Thursday, March 31, 2011

Phillies sign Ronnie Belliard to minor league deal

The Phillies continue to stockpile middle infield options (Chase Utley insurance), this time signing 2B/3B Ronnie Belliard to a minor league deal, according to Todd Zolecki. Belliard, a 13 year MLB veteran, will report to Lehigh Valley and should compete with Kevin Frandsen to be the first middle infield call-up in case there are more injuries. He's coming off a pretty terrible year with the Dodgers where he hit .216 with a .295 OBP. Belliard spent the spring with the Yankees before being released.

The Phillies are taking another middle-infield flier on Belliard. At age 35, Belliard is likely washed up, but there is always a chance that he could have a bounce-back year and hit something close to his career .273 average and .338 OBP. Should that happen, the Phillies could have a useful bench piece later in the season. Don't count on it, though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Your 2011 Phillies Opening Day Roster

With the release of Luis Castillo earlier today and the announcement that Pete Orr is making the club, the Phillies have finalized their Opening Day roster. Orr likely made the club because of his ability to play third base in case Placido Polanco's injury continues to linger. Rule 5 pickup Michael Martinez was also informed today that he has made the team.

Your Phillies Opening Day Roster is set:

Infielders (6): Ryan Howard, Wilson Valdez, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Michael Martinez, Pete Orr

Outfielders (5): Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Ben Francisco, Ross Gload, John Mayberry

Catchers (2): Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider

Starting Rotation (5): Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton

Bullpen (7): Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Danys Baez, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, David Herndon

On the disabled list: Domonic Brown, Chase Utley, Brad Lidge

That was quick: Phillies release Luis Castillo

The Luis Castillo experiment didn't last long. According to the Phillies beat reporters, the team has released Castillo, who they signed 10 days ago to a minor league contract. His release guarantees that Rule 5 pickup Michael Martinez makes the team and opens up a spot for either Delwyn Young or Pete Orr to earn the final bench spot. Look for Wilson Valdez to get the majority of starts at second base until Chase Utley returns.

Castillo didn't have a terrible showing with the Phillies but clearly the team feels comfortable with their other options at second base. Given that bringing in Castillo for 10 days barely cost them anything, it still didn't hurt for the Phillies to at least see if the veteran had anything left in the tank. He apparently didn't and now we all don't have to force ourselves to root for the former Met.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lidge to possibly miss half of season, Contreras to close

After the revelation that Brad Lidge was going to start the season on the DL, today's news is hardly surprising: Lidge will miss 3-6 weeks due to his shoulder injury. Given that time frame, Lidge made it clear to reporters that he is shooting for a return after the All-Star break. While that is a long time for the Phillies to be without their closer, at least Lidge won't need surgery on the shoulder, which would potentially keep him out for the entire season.

With Lidge out, Charlie Manuel is reportedly going to go with Jose Contreras as the closer and keep Ryan Madson in the 8th inning. While I don't subscribe to the theory that Madson doesn't have the mental makeup to be a closer, I'm fine with the Phillies keeping Madson in his most successful role. While Contreras doesn't have much closing experience (4 career saves all in 2010), if he can pitch like he did last year, he should do just fine in the 9th inning.

Given the relative depth of the Phillies bullpen, losing Brad Lidge isn't that huge of a blow to the Phillies. Both Contreras and Madson should do just fine in the final two innings so the Phillies will just need either J.C. Romero or Danys Baez to step into the 7th inning role. Then again, the Four Aces will probably just pitch a complete game every time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Phillies aces on cover of Sports Illustrated

In an extremely smart decision, Sports Illustrated has decided to put the Phillies Four Aces (and Joe Blanton!) on the cover of their baseball preview issue that comes out this week. Before you get too worried about any kind of curse, remember that Roy Halladay was on the cover of their baseball preview last season and he did just fine. Try not to get drool all over the cover.

Phillies sign Kevin Frandsen to minor league deal

The Phillies continued to add depth to their middle infield today, signing second baseman Kevin Frandsen to a minor league deal, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.

