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Philadelphia Phillies: More Than Just "Paper Champions?"

The Philadelphia Phillies have re-raised the bar for their own expectations in the coming 2011 season.  As if expectations hadn’t already been sky high over the past few years, 2011 may be the most hyped season in team history.  

With the signing of yet another ace in Cliff Lee, it’s safe to say that the Phillies are the “paper champs.”   But where does this get them ultimately you ask?  Nowhere.  There’s still 162 games to play and a lot is able to happen during that six-month window.  Then of course, you can include the playoffs, which the Phillies are a shoo in for at this point. 

Roy Halladay was OUTSIDE! running on Monday in shorts and a tee-shirt in NINE degree weather at Citizens Bank Park.  Does that make you believe in how much this team wants this?  

They have a plethora of talent on offense too which people tend to forget.  It’s rather been their “Fab Four” pitching rotation that’s gotten a bulk of the credit and deservedly so.  But don’t discount this offense.  When they turn it on, they can hit with anyone in the league.  Consider 2010 a collective slump and floundering for the offense.  Now a bounce-back 2011, as a whole offensively, could be instrumental to the team’s success.  

Ladies and gentlemen, the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies.  

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Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins Needs To Be the Cataylst Again in 2011

Philadelphia fans waited all year for it in 2010, but it never came.  Despite an offense that collectively slumped, they managed to maintain the league’s overall best record with 97 wins.  The “it” that I’m referring to is production from shortstop Jimmy Rollins. 

It’s clear that where Rollins goes, so too does the offense.  In 2010, Rollins struggled with injuries and hit just .243.  This was critical and had a lasting effect on the offense as they had a “down” year.  This just further proves the point that Rollins is the catalyst of this offense. 

The story will again be the same in 2011. This offense will live and die by Rollins’ production.  In hitting out of the lead-off spot, Rollins must be the sparkplug if the Phillies are to succeed.  

Certainly their pitching could be historic, but they can’t rely on pitching alone.  The offense now needs to have a bounce-back year collectively.  That’s right!  As a group, the Phillies’ offense didn’t deliver from one through eight.  This 2011 season will be very telling for the futures of many on this team as the expectations are the highest in team history. 

Manager Charlie Manuel knows his players better than any manager in baseball.  That being said, he also knows that his lineup can hit much better than they did in 2010.  Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. are calling on Rollins to produce big numbers this year or his tenure as a Phillie may end. 

When called on to perform, Rollins always seems to live up to the task.  His 2007 MVP season, which mind you is far in the rear-view mirror, is proof of that.  The undersized Rollins was “the man” in Philadelphia and had himself a huge season.  Rollins did all the things his coaches had always guided him to do and he finally “got it.” 

You see, in the beginning Rollins was portrayed as having an “attitude.”  While many within the organization disliked this, there was no denying his talent level.  To Rollins though, this wasn’t attitude but rather “swag.”

His transformation into a consistent lead-off hitter took quite a while but eventually paid off in full.  By 2007, at just 28 years old, Rollins had taken his game to the next level.

The Phillies would go on to win the 2008 World Series but Rollins was lost among talented sluggers like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.  Rollins has often been forgotten over the past few seasons since. 

Obviously 2007 was a banner year for J-Roll; one that he won’t be able to duplicate.  He set many career highs and upped the standards of the model two-way shortstop.  Additionally, Rollins led the league with 20 triples, 716 at-bats, 139 runs scored and played in all 162 games, plus the playoffs.  For that season at least, he was the toast of shortstops and the MLB in general. 

This is a contract year for Rollins, thus another call for the multi-faceted shortstop to shine.  He’s still appreciated as an elite defensive shortstop but needs to regain his swing and “swag.”  Now seen as a part of the veteran core, Rollins must prove to everyone that he’s worthy of a new contract. 

Whether it’s his traditional lead-off spot or not, Rollins must find ways to produce.  To be quite frank, no matter where he hits in the lineup, he always seems to be the catalyst.  Rollins needs to be there to give this offense that extra oomph.  With his leading the way, the group can return to form and make 2011 a year to remember.

Jimmy Rollins has the ability to wow each of us on any given day.  Whether it’d be with his bat, arm or legs, he can definitely do just that.  So go ahead Jimmy.  Wow us again!

