Dear Sixers: Pick Up The Phone, Call Mitch Kupchak, Make This Offer

Dear Sixers: Pick Up The Phone, Call Mitch Kupchak, Make This Offer

Sixers CEO Adam Aron has previously offered me -- well, all of us -- the opportunity to play fantasy general manager for his basketball team. Today, I'm accepting his invitation.

Pau Gasol.

Andre Iguodala.

The Sixers have every reason to call. And the Lakers have every reason to listen.

Background
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is openly shopping Gasol in an effort to reshape his roster following the second round beating delivered by the Thunder. You may also remember that Gasol was nearly traded to the Rockets immediately before last season, and would now be in Houston if not for the controversial rejection of a three-way deal that would have sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles -- the other Los Angeles.

Of course, moving the remaining two years of Gasol's contract, worth $38 million, is also a motivation for a Laker front office with well-documented tax concerns. That said, unless they're going to work out a multi-team deal with some wonderful trade exceptions and a whole lot of moving parts, they're going to have to take a fair portion of his salary back, per league rules.

Andre Iguodala fits the Lakers. His name has been brought up in discussions describing potential deals for Gasol, but it's never seemed like anything more than a "this guy's name is bantered around quite a bit, his salary matches close enough to work, and he fills a legitimate need for L.A." kind of suggestion. Then again, why does there need to be anything more?

I'll repeat: His salary matches close enough to work, and he fills a legitimate need for L.A. Then there's what Gasol brings to the Sixers. Let's take this apart in sections.

The Terms
A straight up Iggy-Pau swap wouldn't have worked previously. Last year, the deal would have pushed the Sixers over the Luxury Tax and the salaries would have fallen $500,000 outside the 125 percent + $100,000 threshold that needs to be satisfied once a team heads beyond the cap . If the deal was going to happen, the Sixers would have had to send something extra, like the $1.6 million they were paying Nik Vucevic during his rookie year. This decision, both financially and on the floor, made sense. More on it in just a second.

But once these contracts rollover to their 2012-13 values, they get close enough to work on their own. Gasol receives an only $285,000 raise while Iggy's contract escalates about $1.2 million. It's a gap larger than $500k, which means it works.

That said, if Vucevic isn't included in the deal, the Sixers have a logjam under the basket and the Lakers get a lot shorter. His contract clears a bit of extra salary for the Sixers, prevents the logjam, and provides the Lakers with height in return and a team option to terminate after just one year. His addition is obviously a negotiating point and there are other options. (Note: Just as a matter of full disclosure, and as reader Stu points out, Gasol does have a 15% trade kicker if he were to be swapped, bumping his salary to around $22 million per as a Sixer. The kicker does not impact the salaries matched in the deal, however).

Why It Makes Sense for Los Angeles
Starting with the Lakers, they desperately need a primary defender to take shift responsibilities away from an aging Kobe Bryant. If Los Angeles is going to maximize what's left of Kobe's career, they're going to need someone to lessen his burden on his own side of the timeline. Iguodala is an elite defender, one of the five best at guarding the perimeter in the league and is in serious consideration for an Olympic bid because of it. For 82 nights a year, plus the playoffs, he can cover the other team's best player, assuming his knees allow him to, though potential injury is part of literally any scenario. Worst case, he and Bean split it even at 41.

Moreover, the Thunder have clearly emerged as the new power in the Western Conference. The Lakers will, more likely than not, have to go through OKC if they're getting back to the Finals in pursuit of Kobe's sixth ring and their 17th NBA title. Bryant isn't going to get a pass on playing D for the rest of his career, nor, with the way he's wired, would he want one; so when it comes time to match up with Durant, Westbrook and Harden on D, they will be better prepared than they are now.

Speaking of what they have now, they get an immediate upgrade at the small forward spot by replacing Ron Artest. Quick stats from last season:

    Artest: 26.9 MPG, 3.4 Reb, 2.2 Ast, 7.7 Pts
    Iguodala: 35.6 MPG, 6.1 Reb, 5.5 Ast, 12.4 Pts

Of course, if this hypothetical deal were to go through, the Lakers would need to come up with a solution for the remaining two years and $15 million on Artest's contract. How they handle that is their business.

As for the benefits of Vucevic, in return for the departing Gasol, the Lakers get back a 7-foot big, who can back up center Andrew Bynum, a guy with a litany of injury issues, and some usable height at the 4, should they opt to use him in that capacity. Of course, he was also a first round pick in 2011, so we'll finish with the word "upside."

