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' rookies adjusting to NFL life while contributing in key roles

Eagles' rookies adjusting to NFL life while contributing in key roles

Their quarterback is a rookie, of course, but so is their current lead running back, two offensive linemen who’ve started games, two of their wide receivers, their cornerback who’s played the second-most snaps and one of their more surprising defensive linemen.
 
There are rookies up and down the Eagles’ roster. But not just rookies. These are guys in key roles.
 
With Carson Wentz starting all year, Wendell Smallwood currently at tailback and Bryce Treggs starting last weekend in place of Nelson Agholor at wide out, this became only the second season in the last 30 years the Eagles have had a rookie start a game at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
 
It also happened in 2012 with Nick Foles, Bryce Brown and Damaris Johnson.
 
Throw in Jalen Mills, second on the team in cornerback reps; Destiny Vaiao, the Eagles’ first undrafted rookie since Sam Rayburn in 2003 with two sacks in a season; offensive linemen Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo; plus special teamers like Kamu Grugier-Hill and C.J. Smith, and rookies really make up a significant portion of the roster.
 
“All of us being in the same situation, it really helps just knowing we’re all rookies and we’re all out here trying to make plays and help the team,” said Smallwood, whose 4.4 rushing average would be fourth-highest ever by an Eagles rookie if he gets 31 more carries.
 
“It kind of keeps us together. Looking at each other and seeing the other guys doing good, that gives you the confidence that you can make plays, too. They’re in the same position as me being rookies.
 
“I look at Carson and he’s got so much on his plate, man, and he’s going out there and doing it, why can’t I do it? I look at Jalen, he plays a lot. It goes unsaid but we definitely watch each other and it pushes you to do well as well.”
 
After a 3-0 start, the Eagles are 5-6 going into their game Sunday against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
 
Their playoff chances are dwindling but if nothing else this season could be serving as a launching pad for a number of rookies who seem to have bright futures here.
 
Wentz should be the Eagles’ quarterback for the next decade. Smallwood is their most promising rookie running back since LeSean McCoy in 2009. Vaitai will be a starter whenever Jason Peters decides to retire. Seumalo has a shot at becoming a starter somewhere along the interior of the O-line. Mills has been uneven but never stops battling. Treggs hasn’t done a lot but at least he can run and did reel in one 58-yard pass.
 
On a roster decimated by years of terrible drafting and Chip Kelly’s talent purge, the Eagles had to get contributions from their rookies this year to be competitive, and they have.
 
“Rookies, in unchartered territory for some of them, but really for us, in one respect, we say there are no more rookies,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.
 
“You've been into it this far. The expectations are high on them from themselves, and of course as coaches we put high expectations on them. We just want to focus on today. Let's go out there today and have a good practice today, because we believe what we do today will show up on Sunday.”
 
There are two big challenges facing rookies. No. 1 is on the field, No. 2 is off the field.
 
On the field, rookies are dealing with a 16-game season that runs into January after playing 11 or 12 games in college and finishing the regular season in mid-November.
 
“The college football season is winding down so they kind of hit that wall just a little bit now with us,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “We have five games left and they are either getting ready for a bowl game or not going getting ready for Christmas break. So that's obviously a challenge with the young players, just keeping them plugged in mentally and physically going down the stretch.


 
“And then just the grind of how important every single rep in practice is, to get it right in practice, and that corresponds to the game. And you just can't show up and go through the motions during the week and expect it on Sunday. Not at this level. 
 
“You might get away with that in college because you're a better athlete or you're a better team than your opponent, but here, everybody is good. The challenge is for them to practice well because then it helps them when crunch time comes in the games.”
 
Mills isn’t a starter, but he has played 454 snaps, which is about two-thirds of the Eagles’ defensive reps this year. That’s 10th-most on the team, fourth-most in the secondary.
 
“It’s a grind, for sure,” he said. “My body’s used to right now getting ready to shut down or go to a bowl game, so physically you have to learn how to take care of yourself and how to recover. The older guys help me through that. 
 
“That means for me getting a minimum of nine hours sleep every night and making sure I eat healthy. Our cafeteria does a great job getting us healthy food. Just have to take care of your body and eat healthy.
 
“Mentally it’s a grind. Being mentally sharp the same way I was in Week 1, that’s tough to do. Just stay focused. Anything negative or anything that could cloud my judgment or anything that doesn’t have to do with football, I have to just eliminate that from my life right now.” 
 
Wentz, of course, is the centerpiece of the Eagles’ 2016 rookie class. 
 
Even though his numbers have dipped after a very hot start, he’s still on pace for the fourth-most passing yards in NFL history by a rookie, the seventh-best intereption ratio and the seventh-highest completion percentage.
 
Wentz said when it comes to making sure the other rookies are grounded and stay positive, he takes the lead from the veterans on the offense.
 
“I think we all have a hand in it,” he said. “When things are going poorly, in the huddle all eyes are on me, but we have some really good leaders. Jason Kelce, Brent Celek, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, they’ve been around, they get it, they do a great job, and I try to follow the lead a little bit and take the lead a little bit. 
 
“That’s one thing we don’t lack is leadership on both sides of the ball.”
 
There’s a football adjustment for these kids but there’s also a hidden non-football aspect that fans don’t see.
 
Remember, these are kids — 21, 22, 23 years old — who all of a sudden are making an enormous amount of money, have tremendous demands on them from outside and are thrown into a foreign city without friends or family trying to make a living.
 
“The hardest thing for me was adjusting to life,” Jason Kelce said. “You’re in a whole new city, for the first time you’re off on your own, paying taxes and doing all these other things and it’s easy to kind of get overwhelmed in your thought process instead of really focusing just on the little things. 
 
“It’s a tough just getting to the point where you feel comfortable because there’s so much drastic change everywhere. There’s all this chaos around you outside football and it can be a little much. 
 
“For me with young guys, you just tell them to keep staying with it, keep improving it, keep paying attention to the details. 
 
“You can run into certain situations where guys over-think things and it can really affect how they’re playing out there and if you’re an older guy you try and take that burden off of them and just try to remind them to go out there and play hard and focus on the minute details that allow you to be successful and just go play.”

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.