Crash Bag, Vol. 89: Merciless and Unyielding

One of my Facebook friends shared a photo essay of someone discovering a 15-foot snake crawling out of their toilet. The overwhelming majority of snake-related fear porn on the internet is fake, like the one that was going around about the boa constrictor in India swallowing the town drunk whole while he was passed out, so I presume nobody’s actually pulled a reticulated python out of their commode. But it’s enough to make you uneasy dropping a deuce in your own home, which is a more unsettling feeling than you’d think. Snakes are creepy and terrifying, and so is Facebook.

@djmofsett: “Which Phillies player reminds you the most of your own dad? Which players dad do you want to meet? Da-doo-da doo-do.”

Not being particularly eager to untangle that particular Freudian knot right now (for reasons that include the likelihood that my dad will probably read this and get angry if I compare him to the wrong player–SORRY, POPS, YOU WERE A REAL JONATHAN PETTIBONE OF A ROLE MODEL!), I’m going to pass on the first question and skip straight to the second.

And the answer to the second question is pretty clearly Antonio Bastardo

@alexremington: “Are all baseball mascots inherently weird and creepy?”

To a certain extent, I guess. Anthropomorphizing anything can get creepy if you think about it long enough, and most of the game’s mascots are anthropomorphic stuffed animals. Except Mr. Met, who is a terrifying murder machine. And let’s be honest–if the sock monkey you’ve had since you were a baby suddenly became seven feet tall, put on a jersey and started walking around, you’d have a heart attack and die on the spot.

But mascots are for kids, who don’t have hangups like that. They’re cool with Sesame Street and the life-size Mickey Mouse and gang walking around Disney World, because they’re too geeked out to meet Mickey Mouse to realize it’s not real, and once they do realize it’s not real, they internalize that it’s just some poor underpaid aspiring actress in 75 pounds of cotton, sweating herself into sublimation under the merciless and unyielding whip of her murine taskmasters.

So if you think about it long enough, yes, it’s weird and creepy that the Phillies dress a man like a fuzzy green being from the Galapagos Islands, with no mouth or teeth and a penchant for putting his belly on people and standing on dugouts and cursing opposing pitchers. But there’s no reason to think about it long enough.

@CajoleJuiceEsq: “how long until a pitcher beats [the Clayton Kershaw] contract? is it Kershaw again in 5 years?”

I say Kershaw’s one of two guys who could do it in the next five years. I was trying to explain this deal the other night to a friend of mine who saw 7 years, $215 million and just couldn’t believe it–and I don’t blame him, because that’s a ridiculous amount of money, way more than any player’s gotten per year over the life of a contract. But Kershaw has three things that make him special: age, left-handedness and effectiveness. If you’re looking for a comparison, you can look at CC Sabathia‘s 7-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees in the 2008-09 offseason and the 6-year, $144 million contract Cole Hamels got from the Phillies in mid-2012. Kershaw is three years younger than Sabathia and Hamels were when they signed their deals, and if you took all of their full seasons and sorted them by ERA+, Kershaw would have the best two seasons, the fourth-best season and tie for the fifth-best season. And those things are hard to grapple with: nobody is as good as Kershaw, and nobody hits the free agent market this young. Most pitchers don’t even come close. Even Felix Hernandez was older than Kershaw and not as good when he signed his deal.

If someone’s going to beat this deal in the next couple years, it’ll have to be a similar pitcher: someone who’s made 30 or more starts five years in a row in his age 21-25 seasons, throwing 210 innings a year at an elite level with a clean makeup and clean injury history, then refuse to sign a deal early. College pitchers don’t make the majors at 20, so they don’t hit free agency at 26. And the number of young pitchers who make it to free agency without having missed a year with elbow or shoulder surgery is even smaller. I think the only active pitcher who’s got a shot at beating Kershaw’s deal in the next five years is Jose Fernandez, and as much as I adore the Marlins’ young No. 1 starter, he’s a long, long way from being in Kershaw’s league. I’d take Kershaw in five years as the favorite for next record contract for a pitcher, with Fernandez a distant second. If it’s not one of those two, it’s likely the next pitcher to get a $200 million contract isn’t a household name yet.

