Tag Archives: Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee, The Phillies, and The Night I Realized Twitter was The Place To Be for Breaking News

For much of the fall months, I have devoted this space solely to the Eagles — Either mini-think-pieces, analytical posts, Cody Parkey kickoff contests, trolling national writers who thought Chip Kelly had any interest in the Florida job, and haikus. Mix in a post or two about Penn State, and that has essentially comprised the entire blog.

Today, we are going to go down a different route because tonight marks the four-year anniversary of one of my favorite baseball memories.

Favorite baseball memory on December 13? Is that even possible? 

Yep, it sure is, and it has nothing to do with a perfect game, walk-off home run, or World Series moment.

Rather, it marks the four-year anniversary of Cliff Lee — my favorite baseball player of all-time — spurning the Yankees (and Rangers) to re-sign with the Phillies in free agency after having been surprisingly traded by the Phillies one year earlier.

Furthermore, it was the key moment in an intersection of sports and social media for me, as it was that night when I realized that Twitter was truly the best source for breaking news.

To appreciate how significant of a moment this was though, you first have to understand how unlikely it was.

After giving them fits in the playoffs in back-to-back Octobers, the Yankees were far and away considered the favorites to land the most prized free agent on the market. They needed an ace to team up with C.C. Sabathia, and it was no secret that Lee was the apple of Brian Cashman’s eye as the winter meetings went down the previous week.

The Rangers — Lee’s team for the second half of the 2010 season — were also thought to be trying their hardest to not let Lee get away, but few thought they would be able to go toe-to-toe with the Evil Empire. Some Phillies fans — myself included — held out hope that a Philadelphia reunion was possible, but we also knew the reality of the situation.

The Phillies had dished out some massive contracts in the previous years and already had a rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Even if there was some mutual interest, they financially couldn’t match what the Yankees would offer.

It seemed like a near forgone conclusion that Lee would soon call the Bronx home, and many were surprised that a deal wasn’t completed the previous week.

On Monday, December 13, 2010, things started to heat up when Jon Heyman reported early in the day that a “mystery team” might be in on the Lee sweepstakes.

The use of the term “mystery team” is normally pretty hollow, thrown around by agents to reporters to drum up more interest in their client, but Heyman might have been onto something here.

Heyman initially did not provide a ton of context, but later in the day, Jayson Stark took a stab that the mystery team might actually be the Phillies.

At this point in time, I did not even possess a Twitter account. I was one of the folks who was fascinated by the site enough to search for things but hadn’t yet joined and started tweeting on my own for whatever reason.

I began reading about Stark and Heyman’s tweets from my Facebook feed though and quickly texted some of my friends who I often talked baseball with.

It was my Finals Week in school, and with no exams until Wednesday, I had a lot of time to spend on the Internet between studying, and nothing had me more excited than the idea that my favorite player might come home again.

A few of them knew what I did. Others had not yet heard. This was no doubt moving quickly though, and as the afternoon transitioned to early evening, I must have typed “Cliff Lee’ into whatever the Twitter search bar looked like in December 2010 a good 100 times looking for any legitimate updates that existed.

Stark seemed to be picking up steam.

Heyman jumped in again, this time with a bit less vagueness.

At this point, any additional studying that night was a distant thought. I was locked into this, eagerly searching for news on Twitter every second.

One of my friends responded to a text at one point as the night got deeper with:

Where the hell are you finding this stuff? 

“Twitter, dude, we gotta be on Twitter. This is where it’s going to go down,” I answered.

Nothing was official yet, but as the night wore on, reports came out that the Yankees and Rangers had been informed Lee would not be going to either club. The context clues were all there.

“Dude, holy shit. He’s coming back. This is really happening. He’s coming back.” 

Bam.

A few hours later, SportsCenter came on the air with “Cliff Lee is a Phillie again,” but the news had already dropped on Twitter earlier.

An Associated Press article published in the wee morning hours may have summarized things most succinctly in terms of what Lee’s decision represented for the sport:

This was a rare instance in which the Yankees’ financial might failed to land a player they wanted.

The baseball world was turned upside-down. Now embattled Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro was praised for getting his man. I have pointed out before, that for as much as some folks may currently hate Amaro, they certainly loved him on that epic December night.

