Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Phillies’

Sandberg, Iron-Willed IronPig, Working Patiently Toward Show Time

When he was spurned as Mike Quade’s successor to manage the Chicago Cubs, the team for whom he shone as a Hall of Fame second baseman, Ryne Sandberg on the record was as gracious as he claimed Theo Epstein, the freshly installed president of baseball operations, had been in delivering the verdict.

“Theo called me 10 minutes after they issued the press release and told me that they have a list of guys and I’m not on it,” Sandberg told the Chicago Daily Herald. “He wished me good luck and said he hoped I got a chance somewhere soon. He didn’t owe me that at all. He didn’t have to do that. It was a classy move and I’m very appreciative of the phone call. In the end, I wished him and everybody there good luck.”

Iron willed patience  . . .

Sandberg wasn’t necessarily angry. Ask his one-time mentor, Dallas Green, who engineered the deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that made Sandberg a Cub in the first place, after he’d had about half a cup of coffee (if that much) with the Phillies, and it was something else entirely.

“When the Cubs did what they did,” Green tells ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, as part of a remarkable profile of Sandberg, “I don’t think he was pissed as much as hurt. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, but Ryne was like a second Mr. Cub kind of guy. He’s a Hall of Famer who paid his dues starting in ‘A’ ball. I don’t know what else the Cubs wanted him to do to prove he could manage.”

Epstein wanted someone with major league managing and coaching experience. Dale Sveum, his eventual hire, had been the Boston Red Sox’s third base coach in 2004-05, before returning to the Milwaukee Brewers (where he’d begun his career as an infielder in 1986) as bench coach and, in time, the club’s interim manager when Ned Yost was executed. Perhaps amazingly, Sveum took the Brewers into the 2008 postseason with a 7-5 finish, only to lose to the Phillies in the division series and become the Brewers’ hitting coach under Ken Macha.

From 2007-2010, Sandberg cut a respected swath managing up the Cubs’ organisational chain. He started with the Peoria Chiefs (A) . . . and led them to the Midwest League championship game. He got promoted to the Tennessee Smokies (AA) two years later . . . and led them to the Southern League playoffs. That earned him a prompt promotion to the Iowa Cubs (AAA) . . . and accolades as the Pacific Coast League’s Manager of the Year.

When Lou Piniella decided to retire in 2010 (midseason, as things turned out), he made a point of recommending Sandberg as his successor. The pre-Epstein Cubs installed Quade (who’d managed the I-Cubs for three seasons in the earlier Aughts), instead; Quade’s deceptive (24-13) finish helped remove the interim tag. Sandberg, who’d obeyed former general manager Jim Hendry’s advice to manage well and strong in the Cubs’ system first, wasn’t even a topic—except out in Cub Country, where the clamour for his promotion often hit fever pitch.

After Epstein shooed him away, however politely, Sandberg became a kind of prodigal son. The Phillies, his first major league organisation, hired him to take their Lehigh Valley (AAA) farm. All he did was manage the IronPigs to the International League’s Governor’s Cup finals. All he’s done is compile a 438-408 record as a minor league manager including what will be three seasons managing in AAA ball. And all he does, other than further solidify a reputation as a great baseball teacher with a flair for making his teams play and work like teams, is wait.

Sandberg is probably too polite to say it, but it probably vexed him quietly when two teams thought to have him on their radars, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox, decided after 2011 to hire managers (Mike Matheny, Cardinals; Robin Ventura, White Sox) with zero managing experience. The Cardinals needed a new skipper when Tony La Russa decided it was best to go out on top after a miraculous World Series championship; the White Sox needed someone to begin removing the toxic clouds bequeathed by Ozzie Guillen.

“Sandberg’s dogged pursuit of his goal and refusal to grouse about dues-paying,” Crasnick writes, “have won him a growing contingent of admirers in the industry. He has never vented publicly or shown impatience with his deliberate career track. On the contrary; he thinks all that time in the minors has laid the necessary groundwork for him to be successful when the opportunity arrives.”

Some think Sandberg has been too becalmed to impress Show general managers when they interview their next candidates. “He was very quiet as a player, and that was the only doubt I had,” Green tells Crasnick. “Could he bring emotion or a discipline to the dugout? I didn’t know. But everybody I talked to said, ‘Dallas, he’s really opened up. He’ll go out on the field. He’ll argue with umpires and get thrown out of games. He’s done it here.’ That was the growth part I hadn’t seen. He certainly has it.” If you take Crasnick’s word for it, there’s credit to spare going to Sandberg’s wife, Margaret (his second marriage; he underwent a bitter divorce in the mid-1990s that actually drove him into a first retirement as a player), for bringing him forth from his former reserved self.

Others perceive Sandberg as a Cub to the grave in his heart of hearts. The worst-kept secret in baseball may have been how he lusted to manage the Cubs. Until Epstein told Sandberg he wasn’t even a topic, Sandberg seems to have had no intention of going anywhere else.

