Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

After spending most of the trade deadlines in our lifetimes wondering which average to above average Phillies might soon end up on a contending team, we've enjoyed the past few seasons on the receiving end. More than just the elation of learning that a specific need-filling ballplayer was on his way to PHL, there was the satisfaction of knowing why. The Phillies have recently been a team for which late July was spent preparing for October. In 2012, we're reminded that's not always a given. 
The Phillies officially became sellers after a weekend series sweep to the Braves, and despite experience to the contrary, the feeling of watching our guys' names show up rumored to be headed elsewhere is alien. On the table are regulars and role players who might better fill a need on a team with fewer of them to fill. Some are guys previously bought this time of year, including one who got to ride on a parade float. Others were brought here to get us back. 
By 4 PM today, a WFC or two could be gone. All eyes will be on Ruben Amaro Jr as we wait to evaluate how strongly he can play while holding a losing hand. 
Joe Blanton appeared to be the closest to gone on trade deadline eve, but talks had already hit several snags. The Baltimore Orioles are 6.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and trying to ward off a close pack in the wild card race. They could use an innings eater, and they set their sights on Blanton. His medicals have already been sent. However, the Phils and O's reportedly disagree on how much—if any—salary funding will have to come to Baltimore with him. More than just the cash holdup, Amaro is said to want infielder Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore's third best prospect. Jon Heyman has a source saying the O's are declining to include Schoop. Even if he was never part of a possible package, you can bet you'll read and hear that name again every time fans are unhappy with today's actual returns. 
Blanton's never been the flashiest player in red pinstripes, but his impact when the Phillies ascended to their glory season in 2008 will never be forgotten. At least I hope not. The Phils weren't yet a team built on aces, and Blanton is a good reminder of what we thought at the time was a nice deadline pickup and how our expectations have changed since. Who knew we'd be watching him circle the bases in an October game he'd go on to win? You can probably remember exactly where you were when he did. 
Another WFC who might have already played his last game as a Phillie is Shane Victorino. 
With free agency looming, Vic isn't having what he hoped would be his contract-year production at the plate. Still, more than a few teams are interested in adding the Gold Glove centerfielder/sparkplug with playoff experience. We'll talk more about Vic's tenure as a Phillie if he actually gets dealt, and you can bet it will be a fond sendoff. What kind of return can we hope comes in exchange for the Flyin Hawaiian who once hit a postseason grand slam off of CC Sabathia? The reports have lately been sparse with details, but we're not expecting to be blown away. Early this morning, it seems the Dodgers are a favorite to land his services if he's dealt, according to reports by CBS Sports. Seeing him in that uniform would definitely draw a double-take. 
Last year's trade deadline prize for the Phils was Hunter Pence. We found out he'd be coming to Philadelphia just hours after the Eagles shocked the NFL by acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha. I remember getting texts while at PPL Park for a Union match, then scrolling through twitter and seeing it explode with news that Pence was hugging his Astros teammates in the dugout, saying goodbye after being traded to Philadelphia. One year and one cover of Philadelphia Magazine later, Pence is among those rumored to be on the block today. If so, it is doubtful he'll fetch a return equalling the package that brought him here, which included Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart. Ruben's asking price may be prohibitively high though, keeping Pence here at least until the winter market opens. 
Juan Pierre is getting attention as he keeps his batting average floating above .300. At 35, he'll cost less to acquire and pay for the rest of the season than the other Phillies' outfielders, though he could still be helpful for a team looking to add a bat at the top of the order. Utility man Ty Wigginton might be as attractive to a contender battling or insuring against multiple injuries as he was to the Phillies in the off-season. 
Cliff Lee appears unlikely to be dealt due to his $25 million annual salary, which when originally signed was labeled by some as Lee "taking less to play in Philly." Lee can also block a trade to 2/3 of the league (it is uncertain which teams are on the list), further limiting Ruben's options if indeed he wants to move him. In a losing Phillies season, Lee's salary is seen by some as an albatross to be shed, if possible, and the deal that previously sent Lee out of town is being remembered more vividly than the one that brought him here just before 2009's deadline day. Lee originally became a Phillie along with Ben Francisco in exchange for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson. He left town in December 2010 for JC Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies as the Phillies attempted to restock the cupboard. Both deals are solid examples of how hard it can be to judge talent before it nears MLB readiness. Despite a Lee trade having substantial barriers, part of his career destiny seems to be to change uniforms in a surprise move. If the Phillies are going to make a trade that lands them a valuable haul, he's the most likely piece to be headed the other way. Ken Rosenthal turned heads by mentioning Lee and other SP's in the same post as Justin Upton... Phillies Nation digs into the what-if
To date, dealing Major League talent for prospects hasn't been where Ruben Amaro Jr has made his name. Stocked with more cash than most opposing teams and a division-winning roster bearing few holes, he's shown his ability to add major pieces other clubs have made available. Prying away valuable prospects won't be as easy, and who knows if they even pan out. As we wait to hear which if any current Phillies will be shipped off in efforts toward bolstering the 2013-and-beyond rosters, we're hoping he can find a way to give us a makeshift Christmas in July and maybe even "win" at the table again. This year, it seems like a longshot. 
If not, we just hope he doesn't cave to a potential buyer's market and sell for the sake of selling. 

