Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

After spending most of the trade deadlines in our lifetimes wondering which average to above average Phillies might soon end up on a contending team, we've enjoyed the past few seasons on the receiving end. More than just the elation of learning that a specific need-filling ballplayer was on his way to PHL, there was the satisfaction of knowing why. The Phillies have recently been a team for which late July was spent preparing for October. In 2012, we're reminded that's not always a given. 
The Phillies officially became sellers after a weekend series sweep to the Braves, and despite experience to the contrary, the feeling of watching our guys' names show up rumored to be headed elsewhere is alien. On the table are regulars and role players who might better fill a need on a team with fewer of them to fill. Some are guys previously bought this time of year, including one who got to ride on a parade float. Others were brought here to get us back. 
By 4 PM today, a WFC or two could be gone. All eyes will be on Ruben Amaro Jr as we wait to evaluate how strongly he can play while holding a losing hand. 
Joe Blanton appeared to be the closest to gone on trade deadline eve, but talks had already hit several snags. The Baltimore Orioles are 6.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and trying to ward off a close pack in the wild card race. They could use an innings eater, and they set their sights on Blanton. His medicals have already been sent. However, the Phils and O's reportedly disagree on how much—if any—salary funding will have to come to Baltimore with him. More than just the cash holdup, Amaro is said to want infielder Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore's third best prospect. Jon Heyman has a source saying the O's are declining to include Schoop. Even if he was never part of a possible package, you can bet you'll read and hear that name again every time fans are unhappy with today's actual returns. 
Blanton's never been the flashiest player in red pinstripes, but his impact when the Phillies ascended to their glory season in 2008 will never be forgotten. At least I hope not. The Phils weren't yet a team built on aces, and Blanton is a good reminder of what we thought at the time was a nice deadline pickup and how our expectations have changed since. Who knew we'd be watching him circle the bases in an October game he'd go on to win? You can probably remember exactly where you were when he did. 
Another WFC who might have already played his last game as a Phillie is Shane Victorino. 
With free agency looming, Vic isn't having what he hoped would be his contract-year production at the plate. Still, more than a few teams are interested in adding the Gold Glove centerfielder/sparkplug with playoff experience. We'll talk more about Vic's tenure as a Phillie if he actually gets dealt, and you can bet it will be a fond sendoff. What kind of return can we hope comes in exchange for the Flyin Hawaiian who once hit a postseason grand slam off of CC Sabathia? The reports have lately been sparse with details, but we're not expecting to be blown away. Early this morning, it seems the Dodgers are a favorite to land his services if he's dealt, according to reports by CBS Sports. Seeing him in that uniform would definitely draw a double-take. 
Last year's trade deadline prize for the Phils was Hunter Pence. We found out he'd be coming to Philadelphia just hours after the Eagles shocked the NFL by acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha. I remember getting texts while at PPL Park for a Union match, then scrolling through twitter and seeing it explode with news that Pence was hugging his Astros teammates in the dugout, saying goodbye after being traded to Philadelphia. One year and one cover of Philadelphia Magazine later, Pence is among those rumored to be on the block today. If so, it is doubtful he'll fetch a return equalling the package that brought him here, which included Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart. Ruben's asking price may be prohibitively high though, keeping Pence here at least until the winter market opens. 
Juan Pierre is getting attention as he keeps his batting average floating above .300. At 35, he'll cost less to acquire and pay for the rest of the season than the other Phillies' outfielders, though he could still be helpful for a team looking to add a bat at the top of the order. Utility man Ty Wigginton might be as attractive to a contender battling or insuring against multiple injuries as he was to the Phillies in the off-season. 
Cliff Lee appears unlikely to be dealt due to his $25 million annual salary, which when originally signed was labeled by some as Lee "taking less to play in Philly." Lee can also block a trade to 2/3 of the league (it is uncertain which teams are on the list), further limiting Ruben's options if indeed he wants to move him. In a losing Phillies season, Lee's salary is seen by some as an albatross to be shed, if possible, and the deal that previously sent Lee out of town is being remembered more vividly than the one that brought him here just before 2009's deadline day. Lee originally became a Phillie along with Ben Francisco in exchange for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson. He left town in December 2010 for JC Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies as the Phillies attempted to restock the cupboard. Both deals are solid examples of how hard it can be to judge talent before it nears MLB readiness. Despite a Lee trade having substantial barriers, part of his career destiny seems to be to change uniforms in a surprise move. If the Phillies are going to make a trade that lands them a valuable haul, he's the most likely piece to be headed the other way. Ken Rosenthal turned heads by mentioning Lee and other SP's in the same post as Justin Upton... Phillies Nation digs into the what-if
To date, dealing Major League talent for prospects hasn't been where Ruben Amaro Jr has made his name. Stocked with more cash than most opposing teams and a division-winning roster bearing few holes, he's shown his ability to add major pieces other clubs have made available. Prying away valuable prospects won't be as easy, and who knows if they even pan out. As we wait to hear which if any current Phillies will be shipped off in efforts toward bolstering the 2013-and-beyond rosters, we're hoping he can find a way to give us a makeshift Christmas in July and maybe even "win" at the table again. This year, it seems like a longshot. 
If not, we just hope he doesn't cave to a potential buyer's market and sell for the sake of selling. 

