Kyle Kendrick Gets Punk’d

Kendrick Target of Elaborate Prank:

After the Phillies’ workout on Saturday, Ruben Amaro Jr. summoned Kendrick into manager Charlie Manuel’s office at Bright House Networks Field. With a straight face, the assistant general manager told his gullible pitcher that he’d been dealt to the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League for a player named “Kobayashi Iwamura.”

Presented with a letter printed on Phillies stationery with official-sounding language, Kendrick was convinced of the “deal,” and given an itinerary of things he must do so the swap could be completed, supplied by traveling secretary Frank Coppenbarger.

Manuel assisted with the rouse by offering advice, since he made a career in the Far East. Kendrick’s agent, Joe Urbon, who also represents Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda, gets credit by confirming the deal when he received the stunned phone call from his client.

The media (who were clued in) played a part as well, asking Kendrick questions about being traded halfway around the world. The shell-shocked 23-year-old stammered through most of his answers, not knowing what to say.”

“Do they have good food in Japan?” Kendrick asked reporters, as the first words out of his mouth. “I don’t know what to think right now. I guess it’s going to be a whole new chapter, huh?”

Eventually, as a crowd gathered to watch the proceedings, the joke’s originator, Brett Myers, chimed in, “You’ve been punk’d.”

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Kendrick said, “I’ve never been so happy. Seriously. Wow. I was not going on that flight in the morning.”

Video:

This Has to be Some Sick Joke

Ah, power rankings. Nowhere are they more meaningless than in baseball. But Aram Tolegian, whom I’ve never heard of until just now, released “the first batch” of MLB power rankings for FOX Sports.

It is a perfect storm: I have a lot of time on my hands, and this guy used tons of flawed logic. This day is going to go pretty fast.

#1 Detroit Tigers

No team had a better off-season, and for that reason the Tigers occupy the top spot.

The Tigers definitely had the best off-season. They ranked 9th out of 14 AL teams in runs allowed per game, and 2nd of 14 in runs scored per game. So what do they do? They go out and acquire Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in a trade. They failed to improve their pitching staff, and they have overkill offensively. I wouldn’t say they had the best off-season. In fact, when you look at it objectively, they had a rather poor one. They had pitching problems at both ends going into the offseason, and they only addressed it by acquiring Willis, who can’t be relied upon for anything, as his ’07 campaign isn’t much of an aberration when you look at his statistics (everything is close to his career norm).

And the Boston Red Sox, the defending World Series champions, and the team that didn’t take a step back in anyway except in losing Curt Schilling to injury, should be #1.

#2 Cleveland Indians

No argument here.

#3 Boston Red Sox

The rotation doesn’t look overly strong and the offense certainly doesn’t project better than those owned by the Indians, Tigers or Yankees.

No argument about the Indians’ rotation. However…

Red Sox

Player: ’07 ERA+

Beckett: 145

Matsuzaka: 108

Wakefield: 100

Lester: 104

Buchholz: 298 (only 4 starts, one of which was a no-hitter)

Tigers

Verlander: 125

Rogers: 103

Robertson: 96

Bonderman: 91

Willis: 83

Yankees

Pettitte: 110

Wang: 121

Mussina: 87

Hughes: 100

Chamberlain: 1192 (only 24 IP, all as a reliever)

The starting rotation of the Red Sox is clearly the most dominant, with the Yankees’ trailing and the Tigers’ clearly lagging far behind.

#4 Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks may have arrived a year early last season, but that’s what often happens when there’s a boatload of endless upside on the roster.

No, that’s what happens when you out-perform your Pythagorean W-L by 11 games. The D-Backs allowed 732 runs and scored only 712. The Diamondbacks had one of the worst RS/RA margins of teams that made the playoffs. Adding Dan Haren will offset the crash to Earth that the Diamondbacks will face, but they’re not some powerhouse simply because they had very favorable run distribution last season.

Of their eight regulars, only four had an OPS+ over 100, and all of them were just barely:

Jackson: 110

Hudson: 106

Reynolds: 110

Byrnes: 104

The D-Backs ranked dead last in the NL in OBP and 9th of 16 in SLG. And who’d they add in the off-season to help provide more offense? Chris Burke?

Please consider that last year’s success was done primarily without Randy Johnson and with Dan Haren still in Oakland. Both will start the season as part of the rotation, which means the D-backs take another big step forward.

Randy Johnson needs to stay healthy. At age 44, how realistic is this expectation?

#5 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Fans had the entire off-season to project how big the Angels’ winning margin in the AL West would be. But all of that changed when the Mariners traded for Erik Bedard. Now things may not be so easy in the West. The Angels still deserve the nod simply because this is a team with very few holes and a solid mix of veterans and youth with upside.

