- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Philadelphia Phillies fans aren't happy, and they're expressing that through the ticket office: The team's attendance has plummeted, from an incredible (and unsustainable) 44,021 per game just two years ago to the current 30,438 per game. That's a 31 percent drop-off.
The fans saw the Phillies win the World Series in 2008 and field the best regular-season team in 2011, but then the team fell back to .500 in 2012 and won just 73 games last season.
At the current pace, Philadelphia will win just 72 games this season, which is an extraordinary failure, given the amount of money the team has invested. With the problems of the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Phillies -- three teams with massive payrolls -- 2014 is shaping up to be like a baseball version of the banking industry. Too big to fail, indeed.
Whatever the thinking was behind the Phillies' decision to hold together their core group of expensive veterans -- while adding more older players to the mix -- it is playing out to be a debacle, on the field and in the eyes of the Phillies' faithful. What this really means is that there is clear opportunity for the Philadelphia front office, should it choose to take it: The Phillies have nothing to lose and everything to gain in the last 20 days before the trade deadline. They have hit rock bottom, and they have a chance to move forward from here.
There are teams looking for pitching right now, whether it's the Yankees or the Los Angeles Angels or the San Francisco Giants or the Los Angeles Dodgers, so the Phillies have potential suitors for Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. There are teams in need of power, and Marlon Byrd's muscles could be a coveted resource in the marketplace. The Oakland Athletics would be a perfect fit for Chase Utley, as would the Giants. The St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, all hit by injuries in the past week, will be looking for help. The market is defining itself.
If the Phillies believe financial flexibility could help them moving forward, they can at least see what's possible in Cole Hamels' situation. They could ask teams such as the Dodgers how much Philadelphia would need to pay down to make it possible to glean good prospects, or even a great prospect.
Look, the Phillies have to know this: By the time the team is ready to contend again, Lee will probably be gone. The same is true for Utley and Papelbon.
So if the Phillies can glean any kind of dollar savings that would enable them to rebuild the roster, they might as well do it. If they can get even Grade B prospects for Lee, while absorbing a chunk of his salary, they might as well do it. They have been in a three-year spiral leading to nowhere, and they should aggressively force change and move ahead. They know from their attendance that their fan base is ready to move in another direction.
Rollins, Utley, Hamels and Lee have been all-time greats for the Phillies, and they'll be brought back for reunions for many years to come, but it's pretty apparent from the box office returns that running out the same core roster into 2015 would be like serving the same plate of cold cuts at dinner parties day after day.
The fans are losing interest in this current team. They want something new.
So Phillies GM Ruben Amaro should make deals. There are desperate teams all around baseball right now, and, although Philadelphia's outsized contracts probably will keep Amaro from making great trades, he can still make good trades, eating some dollars while adding prospects and carving out some space in his budget and building openings for a different roster that Phillies fans apparently want.
He should begin the turnover. Now.
Around the league
• Speaking of the Phillies and Papelbon, Amaro said he is OK with the closer's recent comments,
Matt Gelb writes.
• The Rangers got whipped Thursday, and manager Ron Washington was really, really mad, as Gerry Fraley writes. From his story:
In a postgame clubhouse meeting that lasted about 30 minutes, Washington vented about the way his team has been playing in this current dreadful stretch. The Rangers have lost five consecutive games and 19 of their past 22 games.
"I needed to remind them of some things," Washington said.
Right-hander Colby Lewis, who allowed a club-record 13 runs in 2 1/3 innings, described Washington's mood as "pissed."
Said Lewis: "So am I. For every reason. We don't lose here, and that's what's going on. We have to make changes, and it all happens, like Wash said, in this locker room."
• The Cardinals are bracing for life without Yadier Molina, writes Derrick Goold. They could wind up with another Molina -- Jose -- or perhaps they'll pick up John Buck, who was just cut by the Mariners.
As for Yadier Molina's impact on the Cardinals, here's this from ESPN Stats and Info: Regardless of position, Yadier Molina, who has a .287/.341/.409 slash line in 83 games this season, has been among the most valuable players in the National League over the past two-plus seasons.
Most Wins Above Replacement (WAR): NL position players since 2012
• Since Yadier Molina's first full season in 2005, the Cardinals have allowed 240 fewer stolen bases than any other team.