From a baseball standpoint, the move hasn’t completely worked out as envisioned. The Phillies have only been to the playoffs once in Lee’s four seasons, and after three fantastic individual years, Lee suffered through an injury-plagued 2014 campaign that saw his season come to an end on July 31st as he reached for his elbow and walked off the mound in Washington D.C.

At the time, it looked like it could be a career-threatening injury. Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case and Lee should hopefully be ready for spring training, but I wrote at the time about how it was a classic example of how cruel and unfair baseball is.

Derek Jeter received a well-deserved farewell tour. One of the best big game pitchers of this generation possibly got a random Thursday night with hardly anyone watching.

Like most big contracts, the final years normally result in some buyer’s remorse, and that will likely be the case with Lee should effects of the elbow injury decrease his trade value.

What a night though. What a night for the Phillies, for baseball, for social media, and for myself, whose favorite player told the Yankees no and came back.

Not to completely internalize something that wasn’t about me, but I think about how Twitter has been a big part of my early career and my life over the past four years, and the origins trace back to that night.

I have turned Internet friends into real friends through that website and was once even invited to a wedding by someone who I had first met on Twitter.

Baseball stories first broke on Twitter prior to that night, and bigger ones have gone down since, but nothing was more meaningful to me than the one that night.

Nowadays I’m not too excited to be on the site when news breaks concerning the Phillies. The demolition of a once great roster could happen at any moment, and the first shoe already dropped this week with the trade of long-term shortstop Jimmy Rollins. For things to get better, all of it needs to happen, and at some point it will likely involve Cliff Lee.

Regardless of when and how it happens though, I wouldn’t trade what transpired four years ago tonight for anything.

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Cliff Lee Got Hurt and Everything Sucks

Everyone who would potentially care about Cliff Lee getting hurt already knows that Cliff Lee got hurt last night. I realize that I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here.

When I introduced this blog, I made it a point to say that despite my previous experience covering sports it wouldn’t be branded as up to the minute sports news.

One of the advantages to operating it how I currently am is that it affords me the luxury of time when I want to reflect on something or maybe go deeper on a topic rather than spitting out a short, immediate take.

I find that when teams go as south as the Phillies have gone, one begins to identify better with individual players on the club than the entity itself. The final result might not matter a whole lot in those situations, but the players you care about still do.

Sometimes things get so bad where a late July game turns into background music while multi-tasking, almost an afterthought until something awful catches your eyes and ears.

When a frustrated and distraught Lee pointed to his elbow and removed himself from a baseball game last night in the third inning, my first thought wasn’t ‘There goes Cliff Lee’s trade value and the Phillies’ August plans.’ Instead it was ‘There goes Cliff Lee, I wonder if I will ever see my favorite pitcher again.’

That approach might be considered overly sensitive by some. When I covered Penn State football, a few people who were known to dislike my coverage thought I was too soft. They wanted a whipping boy every time a game was lost, and while I’m all for holding people accountable and believe I did that, demanding weekly firings wasn’t my style.

On another level, watching the injury unfold made me think about Ryan Howard’s controversial “Want to trade places?” line from a week ago.

Upon first hearing this, most people would probably utter some variation of “HELL YEAH!” When I slow down and think more about it though, it’s a difficult question for only being four words long.

It’s complicated to ponder for me because I point back to what happened less than 24 hours ago. At age 35, Lee’s elbow may have stopped him from doing what he does best. Certainly they are well compensated, but returning to Howard’s question, I’m not sure how I feel about a primary career ending before age 40. Average Joe’s may never have that financial security but also don’t see some of their best attributes erode so quickly.

I don’t have the answers; I just find it interesting to discuss.

What I do know is that if last night was the end for Lee, he deserved better. It is becoming increasingly likely that one of the greatest playoff pitchers of this generation will never see another October.

I don’t want this to completely go the route of eulogizing Lee’s career. He insisted after the game that he simply re-injured the flexor pronator muscle that cost him two months of the season.

Ruben Amaro said earlier this afternoon that there is no evidence of ligament damage. On the opposite side of that good news, he mentioned that Lee would likely see Dr. James Andrews at some point. A visit to Andrews doesn’t mean a pitcher is on track for major surgery, but the name Amaro uttered might be the scariest three words when it comes to sports injuries.

