What Are the Phillies and Eagles Thinking?

Head-scratching moves from the sports teams in town

Puzzled. Perplexed. Perturbed. That’s how I’m feeling this week thanks to our city’s sports teams and what could end up being one head-scratcher of a summer. With the end of the NFL lockout and Sunday’s MLB trade deadline, I thought we’d be champagne-popping and tweeting about trades and splashy free-agent signings by now. But as of this writing, I feel more confident about a debt ceiling solution than whether the Phillies or Eagles will make a bold—and necessary—move. Things don’t look much better with the Flyers or Sixers, either. As we look ahead to the fall and a Phillies playoff run, here’s why I’m not making any parade plans just yet.

There’s been some debate over which hole the team needs to fill—bullpen depth or a right-handed bat. But listen to Charlie Manuel and there’s no doubt the skipper wants a hitter. Badly. To the point where he’s publicly begging general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to do whatever it takes to make a deal, even if it means parting with Domonic Brown. I don’t buy into the notion that since the Phils have the best record in baseball, they can afford to stand pat. The Giants made an aggressive move in signing Carlos Beltran and the Braves and Red Sox are said to be looking for sluggers as well. All three of those teams could stand in the way of a World Series championship. The Phils need to twist their old pal Ed Wade’s arm and grab Hunter Pence from the Astros, or as a consolation, lure Carlos Quentin away from the White Sox. If that means dealing rookie pitching sensation Vance Worley, so be it. Remember how we all fell in love with J.A. Happ? He’s now sitting on a 6.12 ERA in Houston. It’s clear what the team needs. I’m just not sure Amaro can pull another Cliff Lee-sized rabbit out of his hat this time.

Ed Wade and Jeff Lurie promised they’d be aggressive when the lockout finally ended. I didn’t think that meant letting all 15 of their free agents walk out the door, including the talented but injury-prone Stewart Bradley (paging Jeremiah Trotter?). Swapping corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick for Kevin Kolb is a good deal. But if Michael Vick hasn’t been practicing how to sprint out of bounds, who knows how temperamental Vince Young will respond if he’s called to step behind center? Then there’s the DeSean Jackson holdout, the rookie replacing All-Pro kicker David Akers, and the fact that new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has a short training camp to install his schemes. Am I the only one who’s not feeling an E-A-G-L-E-S chant right now?

Give Ed Snider and his front office credit for addressing two weaknesses they’ve long been crucified for—a tendency to keep coaches on a short leash and an inability to find a stud goaltender. They overpaid for Ilya Bryzgalov, but if that’s the price of putting an end to the goalie carousel, it’s well worth it. They also stuck by coach Peter Laviolette, who’s proven himself to be among the league’s best behind the bench. Yet for a team that swore it wasn’t rebuilding or blowing itself up, the Flyers roster looks like the Spectrum did a few months ago—a shell of its former self and full of holes. Goodbye Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Nikolay Zherdev, along with the 154 points they tallied last season. Hello … Jaromir Jagr? That’s a great move if you’re building an NHL ’94 lineup but a curious strategy in 2011. The team’s success now rests on the shoulders of young bucks like James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux. If they can’t live up to the all-star potential they showed last season, great goaltending alone won’t bring the Cup to Broad Street.

Does anyone care that the NBA is locked out right now? (It really is. I’m not making that up.) Unlike the NFL, pro basketball desperately needs an overhaul to make it a more competitive league and a better product. The jury is still out on the new Sixers owners, but one thing is sure—Snider never quite figured out how to run an NBA franchise, so you have to hope things can’t get worse. Still, it’s not encouraging to hear talk that New York billionaire Joshua Harris and his group already nixed a deal that would have sent Andre Iguodala packing. To paraphrase the wise hoops sage Roger Daltrey, that sounds a lot like the old boss to me.