Memo to the Phillies: Don't "Go For It"

Memo to the Phillies: Don't "Go For It"

With the World Series wrapping up this week, the Major League Baseball offseason is upon us. And with reports that the Phillies are in line to sign a hugely lucrative new local TV contract in the near future, a lot of fans of the local team are excited about a potential spending spree, one which will bring a whole bunch of big stars to town and quickly restore the team back to championship contention.

In conversations with my friends about the Phillies' offseason, there's all kinds of speculation. The Phillies should sign Carlos Beltran! And Jacoby Ellsbury! They should try to swing a trade for David Price, and toss in whatever prospects it takes to pry him from Tampa. And whatever's left from the farm after that should go to Miami in a deal for Giancarlo Stanton.

There are indications that the team's thinking is along similar lines. Following all that talk about the team's many, many attempts to pry Stanton from the Marlins, a report Thursday by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman stated that the team is looking to go after "big-time free-agent outfielders," with Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz and "possibly" Curtis Granderson listed as names on the team's radar.

Heyman's record when it comes to Phillies rumors is less than pristine, but if he's right, it sounds like the Phils are looking to do what they've done throughout the Ruben Amaro era- target the biggest, most established names possible, and attempt to build a contending team with established superstars.

This is a mistake. The Phillies should not sign Ellsbury, Choo, Cruz or Granderson, nor pursue a trade for Stanton or Price. Instead, it's time for them to start the rebuilding process.

Let's look at where the Phillies are now. They're coming off two bad seasons in a row and their core is aging fast, with the Howard/Utley/Rollins trio all in various stages of significant decline. Despite some contributions in 2013 from the likes of Cody Asche and Darin Ruf, they're not really getting any type of reinforcements from the minors, and their farm system- thanks to years of bad drafting and all those trades for veterans- is among the weakest in the majors.

That means they probably won't have any hope of beating out the prospect packages potentially offered by other teams for players like Price or Stanton- and even if they somehow did, they'd be even more bereft of quality minor leaguers than they are now. Dumping the entire top of their farm system for Price, who is a year away from free agency, would be especially senseless.

A big free agent splurge or a series of prospects-for-veteran trades is what a team should do when they're entering their window of contention and are only a couple of players away.

But the Phillies are not, by any stretch of the imagination, "a couple of players away." They're a whole nucleus away. And fans whose idea for the offseason is to keep the current core intact while adding a few big names are- pardon the insult- thinking exactly like Ruben Amaro.

The four outfielders mentioned in the Heyman piece have one thing in common- they're all 30 or older. And because they're free agents, signing them would require beating out every other offer in both money and years. The Phillies have enough highly-paid position players on the wrong side of 30 as it is, so a four- or five-year deal for 32-year-old Nelson Cruz (coming off a PED suspension) or to Ellsbury (30) or Granderson (32)- both of whom have missed significant time with injuries recently- would only make the team's biggest problem worse.

Not that building a team through free agency makes much sense these days anyway. The economics of the game have changed a lot in the last few years, and thanks to revenue sharing and lots of those major TV deals throughout the baseball, a whole lot of teams have money, and are therefore able to re-sign more of their own players.

That means fewer star players even reach the free agent market, and even when they do, they're no longer in their prime. This partially explains the decline of the New York Yankees in recent years- their homegrown core has aged or retired, they're not able to steal all the best players from small-market teams the way they used to, and they're not as good at player development as a lot of their competitors. The Phillies' problems are remarkably similar.

The way to build a winning team these days is by doing what the Pirates, Rays, Cardinals and other teams like that have done: Draft and scout well, and build a solid nucleus of homegrown players. Play in the international market. Pay more than cursory attention to advanced stats. Make savvy trades. Sure, make big splashes occasionally with trades and in the free agent market when you have holes to fill, but don't make headline-grabbing free agent signings your primary method of team-building.

Minus the advanced-stats part, that's exactly how the Phillies built their 2008 team. It was made up of a young homegrown core (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Hamels), a few unheralded players brought in from other teams (Werth, Victorino), and savvy international signings (Ruiz.)

So here's what the Phillies should do, gradually over the next year or so: Make a bunch of trades of veterans for prospects (If they could do what the Red Sox did- unload all of their bad contracts in one trade- that would be wonderful, but that's probably not possible.) Take some of that new TV money and invest heavily in international scouting and player development. Hire not an "analytics guy" but rather an entire analytics department. And save some of those millions for a rainy day- for making some signings when the team is ready to contend again.

