Roy Halladay Announces Retirement

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

One of the most dominant pitchers of the past decade has announced his retirement today. Roy Halladay, who pitched 16 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, will sign a one day contract with Toronto and end his career. Halladay is 36 years old, and struggled with injuries over the past two seasons with the Phillies.

Halladay was selected with the 17th pick in the 1995 MLB Amateur Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, and became a mainstay in the Blue Jays’ rotation for more than a decade. He became a full-time starter in 1999, and grew into an ace by the early 2000s. In 2002, “Doc” went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA and was named to his first All-Star Game. 2003, however, was even better for Halladay. He earned 22 wins, struck out 204 batters, and earned the 2003 American League Cy Young Award. But despite being surrounded by decent pitchers and batters, Halladay never made the playoffs with the Blue Jays.

In December 2009, Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a number of prospect players, and quickly made an impact in Philadelphia. In a career season, Halladay went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and a career-high 219 strikeouts. He was named to his seventh All-Star Game and helped the Phillies win their fourth consecutive NL East division title. On May 29th, he pitched the 2nd perfect game in Phillies history against the Florida Marlins, and on October 6, made his dramatic postseason debut by pitching a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS.

Halladay was known for his tricky pitches, including 90+ MPH fastballs and cutters that fooled batters. Halladay worked efficiently on the mound, and followed the same strict mechanical movement throughout his career. He also displayed immense focus during games, often refusing to talk to anyone but his catcher during his starts.

In 2012, at the age of 34, Halladay began to regress, and was placed on the disabled list in May with a shoulder strain. 2013 proved to be more of the same for the Phillies ace. Halladay missed more than three months after having surgery to remove a bone spur in his shoulder. It seems that Halladay’s decision to retire is a wise move made to prevent any more injuries.

Overall, Halladay finished his 16 year career with a 203-105 record, a 3.38 ERA, 68 complete games (all-time record), and 2,117 strikeouts. He made 8 All-Star appearances (and started two games), won 2 Cy Young Awards, threw a perfect game, and pitched the second no-hitter in postseason history. The world of baseball is losing a great player and a great man in Roy Halladay, but he surely left a great legacy for many pitchers to aspire to.

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Phillies Fire Manager Charlie Manuel

manuel

Charlie Manuel celebrates the Phillies’ victory in the 2008 World Series.

The Phillies have announced Manuel’s firing today, in a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” Manuel said, referring to his nine-year tenure in Philadelphia. He is the winningest manager in Phillies history, with a  780-636 record (.535 win percentage). Manuel led the Phillies to five straight NL East division championships from 2007-11, won the 2008 and 2009 NL Penants, and the 2008 World Series, the Phillies’ first title since 1980.

The Phillies will replace Manuel with third base coach Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg, who was drafted by Philadelphia in the 1978 Amateur Draft, is a 2005 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has some managerial experience at the minor league level; he won the 2010 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and the 2011 Minor League Manager of the Year with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. “I think he’ll be a real good manager,” Charlie Manuel said.

October 31, 2008 was perhaps the greatest day in Philadelphia sports history in the past 30 years. Two days after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, more than 2 million people crowded the streets of downtown Philadelphia and packed Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies championship parade, the city’s first in 25 years. The day marked the pinnacle of a tremendous season filled with great performances from Phillies mainstays Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels.

But that day also marked the beginning of a decline for the Phillies that has lasted nearly five years. Sure, the Phillies won the 2009 National League Pennant and three more division titles in 2009, ’10, and ’11, but for all the high expectations and hopes of the Phillies faithful, they never won another championship. But perhaps the true turning point was the resignation of Phillies’ general manager Pat Gillick. His successor, Ruben Amaro, Jr., has invested a great amount of money into high-level talent, but the Phillies have not won a title.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. has agreed to extremely lucrative contracts with many Phillies players, including Roy Halladay (3 years, $60 million), Ryan Howard (5 years, $150 million), Chase Utley (2 years, $27 million), and Cliff Lee (5 years, $120 million). Amaro has locked up millions of dollars for these superstars, none of which are younger than 33. With few exceptions (namely Domonic Brown), Amaro has done little to promote the development of young prospects in the Phillies’ organization. For a general manager who is “looking at a bright future,” signing old, injury-prone players to max contracts is a hypocritical act.

