CD's Connect The Dots... Left of Center

Pat Burrell and "Elvis" (Photo: Jeff Fusco/Getty)

It somehow seems appropriate after the nations recent election to discuss the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies in terms which reflect the election. Ironically enough, the discussion turns in that direction because it remains the main question to be answered before the commencement of the 2009 season. It involves the only position as yet undecided, stationed...left of center.

Ostensibly, the talk would be of "whither Pat Burrell?", the incumbent left fielder for the team and a player now destined to place his name among the most popular and enduring symbols of Phillie baseball. Winning does that for players like Burrell. If ever the City of Brotherly Love had a love/hate relationship with a baseball player not named Mike Schmidt, it was with Pat Burrell.

Ever since he was drafted first in the nation by the Phillies after an All-American career at the University of Miami in 1998, extraordinary things have been expected of the powerful left fielder. And, truth be told, it was more those expectations than any failings on Burrell's part that caused the consternation that every phan would feel when he would flail wildly at a slider down and away and strike out once again.

Yet, on the whole, Pat Burrell has had a solid, if unspectacular, career with the team and his crowning moment was punctuated by playing an important role in his team's championship run this season. Ironically enough, if Burrell does leave town as a free agent, and the strong indications are that he might, his final at bat as a Phillie will have been as much a signature moment of his career in PhillieLand as any fiction writer could have imagined.

Pat Burrell's potentially final at bat with his beloved team occurred in the bottom of the seventh inning of the final game of the Phillie-Tampa Bay World Series. The two teams were tied at three, and the Phils needed to win the game to avoid returning to Tropicana Field, where the home team Rays would have a decided advantage. Burrell led off the bottom of the seventh with a towering drive to center field, one that eventually resulted in a double, which later turned into the winning run of the game.

How utterly poetic that his potentially final at bat as a Phillie should end the way it did? After all, Burrell's career with the team was never considered a "home run" in terms of production, so to go out that way would have seemed somehow inappropriate. And even as he stood at second base that night and most of the 45,000 in attendance were cheering wildly, many of them were still disappointed that he had not been able to stretch it into a triple as it appeared he should have. Again, even the success was tempered by the realization that more was expected.

In the end, all turned out well. The Phils turned Burrell's double into the eventual winning run, and it was no less than the Phillies dashing left fielder who led the victory parade two days later. All well and grand. However, baseball being what it is, the wheels of change are forever turning and now the Phightins are faced with the very real prospect of Life after Pat Burrell and must plan for that process by compiling a Rolodex file of potential left field replacements should he depart.

With this firmly in mind, lets see if we can't somehow open up said file and find out just what names are likely to be hidden away for only Phillie consumption. The list isn't a long one and requires certain requirements for admittance. A young player would be nice but not necessary. Right-hand hitting is a must considering that Burrell represented the middle of the order righty protection for lefty sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Power is important, though not imperative. Solid defense is also a plus, though again, not necessary for inclusion.

One player who was undoubtedly in the file, and probably listed Left Fielder 1A on the list is no longer a candidate for further inclusion. Slugging left fielder Matt Holliday, erstwhile of the Colorado Rockies, appears to be taking his trusty lumber west to Oakland, where Billy Beane's Athletics are willing to accept a one year and gone season from Holliday. He is a free agent after the 2009 campaign and his agent is Scott Boras, a name that Phillie phans are likely to hear often during the long and cold winter months before the thaw of spring shows its warming face come February in Florida.

Boras not only represents Holliday, but several other players of potential Phillie persuasion, and loves attacking free agency almost as much as he enjoys breathing. His mantra has always been to have his clients test the free market of supply and demand, so the A's should not become too comfortable with Holliday in town as he will not stay past the '09 season. Nevertheless, the Phillies were quite interested in the multi-talented ex-Rockie and might have accepted his "one and done" philosophy if the price tag had not been too high.

With Holliday off the list, who are some names likely to interest the likes of incoming Phillie GM Ruben Amaro and his trusty staff of assistants and scouts, as well as Manager Charlie Manuel? Undoubtedly, if Manuel has his way, the Phils will make a big push for the biggest name on the market, future Hall of Fame slugger Manny Ramirez, a former player of his. Make no mistake, Manuel and Manny have a great relationship and this might even get Ramirez to consider listening to an offer that Amaro might make.

However, in the end, this is as much about Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, as it is about any potential friendship between the Dodgers/Red Sox slugger and with Boras it will ultimately be all about the money. In this arena, the Phils are likely to strike out on Manny. Boras has talked of desiring a six-year deal worth at least 120 million dollars. Will he get this from a team? Doubtful, but it only takes one desirous club to make it happen. Will it be the Phillies? No chance. They will never go beyond three years and an option season and probably won't go north of 60-70 million dollars. That will not get it done.

