Bobby & Sal, Together at Last

Bobby & Sal, Together at Last

If you look at the players involved in the trade the Phillies made on Sunday with the Yankees, you would think the Bronx Bombers saw the Phillies as the little kid in the candy shop.  The Yankees got an All Star right fielder in Bobby Abreu and a starter in Cory Lidle who will have a huge impact on the extremely shaky bottom half of the Yanks rotation.

If you are a Phillies fan, you know this deal wasn't as simple as the players swapping teams.  This is a trade which signifies the dark cloud of Ed Wade's tenure finally passing.  Not that Bobby was necessarily part of that, but this move signifies a real change.  Bobby Abreu was the centerpiece of the Phillies line up for the last decade.  He will now go to a real contender and join Sal Fasano in a different color pinstripes with a legitimate chance at a ring.

Was this a good trade for the Phillies?  Like most deals you won't be able to tell for years down the road if the Phillies got the kind of value in return for such a great player as Abreu.  But the fact of the matter is that Bobby Abreu's huge contract and no trade clause (thanks Ed!) made Abreu almost untradeable.  I'd be surprised if there was more than one other team who really could have pulled off a deal for Abreu.  The Yankees knew they were the only team interested and therefore didn't have to give up their top prospects.

So it was more of a salary dump than a great trade for the Phillies.  It could even turn out to be a horrible trade a few years from now.  The Phillies haven't made the playoffs in decades.  Sure, they could have made the playoffs next year with Abreu and his huge contract but I think Philadelphian's have come to expect the worst out of the current squad.  Gillick's sentiments seem to show that he believes the team as of Sunday night still needs a lot of work.  And it surely does.  But with 3 expensive, aging veterans out and 6 young prospects in, the Phillies have new life.

I don't think anyone expects miracles out of this bunch.  But with Utely, Howard, Rollins and company around for years to come the Phillies have some stars in place.

Maybe we'll get lucky and one of these prospects will end up being a diamond in the rough which could help the Phillies make the playoffs.. ever.  Don't hold your breath Philadelphia.  It feels a bit weird to think Abreu will no longer lollygag in right at Citizens Bank Park.  At least we don't have to listen to Abreu haters anymore.

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.