Driving baseballs the way he now drives players—smooth, no nonsense, no fuss . . .

Crasnick speculates Sandberg being promoted to the Phillies’ coaching staff for next season. He also thinks incumbent manager Charlie Manuel, who’s trying to finish a deflating 2012 with an aging former champion but whose contract expires after 2013, isn’t necessarily going to reach for the rye bottle over the idea. “[I]f Manuel feels threatened by Sandberg’s presence,” Crasnick writes, “he certainly doesn’t show it. He sounds like Sandberg’s personal campaign manager.” Indeed. Manuel tells Crasnick, “I love talking hitting with him, and I like talking the game. He kind of revs me up. He’s going manage in the big leagues without a doubt, because he’s that good. He puts in the time and the work. In some ways, he’s quiet. But he’ll get what he wants, because he’s that good.”

Green illustrates a point about minor league managing that few seem to think about on contact. That lack of immediate thought could have been working to Sandberg’s detriment, too. “Triple-A is a horse[bleep] place to manage,” the former World Series-winning Phillies manager tells Crasnick. “Guys are always pissing and moaning about not being in the big leagues, or being sent down, or not getting a chance. You have all these grudge-holders with different agendas or an itch under their saddle, and there’s all that ragging going on. [Sandberg] is able to cut that ragging out and make them play the game of baseball. He’s done it everyplace he’s been.”

If you didn’t know better, you could just about take Green’s observation and wonder why it was that the Red Sox—whose freshman general manager, Ben Cherington, wanted Dale Sveum, but whose president, Larry Lucchino, may have led the effort to shove Bobby Valentine down the Red Sox throat—didn’t even give Sandberg a nod, never mind a wink. Like blind horses, the Red Sox threw a lit match into a gas house and watched it explode most of 2012. Sandberg, if you take Crasnick’s word for it, is exactly what the Red Sox were foolish enough only to think they were getting when they hired Valentine:

Sandberg demands professionalism from his players, whether it means running out groundballs or standing at attention for the national anthem. He preaches the team concept, and tells players that individual accolades will come if the team wins games. He urges the IronPigs to pull for each other, and believes in the importance of community service, readily consenting when the club asks him to appear at a local soup kitchen or visit with wheelchair-bound kids in the Miracle League . . . 

During his time in Lehigh Valley, Frandsen noticed that the manager never threw up his hands in exasperation or let out a sigh of discontent if a player swung at a bad pitch or made a mental gaffe. Sandberg would pull the player aside and quietly but firmly tell him the right way to do things, and leave it at that. Although Sandberg never played for Bobby Cox, he has a Cox-like aversion to showing up players or calling them out publicly.

Morganna missed. Sandberg didn’t.

Sandberg, in other words, would never have questioned Kevin Youkilis’s heart, betrayed Kelly Shoppach’s confidence, left Jon Lester in for an eleven-run beating (I’ve never seen a manager watch the bullpens . . . [b]ut it’s just another sign that he cares—Scott Elarton, ten-year major league pitcher now with Lehigh Valley), gone public with a lame crack about a young infielder’s hard inning with the glove, or dismissed most of his aura as a matter of players having to accept they might become collateral damage in the middle of the shooting at him. But neither would he have sanctioned the very idea that any of his players had quit on him down a rickety stretch.

This is the guy who was so even-keeled that not even Morganna the Kissing Bandit could rattle him. Granted that he got a little help from Wrigley Field security when she tried to nail him—it was the first night game ever played in the old yard, in 1988—but Sandberg still stepped back into the batter’s box and hit the next pitch into the bleachers. About the only thing that can rattle him now is badly executed baseball. Waiting it out to get his hard-earned shot at major league managing isn’t exactly the worst burden Sandberg’s ever carried. And he knows it.

WHO MIGHT HAVE SANDBERG IN SIGHT NOW?

I don’t apologise for beating a bit of a drum on Ryne Sandberg’s behalf. I’ve supported him getting a major league managing chance for three years and counting. If Jerry Crasnick is right, and it’s just a matter of when, not if, who might be Sandberg suitors down this year’s stretch or after the season?

Valentine—still going, possibly?

Boston Red Sox—Just because they rid themselves of a few players thought to be somewhat less than his allies doesn’t exactly mean Bobby Valentine’s going to survive to manage the second year of his two-year deal. General manager Ben Cherington looked more like a genius for swinging The Deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers than president Larry Lucchino looks for having led the cramming of Valentine down the Red Sox’s throat, and while there’s a lot less public turmoil from the Red Sox clubhouse it doesn’t mean they’re that willing to give Valentine a chance to finish cleaning up the mess. Normally, it’s just a matter of time before Valentine’s divide-and-conquer style re-toxifies. And, right now, you can pretty much write the 2012 Red Sox off as badly lost, a point hammered home (literally, too) Friday night when the Oakland Athletics battered them, 20-2. (Battered? More like human rights violations.)

