Buster Olney: Philadelphia Phillies

DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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Bobby ParnellElsa/Getty ImagesMets closer Bobby Parnell is expected to miss considerable time with a torn elbow ligament.
The Pirates' Jameson Taillon, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, is the latest to go through the process of having his elbow checked. The Mets, who have been models of restraint in the handling of their young pitchers, announced that closer Bobby Parnell has a partially torn elbow ligament.

From Tim Rohan’s story:
The Mets are often asked what reasons they have to be optimistic. Lately, their unequivocal response has been starting pitching. It is their obvious strength, now and for the future. They consider Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero precious assets. The Mets plan to be cautious with them, bring them along at the right pace and eventually ride them to relevance.

Much depends on how the Mets develop these promising pitchers.

That was why it seemed particularly concerning when the Mets announced Tuesday that Bobby Parnell, their closer, had a partly torn ulnar collateral ligament. Parnell will try rehabilitation to avoid Tommy John surgery, but if he has the operation, he will be the third Mets pitcher to have it in about nine months, following Jeremy Hefner and Harvey. Jenrry Mejia had it in 2011.

Every case is different, but general manager Sandy Alderson indicated that the Mets would review how they handled pitchers and their rehabilitation programs. He called the pitching injuries an "industrywide problem." Several top-flight pitchers had the operation during spring training this year, including the Atlanta Braves' Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who each had it for a second time.

"It's something we constantly look at," Alderson said Wednesday. "But I don't think we have -- or the industry has -- any solid answers. That’s for sure."


Alderson speaks the essential truth: The industry has been trying to find solid answers and they don’t have much to show for it. They’ve been constructing pitch counts and innings limits and adhering to them closely, doing everything they can to develop pitchers while protecting them at the same time, and pitchers continue to break down.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it's possible that the constricted pitch counts have made little to no difference. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s possible that the innings limits have made little to no difference.

The one conclusion that a lot of general managers have reached is that there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules, no magic formula.

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Ryne SandbergAP Photo/Charlie NeibergallRyne Sandberg is making it clear that no veteran's job is guaranteed.
Ryne Sandberg had been outspoken about his desire to manage in the big leagues and willingly bounced through the lowest levels of the minor leagues to get the reps he thought he needed to be taken seriously. Until he was offered the Philadelphia Phillies' job, however, his reputation among club officials was for flat-lining interviews. Multiple officials thought he didn't come off very well, too benign in his knowledge and passion, and so they passed.

What didn't come across, apparently, is how competitive Sandberg is, a trait that has quickly become abundantly clear in his time as the Phillies' manager, because he seems ready to tackle just about any challenge -- like how to handle aging stars.

The window for contending for the group of Phillies' stars who won the World Series in 2008 is either closed or almost closed.

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Starlin CastroNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty ImagesStarlin Castro and the Cubs are not getting help from their early-season schedule.

In following Tuesday's column ranking the American League's early-season schedules, Wednesday we have the National League. The teams are ranked toughest to easiest in caliber of early-season schedule.


1. Chicago Cubs

Games vs. teams with records of .500 or better in 2013: 31 of first 40.
Home/away: 18 of their first 40 are at home.
Notables: The Cubs basically get to run an NL Central gauntlet in the first quarter of the season, with 21 of their first 40 games against the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates.

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Ben WetzlerAP Photo/Greg Wahl-StephensBen Wetzler, a lefty from Oregon State, was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round last year.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- For the third consecutive day, the Philadelphia Phillies did not comment on the decision to inform the NCAA that the college juniors they drafted in the fifth and sixth rounds last summer -- Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler and Washington State outfielder Ben Monda -- might have violated rules regarding agent contact.

Monda was cleared by the NCAA weeks ago, and, on Friday evening, the NCAA announced that Wetzler will become eligible to play again on March 2 after completing a suspension.

As time passes and the Phillies’ silence continues, the impression hardens within the industry -- particularly among agents and college coaches -- that the team acted out of vindictiveness, because neither Wetzler nor Monda accepted their offer. That will not have a chance to change unless the Phillies explain their side of the story.

