The race for remaining outfielders is heating up in Nashville, with Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorino both moving closer to long-term deals, and one wild blockbuster rumor sparking a million tweets.
The rumor that lit up the lobbies late Tuesday was a report from ESPN's Pedro Gomez that the Diamondbacks and Phillies were discussing a swap of Justin Upton and Cliff Lee. Yahoo's Jeff Passan followed up, saying all manner of three- and four-team trade ideas had been batted around. But the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro kiboshed that talk, with one D-backs source saying an Upton-Lee deal "hasn't been discussed" and is "off base," and manager Kirk Gibson adding, "I can tell you that's not going to happen."
The Phillies' trade of Shane Victorino to the Dodgers for Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin helps the Dodgers in their quest to win the NL West, and carves out a bit of badly needed payroll flexibility for the tapped Phillies. In a broader sense, the trade can be summed up in two words: chain reaction.
It starts with Philly's half decade of dominance. After 14 years in the wilderness, the 2007 Phillies finally won a division title, wresting the crown from the Mets, who'd finally toppled the dynastic Braves a year earlier. Five of the Phillies' eight best regulars that year (Ryan Howard, 27; Chase Utley, 28; Jimmy Rollins, 28; Pat Burrell, 30; Carlos Ruiz, 28), as well as their best starting pitcher (a 23-year-old Cole Hamels) and closer (26-year-old Brett Myers), were homegrown. The team's Opening Day payroll was $89.4 million, $6 million less than than the Phillies had carried two years earlier, and miles away from top-spending clubs like the Yankees. Several of the team's top stars were signed to below-market contracts (including Utley at seven years, $85 million and Rollins five years, $40 million), portending good things as the team marched forward.
We're five weeks away from MLB's trade deadline. Close enough to start making fantasy roster decisions with that in mind, far enough that your competition might not pick up on what you're doing.
You don't want to overreact to scenarios that may or may not happen, of course. But getting full value now for players who might be affected by pending trades (or other factors) surely beats getting next to nothing for them a month from now.
With that in mind, here are some strategies to consider as we near the season's halfway point, and the players who could be affected.
Watching our favorite teams lose in the postseason can make us do silly things. Some of us weep. Others set fire to our own cities. And still others write indulgent, self-pitying blog posts. Regardless of how we mourn, on some level we expect the players wearing the nonreplica versions of the uniforms to mirror our own emotions — to sob and moan or, at the very least, clobber a defenseless water cooler until it bleeds bright-orange rivers of sugar water. What we don’t want in those highly charged moments are the very things we claim to admire in professional athletes the other 364 days of the year: professionalism and perspective.
Just ask Shane Victorino. The hyperactive Phillies center fielder joined Twitter earlier in the fall and was soon chattering merrily about mixed martial arts and dropping more “Bros” than an Entourage marathon. All was well: The Phillies were thundering toward the playoffs with the best record in baseball, and Victorino was one extended jag about “chompasauruses” from exactly living up (or down) to the enthusiastic man-child personality longtime "Phans" had dreamed up for him. In the days leading up the fateful Game 5 against the Cardinals, Victorino was his usual, guileless self — raving about Raul Ibañez’s swings in batting practice and shouting out “Chef Yung” at his favorite local eatery. After the brutal loss, Victorino was contrite, calling it “tough/frustrating” but hoping to wake up the next day and “understand the greater things in life.”
But as the optimistic outfielder went about his offseason — enjoying his kids and global cuisine, making jokes about Tony Romo, shouting out an up-and-coming “Christian reggae” artist (!) — the fan base wasn’t ready to move on with him. The quick implosion of World Series dreams was devastating to a city conditioned for failure yet recently deceived into expecting success. And so, to some, Victorino’s tweets seemed somehow inappropriate. As he joshed with Vance Worley about vintage kicks, compared travel plans with Brandon Phillips, or big-upped Tommy Bahama for donating polo shirts to his charity golf game (OK, that one is a pretty unforgivable), an unbrotherly fury swelled in the same streets Bruce Springsteen once serenaded. How dare Victorino consort with rival players! Or eat sushi! Or continue to watch organized sports! Phillies nation demanded blood or, at the very least, sacrifice. Cliff Lee, for example, would never be having so much fun. (This video perfectly sums up what most denizens of Ashburn Alley expected of the vanquished players. It also wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.) A beef was simmering, one not even the estimable Chef Yung could tenderize.
It got so bad last week that Victorino had to take a break from his semi-official duties tweeting about the World Series for MLB.com to formally apologize to the entire city of Philadelphia. It was another example of Twitter messily melting the barriers that have sustained our relationship with athletes for decades; think of poor Arian Foster infuriating a legion of fantasy football loons when he publicly put concern for his real-life body ahead of their quest for made-up points. But this baseball business was worse — if only for practical reasons. Let’s be clear: We don’t really want Shane Victorino to be as crazy as we are. Just like we wouldn’t want Jimmy Rollins to be racked with self-doubt and self-loathing, or Cole Hamels to scream obscenities and punch the clubhouse wall with reckless machismo after every bad play. (OK, maybe we do want that.)
Baseball players are a funny breed: They have to fail well more than 50 percent of the time just to be considered a success. They play 162 games — and sometimes more — over the course of six grueling months. They experience unbelievable highs and unspeakable lows. They have to play in Miami. No matter what, major leaguers have to be able to shut out the noise and negativity that surrounds them daily (Marlins players don’t have to worry about the noise) and focus instead on a crazy, internal confidence that past performance does not guarantee future results.
Take Albert Pujols over the weekend. Do you think the slugger was able to rebound from an 0-4 performance and a national debate over clubhouse access with one of the best offensive games in history because he spent the night listening to talk radio and berating himself? No! He did it because he’s a 45-year-old man with illegal horse blood coursing through his veins! He did it because he is a baseball player, and the only thing that matters to him is the present.
When Shane Victorino comes to the plate with a game on the line, all Phillies fans should be grateful the Flying Hawaiian’s mind will be untroubled by last season’s failure or the rising price of Wawa hoagies or the relative merits of Greek austerity measures. We want him to change the engrained hopelessness of Philadelphia sports fandom, not embody it. If listening to terrible Christian reggae can keep him hitting triples after doing things like this, then all we should do is shrug our shoulders and say “mahalo.” We may not want our favorite players to be Ed Hardy-wearing, perpetually positive goofballs. But we just might need them to be.