Cherington, remember, first wanted Dale Sveum—whose Show managing experience amounted to one eleventh-hour stretch drive and an early postseason exit. Sveum seems to be safe in Wrigley Field for the time being, since the Cubs are strictly in rebuild. There’s much speculation about the Red Sox pondering a trade to bring John Farrell, their former pitching coach, back from Toronto to take the bridge, but the Blue Jays haven’t indicated (publicly, anyway) they’d be open to the deal. If they’re not, and if the Red Sox’s plans include picking and choosing from among their younger prospects to help re-fortify the parent club, Sandberg’s rep as a minor league manager could only add to his prospects as a Red Sox manager, for a team in dire need of learning and re-learning the right ways.

Sandberg, by the way, isn’t an obscure commodity in Boston: the Red Sox interviewed him in 2010 for the managing job at Pawtucket, before the Red Sox decided to stay within the existing organisation and promote Arnie Beyeler.

Cleveland Indians—A pleasant surprise in 2011, when they had baseball’s best record through May and stayed in the pennant picture until September, this year’s Tribe looked like a better encore—they spent most of the first half near or at the top of the American League Central (they spent a little over half of April leading it, in fact)—until a 5-28 spell,  including Friday night’s loss to Texas right after a sweep by the Oakland Athletics, seemed to hint Manny Acta was on the hot seat.

Acta—sacrificial lamb?

Acta can’t be blamed for injuries and underachievement, since his players seem mostly to like playing for him. But there’s speculation that if general manager Chris Antonetti fears his own job is on the line he might execute Acta, maybe as a bid to show he’s not backing down. Might. But would they have Sandberg in the Rolodex?

Houston Astros—They threw former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills over the side after a couple of years in which Mills, admittedly, had about as much solid stock to work with as the Pontiac Aztek. Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco may have a comparable handicap, but he’s also 1-10 since taking the bridge. Say what you will about the Astros as the team to be named later to complete the deal making a National League team out of the Brewers. But if there’s to be a new atmosphere of reaching for winning baseball and team ball, Sandberg certainly couldn’t hurt.

Kansas City Royals—Ned Yost may be managing himself out of another gig, since the Royals—who were widely believed to be on the threshold of breaking into competitiveness if not quite a run at even a wild card—have broken only into another long season’s mediocrity. Remember: this is the same Ned Yost who managed himself out of a job with twelve games to play in 2008 and watched his bench coach Sveum finish with a trip to the postseason. Don’t be terribly shocked if Sandberg might be among those in the Royals’ sights.

Will the Blizzard of Ozz freeze himself out of Florida?

Miami Marlins—Their winter 2011-12 spending spree, and their prying Ozzie Guillen out of Chicago, have both blown up in their faces. Guillen’s fresh rant that practically implied his injured players were really quitters probably didn’t do him any huge favours, either. If the Fish—whose upper management isn’t exactly famous for deep thinking—decide to stuff and mount the Blizzard of Ozz, don’t be surprised if Sandberg turns up on a candidate list at least.

New York Mets—As late as a fortnight ago I assumed Terry Collins was safe. If I were making the call I’d keep him that way—he’s Bobby Valentine without the divide-and-conquer, no-secret’s-safe style. But the whisperings have actually begun that he may not be as safe as many think, even though it’s hardly his fault that the Mets couldn’t (and haven’t) lived up to their first-half results. They might be—would be—foolish to execute Collins over their second-half deflation, since he actually has done his best with what he’s had to work with. But if they do, Sandberg could be on their to-do list.

Farrell—please come to Boston?

Toronto Blue Jays—The Jays have been battered by injuries in 2012, a season in which some thought they could contend for a wild card spot at least. ESPN says the Red Sox actually thought of making a play for Farrell after 2011 until the Blue Jays pulled him back, but that was then and this could be now. Analyst Buster Olney has told The Mike and Mike Show he thinks the Jays will ask Farrell at season’s end (he, too, is signed through the end of 2013) if he wants to stay and, if the answer’s no, pull the trigger on a swap with the Sox. The likely trade: Farrell for pitcher Daniel Bard, or so the incessant speculation would have it.

If the Jays discover Farrell might want out and they make the Red Sox deal, don’t be surprised if Sandberg turns up among their candidates.

The A’s Pick a Shortstop Vet, and Other Picks and Pecks . . .

Looks like both sides of this deal got what they wanted: the Oakland Athletics, making a somewhat surprising pennant race stand, got their veteran shortstop, and the Arizona Diamondbacks finally made room for their preferred shortstop.

Drew—his rep took a hit when some questioned his rehab diligence . . .