Charlie Manuel wasn’t exactly the most eloquent speaker in his press conferences and wouldn’t exactly be named the most charismatic or motivational manager in baseball history, but his offensive style of coaching produced the most successful teams in Phillies history. In his nine years in Philadelphia, he produced 4 teams that won 90 or more games, and only this year did Manuel’s Phillies have a losing record. For 9 years, Charlie Manuel was the boss of the most successful Philadelphia sports team, and most Phillies fans are sad to see him go. But many Phillies fans might believe that the wrong man lost his job.

A-Rod Suspended in Biogenesis Scandal

Alex Rodriguez hit a home run, possibly his last, on Friday night for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Image Source: Sports Illustrated/CNN.com)

Alex Rodriguez hit a home run, possibly his last, on Friday night for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Image Source: Sports Illustrated/CNN.com)

One of the greatest sluggers in Major League Baseball history might have hit his last home run. Alex Rodriguez, third baseman for the New York Yankees, was suspended today for his role in the Biogenesis drug scandal. His suspension lasts until the end of the 2014 MLB season, for a total of 214 games.

Rodriguez, 38, has not appeared in a game since last October, when the Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. A-Rod underwent surgery this past January to repair a torn labrum in his hip and a strained quadriceps muscle. He completed a two game rehab assignment with the Double-A Trenton Thunder this weekend, going 1-2 with 4 walks and a long home run to left field. Rodriguez completed a long workout with the Thunder Sunday, but did not play in the team’s evening game.

On Saturday night, Rodriguez addressed the media, and stated that he was “going to fly to Chicago” after his workout Sunday to meet his Yankees teammates for their Monday night game against the White Sox. The Yankees could use Rodriguez’ help in the lineup; despite being 4 games over .500, the Yankees have the fourth lowest team batting average and have scored the sixth fewest runs in the majors. Rodriguez will appeal the suspension and play tonight against the White Sox.

A-Rod has had an incredibly successful career in baseball. The 1st overall draft pick in 1993 by the Seattle Mariners, Rodriguez has played 19 MLB seasons for the Mariners, Rangers, and Yankees. His 647 career home runs are the fifth most of all-time, and he ranks 7th with 1,950 RBI. He won the American League MVP Award three times (2003, 2005, 2007), has made 14 All-Star appearances, and won 10 Silver Slugger awards. He is a career .300 hitter, but hasn’t reached the .300 mark in a season since 2008.

But for all his career triumphs, Rodriguez has endured his fair share of controversy. In 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that A-Rod tested positive for anabolic steroids from 2001-2003, while a member of the Texas Rangers. This suspension involves Rodriguez’ relationship with Biogenesis of America, a Florida-based anti-aging clinic. Rodriguez reportedly received human growth hormone (HGH) treatments from the clinic, which is illegal under MLB rules. A first-time drug suspension in the majors is 50 games, but A-Rod obstructed an investigation into his drug usage. Therefore, Major League Baseball elected to hand down a harsher suspension.

Rodriguez is not alone. Twelve other players were suspended for 50 games each today, including Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was suspended for 65 games earlier this season for his relationship with Biogenesis of America, prompting debates as to whether the 2011 NL MVP should be allowed to keep his award.

In an age of baseball known affectionately as the “Steroid Era”, the Rodriguez suspension is the harshest penalty handed down by Major League Baseball. Instead of continuing his storied career as one of baseball’s best, Rodriguez joins names like Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez on the list of suspended sluggers. This sad story of greed and cheating is not uncommon in this day and age, and goes to prove that the “Steroid Era” is still alive in Major League Baseball.

Phillies Sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez from Cuba

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez joins Raul Valdes as the only other Cuban player on the Phillies roster.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez joins Raul Valdes as the only other Cuban player on the Phillies roster.

Cuban baseball players are among the best in the world, and many have found success upon defecting to the United States. Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman has developed a powerful legacy since he defected in 2010. Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes recently won the 2013 Home Run Derby. And Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has been the talk of the league, hitting .376 and leading the Dodgers on a hot streak of late.

Now another Cuban sensation is headed to the major leagues. The Philadelphia Phillies announced the signing of 26-year-old pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a 6 year, $50 million contract. The contract is the richest contract ever given to an international player. According to a Yahoo Sports report,Gonzalez has  “a fastball that sits around 93 mph and recently topped out at 96, a split-fingered fastball and changeup that serve as his off-speed pitches, a cut fastball and a slow curveball.” Gonzalez defected earlier this year to Cuba to Mexico and played in a low-level league there.