Fewest stolen bases allowed, since 2005
It's hard for the Cardinals to stay optimistic after the Molina injury, writes Bernie Miklasz.
"It's a big blow," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He's a good two-way player. Really consistent for us offensively spectacular defense."
But the hits just keep coming. First baseman Joey Votto (left knee/quad) went on the disabled list Monday. Phillips will be the 13th Red to go on the DL. The roster move will be announced Friday.
"We're a little banged up," Price said. "You look around and see all sorts of players -- pitchers, regulars, bench players. Guys get banged up. It's a grueling season. It's 162 games in 180 days. We're in a rut. We'll survive."
About Brandon Phillips' injury: In his time with the Reds, Phillips has never missed more than 21 games in a season (he played in 141 games in 2008).
Just when it looked like the longest road trip of the season couldn't pack any more emotion for the Cubs, along came a benches-clearing incident with the Reds and a postgame All-Star announcement Thursday.
With Anthony Rizzo at the center of both.
''Just trying to be a good teammate, trying to stick up for my teammates,'' said Rizzo, who dropped the gloves (he later found out he had been named to the All-Star team) and stalked toward the Reds' dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning, triggering a flow of players onto the field from both benches.
No punches were thrown, and order eventually was restored without injury after some pushing and shoving. In fact, Reds starter Johnny Cueto -- a noted on-field brawler -- actually played peacekeeper.
I suspect this is not the last we've heard of this situation.
• While other teams in the NL Central are being crushed by injuries, the Brewers just keep on losing.
• Masahiro Tanaka will miss at least six weeks with a partially torn ligament in his elbow, as Wallace Matthews reports.
As for how the injury happened, the splitter tends to be hard on the elbow, and Tanaka has thrown more splitters than anyone else this season. In fact, it's not even close:
Most splitters this season
Four-fifths of the Yankees' starting rotation is on the disabled list, but the two biggies -- CC Sabathia and Tanaka -- will earn a combined total of $45 million this season. That figure eclipses the Astros' Opening Day payroll ($44.55 million).
Yankees starting rotation injuries, with current status and 2014 salary
As for on the field, the Yankees collapsed in the late innings in Cleveland on Thursday.
From ESPN Stats & Info on how Kershaw beat the San Diego Padres:
A. Kershaw's curveball stayed dominant: The Padres went 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with his curveball.
B. On Thursday, 21 percent of Kershaw's pitches were curveballs, a season high.
C. He relied mostly on off-speed pitches overall; only 49 percent of his pitches were
fastballs, his second-lowest percentage in a start this season (47 percent on June 13).
• Since signing with the Red Sox in May, Stephen Drew is batting .131 with a .409 OPS, while Kendrys Morales is hitting just .230 with a .571 OPS since signing with the Twins in June. Neither player had a spring training after turning down $14.1 million qualifying offers last fall, and rival evaluators say the timing of Drew and Morales just looks off as they try to work their way back to game speed. And both are headed to free agency again in the fall in serious jeopardy of having diminished their value in the open market.
So not only did they turn down the most possible money last fall, but they also have hurt themselves for the future, unless a turnaround happens, and quickly.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Pirates made a roster move.
2. The Red Sox are now taking a different position, says Ben Cherington.
4. A Cubs prospect is going to stick around for a while.
1. The Mets' winning streak ended.
2. The Indians rallied late, with a lot of help from a rookie.
3. The Twins took a series in Seattle.
5. The Mariners' offense is struggling.
• Here are some odds on certain Phillies being dealt.
• The Marlins have a couple of guys who excel in a pinch.
• A Diamondbacks coach has invented a throwing tool.
• Dick Monfort reached out after a controversial email.
• Matt Calkins thinks the Padres should hire Kim Ng as their next GM.
• From ESPN Stats & Info on how Jon Lester dominated the White Sox:
A. He threw a season-high 24 curveballs and had a season-high seven strikeouts with his curveball.
B. The White Sox went 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with Lester's curveball.
C. The White Sox were 0-for-8 versus Lester with runners in scoring position.
D. He owned the inside part of the zone against right-handed batters: Of his pitches to righties, a season-high 62 percent were on the inside part of the plate.
• Joel Sherman considers what a Yankees sell-off might look like.
• Larry Lucchino answered questions about the Red Sox.
• The Wrigley Field renovation was approved.
And today will be better than yesterday.