The next Phillies team to reach the World Series, it's sad to say, probably won't include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee or Carlos Ruiz. Cole Hamels, because he's signed for so long, has a chance to stay on as a constant. But yes, they should consider trading him as well.

I don't expect the Phillies to do anything like this; more likely, they'll retain their whole core, sign two out of Cruz, Ellsbury and Choo, and either re-sign Carlos Ruiz or throw nine figures at Brian McCann instead. I wouldn't be shocked if Roy Halladay returned. And they could even trade Domonic Brown, who despite the slumps and tiresome Cowboys fandom, remains the Phillies' lone young bat of any consequence. They'll keep getting older and more injured, until finally they truly hit rock bottom.

The Phillies haven't had much occasion to emulate the Sixers over the last several years. But believe it or not, the Phils' best course of action right now might be to look across the parking lot at what Sam Hinkie is doing, and implement something along those lines. They won't, but they should.

Eagles-Redskins 5 things: One-side rivalry and it's getting ugly

Eagles-Redskins 5 things: One-side rivalry and it's getting ugly

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles +2.5

With a 5-7 record, the Eagles may be all but eliminated from postseason contention, although if they're not going to the playoffs, at least they can take a division rival down with them.

At 6-5-1, the Washington Redskins still have a shot at the playoffs, but a loss at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday could prove devastating to their cause. And while playing the role of spoiler might not be what the Eagles had in mind at this point in the year, should they manage to come away with the win, their own slim hopes aren't necessarily finished just yet.

In other words, there's plenty left to play for this week. That, plus an opportunity to reverse some disturbing trends should be motivation enough.

1. It's getting ugly
The fact that the Eagles enter Sunday mired in a three-game losing streak is only part of the problem. It's how they're losing.

The Eagles have actually dropped seven of their last nine, but at one point, they were at least competitive. Their first four defeats were all by a touchdown or less, or an average just under five points per game. None of the last three have been particularly close however, and the disparity has only gotten worse — by 11 against the Seattle Seahawks, by 14 to the Green Bay Packers and by 18 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Most distressing during that span is the lack of offensive production by the Eagles, averaging exactly 14 points per game during the streak and topping out at 15 in Seattle. Their previous low score this season was 20.

It's getting late in the year, when fatigue and injuries can take their toll on a young, thin roster, which is what's happening here. Regardless, the Eagles need to show some signs of life this week, before this season spirals completely out of control

2. One-sided rivalry
Though these NFC East foes meet twice per season, you have to go back more than two full calendar years to find the last time the Eagles were victorious in the series.

The last time the Eagles defeated Washington was in September 2014 in a thrilling 37-34 tilt at the Linc. Since then, the Redskins have taken ownership of the rivalry, winning four straight matchups for the first time since 1985-87.

The current streak has been especially depressing however, as it's also served to eliminate the Eagles from postseason contention each of the past two seasons. While that wouldn't be the case this time around in any technical sense, a loss would make a playoff berth almost impossible to secure.

If nothing else, the Eagles are playing for pride Sunday. After all, nobody wants to let an opponent they see twice a year secure the kind of bragging rights Washington holds now.

3. Anomaly or cause for concern?
Last time these two teams met, the Eagles authored one of their worst defensive performances of the season. 26 first downs and 493 yards of total offense surrendered remain season highs, although perhaps most alarming was the way the unit was gashed on the ground.

Washington ran for 230 yards in the 27-20 win, as Matt Jones racked up 135 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries with a long gain of 57 to pace the offense, while Robert Kelley ripped off a 45-yarder as well. As inconsistent as they are, this was very unlike the Eagles. Only three other opponents have even gone over the century mark against this group, so it's one thing they generally do well.

The question is whether the Eagles were merely having a bad day, as they are prone to do, or if Washington exploited something. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan was injured in the second quarter, a huge blow to the run defense — although it was struggling before that happened.

One thing is certain, and that is the Eagles can't let anything like it happen again on Sunday. All three games this season in which the defense gave up over 150 yards on the ground have resulted in losses.

4. Can't stop, won't stop?
It's official: Kirk Cousins has the Eagles' number. Not only does Washington's franchise quarterback hold a 3-1 record in the series, but he's carved up his division rival with surgical precision while doing it.