Frandsen, a former Giant and former Angel, spent spring training with the Padres before being released. He is very versatile in the field, having played every position in the field except center and catcher in his major league career. He isn't much at the plate, as his career .243 batting average and .302 OBP and 7 homers in 5 seasons tell you, but he isn't being brought in to swing the bat.

Frandsen gives the Phillies yet another option to plug into second or third base should Chase Utley and/or Placido Polanco continue to struggle with injuries. Since he signed a minor league deal, it likely means the Phillies will stick with Luis Castillo as the starting second baseman on Opening Day and keep Michael Martinez on the roster. If all goes well, Frandsen won't get a sniff of playing time in the majors this year.

Projecting the Phillies 2011 Opening Day Roster

Wait, the Phillies season starts this week? Well, I guess it's time to take a belated look at who will be making the team on Opening Day. Since I'm doing this projection so close to the start of the season, most of the battles are out of the way, with just two bench spots being fought over. With all of the injuries, a few slots have opened up for players that normally would have had no chance to make the team.

Here's my take on how the Phillies roster will look on Opening Day. Players who are locks are listed in bold.

Infielders (6): Ryan Howard, Luis Castillo, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez
Castillo has played well enough to have first crack at the starting second base job but count on the Phillies pulling the plug quickly should he falter. All indications are that the Phillies want to keep the versatile Martinez around rather than give him back to the Nationals. Should Polanco not be healthy at the start of the season, Martinez will be even more useful.

Outfielders (5): Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Ben Francisco, Ross Gload, John Mayberry
Mayberry seems like the logical choice for a righty bench bat with some power over someone like Delwyn Young.

Catchers (2): Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider

Rotation (5): Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton

Bullpen (7): Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Danys Baez, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, David Herndon
The pitching staff seems pretty locked in, though Herndon could easily be swapped out for a waiver pickup.

DL: Domonic Brown, Chase Utley, Brad Lidge

Could start season on DL: Polanco
Let's hope not because the lineup would be a joke.

Players on the bubble: Delwyn Young, Pete Orr
They are the only two remaining players in Phillies camp. Young would make the team if the Phillies give Martinez back to the Nationals.

That's the team as I see it. It's going to come down to Martinez vs. Young for the 25th spot and Martinez's versatility will earn him a spot.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Phillies likely finalize bullpen with demotions of Zagurski and Mathieson

The Phillies announced the demotion of Mike Zagurski and Scott Mathieson the the minors today, a move that effectively finalizes their bullpen for the start of the season. With Brad Lidge set to start the season on the disabled list, and barring a trade or waiver pickup, the Phillies bullpen will look like this to start the season:

Long Relief:
Kyle Kendrick

Lefty Specialist:
Antonio Bastardo

6th inning:
David Herndon

7th inning:
J.C. Romero, Danys Baez

Jose Contreras

Ryan Madson

I put Madson in the closers role, though Contreras is also in the mix to close games. There really aren't any surprises in the group, with Herndon making the team only because of Lidge's injury. While there is plenty of depth in the bullpen, I'm still happy they won't be needed much with the Phillies four aces going deep into games on a regular basis.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lidge to start season on the DL

The Phillies ridiculously bad luck with injuries continues. Yesterday, we got confirmation that Chase Utley will start the season on the disabled list; today, we learn that Brad Lidge will join him.

Due to shoulder pain, Lidge, who was already recovering from an injured bicep, won't be ready to go when the season starts. While he is hopeful that he will be able to pitch sometime in April, the initial reports don't give a definite timetable.

The season can't start soon enough for the Phillies, who are just ravaged with injuries. Luckily, the Phillies can slide Ryan Madson into the closer role and move Jose Contreras to the 8th inning, but that does make their 7th inning options that much weaker. They'll just need the four aces to pitch complete games for the first couple months of the season. Better make 'em shutouts, too, given the state of the lineup.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another New Flyers "History Will be Made" Commercial

The NHL "History Will Be Made" campaign continues with another Flyers-centric video, this time featuring the Flyers epic comeback against the Bruins in the playoffs last year:

Definitely makes me miss Simon Gagne a little more.