Ugh, so many generalities. But he’s correct in saying that the Angels are the top team in the AL West. As we’ll find out, the Mariners are being overrated.

#6 New York Yankees

The organization is doing the right thing by building from within now that the strategy of being the league’s most active off-season team has proven futile. For a team that’s supposedly in transition, this season won’t be too painful.

There’s a reference to the youth on the Yankees, but no mention of how that will affect them. And there’s no reference to their shaky starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang has an extremely low K-rate, and pitchers with low K-rates don’t have the same sustained success that those with high K-rates do.

What of Mike Mussina? Should he have just retired? 2007 was the worst season of his 17-year career. Excluding his first season in ’91, he set career lows in IP and strikeouts, and career highs in ERA and WHIP. And he’s 39.

Andy Pettitte is always reliable for decent production, but two straight seasons with a 1.4 WHIP is concerning.

Phil Hughes showed flashes of brilliance, but he’s only 21. Similarly, Joba Chamberlain is 22 and has never made a Major League start.

The Yankees will have a great offense as they always do, but their starting rotation will make or break them, as it does so many other teams.

#7 Los Angeles Dodgers

There are also several position battles in key places, like third base where Nomar Garciaparra may not have enough left in the tank to fend off prospect Andy LaRoche. Another battle to watch is in the outfield where the Dodgers have Juan Pierre, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp vying for the two spots flanking Andruw Jones. And what about Jason Schmidt? There have been no setbacks in his return from shoulder surgery, but fans should keep their fingers crossed nonetheless.

Nothing here justified the Dodgers at #7. They have a middle-of-the-road offense and after Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, their starting rotation falters. Of course, they have that great bullpen to fall back on, but it’s not even close to enough to justify them at #7.

#8 New York Mets

Trading for Johan Santana has energized the organization heading into spring.

He has the Diamondbacks (#4) and Dodgers (#7) ahead of the Mets, who appear to be solid on all fronts. The Mets had the NL’s fourth-best offense and 7th-best pitching staff, and before Santana, they had stayed relatively idle. Adding Santana gives them a top-tier pitching staff, and combine that with their top-tier offense, the Mets should be higher than #8 and #3 in the NL.

#9 Toronto Blue Jays

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing before I quote him on why he put the Jays at #9.

Ready?

If you view the glass as half full in Toronto, you’ve got a team with a solid rotation, a major defensive improvement at third in Scott Rolen and a burgeoning superstar in OF Alex Rios.

2007 Troy Glaus Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP; accounts for both offense and defense): 5.8

2007 Scott Rolen WARP: 5.6

It’s a break-even change at best. Given Rolen’s back problems, playing on the Toronto turf isn’t going to help him any.

Let’s see… the Jays’ offense ranked 10th out of 14 teams, and their pitching staff ranked a distant second to the Red Sox. Yes, their starting rotation is relatively solid, but Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch are all in their mid-20’s and not one of them had sustained Major League success before 2007, so it’s hard to expect similar production from them in 2008. It’s fair to expect a regression.

Even in their bullpen, they featured guys having unexpected success. Jeremy Accardo, Casey Janssen, and Scott Downs never had anything close to the kind of success they had last season.

#9 is too high for the Jays.

#10 Colorado Rockies

The old style of thinking that pitching will ultimately do in the Rox has to be discarded. Although it would have been nice to see the team upgrade its rotation this off-season.

When you adjust for park effects (obviously, pitching in Coors Field deflates your pitching statistics, and all of their starters had 4.00+ ERA’s), the Rockies had a decent rotation. Among those who pitched 100+ innings…

Francis: 114 ERA+

Fogg: 97

Cook: 116

Hirsh: 100

In addition, the Rockies’ bullpen was superb. Even in Coors Field, the Rockies’ bullpen featured six guys who pitched 45+ innings and kept their ERA under 4.00:

Fuentes: 3.08 ERA (155 ERA+)

Corpas: 2.08 ERA (231 ERA+)

Affeldt: 3.51 ERA (137 ERA+)

Hawkins: 3.42 ERA (140 ERA+)

Julio: 3.93 ERA (122 ERA+)

Herges: 2.96 ERA (162 ERA+)

Of those six, only Affeldt and Julio departed. Their bullpen will be strong again in ’08. The Rockies should be top-three in the NL, along with the Mets and Phillies.

#11 Seattle Mariners

The addition of Erik Bedard cannot be understated as the M’s may own the best one-two punch in the West.

There are only three other teams to compete with… but even then, I’ll take John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar (or Jered Weaver since Escobar will miss the first month of the regular season) over Bedard and Felix Hernandez.

