Commentary: Jack McInerney is gone but fellow Union original Amobi Okugo shouldn't have to follow

Commentary: Jack McInerney is gone but fellow Union original Amobi Okugo shouldn't have to follow

You might have heard that the Union traded Jack McInerney last week and you might have read Steve Moore’s analysis of the surprising deal on this site.

While I’m not here to argue with Steve’s point that the trade shouldn’t cause Union fans to panic (SERIOUSLY, DON'T PANIC!!!), and while I agree there are a couple of valid reasons why the deal was a made, I would like to take a different position here.

That position is that, in the wake of this trade, the Union should do everything they can to lock up Amobi Okugo – who, like McInerney, was an original member of the franchise’s first draft class – to a long-term deal.

But let’s backtrack for a minute first.

McInerney, for all of his faults and streaky play, was a young forward that had been with the Union since the first day of the franchise’s first season. He scored his first professional goal against the mighty Galaxy in Los Angeles when he was 17. He started in the playoffs the following season. He earned a permanent place in the starting lineup in 2012. And he became the “next big thing” in American soccer in 2013 before he even turned 21, riding a goal-scoring surge to the MLS All-Star Game and his first U.S. national team call-up.

Basically, as the Philadelphia Union grew up, so did McInerney. And while nostalgia and loyalty is not a reason to keep a player, the Union have – fairly or unfairly – developed somewhat of a reputation as a club that jettisons players that are fan favorites who have been here from the beginning. (Part of the reason former manager Peter Nowak was fired was partly due to how he handled the trades that sent away franchise originals Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga.)

But McInerney is gone. The Union didn’t think he was a natural fit in their 4-3-3 system, they didn’t like how he stopped scoring following his U.S. national team call-up, they didn’t like his rising pricetag, and they didn’t think they’d be able to re-sign him to a new contract at an appropriate price. (You can read more of John Hackworth’s rationale behind the trade here).

But just a quick look at the latest MLS salary info, which was released yesterday, will tell you that the Union are willing to open up their wallets. Designated Player Maurice Edu, for instance, is making $650,000 this season – more than any other Union player ever. Yes, Edu is a World Cup veteran who has brought some much-needed stability to the Union midfield. But if the Union are willing to pay that much for him, they should be just as willing to give hefty raises to players that are being groomed to perhaps one day follow Edu to the U.S. national team.

Players like Amobi Okugo.

The only holdover who’s played for the franchise continuously since the start of its inaugural season, Okugo is an extremely talented player with a good head on his shoulders and a very likeable personality (if you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be). At 23, he’s already emerged as one of the league’s most promising young center backs, he has extensive experience in the U.S. youth national team system, and he has the unique skill set to star as both a defender (where he’s played with the Union) and as a holding midfielder (where he’s played most of his career). (You can read my brilliantly crafted profile of him from last year here.)

Yes, Okugo has said he hopes to one day play in Europe. Many Americans feel this way because the salaries are higher and the stage is grander. But MLS salaries are on the rise and many of the best U.S. players are opting to cash in and play here (some, like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, are returning from Europe; others, like Omar Gonzalez, are passing up the chance to play in other leagues to stay in MLS). As Okugo has eloquently stated, there’s also the idea that players like him want to eventually go overseas because they grew up watching the Premier League and not MLS, a league that was still in its infancy back then. But that, too, could be changing.

Basically, it all comes down to this: if the Union want Okugo to stay in Philly, they can certainly try to keep him here. They can make him a Designated Player. They can have him replace the aging Brian Carroll as the team’s captain (and, perhaps, holding midfielder). They can scoff at any trade offers from around the league that doesn’t include big-time returns. They can build the team around him. And if he develops into a true MLS star, they can then listen to offers from Europe.

It doesn’t happen often – especially in soccer – but there’s something romantic about a player spending his entire career with one team. It’s even more romantic when a rookie and an expansion team grow up together.

It won’t happen for McInerney in Philly. But it can still happen for Okugo. And it probably should.

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

It kinda looked like football today!

After months of watching Eagles run around in shorts, the pads went on this morning. No, the team didn’t go live (tackling to the ground), but the pads were popping some and it actually resembled the real game way more than the previous days' sessions. The plan is to go three days with pads before a day without them.

A few guys – Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle, to name a few – left practice early thanks to injuries, but it didn’t appear any of the injuries were serious (see story).

Here are some observations from Saturday’s practice:

• The much-anticipated first play of 11-on-11s was won by left defensive end Vinny Curry, who blew past right tackle Lane Johnson and would have had a sack if not for that pesky red jersey Sam Bradford was wearing.

How did Curry feel today?

“Hot," he said. "Hot."

You don’t look hot.

“I got my crop top on, you know what I mean,” he said, showing off his green shirt with midriff showing. “It was fun though, man. I got a lot to learn. I’ve got a long way to go.”