Cousins had a ho-hum day in their first meeting this season, completing 18 of 34 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His line over four games is far more impressive, as he's averaging 336.3 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Meanwhile, Cousins has not experienced quite such loft success against the rest of the NFC East, with a combined record of 3-7 against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. He's played particularly poor against the Giants, throwing for fewer total yards than he has against Eagles in one less game, with five touchdowns to eight picks. It definitely seems like an Eagles thing.

And Cousins' game is likely continue to be successful against this Eagles defense. He likes to get the ball out of his hands quickly, which this secondary really struggles against, and he has the receivers to do it. Even in a losing effort, his numbers should look pretty good.

5. A peek at the standings
As unlikely the playoffs may be, the Eagles have a shot if they can turn their fortunes around against Washington.

If either the Atlanta Falcons or Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose Sunday, the Eagles can be no worse than one game back of the NFC's sixth and final playoff berth. That doesn't begin to delve into any tiebreakers, and as many as five teams could still be ahead in line for that spot — including Washington — but it would be a start.

Do the Eagles even belong in the playoffs? Would they honestly have a chance if they made it? Would missing out this season and getting a higher draft pick be better for the franchise anyway? Those are questions for another column.

All we're saying is there's a chance.

Eagles-Redskins predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Redskins predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles (5-7) come into Sunday's game against the Redskins (6-5-1) on a three-game losing streak.

The Redskins exposed the Eagles' defense the last time these two teams met almost two months ago on Oct. 16.

Here are our (cough) expert predictions for this Week 14 matchup.

Dave Zangaro (4-8)
After losing three straight games, I couldn't pick the Eagles against just about any team in the NFL. Maybe Cleveland. Maybe Chicago. 

But against Washington? Nah. Can't do it. 

Sure, I know Washington comes into the Linc on a two-game losing streak, and they're clearly not a top team in the NFC. It just doesn't matter. Kirk Cousins is a decent quarterback and Washington clearly has enough weapons to shred the Eagles like they did for 493 yards in the first meeting. 

For the Eagles' offense, Carson Wentz hasn't looked good in a long time and this week he enters with a few of his skill position players banged up. 

This looks like another loss to me. 

Washington 26, Eagles 20

Derrick Gunn (5-7)
The Eagles are an embarrassed, desperate team, and a win over the Redskins could lift the weight of what has been a downward spiral. Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews returned to practice this week, but can they jolt this offense back to life? Carson Wentz has played like a rookie the last three games, and the once stout defense has crumbled.

So here come the Redskins, losers of two in a row but still very much in the playoff conversation. The Redskins' defense is beat up and could be missing several key players, but unfortunately for the Eagles, Washington's offensive weapons are relatively healthy, except for tight end Jordan Reed, who's listed as questionable with an AC joint sprain. Matt Jones and Robert Kelley pack a punch out of the backfield. 

Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been in a zone. Over their last six games, Cousins has averaged 352.6 passing yards, plus he's thrown 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. 

The Eagles remember what Washington did to them back in Week 6, but I feel their revenge motives will fall short.

Redskins 27, Eagles 17

Ray Didinger (5-7) 
With all the talk this week about effort and players dogging it, I fully expect the Eagles to come out focused and fired up at home Sunday. Here's the problem: I just don't know if they are good enough to win the game. Motivation is one thing, but talent is another and right now, the Eagles are lacking in that area.
 
The players have been called out by their coach, by the media and by the fans so if they have any pride at all they will come out and play hard against the Redskins but I look at the matchup of this Eagles' secondary against the Washington receivers — especially a hot DeSean Jackson (25.3 yards per catch the last three games) — and I don't see a happy result.
 
Redskins 24, Eagles 17

Andrew Kulp (6-6)
Not sure if the Eagles really are in freefall mode or if they've simply been unable to overcome injuries while facing some better than advertised opponents. Either way, they have plenty to play for, because Washington has been embarrassing them for awhile now. With Jordan Matthews back and against a less than stellar D, I predict an end to the losing streak, so long as they finally come up with an answer for Kirk Cousins.

Eagles 26, Redskins 24

Corey Seidman (5-7)
Close game, better performance from Carson Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder, over the middle with Jordan Reed and short with Pierre Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27

Andy Schwartz (5-7)
It's simply come to this. I can't pick the Eagles to win a game the rest of the season until they do.

I want to think the offense will benefit from the return of Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews. And I want to think the defense will play with desperation and break out of its "slump" and make some big plays.

But I won't believe it until I see it.

Redskins 24, Eagles 16