The Phillies were scouring the trade market for starting pitching help even before Brett Myers became the latest big-name casualty with the increasingly fashionable torn hip labrum. Teammate Chase Utley beat the four-month prediction for him to return from the same injury, but Phillies people understandably worry it may be more difficult for a pitcher to come back as quickly. In any case, the world champions are aiming high now in their quest for a starter, with Jake Peavy appearing to top their list of desirable aces, perhaps followed by Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Erik Bedard.
Ruben Amaro, the Phillies' aggressive new GM, understands better than anyone that this is a win-now team, one that can get back to the World Series if it has enough pitching. "We'd like to add depth at the top of the rotation if we can," Amaro said by phone, making it clear they aren't merely hoping to patch things up in Myers' absence. The Phillies appear to have payroll flexibility and a clear intention not to waste what's likely the best lineup in the National League. Rookie Antonio Bastardo will temporarily take Myers' spot, but Amaro said they wouldn't mind adding a pitcher who's "more established" to their pitching mix.
Amaro made what may be the best winter pickup by signing Raul Ibanez to a $31.5 million, three-year deal. But as he admitted, swinging a deal for a top pitcher is "easier said than done," especially with complications such as existing contracts, no-trade clauses and the whims of outside ownership. "There's no question it's tough to do," Amaro conceded.
The Phillies do have enough decent, young players and prospects to make a trade work. Multitalented outfielder John Mayberry Jr. has been impressive in a cameo this year. Also, Philadelphia's farm system contains respectable talent, such as shortstop Jason Donald, catcher Lou Marson, pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Kyle Drabek and outfielders Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor. The vaunted trio of Donald, Marson and Carrasco are struggling, at least statistically, so far this year, and one competing GM said they see Marson and Carrasco as more valuable pieces than Donald at this point.
Peavy is the logical fit for the Phillies. However, he has full no-trade veto power. To this point, there's no indication Peavy has any interest in coming to the East Coast, especially to a team in a clear hitters' park. (While agent Barry Axelrod publicly said the Phils would fulfill Peavy's goal to play in the National League for a winner, he wasn't as certain about the geographic concern). Plus, in terms of fan passion, Philly is about as opposite from San Diego as he'd find. Amaro declined to discuss Peavy (or anyone currently playing elsewhere), though it's no surprise someone familiar with their thinking said Peavy is at or near the top of their list.
Beyond Peavy, some other possibilities include Oswalt (though the Astros historically don't like to sell their stars), Lee if he hits the market (the Indians are still a ways from that call, but they continue to look star-crossed, with Grady Sizemore joining Travis Hafner on the disabled list Sunday) and Bedard. Bedard is back to performing up to his talent level, and his $7.75 million salary shouldn't scare anyone off. But one person familiar with the Phillies' situation suggested Bedard's known personality quirks might be a red flag for them. Of course, they'd be interested in Roy Halladay, but there's no evidence he'll be available. No matter how many teams come clamoring for Halladay, and no matter what the Jays do, there's no reason to think they're going to trade him. Just spoke to yet another Jays person who repeated that it isn't happening. Toronto likes its chances next year, too, once Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan return. San Diego's Chris Young could also be a possibility for Philly, as well as Aaron Harang (depending on whether the Reds remain in contention).
While some might assume the Phillies would prefer a right-hander to go with ace Cole Hamels, Amaro said that's not an issue. He wants to acquire "the best I can get." So it certainly appears for now that the Phillies will not be settling for a Brad Penny-type patch job.
Fired Rockies manager Clint Hurdle was sufficiently respectful and thankful at his going-away press conference, as he's a smart fellow and has to understand that eight years is ample opportunity. (Though, it would have been preferable for the naturally cooperative Hurdle to take questions one more time.)
Hurdle's a great guy, but the stark reality is that in those eight years, Hurdle posted only one winning season. In one especially harsh assessment, one competing executive said, "[Hurdle] had 22 great games, and that was the only highlight," referring to the 21 victories in 22 games that took the Rockies on their improbable ride to the World Series in 2007. That's a little unfair, as Hurdle was handicapped by low payrolls in recent years (the Monfort brothers have scaled back considerably).
But Hurdle, never a great strategist, didn't appear to be inspiring his young troops this year, signaling the end. The Rockies have to be better than this. Troy Tulowitzki isn't a .227 hitter, nor is Garrett Atkins a .195 hitter.
