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Good riddance to 2016. What an abysmal year it was for local pro teams, who collectively lost nearly 60 percent of their games. Sports greatness passed from the Earth (Ali, Palmer, Howe, Buddy Ryan and Ed Snider). The Phils said goodbye to the last vestiges of 2008 and “The Process” continued its inexorable crawl.
I can’t change any of that. But in the spirit of the holidays, and after several spiked eggnogs, here’s my gift – a vision of what things could look like if, just for once, everything went RIGHT in the upcoming year.
My dream for 2017:
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The Birds sign free agent Alshon Jeffery and release all their current WRs, save Jordan Matthews. They use that 1st-rounder from Minnesota to draft a shutdown corner, say Marlon Humphrey from Alabama. Second-round pick Christian McCaffrey rushes for 1,000 yards. Howie Roseman looks like a genius.
Lane Johnson stays clean, Jason Peters plays one more solid season and youngsters Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo give the offensive line foundation for the future.
Doug Pederson hands the play calling off to offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who aids the development of Carson Wentz by not throwing the ball 50 times a game. Pederson also learns that being Mr. Nice Guy doesn’t work in the NFL, so forces the first transgressor of training camp to push a blocking sled under the hot sun for an afternoon. Then cuts him.
Realistic chances of this occurring: McCaffrey probably won’t make it out of the 1st round. And I’m not sure Pederson can ever play the tough guy. Other than that, nothing seems farfetched.
The Next Generation arrives. By summer, Jorge Alfaro is gunning down baserunners and clearing the CBP fences. Nick Williams gains maturity and becomes the five-hole hitter. Roman Quinn plays like a young Shane Victorino. Shortstop prospect J.P Crawford’s bat develops so that the Phils can trade Cesar Hernandez for pitching and move Freddy Galvis to second base.
The best news is that Aaron Nola and Vinnie Velasquez stay healthy and develop into top-of-the-rotation starters. Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson arrive too, allowing GM Matt Klentak to parlay his older starters into helpful parts at the trade deadline.
Maikel Franco regains his stroke and Odubel Herrera plays all season like he did through last May (OPS of .871). Pete Mackanin wins Manager of the Year.
Realistic chances: Pretty slim, because baseball prospects are so iffy. And injured pitchers tend to get hurt again. But if even half of this comes true, the Phils should be over .500 in 2017.
Optimistically, they can win a round – maybe two – in this year’s playoffs. This happens if notoriously inconsistent Steve Mason gets on one of those hot streaks where a goalie carries a team.
Veterans Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds all finish the season among the NHL’s top 20 scoring leaders.
The biggest upside is the development of 20-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov into a superstar. Shayne Gostisbehere, too. And Ron Hextall’s pipeline of prospect defensemen continues, as Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin announce their presence with authority.
Realistic chances: Honestly, the toughest part for me is envisioning Mason as an elite goalie. The rest I’m absolutely buying. If goaltending gets resolved, the Flyers can be an outstanding franchise for seasons to come.
No mystery here, right? Joel Embiid stays healthy and plays like, well, Joel Embiid. Just every game. Ben Simmons debuts before winter’s end and decides he’s not afraid to shoot.
Ownership changes its stance, embracing Nerlens Noel and trading Jahlil Okafor. Nick Stauskas continues to play above his talent level. Brett Brown learns how to close out games and not just be a babysitter.
Most optimistically, the Sixers again win the NBA Lottery (or Sacramento does, and the Sixers use their option to swap picks). The Lakers get the fourth pick, which, again, would transfer to Philadelphia.
It all culminates in a Sam Hinkie appreciation night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Realistic chances: Well, slim, certainly. A whole lot has to go right, and the track record isn’t so good in that regard.
But, hey, this is my fantasy for 2017. If even half of it comes true, it’s going to be a great year for our town.