Monday, July 30, 2007

Braves Add Teixiera

The Braves finally bit the bullet and dealt their two top prospects, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus, for Mark Teixiera, which should put an end to their first base woes (no more Julio Franco in the starting lineup). This is a great move for the Braves, who already had a good catcher in Brian McCann and had no real use for Saltalamacchia, except as trade bait. Not to mention that there's really no telling how these prospects will project. It is always very difficult to predict these things in baseball, so the Braves did well to their prospects into a legitimate star in Teixiera.

The added offense could propel the Braves to the top of the NL East, or should at least give them a much-needed boost. Atlanta had been struggling of late, but this might turn things around. The Braves' hitting, which had not been especially potent will get one of the best all-around first basemen in the league, filling a gaping hole in their lineup.

It's not all good for Atlanta (even if it looks that way. I actually spent a great deal of time trying to think of reasons that Teixiera would be a major bust. He probably won't). Teixiera's contract expires after next season and with Scott Boras representing him, he won't be easy or cheap to re-sign. If the Braves let him go, this could end badly considering they surrendered their top two prospects to get him. The other potential issue is whether this really fills a need. Yes, Atlanta's offense had not been great, but it hasn't been terrible either. They've outscored the Mets, among other teams. A big part of their problem has been pitching. Aside from John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, the Braves have no reliable starters and the bullpen has not been as reliable as they had hoped. Teixiera will make the Braves much more dangerous, but a stud pitcher might have been a bigger help.

Meanwhile, the Phillies and Mets each made a move to gear up for the stretch. Philadelphia added Kyle Lohse and New York added Luis Castillo. Lohse ought to help the Phillies. He can't be any worse than J.D. Durbin and he has had a decent season in Cincinnati, but has suffered due to poor run support. He shouldn't have that problem in Philadelphia. Castillo is a decent player, but it's hard to imagine he'll be much better than Ruben Gotay, who has hit very well for the Mets.

The Braves made a big move in their hunt for the division, but it should at best even out the race. It's anyone's game now.

Ainge Can Redeem Himself With KG Deal

I received an email this morning from a friend of mine who's a Celtics fan asking me what was wrong with Danny Ainge and with this link. Apparently there's still some concern about giving up Al Jefferson and Gerald Green, but this is exactly the deal the Celtics need to make to justify the Ray Allen trade.

While Al Jefferson is emerging into one of the better young big men in the league, Garnett is already one of the top five players in the league. Obviously the Celtics have to make sure that Garnett will sign an extension to make the trade make any sense, but assuming he signs off on this, it's a great deal for Boston. A trio of Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Allen would catapult the Celtics to the top of the weak Eastern Conference. They would be one of the favorites to represent the East in the Finals and, if the team really gels, would have a legitimate shot at winning it.

Ainge was criticized after the Allen trade for supposedly not having a direction for the Celtics. That move alone would leave Boston stuck somewhere between rebuilding and contention, making them at best a low playoff seed in the East, which would leave them without a good enough draft pick to allow for major improvement. Adding Garnett would give the Celtics a true direction and would appease the disgruntled fan base. The Allen trade wasn't a terrible one, but the best thing about it was that it got the Celtics a talented player without giving up any major talent or trade assets. Ainge would not have much else to trade after this Garnett deal, giving up his two best young players and Theo Ratliff's expiring contract, but it would give the team a few years with a real shot at a title, and besides, what's the point of having big expiring contracts if not to trade them.

One could argue that Jefferson is arguably comparable to Garnett as a low-post player even now, but one area where this would make a huge difference is on defense. While Jefferson is a very suspect defender, Garnett is one of the best. He could help make up for Allen's poor defense, which, with Jefferson on the floor, would have made the Celtics a very poor defensive

Garnett would give the Celtics three legitimate stars (or 2 1/2, depending on your view of Allen) and would still leave them with some quality role players in Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, not to mention rookies Gabe Pruitt and Glen Davis. There's a lot more talent in that group than on the Cavaliers team that got thrashed in the Finals by the Spurs.

I'm sure David Stern is also hoping for this trade to go through. It would make Boston a contender once again and would draw attention away from the Tim Donaghy scandal. At this point, anything positive would do wonders for the NBA. Let's see if Danny Ainge can make it happen.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Does Anyone Want To Win The NL East?