Lackey/Escobar/Weaver ERA+: 151/134/117

Bedard/Hernandez ERA+: 146/110

Bedard helps a middling Mariners pitching staff, but he won’t be enough to save Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, and Carlos Silva from mediocrity.

Additionally, J.J. Putz aside, the Mariners’ great ’07 bullpen featured a bunch of young guys having phenomenal seasons (like the Blue Jays), and we can’t reasonably expect repeat performances.

Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki will be offensive mainstays for the Mariners, but they are going to feature Brad Wilkerson regularly in right field, and he hasn’t put up an above-average offensive season since 2004 when he was in Montreal. Adrian Beltre will be slightly above-average, and Richie Sexson will continue to kick his OBP and SLG into a black hole.

Bedard aside, the Mariners are mediocre and I’d be surprised if they finished within 5 games of the Angels in the AL West.

#12 Milwaukee Brewers

It’s kind of scary to think of what the Brewers accomplished last season with Ben Sheets managing only 141 innings and Rickie Weeks suffering from the lingering effects of a wrist injury.

The Brewers featured an above-average player at every offensive position except catcher and center field. Despite a sub-par starting rotation, the Brewers rode their offense and decent bullpen to a finish of four games over .500.

They lost Francisco Cordero, but they got Eric Gagne, David Riske, and Salomon Torres, which more than offsets the loss. In acquiring Cameron, Bill Hall will move to third base, and Ryan Braun will move to left field.

The Brewers probably won’t see any marked improvement in their 5th-best NL offense or 9th-best pitching staff. The neighborhood of 83 wins continues to be a likely landing spot.

#13 Philadelphia Phillies

The feeling here is that Phillies took a step back this off-season. How any team can trust Brad Lidge to close is beyond us. But that’s assuming he’s even on the mound. Lidge had surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee in October. It goes without saying that this is something to watch in spring. If you believe Aaron Rowand was the unsung hero of the offense last season, then being optimistic about the Phils gets that much harder now that he’s in San Francisco.

How the Phillies are 6th-best in the NL according to Aram is baffling. They feature the NL’s best offense by far, three legitimate MVP candidates in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, one of the best 1-2 punches in the NL with Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, and a markedly improved bullpen. In addition, their defense will set the standard in the NL, and they easily have the deepest bench in the league.

The only question marks with the Phillies are Cole Hamels’ health (he’s always been an injury concern, even throughout the Minor Leagues) and the #3-5 spots in the rotation. Kyle Kendrick had a stunning ’07 season and is a perfect fit for Citizens Bank Park given his ground ball tendencies. However, that was only one year and it could just be a fluke. Jamie Moyer, if Julio Franco doesn’t sign with a team, will be baseball’s oldest player on Opening Day, and Adam Eaton will have the #5 spot in the rotation most likely.

If the Santana pushes the Mets to #1 in the NL, the Phillies are #2.

Everyone, for some reason, assumes Brad Lidge is a wreck, but if you look at his ’07 season, it looks pretty damn good:

67 innings, 88 K, 30 BB, 3.36 ERA (131 ERA+), 1.254 WHIP

As for his injury concerns, his knee is healthy.

After Lidge, the Phillies have three solid pitchers in Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson, and J.C. Romero. The Phillies don’t have a bullpen as good as, say, the Rockies, but it’s still above-average.

Losing Aaron Rowand was inconsequential. Victorino simply moves to center field and right field will consist of a Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth platoon. Victorino is a huge improvement defensively, and the right field platoon will more than make up for Rowand’s offense.

#14 Chicago Cubs

Derrek Lee wasn’t himself last season and Alfonso Soriano had a down year. But even still, the Cubs won the Central. It’s reasonable to expect both Lee and Soriano to perform better. In that case, the Cubs are once again viable in the Central. Staying healthy in spring, especially 3B Aramis Ramirez, is key. As is finding a closer out of a group that includes Kerry Wood.

Soriano had a down year? You can say that, but it’s really nit-picking.

Soriano 2006: .351 OBP/.560 SLG

Soriano 2007: .337 OBP/.560 SLG

Just a .014 drop in OBP. He did miss about 20 more games than he usually does, but he isn’t an injury concern.

Derrek Lee wasn’t himself?

Lee career: .367 OBP/.502 SLG

Lee 2007: .400 OBP/.513 SLG (567 AB)

Looks like he had a pretty good season, no?

Aramis Ramirez has had 500+ AB every season since 2000, when he was still a young player looking for an everyday role. And I could find no news about the Cubs third baseman having any injury difficulties.

The Cubs feature the NL’s best starting rotation — a 100+ ERA at every slot. As for a closer, they have options, including Carlos Marmol, who had an exceptional 2007 season. Seeing as how it was his “breakout” season, it’s unreasonable to expect a 1.43 ERA in 69 innings again, but he could be the Cubs’ answer at closer. Bob Howry is the other candidate and he’s had four straight seasons with an ERA+ of at least 140.

