CD's Connect The Dots... Bid Adieu to Abreu?

CD's Connect The Dots... Bid Adieu to Abreu?

For playoff-starved Phillies phans, the hiring of GM Pat Gillick must seem like a giant earthquake. The trade of slugger Jim Thome was the tiny tremor that rattles a few windows, while the departure via free agency of closer Billy Wagner may have been the sudden shaking immediately proceeding the coming earth movement. Still, if the tea leaves are correct, the next big move may be the giant quake; the trading of star right fielder Bobby Abreu. Could it be time to bid adieu to Abreu?

Few players in recent annuals have had a more storied career in PhillieLand than has the esteemed Bobby Abreu. Brought over in a trade with Tampa Bay in the winter of 1997, in one of Ed Wade's finest moves, Abreu has merely become arguably the greatest right fielder in Phillie history. His numbers are staggering when taken in the context of their consistency and complexity.

Although it was then GM Lee Thomas who orchestrated the deal for Abreu, it was widely known that Wade made the strong recommendation that Thomas acquire Abreu and the deal was done shortly thereafter. In point of fact, in an irony of ironies, it can be argued that with Thome, Wagner and Abreu, we have the three centerpiece players acquired by Ed Wade during his tenure with the Phils. Now, Thome and Wagner are gone, and it appears that Abreu could soon join them in a trade as much to guarantee a deal "done too soon" rather than a deal "done too late."

As previously mentioned, to study the Bobby Abreu legacy in Philadelphia is to talk as much about it's consistency as it is to discuss it's complexity. For the greater portion of his eight years in the City of Brotherly Love, Abreu hit over .300 yearly, scored over 100 runs, knocked in over 100 runs while averaging over 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases, 100 walks and 156 games played per season. These numbers compare favorably with the finest players in the game over a comparative time period.

Abreu has also done this with the complexity of a man who rarely dives for a fly ball, often shies away from fences and forever seems to play the game in slow motion. These traits are not necessarily negative ones as many a manager would prefer his star player refrain from doing things that cause injury and some of the greatest players who ever lived were often thought to appear to play the game in slow motion. The legendary Hank Aaron is an athlete that comes to mind, and he was one of the greatest players to ever honor the game with his presence.

Indeed, it is thought by many that Abreu's true brilliance will never truly be appreciated by Phillie phandom until he is gone. Though not certain, that day does seem on the horizon, brought on as much by Gillick's desire to acquire another starting pitcher as it is by the need to move him while he is still at the top of his game. This synchronicity of events seems to indicate that his days in Philadelphia are numbered, and that he might even be moved this week at baseball's annual winter meetings in Dallas.

Philadelphia phans have always had mixed feelings about Abreu, most understanding the marvelous talents he displayed nightly, while others were less inclined to be forgiving of the often nonchalant way he plays the game. Truth be told, his numbers speak volumes of the grace and skills he has, and only a closer study of those numbers might give us a glimpse into why Gillick may choose to relinquish him at the seeming apex of his game.

While Abreu has been a seeming model of consistency over the past eight seasons, his numbers during the final three months of the 2005 campaign offered an alarming drop off in his regular pattern of success. From July 1 through the remainder of the campaign, Abreu hit but 7 of his 24 home runs, and saw his average drop from well over .300 to it's final resting place of .286.

Even more alarming were his numbers during the Phillies' final unsuccessful push for a National League playoff birth in '05. From September 2 until the final game one month later, Abreu hit only .230 (23-100) and even more telling was his final 7-for-52 pace, a mere batting average of .135. Apologists will argue that Abreu was playing hurt and that a lesser star would have begged out of the lineup. True enough and Abreu has always been known as someone who plays every day, as his 162 games played would attest.

Yet, his numbers overall were down from 2004 in runs, hits, home runs, stolen bases, slugging percentage, doubles, runs batted in, walks and total bases. Yet he played more games and had more total at bats than in the year 2004. Perhaps even more telling were in the two statistics that went up, strikeouts and caught stealing. These numbers suggest a player in decline, albeit still one of the better right fielders in the game.

At 32 years of age, Abreu is about to cross over into that gray area that often distinguishes great from near great players and then into the more definitive area from near great to past great. Add to this the fact that Abreu is owed over $30 million over the next few years and of this, blockbuster deals are made. And make no mistake about it, if the Thome and Wagner moves were the precursors to a giant Quaker shaker, Abreu will be the real 6.9 on the Richter Scale, an earthquake of epic Philadelphia baseball proportions.

Still, Gillick would be remiss to trade a player of Bobby Abreu's pedigree unless he was convinced that it would be benefit the Phils on several fronts and herein lies the quandary. Not only must Gillick make a deal that garners suitable talent in return, but he must satisfy Abreu, who has a no-trade clause in his contract and has every right to use it if he is unhappy with his proposed new home. With this in mind, let's attempt to sort fact from fancy in the latest rumor mill surrounding the teams mentioned as interested in the Bobby Abreu Trade Sweepstakes.

