The signs are everywhere. Discontent in the clubhouse. Losing out on the playing field. A slipping phan base that could well be represented by an alarming attendance drop in August and September. And mostly a feeling that this team, this club that was largely put together by former GM Ed Wade, has gone just about as far as it will go and the window of opportunity for success is now over. There seems to be an unspoken feeling that the time for change is now. The architect of this change will be former "Stand Pat" Gillick.
Perhaps almost symbolically, it was announced this weekend that Gillick was going on a vacation for two weeks and would return to Philadelphia at the end of the month. This sounded almost absurd in its content until the logic of this move made all the sense in the world. Perhaps far more than anyone else, Gillick understands the ramifications of this month and the moves he must make. Far from being on vacation, he undoubtedly needed to leave Philadelphia, a town right now too much in baseball distress and far too eager to share that distress with anyone who will listen.
Not surprisingly, everyone had an opinion; from the daily sports talk shows to the print media. The talk was ripe of trades, firings and unhappiness with the direction of this team. Almost no one was immune from the criticism, starting at the top with Managing General Partner Dave Montgomery, and continuing down to the manager, Charlie Manuel and his players, seen as underachieving and overpaid. Almost shockingly, Gillick was largely left unscathed, almost as if the town realizes the importance of this month to him and has decided to save their venom for August if he doesn't make the proper changes.
The talk was of managerial changes and the embattled Manuel did his best to fuel the fire with his somewhat defensive press conferences in which one almost sensed the relief he would feel if he was indeed let go. It seemed almost
theatrical when former manager Lou Piniella, widely considered a candidate to succeed Manuel one day, went on a local Philadelphia television station to deny that he had been offered a job. In fact, Piniella's name has been widely tossed
out as a candidate not only for the Phillie job but for the Chicago Cubs position if and when they relieve Dusty Baker of his job.
Piniella wisely denied that any job offers have come his way, and this is probably true, though his name was seemingly on everyone's lips this past weekend at Citizens Bank Park as the Phils gratefully ended their first half with two wins
against the seemingly even more woebegone Pittsburgh Pirates. Not that these wins did anything to diminish the unhappiness, they merely reminded one and all of how difficult it has been to win back to back games that it took a club like the Pirates for the Phils to achieve this success.
Ironically, Gillick was in Pittsburgh at the time, not only to get away from the clamoring masses but to attend to All-Star festivities and to no doubt ponder his next move. He has many to make and not much time to make them. Clearly, he
knows the clock is ticking and although it is true that deals are occasionally made in August through waivers, it is July that separates the wheat from the chafe. If Gillick is to leave a lasting and probably final legacy in this his fourth city as GM, it might well be determined by who he moves and who he acquires this month.
Those who know him best insist that Gillick is an excellent poker player. Truth be told, he does have a wondrous hand to play, as no less than 40% of the current roster could be moved within three weeks. No one expects this many players to change teams, but there is probably no team in baseball with a better chance of making a major deal that the Phils, precisely because of the type of player Gillick is prepared to move.
In fact, should Gillick and Company decide to make star right-handed hurler Brett Myers available for trade after his highly publicized and unfortunate domestic violence case the Phils could find themselves in position to move the best
hitter on the market, one of the best power hitters, the best closer available, two of the better situational lefties, one of the best bench players in the game and in Myers, the best starting pitcher up for trade.
Yes, as poorly as this team has played, as dysfunctional as these past few months have seemed, Gillick could well rebuild this franchise quickly if he makes proper use of the vast resources he has at his disposal. The names almost sound like a veritable Who's Who of Major League Talent. Bobby Abreu. Pat Burrell. Tom Gordon. Mike Lieberthal. David Dellucci. Cory Lidle. Jon Lieber. Arthur Rhodes. Rheal Cormier. Aaron Rowand. And the aforementioned Brett Myers.
As if to add more ammunition to the growing fire, no less than 20 teams in 20 cities feel they have a legitimate opportunity to make the playoffs this year. And as the Marlins, Angels and Astros have shown, once a team gets into the playoffs anything can happen so all 20 teams are currently looking for that one player who might guarantee that they will still be playing come October.