The move comes as positive news for the Phillies who have struggled recently. The Phillies are 1-6 since the All-Star break, and currently sit at 49-54, 8.5 games out of first place in the NL East. Phillies ace pitchers have had a rough time this year: staff ace Cole Hamels is 4-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay has been out since May after undergoing shoulder surgery (not to mention his 8.65 ERS in 7 games). The only bright light on the Phillies staff has been Cliff Lee (10-4, 3.05 ERA), who remains the subject of trade rumors before next week’s trade deadline.

The signing of Gonzalez is surprising for the Phillies. General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. continues to remain optimistic about the Phillies season despite the team’s recent slide. Three teams stand between Philadelphia and the last Wild Card spot in the National League. Players like Chase Utley and Cliff Lee could be on their way out of Philadelphia soon. Without substantial improvement from the pitching staff, Amaro could be forced to sell and rebuild.

That’s where Gonzalez comes in. He has constantly impressed scouts in his baseball career. He succeeded as a star pitcher in the Cuban National Series, and succeeded again when he arrived in Mexico. At 26, Gonzalez would be one of the youngest pitchers on the Phillies roster. He will start in the Phillies minor league system (likely Triple-A Lehigh Valley) before being called up in mid-August, according to team sources. Not much is certain about Gonzalez’s future, but the addition of the Cuban star is still great news for a subpar team.

Team Cano vs. Team Wright in Home Run Derby

Yankees 2B Robinson Cano (left) and Mets 3B David Wright lead the rosters of sluggers in this year's Home Run Derby.

Yankees 2B Robinson Cano (left) and Mets 3B David Wright lead the rosters of sluggers in this year’s Home Run Derby.

The 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star festivities kick off Monday night at New York’s Citi Field as eight of the best sluggers in the league participate in the Home Run Derby. Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, is known as one of the toughest parks for hitters in the major leagues, but recently underwent renovations to reduce the height of several outfield walls and to move right center field 17 feet closer to home plate. Still, Citi Field ranks as the most difficult park for hitters in 2013, and the eight stars below will have to bring their A games to win it all. 

Citi Field (Home of the New York Mets)

Opened: 2009

Dimensions: Left Field-335′, Left Center Field-358′, Center Field-408′, Right Center Field-375′, Right Field-330′

Team Cano (American League)

Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (.300 AVG, 21 HR in 2013)

Cano won the 2011 Home Run Derby in Arizona, but didn’t manage to record a home run in last year’s contest at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Still, Cano is 7th in the American League with 21 home runs this year, and will find the short 330-foot dimension down the right field line to his liking. Cano might make the second round, but there’s just too much talent in this Derby. 

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (.315 AVG, 37 HR)

Nobody has had a hotter bat in the American League this year than Baltimore Orioles 1B Chris Davis. He leads the major leagues with 37 home runs this season. Davis is on pace for 62 home runs in 2013, and he has a chance to showcase his pure hitting skill in Monday night’s Derby. 

Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers (.267, 16 HR) 

Fielder, the defending Home Run Derby Champion, also won the 2009 Home Run Derby. He is one of two multiple time Derby Champions (w/ Ken Griffey Jr.), but don’t expect Fielder to repeat. He only has 16 long balls this year and he has struggled some at the plate. That short right center field wall will look appealing, though.

Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics (.223 AVG, 15 HR)

Cespedes is the most intriguing player on Team Cano’s roster. The 27-year-old Cuban is known for his hitting skill, but has only 15 home runs in 2013 after hitting 23 last year. He is a good ballplayer and hitter, and he definitely has the best name of the participants, but Cespedes might struggle Monday night. I’m not sure how much Home Run Derby practice he got in Cuba.

Team Wright (National League) 

David Wright, New York Mets (.304 AVG, 13 HR) 

He’s the hometown hero in this year’s Derby, but David Wright has only 13 home runs this season. He has opposite field power, which could help him with right center being moved closer to home plate, but Wright is a hometown pick, not the best hitter. No hometown player has won since 1990, and that trend will continue. 

Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies (.331 AVG, 16 HR) 

Cuddyer is second in the National League in batting average, but ranks 8th in home runs. He’s not at home in Colorado where the thin air makes the ball fly farther. Cuddyer is a good hitter, but won’t have the power to win in New York. 

Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates (.250 AVG, 24 HR) 

Originally, Carlos Gonzalez (leads the NL in HR) was supposed to participate. But when he was injured, Alvarez (second in the NL in HR) replaced him in the lineup. And rightfully so. Alvarez is a major reason for the success of the Pirates in the first half of 2013, and Pittsburgh deserves a slugger in the Derby. He could be a real threat at Citi Field. 

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals (.264 AVG, 13 HR)

Harper isn’t the most popular player for Phillies fans like myself, but I believe the Nationals center fielder will win the 2013 Home Run Derby. Harper is known for his power at the plate, and though he only has 13 home runs this year, he is still a dangerous hitter. His pure, compact swing is great for making solid contact, and he will give the fans in the right field seats plenty of souvenirs. Harper is known for his Home Run Derby skills, hitting home runs of more than 500 feet at Tropicana Field as a high school sophomore. 

New York Yankees: The Not So Evil Empire

On May 25th everything was going great for the Evil Empire.  The Yankees, despite missing half of their starting lineup, had jumped out to a 30-18 record, good for first place in the AL East.  Jump to July 1 and the Yankees are in fourth place, going 12-21 since May 25th and 3-7 in their last 10 games.  Stopgap players such as Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Travis Hafner, hit a combined .174 in the month of June. Other players such as Chris Stewart, Kevin Youkilis, and Jayson Nix have been ineffective or injured. Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in the 2012 playoffs, has had his return pushed back from late May to after the All-Star break.  Mark Teixeira is headed for season ending surgery after playing only a hand full of games.  Curtis Granderson has spent a majority of the season the disabled list as well and is slow to come back from his injury.  So decimated is the Yankees lineup, that Alex Rodriguez and all his antics are desperately needed to provide a boost.

Starting just two good hitters in Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano, the Yankees’ lineup once feared, is now largely average.  After the Yankees were in the top 10 for runs scored every year since 2000, they currently rank 23rd in the majors. In 2012, the Yankees led the league in home runs, but hit a pedestrian .256 with runners in scoring position.  Many a Yankees fan complained that the team relied solely on home runs to score runs and that type of offense could not produce championships.

Fast forward to 2013, and fans wish their team had the same problem as in 2012.  The team’s average with runners in scoring position is .236, (25th in the league) and rank Yankees are 17th in home runs.  Yankee fans haven’t seen this type of anemic offense since the early 90’s. The only reason the Yankees have remained competitive is a pitching staff that has the fifth best ERA in the American League. For the Yankees, what was a feared offense as little as a year ago has lost all of its teeth.

With the Yankees reeling and their regular players slow to recover let’s look at the options the Yankees have going forward.

Keep the status quo

The Yankees could continue to roll out the same players and hope by some miracle those players play better.  Jeter, Granderson, Rodriquez, Cervelli, and Pineda will all return at some point and would be great improvements over the players currently occupying those positions.   There is no evidence though that any of the current players are showing signs of improving and things may only worsen for the Yankees. Not doing anything is highly unlikely, because the Yankees have a history of never doing nothing.

Acquire lots of players to make a playoff run

Ever since the Steinbrenner family bought the Yankees, they have cared more about winning than anything else.  Money has hardly been an issue.

With the Yankees saving some money from Teixeira’s injury (insurance and the World Baseball Classic paying most of the salary because he suffered the injury during the WBC) the Yankees do have some room to acquire contracts.  What players the Yankees go after is a different issue. With 2 extra Wild Cards, teams are less likely to be “sellers,” so acquiring big names is tougher. Many Yankee prospects have struggled this year, so the Yankees don’t have many assets in the minors to acquire many marquee names.

One huge risk/reward would be to trade for Josh Hamilton and take on most of his monstrous salary. The biggest asset the Yankees is their availability to take on salary.  The Angels may already be tired of Hamilton underperforming and may be willing to part ways.  Hamilton would provide a huge boost for the Yankees in right field and Hamilton could take advantage of the short right field porch in Yankee stadium.  The White Sox may be willing to trade Alex Rios, an All-Star caliber outfielder who would provide a huge boost from the right side.  There will always be players available, and its up to the Yankees’ front office to find the right pieces at the right prices.

