Lloyd H. Cargo: The entire time trade rumors were swirling around the Phillies and Roy Halladay (after the World Series), I couldn't help but imagine the top of the Phillies rotation looking like the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, with Halladay as our Big Unit and Cliff Lee a much humbler Curt Schilling. So as thrilled as I was to see them pull the trigger on Roy, I was furious they'd shipped out Lee. I sort of understand that it has to do with money, but Cliff Lee was making the same amount of money (1 year at 8 million) they just handed to Joe Blanton (3 at 24), and while they didn’t intend to resign him and wanted to restock their farm system in the wake of the Halladay deal, I'm the type who'd rather win another World Series in 2010 then worry about 2014. The Phillies have similar revenue to the St. Louis Cardinals, and a payroll 40 million higher, which to me says the Phillies aren’t going to be the top of the NL sometime soon. They have a lot of players under contract that could be considered relative bargains and when it comes to resign someone like Jayson Werth, will the money be there? Speaking of spending, I didn't like the Mets’ deal for Jason Bay (4 at 64). I didn't like it at the time, but now that its come out that the reason the Sox reduced their offer to two years had to do with his knees, it reeks of desperation. Russ, your thoughts on Bay?
Russ Smith: I wanted the Sox to sign Bay right away and get it over with. Who knows about his knees? Getting real info out of Boston's front office is more difficult than the Kremlin in its heyday. I look at it like this: how do you replace 36 homers? Not from Mike Cameron. The Adrian Beltre move I liked a lot, since Mike Lowell needs a wheelchair. Marco Scutaro was a plus pick-up. But unless Boston's rotation both remains healthy and is strong, the team is looking at a lot of 3-2 games, which makes me nervous.
I don't understand the Phils' rationale on Lee at all (though I'm sick of hearing him complain about it). Blanton's fine for a number 4 or 5 starter, an innings-eater who'll give up at least 4 runs, but he ain't no Lee. The Mets are cooked. The Braves have no pop and stupidly got rid of Vasquez. The Nats are the Nats. But the Marlins are always a wild card in the NL East and I wouldn't be surprised to see them compete. The Marlins, by the way, are Booker's second-favorite team to the Sox.
LHC: Let me guess, The Marlins are Booker's second favorite team because they have Hanley Ramirez, the former (and likely future) Red Sox stud short stop. I have a feeling that if anyone could possibly wrestle the MVP away from the incredible Albert Pujols, Ramirez could be the guy to do it with a .330, 30 home run, 100 RBI, 100 run 30 steal season. Even then, I don't see the Marlins challenging the Phillies, but I also think Roy Halladay is going to win 25 games and dominate like Bob Gibson when they lowered the mound, going from the AL East to the NL East.
How much do you make of the perceived difference between the quality of the leagues? I don't think anyone would argue the National League as being superior, but personally, I think the gap is a lot smaller than it's made out to be.
RS: Bingo. Booker was ticked off when Hanley was traded (the major chip in a multi-player deal) to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. He grudgingly admits it was a great trade for both teams, but Hanley's still a charter member of his "dawghouse," along with other non-Sox like Coco Crisp, Adam Dunn (can't figure that one out, but he wants Dunn to replace Ortiz as the Sox's DH), Chone Figgins and the duo of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Also Ichiro, but anyone with a baseball pulse can't help but admire Ichiro, the most graceful player I've ever seen. If Pujols gets injured, then yes, Ramirez, and maybe Chase Utley, could take the MVP. Not that I care a hoot about who wins that award. By all accounts, Halladay should have a monster season for the Phils since 1.) He's just a tremendous pitcher who's a throwback to another era when it wasn't uncommon for even middling pitchers to rack up 15 complete games, and 2.) Aside from the atrocious inter-league games, most NL players aren't familiar with Halladay and they're not going to like facing him. The only possible difficulty I see for Halladay is pitching half his games in homer-friendly Citzens Bank Park. That's his one flaw: if he's not on, which is rare, he's prone to giving up gophers.
I think that while the gulf between the leagues is exaggerated, the AL is clearly superior, probably for several reasons. One is the moronic inconsistency of the AL using the DH and the NL sticking to pitchers hitting ninth (unless you play for the odious but smart Tony LaRussa). I never liked the DH when it was introduced, but I've made peace with it since the players' union would never allow an elimination of the slot. The NL ought to just cave in and prolong some careers. I don't know if All Star games mean that much—certainly not today, anyway—but when I was growing up the NL dominated the contest, back when it wasn't merely an exhibition, along with the ludicrous home run derby. Consider this: in the years spanning 1963-1985, the NL won the All Star game 21 times; the AL won it twice. I think the Phillies could compete in the American League today and maybe grab a playoff spot, but that's about it. The Cards? No way. The Dodgers or Rockies or Braves? Forget it.
