The Phillies’ abyss of mediocrity

philadelphia_phillies_cap_1970_-_1991

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Every Phillies fan knew the club was tossing the 2016 season. The gaggle of anonymous talent they trotted out on opening day was disenchanting. In the middle of May, despite cellar dweller expectations, the Phillies had surprised even the most cynical fans with mediocre results. By June first, the Phillies were playing .500 baseball and a glimmer of hope set in. However, the haunting reality of a hodgepodge of players glued together by hope and a dream eroded that optimism. Aside from Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Jeremy Helickson and an exclusive coterie of other pitchers, everyone should be on the chopping block.

Odubal Herrara was an all-star this year for the sole fact that he was the best player on one of the worst teams. No one questions the energy El Torito injects into a lifeless lineup, but with a line of .286/15/49 he is struggling to be average. The corner outfield positions saw a rotating blend of anyone swinging a hot bat, and with several minor league players tabbed as elite, top 10 prospects in all of baseball, and a decent free agent outfield class, there’s no reason to hold on to below average outfielders.

Maikel Franco anchors the infield at third base and Freddy Galvis has been the post-Jimmy Rollins band aid for the past few years. Franco isn’t going anywhere. He has the skills to be an everyday, middle of the order type player and he still has time to develop. Although Glavis is shaping into a fan favorite and had a career year, .241/20/67 campaign, he is still a charity case rather than a lynchpin in the middle of the infield. I could see holding onto him as one of the longest tenured players on the team, but at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds it’s doubtful he’ll have another year like this one.

Ryan Howard bowed out after a hero’s ovation at the end of the season. It’s nice when a player with a cemented legacy in Phillies history steps away knowing he’s got nothing left to give – a classy move indeed. With Howard cleared from the roster and payroll, the front office could upgrade by signing Mitch Moreland. Outside of Moreland, the free agent infield class is limited, but infielders are one commodity the fightens have plenty of. JP Crawford is the number two prospect in all of baseball. He’s still young, but Ceaser Hernandez or Galvis can hold down the position until he’s ready. The place holders in the infield, Tommy Josef and Darrin Ruf can be traded. Ruf, whom has split time in the outfield and first base, won’t command much. Tommy Josef put together a decent season and as a former first-round pick of the Giants, might collect a fair return.

There are options behind the plate with AJ Ellis and Jorge Alfaro. Even though Cameron Rupp carried most of the responsibility this year, there isn’t much to write home about. The common philosophy with catchers is to trade offensive production for leadership skills. Rupp is short on both. AJ Ellis is a sufficient replacement with veteran qualities while Jorge Alfaro is the clear future franchise catcher. The Phillies should be able to re-sign Ellis and possibly grab another catcher on the free agent market since there is a wealth of catching talent available.

In 2016, the pitching staff was mercurial at best. There were times were Vinny Valasquez dazzled fans with an electric fastball and bulldog mentality, but the magic fizzled out and ended with an ERA north of 4 – Aaron Nola suffered similar results. Nola and Valasquez are still young, with Nola possessing the clear upside of the two. Further down in the rotation are Jeremy Helickson and Jerad Eickhoff whom turned in respectable seasons and have the potential to be strong middle of the rotation forces. Beyond those four arms there is a massive amount of calculus to be figured out. Hector Neris showed glimpses of greatness, but needs to be more consistent, while the rest of the staff posted a startlingly high ERA.

There are no more excuses for the Phillies to turn out an embarrassing product. The terms of the media deal they signed with Comcast Sports Net kicks in this year and they should have an arsenal of cash to spend. The farm system is replete with quality talent right at the cusp of breaking through to the big leagues, so there isn’t much to be given up by signing a few top-talent free agents to provide optimism for the fan-base while supplying some energy and veteran leadership in the clubhouse.

terry-francona-mlb-boston-red-sox-cleveland-indians-850x560

Congratulations, Cleveland. You just lost the World Series.

By Matt Enuco

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The Cleveland Indians just punched their ticket to the fall classic with a 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. After the Champagne bubbles have gone flat, there will be a long wait leading up to the World Series, and with the Tribe riding such an epic hot streak, this down time could spell disaster.

Let’s look at the last decade. Only the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies won the fall classic after having more rest than their opponent. Six teams with more rest before game one of the World Series lost. The remaining three were toss ups with both teams clinching on the same day, or in the same amount of games.

In 2006, the Detroit Tigers lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals after having run through the divisional and championship series. 2007 was a similar story for the Colorado Rockies. After sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Boston Red Sox returned the favor after nine days of rest. The same story played out in 2009 for the Phillies, 2012 for the Tigers, 2014 for the Royals and the Mets in 2015.

This kiss of death can be broken down even further. In each of these years the losing team averaged six days off before the World Series, with the longest break for the aforementioned Rockies. With the first game of the 2016 series slated for October 25, the Indians fall just shy of the six-day benchmark. Even more compelling is the fact that, besides the All-Star break, the Indians didn’t have more than one day off between games all season. Perhaps they can defy the odds, but with such a young team riding a wave of momentum, long period of rest spell disaster..

Common baseball wisdom is that rest is good for a pitching staff, but toxic for hitters. In 2012, Detroit bounded through the playoffs so quickly that they had to play simulated games to try and keep arms loose and bats fresh. But as many players have intimated in the past, there is no substitute for the adrenaline of playing in a real game.

Even though Terry Francona has a penchant for lifting hexes, I’m not sure his magic touch can undo the fate awaiting the Cleveland Indians.

