Wednesday, July 27, 2016

PGA Championship hot topics

Golf’s final major begins earlier than usual this year thanks to the Olympics. The PGA Championship gets underway tomorrow in Springfield, New Jersey at Baltusrol Golf Club. Here are some things I’m keeping an eye on.

·      Streak of first-time major winners: The last four major champions have all gotten over the hump and claimed one of golf’s prestigious honors. In the case of Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, it was a breakthrough that many saw coming. But Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson’s major championships came as surprises. Players like Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Matt Kuchar are the among the best on the list nobody wants to be on.

·      Top Guns: Dustin Johnson won his first major at Oakmont, Jason Day won The Players Championship for the first time, and Rory McIlroy has five top-five finishes since March. So while it hasn’t been a bad year at all for some of golf’s biggest names, it was certainly uncharacteristic to see Jordan Spieth let the Masters slip away and McIlroy miss the cut in the US Open. Adam Scott has made the cut in every event he’s played this season but has not finished in the top 10 in a major this year. It will be interesting to see how some of the favorites perform this weekend.

Mickelson poses with the trophy in 2005 at
Baltusrol after winning the PGA Championship.
·      Phil Mickelson: How quickly we forget about such a fan favorite. Lefty was struggling heading into Royal Troon two weeks ago. What a difference four days can make. Mickelson played one of the best majors of his career at The Open Championship, but was bested by Henrik Stenson. Mickelson won the PGA Championship the last time it was at Baltusrol in 2005 and will certainly be on everyone’s radar once again this weekend.

·      Scoring: After Mickelson and Stenson played a de facto match play final round in The Open, golf fans will be expecting more low numbers. Mickelson and Stenson both had rounds of 63 at Royal Troon to add to the list of 29 rounds of 63 at a major. But no player has shot 62 in a major championship. Thirteen of the previous 29 major rounds of 63 have been carded at the PGA Championship. However, Mickelson’s score of -4 was good enough to win in Springfield, New Jersey 11 years ago.

·      Strength of Field: The Official World Golf Ranking began recording strength of field in 1986. Kyle Porter of CBS Sports points out that this year’s PGA Championship has a strength of field of 923 which is the highest since the statistic began being tracked. So if the streak of first-time major winners continues, this is quite the major to do it at. If there are players going low and making birdie after birdie, there’s a reason for that.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Examining the Phillies' trade candidates

With the Major League Baseball set to resume tomorrow, the focus around the league will shift from this week’s All Star festivities in San Diego to the non-waiver trade deadline on August 1. For the Phillies, a team in transition, it’s a time in which they can move their rebuilding effort along. There aren’t as many veterans like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, or Jonathan Papelbon to move on from. There also isn’t a player on the roster like Ken Giles or Cole Hamels that figures to net a massive return.  However, there are plenty of stopgaps that the Phillies brought in to hold things over in 2016 as more of the team’s top prospects got closer to the majors. The rest of July is very important for those players whom the Phillies could look to move. Here’s a look at what the Phillies might be selling.

                                                            Yong Kim/
Hellickson is probably the most likely Phillie to be traded
within the next two weeks prior to the deadline.
Jeremy Hellickson: Hellickson is the most obvious trade candidate on the Phillies. Last winter, the Phillies traded for Hellickson and Charlie Morton. Both were expected to be stabilizers in the starting rotation for at least the first half of 2016 and potentially flipped at the deadline since both look to be headed for free agency. Unfortunately for the Phillies, in late April, Morton went down with a torn hamstring and is out for the remainder of the season. However, Hellickson has stayed healthy and pitched well enough to garner some interest. He sports a 6-6 record with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. The Red Sox were reportedly scouting Hellickson before the break. Although today’s trade with San Diego to acquire left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz may cause Boston’s interest to diminish. The Phillies made a wise move with their rotation coming out of the break to open up with Hellickson tomorrow night against the Mets, giving the 29-year old as many chances as possible to boost his value.

