lightning 12.20.2009

  • More short-sighted bizarreness from the Phillies:

The Phillies continued an off-season of utter weirdness. In theory, the Phillies' maneuvers make some semblance of sense if you avidly seek justifications for them; but in practice they're head-scratching to say the least.

I went into great detail earlier this week regarding Roy Halladay and last month about Placido Polanco. Now, the Phillies continue to foment their own demise in both the long and the short-term by doing something that makes absolutely no sense by inexplicably exercising Jimmy Rollins's contract option for 2011 in December of 2009.

For what possible reason did the Phillies think it was a good idea to exercise Rollins's contract option for 2011 now?


The only reason I can come up with is fear, because no other excuse makes any sense whatsoever.

Fear of Rollins's mouth; fear of the fan backlash if the very idea of the "heart and soul" (for what that's worth) of the Phillies swagger is left to wonder whether he'll be in Philadelphia past 2010; fear of doing something necessary and smart for the good of the franchise even if it invites the ire of the fans, players and media.

The truth is that Rollins is declining----fast.

This isn't just about the substandard season he had in 2009. It's about his personality and the constitution of his game. As bad as Rollins was this year (and he was bad), the downfall will be exacerbated by his arrogance and bluster as both prevent him from making necessary adjustments to remain productive when his speed and range dissipate.

Rollins's defense ebbed noticeably this year; his offense in both 2008 and 2009 was streaky and self-serving; and whereas his yapping was winked and nodded at by teammates while he was winning the MVP, it's becoming a detriment and tiresome to those who think he's harming their results by making opponents more determined to beat them and shut Rollins up.

Other players would look realistically into the mirror and realize they're no longer the players they were in their 20s.

Rollins is not one of those players.

Perhaps it was that humongous chip on his shoulder that allowed an undersized and underestimated player to reach the heights that Rollins has reached; but there's such a thing as going too far with rebelling against convention.

Speed players who lose their speed have to compensate. Rollins won't compensate.

Hackers who swing at anything and everything have to adjust to the way the pitchers are handling them. Rollins won't adjust.

Loud mouths who are able to back up their bloviating on the field have to tone down their rhetoric to more acceptable levels as their skills lessen. Rollins won't tone it down.

It's not hard to see what the pitchers are doing to Rollins. They know he won't take walks; won't wait for a pitch to hit. They're expanding the strike zone and waiting for him to get himself out. His overaggressiveness is reducing the number of fat pitches he sees over the course of a game and he's swinging at pitchers' pitches----and his numbers are falling like an anchor. This is not going to stop.

Do the Phillies realize this?

Rollins is under contract for $7.5 million in 2010 with an option for $8.5 million in 2011 and a $2 million buyout. I understand the argument that the $6.5 million difference wasn't worth the aggravation and controversy of making him wait----Rollins was probably complaining quietly about his contract; such complaining would've become public as early as spring training 2010----but so what?

Is the 32-year-old Rollins of 2011 going to justify even that high a salary? Are they paying him severance? Or are they simply pushing the issues aside because they just don't want to deal with them? And make no mistake, the exercising of this option won't stop Rollins from complaining about being underpaid as early as May of next year.

Rollins's game was always a short burst of speed followed by a flameout. He's not going to change now.

There's no shame in admitting one's weaknesses; in fact, it's easier to respect someone who accepts their faults and takes steps to improve----it's an admirable trait and it takes courage. Jimmy Rollins does not have that courage. He doesn't have that ability. He can't look at himself as anything other than the five-tool superstar that he was as recently as 2007 and that will only speed his plummet. He's not that player anymore and the only one who can't see that is Rollins and apparently the Phillies, who are making the same mistake that other top teams have in recent years by trying desperately to maintain their status and are only succeeding in flipping the switch to their own demise.

As Ruben Amaro Jr. takes the reins of the organization from Pat Gillick, his decisions are increasingly suspect. It looks more and more like he's in over his head and is making moves that look good and are easily explainable rather than what's right for the club. The Halladay trade was, at best, odd; the Polanco signing has all the potential of a disaster; and the exercising of Rollins's option made no sense.

The Phillies are sowing the seeds for their own downfall; they and their apologists are too blind to see it.

The one thing they can never say is they weren't warned.

  • The Red Sox in desperate disarray:

Mike Cameron? Good player, good guy; not the final piece for a championship club.

John Lackey? Gutty, big game pitcher, not the missing ingredient.

