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.

Wayne Simmonds gets engaged during Flyers' bye week

Wayne Simmonds gets engaged during Flyers' bye week

So far, 2017 has been a pretty big year for Wayne Simmonds.
 
In addition to being named to his first All-Star team this year, Simmonds clearly had big plans on how to spend his bye week away from hockey, before returning to play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday. He popped the question to his girlfriend, Crystal Corey, and she said yes.
 
Simmonds announced the engagement on his Instagram.

11,700 feet and she said YES! I Love you @cryscorey đź’›#SimmondsandSimmonds

A photo posted by Wayne Simmonds (@wayne17simmonds) on

Simmonds is the second Flyer to get engaged this season after Claude Giroux popped the question in December.
 
Congratulations, Wayne!

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

Time to talk everybody's favorite Eagles whipping boy, or one of them in Jason Kelce, who's viewed very differently by fans than he is his peers. Case in point, it might surprise some readers to learn Kelce was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl for 2016, which means a lot of NFL players and coaches must've been voting for him.

We know Eagles fans weren't coming out in droves. Yet if we were to go off of only the respect people around the league have for Kelce, he's considered one of the top eight centers in football. That ranking also happens to be roughly commensurate with his salary cap hit for 2017, which is currently 10th at the position, according to OverTheCap.

That's still going to be high for many critics that say Kelce is too undersized and has become too frequently penalized in recent years. It's especially high when you tell some of those same people the Eagles could save nearly $4 million by going in a different direction.

The trade or release of Kelce would free up $3.8 million to be exact, although once again, that's before we consider the cost of replacing him. And unlike other areas of the Eagles roster, there really isn't a young prospect waiting in the wings to take over, even somebody who is maybe only a year away from being ready to take over.

So if the Eagles were to get rid of Kelce, they would have to pay somebody to replace him. Granted, only 14 centers carry a higher cap number, and many starters make half of the six-year veteran's money, so there are cheaper options available — although, what kind of quality is the offense getting for that price?

Kelce is a perfect example of when the grass isn't always greener. There are some big, mauling centers around the NFL, like the Pouncey brothers, and who doesn't love that? But while Kelce isn't necessarily going to rip anybody's spine out at the point of attack, there probably isn't a better center in the league at pulling or blocking at the second and third levels. He's a unique player from that perspective, something people tend to forget.

The Eagles are not going to upgrade the position by going significantly cheaper. Kelce can hold his own in pass protection, and he's elite when the play design allows him to get into space. There's also something to be said for his knowledge of the offense, in addition to the rapport he's building with Carson Wentz.

Best case scenario, the Eagles are probably replacing him with Stefan Wisniewski, who the club paid $2.76 million in 2016. Figuring a raise, that's most of their cap savings right there, and Wisniewski is not nearly as decorated or so widely respected by his peers. There must be a reason for that.

Kelce is pretty good.

CENTERS UNDER CONTRACT

Jason Kelce
Age: 30*
Cap Number: $6,200,000

The bigger issue with Kelce is he's approaching his 30th birthday this year, although many centers enjoy lengthy careers, especially the guys who play more of a finesse game. And if the Eagles do want to start thinking about the future, it might help if they begin developing his replacement now. Kelce will be much easier to move on from in 2018 in terms of the salary cap, so if the Eagles draft somebody this year, theoretically they could move on next season. Keep in mind, Kelce was a sixth-round pick, and the club got a lot of mileage out of him, so it doesn't have to be a major investment. Plus, if that doesn't work out, renegotiation could be on the table, with Kelce's cap hit reaching $7.2 million in '18, but only $1.2 million of prorated signing bonus left on a contract that runs through 2020. The Eagles will be looking to reduce their costs, while Kelce will want some financial security.

Josh Andrews
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $615,000

Andrews joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in 2014, and after a few years of clinging to the practice squad and on the 53-man roster as a reserve, finally saw his first action on offense this season. He played one snap at center against the Ravens in Week 15. Andrews can also line up at guard and has played special teams, though spent most of '16 inactive. He seems like a bit of a Chip Kelly outcast at this point, although it's difficult to put him in a box with so little actual experience. Is Andrews somebody who simply hasn't been given an opportunity and could fill in capably for Kelce, or will the Eagles feel the need to find competition for his roster spot?

Aaron Neary
Age: 25*

Neary originally joined the Broncos roster as an undrafted rookie, but found his way to the Eagles practice squad following his release. The Eastern Washington prospect was a two-time All-American at the Division I-AA level. At 6-foor-1, 305 pounds, Neary is considered undersized, like Kelce, which suggests this organization wants nimble centers like that. While he's probably a ways away from having any impact, the Eagles signed Neary to a futures contract at the conclusion of the season.

* Age as of 12/31/2017