Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ruben Amaro Jr. continues to dig a deeper hole

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies have catastrophically declined over the last four years since winning the last of five consecutive NL East division titles in 2011.  Since then it’s been the same narrative regardless of what year it was.  The Phillies are a team loaded with bad contracts and with a middle of the road farm system at best.  The present has been bleak and the future didn’t look all that bright.  Such was the crux of criticism from the fan base towards general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. with many believing the GM was entering 2015, with no plan of furthering the team’s rebuild.

                                                                   Yong Kim/Philly.com
But throughout the last couple weeks, there have been some glimmers of hope.  The Phillies went on a six-game winning streak for the first time since September 2012.  Older players like Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Aaron Harang and Cole Hamels have been producing enough where their trade value may be higher than expected coming into the season.  Younger players like Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, and Odubel Herrera showed flashes that they could be a part of the team’s core moving forward.  In AA for Reading, 2014 first-round pick, pitcher Aaron Nola, was on fire with an ERA below 2.00 and six wins to his credit overshadowing a good start to the year in Reading for Zach Eflin, another pitching prospect who the Phillies acquired for Jimmy Rollins in the offseason.

Not that anyone was falling for the big club’s six-game winning streak but perhaps 2015 wouldn’t be the wasted season everyone thought it would be.  Perhaps the younger players at all levels throughout the organization would continue to show promise.  Perhaps the Phillies could add some much needed depth to their minor league system by trading some of the older players who had been performing better in May. The first-year player draft is fast approaching which offers every team an opportunity to infuse their organization with young talent.  The Phillies hold the 10th pick in the first round.  So at least for the first time in a while, the Phillies offered fans a little bit of excitement for the future and if that’s all that came out of the 2015 season then it would be better than expected.

But on Tuesday, we were all reminded of just how deep of a hole Amaro has dug for himself.  Amaro commented on fans desire to see prospects like Eflin and Nola move up through the organization and potentially reach the majors before the end of the 2015 season saying that fans “don’t understand the game” according to CSN’s Jim Salisbury.  Amaro went on to indicate that the fans’ complaints about the team not having a plan are out of line and that the organization does have a plan and is not going to rush its prospects up.

While it makes sense from an organizational standpoint to be patient with the prospects, Amaro didn’t do himself any favors with these comments directed towards the fans.  With all the losing the team has done in the last three years, fans needed something to get excited about and it looked like the young talent the Phillies did have was providing that so it’s only logical for fans to want to see players move up through the system and the rebuild to accelerate.  While one could understand Amaro wanting to wait until the time is right to promote prospects, good luck trying to get anyone to think Amaro has a plan in place.  The last three years the Phillies have lost, and lost, and lost with an older deteriorating nucleus and finally decided to move a few older players last offseason with the trades of Jimmy Rollins and Antonio Bastardo. If it took that long for Amaro to finally develop a rebuilding plan for the organization then it was too little too late. It’s hard to see him being allowed to see things through with his contract set to expire after 2015.  

Maybe Amaro’s comments on Tuesday were sour grapes towards a fan base that has seen its other professional teams change their ways.  Chip Kelly’s Eagles, Ron Hextall’s Flyers, and Sam Hinkie’s Sixers all have displayed a willingness to think outside the box and realize that if the status quo of their respective organizations wasn’t good enough then it’s time to travel down a different path and see where it leads to.  The path Amaro has traveled down has seen the Phillies steadily decline and makes him arguably the most hated individual in Philadelphia sports and just when you thought there might be some hope for the future for the Phillies, Amaro reminded us all of why he is so ostracized by the fan base.  While seeing young players succeed and having more young players brought in via trades and the draft would be nice, what would really be refreshing would be for the Phillies to hire a forward thinker of their own and move on from Ruben Amaro Jr.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why can’t Tom Brady and the Patriots go quietly?

It’s hard to live in the United States of America and not know what’s going on with the New England Patriots.  The NFL recently handed down a harsh punishment to the team and quarterback Tom Brady for what’s commonly referred to as “Deflategate” as the Patriots defeated the Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship game this past January while using under-inflated footballs.

                                                         Associated Press
After attorney Ted Wells had concluded his investigation and his 243-page report was released, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent came down hard on New England as he fined the franchise 1,000,000 dollars, forced the Patriots to forfeit their 2016 first-round draft pick and 2017 fourth-round selection, and most importantly suspended quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2015 season.  

Starting in January after the allegations initially leaked Brady has repeatedly denied any notion that he requested for underinflated balls. After Vincent handed down the discipline, Brady and his agent Don Yee haven’t capitulated and have formally appealed the suspension. 

Much has been made this week about whether or not this will tarnish the legacy of Brady.  For some, Brady is a lying cheater and will always be viewed as such.  Others point to the score of the AFC Championship game and choose not to care about the pounds per square inch of the footballs because it wouldn’t have made a difference.  I’m somewhere in between but the latter does not hold much weight in my mind.

Just because the game was a blowout should not dismiss the fact that Brady and the Patriots broke an NFL rule. So what would really be the best way for Brady to save his legacy of a potential black mark? I don’t believe appealing and dragging things out is the appropriate course of action.  Anyone that lies about breaking the rules isn’t going to win over any supporters, especially if he has a chance to appeal any discipline like Brady is doing, and nothing is overturned in court. Now perhaps the suspension will get reduced by a game or two but I’d be surprised if it was totally wiped out like some within Brady’s camp believe will happen.

I like to make the analogy to baseball and the steroid era. By no means am I equating taking performance enhancing drugs with deflating footballs, but look at some of the baseball players that were implicated during the steroid era and how they chose to handle the situations.  Alex Rodriguez repeatedly denied any usage for years and was eventually suspended for the entire 2014 season.  He didn’t exactly win any supporters throughout the process and now even Yankee fans view him in a negative light. 

On a much smaller scale, Andy Pettite admitted immediately after being accused of using human growth hormone that he did it.  In my eyes, and I’m sure many others feel the same way, it’s easy to move past Pettite’s situation because of the way he handled it.  Whereas Rodriguez’s was dragged out and the longer things went on the more supporters he lost.

Maybe it isn’t the best analogy, but I have a hard time believing Brady’s legacy wouldn’t be in better shape if he didn’t just own up to his mistake. Everyone could move on.  It’s hard to really believe Brady is telling the truth when he says he did not request for under-inflated footballs and if he had just admitted to making a mistake and the organization quietly accepted the punishment this would all be over.  Instead, his legacy could very well wind up with a hefty asterisk attached to it in the eyes of many fans.