Cataldi: Phillies playing Cuban roulette

XVI Pan American Games - Day 11
Is Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez a future staff ace or a third starter? Only time will tell.

The dawning of a new era for the Phillies came not with a blockbuster trade or a spectacular firing. It happened when the team put $48 million on one spin of the roulette wheel and prayed for red.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez agreed to terms last Friday night on a six-year deal that charted a whole new direction for the Phillies. A 26-year-old Cuban refugee with a blistering fastball but an otherwise ordinary pitching repertoire, Gonzalez should be joining the rotation next month, ready or not.

His acquisition was shocking for a variety of reasons, especially since the Phils had never invested more than $1.2 million on any international signing prior to this move. It was also stunning because of the team they outbid for Gonzalez, the rich, free-spending Boston Red Sox. Indeed, the Phils are playing with the big boys now. Hurrah for that.

More important than the money or the bidding competition was the primary motive behind the deal. Signing Gonzalez was good for business. The Phils will be taking bids soon on a new mega-billion-dollar TV deal, and they simply cannot permit the rotten baseball being broadcast this season to continue. They must remain relevant.

So GM Ruben Amaro, unable to build a young foundation through trades and the draft, forced a new superstar (he hopes) onto the roster the old-fashioned way, by buying him. If Gonzalez is the next Yasiel Puig, it is the best money Amaro has spent. And if Gonzalez is no more than a third starter — as a majority of scouts project — it could never be as big a disaster as the current Ryan Howard deal anyway.

Where Amaro takes the team from here will be clearer in the next 36 hours, when the trading deadline finally passes. Did the Phils sign Gonzalez because they plan to take the best offer for Cliff Lee? What about lame ducks like Michael Young and Carlos Ruiz? And will they really invest more big bucks on Chase Utley knowing his best position now, first base, is blocked by Howard?

One thing was made painfully clear by the horrific losing streak that prompted this major move. The current Phillies are nothing more than a sad memory of the great teams of the recent past.
That Amaro and his co-conspirators in the front office somehow envisioned this club as a contender is frightening because these same people are entrusted now with building the next winner.
In the weeks ahead, if Amaro and his pals are thinking clearly, we will see Cody Asche at third base, Freddy Galvis at shortstop, every promising Triple-A pitcher moving up for an audition and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez starting his transition from Cuba to Philadelphia.

The Phillies took a huge gamble with Gonzalez. It should be the first of many. These are desperate times, requiring desperate measures. Keep spinning the wheel, Ruben. And let’s all pray for red.

Maclin injury hurts, but Kelly brings hope

The Eagles suffered a horrendous injury when Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL, and still it was basically a good weekend for the Eagles. Such is life in the first year under Chip Kelly, the maestro of optimism.

A quality player on the field and off, Maclin was the best wide receiver on the roster. DeSean Jackson does all the rap videos and the Tweeting, but Maclin has been more reliable in every way. In fact, Maclin has averaged 10 more catches a year than Jackson, venturing into the dangerous area over the middle that Jackson so obviously avoids.

How will Kelly absorb this blow? Somehow, we all know he will. There is just something about the new coach that inspires confidence, in his players and in the fans. That’s why 30,000 people turned out Sunday afternoon at the Linc for their formal introduction to the football visionary from Oregon. They believe.

As Kelly himself told me last week during an interview, hey, he hasn’t even coached a game yet. Let’s not go crazy here. It is way too early to draw any real conclusions about the direction of the Eagles under a man who has never coached, in any capacity, in the NFL.

And yet, it is already clear that Kelly speaks our language so much better than Andy Reid ever did. Kelly has a style that invites the free exchange of opinions, with some humor mixed in. So far, it’s love at first sight for Kelly and Eagles fans.

Jeremy Maclin is lost for the season, but the Eagles are not. Thank you, Chip Kelly.

Sixers finally apologize to fans
Eight months after Andrew Bynum hurt his brittle knees bowling and three months after his flamenco-dancing debacle, Sixers fans finally got the apology they deserved last week. It was hardly a gushing mea culpa, but it will have to do for now.

When new CEO Scott O’Neill called my WIP radio show after one of my many public rants over the fan-unfriendly nature of the Sixers, we agreed to air our grievances. He stopped in the studio the next morning and spoke openly and coherently. Imagine that.

The key moment in our exchange — at least for me — came when I referenced the idiotic, insulting plea by former Sixer coach Doug Collins for fans to pray for Bynum after the lazy center stole $17 million from them last season. Then I demanded an apology.

“I apologize on behalf of the Sixers to any fan who invested and thought Bynum was going to be their guy and be the savior,” O’Neill replied, off the cuff. Well, hallelujah.

O’Neill was in Philadelphia for none of the Bynum disaster, having joined the clueless front office only two weeks ago. And the slick PR man followed up his apology by saying the Sixers will continue to make aggressive moves in an effort to improve the team. Blah, blah, blah.

Everyone in the Sixers’ organization — from former CEO/clown Adam Aron to socially awkward owner Joshua Harris to paranoid new GM Sam Hinkie — has abused the Sixer fans for long enough. O’Neill’s apology should not mark an end to the Bynum mess; it should represent the beginning of a time when the customers finally get the respect they deserve.

Idle thoughts from Cataldi

» Jonathan Papelbon is trying to talk himself out of Philadelphia now that the Phils are a lost cause this season. On Sunday, he said: “If I’m going to have to put up with this year after year … I don’t want to be here.” Who wants to break the news to the overpaid closer that nobody wants him?

» How dumb are the MLB owners for honoring huge contracts to players (Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, for example) who signed those deals under false pretenses? Braun and A-Rod should be banished from the game for good, both as repeat offenders and as shameless liars about their cheating. And they deserve not one more dime from the game.

» In 2013, the Eagles finished 4-12; the Flyers and Sixers failed to make the playoffs; and the Phillies have fallen apart. If you are reading this right now, congratulations. You are a real fan.

» New Kansas City coach Andy Reid didn’t call a single running play in the first two days of training camp. This was treated as big news in the Midwest. Here in Philadelphia, it wasn’t news at all. The big news will be when (or if) he ever does call a running play.

» In his latest lame attempt to remain relevant, Donovan McNabb retired after sitting down for two major articles last week, including one in which he took a shot at me, by name, for the first time. Well, here’s my response to old No. 5: Keep my name outcha mouth!


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