Reliving Hall of Fame weekend

HOF COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — There was so much that happened during the Hall of Fame induction weekend that it was impossible for a guy to write about all of it. What also makes it difficult for one guy is that my train of thought is to encapsulate each event instead of simply reporting what happens. For instance, when Bert Blyleven talked about his curve ball, well, that was a 1,000-word story and not something to summarize.

Hey, some people think about weird things like that.

Nevertheless, with the benefit of this little site and a lazy day at home, here's the best of what I saw at the Hall of Fame induction weekend…

The point of the trip was to cover Pat Gillick's induction into the Hall. Gillick, of course, was the Phillies' general manager from 2006 to 2008 where he put together the start of the greatest era of the franchise's existence. The Phillies were founded in 1883 and since then have lost more games than any professional sports franchise on earth. That's not hyperbole, that's the truth.

The Phillies' history is crowded with bad moves, bad thinking, bad players and bad losses. The Phillies were the last franchise in the National League to integrate its roster and needed 97 years to win its first championship. Don't think for a second that those two elements do not go together. Almost 10 years to the day after Jackie Robinson broke destroyed segregation in Major League Baseball, the Phillies got a guy named John Irvin Kennedy, who played in five big league games in 1957 and then that was it. Kennedy got to the plate twice, struck out once and scored a run as a pinch runner.

Kennedy stuck around with the Phillies until May 3 before toiling away for the next five years in the team's farm system, mostly in the south, which must have been a lonely existence for him. For the Phillies, though, it wasn't until a trade with Brooklyn brought aboard a shortstop named Chico Fernandez that they fielded a black ballplayer in the regular lineup. Fernandez, however, was from Cuba and it wasn't until Dick Allen came along in 1964 until the Phillies had a significant African-American player.

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Hall of Fame weekend: Greed is good

2011-07-23_15-24-53_781 COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The fellows in the Cooperstown Rotary Club are pretty crafty. Knowing that the induction weekend is the largest collection of Hall of Famers in one spot anywhere under the sun, the Rotarians have commemorative miniature baseball bats made with each inductee’s superlatives.

At $5 to $7 a pop, it’s a pretty nice bit of cash to be made in a weekend.

But also understanding the mind of the collector, the guys in the Cooperstown Rotary know that there probably won’t be much of a market for certain keepsake bats. For instance, there were piles of Jim Bunning bats from when the former Phillies and Tigers pitcher was inducted in 1996. There were plenty of Eddie Murray bats too.

Could it be because Bunning has created a reputation for being a creep?

However, don’t go looking for a keepsake bat with umpire Doug Harvey’s name on it. There was a run on those last year when Harvey’s family and friends bought them all up.

“We made 50 of them for Doug Harvey and when they walked up and down Main Street and found out there wasn’t anything with his name on it, they snapped them all up,” a Rotarian said.

So thinking there would be a repeat of the run on Harvey mementoes, they made a limited number of Pat Gillick bats, who will be inducted to the Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon along with Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven. After all, Gillick is kind of like an umpire in that he wasn’t known as a player. Plus, there are nine umpires enshrined in the gallery at the Hall of Fame and Gillick will be just the fourth general manager. Better yet, when Nolan Ryan was inducted in 1999, it took 12 years to sell all 300 bats.

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Pat Gillick, Tommy John and the Hall of Fame

Gillick The baseball awards season is upon us, and it got under way somewhat comically when the American League Gold Glove winners were announced. From this point of view it’s a tough call on what is funnier… the masturbating bear on the Conan O’Brien show or the righteous indignation folks put on display when someone like Derek Jeter wins a fifth Gold Glove.

It’s easy to understand why the masturbating bear is funny. That’s pretty obvious. However, the call on Jeter and the furor over certain award choices is only slightly more subtle than that poor, sadistic bear. Sure, we all know that Jeter is no wizard at shortstop and might be less worthy of a Gold Glove Award than Rafael Palmiero was in 1999 when he played just 28 games at first base, but really, who cares? These awards are nothing more than some coaches, managers, players and writers patting each other on the back.

Worse, sometimes the players get a little extra cash for just placing in the voting for some awards. If that doesn’t smack of a conflict of interests, there’s a not-so-subtle bear act you can check out on basic cable.

Still, guys like me watch the process with lots of interest. Mostly, perhaps, that intrigue comes from the idea that the voting and the results somehow validate or debunk the way a person views the game. The truth is nothing could be further from the truth. As a non-voting member of the writing baseball press, there is as much validity in simply casting a ballot that won’t be counted in a story or a blog post. Baseball is subjective like that—just because a shadowy consensus says Derek Jeter is a great fielder it doesn’t mean anyone has to believe it.

Better yet, no injustice has beset a better fielding shortstop in the American League. A fraudulent process validates nothing.

Nevertheless, the Veteran Committee voting process to elect new Hall of Famers at the Winter Meetings in December will begin a new, interesting process. Rather than a Historical Overview Committee and a ballot with players whose career began in 1943 or later and were no longer eligible for BBWAA election, the Veterans Committee streamlined the voting. Beginning this year Hall-of-Fame candidates are classified into three different eras from which their career sprouted. The Pre-Integration (1871–1946), the Golden (1947–1972) and Expansion (1973 and later) eras will rotate voting beginning this year with guys from the not-so distant past going first.

To be elected into the Hall of Fame, the potential inductees need to get 75 percent of the vote, and since there are 16 on the voting committee, 12 votes are needed to get in. As such, Hall of Famers, Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Pérez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Ozzie Smith; executives Bill Giles, David Glass, Andy MacPhail, Jerry Reinsdorf; and media folks Bob Elliott, Tim Kurkjian, Ross Newhan and Tom Verducci will determine who (if anyone) will go to Cooperstown in 2011.

Of course, the committee just can’t vote for any old ballplayer or executive. Pete Rose, as we know, is on the ineligible list and cannot be on the ballot. However, the BBWAA formed yet another committee, this one called the Historical Oversight Committee to come up with a list of 12 guys to place on the ballot. After the committee met, adjourned and probably went to a dark and depressing bar to talk about how the modern era of baseball writing is nothing like it was in the old days, the list of 12 was sent to the good folks at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, who issued a press release of those up for election.

The names on the list/release:

Vida Blue, won the MVP and the Cy Young in 1971. Won 20 games and the World Series three times with the Oakland A’s. 

Dave Concepcion, slick-fielding shortstop for the Reds and the longest tenured member of the Big Red Machine. 

Steve Garvey, clutch hitter for the Dodgers and Padres and MVP of NL in 1974. c

Pat Gillick, longtime general manager with Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia. 

Ron Guidry, helped the Yankees win the World Series twice and went 25-3 in ’78 to win the Cy Young Award. 

Tommy John, pitched 26 seasons in the majors and won 288 games. 

Billy Martin, Yankees second baseman and manager of several teams. Mickey Mantles’ best friend and often a public nuisance. 

Marvin Miller, longtime head of the MLBPA. 

Al Oliver, perennial .300 hitter with the Pirates, Rangers and Expos. 

Ted Simmons, perennial All-Star catcher in the same era with Bench, Fisk and Carter. 

Rusty Staub, lefty hitter with Mets, Houston, Expos and Rangers. A great pinch-hitter late in his career

George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees 

Obviously, it’s a pretty good list with a handful of guys who slipped through the cracks of the initial balloting by the writers for one reason or another. However, it’s pretty weird to see the Veterans Committee list filled with ballplayers that I actually recall watching play. Of course some of those guys were at the end of the line, like Staub, who had that strange upright lefty batting stance and a body that didn’t quite fit into the ‘70s style uniforms of expansion teams like Houston, Montreal and the Mets.

Nevertheless, this is a tough ballot and here’s why…

Tommy John unquestionable impact 

Tommy_john Now, before we get started my criteria for what makes a Hall of Famer might not mesh with the conventional wisdom. For me, the greater variable is the impact the man had over statistics. Of course some stats cannot be ignored, like 500 homers, 3,000 hits or 300 wins. Still, I give points for guys who were the league's best players at their position for a bunch of years in a row. I also give kudos to players who have remarkable seasons/performances, etc. In that vein, though most of his career was underwhelming, Roger Maris would get my vote largely because of his 1961 season.

And that’s why Tommy John would get my vote.

John’s career mark was nothing to look past… far from it. He won 288 games, went to the World Series three times with the Dodgers and Yankees, has the eighth most starts (700) in big league history, and topped 200 innings in 12 different seasons. In fact, he piled on five straight 200-plus innings seasons and seven of them in the nine seasons after he underwent a revolutionary surgery to replace the ligament in his left elbow with a tendon from somewhere else in the body.

They call it Tommy John surgery.

These days it’s tougher to find a pitcher who hasn’t undergone Tommy John surgery than those without that severe-looking scar on the elbow. However, when Dr. Frank Jobe performed the first surgery on John, he was given a 1 in 100 chance at a return to his career. At age 31 when he went under the knife, John spent 18 months in rehabilitation, skipped the 1975 season, and then pitched until the age of 46.

Now, a player has a better than 90 percent chance to return from Tommy John surgery and often a pitcher returns from the surgery with a fastball that has a few extra ticks on the speedometer. So for a solid statistical ledger and for contributions to the game, John is in.

The same goes for the longtime director of the MLBPA, Marvin Miller. Actually, it’s a travesty that Miller hasn’t been inducted yet. Truth is, Miller has had more impact on baseball than any man in the history of the game. Ask any ballplayer who came into the game during the 1970s and after what Miller meant to the players. If they tell you they don’t know who he is or what he did, then they should return their paycheck, four-star accommodations on the road, chartered flights, right to test free agency, and more the generous pension. Those ungrateful slobs don’t deserve it.

 The big debate

There are a lot of close calls, but because we don’t want to go making votes willy-nilly, it’s very difficult to decide on catcher Ted Simmons, first baseman Steve Garvey, lefty Ron Guidry, or the smooth, left-handed hitting Al Oliver. After all, it’s not Simmons’ fault that he was overshadowed by better-known catchers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and then later, Gary Carter.

But from a statistical view, if Carter is in then Simmons should be, too.

Garvey had a penchant for clutch hits, like that homer he hit in Game 4 of the 1984 NLCS. He also had the longest consecutive games streak since Lou Gehrig until that Ripken dude came around. Garvey also got 200 hits in a season six times, went to the All-Star Game 10 times, won an MVP Award in 1974, and appeared in the World Series five times with two different teams. Five times Garvey’s teams got to the playoffs and all five times they advanced to the World Series with ol’ Popeye arms getting 11 homers and a .338 average in 55 postseason games.

If Garvey gets in, then Oliver should, too. Largely for the Pirates and Rangers, Oliver batted over .300 11 times, went to the All-Star Game seven times and won the National League batting title with the Expos when he was 36.

How does one judge Ron Guidry? In his first full season he went 16-7 and helped the Yankees win the World Series. He did that again the next season, only he went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA in 273 innings to win the Cy Young Award. Better yet, in an era where specialization was coming to the fore, Guidry completed nearly 30 percent of his starts, including 21 in 1983.

So if Guidry is Hall worthy, then so too is Blue. After all, if we’re talking about an impact on the game, Blue took it by storm in 1971 when he won 24 games in his first full season to win the AL MVP and the Cy Young Award. Actually, Blue’s impact went beyond baseball to the point that he accompanied Bob Hope on a USO tour of Vietnam. Later, however, his career became a cautionary tale for unfilled potential and wasted talent as he battled a drug problem. In 1985 he was part of the Pittsburgh cocaine trial with other major leaguers like Dave Parker, Willie Wilson, Keith Hernandez, Tim Raines and Jeffrey Leonard, among others.

The flat-out nays on the list go to Davey Concepcion, Billy Martin, Rusty Staub and George Steinbrenner. This is not to belittle their careers in any way, however, Concepcion was rather innovative as a shortstop and had crazy range, but he wasn’t anything to be frightened of at the plate.

Martin, while popular and talented, often wasted his talent and alienated his teams. Even though his teams were always close to the top of the standings, he won the World Series just once. His overall winning percentage (.553) and the number of pennants exactly matches that of one of his former players, Charlie Manuel.

So we have Tommy John and Marvin Miller as sure things, along with general manager Pat Gillick.

Oh yes, Pat Gillick is a Hall of Famer. It wasn’t too difficult to see that when he was running the Phillies, taking them to the playoffs twice in three years while capturing the franchise’s second World Series title. The fact is Gillick won everywhere he went and had the uncanny ability to find the one missing piece his teams needed.

Gillick as the best ever?

Marvin-miller As a Hall of Famer himself, writer Peter Gammons, calls Gillick the best ever at his job. That’s debatable, of course, like anything else. Branch Rickey was pretty darned good. So was Frank Cashen, who built those great Orioles’ teams in the 1960s and ‘70s and then put together the ’86 Mets. Still, Gillick did it under different circumstances and in both leagues with an emphasis on scouting, player make up and an eye for talent. Even more impressively, Gillick’s first head GM gig was with the expansion Blue Jays where it took him less than a decade to build them up from scratch and get them to the playoffs.

By the early ‘90s, the Jays were a powerhouse and won the World Series back-to-back in ’92 and ’93.

Oddly, teams are never as good after Gillick departs. Toronto hasn’t been to the postseason since Joe Carter hit the homer to beat the Phillies in 1993. Meanwhile, the Orioles haven’t even had a winning season since 1997 when they won 98 games. The Mariners won an incredible 116 games in 2001 with Gillick in charge, won 93 in 2002 and 2003 in his last seasons there, but have had just one winning season since.

Only the Phillies have been able to survive the post-Gillick swoon… so far.

So here’s hoping John, Miller and Gillick get the call. But while we’re at it, let’s offer up the names Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Roberto Alomar, Tim Raines, Larry Walker and Jeff Bagwell.

That is if we’re really sure about Bagwell.

A little youth could serve the Phillies well

Howard k The tenets on building a successful baseball club according to the practices put in place by Pat Gillick are complex in their simplicity. The basic idea is to mix in some younger players with the veteran to ensure that everyone on the team doesn’t get old all at once.

“… No one in the game is as patient anymore,” Gillick told writer John Eisenberg for his book, From 33rd Street to Camden Yards. “But you still have to have somewhat of a program of integrating younger people to your team, because if you don’t, everyone gets and collapses at the same time. …”

There are some trap doors in this approach, though. For one, just when is a player too old? Another is just how much patience is the proper amount for a young player? Certainly that has a lot to do with the veterans on the club and whether or not they are “too old.”

Better yet, just what does all of this mean for the Phillies?

Come Nov. 30 when Shane Victorino turns 30-years old, all eight of the 2010 Phillies position players will be 30 or older. Eleven days after Victorino’s birthday, Joe Blanton also turns 30, leaving only Cole Hamels as the only player amongst the core group under 30. Come Dec. 27, Hamels will be 27 with five big-league seasons under his belt.

In other words, the time is right now for the Phillies. You know that window of opportunity they talk about that opens only so often and closes quickly? Yep, the window has reached its apex and is beginning to make its slow descent. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. talked about being caught beneath the crush of it all collapsing at the same time when he traded Cliff Lee last December. It kind of made sense, too, considering the Phillies had traded seven of what they labeled prospects. The idea was to replenish the farm system in a Gillick-like fashion so that those prospects could be sprinkled in appropriately.

Ah yes, but there’s the other caveat… what if the prospects aren’t any good? What then?

That’s where the real GMs separate themselves from the pack. It’s one thing to throw money at the best players every winter, but it’s another all together to develop the talent and keep it together for a long time. The Braves did it with some consistency in the ‘90s when they put together a string of 14 straight division titles, but only one World Series title. The Phillies have a good base, too, considering that many of the main group of players came through the ranks together.

