CDs Connect The Dots..Arbitration Trepidation

(Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)

Recently retired Phillie GM Pat Gillick was not defined by fearlessness but had a confident and bold disposition about him that spoke of an ability to do things the right way. Not so former GM Ed Wade, who seemed uncomfortable making risky moves. New GM Ruben Amaro tutored under both and seems to be suffering from a very Wade-like case of...arbitration trepidation.

It was never going to be considered a "no brainer" move had Amaro and Company decided to offer arbitration to the two most prominent members of the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 free agent class, veteran hurler Jamie Moyer and slugging outfielder Pat Burrell. After all, the arbitration process can be an unsettling jaunt through murky waters, and the ultimate result is rarely satisfying to either party. Suffice it to say, that is the reason so few organizations or players choose to see this process to the end, preferring instead to negotiate a compromised settlement. Fair enough.

Yet, it was still somewhat surprising that when the dust settled at midnight Monday night, Eastern Standard Time, the Phils had made the decision to offer arbitration to neither Moyer or Burrell, setting up the unlikely but still very real possibility that both of these championship kingpins might choose to take their still talented services elsewhere, leaving the Phils holding nothing but the proverbial "empty bag." This somehow seems quite unbecoming of the now reigning baseball champions of the western world and and very dangerous to the chemistry of this close knit crew of players.

Of course, the prevailing question left unanswered by this quirky decision is, "Just what would Pat Gillick have done given this decision?" No one will ever know for sure as Gillick, although still in an advisory role with the team, is not prone to second guessing procedures and has never been considered a man comfortable in the public setting. His thoughts, however important, are likely to rest entirely with him. Still, his record was quite clear in similar cases and might provide some insight into just what an Amaro-led front office could be like during the years that he wears the General Manager crown.

Exactly why it would be of interest as to what Gillick would have done lies precisely in the resume he left behind as former Phillie GM. Simply put, it is the greatest one ever in team history. Yes, even better than Paul Owens, long revered and deservedly so as the chief architect of the greatest era in Phillie baseball history [1974-83]. While Gillick's reign was short and lasted only three seasons, the results were more than a bit impressive. To wit...three winning seasons, two playoff berths and most importantly, one World Championship.

Even more impressive is that while many contend he inherited a winning club from Ed Wade, this belies the reality that on July 30, 2006, when he made his Garry Cooper like High Noon stance and completely turned over the roster of the club, the team stood at 46-54 and looked for all the world like a dispirited and sinking franchise. Instead, those moves completely changed the chemistry of the club and since that day Gillick's Phils fashioned a 220-166 record, a sterling .570 winning percentage. Tack on two playoff berths and one World Series victory and Pat Gillick's legacy is complete.

Simply put, Pat Gillick viewed his players as resources and he also placed a high premium of the June Amateur Draft and the draft picks he could garner from that draft. While he understood the need to watch organizational finances whenever possible and valued "financial flexibility" above all else, he never wavered in his belief that it made little sense to allow a player like Aaron Rowand to flee via free agency without at least protecting the investment by offering arbitration as Rowand had one foot out the door.

The strategy worked in a two fold direction. It allowed the Phils to recoup two top draft picks should Rowand leave [which they did when he signed with the San Francisco Giants] and also gave his team at least the possibility of keeping Rowand under the terms of a one-year arbitrated contract. In other words, he protected the team should Rowand leave while letting the now departed center fielder know that he still had a place with the team should he choose to accept arbitration.

This seemed both wise and diligent. Contrast that with former GM Ed Wade and his prevailing philosophy that it was dangerous and short-sighted to offer arbitration except under the most extreme circumstances. True, he did offer it to both Kevin Millwood and Placido Polanco but was reported to have been shocked when both players accepted the offers of arbitration. To say that he was unhappy with both of these decisions would likely be an understatement.

It is important to keep in mind that Amaro worked under Wade and Gillick and undoubtedly was influenced by both of them. The key question that begs an answer from unknowing Phillie phanatics is just which philosophy Amaro has chosen to emulate more closely, Wade's or Gillick's? This is not necessarily an empty question since the end results of both former Phillie GM's couldn't have held more stark contrasts and Amaro's choice of philosophies could be a key to the organizations continued future success.