Become sellers (gulp)

Any Yankees fan born after 1994 has only seen the Yankees miss the playoffs once.  By most Yankee fans’ definitions, the season is only a success if it results in a ring.  There is no rebuilding for the Yankees, only thoughts of winning.

It is time for Yankee fans to admit that their favorite team is in the midst of a rebuilding period. However, this rebuilding process looks a lot different for the Yankees than other teams.  While other team trade stars for prospects, the Yankees rebuild by letting their aging superstars’ contracts expire before signing more expensive superstars. Rodriquez and Teixeira are past their primes and have contracts that make them unmovable. CC Sabathia is slowly moving towards that level as well.  With a minor league system that has failed to produce major league stars the past few years, the Yankees only option to maintain contender status has been to sign free agents.

That being said, it may be time for the Yankees to unload the very few tradable assets they have on the team.  Hiroki Kuroda, on a one year deal, may be a useful pitching option for a team needed a number 2 or 3 starter.  Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain may be moved to a team that needs back of the rotation help or bullpen help.  Neither player is expected to be with the Yankees next year, so their return in a trade would be limited.  The one radical move the Yankees could make would be to trade Robinson Cano.  Cano will be a free agent after this year and both sides are far apart in contract negotiations.  The Yankees may be hesitant to offer Cano a long term deal after seeing Teixeira and Rodriguez fail to produce at high level on the later years of their contracts.  If the Yankees feel this way, they may trade Cano to a contender such as the Rockies that could put them over the top and win the NL West. No Yankee fan ever wants to admit the team is not championship caliber, but if their starters fail to return quickly and they continue to plummet in the standings, the Yankees may become sellers at the July 31 trading deadline for the first time in many years.

The Yankees are in a predicament.  Do they blow past the $189 million and pay an ungodly amount of luxury tax or do they admit failure to unrelenting fans and New York media and begin truly rebuilding? I still believe in Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, (brothers and current owners) and that they will make a splash or two come the trade deadline to stave off rebuilding for one more year.  I cannot say that Yankees will definitely make the playoffs, but if the front office acts like they have in the past, the Yankees will be buyers as they make a push towards ring number 28.

One Pitch Wonder: The Journey of Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera's 634 saves are the most in MLB history. He will retire at the end of the 2013 season.

Mariano Rivera’s 634 saves are the most in MLB history. He will retire at the end of the 2013 season.

His statistics for this year are astonishing, having a 1.55 ERA and 26 saves in 32 games. His WHIP is 1.24 and he has 27 strikeouts. But the most incredible statistic of it all? Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is doing all of this at the age of 43. He has  done this over his 18 year career with his lethal cut fastball and his farewell season is almost halfway done.

Now with this being Rivera’s last season in the Major Leagues with the Yankees, there are some people calling for Mariano to start the MLB All-Star Game in July at New York’s Citi Field. As fans call for this as a show of respect, Rivera would love to just stay in his closer role in the bullpen, and I agree with Rivera.

Naming Rivera the American League starter would put the greatest closer in history out of his comfort zone. Who takes a career 2.20 ERA, 634 saves and a WHIP of 1.00 out of that role! I am from the school of thought that if it is not broken there is no reason to fix it. Rivera stormed into the spotlight beginning as a setup man; he took over the closer role the following year.  Also, starting Rivera in the All-Star Game would not be the right way to honor “The Sandman.” His All-Star stats show that his 0.00 ERA in 8 games and 8 innings is where he should stay. He is clearly the best closer to ever play the game so why would you take him from his position?

Not to mention his Hall of Fame post-season statistics. The numbers are incredible that despite the 2004 season if you heard Metallica’s Enter Sandman over the PA system the game was all but over. He has a 0.70 ERA over 141 innings in the playoffs.  Rivera has had an incredible body of work and he still has the final half of his season to go.

So when Enter Sandman comes over the PA system, bringing the fans at the All-Star Game to their feet, it should be in the 9th inning not the first. Honor the man the way we will honor him in Cooperstown; as the best closer to ever play the game of baseball.  So I give the tip of my cap to Mariano Rivera and hope he is honored as the closer of the All-Star Game and can go out on his terms running from the bullpen to get the save for the American League.