Iconic manager Joe Torre is usually right. But when it comes to his own possible retirement, his record isn't as perfect. He's been ruminating aloud about retirement for years. So with him leaving open the possibility he may retire after his contract expires following the 2010 season, I assume that just means the negotiations are close to beginning.
Torre's not going to want to give up a great seven-month job (eight with October) with reasonable hours and high pay, and there's no reason he should. I think he's gotten even better since getting to L.A. The job he and a very strong coaching staff (including Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa and Rick Honeycutt) are doing there this year with Hiroki Kuroda on the disabled list and Manny Ramirez on the banned list is truly remarkable. They're winning games at an incredible rate without many home runs (they lead the NL in runs despite hitting fewer home runs than everyone but the Mets, Pirates and Giants), and with the likes of Eric Stults, Jeff Weaver and Eric Milton pitching in.
• Aggressive White Sox GM Ken Williams isn't going to let Peavy's rejection discourage him and would still like to add a frontline starting pitcher, as he sees the AL Central as wide open (so do I). There's been speculation that they might also be interested in infield help, but top prospect Gordon Beckham, just promoted to Triple A, provides a viable option there.
• The Jays actually made a bigger push this winter for Rafael Furcal than was portrayed. As it turns out, Marco Scutaro (.305) is playing superbly. And ex-shortstop Aaron Hill (.333 average, 12 HRs, 37 RBIs) is having a spectacular year at second, as well.
• Good to see the excitement created by the callup of catching phenom Matt Wieters in Baltimore, where they drew 108,000 fans this weekend to see him (and the other Orioles, as well). So it was a real windfall for Baltimore to keep him down this long. That decision not only delayed his arbitration and free-agent years but built the anticipation.
• David Price looks more than ready.
• Mark Teixeira's 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in May were the most by a Yankee in the month of May since Mickey Mantle had 15 and 36 in 1956 en route to the triple crown, notes cbssports.com's Danny Knobler. The moniker "Mr. May" is taken, however.
• The Newark Bears have quite a collection of ex-big leaguers, with Jacque Jones joining Shawn Chacon and Keith Foulke. Foulke's the interesting one, since he gave up millions in a guaranteed contract with Cleveland a few years back only to spend his summer in Newark now.
• K-Rod (14-for-14 in saves) looks like a bargain for the Mets at $35 million. The Angels, one of baseball's best organizations, curiously made no effort this winter to sign him and instead offered a total of $300 million to Teixeira ($160 million) and CC Sabathia ($140 million). "It's a business," K-Rod said, adding that he never questioned the call.
• Congrats to incomparable Mets public relations man Jay Horwitz, who celebrates his 30th anniversary on the job today. He has taken a grand total of four days off in those 30 years, two when his mother died a couple decades ago and two when he had the chicken pox. There's a nice story on Horwitz by Filip Bondy in today's New York Daily News.
• Gutsy performance by John Maine sticking it out through six scoreless innings with a stomach virus. With the Mets having so many ailing and sick players, one journalist asked Jerry Manuel whether they might start wearing medical masks. The answer: no.
• Honest Jerry Manuel conceded there will be "growing pains" while they wait for Fernando Martinez to mature. In his first week, F-Mart failed to run out a pop-up (resulting in an embarrassing 2-3) and shied away from the wall twice. Manuel attributed the wall phobia to not understanding he needs to run to a spot rather than "coast." Shouldn't that be obvious?
• Meanwhile, the Angels' bullpen has been nothing short of awful. While closer Brian Fuentes has been OK (0-2, 13 saves, 5.30 ERA), one NL scout says, "He doesn't have closer stuff."
• Some contending teams who might need bullpen help: Angels, Rangers, Cubs, Yankees, Indians.
• The Yankees have tied the MLB record by making no errors in 17 straight games. Pressure's on now.
• Teams whose attendance is way up in this bad economic time include Tampa Bay, Philly, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Texas. The first three had big years last year, K.C. has virtually a new park and Texas is turning the corner to contention.
• It's a shame in some ways that Tom Hicks is seeing real progress with his team at just the time he's considering a sale of it. I give Hicks credit for trying hard to win throughout his tenure, even though there were obvious free-agent missteps early.
• Very encouraging for the Tigers to see Joel Zumaya pump up and hit 100 mph the other day.
• Recent Twitter endorsements from Peter King (SI_PeterKing) and well-known baseball aficionado Alyssa Milano (Alyssa_Milano) have bumped up my Twitter totals, and another prize will be sent randomly for someone between now and 5,000. Nick Swisher (baseball's Twitter king), here I come.