3 Phillies in the Top 10 MLB jersey sales

The Phillies are well-represented in the MLB Top 10 jersey sales list:

1. Derek Jeter
2. Joe Mauer
3. Roy Halladay
4. Chase Utley
5. Cliff Lee
6. Albert Pujols
7. Josh Hamilton
8. Dustin Pedroia
9. Alex Rodriguez
10. Tim Lincecum

The Phillies as a team finished 4th in licensed product sales in 2010. With all the Cliff Lee love going around Philly, don't be surprised to see him move up this list.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who wants Kevin Kolb?

While the news that came out today about the Eagles receiving offers for Kevin Kolb is meaningless since teams can't make trades right now, it's still interesting to speculate about which teams might have interest in the Eagles backup quarterback. Since the rumor is that the Eagles are receiving first round offers for Kolb, we can look at which teams with first round picks need quarterbacks and start making some guesses:

1. Panthers
3. Bills
4. Bengals
5. Cardinals
6. Browns
7. Niners
8. Titans
10. Redskins
12. Vikings
15. Dolphins
16. Jaguars
25. Seahawks

First, we can eliminate the Panthers, who are probably going to draft a quarterback with the first overall pick. In fact, we can go ahead and eliminate everyone in the top 10, since they would have to be crazy to give up that high of a pick for Kolb. That leaves a few interesting options left, including the Vikings, though the 12th pick is still probably too high. The most likely option is probably the worst pick of the bunch, as the Seahawks have to be pretty desperate to move on from the Matt Hasselbeck era. If I'm the Eagles, I feel pretty good about moving Kolb for the 25th pick.

Of course, if the labor issues don't get figured out soon, the rumored draft picks would be for the 2012 draft and the Eagles would simply be rolling the dice, speculating on the quality of team they are sending Kolb to and gambling on a high selection. In that scenario, I would think the Eagles would be smart to hold onto Kolb as insurance if/when Michael Vick gets banged up. Unless they can pull in a decent veteran backup, like Carson Palmer or (shudder) Vince Young, the Eagles might be better off keeping Kolb, anyway.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Phillies sign fomer Met Luis Castillo to minor league deal

With Chase Utley still ailing, the Phillies have made a move for some insurance, signing former Met second baseman Luis Castillo to a minor league contract, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN. While Castillo is so washed up that the Mets released him even though they owe him 6 million dollars, the Phillies are hoping he could be a possible fill-in until Utley is ready to play.

Castillo will never be confused with a good hitter, and, at age 35, is well past his prime, but he is above average in the field and is certainly an upgrade over the Phillies other backup second base options. Castillo has lost a step or two due to some foot issues but he still has a bit of speed and can get on base at a decent clip. He will likely be competing with Josh Barfield for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

With Castillo only signing a minor league deal, this signing really comes with no risk. Should Castillo have one last good year left in him, the Phillies will look like geniuses; should he fizzle out and not make an impact this year, the Phillies won't be paying him much, anyway. If you can get over the fact that Castillo was a Met for four seasons, you'll see a player that could be a minor contributor at virtually no cost to the Phillies.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Flyers clinch a playoff spot!

Thank goodness we don't have to wait until the final game of the season again to know whether the Flyers would make the playoffs. After beating the Stars in a shootout on Saturday night, the Flyers became the first team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a playoff spot. While it was a foregone conclusion that the Flyers were going to the playoffs this year, it's still nice to get that taken care of early.

The next goal for the Flyers will be to try to procure the top seed in the East. While they haven't been playing their best hockey lately, the Flyers still have a two point lead over the Capitals with two games in hand. Getting that number one seed will likely set up a first round matchup with the Rangers, Sabres or Hurricanes, all teams the Flyers have handled pretty easily at times this year (with the exception of that debacle at MSG a few weeks back).

With 9 players with double digit goals, two solid goaltenders and an incredibly deep defense, as long as they stay healthy, the Flyers are poised for another deep playoff run. Not having to scramble in the final weeks to get into the playoffs should help them be rested and ready to get back to the Cup Finals.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

GQ: Phillies fans are "The Worst Sports Fans in America"

Using every cliche in the book, GQ has decided that Phillies fans are the Worst Sports Fans in America. Second Worst? Yep, Eagles fans. Citing our booing of our star players and (gasp!) Santa Claus, the cheering when Michael Irvin got injured and when that moron got tased and our favorite puking fan, GQ puts us atop their list and calls us the "meanest fans". Penn State fans finished 7th as well.