With the Phillies’ recent pitching rotation, people tend to forget just how good this offense can be.  Rollins needs to be a large part of that in 2011.  If he is, the Phillies might be riding on the back of those flatbed trucks into a sea of joy down South Broad St. come October. 

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MLB Power Rankings: The 10 Most Pitcher-Friendly Parks in MLB

People nowadays only worry about offense in sports.  It seems that way at least.  Long forgotten are the days of close, low-scoring games.  Or, could they actually be making a comeback?  

Though many MLB ballparks today are dominated by high-scoring games with offense in mind, there are some pitcher-friendly parks.  Places like Atlanta’s Turner Field and San Diego’s Petco Park are pitchers’ paradises.

As we saw in 2010 though, maybe the pitcher is making a comeback.  To put it bluntly, 2010 was “The Year of The Pitcher.”  There were a handful of no-hitters and even two perfect games.  Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay had a banner season with both a no-hitter and perfect game.

With the Steroid Era behind us, baseball looks to be becoming more strategic and defensive-minded again.  Teams build with this in mind.  Why else would the Phillies go after Cliff Lee to give themselves four of the very best pitchers in baseball?  Mind you that they play in a hitter’s paradise to boot.

Here are some parks that are a pitcher’s best friend.  

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MLB Free Agency: Top 5 Foreign-Born Player Acquisitions In History

The MLB has benefited greatly off of imported talent.  A recent wave of Japanese and South American players have taken the game by storm.  

Today, about 27% of MLB consists of foreign-born players.  Great talents like Hideki Matsui and Ichiro were established already in Japan.  They still were able to make an even bigger name for themselves here in the States.  Many others from South American countries as well have “made it big” in America.  Collectively, these foreign-born plays add another dimension to the game.  

Baseball has become the most diverse sport in the world.  It’s no longer limited to the 50 states in America but has expanded across the globe.

A lot of scouting goes into finding talent overseas.  Teams with better international scouting tend to land such talent.  We’ve seen foreign players (who teams sometimes know little about) get some large contracts here.  Whether deservedly or not, many have had success in MLB.  

Here are the top five free-agent signings of foreign-born players.  

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Los Angeles Dodgers: Could James Loney Be a Viable Trade Chip?

The Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to be in good shape up until last season.  In each of the previous two seasons, they had reached the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies. Then in 2010, the wheels came off and the Dodgers fell apart.  This caused them to trade Manny Ramirez away, eating a large sum of his money.

The Dodgers are still a team with a good source of options.  With the NL West being a wide-open field, the Dodgers can still make some noise in the future.  Their turnaround has to come now, though.  Another poor season won’t serve anyone in the Dodger organization well.  

James Loney could be the most trade-worthy Dodger of them all.  He’s the perfect trade chip at this point.  For both Loney and the Dodgers, this would be a positive move.  Loney could get a fresh start and the Dodgers could continue to rebuild—without Loney.  

The Dodgers haven’t gotten the power production that was expected from Loney yet. While Loney has hit for average in convincing numbers, his power hasn’t been on display in Los Angeles.  Also, his average his declined in each of the past four seasons.  

Though Loney is a solid hitter and fielder, the Dodgers could look at other options.  With an increasing annual salary, Loney may not be worth what he’s set to make in the future. That being said, 2011 will truly be a huge year for the young first baseman.

If he can show Dodger brass that he can play up to expectations, they will likely pay to keep him around.  Otherwise, they will venture out to other possibilities and take a different route at first. 

Loney isn’t set to become a free agent until 2013.  Before this, he’s arbitration eligible in 2011 and likely will make somewhere around $3.5 million.  In 2012, that salary will hike to somewhere around $5 million.  By this time he will have made a nice chunk of money that will only continue to increase.  The question then becomes: Do the Dodgers continue to pay him?

With hefty first baseman Prince Fielder wanting a new home, a trade could be possible. Talks of a three-player deal involving Loney, Fielder and fire-thrower Jonathan Broxton have entertained both Milwaukee and LA.  

Though this rumor was immediately shot down, it sort of makes sense.  All three of these players would benefit from a change in scenery.  Fielder has been on the trade block for quite some time now in Milwaukee, for the better part of two seasons.  Loney’s name has suddenly surfaced and Broxton has struggled in LA.  You definitely can’t rely on Broxton against the Philadelphia Phillies.  