The Revised American Dream

lead_960.jpg

Since the economic collapse of 2008, many people have struggled to recover. The Great Recession obliterated the job market for baby boomers and millennials. Even more alarming, by 2015 the employment rates for young people still hadn’t recovered to precession levels. In a post-recession universe, Americans may need to consider the possibility that the economy may never see that level of employment ever again. Up until 2008, a college degree was considered essential to increasing earning potential. However, with 1.2 trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, escalating college tuition, and a shrinking job market it is time to seriously reconsider a college degree.

In 1965, Lynden Bayens Johnson signed the Higher Education Act providing federal financial assistance to students whom couldn’t previously afford it. An estimated 20 million new college students had access to an affordable college degree, and the opportunity to improved their socioeconomic circumstances. Since 1980, the average tuition and fees of public institutions have tripled since 1975; an alarming rate even considering the time value of money. Even though the evidence indicates that people with college degrees earn more over their career than those without, the job pool for college educated adults has been drained by economic erosion from overgrown payrolls. American companies have shed millions of jobs since the recession, and there is no indication they will ever return. Even after we were promised that a college degree and hard work would open doors to socioeconomic mobility, it seems those doors have been slammed shut by crippling debt market meltdowns.

The idea and fantasy of college is so deeply engrained into our culture that more and more students are entering the gilded gates ignorant to what awaits them. And with federal student lending at a strong hum, universities are adjusting admission standards to allow more and more students onto their balance sheets. After all, you don’t make money by rejecting students. The reality after college is a dizzying and frustrating cycle of underemployment. A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts indicated that besides the dim outlook for recent grads landing the high paying job they dreamed of, there is a subcategory of graduates that are underemployed. Surprising enough as this revelation is, a deeper analysis of social trends among millennials sheds light on where 20 somethings are finding work/life balance.

It isn’t that youngsters aren’t willing to work; more so that recent college graduates are increasingly recalibrating the risk/reward balance. A Newsweek article from 2014 points out how millennials accounted for 40% of the unemployed working population. However, millennials are exposing the risk/reward balance to new variables, taking charge of their destinies and starting new small businesses. Evidently, it appears that working in a post Great Recession world has inspired a new generation of small business owners intent on providing quality services and products. This is a paradigm shift from the common vocational arithmetic that includes college degree = good paying job opportunities. My view is that such shifts in thinking is due to a cyclical flow of wealth. Tech start-ups notwithstanding, the universe of new products reaching markets is shrinking, and rather than search for these elusive grains of fortune, millennials have focused on refining and improving simple products.

For example, Annheuser Bush, Miller Coors and SABMiller control 74.3% of market share for beer. Smaller brewing companies, commonly known as micro-brews, have popped up as quality alternatives to mass produced suds. Most of these shops have started in garages with five gallon buckets, obscure yeasts and esoteric hops that produce delicious beers in several styles. Ballast Point is one such story and had incredible success with their Sculpin IPA (India Pale Ale). Since 2007, Sculpin has received a host of awards capped off by a Beer Advocate rating of 97. After Ballast Point established itself as a quality brewery, a large corporation swooped in to swallow up the competition. Late in 2015, Constellation brands acquired Ballast Point brewery for a reported one billion dollars, illustrating the value in providing a better product on a small scale in hopes of being bought out. It is a common tale in the tech universe, and becoming a business model in other industries.

Besides the intent to sell your garage start-up for billions of dollars, the work/life balance controlled from answering only to yourself makes small business very attractive. Add the glamour of modest lifestyles in far-off locations and you have a recipe for success. The question isn’t one of success, it’s more about failure. How can you fail if you enjoy what you are doing while living within your means, and working under your own parameters? Millennial understand this well.

So, Is a college degree necessary to brew beer? Certainly not, although an understanding of chemistry would certainly enhance your ability to create something worth drinking. But balancing out the rising cost of higher education with the probability of landing a job that will pay enough to avoid defaulting on those loans is becoming more clear. With financial stability being pushed deeper into our professional lives, simply getting a degree just to have options seems an expensive option.

Additionally, consider how wealth continues to flow to highest one percent of earners, their positions within overgrown corporations and how those entities wield their capital to consume competition. In 1970, 29% of aggregate U.S. income went to the upper-income tier. By 2014, a staggering 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to the wealthiest households. With so much capital at the top, some of it has to trickle down in some form. The trick for millennials, and subsequent generations, is to anticipate how the wealthy spend their money, and capitalize on those opportunities. In a sense, it’s a return to the fundamental American dream.

So, the one industry that seems to be seeing extraordinary growth are the trade jobs. The bureau of Labor Statistics reports that pipe fitters will be one of the highest growth professions for the next eight years, with a growth rate of 12%. This figure dwarfs all other categories. Moreover, training takes place on the job through apprenticeships or minor tuition bills in technical school. Even more attractive is that the average salary is $50k with the latitude to freelance and acquire overtime. Pipe fitters are not the only vocation seeing this kind of grown; electricians and HVAC technicians are also benefiting from this type of trickle-down economics while lawn care professionals are doing a wonderful job of claiming their share of 78 billion dollar market.

In each American generation, immigrants ventured across oceans for opportunity. We are at pivotal moment as a nation. It seems we have reached the pinnacle of our strength, and we must adapt to a shrinking world. The U.S. still maintains 39% of the worlds wealth, but there are two edifying lessons we have learned from history. First, is that empires fall; and second, is that history repeats itself.