Oh, and they save $4 million over the next two seasons assuming Iggy plays both years. If he goes early termination in the summer of 2013 (unlikely, but you never know), they save a boatload. Actually, go read that link about their tax situation. It's horrifying.

Why It Makes Sense for Philly
Gasol immediately becomes one of the five best bigs in the Eastern Conference and makes the Sixers very long and very versatile. A backcourt of Holiday and Turner (plus additions) is paired with any combination of Young, Turner and Harkless at the 3 and Young, Gasol, Moultrie, Allen and possibly Vucevic between the 4 and 5 (I'm leaving Elton Brand out of his equation for an obvious reason, which we'll get to). Moreover, Gasol fits this team both in transition and in the half-court. Not only can he run the floor, but he creates passing and scoring options out of the post.

The Sixers will need to fill out the rest, particularly in the backcourt, with or without Gasol, but this trade would suddenly make Elton Brand and his contract even more interesting. The Sixers could keep Brand if they wish, so long as their additions don't force them to the tax, and have great depth under the basket, or trade him or amnesty him.

The trade or amnesty options are the fun parts. Truth be told, I'm not trading for Pau Gasol just to stop there.

Look at the teams you consider title contenders around the NBA. Now look at your Sixers. I love this team and loved watching them give the Celtics everything they had, but they're not a serious threat with this roster and we all know it. To win a championship, they need a serious paradigm shift and Gasol gives them that shift. For two seasons, Pau Gasol gives the Sixers a window to change their immediate future, because Gasol makes Philadelphia, almost overnight, a destination.

There are two roads through the Eastern Conference, one is through Miami and the other through Chicago. On the next tier down, Boston is on the decline, Indiana the incline, New York the always possible incline and Atlanta constantly middling. The Sixers, even if they prove to hang with the Celtics, Pacers, Knicks and Hawks, are not, at current, in the same league (almost literally with the way the NBA is structured between top and bottom) with the Heat and Bulls.

A trade for Gasol and the options presented by Brand's contract help to change that. By himself, absent any other moves, Gasol makes the Sixers more competitive in the East. But with someone else, a real someone else,
a real someone else now affordable given the $18 million they would have to spend or send, and a real someone else who might now consider Philadelphia an actual option to compete with Miami and Chicago, the Sixers won't be picking in the very middle of the first round any more, where they've been stuck for years, adding complementary pieces that fractionally improve a roster at an exponential disadvantage. And the downside? Assuming they aren't able to attract that extra someone, Gasol is off the books in another two years and the Sixers have another $$22 million to play with in 2014.

This franchise needs to make a bold move to escape mediocrity.

Pick up the phone. Call Mitch Kupchak. If he says no, you offered. If he says yes, then at worst, at absolute worst, the Sixers become relevant again in the National Basketball Association.

And, if he makes a counter-offer, well, now at least we're talking.

I'm sold.

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

ATLANTA — Seven months after he was acquired from the Houston Astros and anointed a key piece in the Phillies’ rebuild, pitcher Vince Velasquez could be on the move again.

The Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez, a major league source told CSNPhilly.com on Friday night (see story).

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported by Jon Morosi of MLB Network earlier in the week and essentially confirmed when three Rangers scouts, including Scott Littlefield, one of that club’s top talent evaluators, showed up at Turner Field for Velasquez’s start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

Velasquez delivered a solid but unspectacular performance in a 2-1 loss to the Braves, but he still has the qualities that attracted the Phillies to him last winter. He’s just 24 years old and has a power arm that has produced a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has the upside to pitch at or near the top of a rotation if his development goes in the right direction and he stays healthy. That is a legitimate concern because he had Tommy John surgery as a young minor leaguer and spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a biceps strain.

The question now is: where will Velasquez continue his development? Philadelphia? Texas? Somewhere else?

Clearly, the Phillies’ big wintertime acquisition is in play as Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline approaches.

Manager Pete Mackanin said he knows nothing of the front office’s trade plans, but he offered his opinion on trading a young pitcher like Velasquez.

“Our whole goal was to get young pitchers because they’re the most expensive commodity and if you can develop young pitchers like him and have four or five of those guys, then you’re ahead of the game,” Mackanin said. “But at the same time, at least as far as I’m concerned, I’ll listen to any offers. If you get three guys that are really good looking prospects because pitching is such a commodity, I’m sure you have to consider it.”