So as much as a lineup with Chase Utley, Manny Ramirez and Ryan Howard might instill fear in every Phillie opponent next season, it will probably only remain the pipe dream of Manuel and his occasional vivid imagination. When the dust settles Ramirez is likely to end up in New York, though at which address remains to be seen. With Manny Ramirez likely taken out of the Rolodex file, which names are likely to remain for further consideration?

Another Boras client, and one that might make sense for the short term is current Detroit Tigers left fielder Magglio Ordonez. He is a right-handed slugger of the first order and would seem to have the temperament as well as the contract to replace Pat Burrell. Although 35 years of age, Ordonez still possesses a fierce bat as evidenced by his .317 average, 21 home runs and 103 RBI in 2008. The Tigers are inclined to move him due to his nearly 48 million dollar contract for three more seasons, but with Burrell's 14 million off the books, the salaries are almost a wash on a yearly basis.

Even more appealing is the fact that the Tigers, hoping to begin somewhat of a youth movement and inclined to rid themselves of high salaries, might just A] accept a lesser light Phillie prospect in return and B] might even be willing to pay a portion of Ordonez's salary. Think 20 million, which is what the Phils would probably ask for in compensation for taking him off the books in Detroit.

Still, as delightful as it might be to begin penciling in Magglio Ordonez for inclusion in the Phillie lineup for next year, the task becomes more difficult because agent Scott Boras will become involved as he always does. This almost always spells trouble for the Phillies, a team with which Boras has long had nothing but disdain for as a franchise, city and organization. Whether or not the teams current standing as champions of the baseball world can change his perceptions is at best problematical. Watch for him to demand compensation if Ordonez is traded, a practice Boras has used quite successfully in the past in order to move his clients exactly where he wishes them to be. Thus said, Ordonez is no better than 50-50 to ever grace the grasses of Citizens Bank Park in a Phillie uniform.

The whispers speak of another name, left fielder Milton Bradley of the Texas Rangers. At first glance, this name also makes some sense. Bradley is still relatively young at 31 years of age, and is a hitter/fielder of the first order. In fact, he was one of the top hitters in the American League in 2008 and finished with a .321 batting average, along with 22 home runs and 71 RBI in the cavernous Ranger stadium. Those numbers were also compiled in less than a full season as Bradley was injured part of year.

Again, as with most opposing players, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and with every blessing comes a potential curse. Bradley is by most accounts engaging when motivated and a tremendously intelligent and caring teammate. He is also immensely talented. Yet, he has a reputation for moodiness, a wart that he is trying hard to erase. It remains to be seen also just what the Rangers would want in trade for Bradley. The Phils might offer more for him than for Ordonez, but probably not much more.

Less interesting but still viable is outfielder Jermaine Dye of the Chicago White Sox. Dye is 35 years old and coming off of a solid offensive year with an average of .292 and 34 home runs with 96 RBI. Those numbers would certainly fit snuggly in the middle of Utley and Howard. He is also considered a superior defensive player to Burrell, as is everyone mentioned to this point. Still, Dye's numbers are likely deceiving and he seems a solid candidate for offensive contractions in 2009 as advancing age begins to wear away at his skills. It might best behoove the Phils to look elsewhere for their new left fielder.

A somewhat obscure choice might well be 27 year old Rocco Baldelli, last witnessed hitting a game tying home run against reliever Ryan Madson in Game 5 of the recent World Series. Baldelli would seem to have much of what the Phillies desire... youth, speed, some power, great defense and a solid bat. He is also a quite engaging player who might quickly become a phan favorite with the Phillie phandom. However, Baldelli suffers from a rare disorder that saps his strength and makes it unlikely that he can ever be more than a platoon player again.

This might not necessarily eliminate him from Phillie interest however as Amaro has talked of platooning the left-handed hitting Geoff Jenkins or Greg Dobbs with a right-handed hitter now hidden behind Mystery Door Number Two. That mystery guest might well be Baldelli, a free agent who would come with no more baggage than the cost of his contract and the understanding of his physical limitations. It should be noted that the Boston Red Sox had shown interest in Baldelli and the Phils have not done well when competing with the Red Sox for the services of players lately.

Curt Schilling, Mike Lowell, Mark Kotsay and David Ross are the four most recent players who had varying degrees of interest from Philadelphia and all chose to take their talents to Beantown instead. If the choice comes down to Boston or Philadelphia for Rocco Baldelli, bet on the Sox to win the day.

Poet Thomas Wolfe once remarked that "you can't go home again" but this somewhat sage musing well could be tested if still yet one more name surfaces in ongoing Phillie winter trade talk. Rumors persist in San Francisco that former Phillie favorite, Aaron Rowand, regrets his departure to the West Coast and desires a return to the City of Brotherly Love as quickly as possible. Phillie phans recall just what an impact Rowand had on his team, the city and his teammates during the two seasons he spent with the Phils and his return would probably be greeted with mostly positive feedback.

