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.

Now 22/1 to win Super Bowl, Eagles also the NFC East favorite

Now 22/1 to win Super Bowl, Eagles also the NFC East favorite

The Eagles crushed a Super Bowl contender on Sunday at the Linc. And Vegas took notice.

According to Bovada, the Eagles' odds to win the Super Bowl went from 33/1 to 22/1. Just nine teams have shorter odds to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots are tops at 15/4, followed by the Packers (8/1) and the team the Eagles beat, the Steelers (9/1).

With the win, the Eagles also became the favorite to win the NFC East, going from 11/4 to 2/1. They're followed by the Cowboys and Giants (both at 11/5) and last year's division champs, Washington, is at 6/1.

The Eagles are also 12/1 to win the NFC.

Of course, the biggest story for the Eagles this season has been the emergence of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. He had his first 300-yard passing game Sunday and was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week. His odds to win MVP went from 50/1 to 33/1. Those are the same odds as Drew Brees and Eli Manning.

Meanwhile, former Eagles quarterback and current Minnesota Viking Sam Bradford went from 50/1 to 25/1 to win MVP.

While Wentz's MVP odds shortened, his odds to win Rookie of the Year actually got longer, going from 8/5 to 7/4. That could have something to do with the odds of Ezekiel Elliot (7/4), Dak Prescott (5/1) and Sterling Shepard (7/1) all improving.

Flyers Notes: Ivan Provorov not in ‘younger’ lineup; Travis Konecny gets chance with NHLers

Flyers Notes: Ivan Provorov not in ‘younger’ lineup; Travis Konecny gets chance with NHLers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers’ morning skate Wednesday came with youthful flavor.
 
Ivan Provorov was no part of it.
 
The 19-year-old was with the big-boy contingent on the opposite ice, a group of mostly NHL players that will not play in tonight’s preseason game against the Devils at the PPL Center, home of AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.
 
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said a younger lineup is set for the team’s fourth preseason game.
 
“Every game is a little different,” Hakstol said. “[Tuesday] night we had a more veteran group dress, so not only are we looking at individual performances but we would expect to see a little more of our structure come into play. Tonight’s roster is a little more younger, so we’re still obviously looking to build some of the concept and some of the systems and detail.”
 
Provorov, the Flyers’ prized blue-line prospect and No. 1 roster hopeful of training camp, was featured in the NHL-heavy lineup Tuesday night, playing 21:43 with key minutes on the power play and penalty kill. This followed a night of 28:48 ice time in the Flyers’ split-squad preseason opener Monday.
 
So it was highly unlikely Provorov would play Wednesday, but the fact he was saved for a veteran-laden game instead of a prospect-filled one is telling.
 
Then again, Provorov is far from your typical 19-year-old hockey player.
 
“Right from day one, I think we’ve all saw that early,” Hakstol said. “A year ago, the focus, the ability to be detailed and to handle himself like a pro, albeit a young pro. Ivan has a great level of maturity to him.”
 
Provorov has done his work thus far. It’s his time to watch for a game.
 
“You look for him to be able to go out and do things consistently and efficiently,” Hakstol said. “I think for the most part, Ivan was able to do that [Tuesday] night.
 
Konecny with Schenn, Raffl
While one 19-year-old sits, another gets his chance.
 
Although prospect Travis Konecny — also looking to make the NHL jump — did not play Tuesday, he’ll still have a chance to open eyes with NHL forwards tonight.
 
The talented winger will be paired with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl, both of whom were clearly especially selected to play tonight with Konecny.
 
“They see the ice real well, I’ve just got to move my feet and get in the good areas and I’m sure they’re going to find the spots,” Konecny said. “I’m going to try to not do too much tonight and just let the game kind of take care of itself — and take care of the little things I can control.”
 
The 24th overall pick of the 2015 draft amassed 101 points at the junior level last season. Putting NHL talent around him should only help and it serves as an amplified audition of sorts.
 
“It gives him an opportunity to play with two veteran players,” Hakstol said. “Travis is no different than anyone else, just go out and play his game. Every player, it’s one of the challenges coming into camp, to go out and make an impression. Every player needs to do that from Day 1. We’re getting into our fourth exhibition game here now, so it’s an opportunity for Travis to go out and play the way he plays. He has an opportunity to do that with two veteran players.”
 
Konecny, 5-foot-10 with speed and skill, is keeping things simple in his second NHL camp.
 
“I think this year I’m trying to approach it and play the game the right way,” he said. “Last year, I came in excited and I had my feet going, my energy, but I was kind of all over the place. I’m trying to follow the system and play the right way this year.
 
“My first game a couple days ago, it was quick pace, I wasn’t really expecting it — it’s been a long time since I was in that kind of speed. So I think tonight’s game I’ll be a little more relaxed and ready to go.”

Roster moves
The Flyers on Wednesday assigned Mark Dekanich, Chris McCarthy, Maxim Lamarche, Martin Ouellette, Jesper Pettersson, Steve Swavely and Kevin Sundher to Lehigh Valley, which opens its training camp Friday. The Flyers' roster now stands at 49.
 
Loose pucks
Other NHLers expected to play tonight: Defenseman Brandon Manning and center Boyd Gordon. “Boyd has had a good camp,” Hakstol said. “He got in game action the first time [Tuesday]. As you’d expect, he did a real good job within his role of starting with faceoffs and the responsible style of play he has.” … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz will be the goalies. Both will compete for starting time with the Phantoms this season.