Contemplating "Plan B": What Do We Do If Bynum Never Plays and Then Leaves?

Contemplating "Plan B": What Do We Do If Bynum Never Plays and Then Leaves?

There's been a whole lot of talk about "Plan A" lately—the term Sixers
GM Tony DiLeo has used when discussing the Sixers' efforts to re-sign
Andrew Bynum in the off-season. Though DiLeo and team CEO Adam Aron have
backed off their commitment to "Plan A" a little given the increasingly
dire state of Bynum's injury and recovery progress, it still appears to
be their preferred course of action. This is fair, and if their doctors
(hopefully better ones than the last time around) give him the OK, even
after all we've gone through with Bynum this year, it still makes sense
that we'd try to bring him back—possibly on a max contract, possibly
for multiple years.


But rather than argue that, for this column, let's say that the team
decides not to go after Bynum. Let's say that they do a cost-benefit
analysis and deicde that the risk is just too high for the amount it'll
take to sign him, that the chances are just too low he'll be healthy and
productive for enough of a period of whatever contract he'd command to
make it worth putting all our chips in on him. And much as I still hope
we can make it work with Bynum (and think we should try), I don't
believe we should give him $100 million for five years if the chances
are minimal that he's gonna be fully healthy and productive for even one
of them. If we gotta walk away, then we gotta walk away.


But if walking away is the answer, then that will just lead to a
whole lot of further questions for the Liberty Ballers. With Bynum
officially out of the team's plans, the Sixers will still have a decent
amount of cap space, a couple very good trade assets, a handful of
players about to come off contract, and a gaping hole at center. It's an
intriguing mix, and there are a number of directions the Sixers can go
with it—none as satisfying as the Sixers maxing out Bynum, him regaining
his All-Star form and leading the Sixers to several championships with
everyone staying happy forever, but all with at least the slightest bit
of potential. Let's go over what they are, with our personal preference
at article's end.


Plan B1: Try to plug the hole at center with a big-name free agent. If
their incumbent big-name center isn't a viable option, perhaps the
Sixers will pursue another. Unfortunately, there's only a couple real
difference-makers besides Bynum available at this position, and the
biggest one (Dwight Howard) isn't terribly likely to consider a
sub-.500, mid-market team like the Sixers as a potential landing spot.
The only real All-Star (or borderline All-Star) caliber talent available
here is Jazz center Al Jefferson, a very productive post scorer (though
an occasional liability on defense) who the Sixers could conceivably
land with the $12 million or so the team will have in cap space, though
it's possible he'll command more on the open market.


Jefferson would give the Sixers their best, most consistent big-man
scorer in decades, though at at age 28 and with relatively unremarkable
athleticism, his ceiling is far lower than Bynum's. He would help the
team's floor balance significantly, but not make such a difference as to
catapult the Sixers into instant contention. But with Jefferson, plus
another year's development from our young core and a relatively high
pick in the draft to add to the rotation, it's possible the team could
push to the lower-middle region of the post-season picture in the East,
an understandably attractive idea to Sixers brass after the unmitigated
disaster of this season.


Plan B2: Draft a center, go after a difference-maker on the perimeter in free agency.
A cheaper and possibly higher-upside play for the Sixers than going
after a center on the open market would be to take one in the draft,
with their first-round pick likely to end in the #6-10 range. There
should be a number of interesting big men available in that
range—possibly not Nerlens Noel, who'll likely go top five, but possibly
Maryland big man Alex Len, a legit seven-footer with shot-blocking
skill and impressive mobility (though a bit of a raw game offensively),
as well as Indiana's Cody Zeller, a one-time number-one pick contender
whose stock has fallen some due to unremarkable play and positional
concerns up front. Neither is likely to be a star for the Sixers from
Day One, but either—particularly Len—could be a good long-term play for
Philly.


Meanwhile, worrying about the center position in the draft allows
the Sixers to try to fill holes elsewhere on the court in free agency.
There's not a ton of top perimeter talent on the market this summer, but
a reliable shooter like JJ Redick or OJ Mayo could give the team a
dimension they've been badly missing since Jason Rcihardson's injury,
and another young-ish player to augment the team's growing core. Again,
as with Jefferson, nobody here is likely to make the Sixers a contender,
but respectability is certainly not out of the question here.