Hopefully this is indeed just a strain and Lee, who averaged 6.5 WAR a season and a 2.89 ERA between 2008-2013, comes back next April good as new, but one has to be realistic.

Think back to Roy Halladay in 2012 and 2013. If one of the hardest working and best-conditioned pitchers the game has ever seen cannot overcome a shoulder injury, that doesn’t leave a ton of hope for others, Combine that example with the Tommy John epidemic sweeping baseball, and it becomes easy to understand the pessimism.

I have been told by people over the years who would know that Lee is kind of a dick to deal with. Every time I hear it, I proceed with a combination of ignorance is bliss and ‘Alright, maybe he is a dick, but he’s our dick’ mindset. Never in any sort of trouble, I had no reason not to love him.

Even though you learn quickly that athletes have plenty of flaws, actually hearing evidence of them and seeing one of your heroes reduced to a mortal can be tough to come to grips with.

Lee earned better, but unfortunately this movie has plenty of previous editions. For as much press and fanfare as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter’s yearlong farewell tours have received the past two years, there are tons of players every year who aren’t afforded the opportunity to go out on their own due to injury or ineffectiveness, and in some cases both.

Baseball isn’t fair, and last night shortly before 8 p.m. eastern time was another sad reminder of that cold, hard truth.

Lee didn’t need or merit a Rivera or Jeter retirement party, but he deserved far more than walking off the mound yelling “Fuck” on a random Thursday night in Washington D.C with many Phillies fans not even watching.

The baseball gods show no mercy, and last night, they came for Lee’s elbow, zapping him of a once golden arm. What a cruel game sometimes, man.

I want to say this isn’t goodbye, Cliff. It’s see you later, hopefully with a few more memories and a well-deserved standing ovation next spring at Citizens Bank Park, but unfortunately I lost my innocence when it comes to knowing the career trajectory of a baseball player a long time ago.

Right now, it is hard to believe that aforementioned wish with much conviction.

Why I’m not Buying the Cole Hamels Trade Rumors

Cole Hamels dominated the Mets at Citi Field earlier tonight.

The first three words of that aforementioned sentence are not exactly surprising. Hamels has been absolutely owning opponents since the beginning of June, posting a 1.58 ERA over that span.

The fourth and fifth words are a bit more shocking. Hamels rarely ‘dominates the Mets.’ He entered the contest with a 7-14 record and a career 4.53 ERA against them. One would need to take a time machine back to August 14, 2006 — his first career start against the Mets — to find the last time he tossed a scoreless outing against them.

They normally give him fits, but tonight, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Hamels is completely locked in, and during one of the greatest stretches of his career, there is some speculation that it was his final start in Phillies pinstripes with the trade deadline set for Thursday at 4 p.m.

Nope. I’m not buying it.

I’m not beleiving it because if the Phillies were to trade their 30-year old ace, they literally might not be able to field a rotation next season.

I had this in my head for a few days, but the graphic at the top of the page that appeared on Phillies Pregame Live should tell the story. Out of all the pitchers that currently comprise the team’s rotation, Hamels is the only one who really has a good chance to return.

Cliff Lee is about to turn 36 and coming off an elbow injury that cost him two months of his season. If that never happened, it’s likely that he would be dealt, and it is still widely believed that the Phillies will look to move him in the winter once he reestablishes value.

A.J. Burnett could be traded although a 2015 contract option complicates that. He may also simply retire, something he nearly did last winter.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez are both free agents once the season ends.

Now, you could certainly think that the two of them won’t be missed, but a club still needs bodies to take the ball every fifth day. One of the biggest issues is the lack of starting pitching depth in the organization, and this exercise brings that problem to the forefront.

Jesse Biddle’s future is up in the air after a rough patch in the minors led to some time off. Aaron Nola won’t be ready and nor should he be. Jason Marquis and Sean O’Sullivan are two veteran names in the system right now — You start to get the idea of how serious this is.

Aside from a few attractive names at the top, the starting pitching market for free agents is pretty weak.

If Hamels were to be traded, you are essentially looking at an Opening Day rotation of Lee and four number 5 starters (David Buchanan likely being one of them).