Even more fortuitous for the Phillies, the American League currently has what might be considered the four best teams in baseball and only three of them can make the playoffs. The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and upstart Detroit Tigers can reasonably make a claim to being the best four clubs in baseball but because only one wild
card team can enter the playoffs, one of these teams is going to be left behind. With this in mind all four are in a mood to deal, and it just so happens that what those teams desire, the Phillies have...in abundance.
The Tigers have made no secret of their interest in bringing Abreu to Detroit, but up to this point their offers of pitcher Zack Minor and outfielder Craig Monroe have fallen upon deaf ears in Philadelphia. The pitcher the Phils want
is reliever Joel Zumaya and so far the Tigers have insisted he is not available. Don't look for Abreu to end up in Detroit unless the Tigers up the ante.
Both the Red Sox and Yankees have made a point of inquiring about Abreu and the interest has reached fever peak in the past few days. There was much talk of a centerpiece Trot Nixon for Bobby Abreu deal with the Red Sox. The Phils wisely
asked for pitchers Manny Delcarmen and Jon Lester, requests that were quickly squelched by the Sox. Still, it is nice to see the Phils aiming high, as both Delcarmen and Lester are top notch pitching prospects and it seems reasonable to expect that should the Phils and Sox eventually culminate a deal one of these two prized hurlers will be included in the trade.
As for the Yankees, there is little doubt who the Phils would demand in any deal for Abreu. His name is Philip Hughes and no less an authority than Baseball America has called him the "best pitching prospect" in the minor leagues. No doubt, Phillie scouts literally drool at the thought of a rotation lead by the likes of Cole Hamels, Philip Hughes, Ryan Madson, Giovany Gonzalez and Scott Mathieson. Throw in an repentant Myers and the staff becomes even more impressive.
So far, the Yankees have made it clear that Hughes is unobtainable, but if the month ends with the Yanks struggling to overtake either the Red Sox or White Sox, this deal could still very well happen. In fact, an expanded deal could be in the offing as the Yanks have made it clear they are quite interested in reacquiring right-hander Jon Lieber, especially since he seems healthy and hearty again after a month on the sidelines. Yanks GMBrian Cashman has often said he regrets letting Lieber get away after the 2004 season and would love to have him back.
It is highly unlikely that both Lieber and fellow righty Cory Lidle will be pitching at CBP come August. In a pitching starved market, both have extreme value and one or perhaps both will be moved this month. As mentioned, New York
is a likely destination for Lieber and if this occurs, watch for the name Eric Duncan to surface as a possible player of interest. Duncan is a former top Yankee prospect at third base, and is still only 21 years old. Although Duncan is currently playing first base in the minors, the Phils would certainly move him back to third, a position of extreme need for the Phightins.
As for Lidle, his destination could be to one of about a half dozen teams. One club to watch for is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are in deep need of a starting pitcher and seem to have an affinity for pitchers of Lidle's ilk. He reminds many of Aaron Sele and Brett Tomko and both have done well with the Dodgers. The Dodgers make an appealing trade partner as they too have an abundance of minor league third baseman and might be tempted to move one eastward if they could acquire Lidle. Names to keep an eye on include Andy LaRoche, Blake Dewitt and Willy Aybar, third baseman all.
The Yankees have also shown keen interest in Phillie All-Star closer Tom Gordon and if they are to acquire him, the names of Hughes and Duncan will undoubtedly surface again. Another hot shot Yankee prospect is 17 year outfielder Jose Tabata, but it seems unlikely that the Bronx Bombers would part with this future star. Still, it never hurts to ask, and if the Yanks covet Abreu, Lieber and Gordon enough, a multiplayer deal might just be to Gillick's liking.
Speaking of liking, it is well known of his affinity for center fielder Aaron Rowand, but the White Sox have lately indicated an interest in bringing back the popular center fielder. The Phils are not inclined to move him but if the
ChiSox would include power hitting third baseman Josh Fields in the deal, a swap could still happen returning Rowand to his former home. The same could be said for David Dellucci, who yearns to return to Texas and has not one but two
interested tenants of that state wanting him back in return.
