The Phanatic, Mike Trout and a Philly Dilemma For the Ages

The Phanatic, Mike Trout and a Philly Dilemma For the Ages

Last Thursday morning, the WIP Morning Show featured one of those deep, philosophical discussions that's long been synonymous with that show. Angelo asked the question that has dominated the sports discussion in Philadelphia, at the ballpark and at Memorial Day barbecues:

Would you trade the Phillie Phanatic for Mike Trout?

These are the questions that try men's souls. Obviously, we all want Trout. He's a 22-year-old outfielder who can do it all, on offense and defense. And even better, he's a hometown guy, who grew up in South Jersey, a mere 40 miles away from Citizen's Bank Park. Unfortunately, he's signed with the Angels until 2020, so we can't have him until then.

Unless, that is…. we surrender the big green guy.

Would you do it? Tempting as it is… I wouldn't. The Phanatic has two World Series rings, two more than Trout (and indeed, more than any Phillies player ever.) His contract is much more favorable. In all, the Phanatic is more indispensable than any player. Who's going to be the mascot in his place? Swoop? Phil E. Moose?

And worst of all, would you like to be the guy who has to tell the Phanatic he's going to Anaheim? I know I wouldn't.

In a trade for Trout, I'm willing to give up Ben Revere, John Mayberry, and possibly even Cody Asche. But not the Phanatic. No way.

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I know it's not entirely on him, but I can't help but vent my disappointment at Sam Hinkie, as the Sixers were only able to come up with the #3 pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. Clearly, they should have tanked more, or at least tanked smarter. Even worse, Hinkie once again refused to answer questions from the media after the lottery. Why can't Hinkie tell us, right now, who he's planning to draft? I think we're entitled as fans to that information.

You know why we got #3? Because the Sixers sent Dr. J, and not Allen Iverson, to represent them. The last time the Sixers got the #1 pick? It was Iverson. Plus, the after-party would have been way more fun.

I'm not sure who the Sixers will draft, but I think it's up to us fans to help them make their choice. So some of us- 30 or so- should get a bus up to New York, go to the draft, and sort of nudge the Sixers in the right direction. I see no downside to doing this.

Anyway, Charles Barkley said this week that he plans to retire from TV in two years and wants to be a GM. Do the right thing, Sixers- fire Hinkie, hire Barkley. Because at least you know he'll talk to the media.

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You know, now that I've thought about it, maybe we should try the Halladay/Lee thing: Trade the Phanatic for Trout and then, a year from now, re-sign the Phanatic as a free agent for six years and $126 million, and hope his elbow holds up. All right, sounds like a plan.

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Jon Stewart last week became the latest member of the national media to commit an anti-Philadelphia hate crime, making fun of our fans, cheesesteaks and (yes) even the Phanatic on his show.

I'd like to hear Stewart make those jokes while standing at the 50-yard line of the Linc during an Eagles game. Not so tough now, huh Jon?

Speaking of late night TV, The Tonight Show recently aired a segment in which Yankee fans were told to boo a life-sized cutout of ex-Yankee Robinson Cano, until the real Cano came out, and they all immediately back-tracked and hugged him. Please. Try that bit in Philly, with, oh, Bryzgalov or Andrew Bynum, and we'll keep right on booing the guy to his face.

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Okay, hypothetically, if we do this Trout/Phanatic deal- will the Angels take Papelbon's contract too?

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Also on the subject of vicious national media attacks on Philadelphia and its teams- can you believe the Sporting News named Ruben Amaro the worst general manager in baseball? Shame on them- calling him out as the worst general manager in baseball is OUR job.

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Okay, fine. Trade the Phanatic for Trout. I'll bite the bullet. Now, if we can just convince the Angels to trade the best player in the game for another team's mascot…

Other Philly sports takes:

- I was excited to hear the Phillies are planning to move Cody Asche to the outfield in 2015. Nobody likes to switch around players' positions, but if you're dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime talent like Asche, you've just got to find a way to keep his bat in the lineup.

- The Phillies are missing on-field intensity and killer instinct. That's what they get, for failing to invite Mitch Williams as a spring training instructor.

- I can't believe the Mets, in 2014, signed Bobby Abreu. How stupid can a team be?

- Connor Barwin of the Eagles said on the morning show a few weeks ago that he'll soon host an indie rock concert, to be attended by several of his teammates. If I were them I'd tell Riley Cooper the wrong night.

- It's hard to believe the Phils got no-hit, with Cesar Hernandez and Ben Revere in the lineup. Besides the no-hitter, the mysterious Cliff Lee injury, and the general, ever-present air of doom and gloom present every day at the ballpark, I'm actually feeling not so bad about this Phillies season.

Follow @FakeWIPCaller on Twitter.

Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations this season

Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations this season

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”