The team most linked to Hamels has been the Dodgers with Joc Pedersen, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias the reported players. This would be a haul for the Phillies in theory as all three are currently rated as Top 20 MLB prospects, but only Urias is a pitcher out of that trio.

Due to an unwillingness to waive no-trade clauses among other things, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins figure to be here next season, which means that the Phillies — delusional or not — will enter the year with some intention of trying to win.

As flawed as Ruben Amaro’s stuck in the mud approach might be, it stands a much better chance that the Phillies catch lightning in a bottle with Hamels in the rotation than without him.

David Murphy kinda, sorta argued the opposite yesterday in the Philadelphia Daily News. I’m not buying it when considering the uncertainty that comes with the return in just about any deal here.

While trying to look at this logically, I’ll admit that I’m not completely unbiased when it comes to the issue at hand. I wrote about Hamels and how I hoped he would be here for years to come just three months ago.

Coming up on 39 hours to go though, I am confident that I will get my wish because regardless of the offer, the alternative will not just weaken the Phillies five-man rotation next season, it could essentially leave them without one.

A Reminder that Ruben Amaro Loves July 29th

If Ruben Amaro ever rules the world — humor me for a second — I imagine his first act will be to wipe away the 12-month calendar system and have all 365 days of the year be known as July 29th.

Paul Holmgren and the date June 23rd became synonymous for many Flyers fans with the club making big trades in both 2011 and 2012. The lockout didn’t give Homer a chance to keep the streak alive in 2013, but Ron Hextall started it up again a month ago.

The Flyers’ June 23rd is Amaro’s July 29th. It just happens to date back a bit further.

A quick recap:

  • July 29, 2009 — Traded pitcher Jason Knapp, pitcher Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson, and shortstop Jason Donald to the Indians for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco.
  • July 29, 2010 — Traded pitcher J.A. Happ, shortstop Jonathan Villar, and outfielder Anthony Gose to the Astros for Roy Oswalt.
  • July 29, 2011 — Traded pitcher Jarred Cosart, pitcher Josh Zeid, first basemen Jonathan Singleton, and outfielder Domingo Santana for Hunter Pence.

Even though there is no true link to this pattern other than the dates falling on a busy transaction time in the sport, you start to believe there’s really something to the trend.

The first two years, at least, of this timeline should serve as a reminder that Ruben Amaro was once pretty good at his job. The Lee trade was absolute highway robbery. It put the Phillies two wins away from repeating as World Series champions and not one of those four prospects panned out. Knapp, considered the centerpiece of the deal by many pundits, never even made it to the show.

The 2010 trade with the Astos didn’t quite measure up with 2009. Gose and Villar are still only 23 years old. The jury is out as to what type of players they become but both are receiving playing time (with Gose now on the Blue Jays).

Happ has survived in the back end of the Blue Jays rotation most of the season. Oswalt hasn’t pitched for the Phillies since 2011, but he was fantastic in 2010 when they acquired him and was instrumental in the August and September surge to make the playoffs.

It wasn’t a slam dunk, but anyone who big time rips Amaro over this is subscribing to some major revisionist history.

The same unfortunately cannot be said for 2011. Cosart and Singleton look like future stars and including Domingo Santana in the deal may haunt the Phillies for years to come. Pence was great in two months with the team but they only won two games in October, and he didn’t really add much that wasn’t already there. Worst of all, Amaro got much less than what he originally gave up when he shipped Pence off to San Francisco a year later.

The difference between now and those three trades is obviously that the Phillies were all-in buyers, and currently they’re on the opposite end of the spectrum as sellers. That partly explains why there is no edition to the July 29 timeline for 2012 and 2013.

I provided my take on Amaro and the Phillies approximately two months ago in preparation for this week. Things are slightly different in that I didn’t think Cliff Lee would be on the disabled list for so long, but if interested, you can read my original thoughts here.

Now, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if nothing happens because outside of maybe Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo, Amaro doesn’t have many assets to offer. Value is bogged down by large contracts, vesting options, and no-trade clauses.

There is a chance the 4 p.m. Thursday deadline passes without the Phillies doing anything, but if Amaro does make a blockbuster move, history suggests it may happen today.

Jim Johnson Died Five Years Ago Today and I Cried a Lot

Truth be told, I cannot explain exactly why I’m writing this post.