While Gillick has been honest in his contention that he would only consider dealing his right fielder for a top of the rotation starting pitcher, it does seem that this alone will not be enough to make a deal doable. Thus, the rumors for such hurlers as Jason Schmidt of the San Francisco Giants or Jason Marquis of the St. Louis Cardinals do not add up to a deal that might satisfy the Phils. Certainly, Schmidt was a top of the rotation starting pitcher but his arm woes last season may give Gillick pause to wonder whether or not this would be a deal he would soon regret.

Marquis, on the other hand, is a decent starting pitcher who is one year from free agency and might not agree to a contract extension without first deciding whether or not the supposed new dimensions of Citizens Bank Park play to his likings. It seems that Marquis alone would not be enough to justify dealing the talented Abreu so this seems far more fiction than fact.

Many baseball people are suggesting that a deal for star lefty Barry Zito of Oakland could be in the works, but this seems far fetched for several reasons. While Zito would be a welcome addition to the Philadelphia staff and would fit the supposed requirements of a top of the rotation starter, there seems more at work here that makes this deal unlikely. For one thing, Abreu's $30 million contract would seem to be more than Oakland GM Billy Beane, would want to inherit, and for another, Beane has made it clear that he desires a right-handed hitting outfielder in return.

This would seem to rule out the lefty swinging Abreu from consideration and while many Phillie phanatics might want to offer Pat Burrell for Zito, this would leave the Phils dangerously thin in power hitting right-handed hitters. Without Burrell to offer for protection for southpaw swinging youngsters like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phils might see almost nothing but portside hurlers in 2006.

Not only that, but to trade Burrell now would seem terribly short sighted. Unlike Abreu, who appears to be in the twilight of a great career, Pat the Bat seems finally to figured out the massive potential in his game, and appears poised for a truly breakout campaign in 2006. While Phillie phaithful still seem frustrated with Burrell's occasional failures, his recent number seven ranking in National League Most Valuable Player ratings would seem to indicate that the only true frustration being felt is by opposing managers who must deal with Burrell on a daily basis. Unless Gillick is truly overwhelmed with an offer, Pat Burrell is a definite keeper for 2006.

Finally, much like Marquis, Barry Zito is in his free agent walk year after the '06 campaign and it seems unlikely that Gillick would deal Abreu for a pitcher who might well leave after but one season. No doubt Barry Zito's name will come up in trade talk this week in Dallas, but Philadelphia is unlikely to be his destination unless the A's would consider dealing the talented lefty for a combination that might include outfielder Jason Michaels and a young pitching prospect like Gavin Floyd.

While a deal of Michaels and Floyd for Zito might look appealing to Phillie phans, expect Beane to counter by asking for young Ryan Madson in place of Floyd. This is likely to send Gillick looking elsewhere, which takes us to places like Boston or Baltimore. Indeed, if this be the week that we bid adieu to Abreu, the chances are excellent that it will be one of these two destinations that he might well call his future home.

The sports wires were ablaze with rumors this past week of a proposed deal of Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez for Abreu and while these talks were undoubtedly held, the chances that they ever got past first base are nil. There seems little likelihood that Ramirez would appeal to the Phils for many reasons, none greater than the $57 million still owed him on his current deal.

Since his hiring a bit over one month ago, there have been no words uttered from Pat Gillick's lips more often than "financial flexibility." He places a premium on these two words when talking about his team, and they were the main reasons he traded Thome and let Wagner walk. He wants the ability to add players as he sees fit, and only "financial flexibility" allows him to do this. Thus, it seems nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where he would take on the huge contract of Ramirez without having the Red Sox pay some of his salary.

Not only that, but the thought of an outfield with Burrell and Ramirez at the corners makes even a standout center fielder like Aaron Rowand look aghast, and this alone makes the deal a slim proposition. Still, the Sox do seem an attractive trade partner for the Phils and may have the players to satisfy Gillick. It is known that the Phils have pursued Red Sox righty Matt Clement in the past and might be interested again. Clement was 13-6 with the Red Sox in 2005, albeit with diminishing returns as the year progressed.

Clement alone would no deal make, but if the Sox threw in right fielder Trot Nixon and catching prospect, Kelly Shoppach, the deal might make some sense. Clement would join a rotation of Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla and Cory Lidle and allow youngsters like Floyd, Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito to either join Madson in the bullpen or refine their talents at Scranton in Triple A.

Another possibility with the addition of Clement is that Padilla could be dealt for relief or infield help, while allowing Madson, Floyd, Tejeda or Brito to vie for the fifth spot in the rotation. Add to this the expected arrival of lefties Randy Wolf from injury sometime in August, as well as the anticipated arrival of mega prospect, Cole Hamels sometime next summer and the Phils might well have a staff deep in talent and versatility.

Trot Nixon, while not nearly the offensive force of Abreu, still hit 18 home runs in 124 games last year and is a solid if unspectacular defender. He would probably platoon with either Michaels or Shane Victorino in right field until one of the three players showed the ability to play on a daily basis. Shoppach, on the other hand, would give the Phils yet another young catching prospect to join the likes of Carlos Ruiz and Jason Jaramillo, in auditioning for the starting job in 2007 when incumbent Mike Lieberthal is ready to step down as the regular catcher.

As intriguing as this potential deal with the Sox appears, it may not be the last or best hand on the table when Gillick, cowboy boots in tow, arrives in Dallas, Texas to sit down and play "Lets Make a Deal." Indeed, Gillick seems to have all the cards stacked in his favor this week, as not only the Red Sox but the Baltimore Orioles appear as likely suitors for Gillick's attention when it comes to Bobby Abreu and his likely '06 destination.

If the names remain the same, then it may well be that the Orioles offer may end up being not only the best deal, but the one that Gillick chooses to accept. Remember that Gillick not only favors talent in return, but depth and "financial flexibility" and with these three criteria as the backdrop, it appears the Orioles offer is one Gillick might be unable to refuse.

While the current Phillies pitching rotation is somewhat deep, it lacks one thing until Wolf or Hamels make their appearance...a skilled and dependable left-handed starting pitcher. As talented as Red Sox hurler Matt Clement may be, he is yet another righty to join an already right-handed heavy bevy of Phillie hurlers. Logic dictates that Gillick seek a talented and young lefty if possible and here is where the Orioles offer becomes interesting.

The Orioles seem primed to offer 27 year old Eric Bedard, a lefty of some ability and even more potential. Many scouts think the hard throwing Bedard is skilled enough to one day lead a staff and although his 6-8 record from last year appears somewhat pedestrian, his 125 strikeouts in merely 141 innings do not.

Equally appealing to the Phils is the fact that Bedard is a youngster still four years removed from free agency, and the kind of pitcher who might fit in well between the righty stances of Lieber and Myers. Not only that, but if Bedard should become what the Phils anticipate, he would someday be joined by fellow lefty prospects like Hamels, Giovany Gonzalez, J.A. Happ and Daniel Haigwood in making the Phils a very solid trade partner for any team in need of a standout southpaw. In two words, think "financial flexibility."

Still, Bedard alone would never be enough to acquire Bobby Abreu from the Phils and the Orioles would be expected to sweeten the pot with a player who might at least somewhat emulate Abreu's offensive production. It seems the Orioles would be inclined to include slugging right fielder, Jay Gibbons, in the deal, and this might just tilt the deal away from Beantown and in the direction of Philadelphia's I-95 southern partner, Baltimore. While certainly not in Abreu's league as an offensive weapon, the simple fact is that in 2005, Jay Gibbons hit more home runs [26] than did Abreu [24] and of some interest to the Phil's might just be the fact that Gibbons strikes out very seldom. In 139 games, Gibbons struck out only 56 times, and his career mark of 314 strikeouts in almost 2200 big league at bats is quite impressive.

Of course, if Gillick really wanted to reenact a scene from High Plains Dealer, he might even have the audacity to request a throw in like minor league prospect, Nick Markakis. After the Orioles are finished chuckling at Gillick's seeming chutzpah, they might agree to throw in a lesser prospect like Val Majewski or Jeff Fiorentino. The point is not that these are players the Orioles will easily relinquish but that the makings are there for an expanded deal. When Gillick released two minor league hurlers, Franklin Perez and Pedro Liriano, this week, he made sure his 40 man major league roster still had two open spots to fill.

While this could indicate a future free agent signing, or even an acquisition in Thursday's Rule 5 minor league draft, it is equally likely that he is setting himself to make a multi-player deal and wants the "flexibility" to make it happen. It would not hurt to offer Padilla and Abreu in an expanded deal for Bedard, Gibbons and a prospect like Markakis, Majewski or Fiorentino. At worst, the Orioles would hearken back to the original offer of Bedard and Gibbons for Abreu and Gillick would have to think long and hard before turning a deaf ear to this deal.

Suffice it to say that this deal would be an appealing deal for the Birds, who face the loss of sluggers Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro and might just need another middle of the order bat to assist the likes of Miguel Tejeda and Javy Lopez. They also have the financial resources to afford the weighty contract of Abreu, no small feat in convincing Bobby to waive his no-trade clause.

Needless to say, all this talk of a Bobby Abreu deal may be nothing but early December phodder for a news starved baseball populace. Certainly, it is inconceivable that the crafty Pat Gillick will merely give Abreu away, he is much too smart for that. Still, it seems important to note that Gillick has never denied the possibility of trading his star right fielder and the numbers do indicate that if he is ever to receive full value for the player the time will never be better, the opportunities never more prevalent.

As difficult as it may have been for countless Phillie phans to fathom a season without Jim Thome or Billy Wagner, those recent transactions could well be simple preparation for the coming deal that would undoubtedly dwarf them both. As J.B. Massieu once observed, "Gratitude is the heart's memory." Be gracious in your hearts for the wonderful memories if indeed, Phil phaithful, we soon must ponder the question... is it time to "bid adieu to Abreu?"

Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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