Jan 242012

Philadelphia Phillies logoRIP Andy Musser

Growing up in Northeastern/Central Pennsylvania it was a long haul to Philadelphia so it was not every day we were able to go see the Phillies play at the Vet.  Sitting at home we would catch the games on TV on WTAF 29, WPHL 17, and on Prism and on the radio it was WPPA 1360 AM from Pottsville. It was amazing being able to listen to Richie Ashburn, Harry Kalas, and Andy Musser talk about Steve Carlton and Larry Christenson throwing gems and Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski powering the Phillies offense by ringing the Liberty Bell.  That was how I followed my Phillies, which was how I came to love my team.  Whitey, Harry, and Andy. Whitey, Harry, and Andy.  Their voices brought home every game I could catch.  Their voices today bring so many memories of a youth growing up loving baseball.  Sadly now, all those voices have gone silent.  Sunday, January 22nd, Andy Musser passed away at his home.

Whitey, Harry, and Andy.  How blessed were we, as Phillies fans?  How blessed to have possibly the best broadcast crew in baseball, not only as announcers, but as wonderful human beings.  Each one of them whenever you met them was always kind and treated the fans as one of their family.  Each one of them brings memories of Tug jumping in the air after striking out Willie Wilson, Michael Jack Schmidt hitting his 500th home run, Bake McBride legging out a triple, Garry Maddox covering the outfield like no one else since Willie Mays retired. Each one of them really was part of your extended family because every night they were there on your television or on your radio.  You grew to love them. Though Andy got a lot of tough love because he wasn’t as affable as Harry and Whitey, as we look back now we all appreciate more what he brought to the broadcasts.

Andy Musser was the last of them and now he is gone.  Andy was a professional, through and through.  He was also a true gentleman.  It’s a rarity in this day and age to find people as genuinely nice as he was. He was also very talented, something many did not see or think about until much later after he was done.  Andy called Phillies games, Sixers games, Eagles football, and Villanova basketball.  He worked for pretty much every sporting team in Philadelphia in some shape or form but the Flyers and honestly, with how hard a worker he was he probably could have done their games too if they ever came calling.  In a state reeling from losing one sports legend in Joe Paterno, it now has to also come to terms with a fact that another big part of many of our childhoods is now gone as well.  It was not a good weekend for many in Pennsylvania.

The current television broadcast crew leaves a lot to be desired to most Phillies fans. The Phillies think it is because we were spoiled by Harry, Whitey, and Andy. Maybe they are right, but honestly if the current crew was even half as good I think we as Phillies fans would not have many gripes with them.  We know quality when we see and hear it.  This is why Larry Andersen and Scott Franzke are so well thought of by the fan base.  When you listen to them it takes you back to quality broadcasts of yesteryear.  They know when to talk, when to cheer, when to be critical, and when to be homers, and above all you can hear that they have fun and love calling the games.  Another positive is they don’t try to explain the game time and time again with the same euphemisms over and over again.  Every televised game, many of us understand more and more, just how good we really had it and even more, how much we miss Whitey, Harry, and Andy.

The Hamels Gambit

The Phillies came to terms with Cole Hamels on a one year contract avoiding arbitration.  Which is a high, but (and this but is as big as Alaska) many fans are now concerned.  Why an outsider might ask? Well because it is only a one year deal.  Cole Hamels may be the most important piece to the future of this team.  He is young, left-handed, and a stud pitcher and free agency is only months away.  Many fans think the Phillies are being stupid by not locking him up already, but honestly, it takes two to make a deal.  Both Hamels and the Phillies say they want to work out a long term contract.  It is going to be expensive, no matter how you look at it, Cliff Lee expensive.

The Phillies themselves are once again clamoring about money, which is nothing new and are also talking about the dreaded “luxury tax boogeyman”.  For a team with pretty deep pockets (don’t think this ownership group is as poor as they sometimes have claimed in the past) they have a deep seated fear of the luxury tax. I am not calling the Phillies owners cheap because they are not cheap anymore.  They have one of the higher payrolls in baseball and have not been afraid to spend like they used to, but they still do have some Scrooge in them even after being visited by the three spirits of the playoffs.