The Cubs will feature a slightly improved offense now that they added Kosuke Fukudome, and will rival the Padres again for the league’s best overall pitching staff. The Cubs are a close #4 behind the Mets, Phillies, and Rockies in the NL.

#15 Atlanta Braves

It’s hard to like any team with two starting pitchers in their 40s. But John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have proven they can pitch with dignity, even in old age. But how long will that last? The offense remains solid, but certainly didn’t get better by swapping Andruw Jones for Mark Kotsay. And that says nothing about what the defense lost with Jones moving to L.A.

People are going to be sorry for underrating the Braves. Losing Andruw Jones isn’t a good thing, definitely, but given his poor mechanics, there’s a higher than usual possibility that Jones’ ’07 season wasn’t a fluke. If so, replacing Jones with Kotsay is much less of a drop-off than it appears.

In ’07, the Braves had the 3rd-best offense and 3rd-best pitching staff in the National League. Does adding Tom Glavine, behind Tim Hudson and John Smoltz, hurt them? I can’t think of a reason how. And the Braves will still feature three offensive mainstays in their line-up…

Johnson: 117 OPS+

C. Jones: 166

Diaz: 124

Catcher Brian McCann and right fielder Jeff Francoeur had average seasons in ’07, but if they learn how to draw a few more walks, they could make the Braves’ offense explosive. Either way, it’s an offense to be reckoned with, much like the Phillies’ and Mets’. It’s a three-horse race in the National League East, and three of the NL’s top five teams are from the East.

. . .

That’s the top-fifteen. There’s a lot of nit-picking to be done with his bottom-fifteen, but we can all universally agree that the Marlins, Royals, Pirates, Giants, Orioles, Twins, Cardinals, and White Sox will be bad. The Nationals, Padres, Astros, Rangers, and Athletics have the potential to be mediocre. And the Rays and Reds are mediocre teams that have the potential to have breakout seasons.

And what you’ve all been waiting for: my top-fifteen power rankings:

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Cleveland Indians

3. New York Mets

4. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

5. Philadelphia Phillies

6. Detroit Tigers

7. Colorado Rockies

8. Atlanta Braves

9. Chicago Cubs

10. New York Yankees

11. Milwaukee Brewers

12. Seattle Mariners

13. Arizona Diamondbacks

14. San Diego Padres

15. Los Angeles Dodgers

As always, feel free to berate me in the comments.

Oh, Happy Day

Lots of fun stuff to talk about today. First, per With Leather, there’s a few more Chris Berman videos out there on YouTube. A summary of the five videos that guy has:

Another one per Deadspin: Christian Group Protests ESPN.

The coalition is concerned there exists at ESPN a “lack of sensitivity to persons of faith and a culture of religious intolerance.” To support this position view the link listed below showing ESPN anchor Chris Berman using the term “Jesus” and “Goddamn” in the workplace.

The Christian Defense Coalition will be calling on ESPN to take three positive steps toward building a culture of religious tolerance in their workplace:

*Discipline or terminate any employee that uses religiously intolerant and hateful language such as “Goddamn” or the negative use of “Jesus Christ” in the workplace.

*Sponsor a workplace seminar and dialogue on religious tolerance and discrimination in the workplace. ESPN has held similar seminars on race and gender but never on religion.

*Host a discussion on one of their programs featuring the topic of the offensive use of “Goddamn” and “Jesus Christ” within the sports world.

It is the goal of the Christian Defense Coalition to help ESPN realize the negative use of “Jesus Christ” and “Goddamn” in the workplace is as offense and hateful as using the term “nigger” in the workplace.

I tell ya, those Christians are funny. We had this come up around January 23, and it provided many — especially me — with a good laugh. But they’re really earnest about this stuff. God damn it ESPN, why do you hate Jesus so much, and why do you hate America?

It’s ironic that it’s Christians whining about intolerance when the book the religion is based around promotes misogyny and slavery and genocide. In the U.S., could it have been anyone other than Christians who would have started the God Hates Fags website? Are you surprised a Christian, Jerry Falwell, said about 9/11:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.

As I mentioned in my previous entry on religious whining, these Christian nut-cases have no jurisdiction on Berman’s behavior (most of which is from 2000, as you can see in the videos), nor on Dana Jacobsen’s. And since they’re talking about tolerance, why don’t they heed Voltaire?

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Next: Canseco calls Brian McNamee a liar!

Retired slugger Jose Canseco says Roger Clemens’ former trainer, Brian McNamee, lied in the Mitchell Report and is lying when he says Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone.