Some of the great players—Pujols, CC Cheeseburger, David Wright (and don't you bet he'd love to play for an AL team right now), A-Fraud, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzales, to name a few—would thrive in either league, but, to push your button, I'd say Ryan Howard, for example, wouldn't fare as well with an AL team. Nor would Ryan Braun or Ryan Zimmerman—just a guess, of course. One thing I do like about the NL, however, is that players know how to bunt. If the Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury went to bunting school in the off-season he'd raise his average by 20 points and steal another 10 bags. The only decent bunter in the AL, at least than I can think of, is Derek Jeter.
LHC: As irrationally as I love me some Phils, I'm actually sort of with you on Ryan Howard. He absolutely cannot hit lefties, but he's one of the few guys in the NL who can carry a team when he's on. That having been said, I'm already hoping the Phillies don't resign him when he hits free agency. He reminds me of a more likable Mo Vaughn, or even Cecil Fielder—and those type of big-bodied mashers don't tend to fare well on the other side of 30.
I don't really care whether or not the NL adds a DH, but I would like to see them do away with inter league play. It's not going to happen since it's a money-maker, but I feel like it dilutes a lot of what's fun about having separate leagues in the first place. I also wonder why no teams are willing to go back to a four-man rotation, something that clearly has worked in the past. It's very strange to me that there hasn't been a prolonged example of a team figuring, "hey, we only have four solid starters, maybe we should just go with them" rather than juggle shaky fifth men. I know the game has changed and if it didn't work or a few starters went down with injuries, a team would get roasted for it but enough coddling of these arms. Pitching is an inherently destructive motion for an arm, and pitch counts are very useful in protecting hurlers, but it seems to me that it has always and will always be the case that some guys can throw 200 innings year in and year out and some guys just can't.
And since you brought up Derek Jeter in a manner in which you actually seem to be complimenting him, I feel some sort of duty to point out that I think they will be worse this year. I loved Curtis Granderson in Detroit, but I don't think that he does as much for the Yankees as Johnny Damon did—and Nick Johnson doesn't scare me the way Hideki Matsui could. The Yankees are still a force to be reckoned with, but I'd still give a narrow edge in the AL East to the Sox. They upgraded their defense substantially (I really wanted the Phillies to get Beltre, I think he's got the best glove at the hot corner in the game) and I'll echo the sentiment that John Lackey is the best third starter in baseball. I'm sure you'd like for them to add another big bat, and I think that's somewhat inevitable. I'm also not the first to foresee this, but I don't see how San Diego is going to be able to keep Adrian Gonzalez, and he is exactly what the doctor ordered for the middle of that line up.
RS: I agree about Ryan Howard, especially since he got a late start. But some team will lay out a lot of cash for him and get burned. As for the four-man rotation, ain't gonna happen. As the Pet Shop Boys sang in the 80s, the players and their agents sing "Let's Make Lots of Money" and the wear and tear of pitching more innings scares them all, especially today when a player goes on the DL when he's got a hangnail. I hate pitch counts: 115 and a guy's out of the game, and if your ace is facing a pesky hitter like, say Johnny Damon or Dustin Pedroia, who might foul off 12 straight pitches, it means he won't last past the sixth. That's why it's nuts for the Yanks to even consider Joba Chamberlain for their rotation: he's a natural eighth-inning bridge to Rivera and then the closer. Of course, realistically, one thing old-timers have to remember when they (we) wax nostalgic about the old days when horses would pitch 300 innings and 25 complete games, guys like Gibson, Marichal and Palmer, is that they were the stars. We never heard about the minor leaguers or young MLB players who blew out their arms from too much work. I guess Dontrelle Willis is a good example of that today, which is sad, because he was really a fun guy to watch. And now he's toast. Burnt toast at that.
Curtis Granderson is one of my favorite players, and I hate to see him with the Yanks. But I agree that the substitution of C-Gran and Nick "I spend half the season on the DL, sitting on the bench looking like Babe Ruth" Johnson wont' make up for the loss of Damon and Godzilla. Damon can still hit and usually catch; and though he throws like a girl, well, he always did. Now that he's not a Yank, I hope he does well for the Tigers. As a Sox fan, I'm just ingrained to be pessimistic and always start the season assuming the Yanks will win 100 games. And while the Sox, on paper might have the best rotation in baseball, even if their staff stays healthy, the offense is anemic, which means a lot of 4-3 games, which makes me nervous.
