COMMENTARY| I used to love flipping baseball cards. Ideally, once you've spent every last dime you could muster up upon Topps releasing their new season (back in my day that was the "only" baseball card), you would generally accumulate a ton of "doubles." The idea, for me, was to use those doubles as collateral to "flip" my friends to try and get the few blanks in the set I had yet to acquire. If I lost, oh well, all I did was lose some doubles.
I couldn't help thinking there's a certain corollary between flipping cards and the current state of the Hot Stove League in baseball. The Philadelphia Phillies are in desperate need of outfield help. General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has traversed the battlegrounds of the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN at baseball's Winter Meetings like a scavenger looking for food. He's got cards, but he's missing some big pieces, as most teams are, to fill out that set.
At the start of the meetings, the centerfield free agent landscape looked flush. If Amaro didn't land one, it's on to the next. B.J. Upton signs with the Braves? On to the next one. Angel Pagan stays in San Fran? On to the next one. Shane Victorino pulls a highway robbery in Boston? On to the next one. Amaro did say he was entering the meetings with 10 Plan Bs, and no Plan As.
The media at the Opryland Hotel doesn't have it easy. Of course, I don't mean the milling around the hotel bar hobnobbing with agents, players and colleagues. I mean breaking news. The fight to be the first to report any actual news at the Winter Meetings is fierce, because fans are following intently, and if they get good news or big news from a certain reporter that actually turns out to be accurate they may tend to go back to that source first. This goes for both local and national media outlets.
With the amount of baseball reporters, blogs and MLB sites I follow via Twitter, you might as well narrow down 99.9 percent of what you read to a tweet that says, "People are talking. #HotStove"
The Winter Meetings are baseball's equivalent to the NFL draft in terms of the scrutiny involved. A team's offseason maneuvers are defined by what happens this week. Either teams jump in the fray and get on the attack, or teams are left behind to pick up the scraps that no one else wanted, or overpay players that don't deserve mega-contracts but have all the leverage because teams have desperate needs.
With teams frantically jockeying for position on an auction lot of players, they'll use reporters to ignite fires. Yesterday's rumor du jour had Cliff Lee heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal that would bring outfielder Justin Upton back to Philly. The report first surfaced from a Pedro Gomez tweet. Gomez, who works for ESPN and has geographic ties to Arizona, may have been strategically dripped information based on nothing but leverage. In other words, he may have been a pawn in the D-backs' chess game to get Upton moved and get significant return.
Nobody knows why the D-Backs want so desperately to get rid of a young, gifted outfielder signed through 2015 for a contract that is seemingly a bargain at six years and $50 million. That's three years and $38.5 million left over three seasons, or, essentially Shane Victorino money, for a player statistically superior entering the prime of his career. Upton is just nine days older than Dominic Brown.
If it's a money dump, bringing back Lee to Arizona would be ludicrous, even if the Phillies paid most of the remaining dollars on his contract. And on the Phillies' end, it would make no sense to get rid of Lee when you don't know what's left in Roy Halladay's tank, you don't know how Vance Worley is going to bounce back, and the consistent uncertainty of Kyle Kendrick is at the back end of your rotation.
But maybe Gomez's tweet makes another general manager nervous. Maybe they pine for Upton but haven't made their move. I'm not sure if one had anything to do with another, but there are rumors of a four-team deal involving Upton in the works this Wednesday afternoon. Could that ball have been kicked into motion by the Lee rumor -- a rumor that Amaro quickly shot down?
It's tough to get solid analysis from reporters because they're like being spun around an out of control carousel and they're all reaching for the same brass ring -- the big story. So once moves are made, fans are left to their local blogs to break the moves down and try to make sense of how that will mold clubs. Some of those blogs are excellent, but it depends on the kind of baseball fan you are. Do you love home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and live your life telling people players stink if they strike out? Or do you fall under the saber of the WAR, the wOBA, the SIERA and the litany of new statistics that science tells us is the "intelligent design" and future of the sport?
I tend to fall down the middle. If you hit me 40 bombs, I don't care how much you strike out. But I'd also rather have a guy hit me 25 with a .950 OPS. It's kind of like saying that I believe in evolution, and I believe I hope that God exists.
It doesn't matter which camp Amaro falls in, because right now pieces are falling off the board, options are closing, prices are rising and the Phillies still have zero dependable starting outfielders or a third baseman. And the town of Philadelphia is getting impatient.
If we were flipping baseball cards, we'd say that Amaro is just about out of doubles.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has been covering the Phillies for more than three years and following them since Michael Jack hit four out of Wrigley. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.