On their first night without All-Star 2B Chase Utley, the Phillies gained ground on the Mets and Braves, with a rain-shortened 8-1 victory over Pittsburgh. It was just one game, but the Phillies showed that they can still hit, even without their best player. Earlier in the day, the Phillies acquired Tadahito Iguchi from the White Sox, who will fill in for Utley. Ultimately the Utley injury may not slow the Phillies down too much, as it coincides with the return of Brett Myers to the bullpen and Pat Burrell's hot streak.

Fact is, the Phillies seem to have more offense than they know what to do with. Michael Bourn, filling in for Aaron Rowand (who suffered the first tag-related injury I have ever heard of), went 4-4 and stole a base. He's going to give Charlie Manuel a difficult decision (though Manuel makes any decision seem difficult) with his bid for increased playing time. Odds are he'll continue to be the Phillies relief left fielder, once Rowand recovers. Losing Utley is going to hurt, but with Rollins, Howard, Rowand, and the rest, the Phillies should have enough to get by. Pitching is their main concern, but that should be addressed (for now anyway) with rookies Kyle Kendrick and J.D. Durbin showing signs that they are here to stay, and with the return of Myers to the closer role.

Of course, should the Phillies rally and win the division, it will have more to do with the poor play of the Mets and Braves. While both teams have pitching staffs superior to Philadelphia's, neither team can hit. The Mets have two good hitters: Jose Reyes and David Wright...and that's it. Carlos Delgado is a shell of his former self, Carlos Beltran has been playing hurt all year (though he may come back strong now that he's getting some time off), Paul LoDuca can't drive in a run to save his life, and the current outfielders are either washed up (Moises Alou and Shawn Green) or unproven (Lastings Milledge). They've been saved by good, if erratic, starting pitching and a comparably good bullpen. I say 'comparably good' because the Mets only have two good relievers: Billy Wagner and Pedro Feliciano. Not that impressive, but it's two more than the Phillies have. As good as their starters have been, it has not been reliable. There really has not been one guy who has been a stopper for the Mets. Some Mets fans think that will change once Pedro Martinez returns, but odds are he will be very mediocre and it's doubtful that he will be any better than whoever he replaces. For that matter, it will be tough to figure out who he should replace. Odds are it will be Jorge Sosa, who has struggled of late, but there isn't a clear-cut choice and one has to wonder how that decision will affect clubhouse chemistry.

The Braves' offense has not been that great either. They've gotten no offense out of their first basemen all year and have been involved in trade talks for Mark Teixiera, who, if they could lock him up long-term, would be a great fit. However, it is unlikely that the Braves are willing to pay the asking price of C Jarrod Saltalamacchia. If the Braves are that high on Saltalamacchia, why not trade their current starter, Brian McCann for first base help? He wouldn't be able to land a talent like Teixiera, but he could probably get them Adam Dunn, or a similarly talented player. A move like that might give the Braves enough offense to win the division.

In all likelihood, no major moves will be coming for any of these teams. The Mets don't really have room to add anyone. Who could they trade for? They have too many outfielders already, they can't sit Delgado, there aren't any available second basemen who could make a difference (with the possible exception of Brian Roberts), and they'll already have a logjam in the rotation when Pedro returns. If the Braves are unwilling to move one of their catchers, there isn't much they can do. The Phillies simply don't have any trading chips, except for maybe Michael Bourn, but with Rowand's impending free agency (and his injury-prone nature. He got injured playing TAG), they would do well to hang on to him.

So who's going to win the division? Well it's tough to say. It seems like all three teams have been stuck in neutral recently. The Mets have played just well enough to keep the Phillies and Braves at bay, but haven't built up their lead. It's hard to see them getting better as the season goes on, unless either Pedro exceeds all realistic expectations, or Beltran fully recovers during his time off and returns to his '06 form. The Braves might make a deal to improve their chances, but as of now, a major move seems unlikely. The Phillies have Myers returning and will get Utley back in, at best, about three weeks, but in those three weeks they will face the Cubs, Brewers, and Braves. With an improved bullpen and a fairly easy September schedule, the Phillies have a decent shot at catching up to the Mets or making another wildcard run, but there's no telling how they'll fare without Utley over the next month or so.