Unless they were to acquire another first basemen in return, it would be hard for LA to part with Loney.  There’s no other first baseman in the organization that’s MLB-ready, at least no one that can play every day.

The jury is still out on James Loney for now.  The possibilities are endless as this youngster certainly could make for a good trade chip.  At the time, the Dodgers appear ready to stand pat on Loney.  But that could all change in a flash.  For the time being, we will continue watching this situation unfold.     

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Philadelphia Phillies: The "Dog Days" Are Over in Philadelphia

Consider this piece more of a memoir than anything else.  My childhood with the Phillies was always adventurous but often ugly.  The Phillies were constantly a losing team and never broke the bank to go out and sign any big-name free agents.  At the time, we knew they weren’t the New York Yankees, nor were we asking them to be.  We just wanted to know that they had a desire to someday win.

This all changed in 2003 when they signed Jim Thome and closed out the Vet.  Then, in the following off-season, they added Billy Wagner to fill the void of closer and open Citizens Bank Park.  This told the fans that the Phillies wanted to win and apparently now had the funds to do so.  

A lot has changed since those “dog days.”  Philadelphia is now the place to play and you can somewhat thank Thome for helping put Philly on the map.  During the Phillies’ period of misery while at the Vet, you’d be lucky to see 20,000 people down at the ballpark.  My father and I would venture out to the 700 level of rightfield with our $7.00 General Admission tickets.  Those days were enjoyable but also bitter and painful.  Someday though, we knew that the Phillies would turn it around. 

Well, today that period of misery is long gone.  The Phillies are now a marquee team in baseball and have made the playoffs four years running.  They sell out just about every game as tickets are nearly impossible to come by.

They now have (on paper) one of the best rotations of all time.  Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels will be a formidable foursome for the Fightin’ Phils in 2011.  

Through their minor league system, they were able to develop loads of young talent.  This is a pool that includes Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Dominic Brown among others.

Those sad days weren’t that long ago, but are now in the rear-view mirror.  Misery has been turned into all positives for the Phillies.  They bumped the Yankees off of a “Cliff” and are now looking to return to the World Series in 2011.  Ruben Amaro Jr. deserves a bulk of the praise for such moves as this may be the deepest Phils team ever.

For 14 years, Philadelphia suffered without a playoff appearance.  Now, they’re aiming for a fifth straight playoff appearance and third World Series berth.  What a turnaround for a team that was in the basement for so long.  

In four seasons, they’ve doubled the payroll of this team.  During that time, look at the success that they’ve enjoyed.  

They can actually compete financially with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.  That’s something I never thought we could say.     

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MLB: Troy Tulowitzki and The 15 Worst Contract Extensions in Baseball History

In the dawn of baseball’s “spend trend” many MLB teams have overpaid for players.  Whether it’s through an extension or a free-agent signing, mistakes are made every winter.  Every year, many are left asking: “How in the hell did he get that type of deal?”  To say the least, they’re often right nine times out of 10.  

With money being thrown around more than ever in sports, MLB is the best example.  Contracts worth $100 million and up are the norm nowadays.  Without a salary cap, what can be done about this? Nothing, that’s what.  Until there’s a salary cap, there’s no stopping excessive spending.  So, that being the case, the message to MLB franchises is simple.  SPEND AWAY!

In today’s game, if you have money you can and will win.  Though smart management plays a role, money wins titles nowadays.  Many teams, most notably the New York Yankees, have bought their way to World Series Titles.  To be honest, who can blame them.  There’s nothing that states that they can’t do it so it’s smart business.  

That being said, it’s now time to look at some of the worst contract extensions in baseball history.  

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MLB Winter Meetings: 5 Things Ruben Amaro Jr. Must Do for Philadelphia Phillies

With the Jayson Werth Sweepstakes closed, the Philadelphia Phillies now set their sights on other matters this winter.  The Winter Meetings just commenced today and Ruben Amaro Jr. has been relatively quiet since the Phillies’ stunning playoff exit in late October.

What the Phillies will be looking to do from here on out is anyone’s guess.  RAJ hasn’t made any noise so far this off-season, expect that to change soon.  The Phillies ought to be looking to fill a few voids this winter in order to re-claim their stake in the NL.  

The Phillies will look towards a replacement for Jayson Werth first and foremost.  Although it appears to be Domonic Brown, only time will tell.  Brown has just left Winter Ball after compiling a .069 average over nine games.