First thought: since when did GQ become an expert on sports? Second thought: talk about a lazy piece of journalism, the guy trotted out every stereotype and didn't bother to do any real research or come up with any new arguments. Oh well, I'm pretty sure nobody reads GQ anymore.

Thanks to Matt Gelb on Twitter for the heads up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Flyers "History Will be Made" Commercial

The NHL has started up their "History Will be Made" campaign for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they have unveiled their latest Flyers commercial featuring the team celebrating their 1974 Cup Championship:


Polanco the latest injured Phillie

This is starting to get ridiculous. With Domonic Brown, Brad Lidge and Chase Utley sidelined, the Phillies have already had their fair share of injuries this spring training. Add another to that list as Placido Polanco injured his left elbow in a game today. While Polanco only hyperextended his elbow and downplayed it being serious, it is the same elbow that required surgery in the offseason, so it could lead to a bigger issue.

With a veteran team like the Phillies, you can't say the number of injuries they have had is surprising. Polanco is still likely to be ready to go on opening day but he could have lingering issues in his elbow all season long. While this one minor injury isn't anything to panic about, the Phillies will be fighting against father time all season long as their age may cause their championship window to close faster than any of us thought.

What are the chances? Chondromalacia strikes another Philly sports athlete!

Apparently, there is a case of chondromalacia going around Philadelphia.

According to PR man Michael Preston, despite his efforts to help the Sixers erase a big 4th quarter deficit against the Utah Jazz, Andre Iguodala has a knee injury that could sideline him for a few days. That injury? None other than the same injury that is currently sidelining Chase Utley, chondromalacia, which is also known as runner's knee. Yep, two of the biggest stars in Philly are both sidelined with the same injury that most of us had never heard of until a week ago.

Hopefully Iguodala has a quicker recovery than Utley or the Sixers are going to be making an even faster than expected first round playoff exit.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Flyers lose Pronger for the rest of the regular season

Just a few days removed from Paul Holmgren telling us not to worry about Chris Pronger's injury, the Flyers dropped this news on us today: Pronger will have surgery on his right hand and will miss 3-4 weeks, which covers the rest of the regular season. Fortunately, Pronger should be fine to return in the playoffs and, if anything, he will be plenty refreshed for a long playoff run.

While many Flyers fans thought to panic initially, it's important to remember that Pronger has already missed time this season and the team did pretty well without him. Of course the Flyers would prefer to have their defensive anchor on the ice as they try to hold on to the number one seed in the East but they have plenty of defensive depth, with the newly acquired Nick Boynton stepping in to play on a regular basis. Jumping into the 7th defenseman spot will be Erik Gustafsson, who was called up from the Phantoms. You may remember Gustafsson from his one game stint back in February.

The loss of Pronger does somewhat diminish the Flyers chances at getting the top seed in the East but it should have no affect on how far they get in the playoffs this season. As we have seen time and time again, seeding in hockey means very little, with tops seeds getting knocked off on a regular basis. The Flyers are going to be too busy worrying about turning around their play on the ice to worry about not having Pronger. Perhaps not having him out there will even help the team play good hockey again as they step their game up to replace their best defensive player.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It could be a while before we see the Eagles again

The story I've been ignoring is no longer avoidable: after failing to come to an agreement with the owners, the NFLPA has decertified, meaning the players and owners are headed to the courts. I'm not going to even pretend I know all the legal ramifications that disbanding a union can have and what the suit that the players are going to file against the NFL will prove but it likely all adds up to a long time before we see NFL football again.