The Snakes traded Stephen Drew to the A’s Monday night, after Drew passed through the waiver wire with only cursory nods, seemingly, from two contenders, the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels, both of whom decided it wasn’t worth picking up the $2 million Drew’s owed through the season when, as Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal notes, he isn’t all that likely to make a big difference for Oakland down the stretch.

Drew missed almost a full year thanks to a broken ankle; he’d had 155 plate appearances and a .601 OPS to show for those at the time of the trade. The Diamondbacks—who were willing to unload him despite being only five out in the National League West—prefer Willie Bloomquist playing short. But the Snakes couldn’t make a non-waiver trade deadline deal involving Drew when they still had worries about Bloomquist’s back, Rosenthal notes. Now, however, Bloomquist is due to return Friday following a short stint on the disabled list.

The A’s must be hoping Drew regains the form in which he hit .291 with 76 extra-base hits four years ago. They must also be salivating that they could get him for a low-A infielder (Sean Jamieson), even if Drew proves a rental, knowing the Diamondbacks weren’t likely to be able to re-sign a guy with a $10 million mutual option for 2013 and/or a $1.35 million buyout.

Drew may have worn out his welcome in Arizona despite being a fan favourite. Principal owner Ken Kendrick, talking in June, wasn’t exactly overjoyed about his shortstop’s injury . . . or, apparently, his attitude:

You know, I’m going to be real direct about Stephen. I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now. And, frankly, I for one am disappointed. I’m going to be real candid and say I think Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than going out and supporting the team that’s paying his salary. All you can do is hope that the player is treating the situation with integrity, and, frankly, we have our concerns.

Drew was a trade rumour subject for much of the non-waiver period, and Kendrick apparently wasn’t the only one questioning Drew’s rehab efforts. It helped to compromise Drew’s previous reputation for hard-nosed (not bullheaded) play with brains as much as brawn applied.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

Thanks for the memories . . . ?

IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE?—The Philadelphia Phillies aren’t going to let a little thing like having traded the man stop them from going ahead with Hunter Pence Bobblehead Night. They’ll pass out the statues—which were made before the season, never mind before the Phillies fell far enough out of the race to think about trading Pence (to the San Francisco Giants) in a payroll-cutting bid—tonight for the Phillies’ game against the Cincinnati Reds.

DUI DUMMY—That would be Michael Pineda, alleged to be a New York Yankee pitcher (he’s been out all season thus far, following his trade from Seattle, rehabbing an injured shoulder), getting bagged in the wee small hours of Monday in Tampa. It took $500 to spring him on bail.

Skeetish about a comeback . . .

ROCKET FOOL?—Roger Clemens is back in uniform—the Rocket signed with the independent Sugarland Skeeters (Atlantic League) Monday. It might be mad fun to speculate on whether it means (yet another) major league comeback (he’d beat Jamie Moyer for being the oldest man to pitch in a major league uniform, for one thing), but my favourite observation comes from ESPN Insider’s Dan Symborski:

My first reaction was happiness at the possibility that we’d get to delay an unpleasant Hall of Fame argument surrounding the Rocket for an additional five years. My second reaction was amusement that given the state of Houston’s rotation, which looks a bit like supermarket shelves the day before a blizzard, he would actually be an upgrade on a few of the pitchers being trotted out at the moment.

That’s bound to leave the proverbial mark . . .

SPEEDY RECOVERY—To Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, who’s undergoing treatment for a brain tumour in New York. The MLBPA said Weiner began treatment Monday and will undergo the treatment for a month.

BOSTON CLEANUP?—Some think the Red Sox’s beheading of pitching coach Bob McClure may actually portend the beginning of a serious cleanup. McClure, who wasn’t exactly Bobby Valentine’s man as pitching coach, will be succeeded in the interim by Randy Niemann, whom Valentine has known since their days with the Mets, when Niemann was bullpen coach and rehab pitching coordinator under Valentine. Unloading McClure could be taken as a show of support for the embattled Valentine . . . or (since bench coach Tim Bogar and catching coach Gary Tuck—both of whom aren’t exactly Valentine allies—remain intact), it could be taken as the beginning of a wholesale cleanup that may well wait until season’s end, especially if the Red Sox a) aren’t willing to take the interim tag off Niemann; and, b) are yet considering Valentine’s walking papers considering the seasonal turmoil to which he’s contributed a little too much.

The A's Pick a Shortstop Vet, and Other Picks and Pecks . . .

Looks like both sides of this deal got what they wanted: the Oakland Athletics, making a somewhat surprising pennant race stand, got their veteran shortstop, and the Arizona Diamondbacks finally made room for their preferred shortstop.

Drew—his rep took a hit when some questioned his rehab diligence . . .

The Snakes traded Stephen Drew to the A’s Monday night, after Drew passed through the waiver wire with only cursory nods, seemingly, from two contenders, the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels, both of whom decided it wasn’t worth picking up the $2 million Drew’s owed through the season when, as Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal notes, he isn’t all that likely to make a big difference for Oakland down the stretch.