Marco Scutaro? Can handle the job at shortstop on a short-term deal; fills a need; not a game-changer.

Where's the basher the Red Sox need?

It's still early in the winter and there's plenty of time to get something done, specifically with the Padres and Adrian Gonzalez, but as of right now, the Red Sox have neither filled their primary need; nor have they been able to clear space----on the field and off----to do what must be done to return to championship contention.

They're trying desperately to get rid of Mike Lowell, but the veteran failed his physical with the Rangers because of an injured thumb and the trade is, for now, off. That the Red Sox were willing to eat $9 million of the $12 million Lowell is due next year and take a journeyman backup catcher in Max Ramirez shines a light on how badly they want to be rid of Lowell. Don't expect to see him back in a Red Sox uniform under any circumstances. But what then?

If the intent is to shift Kevin Youkilis to third base and play Casey Kotchman at first; Jacoby Ellsbury in left; and Cameron in center, is that lineup enough to surpass the Yankees? Is it even good enough to make the playoffs?


And the Red Sox know this.

As for the media buzz created by the Lackey signing, I don't see where the guarantees are for the Red Sox past Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Lackey. That self-aggrandizing and pompous buffoon Mike Lupica is under the impression that this Red Sox rotation is the second coming of the 90s Braves----NY Daily News column.


Daisuke Matsuzaka, with his gaudy, on-the-surface numbers from 2008, has not been good; he's not been what was advertised and has become another in the long line of heavily touted and overly hyped Japanese imports who have not lived up to their billing. He got raked all over the lot before getting hurt and angered the club with his whining about Western training practices----they'd love to be rid of him.

Tim Wakefield is on his last legs, knuckleball or not.

Clay Buchholz is going to have to go in a trade for a power bat if they want to get one of the top tier names like Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera.

Is this a "five-deep" rotation that's going to carry the club past having Casey Kotchman batting four times a game? Past the overrated Jacoby Ellsbury? The faltering David Ortiz and aging and injury-prone J.D. Drew?

This team has work to do because as of right now, they're at best the fourth best team in the American League behind the Yankees, White Sox and Angels; and both the Mariners and Twins are nipping at their heels.

If they don't straighten out their main issue with a big power bat, these moderate free agent signings will mean nothing a year from now regardless of the nonsensical and foul wind emanating from Lupica; or the enthusiasms of Red Sox Nation. Without a threatening bat, this team is ripe for a fall.

  • Don't blame the agents:

Jason Bay's agent Joe Urbon is trying to find a team to compete with the Mets for his player's services; and Johnny Damon's agent Scott Boras is simply doing what it is Scott Boras does; and the players have no one to blame but themselves for their current predicaments.

Bay, coming off his career year and having proven himself to be a clutch----albeit streaky----hitter, had every right to ask for big money in his first chance at full-blown free agency. It just so happened that the market is flush with players who are viable replacements for him at a lower price. Bay's going to get his money; it may not be as lucrative a contract as he expected, but the Mets would be well-served not to rake him over the coals and try too hard to get a bargain as they did with Vladimir Guerrero in 2003 only to watch sheepishly as Guerrero signed with the Angels right out from under the Mets' collective noses.

No one's going to be having any charity-drives for Jason Bay even if he only gets four guaranteed years instead of five.

With Damon, if he really wanted to stay in New York then he has no one to blame but himself. The happy-go-lucky Damon doesn't seem to me to the be one for much introspection. The attitude of "I'll let my agent handle the contract" certainly frees one from any decision-making responsibility, but it's not exactly conducive to staying in a preferred venue.

Damon wanted to stay with the Red Sox after 2005, but they were unwilling to ante up the cash, years or no-trade protection that Damon and Boras wanted; it paid off then as he got his money from the Yankees and won another World Series. Now, a similar thing has happened with the Yankees as they've taken steps to fill the hole without giving in to the Damon/Boras demands. The main difference now is that there's nowhere for Damon to go to get the money he wants. The market is flush with talent and the money is simply not there.

To blame the agent for this is typical of an athlete allowing others to think for him, mindlessly doing what he's told to shield himself. It's typical of the media to try and find some ogre as the epitome of evil in the sports world and the horrible and greedy agent serves that purpose. But what of the player himself?

If Damon wanted to stay in New York; if Bay wanted to stay in Boston, they had every right and duty to tell their employee, the agent, that they wanted to stay where they were comfortable and happy rather than scrounging for every last penny they could possibly accumulate.

