To be completely fair, the deal was one of those general manager's dream trades, one that works out equally well for both sides. On the New York Yankee side of the ledger, Abreu became an offensive force in right field as well as a steady influence in the clubhouse. Cory Lidle, before his tragic off-season death in a plane crash, had provided the Yankees with a decent starting pitcher, albeit one that was likely to become a free agent this past off-season.
For the Philadelphia Phillies, the immediate results on the return were far more nebulous except in one area, and ironically this is the area that would seem most relevant to any organization. In the won-lost record, the Phils were clearly a much better club after the deal than before it. On the night of Friday, July 28, 2006 the Phils played their last game in the Bobby Abreu era and lost 4-1 to the Florida Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Although Abreu was not dealt until Sunday, this would be his final game in the lineup and when he departed the team was mired near the bottom with a 46-54 record, a dismal .460 won-loss percentage.
From that moment until the end of the season, the Phils played at a scintillating .629 clip to the tune of a 39-23 record, and a near miss wild card berth in the National League East. Many would not call this coincidental, though Abreu's efforts with the Phils will likely lead him to a near miss Hall of Fame entry someday and certain status as the greatest right fielder in Philadelphia Phillie history. Still, teams often take on the personality of their best players and the quiet introspective Abreu was clearly their best player.
When he was removed from the equation, young upstarts like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels began to take on leadership roles and combined with veterans like Jimmy Rollins and Aaron Rowand, created a completely new atmosphere both in the team's clubhouse and on the field, where it mattered most. This euphoria has carried over into the spring of 2007 and buoyed by the off-season additions of players like catcher Rod Barajas, infielder Wes Helms and starting pitchers Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton, the team has the swagger of a club that knows it is good and intends to put that talent on display this campaign.
Yet, what of those four minor league "suspects" acquired from the Yankees last July, the quartet that evoked such ridicule and derision from most phanatics once their names were announced. What of lefty reliever Matt Smith, catcher Jesus Sanchez, infielder CJ Henry and young hurler Carlos Monasterios? How have they done since the late July deal and what, if any, future impact can we expect from these four in the years to come?
Will they all become giant washouts as many predict or will at least two or three of them surface as key members of future Phillies teams and should we dare refer to any of them as Phuture Phillies Phenoms. Let's take a look back the deal from the Phillie perspective and see how far these players have advanced, and just what we might expect from them in the near future.
Obviously, the most recognizable name among the foursome is Matt Smith, a stylish lefty situational reliever who is being counted on heavily this year by a Phillie team hoping to be playing meaningful games well into October. Smith is a tall, lanky southpaw who was drafted in the fourth round back in 2000 from Oklahoma State and had begun to flourish in the Bronx Bomber system once moved to the bullpen in 2005. In fact, when the Phils brought him over from New York in the deal he had already tasted some major league success with 12 scoreless games pitched with the Yanks earlier in the season.
After about a month in the minor leagues with the Phils, he was brought up for good in late August and was a key member of the Phightins' bullpen in their late season push for a playoff berth. Although possibly remembered best for his two walk meltdown in a key last week loss to the Houston Astros, in reality he was a dependable and trusted member of the Phillie bullpen last September.
In fourteen games he compiled a sterling 2.08 ERA and struck out 12 hitters in merely 9 innings of work. Even more impressive was the opponents miniscule .111 batting average against his crafty serves. Clearly, when Smith gets the ball over the plate, he is nearly unhittable and the Phils hope this success will continue this season. It is a foregone conclusion that Matt Smith will be the number one lefty reliever out of the pen this season and could combine with another inexperienced southpaw, Fabio Castro, to form a deadly duo against left-handed hitters this campaign.
Truth be told, the naysayers who predicted that none of the quartet acquired in the Abreu deal would ever see the light of major league day have already been proven inaccurate with the progress of Matt Smith. At 27 years of age, Smith seems to be one of those southpaws who develops a bit later than most hurlers and could have a long and solid career as a situational lefty out of the Phillie bullpen. After all, a pitcher with similar skills, Dan Plesac, parlayed those talents into a career that lasted well into his early 40's. While no one expects Smith to have the career numbers of the popular Plesac, it would not be a surprise to see Smith as a valued and successful member of team for years to come.
Still, it will not be Matt Smith that eventually justifies this deal when the baseball history books are written but a couple of the other three youngsters, probably either C.J. Henry or Jesus Sanchez. In fact, no player in the entire Phillie pharm system is likely to receive as much scrutiny this season as will Henry, the former number one draft pick of the Yankees in '05 and a player that many scouts have admiringly compared to a "young Vernon Wells." They also predicted that because he was more athlete than true baseball player he would struggle in his first two seasons of professional baseball before settling in and potentially becoming an "impact" player.
