Make no mistake about it; the Phils have picked themselves a winner. In Pat Gillick, they have a man who has won everywhere he has been, from Toronto to Baltimore to Seattle. Suffice it to say that this is an executive who will one day grace the hallowed grounds of Cooperstown in the executive wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, he is that skilled. No longer will the Phils be overmatched in trade talks with teams like the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals or Oakland Athletics. We now have ourselves a heavyweight of the first order.
Still, I was a reluctant partner to the coming out party for Gillick for several reasons, none of which had anything to do with his ability. For one thing, I felt Hunsicker appeared a better fit for all that ails the Phils. As a man who built a powerhouse with the Houston Astros on a limited budget, Hunsicker seemed well equipped to return the Phils to the glory years of the late '70s. The fact that he was a Phillie phan and had a front row seat in Philadelphia during the 2005 season made him all the more desirable for me.
Another reason I favored Hunsicker is that I believe, and still do, that he was given a wink-wink promise that the job would be his if and when former GM, Ed Wade, was replaced. This is nothing to tread softly on, as baseball people talk regularly and no team wants to have the reputation for making promises they refuse to keep. In fact, to further amplify on this subject, the word in Philadelphia is that incumbent assistant GM, Mike Arbuckle, who applied unsuccessfully for the job, had been given an unofficial promise back in 2002 that if he stayed the course with the Phils, the GM job would eventually be his.
Is this merely the talk of applicants feeling jilted at being overlooked for what seemed like very appealing job opportunities? With Hunsicker we may never know, as he graciously complimented the Phils on their choice of Gillick, and then immediately accepted a top level administrative position in Tampa Bay. However, Arbuckle is another matter and he will eventually speak with his feet. In my opinion, Mike Arbuckle is the most skilled incumbent in the entire Phillie organization and if he should leave soon for another job with another team, we will have our answer.
Still, those are speculations left for later review, the question now becomes, how will the Phils look with Gillick and their changing Pat-terns? The answer depends on what a Phillie phan defines as success. The chances are great that in the short term the Phils will become a National League powerhouse as everything in Gillick's resume seems to promise this. The man knows baseball and is a keen judge of talent. In fact, the day Gillick's name was announced, the Phils became the favorites to win the NL East, he is held to that high of esteem.
Yet to be addressed is the long-term health of the franchise. At 68 years of age, and with only a three year contract to work with, Gillick is unlikely to focus on what ails the Phils below the major league level, further down on the pharm. The Phils pharm system is neither deep nor particularly well schooled, and Gillick will need to make proper changes at the minor league level to insure a steady and continuing stream of talented youngsters to the major leagues.
Will Gillick be inclined to do this, given the fact that he may only feel his Philadelphia Freedom for at best three years? One can only hope that he will and his history does indicate a healthy respect for the minor leagues. In fact, Gillick has a reputation for "hoarding young pitching" so don't expect youngsters like Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd, Robinson Tejeda or Eude Brito to be changing addresses anytime soon. Gillick is unlikely to swap these fine arms for any short term success he may achieve; it is just not in his nature.
Once the euphoria dies down of the Gillick hiring, what can we expect from this man and what are we likely to see this winter? His tasks are many and complex and he has revealed little so far in the many press conferences and radio talk shows he has participated in since he got the job on Wednesday. Still, there is much that can be learned from what a man says, or refuses to say when asked pointed questions and Gillick provided a writer's cornucopia of speculation based on his answers this week. With this in mind, let's take a look at what can be anticipated in the Phillies brave new world of changing Pat-terns.
When Pat Gillick was the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, he had a slugging veteran first baseman in Fred McGriff, who was backed up by a talented youngster in John Olerud. Common sense dictated that the proven McGriff be retained while Olerud be traded for something of value in return. Gillick was not one who placed common sense over solid baseball instincts and he traded McGriff to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and gave the first base job to the younger Olerud.
This is precisely what I think he will do now that he is faced with a similar situation with the Phils. Veteran slugger Jim Thome is being challenged by the much younger Ryan Howard and despite the rumors of a Howard move to the outfield, baseball instincts tell me otherwise. They tell me that Gillick will revisit his Toronto past and swap Thome to a willing American League suitor, the latest of which appears to be the Minnesota Twins.