Both the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros have indicated an interest in Dellucci, but so far no names have been mentioned. It just might behoove the Phils to keep Dellucci, not only for his valuable bat in case either Abreu or Burrell are moved, but for the valuable two draft picks the team will receive should he ultimately reject arbitration next winter and leave as a free agent. It seems unlikely that either the Astros or Rangers could give the Phils what they might just receive in draft picks by keeping Dellucci for the time being.
There is always a need for situational lefty relievers in baseball and the Phils have not one but two trusted lefty arms in the bullpen and ready to move. Rheal Cormier, who has been having a solid year, and Arthur Rhodes, who has been
somewhat less spectacular, are both highly coveted and with the recent addition of lefty Fabio Castro to the bullpen, it does seem likely that either Cormier or Rhodes will be wearing a new uniform come August. Both can be expected to
return prospects in any deal.
While it does seem unlikely that catcher Mike Lieberthal will be moved in July, there have been indications lately that he is not only open to the possibility but that at least one team, the Colorado Rockies, have inquired about his availability. As an impending free agent, it seems unlikely that Lieberthal will be re-signed so if the Rockies see that Lieberthal is healthy a late month or early August deal might be struck. If not, Lieberthal does hope to transform a solid final two months into one more contract, albeit probably not in The City of Brotherly Love.
In one of the more interesting revelations of this summer of discontent is the word among scouts that there is almost no interest in slugging Phillie left fielder Pat Burrell. Whether it is because of the $32 million still owed him on
his long term deal, or because of his ailing foot, the market seems tepid at best for the free swinging power hitter. As the sole right-handed power hitter in Philadelphia, it might be best for Gillick to simply keep Burrell and hope renewed health will transform into revived offensive numbers in the second half.
If Burrell is moved, the word is that the Phils cannot expect much in return and any deal of Pat the Bat would basically be a "salary dump" to a team willing to take on his huge contract. It seems that unless a major transformation suddenly
takes place, Pat Burrell will enter Phillie history as one of the more disappointing stars to ever play with the team. His results never quite added up to the talent base from which Burrell came from as the number one draft pick in the nation in 1998.
Undoubtedly, the ace of spades in all of Gillick's dealings is right-hander Brett Myers, he of the overpowering fastball and temper to match. It is still unclear what will happen to Myers, scheduled to rejoin his teammates in San Francisco on Friday. If Myers is truly sorry for what transpired, then he may regain his status as "ace-in-waiting" of the Phillie staff, though this remains problematical at best. If, however, the Phils should decide the best thing to do is trade him, there will be no end to the potential suitors who will come calling for him.
Pitching is what everyone needs, and there will be no one close to the talent of Brett Myers available in July, except for possibly Jason Schmidt of the Giants. Barry Zito? No way the Oakland A's trade him while leading the AL West standings. Mark Mulder? Injured and unimpressive to this point. Livan Hernandez? Certainly available but not nearly as skilled as the younger Myers.
If Brett Myers is traded, the Phils can expect a minimum of two top quality players in return, probably one an established major leaguer. In fact, if the Phils want to address their third base or catching needs, just announce that Myers is available for trade. No less than half a dozen very interested teams would come calling almost immediately, the Yanks, Rangers, Dodgers, Padres, Cardinals and possibly the White Sox among them.
For most of the baseball universe, there is talk of impending playoff pushes and upcoming crucial series rivalries. Most of the baseball universe looks with anticipation to August and September and the acquisition of that one player, be he a position player or top notch hurler, who might make all the difference between playing and sitting out October. With this in mind, most of the baseball universe is peering eastward to Philadelphia, and a man who for far too long was unaccustomed to this player personnel frenzy that is the July trading sweepstakes.
No more! In former "Stand Pat" Gillick's hands sits the potential destiny of not only countless cities and their playoff ambitions but also the very future of his new home, Philadelphia. History has not been kind to former Phillie General Managers but Gillick has vowed that he will not repeat their mistakes. Time will tell. Time is short. It is time for the cards to be shuffled, dealt, and put on the table. It is a time of action for the man soon to be called by his new nickname of...No "Stand Pat."
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