If the scouts are correct, and the Phillie organizational types like Mike Arbuckle and Marti Wolever believer they are, then 2007 should be Henry's breakout year after two less than stellar campaigns in professional baseball. Henry was a high school All-American basketball player in Oklahoma and planned to follow his mother and father's footsteps and attend the University of Kansas on a basketball scholarship. The Yanks lured him away with a 1.7 million dollar contract as the seventeen pick in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft as a shortstop.
Of course, it didn't hurt that he was immediately told by the Yanks that he could one day emulate the success of Bronx infielders Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Henry has occasionally compared himself to those two. While this seems foolish bravado, there are many scouts in baseball who see Henry's athleticism and above average power, strength and bat speed and think he indeed has the potential to some day become an All-Star big leaguer. Although signed as a shortstop, a position he struggled with during his first two seasons in the minor leagues, the Phils wisely switched him to third base during the Florida Instructional League and this is where he will play this year.
Henry does have intriguing potential, and now plays a position that could ultimately be a hot corner of depth and skill within the system. Former top pick, Mike Costanzo will now a hop, skip and a jump from Philadelphia while performing at Reading in the Double-A Eastern League and the team is quite happy with his progress after his initial two seasons in the system. Drafted in the same year as Henry, Costanzo has displayed an encouraging ability to improve his performance as he acclimated himself to the league and has done this both seasons while at Batavia and last season at Clearwater. The Phils hope a solid year in Double-A will have him ready to challenge for a major league berth sometime in mid 2008.
Of course, CJ is far from the finished product that Costanzo appears to be, but his ceiling potential might be as high as nearly any position player in the entire system. He is the classic "tools" player that the Phils inevitably fall in love with, and in reality, their track record with this prolonged love affair has been spotty at best. While many baseball scouts feel great athletes can become solid baseball players, an equal number believe firmly that the game of baseball demands unique skills that can't be taught and are innate to great ballplayers. Time will tell with Henry, but if the scouts who predicted success for this lithe 6'5" third baseman are correct, the results should begin to unfold this season.
In his first two seasons of professional baseball, Henry hit .249 in the Yankees Gulf Coast League Rookie League and then a combined .243 with Charleston and Lakewood in the South Atlantic "A" League. He also displayed a temper that was at times irritating to many, and a propensity to allow a mistake to magnify itself into many more when his confidence would waver. Yet, the reality is that this is certainly not unique to Henry at 20 years of age, and if the Phils are correct in their assessment of his skills, he will be the player who ultimately justifies the Abreu deal to a skeptical Phillie populace.
Many scouts who follow the Phillies and have weighed in on the four prospects believe that ultimately, it will not be C.J. Henry, but rather young catcher Jesus Sanchez who will be the jewel of the deal for the Phils. While Henry may or may not be able to translate athletic talent to baseball success, Sanchez has already displayed outstanding tools behind the plate in his short time in professional baseball. Signed as a 16 year old out of Venezuela in 2004 by the Yankees, he was finally brought stateside in '06 and began the season with the Gulf Coast League Yanks.
He immediately caught the eye of Phillie scouts with his powerful arm, solid projectable defensive skills and a bat that many believe will eventually emerge to become more than acceptable at the big league level. Although he struggled offensively after his trade to the Phils, his overall numbers were acceptable for a player so young. Baseball American, a respected site for minor league baseball, rated him the fourteenth best prospect in the GCL and also considered him the "best defensive catcher" in the league.
Sanchez will open the 2007 campaign in short-season Williamsport as a nineteen year old and will be allowed to play and grow with little pressure for quick advancement. Still, he is probably the fourth rated catcher in the entire system already, behind Carlos Ruiz, Jason Jaramillo and Lou Marson. His progress is likely to be slow but steady, but if the Phils are correct in their assessment of the youngster, he should someday join Smith and Henry at Citizens Bank Park with the Phillies.
It is also well worth noting that many who were privy to the negotiations between the Phils and Yankees during the Abreu talks insist that the Phils made the acquisition of Sanchez a must in the deal despite his limited exposure to professional baseball. Much like Henry, many will keep close tabs on the young catcher from Venezuela as he attempts to justify a deal that is still receiving negative feedback from Phillie phanatics.