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Clearwater Threshers pitcher Cole Irvin is a student of baseball, but maybe the word “student” – simply stated and in its base meaning – describes the young left-hander best.

A graduate of the University of Oregon who completed his undergraduate degree in sociology in just 3½ years, Irvin has applied a studious, methodical approach to his work on the mound, where he starred as a freshman and senior for the Ducks as a regular Friday night starter.

His 2014 collegiate season was marred by Tommy John surgery, but he reflects on it now as being an important part of him staying in college and obtaining his degree. He remained in Eugene another semester after getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 32nd round, his second time getting selected.

“I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree at Oregon if I didn’t have the surgery,” said Irvin, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies last June.

“Sociology covers so many topics. It’s a great degree to have. My studies varied from the population of salmon affecting society to the study of social media. There was so much I learned in so many diverse topics. I like interacting because everyone’s opinion mattered.”

The sociological background also easily translates to the diamond for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Irvin.

“It’s the same in baseball. The more information you have about the opposing team, our team, if we’re doing the shift and other things… now you have all that collected information. Now you just go do your thing. I think I apply (sociology) to so many different aspects of what I do,” he said.

Sociology aside, Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz has been impressed with the mental approach Irvin has displayed.

“Very (much so),” replied Fultz when asked if the southpaw is the quintessential cerebral pitcher. “He’s a no frills guy and he’s here to work.”

Fultz broke in to MLB and played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants – 2000 to 2002 – and the former big leaguer said Irvin reminds him from a work ethic standpoint of a Bay Area teammate of his.

“He kind of reminds me of Jeff Kent. He comes here and he wants to work and get better,” said Fultz of Irvin, who also bears a slight resemblance to the five-time all-star and 2000 NL MVP of the Giants.

That industrious attitude worked well for Irvin in his first spring training camp in the Grapefruit League in February. He broke camp by bypassing Low A Lakewood and joining the Threshers. Then he proceeded to overwhelm hitters in the Florida State League.

Irvin, 23, was 3-1 in four starts in April, posting a 1.04 ERA. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits, struck out 20 and walked just three. His WHIP stood at 0.96.

“His first four or five starts, I thought he was the best pitcher in the league,” Fultz said. “Since then, we’ve had a little hiccup here and there about location and just giving up some hits. He’s had some bad luck, too.

“But I love the way he goes about his business. He gets the ball and he’s ready to pitch. He has a very good idea and is a smart kid. He doesn’t throw 95, but he’s left-handed – that helps – and he has a really good change-up. His stuff is better than average, but his tenacity and the way he goes after hitters is a really good selling point for him.”

Irvin said he tries not read what is written about him or the multitude of numbers baseball produces.

“The past three outings haven’t gone the way I’ve anticipated, especially after the first five starts of the year,” said Irvin, who is 3-5 with a 3.20 ERA after four straight losses starting on May 4 against Jupiter.

He will try to break that winless skid on Tuesday when he faces Florida back in Clearwater.

Of his standout first pro season at short-season Williamsport last year (5-1, 1.97 in 10 games), Irvin admitted he doesn’t look at the stats, saying, “Honestly, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t get ahead of myself and look at stats. Every once in a while, I’ll look at media stuff, but I try not to follow that stuff.

“Once it gets in your head, you start to get anxious about moving up and thinking about things you’re not supposed to be thinking about. I’m supposed to be thinking right now, ‘What can I do to get better and get to the big leagues?’ It’s not about being in the minor leagues; it’s about being in the big leagues.”

Irvin has enjoyed his season so far and, like a good sociology student, is harvesting his own data.