Certainly, the Phils would welcome the 2007 edition of Aaron Rowand, the one who produced a .309 average with 27 home runs and 89 RBI while patrolling center field for the club. No one questions his clubhouse leadership skills and his friendship to the players. In fact, a strong case can be made that the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies learned how to win due to the examples set by Rowand, though he was no longer around to enjoy the fruits of his instruction.

Of course, a skeptical Phillie phan would remark that it was his own fault. Determined to get a five-year contract, he turned his back on the Phils' four-year offer and went west to San Francisco for a five-year, 60 million dollar contract. Many baseball scouts felt he was A] not worth the money and B] would suffer when trying to hit at cavernous Pac Bell Park. Both of those assumptions would appear to be correct. The Giants are not inclined to wish to pay a player so much money in return for the 13 home runs and 70 RBI that he produced in 2008 for them. They are looking for a team willing to take on Aaron Rowand's contract and the Phils might consider it.

Should a deal for Aaron Rowand take place, the Phils would possibly move incumbent center fielder Shane Victorino back to right field and move Jayson Werth to left field. This would give the team the best defensive outfield in the National League. They would also hope that a return to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park would also return Rowand's offensive numbers to his 2007 levels. Stay tuned.

Admittedly, it is equally as likely that when the dust settles a player as yet unnamed and unclassified in the Phillie Rolodex file might well emerge as the teams new left fielder. With this in mind, and with the understanding that speculation and a wild imagination cost nothing but words and time, lets add a few names to the list. How about 24 year old Jeff Francoeur of Atlanta? Talented, inexpensive, and out of popularity with the Braves. He would cost a bundle in prospects and talent but might well be worth it and certainly a player who would be around for the long haul.

Eric Byrnes of the Arizona Diamondbacks will be 33 years old when the '09 season commences and is coming off a season-ending injury but has the personality and talent to fit with the Phightin Phillies. He has also joined the bandwagon [what a surprise that the Phillie bandwagon has taken on so many guests!!] and indicated a desire to play in Philadelphia.

Toronto has two talented outfielders in Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, both of whom have been mentioned before in trade talks with the Phils. Those talks might soon be revisited. Twenty-three year old Delmon Young, an incredibly talented outfielder with the Minnesota Twins is rumored to be available for the right price. It might behoove Amaro and Company to see just what that price might be.

And, of course, the Phils could just do what many phans hope they will do and simply work out a compromise agreement to keep Pat Burrell in town. Immensely popular and completely devoted to the city, Burrell would be welcomed back with open arms by the populace that has grown to appreciate the hard work and loyalty of one of Philadelphia's very own.

The team is rumored to have offered a two-year, 22 million dollar deal and, frankly, this would be insulting for Burrell to accept. After all, he is now a charter member of the arguably the cities most popular professional treasure and is now its most senior member in terms of service. Simply put, Pat Burrell has seen it all, the good times and the bad and deserves an opportunity to finish his career right where it started...in Philadelphia.

This move would take compromise on both sides. The Phils will have to move northward on salary, though are unlikely to change positions on guaranteed years offered. They might be amenable to two years plus a team option year for about 36 million dollars, but Burrell would have to compromise also. He has talked of wanting a four-year deal and seems to think he should accept nothing less than 40 million. The Phils will never go that high and Burrell knows it.

Count on the Phillies to offer arbitration to the left fielder, in order to protect their rights to the two top draft picks they will receive should Burrell move elsewhere. Also count on Burrell to turn this down. Watch for teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles to indicate interest. What happens after that is an open question.

Ironically, it was this very same open question that initiated the discussion in the first place. The Phillies, much like the country, are entering a brave new and largely uncharted world. They are now the hunted instead of the hunters and as such, will have to perform accordingly. This will entail a brand new philosophy, a brand new outlook and a brand new understanding of the politics of change.

With that firmly in mind, allow us to recall the wise words of perhaps the greatest politician in American history, Abraham Lincoln, who once mused that it is best to "let minor differences and personal preferences, if there be such, go to the winds." Winds, indeed. And for the Philadelphia Phillies as well as the country, those personal preferences now blow distinctly...left of center.

Spring Training Announcement!!! What better way to celebrate the 2008 Champions than to attend Spring Training in Clearwater, Florida with Allen Ariza [aka CD from the Left Coast]. We will spend four days, March 20-23 at the Phillies spring site, watching the team prepare to defend their title while also visiting with the players in the sun and fun that only Florida can provide. The trip will include three nights stay at a three-star local hotel, several outstanding meals, many baseball related activities, and at least two spring training games. For more information on this once in a lifetime opportunity, please e-mail me at allenariza@earthlink.net for more information and cost. See you in Clearwater!!!

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


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