What Phillies can learn from Red Sox rebuild: Sign short-term deals, survive bad deals, keep players motivated

What Phillies can learn from Red Sox rebuild: Sign short-term deals, survive bad deals, keep players motivated

Last year, the Red Sox skidded to a 93-loss finish and, all things considered, one of the biggest underachievements in recent sports memory. This year, and after an 8-1 lathering of the Cardinals in Game 1, they're three wins from a World Series crown. No matter the outcome, they've already capped a turnaround that's nothing short of remarkable. Maybe among the best all-time. Maybe the best.

"How'd they do it?" ask Phillies fans, fresh off their team's 89-loss snoozer? Good question.

The answer, besides the obvious like, you know, preaching getting on base and offering the clubhouse a non-lunatic manager: By keeping guys financially motivated. And despite some failure.

Vaunted as Boston’s offseason rebuild has been, it’s hard to overlook the most significant similarities between the deals: (a) none offers any guarantees beyond next-next year, (b) a few ended in magnificent disaster.

Here's a reminder:


Joel Hanrahan, RP (acquired via trade on 12/26/12): Back to back All-Star Games for Pittsburgh despite absurd control issues in 2012 that resulted in baseball's second-highest BB/9 among relievers that year, his age-31 season. For some reason, this was deemed worth a former No. 6 overall prospect and Mark Melancon, who posted a 1.39 ERA in 72 appearances out of what became baseball's second best bullpen. And what did that deal, considered by some a coup for the Pirates, get for Boston? 7.1 innings, two blown saves, a 9.82 ERA, and one Tommy John surgery. Overall, less than good turnout.

Ryan Dempster, SP (two years, $26.5 million): Had decline written all over him, even before Texas traded for him at last year's deadline and his ERA blew up like Will Smith's face in "Hitch," to a 5.09 down the stretch. And decline Dempster did: 4.57 ERA in 32 starts before getting yanked from the rotation in September before the final stretch. Tough to crush Boston for Dempster's $13.25 million this year, given the comparable production vs. pay the Blue Jays, Nats and, yes, your Phillies got from Josh Johnson, Dan Haren and Jonathan Papelbon. And he did bean A-Rod. Still. Not so bueno on the whole.


Mike Napoli, 1B/C (one year, $5 millIon): Original deal was three years, $39 million. Then Boston realized that the 31-year-old former Angel and Ranger was basically running on a replica of Bo Jackson's hip. (Really.) This season, solid year. 4.0 WAR, seventh most among first basemen. 23 homers. Decent .842 OPS. All to temper his 32.4% strikeout rate, second-highest in baseball, Ended up getting great value, enhanced by his ability to let David Ortiz full-time DH. But remember, Boston was willing to pay a deal that would've carried AAV of $13M, Carlos Beltran's 2013 earnings. Of the seven players at the position to post a better OPS, only Joey Votto would've earned more per year. Value, but only as a function of fortune.

Jonny Gomes, DH/OF (two years, $10 million): End of the day, any 11 year vet earning $5 million per is small potatoes. Still, Gomes' .247/.344/.426 line tells you all you need to know: plate patience matters, especially for fringe guys. If he qualified, his 3.87 pitches per plate appearance would've only ranked 11th of 22 AL outfielders. But imagine what Gomes' on-base percentage, on par with Ben Revere, who hit .305 this year, would've been without it. In short, valuing walks isn't "Moneyball." In 2013, it's just "smart."


Koji Uehara, RP (one year, $4.5 million): Not much to say "nay" about here. 3.3 WAR, most among relievers. 11.22 K/9, best among relievers. 21 saves in 24 opportunities, after taking over for Andrew Bailey, who replaced the injured Joel Hanrahan. 2013 ALCS MVP. Had a $4.25 million 2014 option (55 appearances) vest mid-season. Even though he'll be 39, don't think Sawx fans are complaining.

Shane Victorino, RF (three years, $39 million): Oh, Shane. Tough for Phillie fans to swallow. Career-worst year in 2012 that somehow further slipped after he was traded to the Dodgers. Funny, though. Guy struggles heftily in not one, but two, over-paid, arguably bad clubhouses, goes to one with the proper chemistry and motivation and posts a career-high .294 average, solid .802 OPS and, best of all, 5.6 WAR, in the neighborhood of soon-to-(maybe?)-be $300 million man Robinson Cano, who played 38 more games.

Stephen Drew, SS (one year, $9.5 million): Posted the same 3.4 WAR as Milwaukee's Jean Seguara, and a better OPS, despite not qualifying for the batting title. (WAR is a cumulative stat, so yeah, that's impressive.) Not bad for a No. 8 hitter, where he batted for most of the season. On defense, average range, but a sure glove that was third-best at the position. Very, very  much worth the coin.