Plan B3: Package assets for a big man in a trade. This is
pretty speculative,of course, but the Sixers will not be without trade
assets this off-season—they'll have Evan Turner on the last year of his
rookie deal, Thaddeus Young locked up for three remaining years on a
very reasonable contract, and the draft pick they'll get for their
tanking efforts, as well as the expiring deals of Spencer Hawes and
Kwame Brown. They could certainly attempt to package a handful of these
assets to try to pry loose a big man already on another team—like,
y'know, what they did to get the Funny-Looking Kid With the big Hair the
off-season prior. Maybe they can get LaMarcus Aldridge from the
Blazers? Maybe the Cavs would part with Anderson Varejao? Maybe the Jazz
would part with one of their young giants in a deal for perimeter
talent?


Of course, such deals are rare in the NBA—the Sixers were "lucky
enough" to pull one off last summer, but two in a row could be tough—and
they already gave up so many assets in the Bynum deal that the team may
be gunshy about attempting another one so quickly. But if the Sixers
don't like what they see from the free-agnet crop and are determined to
add an impact player this off-season by hook or by crook, trade might be
a more productive way to do so.


Plan B4: Try to work a sign-and-trade with Bynum to return assets.
As the team employing him on the verge of free agency, the Sixers still
have the advantage of being able to offer Bynum more money than anybody
else. So if he decides that he really wants to go to Dallas or Houston
or wherever, we can try to work out a sign-and-trade deal that results
in Bynum wearing a different uniform, but gives us some combination of
players, draft picks and trade exceptions for our effort. This could be
especially beneficial for an asset-rich team like the Rockets, who might
be willing to part with their now-redundant center Omer Asik in an
S&T, and/or possibly their troubled big man Royce White,  a solid
low-cost, high-upside play for the talent-strapped Sixers.


To an extent, this is something of a pipe dream—S&Ts rarely
result in the signing team getting even close to equal value for the
free agent, and usually just end up with teams getting low draft picks,
cap filler, and massive trade exceptions. Still, it's better than
nothing, and anything the Sixers could get in return for Bynum might
help assisting the rebuilding process. We'll need all the help we can
get at that point, certainly.


Plan B5: Stay put, liquidate all non-essential assets and try again next off-season.
As is often the case in the NBA, the best move to make this off-season
might be to not make one at all. The Sixers could, in theory, hold on to
their draft pick, play out the string with Turner and Hawes, try to
unload J-Rich's contract (and if need be, Thad's as well) stay flexible
with their cap space and spend another season as a likely lottery team.
At the end of it all, they'd have another (likely high) draft pick to
work with, they'd have another year's worth of on-and-off-court evidence
to decide whether or not Evan Turner is worth extending, and they'd
potentially have enough cap space to be a big player in the 2014 free
agent class, which is already being tabbed as potentially being on the
level of the famous 2010 class (and really will be if one or more of the
Heat's Big Three decide to opt out).


Staying patient another year in the NBA is always a tough sell,
especially to a fanbase coming off a disappointment as massive as this
year's Sixers campaign, and for a team CEO as desperately eager to do
right as Adam Aron. But in the NBA, if you're not gonna be contending,
you need to stay flexible, so that when a difference-maker becomes
available, you have the assets and cap space available to land him. (It
worked once for the Sixers, even if it ended up not really working at
all.)


Personally, I think Plans B2 and B5 are our best courses of action,
with B4 being a tantalizing idea if the circumstances work out just so. I
definitely don't want to tie up our cap space in a low-upside, Al
Jefferson-type play, but if the Sixers can add a mid-level shooter to
better the team in the short-term while leaving them flexible in the
long-term as we groom our center of the future, that seems like a decent
best-of-both-worlds option for the Sixers.


But of course, these are all still lousy alternatives to what we
thought we were getting when we traded three players and a draft pick
for Andrew Bynum last August. If there's any decent-ish chance of
getting some kind of production out of Bynum moving forward, I'd still
like to see if that trade can be redeemed. But if it's not...well, at
least we have options. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence would
probably find a way to stay upbeat about it, anyway.

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).

Peter Bourjos exits game with jammed right shoulder

Peter Bourjos exits game with jammed right shoulder

Updated: 10:55 p.m.

MIAMI — Phillies outfielder and trade candidate Peter Bourjos left Tuesday night’s game after running hard into the right field wall in the bottom of the first inning.

Bourjos had an X-ray, which was negative, and was diagnosed with a jammed right shoulder. It's unclear how long he will be out, but it seems likely he will miss several days.

