Phil Sheridan: Transaction season forebodes a big chill in Philly

Posted: July 04, 2012

Maybe there isn't a secret committee in an undisclosed location running the nation's sports leagues and associations. But it sure seems that way sometimes.

Maybe it's just ESPN, making sure there is never a lull in news and programming.

Either way, what used to be the slow summer months of June and July somehow have been transformed into Transaction Season. The long-standing buildup to baseball's trade deadline has been turbo-boosted by the, er, coincidental scheduling of NBA and NHL draft and free-agency activity. The result is more than a month of rumor, speculation, trades, signings, and misinformation.

Transaction Season is about gamesmanship instead of games, contracts instead of contact.

The 2012 Transaction Season has been especially difficult to ignore in Philadelphia. For the first time since the phenomenon really kicked in, the Phillies are not providing an actual on-field diversion for the region's sports-obsessed. Unless you count long, puzzling losing streaks and minor-league rehabilitation assignments as diversions, that is.

With this singular focus on potential moves by the home teams has come a sobering realization. The glow is gone. The winds have changed. The place Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee handpicked as their preferred career destination has lost its sparkle. Philadelphia is like a nightclub the beautiful people swarmed for a few months but now doesn't even need to put up the velvet ropes.

At least that's how it feels, with Dwight Howard and Zach Parise and other stars reportedly having their sights on other locales.

Howard, the single available superstar who truly could transform the 76ers into a real contender, is likely to end up in Brooklyn with the Nets or in Los Angeles with the Lakers. If the dynamic new Sixers ownership has anything spectacular in the works, it has managed to stay very quiet about it.

My plugged-in colleague John Mitchell has suggested the Sixers have their sights set on 2013, when a deeper free-agency class will allow them to make a bold signing or two. That's a flawed, though not terrible, plan. That class would lose Howard and Andrew Bynum, for example, if they are traded for each other and do contract extensions.

That plan would be best served by generating some buzz this year. A big offer or a creative trade proposal - even if it didn't work out - would make the Sixers look like Players in the eyes of the players.

This year's big names don't see Philadelphia as an attractive destination. Without some show of force, neither will next year's.

With Howard in play, a trade for Joe Johnson, and the return of Deron Williams, Brooklyn just became the new hot nightspot for NBA players. Boston stayed current by re-upping Kevin Garnett and coming to terms with Dallas guard Jason Terry.

The Sixers? They lost out on Danny Ferry as their general manager and offered Lou Williams a new deal.

It is tougher to get a read on the Flyers. For years, they had more money to spend than most other teams. With the salary cap leveling the rink, they have had to adjust their approach. GM Paul Holmgren reportedly made the biggest offers Parise and Ryan Suter have received. Neither has rushed to sign those deals.

After winning with Martin Brodeur behind him in New Jersey, does Parise have doubts the Flyers can win the Stanley Cup with Ilya Bryzgalov? Is Suter, who reportedly doesn't care for a lot of media scrutiny, discouraged by the idea of playing in the hockey-mad Philadelphia market? Did the sight of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter skating with the Cup in Kings sweaters strip away some of the Flyers' appeal?

It's impossible to know. The defection of Jaromir Jagr on Tuesday was probably just an end-of-career financial decision, but he may have been influenced by a sense that the Flyers weren't close.

At least Holmgren is out there trying. He may wind up being better off if neither free agent chooses the Flyers. After all, he did score Bryzgalov during the 2011 Transaction Season. Chances are, Holmgren wishes that deal had been signed in disappearing ink.

Sometimes you're better off not overpaying for one or two players. The Phillies' big moves before the 2008 World Series season involved the injured Brad Lidge, Geoff Jenkins, and Pedro Feliz. They added Joe Blanton at the trade deadline.

Since then, they have managed to acquire Lee twice, Halladay, Hunter Pence, and Jonathan Papelbon. There has not been a second championship.

Are the Phillies still a destination for players hungry to win? This month will say a lot. If the return of Halladay and Ryan Howard restores that winning aura and if Cole Hamels suddenly signs a long-term deal, the answer will be yes.

If the team continues to stagger and if Hamels is moved for future pieces, then the Phillies will have traded their elite status for diminishing expectations.

During Transaction Season, that is a transaction no one wants to make.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com and follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at philly.com/philabuster, and his columns at philly.com/philsheridan

 

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