Easily the least known, and perhaps the hardest to project is Carlos Monasterios, a 20 year old right-handed hurler also signed by the Yanks from Venezuela in 2004. At 6'2", 175 lbs, young Monasterios has room to grow into his body which could make his already 91-93 MPH fastball even more effective. Although limited to 11 games in the Rookie League Gulf Coast League, his 3.20 ERA and impressive 6 walks in 45 innings pitched suggest there is something to work with for Phillie coaches.
The Phils ultimately project Monasterios as a relief specialist although he may do so starting this season at Williamsport in order to stretch his arm out and begin to give him the work he needs to refine his delivery. Again, much like Sanchez, Baseball America ignored the numbers and considered the potential and rated him as the number 20 rated prospect in the entire Gulf Coast League. While at first glance this doesn't seem so impressive, it should be noted that the league was considered very strong in 2006 with several top draft picks performing in the GCL.
Still, it is a long way from Florida to Philadelphia for a right-handed hurler with limited professional experience and Monasterios is easily the least likely of the quartet to ever make the trip north to PhillieLand. For now, the Phils will throw the young Venezuelan into the mix with several other young hurlers like Hector Correa, Alexander Concepcion and Reymond Cruz and hope that these strong arms will one day translate to solid major league skills.
As the season of 2007 approaches, there is as always an air of uncertainty surrounding the Phillies and the entire organization. Limited past success will do that to a system and the Phils have often been Exhibit A of an organization that seemed tied to the past and unwilling to embrace the future. Clearly, things have changed in the Pat Gillick Era and in many baseball circles the Philadelphia Phillies have become the trendy pick to win the NL East and ultimately represent the National League in the World Series. Time will tell in this regard, but it is no mere accident that at the minor league level the same thing is happening.
For far too many seasons, the Phillie minor league system has been described as a "wasteland" with few prospects and fewer solid coaches. While the results [Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers] would suggest otherwise, the whispers were that when Gillick was hired, he was dissatisfied with what he saw within the system. He immediately gave Mike Arbuckle more responsibility for the draft, an absolutely brilliant move, and began to simultaneously change the way the system did business at the minor league level.
Gillick instituted the unheard of reward system of in-season promotions for solid performance, something that was sadly lacking in the past. He released players unwilling to show the professionalism necessary to succeed in the big leagues and gave coaches and scouts more responsibility with the understanding that with rank would come accountability. The results were more than a little encouraging.
Players like hurlers Zack Segovia, Kyle Kendrick, Matt Maloney and Josh Outman flourished under the system and now are all rated as likely members of a Phillie pitching staff someday. He promoted youngsters like Cole Hamels and Scott Mathieson to the big leagues after limited exposure to Double-A baseball and in fact, both were key members of the starting rotation for much of the second half of the season.
While many baseball experts have been slow to notice...one highly rated minor league aficionado rated the Phillie system twenty-ninth out of 30 organizations, the facts do not support this evidence. In reality, the system is on the way up and as the Latin American program begins to produce solid position prospects for the first time since the days of Julio Franco, George Bell and Juan Samuel, the Phils are likely to become a growing force in the National League in the coming decade.
This is a legacy that Gillick is likely to leave behind when he walks away from his job sometime in the next few years to a well deserved retirement and entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet, his ultimate legacy will clearly be tied to the Bobby Abreu deal and the sea change it created within the entire organization. In many ways, this deal stamped Gillick as a "man in a hurry", not surprising considering his age  and goals for the team. While Abreu is likely to produce one or two more solid campaigns with the Yankees, the quartet of Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez and Carlos Monasterios are just emerging as potential future major league players.
While the deal was soundly criticized by the Philadelphia baseball masses, the players for the most part were given a "pass' on their performances last summer. Not so 2007. Smith is counted on as a key "situational" lefty out of the Phillie bullpen and Henry will need to become more Vernon Wells and less Orson Wells if he is to be the player the team hopes he will ultimately become.
Jesus Sanchez must show that his solid defensive skills across the board can translate into a well rounded player and it would help if he could assist his Venezuelan friend and likely teammate, Carlos Monasterios in becoming the same. Unlike Gillick, who many felt made the deal as much as a salary dump of Abreu as a trade to acquire four solid prospects, these players face a 2007 season when they will be evaluated, dissected and critiqued in a way few thought possible when they prepared for spring training last year.
Baseball can be an unforgiving sport, and none realize this more than the wily Gillick. He has moved on from the deal and continues to work on building a team that is the envy of many clubs throughout baseball. Not so, the quartet of Smith, Henry, Sanchez and Monasterios, the four players who must face the upcoming seasons clearly as players prepared to play...under the microscope.
Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will attempt to respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast