Six years after meeting in World Series, Phils and Rays reunited at other end of baseball spectrum

Six years after meeting in World Series, Phils and Rays reunited at other end of baseball spectrum

It shouldn't much surprise you at this point to hear that the Philadelphia Phillies are the proud owners of the worst record in the National League. Losers of eight of their last nine games, already shut out six times at home this season, with their best pitcher on indefinite injury leave and the rest of the rotation in tatters, this is not anybody's idea of a good baseball team, or even an average one. You might not have thought going into the season that over a week into June, the Phillies would have a worse record than the Cubs or Marlins--I certainly wasn't that pessimistic--but it doesn't feel all that wrong either. This is who the Phillies are at this point.

What might surprise you a little bit, if you're not terribly invested in the happenings of the Junior Circuit, is that the Phils do not have the worst overall record in the majors. At 24-40--2.5 games worse than our Fightins--that distinction belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays.

In 2008, when the Phillies and Rays met in the World Series, and the couple years afterwards, it seemed like the Rays were set up in a way the Phillies were not to contend almost in perpetuity. Unlike the Phillies, who quickly grew a taste for cashing in their younger prospects for veteran lineup-fillers of immediate use--occasionally to our own detriment, as Kulp expertly detailed earlier today--the small-market Rays recognized the value of both homegrown talent and bargain-bin free agency shopping. They drafted well and developed their own players with seemingly endless patience, signed them to long deals early in their careers if possible to avoid potentially bigger payouts down the line--rather than, say, waiting until they hit their primes and then signing them to nine-figure extensions before they even got to test the market--and either let them walk or traded them for further prospects once they became too expensive, beginning the cycle all over again.

The result was a team that always seemed to be able to answer its own questions without much outside help. Rather than acquire Cliff Lee or Hunter Pence for a big playoff push, they could just call up Matt Moore or Desmond Jennings and get a similar jolt, without potentially compromising their future plans or binding themselves to any big-money commitments. It was a strategy birthed out of necessity--the Rays didn't have the money to spend like the Phillies did, even if they wanted to--but one that seemed far more sustainable for success than the Phils' unapologetic spending.

And up until this year, it has been. The Rays have yet to make it back to the World Series, but in the five full seasons since '08, they've made the playoffs three times--no small feat in the ultra-competitive AL East--and have yet to finish below .500. From the '08 roster, only four players remain (and one, reliever Grant Balfour, spent several years in Oakland in between), but with one of the game's top GMs in Andrew Friedman and one of the most respected, creative coaches in Joe Maddon, the actual lineup fielded in Tampa from a year-to-year barely seems to matter. The Rays never have a particularly formidable lineup on paper, but they get on base, they defend well, they find good bullpen arms for cheap and they always have another young flamethrower or two to call up to keep their starting rotation formidable.

Again, up until this year. This finally looks to be the year that a gear or two have clamped up in the normally smooth-running Rays machine. Slugging has rarely been a particular organizational strength in Tampa, but this year it's been so bad that their top power-hitting regulars have been Sean Rodriguez (a utility infielder and career .368 slugger) and David DeJesus (93 homers in 5512 career plate appearances). The power pitching, normally a given with the Rays, has been short-circuited by injuries to starters Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, a rough start by longtime staff ace David Price, and the stalled development of prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Even the fielding has been borderline-disastrous.

The potential for bounceback is there for Tampa, but at 16 games under .500 and 14 games out of first place, contending this year is looking more and more unrealistic a goal. In the meantime, the potential looms for a trade of the Cy Young-winner Price before he hits free agency after the 2015 season and becomes far too expensive for them to keep, the sort of move necessary for the Rays' small-market operation but one that would certainly seem to signal a throwing in the towel on this possibly already-lost season.

It's fascinating to me that the Rays and Phillies have, for the time being at least, ended up in the same place, despite taking such divergent paths to get there. The Rays exercised precaution and frugality and taking the long view, always making sure they were prepared for tomorrow and always leaving themselves outs. The Phillies went big on a number of short-term bets, leaving them with relatively few chips to work with, but not humbling them enough to get them to stop throwing good money after bad. Yet six years after they were both at the league's apex, here they both are in the cellar. To quote Harold Ramis via John Cusack, "You do one thing, you do another... I mean, so what? What's the difference? Same result."

Is there anything to actually be learned from this? Probably not. The Rays have hit on a historic confluence of player regression and bad luck, but it's unlikely to last forever. Evan Longoria and Wil Myers will probably start hitting again (if they can stay healthy, anyway), Moore and Hellickson will return eventually and Price will start to look more like the perennial Cy Young contender he's been for the past decade. The errors by their normally surehanded defenders will probably come down. This could all just be an example of the random cruelty of baseball, where a team can start the season as the consensus favorite in their division and end up at the bottom of the standings, with their season as good as done just over two months in.

Then again, maybe it's just part of another lesson: Nothing lasts forever in sports. While it would be silly to let a couple months of bad baseball have you write off the Rays entirely, it's also possible that some of their prospects just haven't panned out as they planned, and in the meantime, Tampa no longer has one of the league's most vaunted farm systems--in fact, at 26th, they ranked one below even Philly in Baseball-Prospectus' preseason estimation. You do what you can stay as competitive as possible as long as possible--the Phils had the way they thought made sense for them, and the Rays had theirs--but eventually, hard times fall on just about everyone.

Of course, you'd still trade the Phils' five-year outlook for that of the Rays in a heartbeat--they have the better recent history, they're still mostly young at their core, they still have guys making decisions with a proven track record of being among the better minds in the business. And if there's one thing that really separates the two teams--beyond the Phils' embarrassingly bigger budget, anyway--it's that while 2008 was obviously a very long time ago for both teams, the Rays are the one that has long seemed cognizant of that fact, and willing to move on from it. The sooner the Phils can get there as well, the less dire their future will seem.

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

NFL Notes: Rams release former Eagles QB Nick Foles

IRVINE, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams have released quarterback Nick Foles after failing to find a trade destination for the disgruntled quarterback.

The Rams announced the move Wednesday, one day before their veterans report to training camp.

Foles hasn't been around the Rams since they traded up to choose California quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 pick in the draft this spring. The veteran skipped offseason workouts while Los Angeles attempted to trade him.

Foles spent just one season with the Rams, who acquired him from Philadelphia in a trade for Sam Bradford. Foles started 11 games for St. Louis last season, throwing for 2,052 yards and seven touchdowns for the NFL's worst passing offense.

Goff and veteran Case Keenum are competing for the starting job at training camp.

Panthers: Former Eagles S Kurt Coleman extended 3 years
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers have signed safety Kurt Coleman to a three-year contract extension through the 2019 season.

Coleman led the Panthers and finished tied for third in the NFL with career-high seven interceptions in his first season in Carolina last year. He contributed to a team that ranked sixth in the NFL in total defense and led the NFL in interceptions (24), takeaways (39) and points off turnovers (148).

The 28-year-old Coleman finished third on the team with 103 tackles. Financial details were not released Wednesday.

Coleman called the contract a blessing, saying "when you go through situations you want what's best for your family and what's best for the team, and I'm really excited. I'm fortunate to be a part of this team for three more years."

Ravens: Jake Long signs 1-year contract pending physical
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have reached an agreement with veteran offensive lineman Jake Long on a one-year contract, pending the condition of his oft-injured right knee.

Long played in four Pro Bowls after being selected by Miami as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.

But he played sparingly in just four games with Atlanta last year after tearing his right ACL in back-to-back seasons.

The contract won't be official until the Ravens receive more information on Long's knee. He will visit Dr. James Andrews to receive an assessment of the knee, coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday.

The Ravens are willing to sign the 31-year-old Long if they're not on the hook to pay him for the entire season if he's forced out with another knee injury.

Baltimore has been looking for another tackle since releasing Eugene Monroe last month.

Vikings: 5-time All-Pro Kevin Williams to retire
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings have signed five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams to a one-day contract so he can formally retire as a member of the team.

The Vikings announced the news Wednesday. Williams will finalize his retirement Thursday after 13 seasons, including 11 with Minnesota.

Taken with the ninth pick in the 2003 draft by the Vikings from Oklahoma State, Williams is eighth in team history with 60 sacks. His 171 regular-season starts are the most all time by a Vikings defensive tackle, and his five interceptions are tied for the most by a defensive tackle in NFL history.

Williams played for NFC champion Seattle in 2014 and New Orleans in 2015. He was picked for six Pro Bowls.

Jets: Bernard Pierce signed; Zac Stacy waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets are signing running back Bernard Pierce and waiving running back Zac Stacy, who failed his physical after missing the last half of last season with a broken left ankle.

Pierce ran for just 11 yards on six carries in seven games last season with Jacksonville after spending his first three NFL seasons with Baltimore. He ran for a career-best 532 yards as a rookie with the Ravens in 2012 after being a third-round pick out of Temple.

Pierce was released by Baltimore in March 2015, when he was charged with drunken driving. He was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville the next day.

The NFL announced in May that Pierce will be suspended for the first two games of this season, likely stemming from the DUI arrest.

Stacy ran for 89 yards in eight games for the Jets last season, but he was lost for the rest of the season in November when he broke his ankle on a kickoff return.

Doug Pederson not worried about Eagles' young linebacker corps

Doug Pederson not worried about Eagles' young linebacker corps

With another one of his players, Nigel Bradham, landing himself in off-field trouble (see story), Doug Pederson was predictably peppered with questions about how he handles player conduct Wednesday after Day 3 of Training Camp at the Novacare Complex.

On the field, his resources at the linebacker position may become a larger concern depending on Bradham’s legal situation. After the Eagles cut linebacker Travis Long from the 90-man roster, Pederson insisted he still feels positively about the team’s linebackers.

“I love the fact that we got three starters coming in," Pederson said. "Of course you mentioned Nigel [Bradham], and Jordan Hicks is coming back healthy and ready to go, and Mychal Kendricks. And I tell you, Joe Walker has done a great job for us this offseason, and he’s going to put himself in a great position to be a solid backup. And we got some young guys there, but at the same time, we’re going to continue to monitor that position and just watch and see, and keep upgrading if we can. But right now, very pleased with the work these guys have done in the offseason, what the rookies have shown these last three days, and just look forward to putting the pads on.”

Pederson is right when he says the Eagles have “some young guys” at linebacker. In fact, backup Najee Goode, 27, is the oldest returning player at the position. Bradham, who the team signed to a two-year deal from Buffalo in the offseason, is 26 years old, while Kendricks is 25 and Hicks, the team’s leading tackler last year as a rookie before his season-ending pectoral tear, is only 24. Walker is an Oregon product and one of the team’s three seventh-round picks. He’s 23 years old.

Scanning over that depth chart probably makes the average fan a bit uneasy. Yet according to Pederson, he’d be content entering the season with his current personnel at linebacker, even if that means Goode, a player with 32 NFL games, one start, and 24 tackles, is his most experienced player.

“If you had to go into the season that way, yeah, I’m comfortable with [Goode]," Pederson said. "Would you like to continue to have more depth at that position, and at any position? Sure. But yeah, I’m very comfortable with him.”

After releasing Long, who Pederson says the Eagles wanted to “give an opportunity to catch on with another football team,” it left the team with 89 players. On Wednesday afternoon, the Eagles filled the 90th spot by signing wide receiver David Watford (see story).

Unless they pull off a surprising move, the Eagles will likely settle for the linebacker rotation they have. They may be young, injury-prone, and legally embattled, but Bradham, Kendricks, Hicks, Walker and Goode will probably be the players anchoring the middle of the Eagles’ defense this season.

Eagles put Ryan Mathews on non-football injury list, sign WR David Watford

Eagles put Ryan Mathews on non-football injury list, sign WR David Watford

Many fans are worried Ryan Mathews won't be able to stay healthy this season. 

Well, it's a day before the first full-team practice and the running back is already hurt. 

The Eagles placed Mathews on the Active/Non-football Injury list Wednesday. The Eagles say he hurt his ankle last week while training. 

Mathews, 28, can be activated at any time, but can't practice while he's still on the list. The severity of the injury is unclear, but seems to not be severe, as Mathews was seen walking into the team facility this afternoon without a noticeable limp. 

Without their starting running back, the Eagles will be giving more reps to Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner and a couple of undrafted rookies as practice continues Thursday. 

The Eagles also filled out their roster, signing wide receiver David Watford. Watford, who was a QB at Hampton University, was with the Eagles during rookie camp on a tryout basis this spring. They're now at 90. 

Every Eagle on the roster has now reported to training camp, except long snapper Jon Dorenbos, who has been competing (doing magic) on the NBC show "America's Got Talent." His absence was excused and he's expected to make himself appear at the facility Thursday. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said he's pulling for Dorenbos in the show, but was asked about the show will conflict with the training camp schedule. 

"We've just got to see," Pederson said. "Obviously, he went through this show and he'll be back tomorrow for the conditioning test. We'll just go day-by-day and just see where it ends up in the next couple of days."