Whereas the Wade Era will be remembered for the never ending determination to acquire "major league ready" veterans, September near misses and continual conservative fiscal policies, the Gillick Era will be recalled as a time of daring decisions, exciting and successful September finishes and in the end, championship baseball. All the while, Amaro was watching, digesting and ultimately determining and shaping his philosophical views.

Yet, long held philosophies are difficult to change and many baseball insiders have long felt that at his roots, Amaro is a Wade-like fiscal conservative. Certainly, he had to have been impressed by Gillick's ability to tinker and rework his plan to successful completion but he always seemed more comfortable with Wade's way of doing things than Gillick's. If the recent decision not to offer arbitration to either Jamie Moyer or Pat Burrell is any indication, the answer seems apparent.

To his credit, Ruben Amaro justified the move by using one of Pat Gillick's most beloved mantras, "financial flexibility." It was the defining theme under Gillick and served the sage GM well. However, in the case of both Moyer and Burrell, this move seems ill-conceived and possibly dangerous to the chemistry of the 2009 squad.

Make no mistake, both Moyer and Burrell were not only contributing members to a championship core but were highly esteemed voices of reason in the clubhouse. Jamie Moyer has been like a pitching coach on the field for the likes of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and J.A. Happ while Burrell not only provided the greatest source of right-handed power to the middle of the order but was also the longest tenured member of the Philadelphia Phillies. These are not two players who would easily be replaced. Truth be told, the offer of arbitration would not necessarily guarantee their return as it seems likely that Burrell will receive a more lucrative offer elsewhere and Moyer's love of Seattle could influence his choice of residences for 2009.

However, by not offering them arbitration they have given notice to the entire core of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels that they are prepared to move on without either key player. For a team interested in defending their championship this seems at first glance a very unsettling proposition. To have at least offered arbitration would have quieted this notion.

It is well worth noting that the Phillies, while not alone in their decision not to arbitrate, will have a hard time defending their decision when held in comparison to many other recognizable names on the free agent list. Key players like Manny Ramirez, A.J. Burnett, Raul Ibanez, Derek Lowe, Frank Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets and Milton Bradley were all offered arbitration by their existing teams. Most did it not necessarily because they felt they could keep these players but in order to protect their assets.

The true litmus test, however, lies with the Boston Red Sox. If any team has an organization that seems to do things the right way, it is Boston. Enlightened, clear thinking, and far sighted, the Red Sox have developed a philosophy that if you build an organization that can compete on a yearly basis, you will occasionally combine talent with luck and win a championship. This philosophy has served them well since they first brought GM Theo Epstein on the scene and remains the blueprint for the Phillies and others to follow.

With this in mind, it is worth noting that the Sox chose to offer arbitration to both catcher Jason Varitek and pitcher Paul Byrd. This is both significant and comparative with the Phillies. Both Varitek and Burrell are tenured and respected veterans with their teams and in many ways represent the very best in their franchises. Both Byrd and Moyer are older yet still highly effective hurlers who contributed mightily to the success of their teams in 2008.

Interestingly enough, it would be easy to argue that Burrell and Moyer were more valuable to the efforts of the Phillies than were Varitek and Byrd with the Sox yet it was Boston that chose to arbitrate while the Phillies chose not to. Perhaps no other team had such comparable cases as did Boston and the differences in philosophy could not have been more pronounced. Boston was not fearful of the consequences whereas the Phillies obviously were.

Phillie phanatics are now left to ponder the likely ramifications of this action, or inaction. If reports are to be believed, the Phils and Moyer are not far from agreement on a new deal, one that will probably involve two seasons plus a team option. For a 46 year old pitcher, this seems uncharted waters, but Jamie Moyer is coming off a 16 win season, remains in great shape and seems deserving of his just rewards after his efforts on behalf of the championship run in 2008.

However, a player and his ego are never far removed from each other and it will be interesting to see just how Moyer views this perceived "slap in the face" of non-arbitration. He is a classy guy and understands the business aspect of the game but, as previously mentioned, the Phillies have entered dangerous territory with this move. Stay tuned.

Pat Burrell's case is a somewhat more complex one. There are many within the Phillie community who feel that his career in Philadelphia has run its course and culminated in a grand finale championship season. They site as evidence his slowness afoot, and his defensive inadequacies in left field. They talk at length about his long and pronounced slumps at the plate and theorize that his career could catapult downhill quite rapidly. Perhaps.