However, the question remains if someone like Brown is ready to be sprinkled into the mix right now, or if guys like Howard, Utley, Rollins, Polanco, Ruiz and Victorino are going to collapse at the same time?

That’s what Amaro is going to have to work on this winter when deciding which pieces to add to that rapidly aging core. The Giants’ victory in the World Series should have hammered that point home loud and clear.

Think about it… like the Phillies, the Giants are built around pitching. Of the four pitchers the Giants used during the playoffs, Jonathan Sanchez is the oldest and he doesn’t turn 28 until Nov. 19. Tim Lincecum had two Cy Young Awards before his 26th birthday and Matt Cain turned 26 just before the playoffs began. Meanwhile, the Giants’ No. 5 starter, Barry Zito, is younger than Roy Halladay and has more career appearances.

The best part for the Giants is that they control all of their starting pitchers until 2012 when Zito’s deal is up. Lincecum and Cain aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

The youth of the pitching staff isn’t the only thing the Giants have going for them. Buster Posey, the 23-year-old catcher has carved out his spot behind the plate and could turn into another Johnny Bench. Better yet, the Giants have a little over $76 million committed to nine players for 2011 and will shed veteran contracts for Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, Jose Guillen, and Juan Uribe. Huff likely will return and Uribe probably won’t be too costly to retain, either. So if they do it right, the Giants could become the dynasty everyone thought the Phillies were on the verge of becoming.

Of course they can’t go out and give out another 7-year, $126 million contract like they gave to their albatross, Zito.

So how do the Phillies get better? They have just seven open spots on the 25-man roster and $143 million earmarked already. Plus, manager Charlie Manuel rides his regulars hard. Just look at how much Chase Utley has played even when injured. Or, not to pigeonhole just Utley, look at the offensive production during the playoffs. Did the combination of so many games over the 2008 and 2009 runs to the World Series contribute to the injuries and offensive malaise in 2010?

Maybe. Or maybe some of the Phillies need to get a little younger in time for the 2011 season. Hey, that’s not as strange as it sounds. Check out what Jamie Moyer has been able to do for, oh, say the last three decades. If the Phillies want to stave off the Giants in 2011, it seems like time to get healthy, fit and a little bit younger in time for spring training.

If that happens baseball will go back to lasting until November in Philadelphia again.

Have the Phillies seen the last of Jayson Werth?

WerthEd. Note: This story has been revised from its original form from Saturday night.

Jayson Werth didn’t think it would end this way. Not with these guys, on this team. This was supposed to be the glory stretch where he celebrated one more time with his friends and teammates in the place where it all came together for him.

But Jayson Werth is a star now. The Phillies helped make him one, of course, but in doing so it might have made re-signing him much too cost prohibitive. Baseball players put in all the hard work and lonely evenings in the weight room and batting cage for the winter where they can test the open market. Werth is no different from most ballplayers in this regard.

After this winter, with the help from super-agent Scott Boras, Werth will be set up for the rest of his life. His children will probably be set up for the rest of their lives, too. That’s the reality. That’s why Werth made sure not to waste his big chance in Philadelphia where general manager Pat Gillick picked him up from the scrap heap when the Dodgers were too impatient in waiting for his injuries to heal.

When he was cut by the Dodgers, Werth didn’t know if he would ever play again or if any team would want him.

Now he’s so good that the Phillies probably can’t afford to keep him.

"I haven't had any discussions with Scott [Boras] yet," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "I obviously will over the next 48 hours, we will make contact. I guess the following question is, do we have enough money to do it? And would we like to bring him back? I think the answer to both questions is yes. However, that will all kind of depend on what the ask is and ultimately how that will affect us with other possible moves to do it."

That was a popular sentiment in the Phillies’ clubhouse after the 3-2 loss in Game 6 to eliminate the Phillies two games short of a third straight trip to the World Series. Certainly the players know the reality of Werth’s situation and how the business of baseball works, but they also understand the dynamics of the team’s clubhouse, too. It’s not easy to do what the Phillies have done over the last few years and Werth has been a big part of that. Before the NLCS began, Werth talked about the bitterness he had from losing in the World Series to the Yankees and how “empty” he felt and how that surprised him.

In a sense, it seems as if there is some unfinished work left in Philadelphia for Werth. It’s as if he is part of a nucleus of players like Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and the powerful pitching staff that got together to build a strong foundation on a house, only they haven’t put a roof on it.

Who would have thought that when the Phillies signed Werth before the 2007 season that it would come to this? When Gillick signed him in December of 2006, it was a move that slipped under the radar. The acquisitions of Abraham Nunez and Wes Helms made more news that winter.

Then, Werth was injured much of the 2007 season, appearing in just 94 games after missing the entire 2006 season with a wrist injury. But by the end of the 2008 season, Werth was an everyday player. He answered every question and rose to every challenge. Werth was so good during the playoffs in ’08 that the Phillies knew they could let Pat Burrell walk away because they had a capable right-handed bat to put in the lineup behind Howard and Utley.

When doubters wondered if he could handle the rigors of playing the full slate of games in 2009, he belted 36 homers, got 99 RBIs and made the All-Star team. Moreover, he’ll leave as the franchise’s all-time leader in postseason home runs with 13, including two in the NLCS.

 “When he first came here, he came here with a lot of talent. Pat Gillick always liked him, and he definitely was the one that kind of like wanted him and kind of persuaded him to like to come with us,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “It took him a while to really, I think, adjust to our team and really kind of get things going. I think that he was like he needed to play. He hadn't played in like a year, year and a half or something. And once he got started, he earned a spot and he actually beat Geoff Jenkins out of right field. He earned a spot to play, and he definitely enjoys playing here. He’s been a solid player for us, and he's got a ton of ability.”

This past season he lead the league in doubles and posted career-highs in runs (106), batting average (.296), slugging (.532) and OPS (.921). Gone are the questions about whether Werth can play every day. Now folks wonder which team is going to break the bank and pay him.

Victorino, another player let go by the Dodgers that the Phillies snagged up, marvels at how far his friend has come.

“I remember him calling me in 2006 and telling, ‘Hey, I’m on a boat and I’m battling my wrist injury and it hasn’t gotten better and I don’t know if I’ll ever play again.’ He said that. That’s crazy,” Victorino said. “He was so frustrated with his wrist injury that he doubted it would ever get better. And now to see where he is today, I’m happy for the guy. I’m overly happy for the guy. Whatever he goes out and gets he deserves.”

The numbers are definitely there for Werth and there are a few teams that have the cash to spend that the Phillies probably won’t. The Yankees and Red Sox will probably make a presentation. So too will the Cubs and Angels.

The Phillies? They already have more than $143 million committed to 18 players, which is more than they spent for the entire roster in 2010. Joining Werth in free agency are Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin, Mike Sweeney and Jamie Moyer. Plus, Ben Francisco, Kyle Kendrick and Greg Dobbs are eligible for arbitration. Come 2012, Ryan Madson and Rollins are free agents and Cole Hamels will be eligible for arbitration.

With a handful of roster spots to fill and up-and-comers like Dom Brown ready to for their chance, Werth’s last at-bat for the Phillies was probably a strikeout against Tim Lincecum in the eighth inning, Saturday night.

“We all want what we think we should get, but sometimes you go into free agency and play somewhere I don’t want, or do you want to go somewhere like Philly?” Victorino said. “Jayson is loved here. I’m not him and I know what goes on and I was an acquisition that could have gone year-to-year and held out. But I looked at the big picture. I wanted to play in a city where I was loved and where the people are behind me.

“Jayson is in a different place than me because he hasn’t gotten anything yet. So I’m happy for him and whatever he gets he deserves.”

How much that will be seems open for debate. Amaro clearly isn't going to break the bank for Werth when the negotiations begin.

"Jayson had a good year," Amaro said. "It wasn't an extraordinary year. He had a tough time with men on in scoring position. It wasn't as productive a year as he's had in the past. But I think if he's not with us, there are players we can either acquire or are in our own organization that can help us."

Werth didn’t seem ready for it to end. When Juan Uribe’s eighth-inning home run barely cleared the right-field fence and dropped into the first row of seats, Werth stared at the spot where the ball disappeared in disbelief for what felt like hours.

It’s was as if by staring he could add another foot to the top of the fence.

When it finally ended, Werth didn’t want to leave. He was one of the last guys to walk into the clubhouse and change into a yellow t-shirt with his black cap turned backwards on his iconic hairstyle. He informed the media that he would talk later in the week and slowly made his exit, taking time to hug some of his soon-to-be ex-teammates. Ross Gload wrote down Werth’s e-mail address and as he walked through the clubhouse exit for the last time, he heard words from Gload that will make Phillies’ fans cringe…

“Don’t let those Yankees boss you around.”

If only it were that easy. There will be a lot of talking before Werth settles on his new team and understands that it probably won't be as much fun as it was with the Phillies the past four years. 

So when asked if there was the one thing that would tip the scales in favor for Philly if everything else was close, the answer was easy for Werth.

"Teammates," he said.

Was Scott Boras listening?

Sweeney poised to seize the moment

Sweeney When Matt Stairs joined the Phillies in late August of 2008, no one really thought much of it. Stairs was going to be a pinch hitter — an extra left-handed bat off the bench — for the September playoff race. There were no illusions as to why the Phillies traded for Stairs.

Then again, Stairs was just another late-season pick-up by general manager Pat Gillick in a long list of such moves. In 2006 Gillick swung a post-deadline deal for veteran Jeff Conine as well as less splashier moves to get veterans Jose Hernandez and Randall Simon. Jamie Moyer also came aboard in a late-season trade in ’06 and still hasn’t left.

Sometimes those additions have a smaller impact. For instance, in late 2007 the Phillies picked up Russell Branyan for two weeks in August before trading him to the Cardinals just before the September postseason rosters had to be set. But in nine at-bats with the Phillies, Branyan hit two home runs to go with six strikeouts.

That’s pretty much the definition of hit-or-miss.

Stairs wasn’t quite as extreme as Branyan during his 2008 run with the Phillies. He got into 19 games during the final month, hit two homers (three strikeouts) and even started three times. But even then Stairs just kind of blended in.

Until the playoffs, that is…

Stairs, of course, hit a home run in Game 4 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium that very well might be the most clutch hit in franchise history. After that homer that propelled the Phils to the win in Game 4 and the clincher in Game 5, it didn’t really matter what he did afterwards. That home run was enough, but the fact that he said all of the right things and embraced the Philly fans was the icing on the cake.

So it’s with that nod to cult-hero worship that Mike Sweeney arrived in Philadelphia as yet another shrewd, post-deadline move. In fact, Sweeney was quickly dubbed, “The Right-Handed Matt Stairs” upon his arrival as a backup first baseman to Ryan Howard as well as the quintessential “professional hitter” for late-game pinch-hitting situations.

Still, for a guy who has driven in 144 RBIs in a season, batted better than .300 five times and a 200-hit season, before injuries cost him much of the past five seasons, comparisons to Stairs didn’t seem to fit Sweeney’s career arc when he broke in with Kansas City in 1995. With the Royals, Sweeney the team’s best player and biggest box office draw. In fact, the Royals’ only winning season since George Brett retired came in 2003 when Sweeney and Raul Ibanez, with Carlos Beltran, were just a few of the eight guys on the team to club at least 13 homers.

Sweeney was a star in Kansas City even though he and Stairs were teammates during three straight 100-loss seasons. Nevertheless, it’s kind of strange that just a handful of years removed from being teammates, the star of those teams hopes to follow in the footsteps of the quintessential journeyman.

“It’s an honor to be compared to Matt,” Sweeney said before Monday night’s game against the Astros at the Bank. “He’s a great competitor, a great teammate and a good friend.”

What Sweeney has going for him is that just like Stairs he’s the kind of player manager Charlie Manuel likes to have around. The manager likes hitters with track records and even though Sweeney hasn’t played in more than 74 games since 2005, Manuel is confident in his veteran hitter for one big reason…

“I’ve seen him. I’ve seen him his entire career,” the manager said.

“Sweeney hadn’t played much this year and he got to play some, which was good for him,” Manuel said. “I look for Sweeney to really help us coming off the bench when Howard comes back. That will cut into his playing time, of course, but in September having him and (Ben) Francisco on the bench gives us two really good right-handed hitters.”

Before the injuries became chronic, Sweeney once had a streak of 171 consecutive games played that was snapped when he was suspended for beating up Angels’ pitcher Jeff Weaver when he reportedly insulted Sweeney’s devout Catholic faith. So to find himself on the bench after two decades of being at the heart of his team, admittedly, has been an adjustment, but not one that has been difficult.

After all, the Phillies are just the third team Sweeney has played for that will finish the season with a winning record and he has appeared in the fourth-highest number of games amongst active players without a playoff appearance.

Stairs had something of a playoff drought himself while playing every day in Kansas City, Detroit, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Chicago during some lean times. But these days he’s working on a third straight playoff appearance with the resurgent Padres in a limited role. Actually, limited doesn’t seem to describe it considering Stairs has started just 12 games this season.

Since joining the Phillies two weeks ago, Sweeney nearly has Stairs beat in starts.

Stairs “I’ve always been an everyday guy, but my role is to come off the bench,” Sweeney said. “That’s what is great about this game. One day you’re playing every day and the next day you’re called on to be a pinch hitter and both days you’re called on to help the team. That’s what it’s all about.”

When he first joined the Phillies, Sweeney called it “a dream come true.” But that was before he spent any time in the clubhouse with his new teammates. The notion of getting to the playoffs and mixing it up in a pennant race was enough.

However, since coming aboard Sweeney has blended in. As a pinch hitter he’s 3-for-8 with a walk, sacrifice fly and two RBIs, and often can be seen talking baseball with rookie Dom Brown, the Phillies’ top prospect who started the season at Double-A.

More than a dream, the stay in Philadelphia has been even better than Sweeney imagined.

“Love it,” he said. “The guys have been great. It’s the best group of guys I’ve ever been around. We’re winning and that’s what we’re here to do.

“It’s awesome. The guys in the clubhouse have a great makeup and fire and passion, so yeah, it’s a joy to be a part of.”

Sweeney can often be found taking extra batting practice before the game before playing catch with his six-year-old son, also dressed in a No. 5 uniform top with “Sweeney” written on the back. In fact, young Sweeney is already such a fixture in the team’s clubhouse that he already has a signature handshake with boss of the romper room, Shane Victorino.

Matt Stairs used to talk that way, too. In fact, he still talks fondly about his time with the Phillies, and not just because it allowed him a chance to become a folk hero. Still, comparisons are tough to live up to and even more difficult to rationalize—especially when it’s about something as rare as amazing playoff moments.

But there something about Sweeney that makes one believe that he’s going to make an impact on the season. After all, he’s waited too long to allow the moment to simply slip by.

Game 2: Wolf and the cats

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com The Phillies just finished up with batting practice here at the Bank and the Rockies are getting ready to run through their paces before Game 2. Better yet, let’s hope they play the game at a rate comparable to Game 1 where the always efficient and quick-working Cliff Lee kept everything moving.

That was so much better than the debacle that went on in Los Angeles last night where the Dodgers and Cardinals played the longest nine-inning game in NLDS history. It damn-near went on for four hours thanks largely to 30 runners left on base between the teams.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the Dodgers and Cardinals to leave all those runners out there. In that regard, the teams were pretty evenly matched, too. The Cards left on 16 and the Dodgers stranded 14, only LA made their hits count a little more in the 5-3 victory.

Nevertheless, right smack dab in the middle of the marathon effort was ex-Phillie turned Dodgers’ Game 1 starter, Randy Wolf. In his first ever playoff game Wolf needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning on his way to 82 in just 3 2/3 innings. Had he been able to get four more outs he would have received the win. Instead, 11 base runners against 11 outs ruined the debut.

That’s a shame, too, because based on past discussions with Wolf, I know how badly he wanted to participate in playoff baseball. Being in the playoffs was his greatest wish in his career and I know it pained him to see both the Dodgers and the Phillies in it last year while he was off playing for Houston.

“I was extremely happy for them,” Wolf said about watching his old team win the World Series, “But I was little jealous, too.”

It’s not like Wolf didn’t have a chance to be a part if the Phillies during the past three seasons. Before testing free agency and going home to California to play for the Dodgers and Padres, Wolf had an offer on the table from the Phillies. In fact, general manager Pat Gillick went to visit Wolf at his home in Los Angeles before the 2007 season to persuade the lefty to re-sign with the Phillies.

Gillick thought he had a chance to get Wolf, too… that was until he saw the cats.

You see, Wolf and his then girlfriend packed up their house in Conshohocken and had it shipped to the other coast. That included the pet cats, which was Gillick’s tip off. If a guy goes as far to move cats 3,000 miles away you can pretty much bet it’s not going to be a round trip.

It’s much easier to lug a dinette set from Pennsylvania to California than it is to wrangle up the cats, get them in a vehicle and take them across the country. Add in a girlfriend and you’re really talking about commitment.

So as soon as Gillick left the pitcher, the girl and the cats in the house in California, he scurried to the airport where he immediately phoned up the agent for Adam Eaton and offered him the deal he was going to give Wolf.

The rest is history.

Reliving deadlines past

image from fingerfood.typepad.com A year ago we were in Washington wondering what was going to happen. The Phillies were supposedly involved in the bargaining for Manny Ramirez as well as a handful of relief pitchers as the trading deadline approached. Ultimately, nothing happened, but that didn’t make the day any less fun.

Shane Victorino, a player who was rumored to be the chip in some of those supposed deals, put on a show by pretending to sweat out the final minutes to the deadline. The reality, as we learned, was that the talk was just a lot of hot air. However, in looking back at quotes from then-GM Pat Gillick, the Phillies nearly made some deals.

One of those was, indeed, Manny Ramirez.

“I think at some point we had a good feeling about it,” Gillick said after the deadline had passed a year ago.

Good? How good?

“We were talking,” Gillick said then. “We were involved. We just couldn't get where they wanted to be, and we couldn't get where we wanted to be. So it was just one of those things.”

“Good” and “talking” are such ambiguous terms. The truth is some people talk about doing things that make them feel good all the time, but instead end up following the same old patterns day in and day out. Plus, everyone’s interpretation of “talk” isn’t always the same. For instance, it would be interesting to hear if Boston GM Theo Epstein had the same “good feeling” about sending Ramirez to the Phillies, but in the end it turned out to be “just one of those things.”

In retrospect, the Phillies were better off without Ramirez. They have three All-Stars in the outfield and the worst thing that happened to any of them was an extended trip to the disabled list for Raul Ibanez.

Otherwise, smooth sailing.

In looking back, the Phillies nearly pulled off a deal for a starter, too. It was going to be a three-way deal according to Gillick and one insider with the club portrayed the starter as, “decent.”

At the last minute one of the teams backed out.

“It was a three-way deal and we got agreement form one club and they were trying to get agreement on players from another club,” Gillick revealed of the unknown starter last year.

Think about this for a second… what if the deals had gone through? Would they have changed the season in any way, shape or form? Could it be the best deal the Phillies made last year was not making a deal at all?

It’s difficult to speculate because the Phillies got so hot in mid September and tore through every team all the way to the end. Guys like Jayson Werth, a player who emerged during that hot streak and carried into his All-Star year, like to point out how strong the Phillies always play in September and beyond.

It’s difficult to argue with the results.

But now that Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco are with the team, it’s interesting to wonder “what if.” Would Lee even be here if the Phillies had gotten that “decent” starter in the three-way deal? We’ll never know, but in the meantime Lee will make his debut with the Phillies on Friday night… hours after Pedro Martinez wraps up a rehab start in Triple-A.

That’s decent.

*
image from fingerfood.typepad.com Last year at this time the Phillies were in Washington where a dude like me got to visit The Amsterdam Falafel House. It was such a good time that I thought I’d re-post an excerpt of it here:

Now I have never been to Amsterdam or Holland, but folks who know better say the Adams-Morgan Amsterdam Falafel Shop is as authentic as it gets. In fact, one giveaway to the authenticity of the TAMF (not sure people call it this, but you know, I’ll put it out there) is that they serve brownies and make it a point to inform the consumer that they are not “enhanced.”


Enhanced is my word. On the menu they were called “virgin” brownies.


Yeah.


Anyway, the menu is very basic at The Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams-Morgan, located just a half block from the famous Madam’s Organ – the place Playboy magazine named the best bar in the United States. In fact, they serve just falafel (two sizes), Dutch baked fries (two sizes) and un-enhanced brownies (square shaped).

Each sandwich is made to order and each diner can add any of the 18 different sauces and toppings from the garnish bar.


It’s definitely a treat, man. Plus, they usually stay open late (but not past midnight on a Sunday as I learned last month) so if you find yourself in the area and get a hankering for authentic Dutch falafel, by all means, drop in.


After lunch, I drove to the ballpark via Capitol Hill where it looked as if there was a lot of governing going on… a lot of gentrification, too. It seems to me that The District has at least one Starbucks for every household. Interestingly, neighborhoods that were once talked about in hushed, scared tones are now filled with people walking around in madras shorts and business suits with a chai latte in hand.

Good times… good times.

Opening Night: First inning

image from fingerfood.typepad.com It's kind of hard to believe that Brett Myers is making his third straight Opening Day start. After all, Myers pitched out of the bullpen just a handful of starts after his maiden Opening Day start.

Last year, of course, he still had his head in the 'pen during the opener. In fact, the Phillies more or less admitted that Myers got the nod over Cole Hamels as a reward for being a good soldier in 2007.

This year Myers got the start because Hamels wasn't ready to go. Because of that Myers might be more ready to pitch since he does not have the first-time jitters nor his mind wandering about being a closer.

Hell, he might just allow himself to go out and pitch this year. Pretty novel concept, huh?

Anyway, Myers pitched cautiously to cleanup hitter Brian McCann after Chipper Jones laced a two-out, two-strike single.

Apparently it wasn't cautious enough because after falling behind in the count to McCann, Myers left a fastball up and it ended up in the second deck. Just like that Myers was in a 2-0 hole.

So much for our theories, huh?

Against Lowe, the Phillies went in order though Chase Utley gave the fans a start when he flied to the warning track in right.

On another note, Pat Gillick threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jayson Stark, sitting to my immediate right, offered that the ex-GM probably warmed up in the 'pen before delivering a solid strike across the plate to catcher Chris Coste.

I countered with Gillick was probably wondering how he was unable to get rid of Coste after all this time.

Another whiff

Ryan HowardThroughout the team’s history, the Phillies have always been attracted to those hitters that always seem to swing and miss a lot. Mike Schmidt was one of those guys. During his career he whiffed 1,883 times, which is the seventh-most in the history of the game.

Schmidt’s teammate Greg Luzinski averaged 133 strikeouts per 162 games. That duo of Schmidt and Luzinski led the National League in strikeouts five times.

Dick Allen, Lance Parrish, Bobby Abreu, Juan Samuel, Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen and Darren Daulton all routinely whiffed more than 100 times per season, though those guys were hardly in the same league as Jim Thome and Ryan Howard.

Thome, the heir to Schmidt, is third on the all-time strikeout list and set the club record for whiffs in a season with 182 in 2003. Like his time in Philadelphia, Thome’s reign on the top of that list was short when Howard racked up 181 strikeouts in 2006 before establishing the new Major League record in 2007 when he nearly became the first man to reach the 200-strikeout plateau with 199.

Just think what type of numbers Howard would have posted if he hadn’t missed nearly all of May.

But they wouldn’t be the Phillies if the strikeouts were exclusive to the batters’ box. Oh no. Actually, the entire franchise is kind of one big caught-looking enterprise. They do strikeouts well. After all, no professional team in the history of sports has surpassed 10,000 losses like the Phillies have and it seems as if there is no executive in league history to have been spurned more than Pat Gillick has this winter.

In terms of striking out on the free-agent market, Gillick and the Phillies have made Howard, Thome and Schmidt look like Wee Willie Keeler.

Yes, it happened again on Wednesday afternoon. In what has become a weekly rite during the winter the Phillies were told thanks but no thanks by a player that the team really could use in order to recapture the National League East. First it was Mike Lowell, who would have been the team’s answer at third base. Instead of signing on with the Phillies to play in cozy little Citizens Bank Park where he once slugged three homers in a game, Lowell took a lesser contract offer to remain with the Boston Red Sox.

Apparently, there was just something about all the money and the years that turned off Lowell about the Phillies.

Then there was Randy Wolf, the left-handed starting pitcher who came up through the Phillies system, pitched for the team for eight seasons and earned his first (and only) All-Star appearance with the club during the 2003 season. But after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2006, Wolf took a lesser deal to pitch for the Dodgers in 2007. Two weeks ago the Phillies came knocking again and – once again – Wolf took a incentive-laden (in the parlance of the game) one-year deal to pitch for San Diego.

Gillick and Wolf’s negotiations went something like this:

Gillick: We really like you, Randy, and we really want to sign you to a multi-year deal. Is that something you would be interested in?

Wolf: Well, Pat, I grew up in Southern California and all my family is here and I would really like to be closer to them. Plus, the ballpark is a little more conducive to my style of pitching. It’s nothing personal and I really liked pitching for you guys for eight years, but I think I’m going to go to San Diego.

Gillick: Whore.*

Aaron RowandNo one wanted to sign with the Phillies. Not even Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman who asked for his release and eschewed arbitration, passed up a chance to be the Phillies’ everyday third baseman by signing a one-year deal with San Diego, too.

So let’s add it up. Lowell to Boston; Wolf to San Diego; Iguchi to San Diego; Melvin Mora – no dice; Curt Schilling back to Boston; Geoff Jenkins, maybe; and Scott Rolen, anywhere but Philly or St. Louis.

What do the Phillies have to do? Move the franchise to San Diego? Configure a more pitcher-friendly ballpark on the parking lot where the Vet used to be? Give Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva the worst contract in the history of Major League Baseball?

All of the above?

Really, though, the more interesting question is how does Aaron Rowand fit in here? If they just could have lured Rowand back into the fold it all would have been OK. Right…

Sigh!

By all accounts, Aaron Rowand, the fan and media favorite, really, really wanted to return to the Phillies for 2008 and beyond. It’s just that he didn’t want to do it for less than five years. Only the Phillies offered three and apparently there was no middle ground. They couldn’t split the difference and get together on four years.

And what’s four years in the scheme of things? Come on, really… Four years is a presidential term? It’s 80 percent of one’s collegiate work? It’s just four years! That’s it. It goes by in a heartbeat.

Instead, Rowand got his five years (and, he says, the cash he was expecting) from the San Francisco Giants – a team that came in last in the NL West last season at 71-91. With Barry Bonds gone and a young corps of pitchers still finding their way around in the unforgiving world of Major League Baseball, the Giants should be slated for the cellar again in 2008. But Rowand will be there, crashing into walls, charming the fans and doing what he can to help the Giants get better.

It’s doesn’t seem as though Rowand will duplicate the offensive statistics he posted for the Phillies during the 2008 season at whatever corporation currently owns the naming rights for the Giants’ ballpark these days. But does that really matter? All that matters is that he won’t be doing anything for the Phillies anymore and that’s the really big whiff.

One thing is for certain – the “sources” were only off by a year and $25 million. But, again, that doesn’t help the Phillies much.

——————————————————————————————

* Actually, Gillick said: “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Minnie PearlIn doing some research last night I learned that the television program “Hee Haw” was taped at Opryland. Actually, it was just accidental research – I was really looking for pictures of the famous “Hee Haw girls.”

I didn’t find those pictures, but then again I didn’t look too hard. I guess I was struck by the idea that Roy Clark, Buck Owens and Minnie Pearl strutted their so-called “stuff” in the general vicinity where the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, thus knocking the balance of power in the AL Central completely off kilter.

But Hee-Haw… come on. Back when we had only 12 channels, Hee-Haw was on one of them. That means someone must have liked it. Someone in Kornfield Kounty was doing something right.

On an unrelated note, I listened to an interview by Terry Gross with John C. Reilly this morning on the ol’ podcaster and it was revealed that Reilly viewed a lot of adult-themed movies in preparation for his role in Boogie Nights. Reilly then cleared up the facts and pointed out it wasn’t just for Boogie Nights that he watched a lot of adult-themed films. In fact, he joked (was it?), he watched a lot of those movies to prepare for every role he played.

These days though, Buck, Roy and Minnie don’t have the run of Opryland. At least until Thursday, the world of organized baseball is the talk of the complex. And in that regard, there is a lot of interest amongst the baseball establishment in what kind of stunt the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick will pull off next. So far the Phillies have left a bit to be desired in the pursuit to bolster the club for another run at the NL East in 2008. They whiffed on Mike Lowell and Randy Wolf and then pulled the ol’ “blessing in disguise” guff afterwards.

That’s mostly because the “I know you are but what am I,” schtick didn’t apply. Hey, that’s about all they have to work with.

In regard to Wolf, though, the Phillies comments/behavior seems especially childish, which for our purposes is fantastic. When Wolf spurned both the Phillies and his ex-GM Ed Wade and the Astros in order to sign an incentive-laden deal to sign with the San Diego Padres, Gillick took a little backhanded swipe at the fan (and media)-friendly lefty.

Gillick said:

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Frankly, Gillick sounds like a spurned teen-aged boy who after a good-looking girl tells him gently that, “I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out. Your ballpark is much too small and I have my ERA and sanity to look out for,” in turn calls the girl, “ugly.”

So which is it, dude? I thought you liked her (or in this case, Wolfie).

It also seems that Gillick was more interest in his needs and desires and not what someone else might want or need. If a person is genuine and compassionate, they would understand that Wolfie needs to be in San Diego. After all, he is a Southern California kid whose mom can easily make the trip south from Los Angeles to see her son pitch in San Diego. Plus, the Padres have a starting rotation that has Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. That’s five Cy Young Awards and definitely one Hall of Famer. Warming up for the ninth is Trevor Hoffman, who is known to blow a few from time to time, but he’s saved at least 37 games in every complete season he’s pitched since 1996. That adds up to 524 saves, which is more than everyone ever.

Should we continue on about San Diego? No, well we’re going to anyway. In San Diego it’s a sunny 70 degrees every stinkin’ day of the year. In fact today, as the snow and wind whipped around and made travel and outdoor activities miserable, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees in San Diego.

San Diego…

Forget the fact that the Phillies’ ballpark is slightly larger than the one in Williamsport, San Diego’s park was the toughest in which to score a run in during 2007. It was also the most difficult to get a hit in and the second most difficult in which to club a homer.

So there’s that, too. But listening to the Phillies it sounds like they are tired of people telling them, “No way… not in that ballpark.”

Or are they?

Tadahito IguchiApparently the Phillies and Tadahito Iguchi met up at the ice cream parlor the other day. It also seems as if those kids had a few things to discuss, too. The Phillies, badly in need of a third baseman (as well as a pitcher or two and a center fielder), could be willing to make a deal with Iguchi for 2008 and beyond. Iguchi, for his part, hit the open market and learned that all the second base slots for the good teams were spoken for. But third base in Philadelphia looks wide open.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Because the Phillies released Iguchi after the season (as he wished) and did not offer him salary arbitration or sign him to an extension by Nov. 15, Iguchi would not be able to play for the team until May 15. Iguchi’s agent, Rocky Hall, believes the parties can find a loophole and some juggling and wrangling in order to get by the rule, but then there is that whole collective bargaining thing.

If Iguchi does it, then someone else will do it and then everyone will do it and all we’ll have is anarchy. Is the destruction of labor-management practices in the United States worth all of that just to allow Tadahito Iguchi to play third base?