The fact is, someone has to win the NL East and the Mets just might do it because of the early lead they built up. It would be fitting considering holding a slim lead is about all the Mets have done well this season.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

NBA's Integrity in Jeopardy

The recent news of NBA referee Tim Donaghy betting on basketball games he officiated in and influencing point spreads might not take the spotlight from Michael Vick, but it could be far more damaging. While Vick's recent indictment will hurt the Atlanta Falcons and his shoe sales, the integrity of the NBA could be at stake if the situation is not properly dealt with.

It is one thing for a player to say that he bet on games, even his own, but for an official to do so is far more dangerous. Pete Rose admitted to betting on games he played in and managed, but he (supposedly) always bet on his team to win. For an ultra-competitive player like Rose, it is hard to imagine him throwing a game. Even if he did, he could not lose a game entirely by himself. An official, however, can have far more influence. In baseball or football this could be tracked much more easily and the authorities could figure out if an official is corrupt. While the strike zone is somewhat open to interpretation, instant replay is so heavily used that it would likely be brought up if one umpire clearly seemed to favor one team over another. Football uses instant replay as a part of the game, now that coaches can challenge questionable calls, so it would again be difficult for a referee to greatly influence the outcome of a game without calling attention to himself.

On the other hand, basketball is completely different. A great deal of the referee's job is open to interpretation and instant replay is not used, except for at the end of quarters. What's more, the game moves so quickly that replay is not implemented as often, making it harder to discern whether or not a referee is biased. Calling fouls in the NBA is almost entirely a judgement call, to the point that hardly a call goes by without a complaint from a player or coach.

This issue goes far beyond Tim Donaghy. He is out of the NBA for good and now he's got to deal with the FBI. (On a side note, a story in the New York Times said that Donaghy had been sued by neighbors for shouting obscenities and setting a tractor on fire. He set a tractor on fire? How can anyone who does that to his neighbor be expected to officiate a slow-pitch softball game effectively, let alone a professional basketball game?) The real problem the NBA faces is finding a way to prove that other officials are not being influenced by gambling or anything else. It was not long ago that the NBA was forced to suspend long-time referee Joey Crawford from officiating Spurs games because of an apparent bias against Tim Duncan. There was also a great deal of complaining about calls going the way of the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals, as Dwyane Wade practically lived on the free throw line in the final 4 games of the series (all won by Miami).

David Stern is in a difficult spot here. It seems like the best thing the NBA can do is to make an example of Donaghy, to send a message to other officials, but mostly to fans. The problem is that there is very little Stern can do to Donaghy. He has already resigned and now his fate is in the hands of federal prosecutors. One possible course of action is for the NBA to start an organization to keep an eye out for corrupt officiating, but they have to be careful not to turn this into a witch hunt.

If Stern is not careful, this could play out similarly to baseball's steroids problems. What baseball has done wrong is they have insisted upon searching for answers about the past, rather than focusing on keeping steroids out of baseball in the present and future. The NBA should not take the same approach. Nothing could be more damaging to the league than discoveries that corrupt officiating has influenced outcomes of championships. It's possible that that has happened and now fans will have to consider it, but the NBA's concern should be cleaning up the sport and making sure this can't happen again.

In all likelihood, most of the NBA's officials are completely clean, but now the NBA has to prove to its fans that this is the case. Lucky for the NBA, they are "competing" for attention with Michael Vick. Unfortunately, that might not be enough.

Monday, July 16, 2007

10,000 Ways Not to Win

It's pretty rare to see a standing ovation at a Phillies game, so I was pretty surprised to see the remainder of the crowd on its feet, applauding the Phillies' 10-2 loss to St. Louis last night.

The Phillies lost their 10,000th game, thanks to poor pitching, courtesy of Adam Eaton and the bullpen (well really just Brian Sanches, who is the worst pitcher the Phillies have used this year, which is saying something), and untimely hitting. Their only runs came by way of Michael Bourn's first career home run and a Chase Utley RBI double, both in the ninth inning, after the game was effectively over.

While I was rooting for the Phillies to complete the sweep, in some ways I'm glad they lost that particular game. It was on national TV, so at least their dubious accomplishment received appropriate publicity. Of course that also meant a slightly nauseating montage of Phillies incompetence. (Just for the record, the Joe Carter home run from the '93 series was uncalled for, since playoff losses don't count. I've seen that more than enough already ESPN, thanks.) Also, the Phillies set out on a road trip today. Ten thousand really had to take place in Philadelphia. I think I would've been sick if it had been in another stadium and the opposing fans gave the Phillies a sarcastic standing ovation. (Not that they would have, but...well I would have if I were in that position. Too funny to pass up.)