With the Rangers' scouts looking on, Velasquez pitched six innings and gave up seven hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out five. His fastball reached 96 mph, proving that his stuff is good. Mackanin, however, said he thought Velasquez relied too much on his off-speed stuff instead of his power fastball.

“It was unusual to me the way he pitched,” Mackanin said. “It was almost like a finesse pitcher instead of a power pitcher. I’m not arguing with it because he did a good job, but he made me a little nervous here and there. I like the 16 strikeouts.”

That, of course, was a reference to Velasquez’s 16-strikeout complete game win over the Padres on April 14. Could anyone have imagined that he'd be the subject of trade talks 3½ months later?

Velasquez said he was aware of the trade buzz surrounding him and unbothered by it. He’s been down this road before. He said he would not be disappointed if he were traded because he understands baseball is a business.

“At first when I got traded from the Astros it was kind of tough for me, but you have to move on and make the best of what you've got,” Velasquez said. “If things happen, just let it happen. If I go to another team, then I've got to make the best of what I've got there. There's a lot of things that are in the future. I don't know what to expect is what I'm saying. Again, all I can do is live in the present and live another day tomorrow. If something happens, something happens. I've got to make the best of what you've got today.

“It's just one of those things I can't control. I had to fight, had to battle for a spot here in Philadelphia and I'm very thankful for the opportunity and everything. Again, I've still got to keep working hard and make the best of what I've got.”

Any team looking to acquire Velasquez would have to pay a steep price. In addition to having talent and upside, he won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2018 season and free agency until after the 2021 season.

The Phillies have a good knowledge of Texas’ deep farm system having scouted it extensively — and plucked from it — in making the deal for Cole Hamels a year ago. Are the Phillies about to fuel their rebuild with more talent from the Texas system? Stay tuned.

Velasquez isn’t the only Phillies starter who could move. Several teams remain interested in Jeremy Hellickson (see story), who is scheduled to pitch against Atlanta on Saturday night. The Rangers, in fact, have some interest in Hellickson as a fallback option if they don’t get a pitcher elsewhere. Velasquez is not the only pitcher the Rangers have on their radar, but from a Phillies’ perspective, he is certainly the most interesting.

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rougned Odor homered twice, A.J. Griffin pitched into the sixth inning and the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.

Jurickson Profar also went deep for the Rangers, and scored three runs.

Odor hit a solo homer in the first that put AL West-leading Texas up 3-0 against Edinson Volquez (8-9). That 443-foot drive into the second deck of seats in right field came a night after Odor's 465-footer that is the longest in his career. He had another solo shot in the seventh, his 21st of the season barely clearing the 8-foot wall in right.

Eric Hosmer homered for the defending World Series champion Royals, who dropped to 10 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.

Griffin (4-1) had his longest outing in seven starts in just over a month since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. The right-hander struck out one and walked two while throwing 66 of 98 pitches for strikes in 5 2-3 innings (see full recap)

Chatwood, Gonzalez lead Rockies over Mets for 4th win in row
NEW YORK -- Tyler Chatwood kept winning on the road, Carlos Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs and the Colorado Rockies defeated the New York Mets 6-1 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Mark Reynolds also homered for the surging Rockies, who are 11-4 since the All-Star break and have moved within four games of Miami for the second NL wild-card spot.

Chatwood (10-6) improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA away from Coors Field this season. The 26-year-old is 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA at home.

Gonzalez matched a season-high hitting streak of 11 games with an RBI double in the first. He hit a 448-foot, three-run drive in the ninth for his 21st homer.

Steven Matz (8-7) gave up two runs and 10 hits in six innings (see full recap)

Lester recovers from rut of bad starts, Cubs rout Mariners
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester recovered from a rut of bad starts, pitching six shutout innings that led the Chicago Cubs over the Seattle Mariners 12-1 Friday for their third straight win.

Jason Heyward and David Ross homered as the NL Central leaders improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break following a 1-9 slump. Seattle lost in its first trip to Wrigley Field since 2007.

Lester (11-4) had lasted just 16 innings over his previous four starts, going 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. That skid came after he had gone 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Lester gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was already done when there was a 74-minute rain delay in the seventh.

Mike Montgomery, traded last week from Seattle to the Cubs, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a single to Shawn O'Malley in the ninth for the Mariners' run.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7) had won his last five starts, but gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings (see full recap).

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target (see story).

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest (see story). Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).