Sure, the Phillies need a third baseman better than Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, but I’m siding with the American way.

I thought you said I was OK, Spider

Richard NixonWhen I was a kid I believed nearly everything adults told me. Well, I believed almost everything they told me until I was about 10. After then, I questioned everything because that’s about the time I learned about Richard Nixon. I figured if the President of the United States could be less than forthcoming, maybe other adults could, too.

That’s also about the same time I learned about Santa Claus, though truth be told the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy never made any sense. That’s especially the case with the Tooth Fairy because that just sounds a little too Uncle Eddie-ish to me. Really, what kind of a person or fairy wants little kids’ ripped out and bloodied teeth? Do they make necklaces out of them like those sharks’ tooth ones people wore in the ‘70s and stuff? Remember Turk Wendell, the Phillies’ former relief pitcher? Yeah, well he had a necklace made out of elk’s teeth and other wild animals he may or may not have shot. Actually, the necklace was kind of gaudy, but not in a P. Diddy kind of way.

Perhaps Turk Wendell was the tooth fairy for the Marlin Perkins set?

Anyway, the point is that I believed what adults told me, but then I stopped and then, for some reason, I believed them again. At least I believed what adult general managers of Major League Baseball teams told me. Seriously, why would they make up stuff? They weren’t after my teeth (as far as I knew) and they weren’t going to bring me or my family gifts every December under the cover of darkness. Better yet, I don’t think there is a single baseball GM who secretly bombed Cambodia or was less than forthcoming about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters back in ’72. Based on that criterion, baseball GMs are a reasonably trustworthy lot.

That doesn’t mean they tell the truth all of the time. For instance, I recall a time when Ed Wade revealed that a slumping Marlon Byrd was the team’s centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future – who would have guessed that Byrd was living in the future and was to be optioned to Triple-A after a game in which he served as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Hey, I’m not saying Wade didn’t make the correct move, I’m just saying that if the end of the game was as far into the future as he could see, then he needs to re-do that Lasik surgery.

DeNiroSo what’s this have to do with anything? Well, it doesn’t. I just like writing about it. Plus, it’s a nice little segue way into the whole Mike Lowell thing, who, as most readers of this site and other like it (could there be others like this one?) will tell you, is the newly re-signed third baseman and MVP of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. Lowell is a pretty darned good third baseman who played for the Marlins when they won the World Series in 2003 and I remember sitting at Citizens Bank Park the time he hit three home runs in one game for the Marlins. The last of the three came off Billy Wagner and it made me laugh out loud… not one of those obnoxious laughs like DeNiro chomping on a cigar in the movie theater like in Cape Fear, which by itself is a ridiculous scene. But it was a laugh that slips out at an inappropriate time, like say the time your friend was an altar boy at mass at Sacred Heart in 1984 or something and he knocked over a candle that he had just lit. You don’t want to laugh out loud, but you do for that briefest of seconds before anyone realizes that you are the one who a.) Has a bad sense of humor and b.) Can’t control himself in solemn places.

Not that any of that ever happened, of course.

Anyway, Nixon bombed Cambodia, Marlon Byrd was sent to Scranton and Pat Gillick told us not to believe everything we read on ESPN.com. Which one thinks about it, is a rather ambiguous statement. Just look at it:

“Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com.”

cigarOK. I guess that’s good advice. But it’s kind of like, don’t dance with a circus bear wearing a Shriner’s hat after it just pedaled a tricycle 50 yards. Or don’t rub the belly of an alligator that was just fed ostrich burgers for a mid-afternoon snack. Does it really mean something or is it just a broad, sweeping statement that is common amongst politicians and large retailers to homogenize us?

Perhaps what Gillick meant to say was, “Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com about badminton. But the stuff about the Phillies attempting to sign Mike Lowell to play third base for the team in 2008… yeah, well that stuff is as solid as your Uncle Tim’s brass spittoon.”

So how about that? Despite all the reports that indicated that the Phillies had just a limited amount of cash to spend this winter, and GM Gillick’s contention that the team was focusing on acquiring pitching and that third base was not a “priority,” it comes out that the Phillies are like Diamond Jim picking up the tab for everyone in the saloon. They’re lighting big, fat cigars with $20 bills while trying to figure out how they can spend more money and make offers to guys like Mike Lowell.

Good for them.

But here’s the question: why the subterfuge? Why all the, “Mike Lowell? Who is Mike Lowell? We wouldn’t know Mike Lowell if he walked right up and spit into our mammy’s hand purse…” Doing stuff like that is going to give a guy a reputation. It’s going to make the honest, chaste and diligent folks in the local sporting press to believe the worst in a person. They’re going to think that when Pat Gillick says, “No, no, no,” he really means, “Yes, no, yes!”

I don’t know much about poker or the game’s colorful jargon, but I do bad bluffing when I hear it. Based on this, the Phillies should swoop in and steal away A-Rod from the Yankees at any minute.

***
If the Phillies can’t get A-Rod (or Scott Rolen), maybe they can get Randy Wolf? The former Phillie lefty has received an offer from the team about returning for 2008. The team has made a bunch of other offers to other players, too, including right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who has pitched for the past decade in the Japan.

***
Most of my friends don’t follow sports too closely so they sometimes ask inane questions about how I must be a big fan of the Phillies. I don’t think they get it when I tell them that, “I root for the story.” You see, like the stereotypical, self-centered athlete, I just look out for myself.

Anyway, though I don’t really care one way or another which team wins or loses, I do find myself rooting for the success of certain people in the game. In that regard, a hearty congratulations goes out to Jimmy Rollins for being voted the National League’s MVP in 2007 by the dangerous (and fascist) secret society called the Baseball Writers Association of America. If there is one player who respects, understands and reveres the history of the game, it’s Rollins and I’m certain he will represent the award and the new fame that goes with such an honor well.

Kudos to Jimmy.

Ed Wade makes a good deal for the Phillies

Brad LidgeThe Phillies picked up closer Brad Lidge along with infielder Eric Bruntlett late Wednesday night from the Houston Astros. All the Phillies had to give up was outfielder Michael Bourn, who hails from Houston; reliever Geoff Geary, who struggled during 2007; and minor leaguer Mike Costanzo, who whiffed 290 times in his first two full seasons as a pro.

It seems as if GM Pat Gillick shored up the bullpen and the rotation in making the trade. Certainly Lidge isn’t coming to the Phillies to set up for Brett Myers. In that case, Lidge would take over the ninth-inning duties, while Myers would slide back into the rotation as a No. 2 guy.

Lidge, from Sacramento, Calif., turns 31 on Dec. 23 and is a graduate of Notre Dame. Last year he went 5-3 with 19 saves and held opponents to a .219 batting average in 66 games. He also averaged 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings and has more strikeouts than any other reliever in the Majors during the past four seasons.

Meanwhile, it seems as if ex-Phillies GM/current Astros’ GM, Ed Wade, is trying to get all of his old guys back. Wade, after all, was running the Phillies when they drafted Bourn, Geary and Costanzo. Better yet, Costanzo was the Phillies top pick in the 2005 draft — Wade’s last with the Phillies.

So if Wade is trying to put his team back together, perhaps Gillick can offer Pat Burrell for, oh I don’t know… Roy Oswalt? Why not? They’re both making about the same amount of money, right?

Calling audibles

Pat GillickBusy, busy, busy, busy day today for 50 percent of CSN.com (which is moi). There are tons of stories to follow, tons of things to write and tons of ideas floating around in the ol’ coconut atop my shoulders. Unfortunately there will never be time enough to write them all down until all of this is over.

Perhaps then…

In the meantime, general manager Pat Gillick spent a revealing hour with the writers this afternoon, waxing on about the season, the bullpen and the team’s crazy drive for the NL East… amongst other topics.

In a season in which the Phillies were besieged by injuries to key players, the Gillick says he and Lieutenants Ruben Amaro and Mike Arbuckle were scrambling to find players simply to fill out the space on the roster. Strangely enough, some of those players stepped up, as they say.

Big time.

“It’s kind of like walking to the line and calling an audible,” Gillick said. “We called a lot of audibles.”

A couple of those audibles ended up working out. For instance when veteran starting pitchers Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia were lost for the season with injuries – a cost of at least 20-to-25 wins, Gillick says – rookie Kyle Kendrick and oft-released J.D. Durbin picked up the slack.

“We got 16 wins out of two guys we didn’t expect to be here,” Gillick said. “Kyle was 4-7 at Double-A, but he was good. [However] we didn’t know he was ready to do this.”

Kendrick, of course, is slated to start Game 2 of the NLDS on Thursday afternoon against the Rockies. I know it’s a theme that I keep harping on, but I think it’s very significant that Kendrick won 10 games and was the team’s best pitcher for a stretch, despite pitching in just 12 games above Single-A.

Never mind the fact that Kendrick, apparently, was not even worthy of an invitation to spring training.

“We were in a desperate situation and we had some opportunities for some guys and they stepped up,” Gillick said.

Gillick also contributed a bit of unintentional levity during the Q&A session. When asked if cobbling together a team on the fly for the run at the division title was fun, Gillick gave a terse, stone-faced reply.

“No,” he said. “It’s not fun at all.”

Well… maybe it’s not fun for him, but the rest of us had a blast. From the looks of it, things are just beginning, too.

How far can they go?
An e-mailer sent me the odds (via bodog.com) regarding the Phillies’ chances in the playoffs as seen by the gambling types and it’s worth nothing that the local nine is given a 7-to-1 chance to win the World Series.

It’s also worth noting that amongst all eight teams in the playoffs, that figure is sixth best… bit it’s second-best (behind the Cubs) in the National League. Of the four teams in the NL side of the bracket, the Phillies are a 5-to-2 bet to win the pennant.

Before walking out of the press box tonight, I took a quick poll of the straggling scribes putting the finishing touches on stories that are sure to make Heywood Hale Broun jealous… if he were alive.

Here’s what I was told:

Howard Bryant – ESPN: Phillies vs. Yankees in World Series
Jim Salisbury – Philadelphia Inquirer: Phillies in 5
Dennis Deitch – Delaware County Daily Times: The winner of the Phillies-Rockies series will go to the World Series
Scott Lauber – Wilmington News Journal: Phillies in 5; Phillies vs. Yankees in World Series.
John Finger – Comcast SportsNet: Phillies in 4; Diamondbacks vs. Yankees in the World Series…

Hey, I’m going out on a limb. I like to go against the grain even though it might not be what I believe.

More from the ballpark tomorrow morning… we’re going to go live during the game, again.

Get down tonight

The chatter around the ballpark today has been for closer Brett Myers to settle on appropriate enterance music before the ninth inning. Apparently, Myers was upset that KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” was played as he came into last night’s game. Frankly, as I have written in earlier posts, this is pure silliness. Firstly, if Myers had an inch of ironic humor in his ever-expanding body he’s leave the KC & the Sunshine song.

Better yet, instead of some pretend phony toughness delivered through the majesty of song, maybe it would be more of a mind scramble if Myers entered the game to Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine and Lollipops?”

In the same vein, I have always believed that if a player was going to take the time to select a song in which to choreograph his appearance in a baseball game, that player should also perform an interpretive dance or performance art piece using the song on their way to the batters’ box or mound.

If the song is “Shake Your Booty,” by all means, shake your booty.

Regardless of any of this, Myers should just worry about getting outs. If he continues to do that people will be writing songs about him.

***
The Phillies announced that they had traded for veteran slugger Russell Branyan this afternoon.

Nope, I didn’t get it either.

Either way, skipper Charlie Manuel said that the team has long had an interest in Branyan, a power-hitting lefty with a bad batting average and a lot of strikeouts. Nevertheless, Manuel wanted an extra slugger for the bench and that’s exactly what Branyan is.

“We just felt that at the moment we have 13 pitchers and only 12 position players so we’d like to have another bat,” general manager Pat Gillick said. “Consequently, Russell is a guy with tremendous power and gives Charlie another alternative is we have a pinch hitting situation.”

The Phillies had hoped that Branyan would be in the park for tonight’s game against the Marlins, but (surprise!) he flight was delayed heading to Philadelphia. When Branyan makes it to Philly, the team will have to adjust its 25-man and 40-man rosters and the early speculation is on option-ready reliever Geoff Geary heading to Triple-A Ottawa.

***
Rugby and triathlon legend Bill Boben was seen in the crowd for tonight’s game.

***
Thirty-three years ago today (“…effective at noon…”) Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States.

***
Tadahito Iguchi has a hit in 11 of the 12 games he’s played in since joining the Phillies. In fact, Iguchi has filled in quite nicely for All-Star second baseman Chase Utley. But when Utley is healthy and returns to action, don’t expect Iguchi to move over to third base in order to remain in the lineup.

According to Gillick, the budding Iguchi situation is something for Manuel to figure out.

“Right now, Iguchi is either going to play second base primarily or his secondary position is shortstop so we’ll see how that goes,” Gillick explained. “When Chase comes back, that’s a problem Charlie is going to have to work out. Right now, when Chase gets backs he’ll be in the lineup.”

Yeah, but what about third base?

“I would say it’s a very remote, remote possibility. It’s a different position third base in that you have longer to read the ball at shortstop and second base as opposed to third base which is a reaction position,” Gillick said. “A lot of times people that can play the middle of the diamond have a tough time moving to the corners.”

So before it could even begin, the Iguchi to third base experiment has been scrapped.

That’s OK, we’ll take him

The trading deadline came and went without too much fanfare for the Phillies, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make a little bit of noise. Aside from adding Tadahito Iguchi last weekend to replace Chase Utley, as well as starting pitcher Kyle Lohse to bolster the starting rotation, general manager Pat Gillick traded with Seattle for reliever Julio Mateo for minor leaguer Jesus Merchan.

For the interim the Phillies have sent Mateo to Double-A Reading until he’s needed with the Phillies. So how come the Phillies just don’t send Mateo to Triple-A Ottawa to face more capable hitters before returning to the Majors?

Besides, Mateo can’t go to Canada because he is waiting to go to court on Sept. 4 for his third-degree domestic assault charge in which the story in The Associated Press describing the arrest noted that Mateo’s wife needed five stitches on her mouth. In other words, the law is keeping close tabs on the new Phillie.

Needless to say some web sites and others in the media had a little fun at the Phillies’ expense in discussing the move for Mateo. On Deadspin, the crème de la crème of sports blogs, the headline was, “The Phillies got another wife beater to hang out with Brett Myers.” Sure, it’s a little inaccurate, but the point is duly noted. The Phillies didn’t exactly go out and get a model citizen.

It’s doubtful that Mateo will have any influence at all with the current Phillies, though. After all, the strongest personalities in the clubhouse are also solid guys. Chase Utley, Aaron Rowand, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins are names one will never see in the police blotter. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels has grown up a lot since his brawl outside of a bar in Florida before the 2005 season.

Here’s the interesting part about Mateo and perhaps shows a difference between the Mariners and the Phillies. Though the reliever was 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in nine appearances this season for Seattle, team general manager Bill Bavasi suspended Mateo for 10 days without pay following his arrest in Manhattan in May. Moreover, Bavasi said there was no way that Mateo would ever pitch for the Mariners again following that incident aggressively looked to trade him.

Even though Mateo pitched well in Triple-A, Bavasi stuck to his guns.

“Our approach with him was that it would be better for us and for him if he broke back in elsewhere. And he didn’t fight that idea,” Bavasi said, while declining to detail what led the Mariners to conclude that. “It was collaborative effort to get him a new home.”

Meanwhile, Brett Myers was allowed to pitch for the Phillies only hours after being let out of the lockup following his arrest for a domestic incident in Boston in June of 2006. It was only after a loud public outcry that Myers was allowed to take a “leave of absence” from the Phillies.