Maybe now that the 10,000th loss is over and done with, the Phillies can focus on increasing their franchise winning percentage, starting with this road trip. One thing I will say is that it is finally nice to know that the Phillies are the best at something.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Phillies Stave Off 10,000th Loss

I almost didn't write this because I'm pretty sure it means that the Phillies will lose tonight, but here goes anyway.

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Phillies have looked great. Granted, it's been two games and they've been playing the lowly Cardinals (still can't believe they're the reigning champions), but they've scored 23 runs in the last two games and have pitched fairly well. Kyle Kendrick has been outstanding since his call-up from AA, far exceeding any expectations. He's delivered quality start after quality start, with his best effort coming Friday night when he allowed just one run in seven innings. It hasn't hurt that he's gotten good run support as well, but he really looks like he could be a keeper for this team. He's making a strong bid to be a part of next year's rotation.

Cole Hamels picked up his 11th win last night, though it wasn't a great outing for him. One has to wonder how he's going to hold up in the second half, since he's never logged this many innings before in his career. He should be alright since the Phillies have been pretty careful with his pitch counts, but it wouldn't be a shock if he wore down a bit by the end of the season. Not that I'm suggesting last night's start was the beginning of the end for him, it was just an off-night. Happens to the best of them and, frankly, four runs in six innings is not so terrible for an "off-night." Especially when the offense is scoring 10+ runs a game.

While the Phillies hitters can't expect to score quite that many every night, they clearly have the best offense in the National League. Chase Utley has been one of the best hitters in the league. Jimmy Rollins has as many home runs (18) as Albert Pujols. Ryan Howard hit his 22nd home run last night and, despite his slow start and his stint on the DL, could be headed for another 50 home run season. Aaron Rowand is having a career year (in a contract year, naturally) and has been phenomenal in the clutch. His stats in just about every clutch situation imaginable have been excellent. Shane Victorino's batting average has been up and down, but he's stolen 28 bases.

Most surprising of all, Pat Burrell has come on of late. Since going 0-2 against the Mets on July 1st, when he had a .201 batting average, he has gone on a tear and raised it to .227. He raised it 10 points last night when he went 3-3 with 4 RBIs. Keep in mind that Burrell is the Phillies 6th or 7th best hitter (depending on whether Greg Dobbs is in the lineup), so if he can get going it's just a bonus.

Of course, the Phillies still have some problems. Their starting pitching, after Hamels and Kendrick, has been very shaky. Moyer has struggled of late and Eaton is still fairly erratic. What's more, the Phillies don't really have a fifth starter. As of now it looks like it will be J.D. Durbin, who did not look too good in his first start with the team. They might opt for Clay Condrey instead, evidenced by the Phillies' use of Durbin out of the bullpen as recently as Friday night. A trade would be a huge benefit, but the Phillies don't really have anyone to offer. Their farm system is very weak and the only players they'd like to trade are the ones who haven't produced for them. They can't give up Utley, Howard, Hamels, or Rollins, they won't deal Victorino or Michael Bourn, and no one would take Burrell. Their only option would be to trade Aaron Rowand, but with their shortage of right-handed bats (not to mention clutch hitters), they can't afford to give him up.

They're stuck with the pitchers they have, but that may not be such a bad thing. The Mets' and Braves' rotations lack consistency as well, with the exception of John Smoltz (who's now on the DL). The fact is, with all their pitching woes, the Phillies still have arguably the best starter in the division in Hamels. Their biggest weakness is the bullpen. Alfonseca/Mesa II has been acceptable, but not that great. Ryan Madson has looked good of late. Mike Zagurski continues to post solid numbers as a rookie. The addition of J.C. Romero was a big one. Romero pitched reasonably well with the Red Sox, posting a 3.15 ERA, though his BB/K ratio was pretty bad. He's looked pretty good since joining the Phillies and could be very important for them.