@Orioles: “does matt harvey get off on his own nudes?”

Well, I do. That Body Issue’s been in my bathroom for months now.

@Phylan: “which MLB player probably has the weirdest scrotum”

Probably Josh Hamilton. According to FanGraphs, he swung at 41.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in 2013, which placed him ninth in the league in…ugh…okay, I guess if I’ve gone this far I might as well commit…placed Hamilton ninth in the league in wild swinging balls.

What jumps Hamilton over the other eight guys is that he’s very well-tatted up, which means there’s a remote, but non-trivial chance that he’s had an inky needle in the swingers, to say nothing of his having spent his late teens and early 20s treating his body like Dow Chemical treats villages in India, which could have done all manner of weird physiological things to him.

That was a glib and insensitive answer, and I’m not proud of what I’ve done.

@writelikemike: “Is it better for the Phillies to win 70 games or 90 games in 2014?”

You know, I’m all about taking the long term view and I’m sympathetic to the idea that losing can bring about needed change, like the periodic renewing forest fire. So the Phillies probably pursue a more aggressive rebuild more quickly if they’re on pace for 70 wins and finishing 20 games out of a playoff spot than if they’re five games out and they wind up finishing just over .500. If they’re obviously out of the race by June and they can afford to lose a few games, they’d probably be more aggressive with Jesse Biddle and Maikel Franco if either or both is ready, they’d probably be more willing to deal Jonathan Papelbon and the chair upon which Ruben Amaro sits would get ever so slightly more wobbly. And if that leads to hiring a GM who doesn’t make Alex Jones look like a leading scientific mind and committing to a more sustainable rebuild, that’s great.

But if they win 90, that means two things: first, such young players as they have–Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, M.A. Gonzalez, maybe Franco and Biddle–will have developed, because if those guys aren’t all great, they won’t break .500. That’s a good thing. Second, 90 wins is usually good for a playoff spot, and with a rotation headlined by Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, “in the playoffs” means you’ve got a non-trivial chance at winning it all. Look at the other would-be contenders in the NL–the only 1-2 I’d absolutely take over Hamels and Lee is Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. So as much as I want the Phillies to go full-on Urban Renewal Kit on this team, I’d take 90 wins and a shot at coming over all 2010 Giants over 70 wins.

@scottdkessler: “What would you consider a Thome-like signing for the Union to signal winning ambition like the Phillies did back in ’03?”

Michael Bradley would’ve been nice. I love Michael Bradley. He’s like our Patrick Vieira, the midfield destroyer-cum-deep-lying playmaker, which is the style of soccer player I most enjoy watching. I feel like I’ve said this recently, but it bears repeating: I believe Bradley is the best outfield player in this country’s history, and as someone who’s never been that enamored with Clint Dempsey, I’m a little disappointed that the practical end of Carlos Bocanegra’s international career and Jurgen Klinsmann’s disenchantment with Landon Donovan didn’t cause the captain’s armband to fall to Bradley.

Here’s a fun little thought exercise that I ran over when I thought more about MLS than I do now. I believe the high water mark for U.S. international soccer wasn’t the 2009 Confederations Cup, but the 2007 U-20 World Cup. In that tournament, which was the international coming-out party for not only Bradley but Jozy Altidore as well, the USMNT youth team beat wholesale ass in the group stage and first knockout round. They beat Brazil and dropped six on Poland, then beat a Uruguay team that included Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez before bowing out in the quarters to Austria. This was the last time Freddy Adu looked like a world-class attacking midfielder, and it’s why I gave Chris Seitz more rope than just about any other Union fan. They rolled a lot of that squad over to the Olympics the next year under future Union boss Peter Nowak, and he managed to bring several of the players off that 18-man Olympic roster to Philadelphia.