Mateo, who turns 30 on Thursday, is 18-12 with two saves and a 3.68 ERA in 219 games over six seasons in Seattle. He had a 0.79 ERA in 24 games at Triple-A Tacoma, allowing just three earned runs in 34 1-3 innings. Opponents batted just .200 against him. Those numbers indicate that he is a pretty good pitcher – perhaps even just as good or better than Myers.

Nevertheless, the Mariners weren’t interested in having a player heading back to court for a domestic abuse charge on their roster… regardless of how good his numbers were.

“We treat it seriously,” Gillick said, according to AP. “We’re very aware of the situation.”

But apparently it isn’t a serious enough issue to pass on the trade. After all, the Phillies don’t have to go to Canada at all this season.

***
The injuries continue to mount for the Phillies. Along with Utley’s hand and Ryan Madson’s case of Brett Myers 2 1/2 –month-shoulder-strainitis, Michael Bourn is out after injuring his ankle tripping over the bullpen mound that is on the field along the first-base side at Wrigley, while Shane Victorino had a slight tear of his calf muscle.

According to the Phillies, Victorino’s injury is less severe than Bourn’s sprained left ankle, but as someone who deals with chronic calf problems let me tell you that I don’t necessarily agree. For one thing the calf muscle is the engine that serves as the anchor of the leg muscles. It is from the calf that the hamstring and the Achilles get their power. Any athlete who runs knows that all calf injuries are serious. I’m certainly no doctor but I’ll be very surprised if Madson and Victorino make it back before the end of August.

***
Jemele Hill of ESPN.com wrote a story in which she wondered what American professional sports would look like if they had a drug testing policy like cycling. Hill writes:

Had the NFL had the same rigorous testing as cycling, the Carolina Panthers might have showed up for Super Bowl XXXVIII a little shorthanded. As it turned out, several Panthers reportedly used performance-enhancing drugs during the 2003 season, and two of them allegedly had prescriptions for steroids filled right before they appeared in the Super Bowl. And while we can make all the jokes we want about Floyd Landis, last year’s Tour champion, the most glorified record in American sports is on the verge of being shattered by a man with numerous ties to performance-enhancing drugs. Tour officials already don’t recognize Landis as the champion and are pushing the United States Anti-Doping Agency to strip Landis of the title. Bud Selig wishes he had such an option with Barry Bonds.

And:

What Americans would never, ever want to do is what cycling officials did. We would never want to let a band of doping experts loose on American athletes. We are far too comfortable being entertained by dirty athletes to want to see any real cleansing take place.

Just imagine if the same vigilant testers used in cycling set up shop in American pro sports leagues. How many times would we read about American athletes being busted for performance-enhancing drugs on the ESPN crawl?

That’s an uncomfortable discussion. That’s why despite the blustering and grandstanding with all the major sports leagues on Capitol Hill, they would be unlikely to sanction a universal system that would require random testing of pro athlete.

Amen.

Meanwhile, two more riders are implicated in doping scandals. Basque Iban Mayo failed a test for EPO (there’s a test for EPO?!) and Tour de France champ Alberto Contador as been linked to doping by a German doctor.

The best would-be cycling writer in the U.S., Bob Ford, offered this one in today’s Inquirer.

Wheeling and dealing

Despite telling everyone that they were sure if there would be any players on the trade market to deal for, the Phillies went out and added a little bit of depth to their waifishly thin rotation.

Just as a few of those rumors and rumblings and grumblings indicated, the Phillies snagged right-hander Kyle Lohse from the Cincinnati Reds for Double-A left Matt Maloney. From a quick gloss over it looks as if the Phillies didn’t really give up much to get a veteran pitcher who has been to the playoffs three times, but general manager Pat Gillick told the gang in Chicago that he wasn’t too jazzed about dealing away Maloney.

“We’re not happy about that. We liked the Double-A pitcher. But you have to give up something to get something,” Gillick said. “As I said, he’s got experience and he takes his turn and he’s been in the postseason with Minnesota. With Madson going down, we needed somebody to pick up the slack and give us a little more depth in our pitching staff.”

Incidentally, both Lohse and the newly acquired second baseman Tadahito Iguchi both can be free agents at the end of the season. However, in the long-term outlook for both players in Philadelphia, Gillick is living in the now.

“We’re concentrating on 2007 not about 2008,” he said.

That, of course, is a far cry from last year on this date when Gillick traded away Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle, David Bell and Rheal Cormier and proclaimed the team was two years away.

At any rate Gillick made the trip with the team and is working on trying to add a reliever though says it will difficult to do so. In the meantime the Phillies have to subtract a player from the roster when Lohse arrives. My bet is that Clay Condrey gets designated for assignment and J.D. Durbin is shifted to the bullpen.

Coste to Coast

It was hard not to smile when Charlie Manuel announced that the Phillies had recalled Chris Coste from Double-A Reading after last night’s rainy, soggy, humid, sloppy and long game against the Cincinnati Reds at the Bank. For one thing, Coste’s arrival back to Philadelphia (for the third time) will be a move the fans will applaud. Even cynical media-types like me have a hard time not getting a little weak in the knees when hearing Coste’s story and perseverance.

Aside from that, I truly believe Coste was shafted by the Phillies.

No, it wasn’t anything sinister or conspiratorial or anything like that, but the Phillies had no qualms about sending Coste out on all of the team’s winter caravan stops at all of the distant outposts to get the fans excited, and the manager was saying all sorts of laudatory things about his hitting. But all along the general manager was looking for someone else to fill Coste’s spot. Where Manuel talked up Coste, Pat Gillick threw a wet blanket on everyone’s good time and then went out and spent $3 million on Rod Barajas.

Let’s see: $3 million for Rod Barajas or the league minimum for Chris Coste… money well spent?

No.

Certainly Barajas has a better Major League pedigree than Coste, but when the movie comes out on everyone’s favorite backup catcher, Barajas ain’t gonna be in it. Besides, Coste didn’t do anything to warrant a trip back to the minors aside from hit .328 with seven home runs in a pennant race. Anything close to that would be a career year for Barajas.

***
Let’s leave the bullpen and Pat Burrell alone today… chances are he’ll be below the Mendoza Line by the holiday. That is, of course, if he plays — Burrell is not in the lineup for Friday afternoon’s opening game. That’s the fifth game in a row in which Burrell is on the bench and eighth game in the last 11.

***
Is anyone else looking forward to Cole Hamels facing Paul Lo Duca in tonight’s nightcap? That is, of course, if there is one.

Lo Duca and David Wright of the Mets are the Matthew Barnaby and Danny Ainge of baseball… fun guys.

Nevertheless, the Phillies-Mets rivalry is turning into a pretty good one. It really seems as if the teams don’t particularly care for each other and that is pretty entertaining.

***
For the gang in the press box…

Very, very interesting…

There are denials from all over the map over the potential sale of the Seattle Mariners to a group led by Phillies’ general manager Pat Gillick. The notion was first published in The Boston Globe last Sunday with fast following laughable denials from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“Do I look that foolish?” Gillick asked the Inky when asked about his reported plans to buy the Mariners.

Denials or not, it’s still very, very interesting and I don’t suppose we’ve heard the last of this story.

Winds of change?

At first it looked like nothing more than a Tasters Choice moment between a couple of guys hanging around the batting cages at the ol’ ballpark in Dunedin. Better yet, just a couple of old pros – one a legend in the game after decades of leading all of his teams to the playoffs and the other a younger innovator who subscribes to the modern methods – talking shop and kicking around a few ideas before the start of a new season.

But with Pat Gillick work something that occurs like breathing. Sure, it might look like he’s simply standing there by himself and staring off into the bright Florida sunshine while the seabirds swoop and swoon overhead, but he’s really working. Just standing there like that he’s doing about 20 things that the casual observer would never notice.

J.P. Ricciardi, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and Gillick’s pal on that day last week around the batting cages in Dunedin, knows this. He’s heard the stories and knows the legend of Pat Gillick. After all, he’s the measuring stick for all who go to work for Blue Jays.

Be that as it is, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a BBWAA card holder to realize that there are some trade winds swirling around the Phillies’ camp in Clearwater. Perhaps all it takes is a quick glance at the Phillies’ roster and the box scores from Grapefruit League action to know that the team needs some help getting people out. And with the season set to begin in a little more than three weeks, Gillick needs to get his pitching staff together.

According to published reports, Aaron Rowand and Jon Lieber are the names the Phillies are floating out there, though losing Rowand for relief pitching leaves the team with a big hole in the outfield. A deal in which Lieber went to the Jays for outfielder Alex Rios had surfaced, but Ricciardi rejected it… with impugnity.

From Peter Gammons:

Right now Geoff Geary (7-1, 2.96), Antonio Alfonseca, Ryan Madson and Matt Smith comprise Gordon’s supporting cast. No, says Manuel, Myers is not going to the bullpen, but they have been looking at other relievers, including San Diego’s Scott Linebrink. One rumor in the scouts’ section would have sent Jon Lieber to Toronto, Alex Rios to the Padres and Linebrink to Philadelphia, but the Toronto folks shot that down. They say when they were approached about Rios, they asked for Myers, and have no interest in swapping a potential All-Star outfielder for Lieber.

From Buster Olney:

About some of the trade stuff going on so far: The Phillies-Jays talks regarding pitching Jon Lieber and outfielder Alex Rios are completely dead. “They (the Jays) aren’t trading Rios for Lieber,” one talent evaluator said flatly.

However, heard some rumblings about a possible fit between the Rangers and Phillies involving Lieber, and as Joe Cowley wrote Friday, the Phillies are talking with the White Sox about Aaron Rowand.

Something is gonna happen.

Gillick has lunch, reporters talk with mouths full

The Inquirer’s web site had a neat little feature yesterday when they provided a windows media and MP3 link to the interview with general manager Pat Gillick. I’ve been doing stuff like that for the past three years, but it’s nice to have someone else aboard. Based on the quality I wonder if they used Zolecki’s iPod?

Anyway, it was interesting to hear though it would have been better if the people in the room were identified. All it says is that “some of the newspaper’s reporters and editors… ” OK. They were having lunch, too, it says. Even better. What did they have?

Here’s a better idea: set up a cheap JVC recorder, install U-Lead and Windows media cleaner to a laptop, edit the tape, compress it, and voila! put it on the web. Better yet, go the You Tube route.

Meanwhile, Paul Hagen had some information about the Aaron Rowand for Scott Linebrink trade that was apparently put on hold.

Manuel enters last year of contract

It wasn’t all that long ago when general manager Pat Gillick stood in front of the local press and said that he didn’t think the Phillies would be able to compete for a playoff spot until 2008. To be fair, it certainly didn’t look good for the Phillies from anyone’s perspective after the team had just sent Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees while dealing away veterans David Bell and Rheal Cormier in a payroll purge that had “Fire Sale” written all over it.

So when Gillick – a GM who has witnessed enough in his four decades in the game to know a salary dump when he saw one – the “wait until the year after next year” was chillingly honest.

“It will be a stretch to say we’ll be there in ’07,” Gillick said on last July 30. “We’ll have to plug in some young pitchers and anytime you do that you’ll have some inconsistency.

“It’s going to take another year.”

But a funny thing happened on the Phillies’ trip to oblivion. After the trading deadline Ryan Howard emerged as the slugger in the Majors by smashing 23 home runs in the final 58 games. Furthermore, Chase Utley joined Howard amongst the game’s elite and clubbed 10 homers in the last month of the season to form a dynamic duo that should be a staple for the Phils well into the next decade.

A team does not live on homers alone, which is a good thing because heralded rookie Cole Hamels showed glimpses of the brilliance everyone had predicted by going 6-3 with a 2.60 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings during the season’s final two months. Those are numbers any veteran would take, let alone a 22-year-old kid who had never completed a full season ever because of one injury or another.

With that, when Jimmy Rollins proclaims the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East everyone just kind of shrugs and says, “Yeah, maybe he’s on to something.”

“We’ve improved ourselves, and some other teams haven’t really done a whole lot,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “We’ve cut some ground on the Mets. On paper, we got stronger in our division.”

In other words, despite Gillick’s anti-Knute Rockne speech, the Phillies believed they were good enough to compete for a playoff spot now. With a youthful exuberance that prevents the players from doing something silly by allowing the media or fans to dictate how good they can be, the Phillies took the season to its final days for the second straight season. Actually, the prospects for success changed so much that Gillick backed off his claim from last July and went out and added a couple of veteran pitchers for the rotation, a veteran bat or two for the bench, and just might have another move up his sleeve to get a relief pitcher before the Phillies break camp in Clearwater and head north in late March.

Suddenly, wait-until-the-year-after-next-year became let’s-get-them-now.

This turnaround begs the question, “How did this happen?” Or better yet: “Just what did the Phillies do to go 36-22 after trading Abreu and three other veterans to nearly reach the playoffs for just the second time since Hamels, Howard and Utley were babies?”

Do you really want to know what the players say? Well… it’s the manager.

“He’s a big reason the chemistry on this team is as good as it is,” Aaron Rowand said at last week’s media luncheon in Citizens Bank Park. “You guys don’t get to see it, the fans don’t get to see it, because you guys aren’t in the clubhouse all the time. You guys aren’t in the dugout during the game when he’s talking to the guys, when he’s conversing with people, helping guys out, pumping guys up. He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever had a chance to play for, and I would have been very sorry to have seen him go after last year.”

Rowand, who won the World Series with Ozzie Guillen as the manager for the White Sox in 2005, isn’t the only player who says these kinds of things, either. Actually, it’s harder to find a player who says Manuel is not his favorite manager. Any player who has spent time with Manuel has lots of stories to tell with most of the subject matter dealing with something that left everyone in stitches and gets retold in an imitation of the skipper’s Virginia drawl.

In that regard, if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery then Charlie Manuel is the most beloved man in Philadelphia.

Yet for as much as the players love him, and for as much as the writing press respects him, something about Manuel’s down home, everyman persona has missed with the sophisticates in Philadelphia. In fact, a common thing heard from folks talking about the Phillies’ chances is that the team is ready to make a run at the playoffs, but if they don’t maybe they’ll finally get rid of that Charlie Manuel.

And because Manuel is heading in to the last season of his three-year deal, it could be playoffs or bust for him.

Yes, he knows all about it.

“Believe me, that doesn’t affect me,” Manuel said. “I want to focus on winning ballgames. It’s not about me. It’s about our players. The players are the ones who are going to win the game for us, and if we’re successful, then I think Charlie Manuel will be successful.”

Make no mistake; there are a lot of people who don’t want the Phillies to be successful for that very reason. Forget that after two seasons in which Manuel won more games than all but one manager in team history through this point in his tenure – a fact first reported on CSN.com. With the Phillies, 173 victories in two seasons in which the team was eliminated from wild-card playoff contention at game Nos. 162 and 161 is borderline historic. Actually, it’s more than remarkable – it’s unprecedented.

This is a franchise, after all, where only two (two!) managers have taken the team to more than one postseason. It’s a franchise that has been to the playoffs just nine times in 123 seasons. For comparisons sake, look at the Atlanta Braves who… wait, nevermind. It just isn’t fair to compare the Phillies to any other franchise.

One thing hasn’t changed from the Phillies’ golden days in the late 1970s and early1980s and that’s the bottom line. In the end, winning is the only thing that matters.

“Ever since I came here, from Day 1, I said I came here to win,” Manuel said. “It’s not, ‘I need to win.’ It’s, ‘Philadelphia needs to win.’ ‘The organization needs to win.’ And I understand that.”

So what happens if the Phillies win in 2007? Does Manuel get a new deal to take him into the next decade, or does the organization allow him to walk away? Of all the intriguing plotlines for the upcoming baseball season, the case of Manuel and his future with the Phillies could be the most interesting. After two seasons littered with hope and promise there is plenty of room for improvement.

