Archive for June, 2011

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Ghosts of Phillies Past: Michael Stutes and Toby Borland

June 24, 2011

Welcome to the first edition of my new feature: Ghosts of Phillies Past. 

I wanted to illustrate the greatness of the current Phillies era, especially when compared to the franchise’s mostly sorry history.  In these days of division titles, four aces, and consecutive home sellouts, it might be easy to forget that the team’s outlook was not always so bright.. 

So I will take a (hopefully) weekly look at a current Phillie who has excelled, and also discuss a similar player from the past who didn’t quite encounter the same levels of success.

Featured Phillie of the Week

This week’s featured Phillie is relief pitcher Michael Stutes

Stutes has been one of the Phillies most dependable relievers this season.  Despite starting the season in the minors, Stutes has already appeared in 24 games with an excellent 2.38 ERA.  More importantly, manager Charlie Manuel seems to trust him as a late inning option, and he has come through in several high pressure situations.

This past week’s series in Seattle was a homecoming for the Oregon native, and he celebrated by pitching a scoreless inning and picking up the win in Saturday night’s victory over the Mariners.

He was less effective in Tuesday night’s game against the Cardinals, as he gave up a run.  However, the Phillies went on to score 9 runs in the bottom of the 8th inning, and as a result, Stutes earned his second win of the week.

Ghost of Phillies Past: Toby Borland

In comparison, I’ll take a look at another young Phillies reliever who was once thrust into a key bullpen spot.

Originally called up in the strike shortened 1994 season, right handed reliever Toby Borland didn’t impress anyone at first.  He seemed to have control issues, and could seemingly be counted on for at least one walked batter in every appearance.

The next season, after an ineffective start to the season, he was sent back to the minor leagues.  While in the minors, his coaches worked on improving his control.  One exercise they tried was to place a glove on a post on top of home plate.   Borland was instructed to practice simply hitting the glove with his pitches.

Amazingly, this exercise drastically improved his control.  When he returned to the big league club in 1995, his control was good enough that he became an effective reliever.  By season’s end, he was appearing in late-game situations, often as the team’s main setup man.

In 1996, the team hoped his success would continue, and he began the season as the team’s primary setup reliever.  Unfortunately, the improved control he had shown the year before abandoned him.  Part of the problem may have been that the 1996 Phillies were a bad team, and part of the problem may have been that Borland had simply overacheived the previous season.

Regardless of the cause, Borland’s tenure with the team ended after the 1996 season.  He stayed in the league a few more years, and even wound up back with the Phillies in 1998, but his second stint with the club was even less remarkable than his first.

Fun fact: Borland is the last Phillies player to wear number 42 before it was retired league wide in honor of Jackie Robinson

Final Word

With the injuries suffered by Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, Stutes’ emergence has been a key to the team’s success thus far.  We can only hope that he is able to continue to excel and not quickly flame out like Borland did.

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Winners and Losers from the Flyers Big Deals

June 24, 2011

The Flyers made some huge moves on Thursday, with two prominent player trades and a free agent signing.  In the process, they have performed a major renovation on the team’s roster.

It had been rumored that they were trying to trade top scorer Jeff Carter in an attempt to gain some room under the salary cap.  So it wasn’t a huge surprise when he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It was also unsurprising when the team used that newly acquired cap space on a contract for free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.  They had acquired Bryzgalov’s exclusive negotiating rights in a trade and had reportedly been close to agreeing to a deal.

The surprising move came when they traded team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings.

Considering how the team had been operating recently, the moves are somewhat confusing.

For the past few seasons, Richards and Carter have been the faces of the franchise.  Richards had been regarded as one of the top leaders in the NHL, and Carter had developed into a dangerous offensive weapon. 

And while this year’s second round loss – to the eventual champion Boston Bruins – was disappointing, the team was one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.  It wasn’t like the team hadn’t experienced any success with Richards and Carter, so it seems a bit strange to get rid of them now.

The Flyers have been in “win now” mode for the past couple of seasons.  All of their recent moves had been geared towards winning the Stanley Cup in the near future.  They have traded away many draft picks in exchange for veteran players (Chris Pronger, Andrej Meszaros, Kris Versteeg) who would help them immediately.