Who could forget about The Trade, which shed $250 million in salaries through 2018 and three guys who, in their own words, even a half-year later, didn't quite jell with the rest of the clubhouse: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. For Phillies fans green with envy over their team's bad contracts, consider, Ruben Amaro may have had the chance. Remember, trade actually centered on Los Angeles' waiver claim of Gonzalez and Beckett. Two weeks earlier, the Dodgers put in a claim on Cliff Lee. Can we confirm that conversations between GM Ned Colletti and Amaro involved a similar megadeal, for, say, Lee, Ryan Howard (a buy-low move for a high-upside guy coming off injury that would've been perfect for the first base-needy and farm system-poor Dodgers) and Papelbon (Brandon League was soon to be an UFA, and, in the first year of a three year, $22.5 million deal, owner of a 5.30 ERA)? No. But you'd be foolish to disregard the coincidence.


Midseason deals often matter just as much, if not more, as those struck in the offseason. And credit the Red Sox: despite Peavy's 4.28 ERA with the White Sox in the first half, and only marginally better 4.08 in Boston after, he provided security for a team parched for pitching depth, considering Clay Buccoltz' health and Dempster's stuff. He was a No. 4 ideally, a No. 3 in a pinch. Was he worth Jose Iglesias, the slick-fielding and average-reliant shortstop that went to Detroit? Maybe, considering Boston was higher on SS Xander Boegarts anyway. Maybe not. Still, the fact that they (a) addressed a position of need, (b) got production comparable to what Peavy had been doing pre-trade, (c) orchestrated the always tough three-team deal and (d) preyed on the desperation of not one, but two teams (Detroit needed to fill the void soon to be gashed by SS Jhonny Peralta's 50-game PED ban, and Chicago just kind of sucks/needs to rebuild), it's safe to call this a success.


Any time you can get a guy you're paying $82.5 million over five years to bounce back from a career-high 6.41 ERA two years prior AND Tommy John surgery one year prior to win 10 games and post a 3.52 ERA as your No. 3 (and, given Buccoltz' issues, often a No. 2), you're got fortune on your side. Especially when your current management group wasn't responsible for the signing, from 2009. The lesson: good luck never hurts.


So, what's there to learn in all of this?

(1) Don't spend lots of money/prospects on one or two guys that you can spend on, like, 10. In baseball, deals not working out isn't a risk. It's an occupational hazard. Here, in what may be considered the greatest fixer upper in sports history, you'll note that two of the seven deals (for $20 million in salary this year and some really, really good prospects) ended in utter catastrophe. A third, Napoli's, could've been quite meh quite easily. For Phillies fans consumed by the big market mentality that, when it comes to free agency, your spending of a lot of money on tickets/jerseys/memorabilia should correspond to the front office's spending of a lot of money on "marquee" names, no, the top prospect on the market probably isn't worth it. Money -- any money, let alone Howard/Pujols/Hamilton/Cano money -- is often "bad money" by default. Especially since...

(2) Make sure your players, and front office execs, are properly motivated. Short-term deals create incentives. Urgency. Desperation. Sure, much can be said about Boston adding personalities, character, chemistry. But how much of that is the result of their individual financial situations? Give a guy bazillions of dollars over a decade, it's impossible for him to be as motivated as he is with the carrot still dangling in front of him. He's also likely to have more camaraderie with the guys around him, most of whom are in the same, disleveraged position. This doesn't make athletes bad people, it makes them human. Which means the same incentives should work the same way on just about everybody.  Brief deals also helps cushion the blow of bad deals (which we just established are inevitable) and turn over the roster, which is especially great if you've got viable prospects up the pike like, say, Franco, Hernandez, Asche, Galvis. Giving such guys a clear path not only motivates them, seeing as they're only months? weeks? days? from "the call," it holds the front office and scouting department accountable. They have to find and cultivate talent, because sometime in the not too distant future, they'll need to use it. (Like, say, this year's other World Series participant.)

As for Victorino, pouncing on a high character guy coming off a dreadful year was savvy. It also shows how Boston executed the other part of this "give guys incentive" strategy. His motivation here wasn't the money -- he has what may be his last significant contract. It was restoring his reputation, something you have to wonder whether guys without the opportunity for a fresh start, and locked into five-year, gadzillion dollar deals, worry about. Especially when there are, like, 10 of them not worrying about it in the same room.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MKH973 Catch him every Saturday from 12-2 on 97.3 ESPN-FM. 

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Taking in return, Ryan White moves on but will always remember Flyers

Ryan White was whisking by to the visiting locker room when he had to stop.
With huge delight, the long-haired forward hugged a Flyers employee in bright orange athletic gear standing outside the laundry room. 
The two exchanged hellos and good wishes before White’s path was impeded again.
None of this was a nuisance. This is what he loved.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I miss here in Philly is the people around the rink are great,” White said late Thursday night inside the Wells Fargo Center. “The guys from the locker room attendants to the security guys to people taking care of my girlfriend and stuff like that. It’s a special place to play and I always felt like I was welcomed here.”
White had just scored his first goal of the 2016-17 season. All offseason, he hoped and planned for the occasion to be in a Flyers sweater. He talked about his endearment for the organization trumping the worth of money elsewhere.
But on Thursday night, he was wearing an Arizona Coyote uniform and, what he called, “putting the final nail in the coffin” of a 5-4 loss for the Flyers.
“It feels good scoring here,” he said.
Not at all how he pictured it.
Playing fourth-line minutes (8:09), White somehow snuck a shot past Steve Mason from a nasty side angle with 4:19 remaining in regulation, making it 5-3 and virtually snuffing another Flyers comeback bid.
“Any time you’re coming back playing your old club, you want to make sure you get a win. … I loved playing as a Flyer, it was a lot of fun playing here,” White said. “Guys over there are a great group of guys, good coaching staff, good people in the organization. It’s just a special place to play.”
It’s where White wanted to be but he holds no ill will towards general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers. Hextall liked and expressed interest in re-signing White, a role-playing fourth-liner, but went out and inked free-agent right winger Dale Weise (four-year, $9.4 million deal), more of a third-line player with similar attributes.
That signaled White’s end with the Flyers after two seasons.
“I think I’d be crazy if I didn’t want to come back here, it just didn’t work out,” White said. “I’m just happy I’ve gotten a chance to play in Phoenix and it’s been pretty good so far.”
White on Wednesday night caught up with former Flyers teammates Radko Gudas and Michal Neuvirth. While with the Flyers, he lived in the same building as the two. They all had dinner and White got to visit Gudas’ baby daughter.
On the ice, White, gritty and physical-minded, made his presence felt. He was penalized in the second period for charging Nick Cousins. He was also called for a delay of game penalty in the final two minutes for closing his hand on the puck. The Flyers scored on the power play, ironically turning White’s goal into the gamer-winner.
“He told me he just wanted the winning goal,” Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said with a laugh. “So that’s all that counts.”
White enjoyed the rough-and-tough nature against his old friends. 
“All those guys play hard, they know how the game goes,” he said. “I had a little conversation with Gudy last night at dinner and he said, ‘You’re going to be running around out there.’ I figured it would be no other way. You’ve got to expect that coming from those guys, they’re a hard group over there.
“Those guys know how I play and they all play the same way, too, so it was fun.”
He also appreciated seeing the Flyers Heritage Night pregame ceremony honoring the organization’s legends, led by late founder Ed Snider. White kept tabs on the Flyers’ home opener last week when a banner commemorating Snider was raised to the rafters.
“I even heard about the first game coming back, it was pretty emotional in here,” he said. “It was a pretty special time playing here with Mr. Snider around. I think he’ll obviously be forever missed and like I said, it was just special to be a part of it.”
White wasn’t sure what to expect in his return. In the end, he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s funny, I thought maybe coming back here, it would be a little bit different,” White said. “But they’re a pretty welcoming group and it’s nice to be here.”
Even if it’s just for one game.

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

Rod Brind'Amour relishes night with Eric Lindros, Flyers alumni

When he was introduced at center ice Thursday night, Rod Brind’Amour, who epitomizes what it meant to be a Flyer perhaps like no other player in franchise history, acknowledged the crowd.
And then the current Carolina assistant coach walked over to former teammate Eric Lindros and hugged him.
There were indeed some awkward moments for the two back in the 1990s, but they remain Flyers forever and this was Heritage Night for the organization’s Hall of Famers in celebration of their 50th Anniversary.
“You know I haven’t seen him in forever, and it was just fun and when we got out there we just said, ‘nice to be back on the ice again’, it’s been a long time and I haven’t seen him,” Brind’Amour explained of the gesture toward Lindros. 
“I saw Johnny [LeClair] last year but it was just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories, we had a lot of great times so it was nice to see him.”
How ironic that Brind’Amour would get traded to Carolina for a larger centerman in Keith Primeau and eventually after the pain of separation from the Flyers womb had healed, he won a Cup with the Hurricanes.
Ask Roddy and he’ll tell you that Cup should have been won in Philly. He began the season as a member of the 1999-00 team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals, but was traded at the mid-point.
To this very day, it ranks all-time as the most controversial trade the Flyers ever made. As if the very soul of the organization had been purged.
“Well I mean that’s the way it goes, right?” Brind’Amour said. “We had a great team. We had a great team back then, but trades happen and they were trying to make the team better. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, but had we stayed together who knows what could have happened.
“I’m just fortunate that I got that Cup because obviously, that is what I played for my whole life. Would it have been great to have it here? Yes, I mean that would have been something special, but that’s life. It doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
“It was just unfortunate we didn’t win because we were one of the best teams in the league there for a long time and things just didn’t work out. It’s hard to win a Stanley Cup, let me tell you.”
He admitted there’s an orange ‘n black spot in his heart that will forever belong to the Flyers. That’s why he interrupted his own season in Carolina to return here for one night of memories.
He also said how much it meant to him last spring when club chairman Ed Snider reached out to him shortly before his death.
“I got a great phone call before Mr. Snider passed and him telling me what he thought I meant to this team,” Brind’Amour said. 
“It meant a lot. So I really feel connected to the Flyers' organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back here and be a part of it.
“It has meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold. I love the alumni … so, any chance to get to reconnect with these guys means the world to me.”
Which is pretty much how Flyers fans felt about him, too.