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.

Nelson Agholor unlikely to play Eagles' preseason finale, even if he could use the work

Nelson Agholor unlikely to play Eagles' preseason finale, even if he could use the work

Starters typically don't play much if at all in the final preseason game, but what does that mean for the Eagles and Nelson Agholor?

Agholor may be a starter by default, but the second-year wideout has followed up a disappointing rookie campaign with an uninspired summer thus far. More reps might be of value for a young player in Agholor's position.

Doug Pederson apparently disagrees, telling reporters on Monday that Agholor "probably" won't make an appearance in the Eagles' preseason finale this Thursday against the Jets. When pressed for an explanation, the head coach gave a curious response.

"One, I don't want to risk an injury necessarily," Pederson said. "Two, he's right on track with where he needs to be, so I'm not concerned with Nelson."

Any assertion that Agholor is "on track" is debatable. The 2015 first-round pick has just two receptions for 30 yards in preseason action. To make matters worse, he's also dropped three passes, including a costly deflection that went for an interception against the Colts on Saturday.

Minimal production and lapses in concentration plagued Agholor throughout last season, and there's little evidence those issues are behind him. Regardless, Pederson sounds unconcerned.

"Every day he comes out here and puts in a quality day's work," Pederson said. "He works extremely hard, and I've seen what he can do in practice.

"Is there the occasional drop here or there? Yeah. What he did after the drop (against the Colts), you probably didn't notice the blocking downfield, the things he did away from the ball. More than being a receiver — obviously, catching the ball is number one — but we pride ourselves in being physical in the run game and blocks down the field, and the things he did in this football game put him in a really good position going into the regular season."

To his credit, Agholor has shown a willingness to contribute without the ball in his hands. The 23-year-old threw a key block on Josh Huff's eight-yard touchdown run on Saturday.

Of course, Agholor wasn't taken 20th overall for his ability to pancake defensive backs. The Eagles are hoping he can become a viable target in the passing attack.

Agholor has dealt with questions about his production and confidence going back to last year. He knows as well as anybody that he needs to improve, although he doesn't necessarily feel that growth needs to take place in an exhibition game.

"The most important thing to me right now is practice, and I got an opportunity to go out here and practice and progress from the game to today," Agholor said. "We went over some corrections from the game, so that was a step, and now when I go out here, I have to show signs of progression.

"(Coach Pederson's) decision is his decision. For my mind, I need to make sure I go out here today and get better as a football player."

But are Agholor's troubles holding on to the football correctable through practice? Drops are often attributed either to a receiver's hands or his concentration, both of which tend to be difficult flaws to overcome.

Concentration has been more to blame in Agholor's case. If there's a positive, he realizes that. Agholor looks at a drop like the one he had against the Colts that wound up going for an interception and tries to figure out exactly what broke his concentration on that play so that he won't make the same mistake again.

"As a wide receiver, when you watch that, the end result, the drop, isn't on my mind," Agholor said. "It's 'What was my route?' to go to that. Did I do too much to take my focus away from receiving that football? And I felt like I did.

"I felt like my pattern to get to the football — I made man moves and they were actually in a zone — and all those stairsteps made my eyes and my hands not be in the right place to receive the football at the right time."

Nobody is putting more pressure on Agholor to eliminate these mistakes than he is.

"That's what you have to do in this league, and that's what you have to do for a football team, especially when they count on you," Agholor said.

"My teammates count on me to be explosive with the football and without the football. I want to always do it with the football because that's my job. I'm a wide receiver. But as a player on the field, I have to make sure I'm explosive and I have to make sure I make plays without the ball in my hands too."

Perhaps that's why Pederson is showing so much faith in his young receiver. Work ethic has never been an issue for Agholor, and he's going to do whatever he can to become a reliable weapon for the Eagles. When he comes up short, it's not for lack of effort or preparation.

Fortunately, there's still time for Agholor to turn things around. If he can give the offense somewhat steady production in 2016, nobody will remember the preseason or even how he struggled as a rookie. Agholor realizes that too, so he's worried only about getting ready for opening day against the Browns on Sept. 11.

"I have a responsibility because I will be a guy that's out there," Agholor said. "In my mind, my number's going to be called multiple times and I need to answer the phone. That's how I look at it."

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres reportedly changes mind, will stand for national anthem

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres reportedly changes mind, will stand for national anthem

Several hours after telling ESPN that he would join Colin Kaepernick in not standing for the national anthem, Eagles rookie linebacker Myke Tavarres has apparently changed his mind. 

Tavarres' agent told FOX29's Chris O'Connell Monday afternoon that the linebacker will stand for the national anthem Thursday in the Eagles' preseason finale against the Jets.

All right then. 

For what it's worth, Crossing Broad found this picture from Tavarres a few weeks ago, when he certainly seemed to be pro-America.

Happy Independence Day!! 🇺🇸

A photo posted by Myke Tavarres (@myket14) on

Carson Wentz back at practice, frustrated he’s out for Eagles Thursday night

Carson Wentz back at practice, frustrated he’s out for Eagles Thursday night

Carson Wentz was on the fields at the NovaCare Complex wearing a helmet and ready to practice on Monday for the first time since fracturing his ribs on Aug. 11 against the Bucs.

He’s getting better. Just not quickly enough.

Despite being back at practice Monday afternoon, Wentz will not play in the Eagles’ preseason finale against the Jets on Thursday night. The original hope was that the No. 2 overall pick would be ready for the fourth preseason game.

“That’s a no-go for this week, but I’ll be ready for Week 1,” Wentz said.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said a CT scan on Wentz’s ribs showed one was completely healed, while the other was just 60 percent healed (see story).

Wentz said he expects to be fully healed by Sept. 11, when the Eagles open the season against the Cleveland Browns. But by then, he will have missed three of his four opportunities to play in the preseason. And, as the third-stringer, he won’t even be active on game days.

“It’s tough,” Wentz said. “With all injuries, it’s tough not being on the field, especially as a competitor coming in here, these preseason games were going to be big for me. It’s tough, it’s frustrating, but it just kind of is what it is.”

In his only game this preseason, Wentz went 12 for 24 for 89 yards and an interception. He also ran three times for 15 yards. During that game, he showed flashes of why the Eagles were so high on him, but it was just a taste.

After Thursday night, he will have spent the rest of the preseason as a spectator during games, taking mental reps instead of real ones.

Mental reps help, certainly. Wentz stands on the sideline and mentally inserts himself into the play. What would he do here? What would his read be there? What would he do with a certain protection?

“You’re really just trying to be locked in like you were the guy in the game,” he said.

Mental reps are great. But they don’t replace the real ones. Nothing does.

So while Wentz has been working to get better since going down with the ribs injury earlier this month, he’s lost valuable practice and game reps that he won’t get back. Pederson said once the season starts, the team can’t help him make them up because it will be too focused on getting the starters ready to play.

“You have to make the most of every opportunity you have in practice,” Wentz said. “I feel confident with where I am. Obviously, I missed the couple preseason games. I know when my number gets called, I’ll be ready.”

Pederson on Monday said he was less concerned about Wentz because Wentz is the third-string quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. That was the plan before Wentz’s injury. Then the injury cemented that plan.

Does Wentz have any hope that he’ll play during his rookie season?

“I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “It’s not up for me to decide. We’ve been talking about this forever now. I know I’ll be ready to go and I’m excited for when I’m back out there. Practicing today, I’m excited for that too.”