“Absolutely, he’s lying and he’s a dirty liar,” Canseco said in a phone interview Sunday.

[…]

“McNamee is a point-blank liar because Roger never showed up at my house,” Canseco said. “It’s up to Roger’s people to find out why McNamee is saying these things. I think he was pressured by someone into saying them.”

“I’m 1,000% sure Roger never showed up at the party. We didn’t talk then.”

I think this is a super-interesting turn of events. It seems like everyone has jumped off Roger Clemens’ bus and hopped on Brian McNamee’s, and given some of the things that Canseco has said that have turned out to be true, a lot of people are labeling Canseco a credible source. Now you’ve got the two squaring off! How will the public reconcile this?

I suggest a dance-off.

Hey, here’s someone the Christians could complain about: Sam Zell!

Just so you know, the owner of the Cubs said “[Fuck] you” to a female company employee last week. Just so you know, he asked workers at a staff meeting to inform him if they find good porn sites on the Internet. And, just so you know, he defended running strip-joint ads in the respectable Los Angeles Times by saying some of his best friends go to such clubs, reportedly adding, “Everyone likes [pussy]. It’s un-American not to like [pussy].”

He’s right. That’s what the troops are fighting for, and that’s what the American flag represents.

Lastly, the Phillies are still interested in Kris Benson.

The Phillies are apparently a lot more serious about free-agent pitcher Kris Benson than they’ve let on.

Benson has thrown privately for Phillies scout Chuck LaMar twice in the last week, a baseball source said after Benson’s most recent audition yesterday in Atlanta. Benson’s agent, Gregg Clifton, confirmed the private workouts last night.

LaMar apparently has liked what he has seen.

“We have interest,” assistant general manager Ruben Amaro said last night. “We’re talking to his agent.”

I don’t see why the Phillies haven’t signed Benson already. He’ll take a relatively cheap one-year deal with the understanding he’ll have to show he still has his stuff and that he can stay healthy before he gets slotted in the starting rotation. If Benson can meet that criteria, he’d push Adam Eaton out of the starting rotation, and could possibly allow the Phillies to trade him before he causes any more damage.

If Benson still has his stuff, he’ll be slightly below league-average at worst (lowest ERA+ was 88 in 2003) and well above league-average at best (highest ERA+ was 121 in 2000). It’s more likely he’ll be between the two and be just around league-average, which is all you’d ask of a #5 pitcher. Eaton and his 73 ERA+ can take a hike.

Harry Kalas Radio Interview

WIP radio host Angelo Cataldi had a radio interview with Harry Kalas (it’s 40 minutes and 33 seconds long).

Harry Kalas

Angelo Cataldi

I could listen to Kalas talk about anything — knitting, different types of leaves, flossing techniques — for hours on end. His voice and delivery are incredibly captivating, no doubt why he is a legend among legends in the broadcast booth. To boot, he is one of the most genuinely humble people you will ever have the privilege of hearing.

A few of my favorite lines from the interview between Angelo Cataldi and Kalas…

Talking about the late Richie Ashburn, “Whitey” (for whom Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park, and subsequently this blog, are named):

He and I are sitting in a hotel bar in New York and a blonde hooker comes walking up. She says, “Boys, I’ll do anything you want for $100.” Whitey thought for a while and he said, “How about the pregame show?”

Cataldi asks Kalas about Whitey, long games, and hunger:

When I first joined the Phillies in ’71, Whitey and I would be working games, and if a game was getting late, if it was a late game, perhaps extra innings or just a long game and Whitey’d be getting hungry, he’d say, “Well, I wonder if those people at Celebri’s Pizza are listening tonight.” Within fifteen minutes, pizzas would be delievered to the booth. This went on for a couple of months.

Now, Phillies management called Whitey and they said, “Rich, Celebri’s is not a sponsor. You can’t be throwing their name out there on the air all the time. So, shortly after he was told this, maybe two or three weeks, extra inning game, he’s really hungry, and we do do birthday wishes. So Whitey said, “Well, Harry, we have special birthday wishes tonight: to the Celebri’s twins, Plain and Pepperoni!” And sure enough, fifteen minutes, the pizzas would be delivered to the booth.

About 32 minutes into the clip, Cataldi is asking Kalas about the most downtrodden he’s been on the air, and before he even said it, I was thinking “Craig Biggio’s ninth-inning three-run home run off of Billy Wagner in 2005.” I can remember Harry’s voice clearly to this day and it may have been the furthest my heart has sunk in my entire life.

Probably the most downer call I ever made, Angelo, is Billy Wagner’s last year with the Phillies when Biggio hit a home run off him and we were on our way to perhaps post-season, and when Biggio hit that home run — I mean I heard a replay of that…

The WIP team struggled with finding a clip of Harry’s call, and, unfortunately, there isn’t one on MLB.com, as they have the FSN Houston broadcast team for the September 7, 2005 game in question.