What this means is, something is going to have to give if they are to sign Hamels.  Many fans are now running scared that Hamels cannot be signed because you can’t have three $20 million pitchers.  What they do not see is that the Phillies in fact can.  Yes, I said the Phillies can afford it and without killing themselves on the luxury tax.  However as I also said something has to give.  Joe Blanton, Placido Polanco, Kyle Kendrick, Jose Contreras, Carlos Ruiz all come off the books after this season as they all can be free agents.  Of those I would expect Ruiz to be the one the Phillies most try to get to return because neither Rupp or Valle are close to being ready for the Majors, so the salaries of the others can go towards Cole.

A lot also depends on John Mayberry and Dom Brown as young controllable outfielders and how they both perform this season.  If both somehow perform well it may be huge for 2013 as Shane Victorino is also going to hit free agency and if he has a year like the last one he is going to be paid very well.  Also factoring in is Hunter Pence’s arbitration cases, both this year and next year.  If Pence wins this year and next, the Phillies may have to deal him for much younger and cheaper players to fill in holes.  With the bullpen being filled by younger and cheaper arms (besides Papelbon) with the up and coming young guns like Phillipe Aumont, Mike Stutes, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus, Antonio Bastardo, and Joe Savery you will have some savings there.

The back end of the rotation will be cheaper as well with Blanton and Kendrick (and their price tags) possibly being replaced by Drew Naylor (long shot), Austin Hyatt, or maybe even one of the baby aces.  What I am trying to say is despite all the doom and gloom, the Phillies can make this work and keep Cole Hamels.  It will not be easy and it will create other holes and it is based upon provision that Cole is not lying when he says he really does want to stay here. One thing is for sure, every Phillies fan hopes Cole is taken care of sooner rather than later, each day that goes by really raises the apprehension level.

Ruben’s Cube

One thing I am puzzled about in this Phillies offseason is the Phillies failing to pursue players who can plug in holes they say they want to take care of.  Other than Papelbon (and his somewhat puzzling set the market big contract), the Phillies seem to be uninterested in upgrading what they say they want to upgrade.  They said they would like more production from thirdbase, finally coming out and saying they are willing to deal Polanco and upgrade the position, AFTER all of the upgrades were off the board.  They say they want a 5th outfielder with either a good power bat or excellent defense and speed for the bench.  We then see outfielder after outfielder coming off of the board that fit what they said they wanted, many of them signing minor league deals with low Major League salaries if they make the team.

Today for example Willie Harris signed a minor league deal with the Reds.  Harris had reported interest from the Phillies and he fit what the team said they needed.  He can play all three outfield positions, is very good defensively, has decent speed, a little power, can get on base and work counts, and as a bonus he can also play the infield.  For a 25th man that is a lot of positives, plus he would have come at a manageable salary.  If he makes the team the Reds are only going to be costing themselves $800K + $200K in incentives (if he reaches all of them) for a guy who other than one major down year in Washington has been a very valuable bench player the last few years.  Do the Phillies think Scott Podsednik is going to bounce back after an injury plagued year he spent in the minor leagues and be a valuable part of the team?  Are we going to be forced having Michael Martinez over-matched in at bat after at bat again?

It is what makes this so puzzling, especially with the injury woes the team has had over the last few years.  Right now Juan Pierre looks like the only available outfielder who comes anywhere close to what the team said it wants, and the Tigers, Braves, Nationals, Mets, Astros, and Rays were all looking at him so even he might be gone soon. A bigger question if he isn’t gone is will his price even be affordable to the team?  I am trying to get all the colors to match up on the cube, but I seem to be having trouble doing it.  I can only hope the Phillies know what they are doing twisting the cube and solve this puzzle.  A 25th guy is probably unimportant in the grand scheme on paper but when an injury or two happens, that 25th guy might be your 7th or 8th guy.  I’d rather have someone with some needed skills in the position, especially with this team’s injury history and age.

Young Available Help?