Still, it is well worth remembering that this is a player who has annually averaged over 30 home runs and 90 RBI while routinely being replaced by the seventh inning of any game the Phillies led. It can easily be quantified that Burrell has lost on average 100 at bats a season because of this, 100 at bats that well could have pushed his home run totals to nearly 40 and his RBI average to well over 100 per season. Not necessarily easy numbers to replace.

In fact, there is a prevailing theory that Pat Burrell, much like Pat Gillick, is one who will not be truly appreciated until he is gone. In both cases, this theory may quickly be tested in 2009. Burrell, while professing an undying affection for the team, city and its phans, may eventually have to choose between love and money and past results do not speak well for the love of city and team over the offer of more money.

The Phillies have reportedly offered the slugging left fielder two years and $22 million, an offer he has so far rejected. Some baseball scouts think Burrell might find a team willing to give him a third year and another 12 or 13 million, making the final package somewhere around three years and $35 million dollars. The Phils are either gambling that no such offer will come forward or that they can find another free agent bat to replace the thunder of Burrell's booming right-handed stance.

They speak of free agents Rocco Baldelli or Raul Ibanez but neither is without some of the same warts that bedeviled Burrell. Baldelli has a degenerative condition that makes performing on a daily basis difficult if nigh impossible. He seems better suited for a platoon system in left field, possibly with either Geoff Jenkins or Greg Dobbs. Whether or not they could combine to offset the lost production of Pat Burrell is problematical at best.

As for the talented and highly valued Ibanez, he too brings as many questions as he does answers. For one thing, he is yet another left-handed bat which would be added to a squad that already tilts much too far to the left. Many contend that it was as much the left-handed bat as the $16 million contract that eventually caused Gillick to move former star Bobby Abreu to the Yankees in the summer of 2006. Gillick believed that neither Utley nor Howard would ever truly reach greatness if burdened by yet a third left-handed bat in the middle of the order, and both players recent success seem to indicate that Gillick was correct in this assessment.

In many ways, Raul Ibanez would be much like bringing back Bobby Abreu, almost as if a walk down memory lane. Baseball history teaches us that it is rarely successful to relive the past instead of march forward to the future. Truth be told, Ibanez would be a poor replacement for Pat Burrell.

Rather, if Burrell does indeed depart, the team should investigate the possibility of acquiring either Jermaine Dye from the Chicago White Sox or Magglio Ordonez from the Detroit Tigers. Both Dye and Ordonez are solid left fielders, strong right-handed bats, excellent clubhouse presences and eminently available because of their contract status. They might be able to acquire one of the two for much less than true market value because of the unique circumstances involved with their current teams this off-season. Both Chicago and Detroit are looking to "downsize" financially and might be agreeable to a package offer of what constitutes about 50 cents on the dollar.

As for the possible loss of Moyer, albeit however slight. the Phils would miss his leadership qualities more than his probable performance on the field. The team looks capable of replacing him with the likes of rookies J.A. Happ, Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Carpenter or youngish veteran Kyle Kendrick. The team could also delve into the free agent market for an A.J. Burnett or Braden Looper but that scenario seems unlikely at best. Better they make every effort to bring back Jamie Moyer and allow the team to defend their crown with the players who earned them the crown in the first place.

While Phillie GM Ruben Amaro put forth a brave face when defending his reasons for nixing both Moyer and Burrell in the arbitration process, the entire scene seemed somewhat uncharacteristic of a team that recently scaled the mountains to the peak of baseball championship success. Champions generally have an almost disdainful look about them, whereas this decision seems fraught with apprehension and fear. Baseball insiders still recall the unbelief that the team felt when an arbitrator awarded slugger Ryan Howard a $10 million contract last February, and many suspect that result has left reverberations within the organization that are being felt even today.

Yet, in times like this it might best behoove Amaro and Company to recall the words of one William Burnham when asked about his cure for the common ailment known as "fear." Burnham waxed poetic by stating that "the most dramatic and usually the most effective remedy for fear is direct action." At first glance it doesn't appear as if direct action was the course the Phillies chose when faced with the Y in the road in regards to Jamie Moyer and Pat Burrell.

Rather, they seem to have succumbed to the maladies of the illness rather than seek the cure. Yes, at first glance it would appear that the Philadelphia Phillies and their new general manager, Ruben Amaro, are suffering from a powerful case of...arbitration trepidation.

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 email me at allenariza@earthlink.net for more information and cost. See you in Clearwater!!!

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


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