by Clark Groome
The week just passed focused the Philadelphia sports fans’ attention on the Phillies’ and 76ers’ futures. The near-term outlook is pretty dreary.
A Phillies five-game winning streak has been followed by what could only be described as a disastrous home stand. The back and forth conversations and reports about what the Phils will or will not do as Major League Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline approaches was complicated when the team’s CEO, Wyndmoor resident David Montgomery, said publicly that he is worried about the effect breaking up the existing team would have on the already-declining attendance at Citizens Bank Park.
That worry may be a non-issue because of the three major Phillies “core” players – first baseman Ryan Howard, second bagger Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins – only Rollins is having a consistently good year.
Utley, who got off to a searing start, has cooled off both on the field and at the plate. Why? It could just be a slump. It could be he’s tired and needs a game or two off. The worry is, and there’s no evidence of this, that it could be his knees are again giving him some problems. Whatever, he’s no longer the person who could bring major prospects to a team that’s going nowhere this season.
Howard is doing OK, just OK, at the plate. On the field he has reverted to his bumbling self, with two errors in one inning in the first game of the disastrous doubleheader on Saturday. His contract is also so expensive that unless the Phillies would be willing to swallow some of the money it’s unlikely anyone would want to add him to their lineup, even as a designated hitter.
Rollins, who has said he would consider waiving his no-trade rights if the team were broken up, wouldn’t bring much in return. He’s an aging player (as are the other two, and catcher Carlos Ruiz, a good trade prospect if he weren’t currently on the disabled list with a possible concussion) who might bring something to another team but probably not valuable enough to do what the Phillies need: bring prospects or an established player to Citizens Bank.
And then there’s Montgomery’s worry. What would this team be to the fans if any of those players were elsewhere? While Philadelphia baseball fans can be negative and many possess a short memory, they are also loyal, at least to a point. Howard, Utley and Rollins have earned the city’s respect, affection and loyalty. Without them, who knows what the attendance would be.
It’s complicated. What lies ahead is unclear, and unsettling.
The 76ers meanwhile participated in their sport’s draft. Having the third pick in the first round they chose Cameroon native Joel Embiid who played a year at Kansas. He was thought to be the draft’s top prospect until he broke a bone in his foot, dropping him to third, where the locals grabbed him. He’s got tremendous skills and a huge upside if he completely recovers from the foot injury that is likely to cause him to miss the entire 2014-2015 season.
This is the third time in as many seasons that the Sixers have gambled on an injured player. In 2012 they traded for Andrew Bynum, who never played for the team due to bad knees. Last year they obtained center Nerlens Noel during the draft. He didn’t play a minute last season while recovering from knee surgery. And this year it’s Embiid, bad foot and all.
And that’s not all. They also had the 10th pick in the first round and selected Elfrid Payton whom they immediately traded to the Orlando Magic for Croatian forward Dario Saric and a couple of prime future draft picks. Saric, who just signed a two-year contract to play in Turkey, won’t play in Philadelphia for, in general manager Sam Hinkie’s words, “at least two years.”
Clearly the local b-ballers are in no hurry to win games so look for at least one or two more seasons like the one just passed in which the team won only 19 games. “Have patience” seems to be the message.