Quick-Hits: Like thieves in the night, the Eagles steal Nnamdi Asomugha

Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (L) breaks up a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate during the first quarter of their NFL football game in Oakland, California October 31, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

In Saturday’s Quick-Hits, the Eagles shock the masses by signing Nnamdi Asomugha, the Phillies get more bang for their prospects than the Giants, and the Bears’ questionable decision regarding Greg Olsen.

– Where did that come from? Just when it looked like free agent Nnamdi Asomugha was headed to New York to team with Darrelle Revis to form the greatest cornerback duo known to man, the Eagles swoop in and pull off a stunner. Asomugha’s deal is for five years at $60 million, which also includes $25 million guaranteed. There were a lot of people who questioned Andy Reid’s decision to make former offensive line coach Juan Castillo the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator, but now it might not matter who’s calling the shots on that side of the ball. After acquiring Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this offseason, the Eagles shouldn’t have as many problems in the red zone as they did in 2010. NFL.com’s Mike Lombardi reports that Philly is willing to trade Asante Samuel, which would be a mistake in my eyes. The Eagles are legit Super Bowl contenders now. There’s no reason to part with any talent at this pointt.

– One of the reasons I was so conflicted on the Carlos Beltran trade was because of whom the Giants gave up (top prospect Zach Wheeler) in exchange for the former Met. Granted, Beltran is good and there’s no doubt they needed him. But look at what the Phillies just did in acquiring Hunter Pence from Houston. They parted with two good prospects but landed a 28-year-old outfielder that remains under team control through 2013 – not a 34-year-old outfielder who might not be around in three months when he becomes a free agent. I think the Giants deserve credit for “going for it.” But when the Phillies “go for it” by giving up their top prospects, they land Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Pence – players whom they knew were going to be around a while (or thought they knew when it came to Lee, who was traded in order to acquire Halladay). It seems like the front office philosophy of the Giants is to get a player it likes no matter what the cost. Seeing as how they’re currently defending a World Series title, it’s hard to knock said philosophy. But after reviewing the trades that the two teams made this past week, I can’t help but to think the Phillies made the better overall deal.

– The fact that the Bears traded former first round pick Greg Olsen this offseason is hardly surprising. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn’t use tight ends in his passing game, so the fact that Olsen racked up 41 catches last year was pretty impressive. But giving up a young talent just because your offensive coordinator doesn’t have much need for the player’s position is a risky proposition. For starters, what if Martz isn’t around in a year? Then what do the Bears have to show for Olsen besides a third round pick? It cost them a first round pick to draft him in the first place, so GM Jerry Angelo didn’t get good value here. (After all, it’s not like Olsen can’t play and the Bears were looking to get anything in exchange for him.) Granted, that third rounder could turn out to be a Pro Bowler someday (Angelo is good at finding gems in the middle rounds), but presently the deal doesn’t make sense when you get past Martz’s desire to exclude tight ends. Seeing as how he’s a receiver in a tight end’s body, if I were Angelo I would have rather seen my offensive coordinator try to work with Olsen instead of shipping him to Carolina for a third round pick.

– One player that continues to lose money by the hour is free agent defensive end Cullen Jenkins. The former Packer is a solid player, who that is scheme-versatile in that he can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3. But after the Panthers re-signed Charles Johnson, the Eagles landed Jason Babin, the Patriots acquired Albert Haynesworth, the Cowboys inked Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears, and the Falcons got a steal in Ray Edwards, there aren’t a lot of teams that are a fit for Jenkins. Granted, teams always need pass-rushers, but my guess is that Jenkins will wind up back in Green Bay on the cheap.

– The Rams made two moves on Friday that I really liked. The first was signing nasty offensive guard Harvey Dahl away from the Falcons. I keep reading how Sam Bradford will love the addition of Dahl, which is true. But he might not love it as much as running back Steven Jackson. Dahl is an absolute mauler in the run game and brings a much-needed nasty demeanor to St. Louis’ offensive line. The other signing I like was Mike Sims-Walker, who only received a one-year deal because the Rams want to make him prove himself. When healthy and motivated, he’s the big receiver that Bradford sorely needs. But if he winds up being a free agent bust, hey, no problem: he’ll be gone in a year.

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Phillies to activate Chase Utley on Monday

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley walks across the field after taking batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki tweets that the Phillies will activate second baseman Chase Utley (knee) from the disabled list before Monday’s game against the Reds.

Here’s the tweet:

Orr optioned. Utley activated tomorrow. Blanton on DL tomorrow. Worley will be activated.

Utley batted .281 with one home run in 36 plate appearances for High-A Clearwater during his minor league rehab stint. More importantly than the numbers was the fact that his knee has felt good.