But then again, for the Phillies 173 victories in two seasons is nothing to sneeze at.

Winter Meetings: Cleaning up

Who would have guessed that the team that made the biggest splash at the winter meetings was the Phillies?

Anyone?

But unless Barry Bonds decides to snap his fingers for that mysterious deal to conjure itself from thin air, it appears as if the trade to bring Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia was the thunderclap of the week.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t all sorts of stories floating around. Like that one that has Jon Lieber on his way to the Brewers in a trade that may or may not include both reliever Derrick Turnbow and slugger Kevin Mench.

Or the one that has the Phillies in the mix to make a deal with the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells or the Nationals for Ryan Church.

Finally, how about the one in which Aaron Rowand – even though he didn’t wind up back in Chicago – could be on the move to Texas for one of the Rangers’ relievers.

According to a story by Joe Cowley in the Chicago Sun-Times, Rowand has mixed emotions about the trade talk:

Now hearing that the Phillies have been shopping him this week during the winter meetings, with both the Sox and the crosstown-rival Cubs as possible suitors, Rowand is doing his best to keep his emotions in check.

“There is reason to speculate that I could be traded because [the Phillies] have a guy in Shane Victorino that can fill my spot and comes a lot cheaper than myself,” Rowand said Tuesday. “And I know they wouldn’t mind bringing in another pitcher to try and make the club better.”

Sox general manager Ken Williams often talks with Phillies GM Pat Gillick, and Williams said of Rowand: “Would I be interested in somebody like that? Yeah, I would.”

Gillick told Philadelphia reporters that trading Rowand would leave the Phillies short on outfielders, but he said he would like another starting pitcher — of which the Sox have a surplus.

The major stumbling block in a Rowand reunion? Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

“I love Aaron Rowand,” Guillen said of the trade talk. “[But] I wouldn’t trade Rowand for one of my pitchers. Hell, no, he’s not that good. And I love Aaron, and he knows that.”

So for now, Rowand sits and waits.

“I was a rumor for five years before [a trade] happened,” he said, “so I’m not going to get emotional over rumors one way or the other.”

Sorry, Freddy
Jayson Stark had a great quote from White Sox GM Kenny Williams on the Garcia trade:

“Man, Freddy Garcia was so great,” the White Sox GM said, his voice literally quivering with emotion, Wednesday night, “he thanked me for the opportunity to come over and win a World Series. He asked me, if he saw me in a bar, could he sit down and buy a drink for me. By the end of the conversation, he had me apologizing for trading him.”

One man’s opinion
I’m not a big fan of overweight right-handed pitchers. I figure that if a person’s job is to be an athlete, being fit is the easiest thing to do. That’s especially the case with baseball, football, basketball and hockey players who have the best facilities and the best health care in America. Get in shape… how hard is that?

I’m funny like that, I guess.

Nevertheless, when Jon Lieber is healthy and pitching well he’s tough to beat. In fact, the Phillies might be a better team with Garcia and Lieber… if Lieber is fit.

But relief pitchers aren’t free. Sometimes they cost a lot.

Add Brett Myers into that mix, too. Aside from his legal trouble, Myers’ fitness was a serious question mark as well. Plus, Cole Hamels has pitched just one complete season of professional ball – is he headed for an injury?

Along those lines, when has Adam Eaton ever been healthy?

It’s kind of funny that the guy in the best shape (Jamie Moyer) in the Phillies rotation is the team’s weakest link.

Elsewhere

  • Barry Bonds to the Cardinals? If that happens would there be a team that Philadelphia fans dislike more this side of the Cowboys?

    The funny thing is that when asked if the Cardinals were interested in Bonds, GM Walt Jocketty said, “No.”

    It’s hard to read anything else into that.

    According to a report on ESPN:

    The Giants appear to be the only option for Barry Bonds at this point. The Cardinals are out of the running, and the A’s, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, Orioles, Red Sox, Devil Rays and Mariners — all teams loosely considered open-minded — did not take a meeting with the seven-time MVP when he was in Florida for the winter meetings, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

    Bonds is seeking a one-year, $18 million contract with a vesting option that could bring a similar salary in 2008. The Giants don’t want to pay that much and are offering around $10 million in guaranteed money, so the two sides remain far apart on a deal.

    How funny would it be if the only offer Bonds gets is from the Devil Rays?

  • Could Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens be on the way back to the Yankees? It seems possible.
  • Three years and $34 million for Vicente Padilla?
  • Gillick standing pat no more

    Just when it looked as if the Phillies were settling in for a quiet time spent in a posh resort in Disney World, general manager Pat Gillick pulled off a deal.

    Make that a big deal.

    In an announcement late Wednesday night, Gillick finally landed that top-of-the-rotation starter he coveted since he took over the gig in late 2005. In exchange for top pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez and former first-round pick Gavin Floyd, the Phillies received two-time All-Star Freddy Garcia.

    Just 30 years old, Garcia is 116-71 in eight seasons with the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox. Aside from an injury-plagued 2000 season, Garcia has pitched no fewer than 201 1/3 innings in every one of his seven full seasons in the Majors, including 444 1/3 for a 31-17 record during his past two years in Chicago.

    “I think the Phillies just acquired a 17- to 20-game winner,” White Sox GM Kenny Williams said. “We’re going to miss Freddy Garcia.”

    Better yet, Garcia is 6-2 in nine postseason starts, including a four-hit gem in the clinching game of the 2005 World Series. Featuring a big fastball, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound native of Caracas, Venezuela has averaged 6.58 strikeouts per nine innings with just a tad more than two walks per nine innings.

    “Getting a veteran guy who has been in the heat of a pennant race and done the things Freddy has done, we just felt it was the right move to make,” Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said.

    In 2006, Garcia went 17-9 and earned $9 million in salary. In 2007 he is slated to earn $10 million.

    “We’re very pleased to acquire Freddy,” Arbuckle said. “He’ll fit very nicely into our rotation. He gives us innings and is a proven winner.”

    The trade could be just one in a series of moves for the Phillies. The chatter from the Winter Meetings at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort during the past two days was that the Phillies were hoping to land Garcia so that they could deal away oft-injured starting pitcher Jon Lieber for bullpen help. Initially, reports had the Phillies sending Floyd and outfielder/fan-favorite Aaron Rowand to the White Sox for Garcia, with Lieber heading to Milwaukee for reliever Derrick Turnbow.

    Instead, the Phillies get to keep Rowand, who they acquired, along with Gonzalez, from the White Sox in the deal for Jim Thome.

    Now, with six starters with bona fide big-league experience on the roster, it remains to be seen if Lieber will be on the move.

    “It gives us more options,” Arbuckle said. “It gives us the opportunity to do more things.”

    With Garcia in the fold, using Lieber for bullpen help seems like it’s elementary. Sure, Lieber won 20 games once upon a time for the Cubs, and he won 17 for the Phillies in 2005. When the big right-hander is healthy, he’s a steady and consistent a pitcher capable of turning in seven innings every time out. But Lieber has been plagued by injuries during his 12 seasons. He has pitched 200 innings just four times, missed a full season after Tommy John surgery, and looks as if he’s a step away from a pulled hamstring or groin.

    And frankly, the Phillies are a little concerned about Lieber’s growing waistline.

    According to published reports, Phils manager Charlie Manuel said Lieber’s fitness – or lack thereof – was (and is) an issue.

    “He did let himself go, and he knows it,” Manuel told reporters on Tuesday morning. “I think probably he’s tired of hearing it.”

    Manuel had talked to Lieber about his fitness during the 2005 season, too, though the pitcher didn’t seem to be paying attention then.

    “From here, it’s up to him,” Manuel told reporters.

    Then again, Lieber could be another team’s problem in 2007.

    That’s the case with Floyd, the frustrating 23-year-old righty who was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft. Though he showed flashes of brilliance during parts of three seasons with the Phillies, Floyd’s record indicates otherwise. In 2006 he was 4-3 with a 7.29 ERA in 11 starts for the Phillies and 7-4 with a 4.23 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after being demoted in June.

    Though he cracked the opening day roster in 2005 and 2006, Floyd went from one of the team’s top pitching prospects to a pitcher that no longer figured into the team’s plans. That’s a severe 180-degree turn from where the Phillies were with Floyd after they gave him a $4.2 million signing bonus in 2001 to lure him away from enrolling at the University of South Carolina.

    Once in the minor league system, Floyd’s ascent was quick with very few challenges. His domination in the bushes – one that included a no-hitter in Single-A ball – got to the point where team insiders and observers said that it appeared as if the tall right-hander was bored.

    The difficult part, some offered, was hoping that Floyd became engaged in a game, or that his interest was piqued. Still, no one ever doubted Floyd’s talent, which is why the Phillies were loath to simply give him away.

    “I think Gavin’s going to be a little bit of a late bloomer,” Arbuckle said.

    That very well could be the case, but in his stead the Phillies got someone who is already ripe. With Garcia joining Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton and Jamie Moyer and Lieber as a lure for even more pitching, the Phillies’ troublesome rotation has come a long way since last April.

    Phillies Round Out Rotation with Eaton

    Pat Gillick has not been very shy about expressing his disdain for the current crop of free agents on the market. Actually, Gillick was a bit underwhelmed by his choices last year, too, when he said his priority was to find a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Phillies.

    “Sometimes we can get everything we want, but sometimes nothing materializes,” the Phils’ GM said.

    Nonetheless, another year has passed and Gillick and the Phillies still have not made any changes at the top of the rotation. Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer hold down the same spots as they did at the end of the 2006 season. The only difference is that Adam Eaton, the club’s first-round draft pick in 1996, will finally start a season in the Phillies’ rotation.

    Of course there was a decade of climbing through the minors, a trade to San Diego and then another to Texas before finally getting his chance to pitch for the Phillies, yet Eaton is finally here after the official announcement of his new deal with the team that drafted him.

    Eaton, still just 29 years old, is guaranteed $24.5 million over the next three seasons, the team announced on Thursday afternoon. The oft-injured right-hander joins the Phillies after starting just 13 games for the Rangers in 2006 after undergoing surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand last April. In that Baker’s dozen of starts, Eaton went 7-4 with a 5.12 ERA, but has gone 18-9 over the past two years and 37 starts.

    Eaton also had elbow surgery in July of 2001 that kept him off the field until September of 2002. Meanwhile, Eaton missed a few starts in 2005 with a strained middle finger on is right hand before having surgery on it in April of 2006. In all, Eaton has been on the disabled list six times during his career.

    Regardless, the Phillies just committed three seasons and $24.5 million to a pitcher who has never had an ERA lower than 4.08 or thrown 200 innings in any of his seven Major League seasons. In fact, Eaton has made more than 30 starts just twice.

    “We’re very happy to have Adam in the fold,” Gillick said in a statement. “He stabilizes our rotation and will complement the rest of our staff nicely.”

    So unless there is an unforeseen trade or signing, the Phillies rotation for 2007 is set. That, however, doesn’t mean Gillick doesn’t have some work to do before the team heads to Clearwater in mid February. Or even the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla. next week.

    “We’ll have to wait and see. We have a few lines out there trying to acquire what we need,” Gillick offered during a conference call on Thursday evening. We want to go out fishing and we have a few proposals out there. We’re looking for some bullpen help and a hitter.”

    The Phillies’ needs certainly do not need to be decoded. With five starters with Major League experience, four outfielders and five infielders, the Phillies are set in those aspects. The bullpen, on the other hand, is incomplete and Gillick says he wouldn’t mind bolstering the team’s catching (Mike Piazza?) in addition to acquiring that much-talked about hitter (Mike Piazza?).

    Let’s make a deal?
    But outside of landing Eaton and part-time third baseman Wes Helms, Gillick has whiffed as if he were Pat Burrell with two on and two outs. The team was interested in 40-40 man Alfonso Soriano until the Cubs came in and offered him an eight-year deal that made him the second-richest Chicagoan behind Oprah.

    With Soriano gone, the team was rumored to be one of a handful of teams in the mix for Carlos Lee until he decided to go to Houston for six years and $100 million. After that news dropped, Gillick claimed the Phils weren’t so involved in bidding for Lee despite the fact that the slugger was as steady performer during his career. Sure, there are/were fair concerns over Lee’s fitness and attitude, but if Gillick and the gang are looking for protection for MVP Ryan Howard as they say they are, the new Astro would have fit in nicely in Philadelphia.

    But for six years and $100 million?

    Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, Gillick and the Phillies brass must have breathed a sigh of relief that Lee signed such an obnoxious deal with the Astros. While publicly downplaying the market, Gillick has a few built-in excuses and the luxury of being sane (and right) for not shelling out the mega years and bucks for Soriano and Lee. After all, Burrell already has one of those crazy deals.

    And as far as trading that crazy deal to another team… well, good luck.

    “We don’t have a lot to trade,” Gillick said. “We have the four outfielders (Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino and Jeff Conine), and the five infielders (Howard, Helms, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Abraham Nunez). We need to add. We don’t have the surplus to trade.”

    Besides, published reports indicate that Burrell will only waive his no-trade clause to go to the Yankees, Red Sox or a west-coast club.

    So there’s another strike. Mix in the rescinded multi-year offer to reliever Joe Borowski over reported arm trouble revealed in a team physical and Gillick is fouling off some tough ones.

    “I’m not really sure with what’s going on out there is everyone is looking for the same commodity,” Gillick said. “Everyone is looking for a starter. Unless someone can trade for a reliever for a starter or a starter for a reliever I can’t see a lot of action going on. If you have some pitching you don’t want to give it up.”

    That goes for the reserves in the minor leagues, too. Gillick said the team would be reluctant to deal away a prospect like Gio Gonzalez for a short-term fix.

    At the same time, Gillick says one of those proposals the team has dangled out there has not been offered to former Reds closer David Weathers.

    Needless to say, there’s work to do.

    “We’re optimistic, but I can’t make any assurances or commitments that [anything is] going to happen,” Gillick said.

    But at least for now, Gillick and the Phillies can be satisfied that some of holiday shopping is taken care of with Eaton’s arrival. Plus, with the re-acquisition of the team’s 1999 Paul Owens Award winner, the Phillies staff might not have changed at the top but it’s better than it was when 2006 began.

    “I don’t look at the other teams in the division or the league, but from where we were from the beginning of the ’06 season we have five starters who have [Major League] experience. We have starters with experience,” Gillick said. “We didn’t have that last year.

    “From the quality standpoint we have a better rotation that we had at the beginning of last year. What we have to do is work on the bullpen.”

    Pitchers and catcher report in 11 weeks.

    Hot stove warming up

    Note: This post was written before reports indicated that the Phillies signed Wes Helms to a two-year deal.

    First off, I took a few days off to run another marathon, rest and eat some food that normal people like – pizza and ice cream instead of tofu, salmon and rice – and now I’m more worn out than I was before.

    Cie la vie.

    Anyway, all of the running, racing and training information and musings is on the other slightly neglected site.

    So as the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick were sending out offers to the dozens of free agents while trying to pick up the dreaded 7-10 split at the General Manager Meetings in Florida, I was probably wondering why I couldn’t feel my calves. I may have been ignoring a football game on TV while getting a two-beer buzz and wondering if it would take more effort to carve my golf handicap down to 15 or run another 2:30 marathon.

    Clearly a 2:30 is more reasonable.

    Nonetheless, my goal remains to squeeze through that ever-tightening window to run a respectable marathon just as the Phillies hope to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. In that regard, I’ll go out on a limb here and say the Phillies will play baseball in October of 2007.

    Wait… shouldn’t we wait for all of the hot-stove stuff to heat up? Don’t the Phillies have a few holes they need to fill?

    No and yes.