Drew missed almost a full year thanks to a broken ankle; he’d had 155 plate appearances and a .601 OPS to show for those at the time of the trade. The Diamondbacks—who were willing to unload him despite being only five out in the National League West—prefer Willie Bloomquist playing short. But the Snakes couldn’t make a non-waiver trade deadline deal involving Drew when they still had worries about Bloomquist’s back, Rosenthal notes. Now, however, Bloomquist is due to return Friday following a short stint on the disabled list.

The A’s must be hoping Drew regains the form in which he hit .291 with 76 extra-base hits four years ago. They must also be salivating that they could get him for a low-A infielder (Sean Jamieson), even if Drew proves a rental, knowing the Diamondbacks weren’t likely to be able to re-sign a guy with a $10 million mutual option for 2013 and/or a $1.35 million buyout.

Drew may have worn out his welcome in Arizona despite being a fan favourite. Principal owner Ken Kendrick, talking in June, wasn’t exactly overjoyed about his shortstop’s injury . . . or, apparently, his attitude:

You know, I’m going to be real direct about Stephen. I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now. And, frankly, I for one am disappointed. I’m going to be real candid and say I think Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than going out and supporting the team that’s paying his salary. All you can do is hope that the player is treating the situation with integrity, and, frankly, we have our concerns.

Drew was a trade rumour subject for much of the non-waiver period, and Kendrick apparently wasn’t the only one questioning Drew’s rehab efforts. It helped to compromise Drew’s previous reputation for hard-nosed (not bullheaded) play with brains as much as brawn applied.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

Thanks for the memories . . . ?

IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE?—The Philadelphia Phillies aren’t going to let a little thing like having traded the man stop them from going ahead with Hunter Pence Bobblehead Night. They’ll pass out the statues—which were made before the season, never mind before the Phillies fell far enough out of the race to think about trading Pence (to the San Francisco Giants) in a payroll-cutting bid—tonight for the Phillies’ game against the Cincinnati Reds.

DUI DUMMY—That would be Michael Pineda, alleged to be a New York Yankee pitcher (he’s been out all season thus far, following his trade from Seattle, rehabbing an injured shoulder), getting bagged in the wee small hours of Monday in Tampa. It took $500 to spring him on bail.

Skeetish about a comeback . . .

ROCKET FOOL?—Roger Clemens is back in uniform—the Rocket signed with the independent Sugarland Skeeters (Atlantic League) Monday. It might be mad fun to speculate on whether it means (yet another) major league comeback (he’d beat Jamie Moyer for being the oldest man to pitch in a major league uniform, for one thing), but my favourite observation comes from ESPN Insider’s Dan Symborski:

My first reaction was happiness at the possibility that we’d get to delay an unpleasant Hall of Fame argument surrounding the Rocket for an additional five years. My second reaction was amusement that given the state of Houston’s rotation, which looks a bit like supermarket shelves the day before a blizzard, he would actually be an upgrade on a few of the pitchers being trotted out at the moment.

That’s bound to leave the proverbial mark . . .

SPEEDY RECOVERY—To Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, who’s undergoing treatment for a brain tumour in New York. The MLBPA said Weiner began treatment Monday and will undergo the treatment for a month.

BOSTON CLEANUP?—Some think the Red Sox’s beheading of pitching coach Bob McClure may actually portend the beginning of a serious cleanup. McClure, who wasn’t exactly Bobby Valentine’s man as pitching coach, will be succeeded in the interim by Randy Niemann, whom Valentine has known since their days with the Mets, when Niemann was bullpen coach and rehab pitching coordinator under Valentine. Unloading McClure could be taken as a show of support for the embattled Valentine . . . or (since bench coach Tim Bogar and catching coach Gary Tuck—both of whom aren’t exactly Valentine allies—remain intact), it could be taken as the beginning of a wholesale cleanup that may well wait until season’s end, especially if the Red Sox a) aren’t willing to take the interim tag off Niemann; and, b) are yet considering Valentine’s walking papers considering the seasonal turmoil to which he’s contributed a little too much.

Speaking of Charlie Manuel . . .

. . . the Phillies’ manager is the diametric opposite of Bobby Valentine when it comes to handling his players if they should make a mistake or talk to him privately.

Apparently, Manuel was less than thrilled when shortstop Jimmy Rollins, a veteran who knows better by far, jogged it up the first base line on a by-the-book ground ball to shortstop Wednesday against Miami. The manager and his shortstop sat down behind closed doors afterward.

Both men talked about it to the press after they had their private confab, but neither man tried to make it sound as though the other were simply looking to stick it to him. And neither seems to have left any impression that he couldn’t care less whether the other knows the truth.

Jimmy Rollins (l.) and Charlie Manuel, who should probably be conducting diplomacy seminars in Boston . . .