"I just kind of jammed it into the wall and we'll see how it feels in the morning," Bourjos said after the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by Miami (see Instant Replay). "There was no fracture or anything so that's good news. Hopefully it's not too long. It's just more sore and stiff right now. I think if I get a few days out, hopefully it's doing better." 

Bourjos suffered the injury while making a nice running catch on a leadoff shot to the gap by Miami's Ichiro Suzuki, who entered the game just four hits shy of 3,000.

Bourjos hit his right shoulder against the wall as he made the catch and briefly went to his knees. He left the game in the second inning and was replaced by Jimmy Paredes.

It's unclear how the injury will affect Bourjos' status as a trade candidate. The injury comes less than a week before the trade deadline. Bourjos could be attractive to teams looking for an extra outfielder and moving him would open a spot for Aaron Altherr, who could come off the disabled list as soon as Thursday.

Bourjos raised his trade stock by hitting .402 (37 for 92) with a 1.086 OPS from June 6 to the All-Star break. He has since tailed off and was hitting .136 in 11 games after the All-Star break entering Tuesday night.

Despite the struggles, Bourjos remains a top defender, as evidenced by the running catch he made on Suzuki that resulted in his leaving Tuesday night’s game.

J.P. Crawford knocking on MLB's door after overcoming slow Triple A start

J.P. Crawford knocking on MLB's door after overcoming slow Triple A start

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — After a slow start at Triple A, J.P. Crawford is once again showing everybody why he's not only the top prospect in the Phillies organization, but also one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

Crawford's average was still hovering around or below .200 one full month into his promotion, and that was considered a sign of improvement. Then the 21-year-old shortstop got hot for real, batting .333 with seven multi-hit games during the month of July. His power has been coming around, too, socking all three of his home runs for Lehigh Valley over that span.

It probably was only a matter of time until Crawford's bat came alive. In fact, never before had he experienced such a deep, prolonged slump.

"It was tough," Crawford said Tuesday. "It was the first time I ever went through something like that, but thankfully I have good teammates to pick me up and keep me thinking positive. I just tried to stay within myself and I got out of it."

IronPigs manager Dave Brundage was one of the first to point out Crawford had never struggled to quite that extent, observing that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing that it happened either. Crawford agreed, adding that it's better to get the unpleasant yet inevitable experience out of the way now, before his highly anticipated arrival in the major leagues.

"I definitely would rather have it here than if I make it up there," said Crawford, notably not taking his eventual promotion to the Phillies for granted. "I'd rather learn from it now than suffer from it later."

Crawford entered Tuesday's IronPigs doubleheader batting .267 with a .341 on-base percentage and .356 slugging since his May 20 call-up. That's beginning to approach the numbers from his stint at Double A Reading, where he hit .265 with a .367 OBP and .416 slugging across parts of 2015-16.

As for what's changed, Crawford made some tweaks to his approach that helped him break out. Most of all, he's simply getting back to what made him successful in the first place.

"Just trying to stay within myself, as far as not trying to get three hits in one at-bat," Crawford said. "Recently been trying to put the ball hard back up the middle and it's been working.

"I'm just using less of my body and focused on using my hands more, like I'm used to, not thinking too much at the plate, staying confident in myself and just doing me."

Brundage suggests the reasons behind Crawford's initial struggles, aside from the challenge in making the jump to the next level, may have been a matter of circumstance for the left-handed batter.

"He had a little tough luck early on and was kind of getting his feet wet, just a lack of experience at this level," Brundage said. "I think he's getting himself more comfortable, he's feeling more comfortable with the bat, just trying to make some adjustments along the way and they seem to be working.

"He's had much better at-bats. That, and we haven't faced — not that he can't hit left-handers, because he's done a better job against lefties — but there for a run I think we faced nine out of 11 starters were left-handed against us, so that makes it a little bit tougher when you're trying to gain some experience, when you're trying to make it here at Triple A."

There's little doubt Crawford will get his first taste of the majors with the Phillies come September when the roster expands, if not sooner. He's now demonstrated he can hit at every level of the minors. There's only one step left to take, and that's up to the big leagues.

But Crawford isn't getting ahead of himself. He knows he's knocking on the door. He also understands what the expectations are once he gets there, and that there's a lot more hard work ahead.

"I mean, it's cool, but I'm trying not to think about it," Crawford said of an impending promotion. "I try to just go about my business, day by day, try to find a way to get better before the game and try to win the game that night."