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Ruben AmaroG Fiume/Getty ImagesRuben Amaro and the Phillies will have many interested in their explanation regarding their recent charges.
The Phillies reportedly turned in one of their unsigned draft picks to the NCAA. Here is Aaron Fitt’s story.

From Aaron’s piece:
Several sources have confirmed to Baseball America that the Phillies, who drafted Wetzler in the fifth round last June but did not sign him, told the NCAA in November that Wetzler violated the NCAA’s “no agent” rule. That rule is widely disregarded by baseball prospects, whose advisers routinely negotiate with teams on players’ behalf, against NCAA rules—because that is the industry norm. As an American League scouting director told Baseball America in 2008, “Every single player that we deal with -- I don’t care what round you’re talking about -- has representation, has an agent.”

And every year, some players drafted inside the top 10 rounds elect not to sign pro contracts, often drawing the ire of the clubs that drafted them. But major league teams almost never attempt to contact the NCAA in order to report potential violations. The Phillies, according to sources, did just that with two players they drafted last year: Wetzler and sixth-round pick Jason Monda, who opted to return to Washington State for his senior year. Monda was cleared to play by the NCAA last Thursday, the day before the college season began.

When asked about the Wetzler situation Wednesday, Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever told Baseball America, “I have no comment.”

Let’s make this clear: The Phillies or the NCAA hasn’t yet explained exactly what happened. We need to know the rest of the story.

But if the surface details are accurate

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Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo JimenezGetty ImagesErvin Santana, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez -- members of "The Draft Pick Five" -- still wait.
TAMPA, Fla. -- An AL executive drew an analogy the other day between the situation facing "The Draft Pick Five" free agents -- Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- and the sale of a house.

“If the price on the house is set and it just sits there and nobody's buying at that price,” the executive said, “isn’t there a time when the reality of the market sets in and the price comes down?”

Players are reporting to spring training all over the baseball landscape, and those five players -- five veterans tied to draft-pick compensation -- remain unsigned, fueling the most-asked question in the industry these days: Where will those players land

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Cole HamelsHunter Martin/Getty ImagesThe Phillies are reportedly shopping Cole Hamels, which is at odds with some of their other moves.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Philadelphia Phillies are trying to regain their footing after a disastrous 2013 season, trying to get younger while still contending against the Braves and Nationals in the National League East, and they seem ready to try on anything, if they can make all of that happen.

Which could be why they have told other teams that they are willing to consider trades of either of their two best starting pitchers, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, as sources say.

Hamels turns 30 later this month, and it was only 17 months ago that the Phillies signed him to a seven-year, $153 million deal; he had a 3.60 ERA last season.

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Mets' struggles creating value 

September, 28, 2013
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Sandy AldersonRich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Mets' disappointing season has likely earned Sandy Alderson's club a protected draft pick.
The New York Mets’ loss Friday was the 87th of their season. And it was a really important loss.

With that defeat, the Mets moved back into position to have the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft -- and if this holds over the last two days of the regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets’ first-round pick would be among those 10 that are protected against draft-pick compensation.

This past winter, the Mets’ pick was not protected, which affected their aggressiveness in trying to sign Michael Bourn and others. If they finish the year lined up for the No. 10 pick (or better), it could nudge them into pursuit of one of the better free-agent position players who will be available this winter. If they signed a Shin-Soo Choo or a Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mets would have to surrender only a second-round pick in compensation.

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The September race execs are watching 

September, 25, 2013
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Sandy AldersonRich Schultz/Getty ImagesIf Sandy Alderson wants to be a real player for free agents, he needs a protected pick.
The race that is drawing the most attention among baseball officials might not be that for the AL wild-card spots -- which increasingly appears to be a three teams-for-two-spots situation among the Rays, Indians and Rangers -- nor the final jockeying in the NL Central race.

No, the race being scrutinized is the one that will dictate how teams are going to be positioned for draft picks Nos. 7 through 14.