Let's hope the wealthy people stop squabbling over money in time for the NFL season to start, otherwise it's going to be a very sad fall. Sure, the NHL will still be going, but Sunday's just won't be the same. Hopefully everyone realizes they would lost millions of dollars in revenue by not having a season and things get worked out. Until then, perhaps we should all start doing some research on the CFL?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Don't count on Chase Utley for Opening Day

As we creep closer and closer to Opening Day, it's becoming pretty clear that Chase Utley won't be ready to take the field to start the season. With the latest "news" coming out today that Utley basically has tendinitis in his knee and didn't respond to a cortisone shot, the Phillies need to prepare themselves for a few weeks without their number three hitter. While the team has currently stated that surgery is not an option at this time, if things don't get better soon, Utley will certainly go under the knife and miss even more time.

Fortunately, not having Utley in the lineup is something the team has gotten used to over the years. Between his hand problems a few years back and his hip issues last season, Utley has had more than his fair share of injuries. Expect Wilson Valdez, who actually did a solid job for the Phillies last season, to step into the starting second base job until Utley is ready. While Valdez will be a suitable defensive replacement, he doesn't even come close to replacing Utley's bat in the lineup. This unfortunately means we might be headed for a few weeks of Raul Ibanez in the number three spot in the batting order.

While the Phillies do have the best starting rotation in baseball, they are still going to have to score some runs. With Jayson Werth gone and Utley not in the picture right now, there is quite a dropoff from Utley-Howard-Werth in the middle of the lineup last season to Ibanez-Howard-Francisco this season. Hurry back, Chase.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Brian Westbrook wants to come back to the Eagles

After spending a year in California, it looks like Brian Westbrook wants to come back to Philly. In an interview with CSN Philly, Westbrook, who spent last season with the Niners after the Eagles let him go, talked about how he has constantly been in contact with Andy Reid and how he would love to return to the Birds. Westbrook feels that he still could be a contributor in the Eagles backfield in a backup role of some kind.

The question is, are the Eagles even interested in bringing him back? With LeSean McCoy firmly entrenched as an every down back and Jerome Harrison likely coming back to be a solid backup, what role would Westbrook play? The Eagles usually like their third running back to have some special teams versatility, which is why Eldra Buckley filled the role last season. Westbrook won't be playing special teams so what other role could he fill? Punt returner? Slot receiver? Running back coach?

Sure, Westbrook would likely sign a cheap contract to return to Philadelphia, but there aren't enough touches available to make him a useful addition. The only scenario I can see the Eagles signing Westbrook is if he wants to sign a one day contract and retire as an Eagle.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Domonic Brown breaks right hand

Looks like Ben Francisco can now be penciled into the Opening Day lineup for the Phillies. Domonic Brown, who had been battling with Francisco for the starting right field spot, broke his hand in the Phillies Spring Training game against the Pirates on Saturday. After X-rays confirmed that Brown fractured the hook of the hamate bone in his right hand, the Phillies announced that he will probably need surgery and will miss about 3-6 weeks.

While the timetable for Brown's return puts him on track to return no later than April, a broken hand can be a troubling injury for a baseball player. It could take Brown several weeks to get his swing back and there is no telling what will happen to his power. The good news is Francisco, who probably was going to win the job anyway, should do just fine holding down the right field spot until Brown is ready to go.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Commercial: Roy misses Chooch

MLB 2K11 may not be the best baseball video game on the market but they have pulled off the best commercial of the season. Watch below as cover athlete Roy Halladay pines for Carlos Ruiz in the offseason to help him make decisions:

Via The 700 level.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Vick signs one year deal, Akers won't sign transition tag

A few weeks back, the Eagles slapped a franchise tag on Michael Vick and a transition tag on David Akers and their respective reactions to those taggings couldn't have been any different. Vick, happy to remain with the Birds, signed his franchise tag today and will stay with the Eagles for another season. Akers, who wants to remain with the Eagles but is unhappy with the transition tag, has made it clear he won't be signing his tender that would have been worth around 2.8 million dollars.

For Vick, the franchise tender that he signed will pay him around 16 million dollars, a hefty raise after a solid 2010 season. While there is still the possibility that the new CBA will eliminate franchise tags, you can count on Vick being with the Eagles next season. As for Akers, while he does seem interested in staying with the team, he clearly values himself a little higher than the Eagles front office does. Don't count on the Eagles raising their offer just to keep the veteran kicker.