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

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Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

"HBK" is H-O-T:
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.

NBA Notes: Grizzlies hire Heat assistant David Fizdale as head coach

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NBA Notes: Grizzlies hire Heat assistant David Fizdale as head coach

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Grizzlies have hired David Fizdale as their new coach and will introduce him in Memphis at a news conference Tuesday.

Memphis announced the move Sunday. The hiring was first reported Thursday by The Associated Press and others. The Grizzlies did not disclose terms, but Yahoo! Sports reported Fizdale agreed to a four-year contract.

General manager Chris Wallace said in a statement that the Grizzlies are confident Fizdale is the right person to help Memphis build on its success.

Fizdale has spent the past eight years with the Miami Heat, the past two as assistant head coach to Erik Spoelstra.

The new Grizzlies coach says he feels fortunate to have worked with some of the NBA's greatest coaches and players and believes he's ready for the challenge of being a head coach (see full story).

Antetokounmpo brothers combine for 133 points in charity game vs. Porzingis
ATHENS, Greece -- NBA stars Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks battled it out in Athens in a game of streetball Sunday, watched by a crowd of 5,000.

Played in an open court in Greece's largest public high school, the "Antetokounbros Streetball Event" ended 123-123. No overtime was played.

Porzingis scored 21 points but was overshadowed by team member Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Giannis' older brother, who scored 69. The two had played for a few games together last season, when Thanasis was signed by the Knicks on a 10-day contract. Giannis Antetokounmpo led the other team with 64 points. The other players were a mixture of veteran pros and amateurs.

On Saturday, Porzingis and the Antetonkoumpo brothers were given a private tour of the Acropolis Museum (see full story).  

Watch Ben Simmons rainbow kick his way into your hearts

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Watch Ben Simmons rainbow kick his way into your hearts

Lately, you've heard and read a lot about potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and how he could be a Sixer soon. And you're going to hear and read a ton more about potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and how he could be a Sixer soon for the next three weeks and change.

But who cares about hearing and reading about him when we can actually watch him do some cool stuff instead?

Simmons posted the following video to his Twitter and Instagram accounts earlier on Sunday.

A lovely little strike on the pitch right past the keeper, something, something, Wayne Rooney, Leo Messi, Ronaldo's abs. That's the extent of my soccer knowledge. Though a guy who told me he knows some about soccer (I'll take his word for it) said that move is called a "rainbow kick." That sounds good. Let's go with that.

Simmons even tagged Messi in the Instagram vid. No response yet, though.

I like to think I know a little more about basketball than I do about soccer, so that swish after the rainbow kick was pretty nice.

I'm not sure how foot-eye coordination translates to NBA success. But seeing as how traveling doesn't really exist in the NBA anyway, maybe Simmonds can get away with it.

Oh, wait, I've got an idea: Imagine he and Jo-Jo, who likes himself some futbol, kicking it up the court then finishing it off with the rainbow-kick alley oop.

Yeah, that's the good stuff.