I still think there's a chance that Damon returns to the Yankees after he swallows his signed pride and accepts he's not getting the four-year contract he wants. It might take someone who's gone through a similar situation with the same agent----Alex Rodriguez----to tell Damon in no uncertain terms that Boras has to get the deal with the Yankees done no matter what; but Damon's going to have to go against his agent and think on his own; and that's something he's appeared reluctant to do in years past.

The Yankees still have that hole in left field for Damon if he's willing to reduce his contract demands. While the Nick Johnson signing is a great low-cost addition, Johnson's injury-history is what it is and even as a DH, he can't be expected to play 140 games. Mark DeRosa would probably be a better fit now than Damon, but his contract demands need a reality check as well. There's a window for Damon if he tells Boras to get something done.

This is Johnny Damon's responsibility and his responsibility alone. If he winds up in San Francisco or St. Louis or another town in which he never expected to nor wanted to play, blaming Boras is a convenient scapegoating maneuver, but in the end it's up to the player to determine his own destiny. These are grown men; they should act like it. Part of that is deciding what they want without being influenced by the sweet-nothings of an agent with an agenda.

Damon needs a friend----and I mean friend, not a flunky or fawning greenfly----to tell him what's what truthfully and realistically. Does such a thing exist? We'll know in the near future if the Yankees close the door completely on Damon. And it'll be his own fault.

  • Milton Bradley on the move again:

I suggested a possible Cubs-Mariners deal sending Milton Bradley to Seattle for Carlos Silva a month ago----Blog 11.30.2009.

Bradley is toxic off the field; Silva was horrific on the field. Both had long term contracts that needed to be excised from their clubs' respective payrolls. The questions for both are of a similar nature as why they were traded.

Will Bradley behave himself in Seattle? Probably not. And that has more to do with history than anything else. If you see the sun rise in the East every morning, you tend to expect it to continue; Bradley has been a problem everywhere he's gone and there's no reason to think that's ever going to change; but for the Mariners, he's a worthwhile risk because he can still play and they needed to get Silva out of there.

Silva had been an innings-eater who should've been good in Seattle with their big ballpark, but he was fat and rancid. He didn't seem to appreciate the clubhouse atmosphere with the Mariners after coming from a stable organization with the Twins and couldn't handle the pressure from his big contract. Could he rejuvenate his career with the Cubs? Well, he could hardly be much worse than he was in Seattle.

I've given up thinking that Cubs manager Lou Piniella will be able to handle such lost causes as Silva after the way he whiffed on Bradley and hasn't been able to get through to Carlos Zambrano. The Piniella aura is wearing thin and it's up to Silva to make the conscious decision to show up in shape and ready to go; no one can do it for him.

Quantifying mutual salary dumps is a war of attrition. Either the players will be good or they won't, but the deal had to be done because neither side had a choice.

  • Speaking of the Mariners...

Can we stop with the idol worship of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik please? He's rapidly becoming a Billy Beane-style flavor of the month. He's made some very good moves and some head-scratchers. I'm not enamored of the large contract given to Chone Figgins; nor the sentimental re-signing of Ken Griffey Jr; and by all accounts the Cliff Lee trade fell into his lap when he was approached by the Phillies about freeing money and replenishing prospects in the Halladay trade.

As for the credit given to Zduriencik for the Mariners 24 game improvement from a 101-loss monstrosity in 2008 to 85-win up-and-comer in 2009, that had more to do with the team being healthy and not having the series of unforeseen and bewildering mishaps that befell them the year before. That 2008 roster should not have lost 100 games. Had Zduriencik stood pat with what he had when he took the job, the Mariners would've won 15 more games easily.

He deserves credit, but not this lusty and starry-eyed adoration that's now in vogue. Let's just calm down, huh?


She-Fan said...

I'd love to see Damon "swallow his pride" and take the Yankees' offer but I don't see it happening. I think he believes his own press clippings and doesn't see why he should take less than Cameron got from the Red Sox. He kind of has a point.

Jeff said...

I asked some Phillies fan friends of mine who the "face" of the Philly franchise was, expecting to hear Utley or Howard's name. They unanimously said "Jimmy Rollins". What!?!?! Why? Jimmy ain't what Jimmy used to be and he's almost as annoying as Milton Bradley in that he never shuts up. It'd be one thing to talk shit then go out and rake at the plate, but, er... we all know those Jimmy Rollins rakin' days are over. Right?