Phillies rebuild not off to a smashing start

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Phillies GM Ruben Amaro was burnt the first time he ever had to sell, giving Cliff Lee away to the Mariners for three modest prospects, none of whom have made any sort of contribution so far, after the 2009 season. Take two isn’t looking like a big success either, as he doesn’t appear to have gotten any potential stars in return for two-thirds of his outfield in Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino today.

Pence was sent to the Giants for catcher Tommy Joseph, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and right-hander Seth Rosin, a return that pales in comparison to the package of first baseman Jonathan Singleton, right-hander Jarred Cosart, outfielder Domingo Santana and right-hander Josh Zied that they gave up to get him from Houston a year ago.

Joseph, who is hitting .260/.313/.391 as a 20-year-old in Double-A this year (he turned 21 two weeks ago), is a fine prospect with a chance to be a perfectly solid starting catcher come 2014. That’s good timing for the Phillies, since Carlos Ruiz will be a free agent after 2013. However, Ruiz is a fan favorite having an outstanding year, and even though he’ll be 35 in 2014, there’s a good chance the Phillies will want to keep him around. Plus, while Joseph is the better bet, the Phillies already had a pretty good Double-A catching prospect in Sebastian Valle. Certainly, having an extra catcher is a good thing, but Joseph lacks All-Star potential and wasn’t the ideal centerpiece here.

The Phillies know what they’re getting in Schierholtz, a 28-year-old who has hit .270/.319/.412 in 1,209 major league at-bats. Because he’s a very good defensive right fielder, he’s a reasonable option as a platoon starter against right-handers. But he’s a complementary player, and guys like him aren’t hard to come by in free agency. The Phillies will probably pay him close to $2 million in arbitration next year.

Rosin, a 2010 fourth-round pick, didn’t rank among the Giants’ better prospects. He had a 4.31 ERA in five starts and 29 relief appearances for Single-A San Jose this season.

Victorino was traded to the Dodgers for right-handers Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin. I like Lindblom despite his weak peripherals, but as a flyball pitcher, he’s not a great fit in Citizens Bank Park. I still think he’ll prove to be a fine setup man in front of Jonathan Papelbon. The 25-year-old has a 3.02 ERA in 47 2/3 innings out of the pen for the Dodgers this year. Because he’s given up nine homers, he has a FIP of 5.05.

Martin, a 2008 first-round pick, is a long shot, though the 23-year-old has managed to bring his walk rate down to a reasonable level while going 8-6 with a 3.58 ERA and a 112/61 K/BB in 118 IP for Double-A Chattanooga this year. Odds are that he’ll be a reliever if he does make it.

In a vacuum, that’s still a pretty good return for two months of Victorino. Still, it’s only so much better than the supplemental first-round pick than they would have gotten had he left in free agency this winter. The haul for Pence wasn’t impressive, and it’s clear that his likely $14 million salary in arbitration next year scared off some suitors. That’s not Amaro’s fault; he just gave up too much to get Pence in the first place.

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.