Even after it was finished and ready to go, I had a couple second thoughts before hitting publish. I didn’t want it to seem like I was using the anniversary of someone’s death as a way to generate clicks on a blog.

I don’t have any type of cool anecdote about Jim Johnson. There is a hat of mine autographed by some players and coaches during a few trips to Lehigh for training camp back in the day.

Eagles Hat Blog Post

The Eagles former defensive coordinator unfortunately isn’t one of the signatures. Never once met the man.

I think, however, I’m doing this because despite never crossing paths with the guy, I loved Jim Johnson and never properly said goodbye.

Everyone knew Johnson’s battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse, but it felt like the end came so quickly.

On the day Johnson passed away, I had been off the grid for about 12 hours from early in the morning until around 8 p.m. I was working as a camp counselor the summer before heading off to college, and it coincidentally happened to be the one day of the entire camp season that I had to work late, unable to check my phone or access the Internet.

Anyone who knows me now would wonder how I was able to do that, but it was the case back then. As I was walking to my car, a lifeguard stopped me and delivered the news. I can’t recall exactly what I said in response, but I got in the car and immediately turned on sports radio hoping it somehow wasn’t true.

But sadly it was. The defending World Series champion Phillies were 24 hours away from pulling off a blockbuster trade with rumors about Roy Halladay running rampant, and sure enough, WIP was discussing Johnson’s life and Eagles tenure, hosts and callers as distraught as I was about to become.

Before I could pull out of the parking lot, tears had already begun dripping down my face. They got heavier as the drive continued. At one point, I had to slam on my breaks to avoid running through a red light that I barely noticed.

Loved by players and fans, respected universally by colleagues,  and deeply feared by opponents — Legend. For 10 years, he would appear on your television screen on Sundays, and you knew everything would be relatively okay. No longer seeing that gray hair tucked under an Eagles hat and headset on the sidelines wasn’t going to be the same.

I was supposed to see my then-girlfriend upon getting home from work but still trying to compose myself, I told her that I needed a little while. ‘Jim Johnson died,’ I texted (or something very similar along those lines)

I don’t think she knew who Jim Johnson was, but rather than completely blowing it off, she kinda pretended to care, so that was cool.

Still home and wiping my eyes after delivering the news to my dad, I logged onto Facebook and posted a pretty generic RIP status. One of my best friends who I always texted during Eagles games sent me a message that said something along the lines of ‘For someone who loved him so much, I’m kinda disappointed you didn’t come up with anything deeper.’

I tried again, but still shaken, this was the best I could do, unable to really put into words what it meant to me.

Jim Johnson Facebook

I was sad and mad — Sad that cancer had stopped the 68-year old from doing what he loved and what he was best at too soon, sad that in what turned out to be his final game six months earlier, his ‘bend but don’t break defense’ had broken late in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles clinging to a 25-24 lead and 10 minutes to go, Arizona marched 72 yards while eating up 7:52 of game time.

The drive ended in a touchdown. The Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. Johnson never got to coach another game, and the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since.

Most of all, I was sad that for all his hard work and all of the terrific defenses he oversaw, Johnson never got to hoist a Lombardi trophy.

Even in a lot of the Eagles playoff losses during Johnson’s reign, a collapse like that was so rare. A week earlier, his unit held the defending Super Bowl champion Giants to three field goals in an upset victory.

In a span of three years, he twice stifled Michael Vick during the prime of his Atlanta Falcons career, limiting him to a 53.2 completion percentage and a combined 406 passing yards, 56 rushing yards, yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions over two playoff games.

I don’t watch the Steelers on a week-to-week basis to fully appreciate Dick LeBeau, but I’ve never seen a defensive coordinator call a game and confuse opponents the way Johnson consistently did.

Going back to that Facebook status though, perhaps it wasn’t so bad. I’ve always said that coordinators need players to make their schemes truly go, but as guys came and went through the years, Johnson never lost a step.

According to an ESPN article published a week after his passing, Johnson’s defenses between 2000 and 2008 ranked second in sacks, third down efficiency, and red zone percentage.

Here’s a chart that further shows how good he was and the significant drop-off after he was gone.