  • Played on the 2008 Olympic team and the Union: Seitz, Adu, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Danny Szetela (tried out with the Union but never played)
  • Played on the 2008 Olympic team and didn’t play for the Union: Marvel Wynne, Bradley, Dax McCarty, Stuart Holden, Charlie Davies, Benny Feilhaber, Maurice Edu, Altidore, Patrick Ianni, Robbie Rogers, Michael Parkhurst, Sacha Kljestan, Brian McBride, Brad Guzan

And all 14 non-Union players put in at least some time in MLS. All of them except for Feilhaber and Davies got their professional starts in MLS. And while you can probably put Orozco’s pro career up against that of Ianni, Rogers or Wynne and do okay, the biggest disappointments off that team are all former Union players, and it’d look even more lopsided if Edu hadn’t disappeared after Rangers went bankrupt, Charlie Davies hadn’t broken curfew and Johnny Evans hadn’t gone studs-up into Holden.

I’m not sure what the point is there, except that most other MLS teams have a signature U.S. international somewhere in their history, and failing that, a record of playoff success. The closest thing the Union have had to a recognizable international figure–apart form Adu, who did bugger-all in his time in Philadelphia–is either Sebastien Le Toux or Faryd Mondragon. I think Mondragon or Adu would have been that tentpole figure if either had stuck around longer, but finding one in this market is a little tougher, even though there’s apparently a mass return of American players to MLS.

Thome was never the best player in the game, nor was he the guy who led the Phillies back to respectability, but he was a legitimate impact player and the best free agent the Phillies had signed since, what, Pete Rose? I think “signal winning ambition” is a good way to put his impact. Practically, Thome didn’t lead directly to anything–he gave the Phillies maybe a season and a half of production Ryan Howard wouldn’t have delivered, and his trade return was Aaron Rowand, who was a good center fielder, but nothing special in the grand scheme of things. The Thome analog for the Union would be a household name, but not necessarily the kind of player who actually delivers you a title. The Red Bulls have had a ton of guys like this: Roberto Donadoni, Youri Djorkaeff, Juan Pablo Angel, Lothar Matthaus, Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry. I think any major international star on an end-of-career tax shelter contract would work, as would a returning national team player, or an MLS lifer like Chris Wondolowski or Kyle Beckerman, so long as whoever it was actually showed up and gave a crap, which is more of an issue for MLS designated players than you might think.

That’s a long way of saying that I think Maurice Edu would be analogous to singing Thome.

@bxe1234: “Which Oscar nominees play which Phillies in the dramatization of the 2014 Phillies Video Yearbook?”

First of all…let me say that my man Daniel Bruhl got robbed. But I’m looking forward to seeing Meryl Streep as Ruben Amaro, for one. I think Leonardo Di Caprio looks more like Chase Utley than any other nominee, but Michael Fassbender captures Utley’s smoldering reticence better. Cole Hamels deserves better than Jared Leto, but the two look too similar. Matthew McConaughey, now that he’s skinny, can play Cliff Lee. The real killer is that the Phillies are going to start five African-American position players, and only two black actors got nominated for an Oscar this year. So if this is going to work, we’re going to have to buy a couple pairs of stilts and try to pass off Chiwetel Ejiofor as Ryan Howard and Barkhad Abdi as Dom Brown. That leaves one last question, which I’ll leave to you: is Jonah Hill’s blank stare more of a Kyle Kendrick-style terrified blank stare or a Jonathan Papelbon-style intellectually vacant blank stare?

@reldnahkram: “Would it be good for the team, short and long-term, to cut J-Roll’s playing time so he doesn’t get the ABs to vest his option? Could this be used as leverage to get him to waive his no-trade clause? Where would be be a fit?”

First of all, if you don’t know this about me by now, Jimmy Rollins is my favorite Phillies player of all time, and nobody ever got anywhere with me by suggesting that the Phillies screw with his contract situation. But even setting that aside, I’m against this for a couple reasons:

