Four for Four: Inaugural Edition

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Philadelphia Phillies

New Bully on the Block

The big story in the last week or so has been the finalizing of the Phillies 25-year/$2.5 billion contract extension with Comcast Sportsnet for their exclusive television rights. With the last two seasons highlighting the mismanagement of the team’s finances and roster, the television contract and the spike in payroll that came with it was pretty much the only thing to look forward to. Barring a miracle, the Phillies struggles will continue, and possibly intensify in 2014. That said, from a payroll standpoint, Philadelphia looks to be poised to dominate the division for years to come.

I do not pretend to be an expert in finances, inflation, or any sort of the jargon that comes with the specifics of this deal. What I do know, is that the rest of the NL East, including to an extent the Mets, are mired in either laughably low deals or contentious negotiations with their current networks. For example the Atlanta Braves, often looked at as the team in the division with the most consistently fruitful farm system, are dealing with a glass ceiling that, considering the Phillies new deal, is quite comical. According to Yahoo Sports, Atlanta receives just $10-$20 million a year from their current television contract. This would make sense if the team was toward the tail end of a deal that was signed when that much money represented a significant amount in the high-spending world of Major League Baseball. What is truly mystifying about this deal is that it was signed six years ago. The Braves, blessed with one of the best young rosters in baseball, have to wait out the next 14 years before they can sign a more fruitful deal. The Phillies won’t necessarily be getting $100 million a year from their contract at first, but even toward the low end of estimates, they are more than triple what Atlanta can possibly make from their current deal.

The other current juggernaut in the NL East, the Washington Nationals, have a whole different type of mess on their hands. The once laughable Nats have seen years of high draft picks and savvy moves transform their roster into that of a World Series contender. With lots of young, controllable talent, the Nationals have not had to spend huge, save for Jayson Werth’s 7-year/$126 million deal, to piece together a formidable bunch.

Their current television partner is MASN Sports, a network that also controls the television rights to the Baltimore Orioles. According to Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, the Nationals receive a sizably lesser amount compared to the Orioles. Even after requesting a substantial increase, Washington received a counter-offer well short of their expectations and have since been entrenched in arbitration with the network hoping for an outlet or what they see as a fair deal. With superstar players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg poised to earn the type of mega-contracts that are now the norm in baseball, the Nationals will have to be very savvy with how they manage their finances if they want to avoid falling back into the middle of the pack.

The Phillies still need to spend their money wisely, a task made all the more daunting by the presence of Ruben Amaro Jr. in the front office. That said, they were already the highest spending team in the division and, with their recent dry run hurting attendance numbers, expect the Phillies to take the approach of the Yankees or Dodgers sooner rather than later. Once you become a big market team in Major League Baseball, you have to spend to win. The team made their bed when they decided this was how they were going to contend, now they have to lay in it.

Is Schilling a Hall of Famer?

Aug 2, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies wall of fame inductee Curt Schilling waves to fans as he is driven around the ballpark prior to the game against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

While he is most notable on a national scale for his postseason exploits with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox, Curt Schilling remains as one of the most dominant pitchers in Phillies history. Aside from astounding regular season success (101-78, 3.35 ERA, 1554 K) on what were mostly terrible Phillies teams, Schilling was named MVP for the team’s 1993 NLCS win over the Braves.

He was traded away in what is widely considered one of the worst trades in Philadelphia history and solidified his claim as arguably the best postseason pitcher in MLB history in Arizona and Boston. After falling short of the necessary 50% of votes for qualification into the Hall in 2013, Schilling is up for induction again in 2014. He joins a veritable list of other pitchers: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Jack Morris along with several notable names trying to make it to Cooperstown.

Despite his notoriety, Schilling is one of the more hotly debated nominees in the 2014 class. Proponents point to his 11-2 postseason record, his world-class stamina (led MLB in complete games four different times), and his four top-5 Cy Young finishes. Those who question Schilling’s case note him only having 216 wins (139 less than Maddux), and the fact that he never actually won a Cy Young award.

Personally, Schilling might come off a bit smug and abrasive in the media (not to mention his questionable business sense), but when it came to the biggest stage its tough to think of a starter a team would prefer to have over Schilling. Baseball, perhaps more than any sports, is defined by its statistics. It is a harsh, calculated game and few take into account that for the better part of his prime, Schilling was on a dreadful Phillies team. Were him and Maddux to switch teams for ten years, there’s no way of knowing how many more wins he could have racked up. Fact of the matter is, when Schilling was on a team good enough to make the playoffs, he was often the best pitcher for that team and either brought them a World Series title, or at least help get them close. Schilling might not make the cut this year considering his company, but with all the praise that goes toward postseason performances in other sports, it would be disappointing if he did not get the call eventually.

Bobby Abreu Update

Before you scratch your head, this will be the only Bobby Abreu update.

Apparently the much-maligned, now 39-year old former Phillie is raking it in the Venezuelan Winter League. His team, Leones de Caracas, is currently entrenched in a playoff run and Abreu is representing his home country well. The peak of his Phillies career was his Herculean performance in the 2005 Home Run Derby when he would turn his 24-dinger 1st round into a total tally of 41 in the first of back-to-back wins by Phillies (Ryan Howard won in 2006). His post-Derby power outage led to him ultimately being traded to the Yankees, paving the way for the new core of the Phillies to take over and lead the team to postseason prowess. This concludes your first, and last Bobby Abreu update.