Year Points Allowed Average Per Game League Rank Made Playoffs Playoff Victory
1999 357 22.3 22nd No No
2000 245 15.3 4th Yes Yes
2001 208 13 2nd Yes Yes
2002 241 15.1 2nd Yes Yes
2003 287 17.9 7th Yes Yes
2004 260 16.3 2nd Yes Yes
2005 388 24.3 27th No No
2006 328 20.5 15th Yes Yes
2007 300 18.8 9th No No
2008 289 18.1 4th Yes Yes
2009 337 21.1 19th Yes No
2010 377 23.6 21st Yes No
2011 328 20.5 10th No No
2012 444 27.8 29th No No
2013 382 23.9 17th Yes No

Sean McDermott initially had the challenge of being the guy to replace “the guy,” and he was decent but deemed not good enough at the time. So thinking he was closer to a Super Bowl than he actually was, Andy Reid fired him after two years.

Then, Andy Reid Andy Reid’d harder than he had ever Andy Reid’d before, replacing McDermott with Juan Castillo. A passionate worker and teacher but never having coached defense in the NFL before, it was an unmitigated disaster,

The missed tackles, the blown coverage assignments, the lack of effort, all of it would have had Johnson rolling in his grave had he saw what had become of his once proud defense.

Despite the still somewhat ugly numbers in that chart, things stabilized in 2013 when Chip Kelly brought in Billy Davis to run the show.

Davis took a group of scheme misfits and castoffs from other places and made a defense out of it. For the first time in a long time, things are looking kinda up on that side of the ball.

When someone like Johnson no longer has his job, the typical attitude is that the team looking to fill his role has to find an exact replica, “The Next  Jim Johnson” if you will. But that’s impossible. The reason he was so good is the exact same reason he is so irreplaceable.

Since Johnson has been gone, the game has changed a decent amount. Offenses are faster and more innovative with spread formations and wide open schemes. Still, it’s unlikely the final couple years of the Reid era would have gotten as ugly as they did had Johnson still been by his side.

The Eagles current head coach is one of the leaders of that innovation charge, but for as much as I love him, for as much as any intelligent Eagles fan loves him, part of the city has always identified with a dominant defense, and that’s a big reason Johnson was so beloved.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t have any special anecdote, but I thought this one from Reuben Frank of CSN Philly was pretty good. A few days before the 2005 Super Bowl, Frank casually asks Johnson if he’s enjoying Jacksonville and he responds bluntly with “I’ve got Tom Brady on Sunday.”

The man just ate, slept, and breathed football.

He died at the same time my situation was beginning to change and looking back, I think that’s maybe what contributed to the initial sadness. I was a month away from going to college and preparing to leave a good amount of my life behind.

It sucks because you know things will never be exactly the same, but you try to solider on because what else are you going to do?

The Eagles in time have begun picking up the pieces and appear primed to make another Super Bowl run behind rising star Nick Foles over the next few seasons.

Crying over Johnson five years later won’t bring him back or make the defense as dominant as it once was, but it will help preserve memories of a great run under a brilliant coordinator. Certain people are worth occasionally crying over. Certain people worth crying over who you’ve never met? Now that’s a bit more complex, but he was one of those folks for me.

I’ll watch the Eagles practice at Lincoln Financial Field today and at some point look skyward and tear up for a split second thinking about the legend who provided so many childhood memories.

I attempted to express some of this five years ago tonight and came up pretty empty, so now, I’m trying again.

I miss you so much, Jim Johnson, and I hope you’re having fun designing blitz packages in heaven right now.

Jon Heyman ‘Reported’ Something Ridiculously Obvious About the Phillies and People Trolled the Shit Out of It

CBS Sports baseball writer Jon Heyman told Twitter something that it has known for two years this morning when he ‘reported’ that the Phillies would prefer to deal Cliff Lee rather than Cole Hamels as teams come calling with the trade deadline approaching.

Heyman’s full report is here although he could have saved himself 254 words and simply typed “DUH’ after this headline.

Heyman Headline

Let’s compare Hamels and Lee for a second:

30 years old vs. A month away from 36 years old

Under contract through 2018 vs. Under contract through 2015

Healthy with a 2.93 ERA vs. Missed two months with an elbow strain

Spent entire career in Philly vs. Five organizations over a decade

Which one would you prefer to hold onto going forward? Hate on Ruben Amaro all you want, but even he’s not that incompetent. Outside of Curt Schilling, Cliff Lee’s my favorite pitcher of all-time. I’m gonna cry whenever the Phillies eventually move him, but separating emotions from baseball sense, this decision is a no-brainer.