    I’ll explain why I believe the Phillies will make the playoffs in detail between now and next October – kind of like a serialization – so just keep checking back and delving through these ramblings. As for the needy stuff, let’s rate them in order of necessity:

  • Bolster bullpen
  • Get another starter (or two)
  • Address Pat Burrell situation
  • third base
  • catcher
  • Alfonso Soriano

    Soriano, of course, is the biggest name on the market so it’s only natural that most of the media attention is focused on him. Yet whether or not the Phillies get Soriano won’t make or break the off-season. Why? Well, for starters the Phillies already score more runs than any other team. What, is it that important that the Phils really, really out-score every other team?

    Secondly, Soriano’s so-called task would be to “protect” Ryan Howard. As I’ve written here so many times in the past, Howard hit 58 home runs and struck out 181 times – it sounds like he’s doing a pretty good job protecting himself.

    Perhaps if he just struck out 150 times instead of 181, maybe he would have hit a few more homers and raised his average a few points. Would that have made a difference in the end? Who knows… there are too many other variables that transcend mere statistics.

    This ain’t Strat-O-Matic, folks. Besides, I was always an APBA guy.

    Besides, the Phillies traded away Bobby Abreu apparently in order to create some financial flexibility, yet they are willing to give more money and years to Soriano? Why does that make sense?

    Well, Soriano is right-handed, hits for more power and hasn’t raised the hackles of certain segments of the fandom because they haven’t ever seen him play and only know him as a 40-40 guy who just so happens to be the biggest name on the market.

    What better reason is there to sign a guy than that?

    Plus, if the Phillies are unable to sign Soriano they still have Pat Burrell. Yes, Burrell has fallen out of favor in Philadelphia and had a disappointing season despite some statistics that don’t look all that bad. Like Howard and all of those strikeouts, just think if Burrell can hit .225 with runners in scoring position and two outs instead of .167.

    Miscellany

  • Randy Wolf’s agent Arn Tellem said he wants to have his client signed before the winter meetings begin in Orlando on Dec. 4. According to published reports, the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays – as well as the Phillies – are interested in Wolf.
  • According to The Inquirer, Scott Graham likely will not return to the Phillies’ broadcast booth in 2007. During the baseball season I don’t get the chance to hear the home team’s announcers that much so I’m not much of an expert on their work. Nonetheless, if Graham does not get a new contract it’s a bit of a surprise.

    I was always under the impression that baseball broadcasting jobs were like Supreme Court appointments… apparently not.

    Again, I’m no expert and don’t have any insider information that I’m willing to share, but I don’t think Graham will be on the sidelines in 2007.

  • Remember the end of September when I waxed on and on about Ken Mandel’s “performance” in the President’s Race between innings at RFK? No? Here’s a reminder

    Anyway, Ken’s dash down the first-base side of the field was nominated for “The Blooper of the Year” on MLB.com. In fact, if Ken wins the online balloting, the Nationals want to have the Phillies.com reporter back to accept an award on the field dressed as Thomas Jefferson.

    No word if the Oriole Bird will be on hand, too.

    We will keep everyone up to date on all developments of this story.

  • Trading Burrell is linchpin to big winter

    Pat Gillick and the Phillies are like an airplane loaded with passengers but still sitting at the gate. Everything has been checked and double-checked, everyone’s seatbelt is fastened and luggage is safely stowed in the overhead compartment.

    All Gillick needs to is the OK from the control tower and he’s set for take off.

    Kind of.

    When the free-agency period begins on Nov. 12, Gillick and the Phillies are expected to woo Washington Nationals’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano, likely the biggest name on the winter market. On the strength of his 40-40 season in 2006 (46 homers and 41 stolen bases), the Phillies are said to be prepared to offer Soriano $80 million over five seasons, and then plunk him down in the middle of the batting order between lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The thought is that Soriano can both provide protection for the sluggers as well as fortify a lineup that has scored more runs than any National League team over the past two seasons.

    “We could use some depth in the middle of the order,” Gillick said.

    Even without Soriano the Phillies are formidable offensively. Howard, one of the top two MVP candidates on the strength of his 58-homer season in 2006, is the anchor of the murderer’s row that featured four players that swatted at least 25 homers and drove in 83 runs. Besides that, Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel are both very high on Shane Victorino, a young outfielder who appeared in 153 games in many roles last season.

    Offense? Yeah, the Phillies have that.

    So why do they feel the need to make it better with Soriano instead of pursuing a starter to fill out the rotation or a set-up man for closer Tom Gordon? After all, Manuel told said that he would prefer to have a backend reliever who has experience as a closer to fill out the bullpen. That’s where free agents Joe Borowski and David Weathers enter the picture. According to published reports and sources, the Phillies have eyed the relievers as possible set-up men for 2007.

    On top of that, Gillick said that he wants to re-sign free agent starter Randy Wolf to round out the rotation that features lefties Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, as well as Jon Lieber and Brett Myers. Gillick says he’s hopeful that the Phillies can work out a deal with Wolf.

    “Hopeful, but not optimistic,” the GM said.

    “This is the first opportunity he’s ever had for free agency so I think he wants to kick the tires and see if the grass is greener.”

    The grass may be greener, but for how long? The mood around the media luncheon in Citizen Bank Park’s Hall of Fame Club overlooking the pastoral and eerily quiet ball diamond was that the Phillies weren’t simply going to make bids for players, cross their fingers and hope they get their man. Nope, Gillick and the gang emitted an aura that they were in control of the situation and were confident that they will add the bat into the middle of the lineup, get that fifth starter, and find a suitable set-up man or two to anchor the bullpen.

    Really? The Phillies? Didn’t they once describe themselves as a small-market team not so long ago?

    “I think our ownership and CEO are pretty practical. Anything we bring to them that makes sense, not only for the short term, but the long term, I don’t think they’ll be reluctant to make the move,” Gillick said. “But it has to make sense. If you have to make a commitment you have to figure that player is going to figure for you for whatever time you’re obligated. If you have to give somebody four years and you only get three years, that’s one thing. But if you give somebody four years and you only get one, that’s a different story.”

    So the hot-stove is heating up for the Phillies. Signing Soriano should be a piece of cake, right? Five years without a no-trade clause should do it?

    “You can’t ever be sure,” Gillick said. “But when you make these decisions, are you going to be in love with this guy a year from now as much as you’re in love with him right now? That’s a decision you’re going to have to make. I don’t know a lot of people that I want to be in love with for five years.”

    Like Pat Burrell for instance. Gillick didn’t come right out and say that he was trying to find a suitable deal for the maligned left fielder and the Phillies this winter, but he didn’t deny it either. The same goes for Manuel who when asked about Burrell had a resigned tenor of someone who knew something was coming, but didn’t want to come right out and say it.

    “What hurt Pat the most was that when we got to the seventh or eighth inning we had to get him out of the game,” Manuel said without the best poker face. “If he didn’t have the foot issues he might have had a season like he did two years ago.

    “I haven’t ruled out the fact that he’s still on our club. I’ve always stood with Pat. He lost some at-bats [because of his foot].”

    But Burrell holds all of the cards – at least all of the good ones. He also might hold the Phillies winter progress – or lack therof – in his hands. Sure, the Phillies seem to forging ahead as if they can sign all of the players they want and keep Burrell if he doesn’t agree to be moved, but the reality is the left fielder needs to go if the team is going to fulfill their off-season objectives.

    Where or when that occurs is anyone’s guess.

    More pitching
    If the Phillies are not able to re-sign Wolf, Gillick says the fifth starter will likely come from outside the organization.

    “We’ve got to get another starter, and I don’t see that starter coming out of our organization. It’ll have to come from outside,” Gillick said. “We’ve got some things to attend to from the starting standpoint and from the bullpen standpoint.”

    Nonetheless, Gillick says he is much happier with the state of the rotation now than he was last year.

    “This year we’ll open with Hamels and Moyer instead of (Gavin) Floyd and (Ryan Madson),” he said.

    Manuel agrees with the GM noting that the rotation at the end of the season was the “best we’ve had in two years.”

    Other luncheon notes
    If the season were to end today, Ken Mandel’s fantasy football team would be in the playoffs. This is despite the fact that Phillies.com writer’s club has the least amount of points in the scribes football league.

    On the outside and looking in is yours truly, who is running away with the points title but is just 4-4-1.

    “We have to do better and I’ll take full responsibility,” I said in a release issued by the team.

  • A few writers were steamed that the availability with Charlie Manuel was held up by a TV reporter who wanted to talk to the manager about professional wrestling. Never mind the fact that the channel usually devotes a little less than 180 seconds to sports coverage every night.

    Or that no one watches that channel.

    Nevertheless, I’d like to know the skipper’s thoughts on the Junkyard Dog or Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka. If the segment gets on YouTube, please send me the link.

  • Mmmmm… lunch

    The local scribes and TV media have a luncheon with the Phillies’ new coaches, Charlie Manuel and Pat Gillick. Needless to say, events like this are the one time when media-types don’t show up for the free food.

    Well, maybe they do…

    Anyway, I’m sure the general manager will be a popular fellow this afternoon – much more popular than new coaches Jimy Williams, Art Howe and Davey Lopes. Then again, Mr. Howe’s stay with the Phillies could be very short. In fact, he won’t even be at the luncheon this afternoon.

    Why? Well, Howe’s old pal and coach from his days as the manager of the Oakland A’s, Ron Washington, got the managerial job in Texas. As a result, Howe is off to interview for the bench coach gig on his friend’s staff.

    Meanwhile, according to the adroit Todd Zolecki of the Inquirer, the Phillies decided not to make a bid for the negotiating rights for Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura. Instead, it appears as if the club will try to ink third basemen Mark DeRosa or Wes Helms to split time with Abraham Nunez.

    The plan is to check in here with all of the tasty nuggets from the media luncheon. If someone spills mustard on their shirt or walks off with someone else’s computer bag , we’ll make sure to report it here.

    Game 5: More errors

    Not too long after Tim McCarver made a salient point about Chris Duncan playing right field in the sixth inning of a one-run game, the young outfielder goes ahead and plays a fairly routine warning-track fly ball into a double for Sean Casey.

    McCarver said: “At this point you go to four innings of defense.”

    Actually, nine innings of defense helps, but the point is the Cardinals should worry less about Duncan’s offense and more about defense.

    But shouldn’t the genius Tony La Russa know this?

    Defense is the most underrated aspect of the baseball. In fact, Bill James wrote something that got my attention which stated that half of good pitching is really good defense. After presenting this to long-time Major League general manager Pat Gillick, he responded with (essentially) a, “well, yeah… “

    Kind of like, “duh.”

    Proof? Check out the Tigers and the eight unearned runs this series.

    Gillick is a self-described pitching and defense guy. I guess I am, too. After all, a baseball team wins more games with good pitching than good hitting.

    Nevertheless, Duncan’s “error” was a no-harm, no-foul type. Weaver was able to dance out of the sixth with his 3-2 lead to put the Cardinals within nine outs of the title.

    On another note, how come I haven’t heard anything about former Cardinal Tim McCarver and Cardinals’ announcer Joe Buck calling these World Series games?

    Et tu, Wolfie?

    It wouldn’t be outlandish to believe that Randy Wolf’s future in Philadelphia disappeared as soon as the ink dried on soon-to-be 44-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer’s two-year, $10.5 million (plus incentives) contract signed on Monday afternoon. After all, with Moyer signed on until he’s Julio Franco’s age and 23-year old Cole Hamels a cog in the rotation for the next 15 years, why would the Phillies need another lefty like Wolf in the rotation?

    Besides, the Phillies play their home games in a ballpark notorious for being especially friendly to right-handed hitters (lefties, too), so going after the NL East title with 60 percent of the rotation made up of southpaws might not be the best plan of attack.

    Or would it?

    Sometimes, though, things aren’t as easy as they appear. Even with lefties Moyer and Hamels set for a rotation with righties Brett Myers and Jon Lieber, it seems as if general manager Pat Gillick isn’t ready to let Wolf walk away just yet.

    “We’d like to bring Wolfie back,” said Gillick, noting that the Phillies have been in contact with Wolf’s representatives. “We think his arm is fine and we think he’s going to get better. Jamie and I had a conversation in Seattle about three left-handers in the rotation, and we liked the thought of that. We’re hopeful that Randy will come back. We’d like to have the same five guys that we had last year. I look at it as a better rotation than we started ’06 with. We think bringing Randy back will be a nice way to round out the rotation and start 2007. Hopefully, something will work out.”

    Wolf, of course, is eligible to test free agency this winter after completing a four-year, $22 million deal. He also made a return from Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his left elbow in late July and made 12 starts in 2006. Though he was 4-0, Wolf, 30, tossed just 56 2/3 innings for a 5.56 ERA, while allowing hitters to hit .285 against him. Despite that, Gillick believes Wolf was making strides in his return from the injury and was beginning to re-establish his velocity as evidenced in his nearly seven strikeouts per nine innings.

    Besides, pitchers returning from Wolf’s injury usually regain their pre-surgery form – and then some – in the second year following surgery. By that rationale, Wolf, and maybe even the Phillies, should expect big things in 2007.

    Wolf has stated that he would like to return to Philadelphia for a bunch of reasons. One being that the Phillies drafted him, signed him and gave him the big contract before the 2003 season. More importantly, Wolf wants to be “playing baseball in October,” which might not be such a stretch after back-to-back near misses in 2005 and 2005.

    Meanwhile, Moyer will solidify the back end of a rotation that was a problem for the Phillies in 2006. Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson, Scott Mathieson, Eude Brito, Aaron Fultz and Adam Bernero were thrust into starting roles to varying degrees of mediocrity last season.

    Needless to say, if the Phillies are able to add Wolf to the mix with the inning-eater Moyer, the team will have very few surprises in ’07.

    What some find surprising is that Moyer, who will turn 44 on Nov. 18, drew a two-year deal from the Phillies. Yes, the Phillies held a $4.75 million option for Moyer the upcoming season, but the St. Joseph’s University alum and Sellersville, Pa. native now calls Seattle home. Gillick believed that Moyer would have been able to find a one-year deal closer to home and had to sweeten the pot a bit in order to keep the 20-year veteran in Philadelphia.

    “I certainly felt that if Jamie got out on the marketplace, there was certainly a club out there that was going to give him one year, and there was a possibility that they would give him two years,” Gillick said. “He was important to us not only on the field, but the intangibles in the clubhouse. We wanted him back. I felt that we’d have to step up with more than one year. We think we worked out a situation that is a win-win for both sides. We’re really elated that Jamie re-signed with the Phillies for two years.”

    Moyer was something of a de facto pitching coach for the Phillies when he joined the club after the trade with the Mariners, tutoring Wolf and Hamels as well as other teammates on the finer points of the game he picked up over the past two decades.

    But more than that, the Phillies prospects for getting to the playoffs for the first time since 1993 enticed Moyer. So did the Phillies’ special considerations to Moyer’s family situation where the pitcher can leave the team to go to Seattle to be with his wife and six children when the team’s schedule permitted.

    But unlike the deal Roger Clemens had with the Astros in which he only really had to show up for games he was slated to pitch, Moyer won’t do it that way.

    “The last six weeks of the season were tough on us as a family,” Moyer said. “I can’t thank the Phillies enough for being understanding, and I’m sure my teammates will understand. I’m not here to take advantage of that situation. I won’t be missing road trips. I won’t be picking and choosing what trips I go on. Personally, I can’t do that.”

    Most importantly, Moyer believes he isn’t just durable, but he can still pitch, too. At least that’s the way it seemed when he joined the Phillies for the stretch run in August. In eight starts after the trade Moyer worked into the seventh inning in seven of his eight outings on his way to piling up his sixth straight 200-plus innings season and eighth in his last nine years. His 211 1/3 innings in 2006 were the fifth-most by a pitcher at least 43 years old in baseball history.