We have two rules: Hustle and be on time. We’ll see. That’s all I have to say. This is between Jimmy and me. After talking to him, I think he’s ready to play. He should be running hard from now on. We’ll see.

Thus spake Manuel. Now, Rollins:

I was just upset before I even got up there. I was already out of it. Mentally, just upset. Those things only come about when you lose, and that’s the truth. Nobody said nothing the day before when you win, or when you go from first to third on a ground ball up the middle, or when you score (from first base) on a ball hit down the line.

He went on to say being upset—possibly at the game already being beyond the Phillies’ recovery, since they lost, 9-2; possibly over his frustrating enough season after signing a lucrative three-year deal after last season, trying to live up to it even as he begins aging—was no excuse for not hustling.

Some published reports in the Philadelphia press suggested “the veteran-laded clubhouse” hasn’t done as “three team sources” think ought to have been done and chastised Rollins among themselves. But Rollins and Manuel have handled things the right way. Neither man let the other bury him; neither Manuel nor Rollins showed any inclination to leave each other roasted.

The folks in Boston might care to take note.

Lee Has a Claimant in Los Angeles

Cliff Lee did indeed hit the waiver wire and the Los Angeles Dodgers put a claim on the Philadelphia lefthander Friday, giving both sides 72 hours to work out a deal before the Phillies can pull him back from the wire.

The Phillies insist Lee “isn’t going anywhere,” according to general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., but Lee’s salary in a year when he’s in demand but has had his struggles would be a too-attractive salary for the Phillies to shed with other big but untradeable contracts still on the team.

If the Phillies end up pulling Lee back but put him back on the wire, he could not be pulled back a second time. The Dodgers have already plucked one Phillies pitcher off the waiver wire—Joe Blanton, for whom the Dodgers consummated a deal Friday. ESPN said the Dodgers would send the Phillies a minor league player to complete the deal.

When Lee was on the non-waiver trade deadline market, the Phillies were said to be looking for a reasonable prospect or two plus the receiving team to pick up the rest of Lee’s salary. The Dodgers have said they’re willing to spend under their new ownership, but it isn’t known whether they’re willing to pay all of  the $96 million left on his five-year deal. They’ve already made it known they won’t budge on keeping top prospect Allen Webster in any deal with any team.

It’s likely, too, that the Dodgers may have put a claim on Lee to keep rivals in the National League West from trying to bag him, although none of the division’s clubs are thought to be anywhere near having the resources to make such a deal.

Blanton Does L.A., and other trade tossings . . .

Joe Blanton has a new home in the Philadelphia Phillies’ continuing bid to fine-tune the club for a 2013 comeback: he goes to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who claimed him off the waiver wire Friday, in exchange for either the proverbial player to be named later or some fresh cabbage from the Dodgers’ crisper. Like his erstwhile-turned-continuing teammate Shane Victorino, who was dealt to the Dodgers as the non-waiver trade deadline loomed Tuesday, Blanton can become a free agent at season’s end.

Go west, young man . . .

The Phillies, however, still have a mile or three to go before they get the complete salary relief they’ve sought in hand with remaking the club. Cliff Lee is on the waiver wire at this writing, too, and though his remaining annual salaries and 2016 option might make a few teams a little nervous, the bottom line may yet prove to be picking up a quality lefthander for a stretch run, assuming the team in question isn’t on Lee’s no-trade list.

Sports Illustrated thinks Lee has about a 65 percent chance of being dealt. Right now, with Victorino, Blanton, and Hunter Pence (to the San Francisco Giants) gone, Lee may be the only tradeable asset the Phillies have to move this season, what with the other high-priced spreads on the roster having the kind of seasons that’s flatted their trade value. The big holes for the Phillies now: third base and the outfield. The big pressure on them: getting at least a decent prospect or two in return.

Other waiver trade possibilities at this writing:

Aramis Ramirez (Brewers, 3B)—It’s probably fair to presume Cliff Lee isn’t going anywhere but to a bona fide contender, which the Brewers aren’t, so the Phillies can’t think about Ramirez as a veteran stopgap at third for the rest of 2012 and perhaps all 2013.  Ramirez also has something else the Phillies don’t need: his backloaded contract, considering the Phillies’ own salary problems. The good news for the Brewers: a) There are contenders who could use Ramirez’s experience and power at third base; the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Oakland Athletics come to mind at once; and, b) Brewers owner Mark Attanasio isn’t exactly shy about spending if it’ll mean improving the Brewers, even if spending in this case means eating some of Ramirez’s salary.

Matt Garza (Cubs, RHP)—The fluid on Garza’s upper arm stopped him from going anywhere at the non-waiver deadline, but if he recovers well and shortly he could still go as a waiver trade. A point in the favour of any team who kicks his proverbial tires: he’s under team control through the end of the 2013, so he’s more than just a rental for any team interested in him.