It’s an understatement that the Phillies need this guy back in their lineup. They’re 23rd in runs scored, 22nd in on base percentage and 18th in batting average. In their last nine games, they’ve averaged less than two runs per outing (17 total). Over 107 at bats this season, Wilson Valdez is hitting just .231 with nine RBI and has an OBP of .259 filling in for Utley at second base. Simply put, that’s not going to get it done.

Utley may not come off the disabled list scorching, but as long as he stays healthy he’ll get his swing back. He’s going to need 50-plus at bats against major league pitching to kind of figure things out, but he’s the consummate professional. This is the shot in the arm that the Phillies’ offense has needed.

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Five teams that could come up short in 2011

Philadelphia Phillies starter Roy Halladay pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning of a MLB spring training game at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

It’s the start of a new year and you know what that means: Expectations are running high for every club not named the Pirates and Royals. (Or Astros, Cubs, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Nationals or Indians for that matter.)

But what postseason contenders are most likely to fall short of expectations in 2011? I’ve highlighted five below.

Philadelphia Phillies
When a team is hyped for an entire offseason, it almost becomes cliché to say that they’ll fall short of expectations. But in the case of the Phillies, there’s some major concern here. It’s impossible to replace Chase Utley’s production in the lineup and this is an aging roster. Yes, the Halladay/Lee/Oswalt/Hamels/Blanton combination will keep most opposing batters up at night and yes, the Phillies will probably win the NL East. But the Braves aren’t too far behind talent-wise and Philadelphia has become a club that starts off slow only to pick it up in the second half. If Atlanta comes out of the gates hot and the Phillies suffer some early-season hiccups without Utley, the Braves might be able to build a decent lead that they can ride throughout the season. Barring injury to Halladay or Lee, I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Phillies don’t make the playoffs this year. But without Utley, the playing field has definitely been leveled in the National League.

San Francisco Giants
This is an easy one. It’s been 10-straight years since the last time any team was able to repeat as World Series champions. And while the G-Men aren’t considered the favorites to win this year’s Fall Classic (that would be the Phillies or Red Sox), many pundits believe that, at the very least, they’ll win the NL West again. A World Series hangover is the Giants’ biggest concern, because this club is better now than it was a year ago. They’ll get a full year out of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, the energetic Andres Torres will serve as the leadoff hitter from Day 1 (instead of the highly unproductive Aaron Rowand), Pablo Sandoval looks like he’s ready for a big bounce back campaign, top prospect Brandon Belt might start the year with the big league club after dominating this spring, and Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot and Pat Burrell strengthen the bench. But it’s a different game for the Giants now. They’re going to be the hunted instead of the hunters, at least in the NL West. Can this fun-loving team recapture the same magic it had in September and October last year? Or will all of those extra innings that Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez endured in the postseason last year eventually catch up with this team?

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How will Chase Utley’s injury affect the Phillies in 2011?

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley walks across the field after taking batting practice before a spring training game against the Baltimore Orioles at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The unsurprising happened on Thursday: Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. confirmed that second baseman Chase Utley will begin the season on the disabled list.

The thought of beginning the year without Utley is something the Phillies have been bracing for all spring. He hasn’t seen the field once yet in exhibition and with Opening Day only a week away, him starting the year on the DL was the most likely outcome.

Replacing Utley in the lineup is an impossible task. The Phillies recently signed Luis Castillo (formerly of the Mets), but he went 0-for-4 in his Philadelphia debut and may not even make the team if he continues to hit around .250 this spring. Of course, the other candidates to take Utley’s spot don’t look any better. Wilson Valdez is hitting just .239 is a 32-year-old journeyman who has only played in 247 major league games since making his first appearance in ‘04, while Josh Barfield has showed his versatility this spring but he’s still behind Valdez on the depth chart.

As of right now, the Phillies aren’t saying when Utley will return because quite frankly, they probably don’t even know. If he winds up missing the rest of the season, the loss of him and Jayson Werth (Nationals) gives the rest of Philly’s offense a small margin for error. Given that Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are coming off poor seasons and Placido Polanco and Rual Ibanez are in the twilights of their careers, this is going to be a huge year for Ryan Howard (who must carry the offense).

So what happens to the Phillies’ chances of winning the World Series? Thanks to their loaded pitching staff, they’re still the clear favorites in the NL. But the Braves are a big threat in the division and there’s a certain championship team out West that treated Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt like mortals in the postseason last year.

Of course, the Giants won the World Series last year with pitching and the Phillies have more offense than San Fran did – even without Utley. But the Giants’ hitters also got extremely hot at the right time and this is a Philadelphia club that has been known to come out of the gates slow before picking it up in the second half. Considering they might not have Utley all season, they better kick it into gear right away. Without Utley roaming second base in Philadelphia, the playing field certainly evens out more in the National League.

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