While the Phillies bullpen is not very good, that could change when Brett Myers gets back. Myers looked outstanding as a closer before his injury and should strengthen the 'pen considerably upon his return. With a good closer, all of the sudden the bullpen doesn't look that bad. Alfonseca, Madson, Romero, and Zagurski as 6th, 7th, and 8th inning pitchers is a decent group, not to mention Tom Gordon and maybe Geoff Geary if he can work out his issues in AAA.

In the end of the day, even with 10,000 losses, the Phillies are a legitimate contender in the NL East. The Phillies have their problems, but so do the Mets and Braves, and with Myers returning, the Phillies have good reason to think that they'll improve in the second half, which is something that, barring a trade, the Mets and Braves can't really say.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Why Would A-Rod Stay?

The back-and-forth between Scott Boras and the Yankees regarding a contract extension for Alex Rodriguez concluded, as expected, without an extension. It's been suggested that this was all a ploy by the Yankees to turn the fans against A-Rod, thus making the Yankees look better when they lose him to free agency. If that's true...where have the Yankees been the last few years? The fans were already against A-Rod. That exactly why he's going to leave, though it's not the only reason.

The fact is, A-Rod has a lot more to gain by leaving. Not only can he stick to the franchise that's gotten him booed and batted him 8th in the lineup of a series-clinching playoff game, but he stands to make at least an extra $5 million annually. There is no doubt that A-Rod can be baseball's first $30 million man if he opts out of his contract at the end of the season. He is only 31 and will have reached 500 career home runs by the end of the year (maybe by the end of the month). He's got a great chance to be the all-time home run leader by the end of his career (though we said the same thing about Ken Griffy Jr. You just never know.).

There are those who say that the Yankees should let him go and spend the $25 million on a couple of players, as they try to rebuild, but no so fast. The Rangers are paying $16 million each year of A-Rod's contract and that money will be gone if he opts out. This would be devastating to the Yankees, who will probably not make the playoffs as it is and certainly would not be remotely in playoff contention if not for A-Rod. Losing their best player and only have an extra $11 million to spend (even though we all know the Yankees can spend more than that) would be a huge blow to the once-dominant franchise.

Meanwhile, A-Rod can go to another city where he will be better appreciated and, who knows, maybe he'll even win. There will be pressure for him to win anywhere that he goes, but not like in New York, where it's been World Series or bust for the last several years. It will be, at first, a fairly painless separation. A-Rod will be glad to be gone and the Yankees fans will feel that they can win without him. They'll be in for a shock when they realize just how much better A-Rod is than Derek Jeter and how, if A-Rod couldn't carry their mediocre squad, Jeter certainly can't.

Rashard, Darko, and other moves

It's been a busy week in the NBA off-season. The Magic made two huge moves recently, completing the sign-and-trade for Rashard Lewis and locking up Dwight Howard to a five year extension. The addition of Lewis has drawn much criticism, but if it allows the Magic to hang onto Howard, than it might just be worth it since Howard is that franchise right now. That said, he's not going to make them much better. Orlando did need a perimeter scorer and some shooting, which Lewis provides, but he is such a poor defender that he'll likely give up about as many points as he creates. While adding a sharpshooter will give Howard more room to operate, it will also put a lot more pressure on him on the defensive end, as opposing small forwards blow past Lewis into the paint, likely creating a few more fouls for Howard. The Lewis signing also eliminated Orlando's salary cap room and effectively cost them Darko Milicic, leaving a gaping hole at center.

The Magic had to make a move, but even with Lewis they are not a lock for a playoff spot, even in the East. This has more to do with other Eastern Conference teams getting better than the Magic getting worse. Certainly Orlando will score more than they did last season, with Howard improving, Lewis getting open shots, and possibly some improvement from J.J. Redick, who could also benefit from Howard's low-post dominance if he proves he can play regularly. But Orlando is going to be a very poor defensive team (especially if Redick cracks the rotation). They'll make a run at the 7 or 8 seed, but expect an improved team like the Celtics or Bucks to knock them off.

Meanwhile, after cutting ties with Orlando, Darko has made his way to Memphis, which is ironic since the Pistons selected him with Memphis' draft pick. While Darko is anything but proven, this is a good move for the Grizzlies. Darko is only 22, so he could certainly improve. While he'll never live up to the hype surrounding his draft class, he could develop into a very good player. Seeing as this is only a three-year deal, Memphis can let him walk if he doesn't improve. This gives the Grizzlies a very nice young core. Pau Gasol will now be flanked by Darko, Mike Conley, and Rudy Gay. In a few years, that could be a very dangerous trio. Memphis should be improved this year, though they're not a playoff team yet (since they're not in the East).

