Summer sports season is still like a big holiday

Posted: July 28, 2014

IT IS Christmas in July, and sports fans all over the Delaware Valley have reason to celebrate the season. Though we love watching our favorite teams in action, we like talking about them and assessing what their needs are to help them reach the promised land almost as much. At times like these, we are all tremendously knowledgeable and sagacious general managers. What do Ruben Amaro Jr., Sam Hinkie and Howie Roseman know that we don't?!

This time of the year is truly a bonanza for us - less than a week to the major league baseball trade deadline and our Phils are clearly sellers; as training camp opens, there are still some serious questions to be answered for the Eagles; the Sixers' summer league performance has us all trying to decide whether Hinkie is a mad scientist, or just mad; and the Flyers' recent happenings, combined with the advent of the Ron Hextall era, have the Orange and Black devotees in a frenzy.

Though a few brief winning streaks tantalized us, the Phils have tanked this month, and our path is now clear: We must rebuild and be active sellers. As I look at it, the Phillies have five marketable players: Cliff Lee, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett. There is no way the team will trade Cole Hamels or Chase Utley, in my judgment. Most fans want trades that produce great, young prospects who can develop down the road, but this can be a paralyzing path. Lee has been traded three times for 11 such prospects, and none of them is a front-line major leaguer. I believe if we can get relatively young big-league players in return, that's a path we should follow. Virtually every team in baseball needs a quality lefthanded starter, and the old Lee could fetch quite a ransom. But, with his elbow injury and his recent performance, I don't believe we could get value trading him in the coming week.

It appears the Pittsburgh Pirates want Burnett back. Rather than minor league prospects, I would take a chance on Pedro Alvarez, the third basemen who is 27 years old and who would easily hit 30 home runs playing at Citizens Bank Park. Alvarez was a No. 1 draft choice and considered to be the Pirates future, but he's been beaten out by Josh Harrison, who is hitting 50 points higher (Alvarez entered yesterday hitting .239 with 15 home runs in 339 at-bats). Ruiz has seldom been talked about as a trade piece, but the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers, both in the thick in their division races, need catching help. I would be sad to see Byrd go, but he is too old to be part of our rebuilding efforts, and the Seattle Mariners have seven outfielders who entered the weekend with a combined 16 home runs and 102 RBI (Marlon alone has 19 HRs and 59 RBI).

Lastly, the player I thought would be our most valuable commodity, Papelbon, will be tougher to deal, because the Phillies' inaction has allowed the market for him to shrink. I thought the Angels, Tigers and Blue Jays would have paid handsomely for him, but in the week, the Angels acquired Huston Street and the Tigers Joakim Soria, two quality closers. That leaves the Blue Jays, who recently cut Sergio Santos. The Jays are close to the top and could use Papelbon, and they do have some young prospects who could be a big help to the Phillies' long-range plans.

Now that training camp is underway, Eagles fever is gripping our region. Training camp is always a fun time for fans, because it can answer many of the questions about the upcoming season. Of course, in every NFL city hope springs eternal, and one deranged Eagles fan I know named Justin even coined a rallying cry - "Foles to Sproles means Super Bowls!" We have more reason than most to hope for that, but I think we are a few years away.

There are still many questions: Will Marcus Smith give us another first-class pass rusher to step in if Trent Cole continues to decline? Is Malcolm Jenkins a first-rate NFL safety? Will Jeremy Maclin regain the ability he showed before his debilitating knee injury? But the million-dollar question is, how good is Nick Foles? Ron Jaworski didn't help by ranking him only the 15th best QB in the league, and Buzz Bissinger's article in Philadelphia magazine is adding fuel to the fire. My feeling is that Nick will be a very good NFL quarterback for years. Will he have 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions this year? No way, but he will be good enough to take us to the NFC East championship and cause trouble in the playoffs, and make Jaws eat his words!

If you are a Sixers fan like me, you found this year's NBA summer league telecasts irresistible. As the summer leagues unfolded, there was a lot of good news for the Sixers, with one big caveat. NCAA Player of the Year Doug McDermott, whom the Sixers passed on for Dario Saric, dominated play. I was so depressed watching McDermott, knowing Saric might not even play for another 2 years. I still can't believe McDermott is not a Sixer. However, the news wasn't all bad for the Sixers, because Nerlens Noel also received widespread praise for his summer league performance. Some had Nerlens ranked in the top five summer league players, and all who watched were amazed by his defensive instincts and his athletic abilities on both ends of the floor. Even more surprising was the play of Jordan McCrae, one of our second-round picks, who averaged almost 20 points a game! Two of our other draft choices, K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant, also showed well. So it is safe to assume that they will all be positive additions to our team this season. Hinkie also signed free agents Sean Kilpatrick, the Cincinnati scoring machine, and Pierre Jackson from Baylor. Both have talent and could become meaningful additions.

There has been plenty to talk about this summer when it comes to the Flyers. The seemingly unflappable captain, Claude Giroux, stole headlines with his butt-grabbing arrest on Canada Day. Look, if this bona fide NHL star wants to party from time to time that's OK, but this whole thing is just weird. Adding insult to that injury is the fact that "Flyers West," or the Mike Richards-and-Jeff-Carter-led Los Angeles Kings, won their second Stanley Cup in 3 years. This sure seems to be an indictment of recent Flyers decisions, but fans are hopeful that new GM and Flyers legend Ron Hextall can finally get the team a championship. Shipping off Scott Hartnell could be some indication of a sea change, but, with little room under the cap, the Flyers might not have the necessary ammo for any major additions. With some new additions in the draft and some developmental players rising up the ranks, the Flyers appear to be addressing their weakest link - an old and lead-footed set of defensemen. But nothing they have done so far this offseason suggests that they will become an elite team this season.

So for sports fans, it just might be the most wonderful time of the year, and I can't think of any more appropriate way to finish this Christmas in July-themed column without noting that Nerlens would be Philadelphia's "First Noel!"


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