Reports out of the Twin Cities have the Twinkies interested in Thome if the Phils will pay $36 million of the $43 million still owed Thome for the next three seasons. While Twins GM Terry Ryan denies the talks, the interest makes sense for many reasons. The Twins need a slugger to recharge their batteries and are now faced with competition in the two headed monsters known as the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.
The Twins would be an appealing trade partner for Philadelphia as they are blessed with a rich and deep farm system of young talent. If the Phils were to agree to pay $36 million of Thome's salary it would behoove Gillick to acquire a few of the Twins talented youngsters, players like outfielder Jason Kubel, pitcher Francisco Liriano, or infielders Terry Tiffee or Matt Moses. Certainly, the Twins would balk at moving such skilled youngsters and would probably prefer to offer the Phils the likes of veterans like outfielders Torii Hunter or Shannon Stewart.
Ah, and here is where Gillick and the Phils’ changing Pat-terns will get their first test. Under Wade, the Phils never accepted minor league talent, as Wade was fond of claiming that only "major league ready" talent would do in return. This was a short sighted and damaging philosophy and allowed for the loss of such skilled youngsters as Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, Taylor Buchholz, Ezequiel Astacio, Anderson Machado, Javon Moran and Elizardo Ramirez. While a few of
these will never grace the front page of a major league magazine, more than a few of them have already made their mark at the big league level and a few of them should become household names soon.
It is hoped that Gillick will refrain from the temptation to bring in a Hunter or Stewart and insist on replenishing a diminished minor league system with young talent if and when Thome is moved. With the GM meetings set to open on Monday, November 7, we could soon learn just what Gillick has in mind for Thome. This much can be predicted, however. As a widely respected baseball lifer, Gillick will command respect wherever he goes, something that Wade was often unable to
accomplish during his eight year reign with the Phils.
As someone who favors pitching and defense, Gillick is likely to address the Phillie need for another starting pitcher by bringing in a veteran to anchor the staff. With Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle and Vicente Padilla due to return, the Phightin's have four solid middle of the rotation starting pitchers but lack the top of the rotation bulldog to complete the five-some.
If you listen closely, you will begin to hear the distant but incoming voice of a pitcher who may well return to Philadelphia soon. The next voice you hear could well be that noted prodigal son, Curt Schilling, he of the bloodied sock and Boston Red Sox World Series ring. As has been duly noted here on several occasions, it remains my belief that when Schilling someday throws his final pitch as a major league player, he will be wearing a red hat with a ‘P’ firmly stitched on it.
In fact, many believe that Schilling would be a Phillie now if not for the advances of former Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein and the not so positive advances of the recently replaced Wade. Schilling has always made clear his love for Philadelphia, a love that was not returned by Wade. Thus, when Epstein said all the right things over Thanksgiving dinner back in November of 2003, Schilling left the desert sun of Arizona for the clouds of Boston, a cloud of 86 seasons without a World Series champion in Beantown.
History has now recorded two distinct things in the past 13 months. Schilling and Epstein led a Paul Revere like ride to a series triumph in 2004 and Epstein recently left Boston for baseball parts unknown in a rebellion unseen in those parts since the famous Tea Party of the pre-revolution days of the 1770's. In fact, it was not mere coincidence that on the day that Epstein announced his departure, Schilling was seen on Philadelphia television, something that I believe will occur with increasing frequency this winter.
Make no mistake, Schilling is once again on the campaign trail, and a trail that he hopes will lead back home to his first love, Philadelphia. While scoffers continue to insist this will never happen, I say it is a natural fit, and that Gillick will grow to like the idea. Certainly, he is no stranger to veteran pitchers, as hurlers like Dave Stewart, Jamie Moyer, and Mike Mussina were talented yet older hurlers for some of his better teams.
Truth be told, who better than Schill the Phil to teach youngsters like Myers, Hamel, Floyd and Ryan Madson to become pitchers instead of throwers? Who better than Schill the Phil to stare down the 13 year stronghold on first place that is the Atlanta Braves? And who better than Schill the Phil to come full circle and finish a potential Hall of Fame career wearing the very Phillie cap that he will take with him should he enter the same halls that will one day embrace Pat Gillick? Changing Pat-terns indeed for a Phillie organization too long embracing the ideas of a simpler past; when players remained loyal and front office executives dealt nary a day with things like long-term contracts and pestering agents.
