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.

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles signed veteran running back and punt returner Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension Friday morning.

Terms of the deal were not immediately available, but Sproles is due to earn $3.5 million in base salary in 2016. Sproles, a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons with the Eagles, is now signed through 2017. He was due to become a free agent after this season.

Sproles skipped the Eagles’ voluntary organized offseason workouts and the given reason was to spend more time with his family in San Diego. But Sproles’ contract status certainly could have played a role in his reason to stay away.

Sproles, 33, is tied for seventh in NFL history with Dave Meggett with seven career punt returns for touchdowns.

After five years with the Chargers and three with the Saints, he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Eagles, making his first two Pro Bowl teams and becoming only the second player in NFL history with four or more punt return TDs after his 30th birthday. The other is Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

In his career, Sproles has 2,867 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with a 5.0 average rushing and 473 receptions for 4,156 yards and 28 more touchdowns.

With 133 more rushing yards and 27 more receptions, Sproles will become only the 12th player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.

Sproles' 5.0 career rushing average is 14th-highest in NFL history among non-quarterbacks with at least 500 rushing attempts.

In two seasons with the Eagles, he has 646 rushing yards and 95 receptions, although his 3.8 rushing average last year was well below his career average.

He has two punt return TDs in each of his seasons with the Eagles and is one of only seven NFL players in history with consecutive seasons with multiple punt return touchdowns.

Sproles entered the league as the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The Eagles acquired him – or stole him – from the Saints in March 2014 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That pick turned out to be Ronald Powell, a linebacker who played in just 14 career games and is not currently in the league.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).