• After Curry got a chance to show his stuff with the first team, Marcus Smith flashed with the twos. Yes, that Marcus Smith. On the first play, he beat Matt Tobin, who has been working at left tackle. It’s obviously early and he’s the fourth-best defensive end on the roster, but the switch to the 4-3 defense could actually make him a serviceable NFL player. He’s better going downhill. Smith looked good in 1-on-1 drills against Dennis Kelly later.

• My favorite drills in training camp are offensive line vs. defensive line 1-on-1s. It’s high entertainment between the two biggest and strongest positions on the field. Fletcher Cox is unstoppable in these drills and will be until Brandon Brooks is healthy enough to practice. He’s used to going against monsters from his time in Houston against J.J. Watt. Today, Cox wasn’t stoppable.

Rookie Alex McCalister looks like a string bean and was no match for Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Rookie Destiny Vaeao had a nice power move on Dillon Gordon. Brandon Graham beat Malcolm Bunche with a sweet move to end the drill, which brought plenty of cheers from his defensive line teammates.

• Play of the day belongs to Randle. He made an incredible one-handed grab on a ball from Sam Bradford during individual drills. Randle has been getting looks with the first-team offense and has looked good. Unfortunately, he left early with cramps.

• If you’re looking for a bunch of quarterback analysis today, I don’t have much for you. All three were certainly better than they were in Friday’s disaster, but didn’t get a chance to really air the ball out. The biggest longball play of the day came in 7-on-7s when Carson Wentz aired it out to a diving Josh Huff, who made a great grab. Huff did have a glaring drop today, though.

Bradford had a really nice pass to Chris Givens during 11-on-11s. Bradford also had a great pass – of about 45 yards – to Xavier Rush, who dropped what should have been a touchdown.

• Trey Burton is the forgotten tight end. Yes, he’s third on the depth chart but Brent Celek isn’t getting any younger and Burton is showing some real pass-catching ability this training camp, especially for someone with just three career receptions. He made a great catch on a high ball today.

• It looks like Jordan Matthews’ struggles catching the ball are well behind him. He’s been very solid this summer. He made a few great catches early. On one, he leaped up and snagged the ball around Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins. A few minutes later, he made another good catch on the sideline.

• Wentz used a hard count to draw off the defense in 11-on-11s. Hard counts. Remember them?

• Earlier this week, Reuben Frank wrote about Wendell Smallwood and that despite his small physical stature, he plays big (see story). Well, we saw it on Saturday. In the open field, instead of trying to go around Jalen Mills, Smallwood lowered his shoulder and tried to go through him. That’s a nice was to start the practices in pads.

• As the pads went on, Blake Countess’ helmet cam was gone, but one appeared on Chase Daniel. It looks like the Eagles are going to keep testing these things out this training camp. Here’s what the camera looked like when it was on Countess:

• Tomorrow’s practice at 10 a.m. will be open and free for all fans at the Linc. No tickets required, just show up for first-come, first-serve seating. Fans can park in K Lot starting at 7 a.m. and gates open at 8 a.m. Enter on 11th street or Darien Street entrances.

What might you see? Well, things are getting a little feistier now that the players are able to hit each other.

When will they start getting under each other’s skin?

“Maybe tomorrow,” Curry said with a smile. “You never know when. You never know who’s having that hot, sweaty, bad day. You just never know. That’s the beauty of training camp."

Pros, cons and likely prospects of a Vince Velasquez trade with Rangers

Pros, cons and likely prospects of a Vince Velasquez trade with Rangers

Vince Velasquez just turned 24 in June.

He's under team control for the next five years and won't start making a lot of money (in baseball terms) until about 2020.

He has a big fastball that averages 93.7 mph, the 10th-best velocity of any NL starting pitcher.

He can be really, really good at times — the 16-strikeout shutout of the Padres, the 10-strikeout game against the Marlins, scoreless performances against the Mets, Indians and Diamondbacks.

And even when he's not at his best, like Friday night in Atlanta, Velasquez can succeed because his stuff is that good. He's made 18 starts this season and allowed two runs or fewer 11 times.

All of these things make him valuable to the Phillies. And all of these things make him attractive to every other team in the majors.

It doesn't seem likely that the Phils will ultimately pull the trigger and trade Velasquez to the Rangers, who are in "deep discussions" with the Phils on a deal, according to CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury (see story). But Texas has such an intriguing group of prospects that it makes sense for the Phillies to listen.

Velasquez, for all of his strengths, has not proven yet that he can be a durable, 180- to 200-inning starting pitcher. He's never even reached 125 innings at any level in the minors. There have been numerous games this season in which his pitch count has soared — either because of a lack of control, nibbling around the plate or a lot of foul balls. The result has been some early exits. That was a knock on Velasquez when he was in Houston and he hasn't yet fully outgrown it.

That's why it could make sense for the Phils to trade him. Perhaps they believe they'd be selling high on a guy who's shown so much talent and promise but not the type of consistency of a No. 1 or No. 2 starter.