This post isn’t meant to kill Heyman though. He normally does good work, unlike someone else who used to write for CBS Sports, and has a national audience to inform that may not find this news quite as obvious. Still though, the Philadelphia sports media decided to have some fun with it.

Below are the best responses:

Murphy 1

Murph going hard.

Murphy 2

Zoo!

Zoo 1

Seidman 1

Mosh who doesn’t even cover the Phillies with a sick response.

Mosher 1

Finger 1

Gelb 1

Jim Salisbury — the most connected reporter on the Phillies beat — jumped in a little late but really came out swinging.

Salisbury 2

Salisbury 1

Yours truly even tried to join the party.

Heyman 2

Have a good weekend, folks.

Evaluating My MLB Predictions at the All-Star Break

Every year on the night before Opening Day I scribble down a bunch of baseball predictions for the upcoming season and post them on social media.

It has been a thing for much of the past decade, akin to a kid writing out his Christmas list every winter except this is a collection of what I think will happen, not necessarily what I want to happen.

For a decent amount of them, I pour over numbers and data. There’s also a few where I just shoot from the hip and try to have a little fun. Unfortunately though, I usually forget about a lot of the more detailed ones once October rolls around. This year I told myself that I wasn’t going to let that happen, and in order to help prevent it, I figured I’d take a look at how things are holding up halfway through the season.

Some are almost spot on, and others are embarrassingly bad, but unlike pond scum hack Mike Freeman, I will hold myself accountable when I get something wrong.

Let’s dive into it starting with the division standings and team records:

*Current record in bold and parentheses next to prediction 

NL East

Nationals (97-65) (51-42)

Braves (86-76) (52-43)

Phillies (76-86) (42-53)

Mets (74-88) (45-50)

Marlins (68-94) (44-50)

Overall, nothing jumps out as awful here. The Nationals would have to play .700 baseball to hit 97 wins, so that probably won’t happen, and the Marlins would really have to go south to only win 68 but no glaring errors here.

NL Central

Cardinals (95-67) (52-44)

Reds (90-72) (51-44)

Pirates (85-77) (49-46)

Brewers (78-84) (53-43)

Cubs (64-98) (40-54)

The big mistake here is obviously the Brewers. Despite a recent tailspin, it would still be quite a shock for them to finish under .500 at this point. Still plausible that the standings finish in the order I predicted though.

NL West

Dodgers (96-66) (54-43)

Giants (88-74) (52-43)

Diamondbacks (83-79) (40-56)

Padres (81-81) (41-54)

Rockies (71-91) (40-55)

The NL West seems really hit or miss for me. Dodgers, Giants, and Rockies predictions all have a chance to be pretty close. It would take a lot for the Diamondbacks and Padres to reach .500.

For real though, the Phillies might be brutal, but I’m not sure how people in San Diego do it.

Padres

AL East

Red Sox (95-67) (43-52)

Rays (94-68) (44-53)

Yankees (87-75) (47-47)

Orioles (86-76) (52-42)

Blue Jays (69-93) (49-47)

Let’s just take this and throw it in the trash, kk? I still wouldn’t be shocked if the Red Sox or Rays make a run in the second half, but this was kinda bad. Okay, really bad.

AL Central

Tigers (92-70) (53-38)

Royals (86-76) (48-46)

Indians (84-78) (47-47)

White Sox (70-92) (45-51)

Twins (62-100) (44-50)

The Twins will certainly eclipse 62 wins, but overall this looks pretty good. For the time being, I have the division order completely correct.

AL West

Rangers (90-72) (38-57)

A’s (89-73) (59-36)

Angels (86-76) (57-37)

Mariners (75-87) (51-44)

Astros (61-101) (40-56)

Yeesh. Perhaps I was a little too high on the Rangers, but I don’t think anyone anticipated them having the worst record in baseball heading into the All-Star break. The Mariners are on the way toward making me look stupid, and I welcome that because getting to watch Felix Hernandez in October for the first time ever would be awesome.