The thought of long term contracts reminds us that the next item of business for Gillick will be addressing the needs of one Billy Wagner, he of the unsigned dotted line and 100 MPH fastball. The question on every Phillie phans lips remains, "Whither Wagner?" Will he re-up for three more seasons or will he make haste for greener pastures elsewhere. It says here that Wagner stays as Gillick's commanding presence and a three year, $27 million offer will win the day, if not the hearts of every Phillie phanatic.
With Wagner in tow, Ugueth Urbina leaves, as will Kenny Lofton and possibly David Bell. Despite the disclaimers from Gillick about Bell's clutch ability, the Phils are in need of a new third baseman and one name to be remembered is former wunderkind, Sean Burroughs of San Diego. A former can't miss prospect, Burroughs has been just that, burroughed under by unhealthy knees, unhealthy expectations and the recent acquisition of third baseman Vinny Castilla from Washington.
With Castilla and his power bat set to handle the hot corner with the Padres, it appears Burroughs can be had for a song...especially a sweet one that Gillick is so wont to sing. Watch for the name Burroughs to crop up in trade rumors throughout the winter, and an infield of Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Burroughs would not only be skilled...but young. Sean Burroughs seems the perfect fit for what the Phils need at third base, a solid glove with the potential to hit .300 and swat 12-15 home runs. If the Phils are truly changing Pat-terns, Burroughs is a great fit.
Once Wagner signs on the dotted line, the next item on the agenda may be to pursue free agents, which brings us to the pestering agents theme of the day...super agent, and some say super pest, Scott Boras. No matter what people think of Boras personally, there are two indisputable facts that are clear. One is that Boras represents many of baseballs finest players and that as long as Ed Wade was Phillie GM, the Phightin's were not going to get any of them.
For whatever reason, Boras and Wade were never a good fit in negotiations and this led to such embarrassments as the Phils refusing to draft Texas Ranger slugger, Mark Texiera merely because Boras represented him. Of course, no non-negotiations are more famous in Phillieland than the Boras-led J.D. Drew fiasco. Again, no matter the feelings about Drew, the simple fact of the matter was that this was a player the Phils needed badly and lost merely because Boras never took Wade or the Phils seriously.
This has changed forever with the hiring of Pat Gillick. In his years as a GM, Gillick has negotiated many deals with Boras and is unlikely to ever fear such dealings with the contentious manners of Mr. Boras. In fact, it seems of no small consequence that the Phils recently announced the signing of a solid Taiwanese pitching prospect named Yen-Feng Lin. Yen is reputed to have a fastball of between 90-94 MPH...and is represented by none other than Scott Boras. Coincidence in timing? I think not!
In another bit of startlingly good news, the Phils just signed one Tim Auty, a 19 year old Australian who was reluctantly released by the Seattle Mariners due to visa restrictions. It seems that major league baseball allows teams to carry just so many players from foreign shores and Auty was let go by the Mariners for this very reason. This is no small signing as Auty hit .352 for Seattle's rookie league farm club with a startling on-base percentage of .943.
Again, the fact remains that Gillick just came from the very same Seattle organization that produced Auty. Is it coincidence that the Phils so quickly signed him, given Gillick's credibility? Probably not. Taken individually, the probable trade of Thome for youngsters, the Wagner return if it happens, the possible Schilling sighting and the recent signings of prospects like Yen-Feng Lin and Tim Auty mean little.
Yet, taken collectively, they paint a picture of a Philadelphia Phillie team finally poised to enter the twenty-first century, led by a forward thinking General Manager named Pat Gillick. It is no longer important whether or not Gillick was a better choice than Gerry Hunsicker, that decision has now been made. What is important is how this affects the fortunes of Phillie baseball and the way they are seen by an often skeptical Philadelphia populace.
While the jury may still be out, it does appear that the recess will be a short one and that when they return the verdict will be one that leaves Phillie phans applauding the decision. For an organization that seemed forever on the precipice of the edge of a cliff, the hiring of Pat Gillick is strangely comforting if for no other reason than the Philadelphia Phillies finally appear to be...changing Pat-terns.
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