There are two reasons why this is crucial:

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Roy Halladay's World Series quest 

September, 14, 2013
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Roy HalladayHoward Smith/USA TODAY SportsCould Roy Halladay end up pitching for a contender next season?
It’s worth remembering how much Roy Halladay wanted to pitch for the Phillies, in successfully pushing for a trade to Philadelphia prior to the 2010 season. If he had waited to become a free agent at the end of that season, he might have been in line for a $100 million deal, but Halladay’s home is near the Phillies’ spring training facility in Clearwater, Fla.

So, his side worked out a three-year deal worth $20 million per season and he happily joined Philadelphia. He wanted some sense of normalcy for his kids, and he wanted a legitimate chance to win a World Series, and with the Phillies -- who would go on to win 97 regular-season games in 2010 and 102 games in 2011 -- he had the possibility of achieving both.

But that didn’t happen; the Phillies lost in the 2010 playoffs to the Giants and in the 2011 playoffs to the Cardinals, with both of those opponents going on to win the World Series. Some of Halladay’s friends think that if the Phillies had won the World Series in 2011, he already would be retired. “He’s all about winning the championship now,” said someone who has known Halladay for many years.

Halladay regressed in 2012, posting a 4.49 ERA, and this year has been a summer of enormous frustration for him. Halladay has been one of the game’s great plow horses in his career, repeatedly throwing deep into games; but, in 11 starts this season, he has compiled 55 2/3 innings, with 31 walks and a 7.28 ERA.

Halladay probably has enough equity with the Phillies -- and has engendered enough respect -- that he could work out something with Philadelphia. But his friends think that he’ll be open to more possibilities than that, and that money really is irrelevant at this stage. They think Halladay’s absolute priority is to land with a club capable of winning the World Series.

A club such as the following:

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Why MLB must ban plate collisions 

September, 7, 2013
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Prince FielderAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezA hard collision at home plate caused Giants catcher Buster Posey to miss much of 2011.
A talent evaluator who works in baseball imagined the future testimony aimed at a team -- or all of Major League Baseball -- in a lawsuit filed by a catcher seriously injured while blocking home plate.

"'I was told in spring training by my catching instructor that this is something I need to do,'" the evaluator said, imitating the words that any catcher could say. "'I didn't block home one day and he called me a -----, and he said that blocking home plate is something that every catcher is expected to do.'"

The evaluator jumped into another role, imagining himself as the catcher's lawyer: "'What happened next?'"

Evaluator as catcher: "'I blocked home plate, as I was instructed to do, and now I can't walk.'"

This testimony could be especially effective, the evaluator noted, if it comes from someone sitting in a wheelchair, and if you think that can't happen, maybe you should watch this video of the hit that Harrisburg catcher Brian Jeroloman took in a Double-A playoff game the other night, when he was run over by Erie's Brandon Douglas.

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Where Robinson Cano could go 

August, 25, 2013
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CanoAP Photo/Gail BurtonYankees second baseman Robinson Cano's 4.8 WAR is among the best in baseball.
LOS ANGELES -- If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, then as of this morning, there are 33 games left in the career of Mariano Rivera.

But everybody saw that coming. There may also be only 33 games remaining in Robinson Cano's tenure with the Yankees if he leaves as a free agent when the season is over. He is their best player and they need him, and yet in recent years, teams have held the line with their own superstars -- for instance, the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and the Rangers with Josh Hamilton -- and those choices have been quickly vindicated.

The Yankees have their own experience in deciding whether to invest in a long-term star (Alex Rodriguez), and that hasn't turned out so well.

Cano is represented by Jay-Z and CAA, and the expectation among executives is that they will be looking to plant a flag with their contract -- something in the A-Rod/Pujols neighborhood.

But a big question that has come up among some rival officials is this: What teams will compete against the Yankees to sign him to create that leverage?