Maybe the Phillies want to try to get a bit younger and cheaper.  If so Podsednik sure does not fit the bill.  There are some players who may interest the Phillies and may be or are available out there.  I am not advocating any of these players but conjecturing and going on some rumors that the team may have some interest in these players.  For those old enough to remember, just play the In Search Of them in your head and then pretend Leonard Nimoy is narrating.

One is a very familiar name.  Michael Taylor is on the outside looking in with the A’s after Billy Beane’s almost insane run on extra outfield types.  Word out of Oakland is Taylor has been in the A’s doghouse for well over two years now and he has to really play his way onto the team.  I have heard the Phillies have some interest in bringing back the youngster if the A’s do want to move him.  Personally, I believe the A’s have stunted Taylor’s growth and though Taylor deserves some of the blame himself with an “bad attitude” he never seemed to have in the Phillies system and a rumored lack of conditioning. If he did come back I believe that the Phillies could fix him as he thrived in their system until his trade in the Roy Halladay deal and subsequent flip to Oakland for Brett Wallace. It would give them a younger controllable cheap three position capable outfielder to go with Brown and Mayberry in their outfield picture.

Something we do need if Victorino does leave as a free agent or if they do have to trade Pence (which I hope they don’t).  It is also an insurance policy if Mayberry does flop like some think he will as the starting leftfielder and Dom Brown shows he really cannot play left.  As someone said why would the Phillies have any interest in him when they have Brown?  Well because a team usually runs at least four to five outfielders.  You do need some inexpensive depth and the Lehigh outfield right now is Dom Brown, Rich Thompson, and…?

Another outfielder who may interest the Phillies and is definitely available is Kyle Hudson, who was released by the Orioles yesterday.  The Phillies would not be interested in Hudson for his power and batting prowess, but the youngster covers a lot of ground in the outfield, can work a count, plays all three positions, has extreme speed (scouts say only Xavier Avery in the Orioles system has more speed), and he is an excellent bunter according to scouting reports.  He was also one of Joe Jordan’s special picks when Jordan was with the Orioles.  Which is why I think the Phillies may have an interest in him, Jordan may put in a few words with Ruben Amaro and Scott Proefrock and the Phillies may just roll the dice, especially with Tyson Gillies and Jiwan James (the two outfielders in the system who are like Hudson, save more power) being far away from being able to contribute.  If Dewayne Wise can keep getting jobs in the Majors, it’s not hard to see that this young man may have a spot too.

Another name of interest but will make the stat types cringe is the Reds Juan Francisco.  Francisco is a thirdbaseman, but has also seen time in the outfield and can play firstbase.  He has a lot of raw power (he hit a sky rocket 500+ foot home run in his limited time last season), but he has holes in his game. His defense is not really good at third and he has a long swing that results in a lot of strike outs, and his plate discipline is not the greatest.  With Polanco on his last legs and the price of Hamels possibly making any acquisition for the position need to be on the cheap, would the Phillies be willing to trade for him?  Would the Reds actually be willing to deal him, even with the holes in his game currently?  After all our old friend Scott Rolen, who is the Reds thirdbaseman, is also on his last legs.  One thing is the Reds still have Todd Frazier as a young player who can play third, so they may be willing to deal Francisco, who may just be another Russell Branyan type.  They dealt their untouchable Yonder Alonso a few weeks ago, granted it was for a huge haul in pitcher Matt Latos, but Francisco also isn’t the prospect the Reds believed Alonso was.

Charlie Manuel once had Russell Branyan as a protégé in Cleveland and also later in Philly briefly, so he has experience working with that type of player, could he possibly work Francisco into a player who may help the team in some way?  I know that this type is exactly the opposite type of player the Phillies line up needs as well, but there are no young cheap and controllable high on base power/defense guys for third really available, guys like Juan Francisco are what you most likely can get without killing your team too bad and you really want to retain Hamels right? It’s unknown if the Phillies could even acquire him, and I am not even advocating that they will or should. What the heck though, it is the offseason and it does give us something to talk about, even if it’s not really wholly plausible, logical, or even really worth doing.  It is better than sitting around and discussing an announcer’s hair or the moaning about how 2011 was an abject failure.  It is time to move on since it is now 2012.

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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.