Do yourself a favor and listen to one of the greatest play-by-play announcers of all time.

Once again, I have to give credit to the Phillies forum Back She Goes for leading me to this (specific hat tip to gusmoney).

From the “No Shit” File

Currently, on Yahoo’s front page section, comes this submission from the “No Shit” file:

Here’s the article if you’re interested.

Yeah, scientists could be trying to find a cure for AIDS or cancer, but they’d rather have their grants fund studies of the blatantly obvious.

Well, Now That That’s Over

As the final seconds ticked off of the fourth quarter clock and the New York Giants earned victory in Super Bowl XLII, those of us who are more inclined towards baseball breathed a sigh of relief and marked another X on the calendar: A week and a half until P’s and C’s report; three weeks until exhibition games begin; seven weeks until the regular season begins.

The Phillies, for the most part, look like an improved team. Brad Lidge was acquired from the Houston Astros; Shane Victorino moved to center field following the departure of Aaron Rowand; Geoff Jenkins was signed to platoon with Jayson Werth in right field; Pedro Feliz was given red pinstripes as a hopeful answer to the team’s third base woes.

Meanwhile, the Phillies watched the Marlins pawn off their two franchise players, the Nationals sign and trade for no one important, the Braves lose Andruw Jones to free agency and trade Edgar Renteria to Detroit and replace them with weaker players. Oh, and the Mets traded for the best pitcher in baseball. The Johan Santana deal aside, everyone in the division either got weaker or stayed essentially in the same place.

Jimmy Rollins, almost a year after declaring the Phillies “the team to beat” in the NL East (and being proven correct on the last day of the regular season), claimed his team would win 100 games in 2008.

As I counted last August, the Phillies’ bullpen was responsible for at blowing at least 19 games between April and the end of August. Remember, this is a bullpen that featured — not just had; featured — Antonio Alfonseca, Clay Condrey, and Jose Mesa, among others, mostly due to the injuries to Closer #1 Tom Gordon, Closer #2 Brett Myers, and Ryan Madson.

Now, the Phillies feature a bona fide closer in Brad Lidge, a now-serviceable set-up man in Tom Gordon, and a surprisingly deep bullpen, now that Ryan Madson will once again be healthy, and the team kept J.C. Romero, who was stunningly effective since he arrived in Philadelphia in early June last season. The bullpen, barring injury, doesn’t figure to be a problem for the Phillies in 2008.

As always, the Phillies feature one of baseball’s best offenses. Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, and the pitchers aside, the Phillies feature 20-25 HR potential at every position, and Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Chase Utley are three of baseball’s best at getting on base. Obviously, scoring runs won’t be a problem for the Phillies, either, but given that Pedro Feliz and his sub-.300 OBP will be playing every day, expect a very slight regression in runs scored from ’07.

However, preventing them appears to be a problem for the starting rotation once you get past Cole Hamels and Brett Myers.

Jamie Moyer is 45, put up a 5.01 ERA, and averaged his highest base runners per inning rate since 2000. Age is less of a problem for a pitcher of Moyer’s ilk, since he relies not on speed, but purely on location and intellect. Either way, Moyer cannot be relied on anything more than league-average production.

Kyle Kendrick put up an impressing rookie campaign for the Phillies in which he revealed himself as a perfect fit for Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies. In 2007, more than 47% of Kendrick’s batted balls were of the ground ball variety, and in CBP, where the gusting winds push would-be fly ball outs halfway up the stands in left field, throwing ground balls creates a huge advantage for their Phillies and their now-great infield defense. Given Kendrick’s age and lack of MLB experience though, we can’t reliably predict a repeat.

Adam Eaton. Not much needs to be said about him other than that the sooner the Phillies get rid of him and his awful pitching, the better. Eaton might be the worst pitcher the Phillies have allowed to pitch 150 innings or more since Brandon Duckworth in 2002. The non-progressives in the Phillies’ front office likely don’t realize this and will try to justify paying him $24.5 million over three years by letting him take the mound once every five games.

Depending on how Kendrick pans out, and how quick the Phillies are to pull Eaton from the starting rotation, expect about average production from the Phillies’ rotation. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers will obviously be well above league-average but it won’t be enough to offset the lackluster performances from the others. If the Phillies can sign Kyle Lohse and bump Eaton from the rotation before the season even starts, that would be such a boon.