Something still tells me that RAJ won’t “stand pat” for too much longer.  Never count him out of the running, that’s one thing that Philadelphia has learned over the past few years.

Here are five things that Amaro Jr. should do for the Phillies this off-season.   

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MLB: Why Would Jayson Werth Sign with the Washington Nationals?

Jayson Werth had the opportunity to get any type of deal from any team he desired. The Boston Red Sox were high on Werth’s case for most of the winter and lost the Washington Nationals?!?  The Philadelphia Phillies, the organization that he used as a launching pad to this 2010 Free Agency Period, were even fooled by the “lowly” Nats.

This five-tool rightfielder didn’t have teams “knocking down the door” due to a high price tag, but his skills are an upgrade for just about any team.  The Nationals, who just lost “hit or miss” slugger Adam Dunn, needed to shore up their outfield and did so earlier this afternoon.

Now, with several other young pieces in place, the Nats may possibly break an even .500 in 2011.  Anything is an upgrade at this point though.  With the core young talent intact and getting ready down in the farm, the Nats could have the talent to start scaring off some NL East foes within the next few seasons.  Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg among others are helping change the face of the Nats. With Werth thrown into the mix, the Nats are a team “Werth” looking at for a change.

Their rise to respectability wasn’t rapid, but now is paying off, even if they’re paying Werth $18 million a year to make it happen.  Well, one thing’s for sure, the Nats-Phils rivalry has just erupted and should be a major storyline to follow for years to come.  

In this shocking turn of events, Werth will be wearing red and white again.  Not the same Phillie red/white pinstripes he wore for the past few years, but awfully close to the City of Brotherly Love.  Now residing in our nation’s capital, Werth looks to become the “next big thing” in Washington.  

This all relates back to this question at the top that seemingly has an elusive answer. Why in the “BLUE HELL” would Jayson Werth commit his next seven seasons to the Washington Nationals and vice versa?  For the betterment of the NL East landscape, Werth at least made things a lot more interesting.  

Many have already asked the question: Does Jayson Werth want to win, if so, why would he sign with the Nationals?  Well, there’s a yes/no duel nature answer to that particular question.  On one hand, he and the Nats will win, IN TIME.  Opposite of that thought, it appears as if the “dog days” are not over in Washington, D.C. 

I’m sure that Werth obviously wants to win, but all signs point back to the fact he could’ve gotten the same money with a proven winner.  This move was shocking to many, myself included, as the Nats were never a player in the Werth Sweepstakes—not to our knowledge at least.  

On the Phillies’ end, the future now turns to 23-year-young Domonic Brown.  His development will be key in 2011 as the Phillies will find out what he’s truly made of. Something tells me that Ruben Amaro Jr.’s being quiet to date is quite interesting.  RAJ surely has a plan up his sleeve. Guess we’ll all have to wait and see.

As for now though, shame on you Jayson Werth.  Not only did you turn away from the franchise that helped transform you into this star, but you left for a divisional rival.  This my friend is a no-no.  I really hope I get to both Philadelphia and Washington to see you this year, just to boo you each time you come to the plate or out onto the field.  You served Philadelphia well and we have no regrets but this one truly hurts.   

All comes back to center though, why on earth would Jayson Werth accept an offer from this team. The questioning of his wanting to win comes into play here as well. Does he really want to win, if so, why would he sign with the “lowly” Nats?

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MLB Rumors: 5 Reasons Why We Were Wrong About Jayson Werth

Tired of hearing about Jayson Werth?  Well, I’m not tired of writing about him just yet!  In a stunning report out of Philadelphia’s 97.5 The Fanatic, Jayson Werth may be on his way back to Philadelphia for another run.  Multiple reports supported this notion, in fact.  

Not so fast yet my dear Philly phaithful.  This isn’t certain, but remains likely.  The Phillies “reportedly” offered Werth a three year, $55 million deal.  This is a significant increase from their original offer and apparently works for Werth and super-agent Scott Boras, who may not have seen the right things thus far in free agency. 

Werth crawling back to the Phillies tells me quite a few things:

1.) Maybe he’s not as money-hungry as we thought (the guy will still be making about $18 million a year, give me a break.)  

2.) Ruben Amaro Jr. is one crafty bastard (I told you guys all along that RAJ is a genius).

Here are a few reasons why we were wrong about Jayson Werth and we’re…sorry.

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