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The art of killing time 

August, 18, 2013
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Chris StewartESPN IllustrationYankees catcher Chris Stewart takes the reader through a day in his shoes.
The typical baseball game consists of only about 14 minutes of live action throughout a roughly three-hour, first- to last-pitch competition. Players usually arrive at the clubhouse for a standard 7 p.m. game between 1 and 2 p.m. This five- to six-hour gap contains baseball rituals such as warm-ups, workouts, batting cage work, stretching, batting practice and final game preparation.

All of these rituals take a little more than three hours for most, so it makes one wonder: What goes on during the other two to three hours?

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Michael Weiner a true class act

August, 11, 2013
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Brad ZieglerESPN IllustrationArizona pitcher Brad Ziegler makes a Sunday column relief appearance for Buster Olney.
Buster Olney is on vacation this week, so for the second straight year, guest columnists are writing the lead of his column in his absence. Today, D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler chimes in on what makes union leader Michael Weiner such a special person.

This is a crazy game. If you had told me when I was growing up that I'd have at least six seasons of time in major league baseball, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic. While it was always a dream of mine to play, it also always seemed so far out of reach. Yet, here I am, blessed with so many things in my life, including a career that I truly enjoy. There are many other things, too: an amazing family (including the two friendliest dogs in existence), financial security and good health.

Good health -- something I'm thankful for every day. Something that not everyone in this life shares.

One of the most respected people in this game is in the fight of his life, and anyone -- everyone -- who has any part of this game is pulling for him. Players, coaches, general managers, owners, writers, umpires. Everyone.

As many of you know, Michael Weiner is currently serving as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association -- our union. And anyone who follows the game also knows that a year ago, Michael was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive and inoperable brain cancer.

I've been a player representative for the union since the start of the 2009 season. In the middle of that season, I got a phone call from Donald Fehr, informing me that he was retiring as executive director. After a few conference calls, we selected the obvious replacement that December: Michael Weiner. I hadn't yet met Michael. My agent, Rob Martin, had met him a few times and heard him speak a couple of times, so I asked what he was like. "The man is a human computer," he said. "He can probably quote you the entire basic agreement."

In my time getting to know Michael at various union events or even through casual phone calls, I can honestly say I have seen zero instances to dispute my agent's assessment. However, I can also honestly say that while his knowledge of the basic agreement and labor law in general is impressive, it isn't even close to his best asset.

His best feature is, far and away, who he is as a person. He's a devoted family man. He often speaks of his wife, Diane, and his three lovely daughters, and you can tell how much he cares for them. Furthermore, he genuinely cares about every single ballplayer. Never once has he started a conversation with me in which the first topic wasn't about how my family and I were doing. I'm guessing he's the same way with every other player. Those who've taken the time to get to know him know exactly what I'm talking about.

[+] EnlargeMichael Weiner
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIMichael Weiner's leadership on the issue of PEDs has been pivotal, writes Brad Ziegler.
As far as his professionalism, there's one thing that has really stood out to me: He genuinely cares about improving the game of baseball. Don't get me wrong, he wants things to be as good as possible for the players. And he can get downright angry and ruthless when he feels like the owners are attempting to encroach on the principles we, as a union, have stood on since our inception. But he also gets the big picture: What is best for the game in the long run?

In my opinion, never has this been more evident than when dealing with our Joint Drug Agreement. Michael has listened to the players. We want the game clean. No more PEDs. Period. We want to be the era that, down the road, is widely accepted as the group of players who cleaned up baseball. We certainly want to punish those who are caught with something illegal in their system, even if it's not intentionally ingested with the mindset of gaining an edge on the field.

As for those who intentionally cheat? Ban them for a year. Or ban them for life. As for voiding their contracts, well, that time may be coming. Players are sick and tired of guys trying to beat the system, and at this point, we have no tolerance. We are tired of this being the focus of our sport, year after year. Baseball is an amazing game -- perfect in so many ways -- and we must keep the attention on the field, where it should be.

It has to be a tough spot for Michael to be in when it comes to this topic. He's supposed to represent all players and get the best possible outcome for them in every situation, right? No. Michael's response: "If they cheated, they should be punished -- I'm just here to help make sure they get a fair trial."