Denard Span (Twins, OF)—He’s probably the best everyday player on the market right now; a contender who needs a leadoff man could romance him. The problem is that the Twins aren’t in all that much of a hurry to lose a guy under team control through the end of 2014, but they might want to think twice—he could bring a nice return of a prospect or two from, among others, Washington, Cincinnati, or Detroit—all three of whom are contenders, and all three of whom could use Span profitably.

* B.J. Upton (Rays, OF)SI says it best: The next time your buddies are going on and on about how players only show up when they’re playing for a contract, show them B.J. Upton’s 2012 statistics. Upton, who can hit the market after this season, has once again failed to turn his enormous talent into production, batting .244/.305/.372 with deteriorating plate discipline (101/32 K/BB) and a lack of power (nine homers and a full-season low .372 SLG). Upton’s poor season has made it less likely that he’ll cash in on the free-agent market, which in turn opens up the possibility that he would accept a one-year, $12.5-million qualifying offer from the Rays…which may make the Rays queasy about tendering that offer to remain eligible for a compensatory draft pick. Translation: The Rays may have to settle for working out a deal since it isn’t likely Upton clears waivers.

* Alfonso Soriano (Cubs, OF)—Was it really that long ago that we thought of him as the one the Yankees let get away the better to beat the Red Sox to Alex Rodriguez’s punch? God knows we haven’t been able to go a month (sometimes a week) without hearing about Soriano’s decline ever since he signed that off-the-chart Cub contract, which has been a millstone around the Cubs’ necks long enough. Yes, he’s having a bounceback season this year, or at least his best year since about 2008, but when the Cubs couldn’t find a way to tie him to a Ryan Dempster deal (if Dempster had gone to the Dodgers Soriano might have gone along for the ride) they may have lost their best chance to get out of Soriano’s final two years. Now? If a team desperate for righthanded power crops up, that might be the Cubs’ last best hope to unload him this year.

The End for Abreu, Possibly . . .

Abreu—approaching the end of a solid career?

Someone had to go in order for the Los Angeles Dodgers to clear a spot for incoming Shane Victorino, and it looks as though veteran Bobby Abreu, Victorino’s former Philadelphia Phillies teammate, is the unlucky candidate. The Dodgers designated him for assignment Wednesday.

It isn’t that Abreu had become baggage by any means—in seventy games he had a .359 on-base percentage, though he wasn’t hitting quite to his one-time level—but the Dodgers for now just had little enough role for him now other than pinch-hitting duty, with an outfield of Victorino, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. Clearly, according to ESPN, manager Don Mattingly wasn’t all that anxious to let Abreu go just yet.

Bobby kind of came at a time when we had some guys hurt, did a great job for us. He’s another guy in the clubhouse who’s been good with the young players, talking to them about hitting. To me, he’s an intelligent guy who understands the game and everything that’s going on with it. He’s just good for guys.

Once a Phillies mainstay who became a better than useful player with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, Abreu found himself released in late April when Mike Trout—making a solid Rookie of the Year and American League Most Valuable Player case (he leads the Show in WAR at this writing)—was promoted to stay.

The Dodgers picked him up with the Angels paying most of his $9 million 2012 salary. Mattingly hopes the Dodgers can hold onto Abreu in one way or another, pending his acceptance to Albuquerque (AAA) until the Show rosters can expand 1 September, ESPN says. The Dodgers have ten days to trade or release the veteran otherwise; if they find a deal to their reluctant liking, Abreu could still help a team as a designated hitter who can still hit reasonably enough (his outfield skills, which were never formidable, have all but eroded) as well as mentoring their younger hitters.

Abreu himself was realistic about his role with the Dodgers during July, even though his once-formidable power numbers were no longer possible at age 38.

I never change my approach. I’m just trying to work the count, get on base and start rallies. I’ve got good guys behind me that can knock home some runs, so I just need to get on base.

If this is approaching the end of Abreu’s line, though, he would leave the game with a formidable resume. Over seventeen major league seasons, he is, at this writing, number 23 on the all-time doubles list (he led the National League in 2002 with 50 doubles), and he’s number 51 all time in times on base. In parts of 17 seasons, Abreu has amassed 2,434 hits and drawn 1,451 walks. He actually ranks 51st in baseball history in overall times on base. Perhaps more impressive: His 565 doubles rank 23rd in the history of baseball. He’s driven in 100 or more runs in a season eight times.

In his heyday with the Phillies . . .

And, Abreu has more WAR than a small boatload of players including a few Hall of Famers—his 57 overall WAR through this writing are more than Hall of Famers Zack Wheat, Yogi Berra, Willie Stargell, Bill Dickey, Joe Medwick, Tony Perez, and Kirby Puckett, among others; among active players, he’s behind only (in ascending order) Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran, Roy Halladay, Derek Jeter, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez. He has 57.3 offensive WAR, which puts him in the top hundred all-time in that isolated category.