Obviously, it makes sense to move him only if the return is strong. And the Rangers could certainly offer a strong package if they decide Velasquez is their guy.

The names you'll see thrown around a lot as the Aug. 1 trade deadline approaches are power hitting third baseman Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielders Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara.

Mazara is a pipe dream. The Rangers refused to include him in last summer's Cole Hamels trade, and he's only increased his worth to them this season by hitting .282/.334/.417 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs for a first-place team. He'll be a top-three finisher for AL Rookie of the Year. It's almost impossible to envision the Rangers trading away a valuable piece of their major-league roster for Velasquez. It would be a wash, at best.

Gallo and Profar are more realistic targets for the Phillies in a Velasquez trade. Gallo, 22, has some of the best raw power in the minors, true grade-80 power. The 6-foot-5, left-handed hitter bashed 23 homers in the minors last season, 42 the year before and 40 the year before that. Initially, that power translated to the majors when Gallo was called up last June. He hit homers in each of his first two games and had five in his first 50 at-bats before pitchers adjusted. So far in 136 big-league plate appearances, he's hit .192/.287/.408 with seven homers and 63 strikeouts.

The whiffs will always be a part of Gallo's game. To me, he has Brewers' first baseman Chris Carter written all over him — a lot of homers, a lot of strikeouts, low batting average. Gallo could be better than Carter because he plays a more important position and will hopefully be more than a .217 career hitter like Carter, but you also have to keep in mind that the Phillies already have Maikel Franco at third base. If Gallo was traded here, he'd likely play either first base or left field.

It's hard to say right now whether or not Gallo is more valuable or a better fit for the Phils than Velasquez. Usually, it makes sense to go with the everyday player over the pitcher who can make an impact at most twice a week. But, as stated above, Velasquez can give you six quality innings even when he's not "on." He has the most upside of any of the Phillies' young starting pitchers, including Aaron Nola.

Profar, who is somehow still just 23 after years atop prospect lists and a few injuries, would seem to be a better fit. He's a multi-dimensional player who has impressed scouts for years for a reason. He can play every infield position in addition to left field, he has the look of a .300 hitter, and his power is developing.

A switch-hitter, Profar has hit .301/.356/.440 for the Rangers in 181 plate appearances this season with four doubles, two triples and five homers. It's been a while since his last full season in the minors, but in 2012 he hit .281 with an .820 OPS, 14 homers and 62 RBIs as a 19-year-old everyday shortstop at Double A.

The opinion here is that Profar will be a better major-league hitter than Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford.

There is, however, a vast financial difference between Profar and Gallo. Profar will go to salary arbitration in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before becoming a free agent. Gallo, like Velasquez, won't start making meaningful baseball money until around 2020.

But a team like the Phillies that has deep pockets and so much open payroll space moving forward should be more concerned with receiving the right player than playing the cost benefit game.

Another thing to consider here is that the Rangers need Profar. He's been playing every day for them and playing well at second base, third base and shortstop. He played Friday night in left field. He's started a bunch of games at first base, too, and figures to get some more reps there with Prince Fielder out for the season and Mitch Moreland having just an OK year.

Brinson is another name to keep in mind. A right-handed centerfielder, he was Texas' first-round pick in 2012. He had a terrific year at three different levels in 2015, hitting a combined .332/.403/.601 with 31 doubles, eight triples and 20 homers. He's struggled this season at Double A Frisco, hitting .227 with a .692 OPS in a hitter-friendly environment.

The Rangers also have some other pieces who could help the Phillies, but you'd figure any deal for Velasquez would have to include one of these three. Otherwise, it just makes no sense to even entertain the idea of a trade.

And really, if the Rangers are willing to include one or more of those three young players, they could get any team in the majors to listen to an offer for a starting pitcher. A package centered around two of them might be enough for Chris Sale. Maybe one of them could net Atlanta's Julio Teheran. Velasquez is really good, but so are the combinations of trade packages the Rangers can put together.

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

The Eagles' first day of training camp in pads wasn’t without some minor casualties.

Cornerback Nolan Caroll left early with a sore ankle and wideout Rueben Randle left early with cramps. Both are considered day-to-day.

After Carroll left the field, Eric Rowe got some first-team reps with the defense. Randle was having a very good day, standing out with a one-handed grab, before going inside.

Undrafted wide receiver Marcus Johnson, from Texas, went inside early with a quad injury. Corner Ron Brooks (cramps) also went in early.

The Eagles started the day without starting right guard Brandon Brooks (hamstring) and starting running back Ryan Mathews (ankle). Neither have practiced since the whole team got together for the first full-squad on Thursday.

Darren Sproles continues to get most of the first-team reps at running back, with Kenjon Barner filling in. Veteran Stefen Wisniewksi has been taking Brooks’ spot at right guard.