The acquisition of Bryzgalov seemed to be in step with that “win now” mentality.  The team had made it clear that they blamed their goaltending situation for this year’s defeat.  In response, they traded for the rights to Bryzgalov who they regarded as the top available goalie.  He would hopefully be the missing piece that they needed in order to finally win it all.

So why then turn around and trade two of the team’s core players in exchange for prospects and draft picks?  Wouldn’t Richards and Carter have helped them more in the next few seasons than any of the players or draft picks they received?

Trading Carter is somewhat defensible.  Bryzgalov’s new contract did not give the team much flexibility under the salary cap, so getting rid of Carter allowed them some financial breathing room.  They also had a plethora of centers with Richards, Carter, Danny Briere, and Claude Giroux, so Carter could have also been seen as expendable.  Plus, despite his regular season scoring prowess, Carter has struggled in the playoffs.

Less explainable is the trade of Richards.  While there was some talk that the team was unhappy with his play and demeanor in the locker room, he was still highly regarded throughout the league.  And once again, he was only one season removed from captaining the team to the Cup finals.  With Carter gone, they didn’t seem to need to clear any more salary, so why did they make the move?

The trades did make the team considerably younger, and it’s not like they didn’t receive anything substantial in return.  Wayne Simmonds looks like a solid third-line wing, and Jakub Voracek appears to be emerging as a scorer. 

In addition, Brayden Schenn, the prospect they received in exchange for Richards is very highly regarded.  But once again, are these players going to help the team as much as Carter and Richards would have in the next few seasons?  It is difficult to say that.

There’s the possibility that this is not the last big move the Flyers make this offseason.  Will the extra financial flexibility they gained be used to acquire another big name player? 

In the meantime, I’ll take a look at the winners and losers from all the moves as they stand now.

Loser: Jeff Carter – He had just signed a 11 year contract extension with the Flyers, and players don’t sign long-term extensions with a team unless they want to stay there.  His mistake was that the no-trade clause in his contract didn’t begin until next season.  He goes from a Cup contender to a franchise that has never even won a playoff game.

Supposedly, Carter was also a big fan of the Philly nightlife.  I’m guessing that he won’t find Columbus to be nearly that exciting.

Winner: Columbus – Not only do they get a good player, this move also served to remind people that yes, Columbus, Ohio actually has a major league sports team.  With uniforms and everything!

Winner: Mike Richards – While I’m sure it’s a blow to his ego to be shipped out, this move might be the best thing for him.  He didn’t have a great relationship with the Philadelphia media, and he might be better served in Los Angeles, where the locals aren’t quite as passionate about hockey.

Winner: Ilya Bryzgalov – He received a huge contract, and seems happy that he’ll have a chance to play on a contender.  He may not quite realize the amount of angst that Flyers fans have about the goalie position though.  If he flames out in the playoffs, he will probably receive Donovan McNabb levels of scorn from the fans.

Loser: Sergei Bobrovski – It is never a good sign for the team’s “goalie of the future” when the team acquires another goalie and signs him to an expensive contract.  If Bobrovski is going to be a starter in the NHL, it certainly doesn’t appear as if it will be with the Flyers.

Winner: Chris Pronger – Some of the negative rumors about Richards involved him being at odds with Pronger, who many outsiders felt was the real leader of the team and should have been the captain.  Pronger almost certainly will receive the captainship now, and will be the undisputed leader of the team.

Loser: Fans with Richards or Carter jerseys – Everyone knows that when you buy a player’s jersey, you’re taking a risk that the player might leave the team.  But after Richards and Carter signed their long-term deals, their jerseys seemed like a pretty safe bet.  Looks like there will be a lot of Flyers fans buying new jerseys this year.

Winner: Flyers merchandise sellers – See above.

Winner: Claude Giroux – The team seems to feel that he has superstar potential, and that with Richards and Carter gone, he will have an opportunity to show it.  Will he be able to succeed where they did not and lead the team to a championship?  We shall see.