More predictions below:

NL Playoff Teams: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Reds, Giants 

If the playoffs started today, the Nationals, Dodgers, and Giants would all be in with the Cardinals and Reds knocking on the door. I have a chance to hit all five there, so things could be worse.

AL Playoff Teams: Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Rays, A’s

The American League is obviously less accurate. I’ll hold out hope that either the Red Sox or Rays make a run to get me three teams from that group.

World Series: Dodgers over Red Sox in six games 

With a playoff rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu, the Dodgers certainly look capable of coming out of the National League. Red Sox, as already mentioned, are another story.

AL Cy Young: David Price

This is going to King Felix in all likelihood, but Price is 11th in the AL in WAR, 11th in FIP, and has the sixth best strikeout rate per nine innings in all of baseball. He may not win, but he’ll get some votes.

NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner

The popular thing here is to pick Kershaw or Adam Wainwright, and Kershaw will win it, but I decided to go a different route back in March. Bumgarner’s been good enough to make the All-Star game, so I’ll take that.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

Speaking of boring/safe predictions…I don’t think much else needs to be said here. Trout is going to win this time, and with the way the Angels are playing, none of the voters will be able to use them missing the playoffs as reason to vote for someone else.

NL MVP: Joey Votto

This was a shaky pick made worse by an injury plagued season for Votto. Oops.

AL Rookie of the Year: Xander Bogaerts

An awful June and July eliminated any chance of this. It’s Jose Abreu’s or Mashairo Tanaka’s (if he’s back by September) award to win.

NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton

This was a bit of an easy pick but for good reason. After a slow start, Hamilton has been everything I expected. Anyone who can swipe multiple bases off Yadier Molina in a single game deserves a medal.

First Manager to be Fired: John Gibbons

Turns out the Blue Jays are better than I expected. Despite a recent 2-8 stretch, Gibbons is likely safe so long as they’re in contention.

Ryan Braun bounces back and finishes in the Top five of NL MVP Voting

Braun’s battled injuries to put together a good first half, but this probably won’t end up happening.

Miguel Cabrera leads the league with 40 home runs

With only 14 on the season, Cabrera won’t get to 40 and certainly won’t lead the league. Hai Jose Abreu and Nelson Cruz.

Adam Wainwright leads league with 19 wins

This looks pretty good. Wainwright is currently tied for the league lead with 12, and one of the other pitchers with 12 is Tanaka who will be out at least six weeks.

Last but not least, the Phillies predictions:

The Phillies finish with a record of 76-86

In order to finish with this exact record, the Phillies would need to go 34-33 in the second half. Not likely but definitely not impossible.

Ben Revere will hit his first career home run on June 24th 

I was 28 days late, but he did hit a home run which is more than some would have realistically expected.

Dom Brown hits .271 with 30 HR’s and 90 RBI’s 

Go ahead and LOL. This is bad. It would take a monster second half for him to even sniff the same area code of that predicted average and home run totals. I know the negative 1.2 WAR is ugly as all hell, but the splits at least show that he’s been better lately at the plate. Hopefully that’s a sign of a bounce back second half.

Brown Splits

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez never throws a meaningful pitch for the Phillies

Accurate so far. I don’t hate on Ruben Amaro Jr. as much as a majority of the fanbase does, but this was a bad move, very bad.

Marlon Byrd, career high 26 home runs

With 18 already, this looks on its way to being accurate. The 26th likely won’t happen in a Phillies uniform though.

On July 26, Cliff Lee throws eight shutout innings and receives a standing ovation at Citizens Bank Park. Three days later, he is traded to the Rangers at the trade deadline.

In a weird/completely lucky coincidence, Lee is scheduled to pitch this exact game. The trade obviously won’t be to the Rangers who are out of the race though. This is going to be a hot topic for the next couple of weeks leading up to the deadline.

My take: Keep Cliff, move him in December. He’s only scheduled to make two starts before the deadline. I fully expect him to come back strong, but I have a feeling teams are going to try to shortchange the Phillies citing questions about Lee’s health. Amaro already messed this up in 2009, and the repercussions would be much worse this time. Show him off for two months and wait for teams to come calling in the winter.

That’s all, folks. Obviously there’s a mix of good, bad, and average here, so I look forward to seeing where things are at in another three months.

If you have any thoughts or predictions of your own, please share in the comments.