One team to look out for is the Charlotte Bobcats. With the addition of Jason Richardson and the re-signing of Gerald Wallace, they have the makings of a dangerous team that might just compete for a playoff spot. Richardson will bring scoring and outside shooting, Wallace does a little bit of everything, Emeka Okafor will benefit from Richardson's presence, and Raymond Felton should continue to improve. If Sean May can stay healthy and Adam Morrison can find a way to be productive, Charlotte could be pretty good. They would have to be my sleeper team in the East.

Out West, the Lakers just have me confused. First they made draft picks that looked a lot like rebuilding moves, adding raw PG Javaris Crittenton, Chinese F Sun Yue, and Spanish C Marc Gasol, who will all take a few years to develop. Then the Lakers go and sign Derek Fisher. Why sign Fisher when you've spent your last two first round picks on point guards? Fisher isn't the player he was in his first stint with the Lakers. He's not the shooter he used to be, and yet three-point shooting is the only justification I can think of for adding him. It's a very questionable signing and even if Kobe Bryant stays in LA, the Lakers are going to have a very tough time securing a playoff spot.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Grant Hill is a Sun...but why?

Apparently, Grant Hill has agreed to a 2-year deal with the Phoenix Suns, which is nice for him. He'll now have a legitimate chance to win his first title, playing alongisde Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amare Stoudemire (and Kevin Garnett?). While Hill could be a nice story, how much will he really help the Suns?

First, there is the issue of his health. It's been well-publicized that Hill missed over 50 games in all but two seasons. Even in his two "healthy" seasons, he played in less than 70 games. Not particularly encouraging for a Suns team that was lacking in depth to begin with. Since the only player the Suns have lost so far in the off-season is James Jones, one can argue that all Hill has to do is play a little better than Jones and it will be a success, but when you look at the players' skill sets, even that is debatable.

The Suns thrive on three-point shooting set up by Nash's play-making and Stoudemire's low-post presence. While Jones only averaged 6.4 PPG last season, his three-point shooting percentage was a respectable 37.8%. Obviously other teams were not planning their games around defending Jones, but his shooting was good enough to keep the defenses honest. They could not leave him wide open to double-team Nash or Stoudemire, at least not without considerable risk.

Hill, on the other hand, has never been much of a three-point shooter. The best he has ever shot from downtown is 34.7%, and that was in 1999-00, which was his last year in Detroit and came before his ankle surgery. Since then he has hardly attempted any three-pointers, instead looking to his mid-range game. This is not a knock on Hill (the game could use more mid-range shooters) but if he is not a capable shooter from long range, how much can he really help the Suns? Opposing teams can leave him open on the perimeter and exert more effort on defending Nash, Stoudemire, and Marion.

What about Hill's other abilities? Well, he is not much of a play-maker. Since his surgery he has never had nearly the same quickness or athleticism that he used to torment defenders in the 90s. As a result, his assists have dropped off considerably. While he averaged at least 5 APG in every year he played with the Pistons, his assists have dropped off severely in the last few years. Last season he averaged only 2.1 APG, a career-low. One could argue that those numbers are due to the lack of talent in Orlando, but that doesn't explain his 2.2 turnovers per game, giving him the worst assist-to-turnover ratio of his career. His rebounding was also unimpressive. Hill averaged 3.6 RPG, and actually averaged fewer rebounds per 40 minutes than Jones.

Okay, so Hill is no longer a great scorer or play-maker. Everyone knew that already, and isn't defense supposed to be his calling card anyway? Well not so fast. According to, the Magic were actually a slightly worse defensive team when Hill was on the floor. Even so, he'll be an upgrade over Jones in that department. But Jones is not the only player who Hill will be taking minutes from. His arrival figures to cut, if slightly, into the minutes of Marion, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, and Boris Diaw. Marion and Bell are far better defenders than Hill and Barbosa's offense makes up for his poor defense. The main victim will likely be Diaw, who had an off-year after coming to training camp out of shape and really never returning to his 2005-06 form. Yet even in a down year, Diaw seems a better fit for the Suns, with his passing and rebounding, than Hill.