Defensively, the Phillies are easily above-average. Pedro Feliz is baseball’s best glove at third base, Chase Utley is a top-two defensive second baseman, Victorino is a gazelle with a cannon in center field, and Carlos Ruiz is one of the better defensive catchers in baseball. Pat Burrell and Geoff Jenkins lack range but both have strong arms, Jayson Werth has decent speed and a strong arm, and Jimmy Rollins provides average to slightly above-average shortstop defense. The only defensive curse on the Phillies is Ryan Howard at first base.

Overall, I expect the Phillies to have the National League’s best offense and Major League Baseball’s third-best, behind the Yankees and Tigers. Pitching-wise, overall, I expect a middle-of-the-pack performance, perhaps 9th out of the 16 National League teams. The starting rotation will rank about 10th or 11th and the bullpen will rank about 4th or 5th.

My prediction (with the roster as it is presently)

Phillies 2008 RPG:  5.42 (878 runs).

Phillies 2008 RAPG: 4.61 (747 runs).

Phillies 2008 record: 91-71, second in NL East behind the 93-69 Mets.

Bonus: Cole Hamels finishes a very close #2 to Johan Santana in Cy Young voting.

Chris Berman Meltdown

Thanks to Lisa H of the FOX Sports blogs for making me aware of what may be the most hilarious rant I’ve heard in a long time. This ranks higher than the Jim Mora and Dennis Green tirades, and ekes by Todd Stottlemyre.

Edit: Apparently, I’m slow, because this video has been posted in a number of different places.

No Reason to Panic

I don’t know if any of you out there have heard, but the Mets traded for two-time Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. I could’ve sworn that the Red Sox and Yankees offered better packages. But the Twins’ front office isn’t who I want to criticize right now (plenty of people will be doing that between now and the end of the regular season); I want to question Don McKee’s logic in an article he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He titled it “Phils Fall Back in Arms Race.” It’s clever, probably unintentionally so. Does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in a relapse of sorts? Or does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in lagging behind the Mets? Probably the latter, but he spends the rest of the article implying the former.

McKee provides a summary of the Santana deal, then hammers out this doozy:

So here’s a friendly little road map that could guide the Phillies back to another of those scintillating stretch runs with their most hated (is it even close?) rivals.

First, send something to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Matt Morris, who has 121 career wins and too big a price tag for the team with the majors’ fourth-lowest payroll. (Since Morris is scheduled to make $9.5 million this season, the Bucs might be willing to accept Wes Helms, who makes about a third of that.)

Then ship Adam Eaton to Minnesota, which will be seeking an arm to fill out its rotation. The Twins could have some big problems without Santana: Francisco Liriano missed all of last season after elbow surgery and former Phillie Carlos Silva signed with Seattle as a free agent.

If you know who Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey are (the rest of Minnesota’s rotation), you get a stack of old Mike Lieberthal cards.

Morris has won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons and won 22 with St. Louis in 2001. He has had a losing record the last two seasons, but that may have had more to do with his teams (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) than him.

Is he Johan Santana? No. But neither is anybody else out there. And with every single arm in the Phillies’ projected rotation a question mark, Morris would be a welcome addition.

He suggests trading Wes Helms to the Pirates for Matt Morris. That sounds reasonable since we’re talking about Wes Helms, a mediocre player, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose front office has made a hobby out of collecting as many mediocre players as possible since 1992.

Morris is owed $9.5 million for the ’08 season and he has a $9 million club option with a $1 million buy-out clause for ’09. Helms is owed $2.5 million this season and he has a $3.75 million club option with a $750,000 buy-out clause for ’09. That’s a total of $6.25 million the Phillies would be required to take on this season. Not bad.

But if you look at the free agent market, once name sticks out: Kyle Lohse. Lohse doesn’t throw as many ground balls as Morris, but he’s a free agent, and that’s key. Instead of having to give up Helms to round out the rotation, the Phillies can sign Lohse, whose price tag drops with every passing day, and then flip Helms to some third base-desperate team who is willing to part with a relief pitcher. As anyone who watched the Phillies last season knows, you can’t have too many relief pitchers.

Lohse will probably take a three-year, $27 million deal, an average of $9 million per season. This also allows the Phillies the flexibility to add another arm to the bullpen by trading Helms.

Even more laughable is that the Phillies can just dump Adam Eaton on the Twins, as if their front office is collectively unconscious following the Santana trade (who knows, maybe he’s right). Dumping Eaton on the Twins would require eating a lot of his remaining salary, which is $7.635 million this season, $8.5 million in ’09, and a $9 million mutual option in ’10 with a $500,000 buy-out clause. The Phillies would have to fork over about half of Eaton’s ’08 salary, most likely.