  1. Rollins is only 434 plate appearances from his option vesting. Unless you bench him twice a week or he gets seriously hurt, he’s going to hit that many times if he hits first or eighth. He’s not going to miss that option by Ryne Sandberg playing footsie with the batting order.
  2. This is part of my personal view on the ethics of tanking, but I believe that once a general manager has assembled a roster, the manager should make a good faith effort to win with that roster. Rollins has been one of baseball’s more durable shortstops over his career, but if he only starts 140 times this year so he stays fresh and Freddy Galvis can get some reps, that’s fine. If he gets benched 60 times, which, again, is what it’d take for J-Roll to fall short of 434 plate appearances, I think that’s some ethically questionable territory when it comes to making a good faith effort to win.
  3. Jacking with a player’s playing time so he doesn’t reach a performance-based incentive is an extremely shitty thing to do. I’d go so far as to say if the Phillies benched Rollins just to pressure him into waiving his no-trade clause, that’d be morally reprehensible, even by the standards of corporate labor practices, and even by the standards of professional sports ownership. And if Rollins is anywhere close to a respectable batting line–say, 90 OPS+ or something–and they bench him so he won’t get to 434 plate appearances, the union would have a coronary, because it’s okay to stand up for its non-A-Rod members.
  4. I don’t think J-Roll wants to be traded, and at this point in his career, he’s a solid defender whose standout qualities are mostly intangible. For $11 million a year, you’re not going to find a lot of takers. Which contenders would take him on? The Yankees are the only team with playoff aspirations and a shortstop who isn’t obviously better, but they won’t take on that salary. There was some noise about him wanting to finish his career back in the Bay Area, but the A’s and Giants are both set at shortstop, and Rollins seems to want to stay here until the end. And barring something unexpected, his heir presumptive is 19 years old and set to start the season in low-A. Rollins isn’t blocking anyone and he’s not going to bring much of a return if he moves. It’s not entirely rational, but trading him seems like a dick move that doesn’t have a whole lot of upside. And I’m not saying this because I’m a Rollins fan–if the time for Jonathan Papelbon’s option comes up and he’s obviously better than Martin or Bastardo or whoever else, and the Phillies moved him to the eighth inning just to keep his option from vesting, that would be an equally shitty thing to do.

I think Rollins moves out of the leadoff spot, if only because his offensive output has declined to the point where batting him leadoff isn’t really defensible anymore, plus if you don’t hit Ben Revere leadoff you can’t really hit him anywhere but eighth. God, that was an ugly sentence. Anyway, I think J-Roll gets moved down in the lineup, but it won’t push him below 434 plate appearances, nor should it.

Speaking of shitty things with murky futures, that concludes the Crash Bag for this week. You might have heard that the site is undergoing a redesign that might be up by the time you read this, and if not, will be in the next few days. Revamped comment system, new modern layout–I have seen the shape of things to come, and it might be the best thing about the 2014 Phillies.

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  1. Anthony

    January 18, 2014 04:56 AM

    I really don’t like the new design. The old layout was perfect. This new one looks like a freshman graphic designer’s blog.

  2. WayneKerrins

    January 18, 2014 05:44 AM

    For US soccer fans update on Dempsey.
    He’s played twice for Fulham in his normal left mid position in a 4 4 1 1 formation in the EPL. He looks sluggish, lacking in core fitness and match sharpness and has looked even more one paced than normal. Interestingly he sat through the FA cup replay 3-0 victory on the bench which I wouldn’t interpret as a good thing from his perspective. One thing hasn’t gone since his first stint at Fulham is his late, brilliantly timed runs into the box. He made a few of these in both his starts and the ball in just eluded him.
    Tactically Fulham who have a poor agent squad have had most success with a narrow triangle in CM and 2 pacey wide players. As Dempsey isn’t the latter nor will ever be if he is going to get more game time it will be as the point of the triangle behind the striker unless Fulham sign a classy, ‘traditional’ CM.
    In some ways Dempsey is like some of our veteran infielders: the class is still evident but he is on the way down from his peak.

  3. PAMcDaddy

    January 20, 2014 10:00 PM

    Agree whole-heartedly about J-Roll. I don’t know how you punish him for signing the contract, or for being the player he’s always been…in serious/inevitable decline. Problem is that the Phils knew exactly who they were signing from farm system forward…or should have..and hitting him lead-off, well, in ’14, that’s on Ryno/Reub0 (not an “O”, that’s a zero) and no-one else.

    That said, you screw him, it’s duly noted by every 30 or over low 1st/2nd tier FA with a vesting option for the next 10 years. And again, Phils gave him an un-tradeable contract when NO ONE else was apparently interested in him.

    Bottom-line…don’t blame Jimmy Pop-up if Rueb-O can’t master the statistical concept of “Peak Value”, or evaluate his own (“Galvis-who?”) farm system.

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