On one hand, the Suns acquired Hill for such a small cost that it is hard to see this really backfiring. The worst case scenario would be Hill getting injured again, in which case they are more or less back where they started. The most notable aspect of this signing is that, with another small forward in the mix, it could increase the Suns' aggressiveness in their pursuit of Garnett. This move makes Marion slightly more expendable, thus making a Garnett trade all the more likely. Not to mention the fact that the Suns could now include Diaw in a deal, which could help move things along.

If this signing helps the Suns land KG, than it's a very smart one for new GM Steve Kerr, but if not it does very little to help their title chances. Hill does not appear to be a particularly good fit in the Suns' offense, and his defense is not enough to make a big difference. In the end of the day, the odds are that Hill only plays in 25 games anyway. I really hope not though, because if I knew that would happen, this article could have simply read: DNP-ankle.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Manuel mismanages the Phillies...again

Somehow I managed to watch the entire Phillies-Astros game last night, even though it was painfully obvious the Phillies would lose after that ninth inning, when Jose Mesa 2.0 blew a one run lead, and eventually followed by the original Jose Mesa blowing the game in the 13th inning.

I'm not going to blame Manuel for Alfonseca's bad game. The more remarkable part of the ninth inning was when Pat Burrell came up to bat as the Phillies' last position player off the bench. That just should not happen, especially in a tight game. I can't fault Manuel for using Chris Coste or Burrell, but there were other needless substitutions that could have helped them. For example, bringing in Aaron Rowand for Greg Dobbs, Abraham Nunez for Wes Helms, and Carlos Ruiz for Rod Barajas (though I don't mind that so much, I'm always in favor of sitting Barajas).

While all these moves improved the Phillies defense, this is the National League. The pitchers get to bat and thus pinch hitting in necessary. I'm sure you all know this, but apparently Charlie Manuel doesn't. How else can you explain wasting players off the bench in such a manner. I wasn't watching the game closely enough to realize initially that Burrell was the last position player available, so I was not entirely prepared to deal with Cole Hamels pinch hitting in the 11th, and worse, 44-year old Jamie Moyer making his first career pinch hitting appearance with the bases loaded in the 13th (resulting in a strikeout). I can live with Hamels pinch hitting at a time of desperation because he is a decent hitter, but Moyer? He's been an American League pitcher for 20 years and looks very uncomfortable at the plate. Given the options, Manuel had to go with Moyer there, but the point is that it should never have come to that.

In the American League, teams can afford the luxury of making various defensive replacements, because if they don't, why even have a bench? Pinch-hitting is not nearly so essential. But in the National League, teams cannot use position players so liberally. Someone really needs to explain this to Manuel. If that means that Michael Bourn and Abraham Nunez get more playing time than Pat Burrell and Greg Dobbs, then so be it. Use Burrell and Dobbs as pinch hitters, sacrifice a little offense, and save a few runs over the whole game rather than over the last inning or two.

The one thing I will say in Manuel's favor is that I love having Bourn in the starting lineup. His defense is excellent (as the Mets found out in the last series), though it's more due to his raw speed than instincts. He has a good eye and very good patience, and he's an absolute terror on the base paths. He is pretty much the ideal lead-off hitter (of course, SS Willie Mays Hayes just HAS to hit lead-off, so Bourn hits second). My only concern with Bourn is that his plate patience seems almost Burrell-esque at times, but that's something I can live with because even if he hit .200, but with Burrell's on-base percentage, his speed would still make him a dangerous player.

It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do in the off-season with All-Star Aaron Rowand (which sounds really weird to me). If they re-sign him, they could have the best outfield defense in the majors for a few years, with Rowands, Bourn, and Victorino, plus they could use his right-handed bat. Of course, Rowand is having a career year (in a contract year, no less) and is unlikely to repeat this performance, so the Phillies may not want to pay him like an All-Star. It's possible, with the large number of center fielders entering free agency, that his value will be driven down somewhat, but it's hard to know how that will play out at this point.

Deciding whether or not to keep Rowand need not be a priority for GM Pat Gillick, who needs to (finally) dump Charlie Manuel. He has cost the Phillies too many games already and, amusing as it is, I'd just as soon not witness milestones such as Moyer's first career pinch hit.