So, here’s McKee’s plan in the big picture:

Phillies Get

Matt Morris ($9.5 million)

Some random Twins Minor Leaguer who will be serving fries in two years

Phillies Give Up

Wes Helms ($2.5 million)

Adam Eaton ($4 million of $7.635)

To find out how much money the Phillies would have to have, just add up Morris’ salary and the cash they’d send with Eaton, and subtract from it Helms’ salary. That’s $11 million they are paying essentially just for Matt Morris, a pitcher whose poor ’06-07 seasons McKee wrongfully labels as aberrations or due mostly to bad teams.

Take a look at the trends Morris has shown. In 2005, he was with the Cardinals, ’06 with the Giants, and split ’07 between the Giants and Pirates.

K/9

2005: 5.47

2006: 5.07 (-.40)

2007: 4.62 (-.45)

Career: 6.08

BB/9

2005: 1.73

2006: 2.73 (+1.0)

2007: 2.76 (+0.03)

Career: 2.53

WHIP

2005: 1.277

2006: 1.353 (+.076)

2007: 1.515 (+.162)

Career: 1.305

Fly Ball %

2005: 29.8%

2006: 33.4% (+3.6%)

2007: 31.5% (-1.9%)

Career: 31.7%

You can’t blame that on Morris’ teammates. He is striking out less hitters, walking them more, allowing more overall base runners, and is becoming slightly more fly ball-prone.

Also, isn’t it hilarious that McKee thinks it’s some trivial thing to know who Baker (MLB experience since ’05), Bonser (since ’06), and Slowey (’07 rookie) are? It’s not like all of America watched Baker attempt to hold down a perfect game in the 9th inning, or Bonser wasn’t included in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, or Slowey was the 17th-best overall prospect in 2005 according to Baseball America. You’d have to be the Schwab to know those guys.

So, the Mets got Santana. It probably makes them the pre-season favorites barring any other significant moves by the Phillies or Braves. It doesn’t mean the Phillies have to panic and just start randomly acquiring pitchers. Even if the Phillies don’t acquire Lohse and go into the season expecting Adam Eaton to start once every five days, it at least means the Phillies will have some funds available to make a mid-season trade if a player becomes available.

Phillies sign 3B Pedro Feliz

Reasons why you would ever consider signing free agent third baseman Pedro Feliz:

  • You are a bottom-feeding organization like the Tampa Bay Rays or Kansas City Royals.
  • You have never looked at baseball statistics before.
  • You like your hitters reaching base in less than 30% of their plate appearances.
  • You are a vengeful GM and the fans have wronged you.
  • Feliz blackmailed you.

Yet, the Phillies, who have three third basemen (Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, and Eric Bruntlett) are close to signing Feliz to a two-year, $8.5 million deal:

An agreement is believed to be pending a physical, which could happen sometime this week, though the Phillies would only confirm that the sides are in discussions. The deal is reportedly for $8.5 million over two years with a team option for 2010 that could approach $15 million, according to an Associated Press report.

Feliz has played seven full seasons of Major League Baseball, and in none of them has he ever been close to the league average on-base percentage (usually between .330 and .345). In fact, he’s only been above .300 once in 2004 (.305).

Offensively, Feliz is a black hole. He ranked 31st on the San Francisco Giants in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) at -2.7.

Defensively, Feliz does have value. The Fielding Bible awards named him the best-fielding third baseman in all of Major League Baseball, and he ranked first in the National League in Revised Zone Rating (RZR) and third in Out of Zone plays (OOZ).

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So, we’ve established that Feliz is unattractive offensively and attractive defensively. Depending on how much money the Phillies threw at him, this signing could be one of those where you just shrug your shoulders. Who knows, maybe Feliz will improve on his offense. After all, he did play in the very pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, and players, under the tutelage of manager/offensive guru Charlie Manuel and hitting coach Milt Thompson, usually end up being more prone to taking walks and set career highs in OBP. For instance:

  • Aaron Rowand: Career-high 32 walks before ’07’s total of 47 walk; career-high .361 OBP before ’07’s .374.
  • Rod Barajas: Career-high .306 OBP before ’07’s .352. He was, however, helped by hitting mostly eighth in the line-up, in front of the pitcher.
  • Jayson Werth: Career-high .338 OBP before ’07’s .404.
  • David Bell: Career-high .331 OBP before ’04’s .363.
  • Jason Michaels: .364 and .399 ’04-05 OBP’s with the Phillies; .326 and .324 ’06-07 OBP’s with the Indians.

Don’t forget that the Phillies have also had four of the best on-base players in the game in Chase Utley (.410 OBP in ’07), Ryan Howard (.392), Pat Burrell (.400), and Bobby Abreu (.408 career OBP).

Feliz will likely fill in as the #7 hitter, ahead of the catcher (Carlos Ruiz or Chris Coste) and the pitcher, so the impact of his lack of offense will be dulled a bit. Either way, it’s a questionable signing at best and rather unnecessary.