He was highly enough valued even as he approached the apparent end. What might be forgotten now is this: before the Yankees unloaded A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates last winter, they wanted to bring Abreu back (he’d been a useful Yankee from 2006-2008 and, among other things, stole the last known base in the old Yankee Stadium before it closed) and offered Burnett to the Angels for him.

The Angels were willing to do it. They respected Abreu while having no room for him as a regular anymore, after he’d played well enough for them over three seasons, making a parallel reputation for shepherding their younger hitters toward better plate patience. But Burnett scotched the deal, infuriating Abreu, who wanted to go to the Yankees if the Angels couldn’t play him every day (the Yankees sought DH help last winter and Abreu would have fit the plan well enough) when they had young comers ready to step up.

Burnett ended up with the Pirates, where he’s enjoying a renaissance of his own. (He’s got a respectable record on the season thus far and damn near no-hit the Cubs the other night.) Abreu ended up further fighting the reality that age was finally catching up to him in terms of regular play, demanding the Angels play him as an everyday DH or trade him. (The Angels also couldn’t swing a deal with the Indians for him.) Then, they released him to make room for Trout.

Abreu actually might have gotten back to the Yankees in another way. Strange as it may seem, considering how the Phillies unloaded him to the Yankees for a package of non-entities at the 2006 non-waiver deadline, the Phillies had ideas last winter about dealing for Abreu—it was thought they’d send Joe Blanton to the Angels for Abreu, then flip Abreu to the Yankees for Burnett. That deal didn’t pan out, either.

The Phillies did become a National League East powerhouse after the original Abreu trade. But Abreu’s image as a clubhouse cancer may actually have stemmed from his concern that, as good as they looked, those Phillies weren’t as close to contending as some thought. And the Phillies’ rise may have had less to do with moving Abreu than you might think.

You wonder if the Phillies would have bagged more than one World Series ring in the coming run if they’d kept him, especially since Abreu did help the Yankees win the American League East in 2006 and the American League wild card in 2007. (He also played well for them in those two division series, both of which the Yankees lost.) You wonder if the Phillies would have done better in their impressive run had they gotten better for Abreu, since his value was at its absolute peak at the time of that trade. Bleacher Report isn’t the only one who wonders if there weren’t better offers on the table for him (only one of the minor leaguers who went to the Phillies is still with the organisation), and whether the 2006 Phillies used the chemistry issue to beard a salary dump.

Abreu may have a solid future ahead of him as a hitting instructor, at least. He’s smart enough to become a manager, even. He’s been, basically, one of the game’s quiet stars, a solid hitter with an off-the-chart ability to work pitch counts (he often led his league in pitches seen) and reach base. (He has averaged 126 strikeouts per 162 games lifetime, but he’s also averaged 101 walks per 162.) As a matter of fact, according to the Bill James definitions, Abreu meets 54 of the Hall of Fame batting standards (the average Hall of Famer would meet 50) and scores 94 on the Hall of Fame batting monitor.

I bet you didn’t realise Abreu shook out through this writing as just about an average Hall of Famer. The kind who snuck up on you when you almost weren’t looking, even if his case, if he has one, would be made almost entirely by his bat and his ability to reach base. (At best, Abreu was a serviceable outfielder; at worst, he could be a bit of a klutz whom people thought, perhaps wrongly, was dogging it.) I don’t think he will become a Hall of Famer; I’d have to say his odds are long enough. (Among other liabilities: he’s only ever been an All-Star twice.) But never let anyone tell you this guy was anything less than a thoroughgoing professional who learned to use his skills as they were, not as he might have hoped they’d be.

Abreu’s been a  brainy hitter with quite a bit of power, brilliance on the basepaths (bet you didn’t realise his lifetime stolen base percentage as of today is .756) and quite a bit of run productivity. (He averaged 194 runs produced per 162 games lifetime, through this writing.) He learned his strengths, played with and to them, and did whatever he could do within them to help his teams win, even if his teams often didn’t realise what they would miss until after they let him go.

DID YOU KNOW . . . Bobby Abreu has been almost the same hitter on the road as he’s been at home. He has only twenty less lifetime home runs on the road; his road OBP and slugging percentages aren’t that far off his home figures; and, he’s been practically even up between the first and second halves of a season. He was as consistent as they came when his skills were at full strength.

His best months, lifetime: June and September/October, in both of which he’s a lifetime .400+ hitter. Situational hitting: .942 OPS with runners in scoring position; .855 with a man on third and two out;  .928 with two out and men in scoring position; 1.052 with two out and the bases loaded; .855 when the game was late and close; and, .882 when the game was tied or within a run either way.

In other words, Bobby Abreu was an excellent clutch hitter. Maybe not quite a Hall of Fame-caliber clutch hitter, but you never should have been anywhere close to a nervous breakdown if he was at the plate and the game was on the line or close enough to it.