    “I’m trying to be honest with myself,” Moyer said. “At some point in time, it’s going to be the end, but right now I haven’t seen any signs. I still enjoy playing, and I still have the passion to play. I still feel like I can contribute, and as long as I have opportunities to do that, why not? Playing allows me to feel like a kid.”

    Why not, indeed.

    Now that’s a staff

    Let’s go out on a limb here and say Charlie Manuel is on notice. His task for 2007 is to get the Phillies into the playoffs or he can forget about that contract extension for his pact that ends at the end of next year.

    At least that’s the way it seemed when the Phillies announced that Davey Lopes, Art Howe and Jimy Williams will be the three new coaches on Manuel’s staff. You see, Lopes, Howe and Williams all have managed in the big leagues, and though only one manager in Phillies history has won more games after his first two seasons as skipper than Manuel, some might argue that a couple of those ex-managers have better credentials than their new boss.

    Williams guided Toronto to the AL East title in 1989 and took the Red Sox to the wild card in 1998, 1999 and had six consecutive second-place finishes with the Red Sox and Astros from 1998 to 2003, earning AL manager of the year in ‘99.

    Howe went to the playoffs in three straight seasons with the Moneyball Oakland A’s from 2000 to 2002, including back-to-back 100-win seasons in 2001 and 2002.

    Lopes, the artful base stealer and Phillies nemesis from his playing days with the Dodgers, was the sacrificial lamb for three years with the Milwaukee Brewers. Nevertheless, the Phillies added 2,283 Major League victories to the coaching staff to go with Manuel’s 393.

    Suddenly, the so-called overmatched Manuel has quite a bit of experience to draw upon in the dugout.

    “We’re going to have a hell of a staff,” he said.

    That’s good, because there were a lot of whispers around the league that Manuel’s staff – specifically bench coach Gary Varsho – wasn’t doing him any favors. Varsho, after all, was Manuel’s right-hand man for in-game tactical decisions. But when Varsho was working in the same capacity on Larry Bowa’s staff, he mostly just had to position the outfield, write out the lineup card and his other administrative duties while Bowa called all the shots. But with Manuel, that lack of a heavy hand ultimately worked against him. In fact, one National League manager once told me to “tell Varsho to keep giving Charlie that good advice.”

    Yes, it was a joke, but it wasn’t complimentary either.

    On the new staff, Williams will be the bench coach and coordinate spring training the way John Vukovich used to. Howe, an infielder with those good Astros teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s, will be the third-base coach and infield instructor. Lopes will be the first-base coach and base running and outfield instructor.

    Lopes could have a big influence on Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino on the base paths.

    Conversely, if the Phillies struggle out of the gate in 2007, or Manuel, inexplicably, loses the clubhouse, GM Pat Gillick doesn’t have to look far for a replacement manager. In that regard will Charlie be sleeping with one open? Is he going to cast sidelong glances over his shoulder to see what his lieutenants are doing?

    Nope. At least that’s what he says.

    “Not at all,” Manuel said. “I feel good about it. These guys are going to be helpful to me and our club.

    Gillick says – at least publically – that Manuel shouldn’t worry about anything but doing his job.

    “More ideas, more imagination,” Gillick said. “These are the type of resources you need on a staff for your manager to draw on.”

    Apparently, as stated previously, Manuel didn’t have that during his first two seasons.

    He has it now.

    “Charlie is the man, and we’re going to do everything we can to help him be successful,” said Howe, who has a reputation for being one of the friendliest men in baseball despite the fact that he managed the Mets for two years. For normal folks, that experience is enough to make one turn his back on all of humanity.

    Not Howe. Now he’s working for Charlie and the Phillies – the loosest and happiest team in the National League.

    Et cetera
    Though it’s not exactly a scoop or a well-kept secret, Gillick says he wants to try to deal Pat Burrell again. Apparently, the club had a deal with Baltimore last July but Burrell invoked his no-trade clause to remain in Philadelphia.

    Said Gillick: “We’re going to have to continue to look for a little more offense. We know that at this point, Pat has had a difficult time protecting [Ryan] Howard. We’re going to have to continue to have to make an adjustment in that area. And naturally, we’re going to have to continue to improve our pitching.

    Gillick says the American League champion Tigers have advanced so quickly because of their pitching.

    “I think one thing that’s been proven is how well Detroit has pitched. If you look at the seven games they’ve won, it all goes back to pitching.”

    But in order to be a legit player in the free-agent market for the highly coveted Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, the Phillies will have to figure out what to do with Burrell and the $27 million they owe him for the next two seasons.

    Coming up…
    Musings from the NLCS and a look ahead to this weekend’s Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii and the Chicago Marathon, which unofficially kicks off the Fall marathoning season.

    Plus, the opening game of the World Series is this Saturday in Detroit.

    A little help?

    The big victory over the Marlins last night was pretty amazing when all that the team went through is taken into consideration. It would seem to me that playing an important baseball game when the team did not get to the hotel in Miami until 8:30 a.m. could have an effect on some players.

    Not these Phillies.

    Trade away Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Rheal Cormier and Cory Lidle? No problem. Have the general manager go on record saying the team was two years away? Pee-shaw. Start an important game at 11:30 p.m. after a four-hour, 32-minute rain delay, and wait on a bus until close to 4 a.m. figuring which airport has a pilot to fly the team to Miami?

    Is that all you have?

    Now all the Phillies need is for the Padres and/or Dodgers to lose two games in a row.

    Of course, the Phillies have to win but that seems like the easy part. Any team that can go through what the Phils have during the past week with the homer stolen from Chase Utley on Tuesday, the 14-inning game on Wednesday, and the debacle with the rain on Thursday.

    “All of a sudden, things went sour,” Manuel said. “We’ve had to overcome some things, too. But as I look back, I see hustle. I see concentration. The outcome doesn’t indicate the level of effort. At the same time, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. We haven’t gotten it done. And it’s hard to put your finger on why.”

    Part of the reason why was that MLB bent down and puckered up to smooch FOX on the rump. When the Phillies were trying to get Thursday night’s game rained out so they could get to Florida before the sun came up, the reason they got from the wizards at MLB was that the Giants and Cardinals might have to play on Monday.

    Huh?

    According to folks following the team in Miami, the Phillies were told by MLB that the league was concerned about the possibility that the Giants and Cardinals would have to play a makeup game on Monday and that FOX was worried that it would only have American League games to broadcast when the Division series start on Tuesday.

    Seriously. No joke.

    But, of course, the Phillies had to win more than one game in Washington for their whine to have any cheese. Winning cures a lot of ills and the Phillies didn’t do that at RFK.

    Even though the Phillies failed to take advantage of wonderful opportunities on Tuesday – when they went 11 straight plate appearances with runners in scoring position without plating a run – and Thursday when they squeaked out just five singles, they somehow find themselves breathing.

    Better yet, with the core of the team set to return next season it’s hard not think that the Phillies will stash this run away in the memory banks. Yeah, they came close last year, too, but this year feels different. It might feel even more different next season if the Phillies’ outfield “improves its speed” in a way general manager Pat Gillick wants.

    Of course, when I heard Gillick mention how he wanted the team to improve its speed in the outfield, I took that to mean, “We want to get rid of Burrell.”

    Funny, Jim Leyland wanted to do the same thing.

    Nevertheless, Burrell hit the ball hard on Thursday and Friday nights and will finish the season with some decent-looking numbers. For Burrell, 29 homers and 95 RBIs is nothing to sneeze at. Yet to mull over Burrell’s season now, after all that has been written, is nothing more than piling on.

    So, since we have the time and the space, let’s think about the Phillies’ lineup for 2007:

    c – ?
    1b – Howard
    2b – Utley
    3b – ?
    ss – Rollins
    lf – Dellucci?/Conine?
    cf – Rowand
    rf – Victorino

    Bench
    Bourn
    Coste
    Roberson
    Nunez

    Starters
    Lieber
    Myers
    Hamels
    Moyer
    Wolf?

    Bullpen
    Gordon
    Geary
    Madson
    Smith
    White
    ?
    ?

    Observations with 10 games to go

    Based on just looking around and listening, here are a few observations about the surging Phillies:

  • After injuries and other maladies curbed his first handful of pro seasons, it finally looks as if Cole Hamels is going to make to the end of one unscathed. Who would have guessed that Hamels first full season would come in the big leagues?

    Be that as it may, Hamels is 6-3 with a 2.67 ERA over his last 10 starts, so it seems as if he’s getting stronger. According to his teammates, he’s just the same old Cole.

    “That’s his personality,” catcher Chris Coste said. “He’s strong minded. He knows what he can do. Whether it’s the middle or July or the seventh game of the World Series, he’s the same guy. That’s just the way he is. Whether it’s a playoff game or a game like this one, he’s the guy you want on the mound.”

    Said fellow lefty Randy Wolf: “He has one of the three best changeups in baseball.”

    Johan Santana is at the top of that list, according to Wolf.

  • Trading for Jamie Moyer and Jeff Conine was a masterstroke by general manager Pat Gillick and his assistant Ruben Amaro Jr. Forget what those guys are doing on the field, it’s in the clubhouse where the influence is really important.

    Moyer and Conine, both 40 and over, are two classic lead-by-example guys, who have shown the youngsters on the Phillies how to prepare and get into the right frame of mind to play. Both guys are intense, they do their homework, and they bring an organic intensity to every task. Moyer and Conine are not in Philadelphia to goof around – they’re here to win.

    In 2003 the Marlins picked up Conine for the stretch run and he helped his team hammer the Phillies to win the wild-card and contributed to the World Series run. More important than his home runs to beat the Phillies was the attitude he brought to the Marlins. I remember Juan Pierre watching how the veteran prepared every day and said he was afraid to talk to Conine because, “He always looks like he’s mad.”

    It turns out Conine wasn’t mad. He’s just hungry.

  • Yeah, there are nine games left and the Phillies are as close to a playoff berth as they have been since 1993. Every victory puts them just a tiny bit closer. However, I still don’t feel it yet. Maybe it’s from watching too many Phillies games over the years, but I’m going to wait until the very end and reserve judgment.
  • Be that as it may, I think the Padres will win the NL West. Call it a hunch.
  • Speaking of Baseball Prospectus, here’s something interesting from Will Carroll’s injury column that could have some bearing on this weekend’s series:

    Miguel Cabrera has missed a couple games with a strained shoulder, the result of an awkward lunge at an outside pitch. Cabrera’s injury isn’t considered serious, but could keep him out for the rest of the season. The team is focused on getting past the controversy surrounding their manager and one way to do that would be finishing at or above .500. Cabrera’s return might well be tied to the chances of hitting that magic number. The MVP candidate should have no long-term concerns from the injury.

    Carroll’s column is stellar stuff, though Howie Bryant’s steroids-in-baseball book was far superior to Carroll’s.

  • I play hunches, but at BP they use science. Here are the latest postseason odds as generated by the folks at BP simulating the final 10 games of the season a million times:

    Phillies are on pace to win 84.1 games, which gives them a 46.53874 percent chance to win the wild card. However, the Padres (85.4 victories) and the Dodgers (84.7), still rate above the Phillies.

    Can you say playoff game in Philadelphia on Oct. 2?

  • Manuel and Gillick on Myers

    MANUEL
    When I listened to him, it was something that comment they put out described it so there’s nota whole lot more I can add to it.

    I didn’t say too much too him.

    I think getting back on the mound will be good for him and I think he’s ready. I don’t think this is going to be a big distraction at all for him.

    (matured)
    I don’t know what I want to say about that.

    (Belle)
    Not to our players it wasn’t. We faced different problems in Cleveland. Usually when a guy played, he played good. A pitcher pitched god and a player played good.

    This morning around 8 a.m.

    Gotta be able to take it I guess and handle it.

    (Team)
    I think they’ll definitely rally behind him. I think if they like him, they’ll get behind him and I think they have respect for him.

    (Reaction)
    My first reaction was I wanted everything to be all right.

    (25 stay with through career)
    I think these things have a way of working themselves out.

    (Michaels)
    I think that we handled that pretty good.

    (reflection)
    I want our team to be perceived to be what it is. Of the teams in the big leagues that I’ve been around, I think we have an outstanding group of guys. You have problems with every single one of them. Problems are a part of life. Problems are something you work through.

    (on Manuel)
    Do I think it reflects on me? Absolutely not.

    GILLICK
    How troubling is this for you and the team?
    At this point, it’s a sensitive issue, and I certainly think that anything affects the players or our team, we take it very seriously.

    Expect Myers to be mentally ready?
    I think he will be. I think he’s the type of guy who, when he gets between the stripes on the field, I think he’ll certainly be competitive. One of the things with Brett is sometimes he’s a little too competitive and overthrows a little bit. I think he might be a little emotional tomorrow.

    Support for Brett?
    Again, we offer whatever support for he and his wife. Whatever needs they might have, the Phillies are her to support not only Brett and Kim, but any of our players.

    Skipping him tomorrow?
    You’d have to ask the manager about that. I don’t make that.

    As a longtime baseball man, do you think it’s a good idea for him to pitch?
    I think he’ll be fine and it’s in the best interests of the club. He’s been our best pitcher. I think it’s in the best interests of the club that he pitches tomorrow.

    Spoken to him?
    Yeah, I’ve had an opportunity to talk to him.

    State his mind?
    I can’t comment on that.

    Did he tell you what happened?
    I can’t comment on that, basically, because this is ongoing from a legal standpoint.

    I found out early this morning.

    My indication was that he wanted to pitch tomorrow. You’d have to talk to Charlie and Rich, but I don’t think there was much thought about skipping him.

    Significant distraction?
    I think our players are professional. When you go out on the field, you try to put any distraction behind you, whatever it might be. When you’re on the field, there’s intensity. I think that’s what our players will do.

    Reaction?
    It’s an unfortunate situation. I wish whatever did occur didn’t occur.

    Embarrassment?
    I don’t know that it’s an embarrassment. It’s certainly something that we’re very sensitive to. We’re going to be supportive of the players no matter what the situation is.

    Discipline?
    There have been some charges made, and I think we have to wait until the outcome of whatever proceedings the commonwealth of Massachussetts brings forward. I think you have to wait until the outcome before you think about discipline.

    Stand Pat

    General manager Pat Gillick made a rare pre-game appearance on the field before yesterday’s game. No, Gillick isn’t avoiding anything, he’s just busy and perhaps I’m still used to seeing the last GM – dressed in suit, jacket and tie – down on the field before every game.

    Obviously, Pat Gillick has a different way of doing things.

    Nevertheless, Gillick took the time to talk to a few of the scribes before the game and addressed a few issues regarding the baseball team. Among them:

    On the recent spate of losses
    “It’s more of the way we’ve played. We haven’t played real smart. We’ve made some stupid mistakes. We haven’t played a lot of really good, clean games.”

    On the starting pitching
    “Our starting pitching has been so inconsistent. That really, I think, sets the tone. Hopefully, we can get some consistency.”

    “That’s the only way you put a streak together. (During the team’s May winning streak), when you look at it, our starting pitching earned run average was very respectable. That’s why, I think, we won the games.”

    On a potential trade to get more pitching
    “I think that those people who are going to move pitching are probably going to wait toward the end of the deadline, closer to July 31st.”

    On the amount of deals in the next month
    “I think those people who are going to move pitching are probably going to wait until toward the end of the deadline… . Whoever moves, I think they’re going to be getting a premium.”

    And most revealing…

    “There’s probably clubs out there that have more to offer than we do.”

    As he has always maintained, Gillick said the team has no “untouchables.” However, it will be very difficult to trade “5 and 10” guys like Rheal Cormier and Mike Lieberthal, as well as players with high salaries and no-trade clauses like Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Pat Burrell, Randy Wolf (can’t trade a player on DL anyway) and Jon Lieber.

    On top of that, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, players with relatively low salaries, are the nucleus of the franchise and won’t be going anywhere.

    In other words, don’t count on the Phillies making a blockbuster this season.