To me, that is someone who genuinely cares about our game and the way it's perceived publicly. We all leave a legacy in life, and he wants the game to be better when his time in the game is over than it was when he first got involved.

I recently had a casual conversation with an MLB general manager. We discussed Michael's medical situation, and he said something that really stuck out to me: "That guy is incredible. He's the best thing that's ever happened to this game."

And even if he said it in passing, I'm not sure he's far off.

Michael's legacy on this game has already been established. And whether he continues to build on it for the next 40 years, or if he's taken from this life sometime sooner, he continues to leave a mark on this game -- and on people's lives -- that won't ever be forgotten. It is an absolute privilege to work alongside you, Michael. And it's an even greater pleasure to call you my friend.

Notes and links (from Buster)

Hanley Ramirez will try out his right shoulder on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Dodgers never lose: After Zack Greinke's strong effort Saturday, they've now won 36 of their last 44. The Rays pulled off a hidden-ball trick.

• The Braves' winning streak ended.

Jordan Schafer was activated from the disabled list, and Fredi Gonzalez intends to use him. 

We had the Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball" the last two weekends, and our crew talked to Gonzalez about how he would structure his lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs. Gonzalez wasn't specific -- and he doesn't need to be -- but I walked away from those conversations convinced that his standards will be simple. He will play the best lineup he believes gives him the best chance of winning, regardless of contract size and track record. He reiterated that the Braves' collapse in 2011 changed the way he thinks, because now he's much more willing to make changes.

If B.J. Upton struggles early in September, he won't play as much in late September, I'd guess, and Schafer's presence gives Gonzalez an attractive alternative, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Brian McCann has a sore knee and was out of the lineup. The Braves' lead in the AL East gives Gonzalez the flexibility to liberally rest veterans such as McCann, and McCann has shown enough this season to demonstrate to teams that might be interested in him in the winter that he'll continue to be a productive player. He might be the most sought-after free agent of the winter, given that he could fit so many teams: Texas, Washington, the Yankees, Boston, San Francisco (with he and Buster Posey sharing catcher/first base duties), Philadelphia, the White Sox, etc.

Miguel Cabrera did it again. His current triple crown standing:

Batting average: .363 (first, by 33 points)

Home runs: 35 (he trails Chris Davis, who has 42)

RBIs: 109 (tied for first with Davis)

• White Sox GM Rick Hahn and the players believe in Robin Ventura, writes Paul Sullivan. 

Ryan Ludwick is nearing his return, and undoubtedly, the Reds need him to come back and produce. The Reds have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team since the All-Star break. 

Jason Hammel is hopeful that his forearm issue doesn't keep him out a long time. 

Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are getting more playing time, Paul Hoynes writes. 

• The Rangers regained first place with help from Alex Rios

Will Middlebrooks is getting a welcome chance to reboot, writes Nick Cafardo. 

Jayson Werth had a really big day

• The Astros are on pace to finish 52-110, with a run differential of minus-242. 

Jacoby Ellsbury led the Red Sox to victory. 

• The Rockies are collapsing, and it's open season on internal evaluations

Adam Eaton has been finding his groove at the plate. 

• The Phillies need to make a decision on Charlie Manuel, writes Bob Brookover. 

In some parts of the Philadelphia organization, it's already taken as a fait accompli that Manuel and some staffers will be let go. But it'll be interesting to see if the logic used in the re-signing of Chase Utley -- he's an important part of the team's history, and he is still productive -- will be used in Manuel's case. Because if the Phillies don't believe Manuel is the best person for the job now, they should've already fired him, and if they think that like Utley, he can still do the job, they should extend him.

Other stuff

• There is a reported BALCO and Biogenesis link: Alex Rodriguez.

The tide has turned when it comes to MLB cheats, writes Tom Haudricourt. 

Rodriguez is on a short leash with Yankees fans, writes Bob Klapisch.

• The ousted St. Louis radio duo of Jack Clark and Kevin Slaten are weighing their options

• Ken Griffey Jr. was part of the ceremony in which he was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame. He's a really complicated person.

And today will be better than yesterday.

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