Cameron Rupp: Rupp is perhaps the most surprising trade candidate the Phillies possess. CSN Philly’s Corey Seidman broke down Rupp’s value here noting that Phillies’ catcher is in the top five in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS among fellow catchers. Additionally, Rupp is under club control through 2020. So if a contender needs some offense, from a position which offense doesn’t usually come from, Rupp could be a solution for this season and beyond. It makes perfect sense for the Phillies after acquiring current AA catcher Jorge Alfaro in the Cole Hamels trade last summer and having AAA catching prospect Andrew Knapp knocking on the door. There’s already been speculation that Knapp will likely have to switch positions if he remains with the Phillies when Alfaro reaches the majors. So there probably won’t be much room for Rupp anyway. If a team doesn’t bite on Rupp in the next two weeks, this is certainly something the Phillies could revisit in the winter or next year at the deadline if Rupp continues to provide consistent production.

Andres Blanco: Nothing wrong with a utility man off the bench right? At 32, Blanco has played almost everywhere in the infield for the Phillies this season. Like many of the team’s trade chips, he is slated to become a free agent in the offseason. But, with only 147 plate appearances, the sample size isn’t good for Blanco and therefore I wouldn’t expect anything here. But all it takes is one team.

Peter Bourjas: The Phillies signed Bourjas to a one-year deal in December and from the organization’s perspective, it makes too much sense to try and move him. Bourjas had a good month of June and has seen his batting average jump up to .274. He has been given ample opportunities in right field thanks to an injury in spring training to Aaron Altherr. Altherr raised some eyebrows down the stretch in 2015 and was someone the Phillies were almost certainly eager to further evaluate this season. Altherr started a rehab assignment prior to the break and could return in the near future. Additionally, outfield prospect Nick Williams figures to be a candidate for a big league promotion at some point before season’s end. The next couple weeks are pivotal for Bourjas with Altherr’s return and the trade deadline right around the corner.

Andrew Bailey: It’s been an up-and-down season so far for Bailey. His production has been pedestrian as indicated by his 4.61 ERA and he also endured a DL stint in the first half. However, Bailey is striking out just over nine hitters per nine innings and has shown previously in his career he has the stuff to be a closer. But, ultimately his inconsistency this season will probably be enough of a red flag where contenders looking for bullpen help could look elsewhere.

David Hernandez: Hernandez was the favorite before the season opened to be the Phillies’ closer. Signing him to a one-year contract worth just under $4 million indicated the Phillies were looking for a cheap option to hold down the ninth inning after trading away Ken Giles. However, Hernandez struggled out of the gate and Jeanmar Gomez eventually took the ninth inning role and ran with it. Hernandez’s numbers are similar to Bailey’s and both are free agents following the season. Both probably have to prove to be more consistent for teams interested in signing either one of them in the winter, which unfortunately for the Phillies, means there’s probably not much of a market right now.

Jeanmar Gomez: Like Rupp, the Phillies control Gomez beyond this season. However, of all the possible trade candidates, Gomez could be the one the Phillies are least interested in moving. He has been very impressive this season on his way to 24 saves and a 2.59 ERA by the break. Entering the season, the bullpen was one of the Phillies biggest concerns and Gomez has proven to be the most consistent option, thus claiming the closer’s job. With Gomez under contract for 2017, the team may want to use the rest of this season and most of next season to determine if he’s the guy they want getting the last three outs for several years down the line. But, because of Gomez’s production so far, if a Phillies reliever is going to generate interest around the league, it will almost certainly be Gomez.

If I had to guess, I would say Hellickson and Rupp are the most likely of these players to be moved with Hellickson’s chances higher than Rupp’s. While it makes sense for players like Bourjas, Blanco, Hernandez and Bailey to be traded, there probably won’t be enough interest to get something done. Gomez is an interesting possibility if the Phillies dangle him, but is also probably worth keeping into next season.