“There’s a lot to build off of. It’s my first full season, so it’s exciting to spend a whole year playing baseball and doing something you love and is fun. It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be here this quick, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I can only focus on this day, and tomorrow will come tomorrow.”
 
Three questions with Cole Irvin

You throw a one-seam fastball. What does it do?

“It’s literally across one seam, holding it with one finger. It depends on the wrist. If it’s on the side of the ball, it’s going to fade (versus righty batters). But if your wrist is more on the inside toward your body, it’s going to cut. I only use it as a strikeout pitch. [Laughing] I’d say it’s a wipe-out pitch, but I don’t have wipe-out stuff like most of the guys on this team. It’s an effect pitch, where there’s a little uncertainty where it’ll go.”

You’re from Yorba Linda, CA, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Have any good Nixon stories?

“Actually, I do. When I was 12, I had to do community service for the high school I was going to go to. I had to have so many hours. The library was looking for someone to clean the helicopter – Air Force One helicopter or whatever it was called. Every Sunday morning I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. to clean that helicopter. I had to go through the Secret Service back door and security checks. I was 12, so there wasn’t much information on me. I spent four or five Sundays cleaning that helicopter. It was so much fun.”

As an Oregon Duck, you were able to play in the Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers and New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Any success?

“My senior year was the first time we’ve ever gone to Goss Stadium and won a series at Oregon State. I pitched against Conforto and also played with him on the Team USA collegiate team that had (Chicago Cubs star Kyle) Schwarber. Honestly, Michael’s one of the great guys to know and talk to. He’s just a world-class, awesome guy.”

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Ty Kelly is currently the 25th man on the Phillies' roster, a utility man who has all of two starts with the club this year.

But two and a half months ago, he was one of the headlining players on the Cinderella squad of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Kelly was the starting third baseman for Team Israel, which made a surprising run to the second round with a perfect run through Pool A. The team began the WBC with an upset over host South Korea before wins over Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. Israel beat Cuba in the next round in Japan but fell to Japan and the Netherlands handily.

Unlike most MLB players who spent their spring in Florida, Kelly got to experience two major Asian cities -- Seoul and Tokyo -- while getting his preseason at-bats.

"It was a great experience, trying the food and all that and seeing all the sights," Kelly said.

However, he wasn't too adventurous with trying the local cuisine compared to his teammates.

"Some of the guys were really trying to seek out the native food," Kelly said. "I wanted to do that as much as I could, but at the same time, you're still trying to get ready for baseball games in a tournament, so you've got to do what's best for your body.

"Chicken sandwiches for me were the way to go for the most part," he added with a laugh.

Kelly's participation with the squad began in the middle of 2016, when Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, emailed him and asked if he had a Jewish grandparent. Kelly's mother's side of the family is Jewish, making Kelly eligible.

Last year was also the end of Kelly's long road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2009 out of UC Davis, Kelly was traded multiple times, once straight up for current Brewers slugger Eric Thames before Thames went to Korea and back. Kelly wound up with the Mets and finally made his MLB debut two months shy of his 28th birthday. He played 39 games for the Mets at six different positions and got a hit in his only postseason at-bat, which came vs. Madison Bumgarner no less.

Kelly still had to make the Mets this spring, which could have made joining the WBC a tough decision. However, the organization was on board with Kelly playing in the tournament.

"It made it difficult, but I talked to the Mets about it and they were all for me going over there and still playing and getting experience," he said. "People were still watching, so once I got the go-ahead from them, it was an easy decision."

Kelly made the Mets out of the spring but had just one at-bat before he put on waivers and was claimed by the Blue Jays. Eight days later, he was traded to the Phillies. He has four hits (three doubles) in 19 at-bats with the Phillies and had the game-winning RBI single two weeks ago in the front end of the Phils' doubleheader with the Nationals.

He's the only player from Team Israel to have played in the majors this season. Ryan Lavarnway and former Mets 1B Ike Davis are in Triple A while the roster also included former MLBers Nate Freiman, Sam Fuld and Jason Marquis.

While none of his WBC teammates have parlayed Team Israel's run into MLB time, Kelly still thinks the team caught the eye of people in the game.

"There was definitely a lot of fandom around our team," Kelly said. "A lot of people rallied around us, including people in front offices I think. Of Jewish descent or not, I think a lot of people liked what we did.

"Being a part of that definitely looks good for me, which is just an added bonus."