Who was your favorite Phil as a kid? I've no idea of what kind of shape the Phils' farm system is in, but can they compete year-in, year-out? Seems to me that unless they get stocked with younger players, their window for dominance is about to close, although I don't think any NL East team touches them this year.
On another subject, I'd like to see a couple of franchises move to another town. Tampa Bay still doesn't draw that well, even though they now have a great, young team. The A's, with that horrendous stadium, are a prime team to move. The Yanks and Mets would never allow it, but I think a team moving to Brooklyn or Northern New Jersey would draw three million fans a year.
LHC: The Phillies' farm system is in pretty good shape, but they did trade the cream of the crop in the Lee and Halladay deals, and didn't seem to get much back from Seattle when they flipped Lee—and your point about the window of dominance was exactly why I hated the Lee deal so much. The Phillies got pretty lucky that a nucleus of young talent all came up together —Rollins, Howard, Utley and Hamels were all home grown, but they just can not afford to keep everyone past arbitration. Not that keeping Lee guaranteed them another title, but another title would guarantee them more revenue. I don't expect them to operate like Boston or New York, but I do expect them to seize the golden opportunity of a weak NL East and no other real powerhouse in the National League.
As for moving some teams, I'd be sad if Oakland lost the Athletics but certainly not surprised. I don't have any real opinions on this stuff, but I will point out the extremely obvious in that it must be so unbearably miserable to be a fan of a team like the Pirates or Royals who have absolutely no chance of being good with the way baseball is structured now. Contraction seems like a possibility, but that'd be a bitter pill for Commisioner Selig to swallow.
Let's end this on a positive note. Lenny Dykstra was probably the first Phillie I got excited about, because his son went to the same elementary school I did, and I got to take batting practice at his mansion once, but I don't think I ever took him very seriously. It was difficult to take the Phillies seriously in the 90s, but they certainly had some characters. Darren Daulton was out of his mind, and guys like Pete Incaviglia, Rico Brogna and Jim Eisenreich were interesting, but not very inspiring. If pressed, I'd maybe say Scott Rolen—who didn't have a lot of personality, but did play a mean third base and also gave his old car to a girl I went to high school withr (which sounds weird, but I’m pretty sure it was cause they were next door neighbors?), and was apparently a very generous guy otherwise.
RS: I loved Nails Dykstra too, just a hard-nosed player who seemed to be a combo of Eddie Stanky/Billy Martin/Pee Wee Reese. I was at Shea Stadium for the first game of the '86 playoffs against the Astros, and Dykstra hit at least one homer, the Mets won, and crowd went nuts, just yelling "Lenn-ee," "Lenn-ee!" I don't remember how he did against the Sox in the Series that year, mostly because I've blotted that year out of my baseball memory. Sort of. Is Lenny doing time right now? [check out this ridiculous story—ed.]
Now, I don't understand why the Phillies can't continue with their huge payrolls well into the future. Philadelphia's a major market, has an incredible sports fan base and a good park. So what's the problem? I mean, the Boston owners have capitalized on adding seats to Fenway, renting out the park for concerts and other events, and just squeezing every revenue stream. And Fenway still doesn't hold 40,000. There's one thing that has to be said about the universally vilified George Steinbrenner before he croaks: he loved winning and put his money on the table, even though he wasn't the wealthiest owner. The guy bought the Yanks for a song in the early 70s and built it into a gargantuan company. Almost everything about the Yankees is obnoxious, from their new stadium with its Third Reich architectural overtones to the hagiography of its tv station YES (and really, is there any more loathsome announcer than Michael Kay?) to the team's requirement that players don't have beards or long hair (supposed to represent the franchise's "class," which is a total myth. But give Steinbrenner credit: when the game changed and free agency arrived, he rolled with it, immortalized by Bob Dylan's song "Catfish," about Jim Hunter, the "million dollar man."
My favorite Sox players, spanning from the early 60s until today: Dick Raddatz, Bill Momboquette, Tony Conigliaro, Yaz, Freddy Lynn, Bill Lee, Jim Rice, Mike Andrews, Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra, Tim Wakefield, Big Papi, Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedro Martinez and Dustin Pedroia.
In closing, I'd love to see a Sox/Phils World Series this year, going seven games and ending with Papelbon redeeming himself by protecting a one-run lead in the 9th, men on first and third, and whiffing three in a row to take home the trophy.