Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ryan Franklin
Ryan Franklin signed a one-year deal
with the Phillies worth $2.6 million.

Immediately following the firing of Ed Wade and the subsequent hiring of Pat Gillick, Phillies fans across the nation began salivating at the thought of having a baseball team capable of reaching the postseason. The new GM will surely bring in that ace the team so desperately yearns for! He, too, will reformat the bullpen to scatter the ghosts of Billy Wagner past away. Of course, he will also maximize on Bobby Abreu's fleeting value before the clock strikes midnight and riches turn back to rags.

No, Gillick has done none of that, only throwing pebbles into the ocean that is the hot stove. No such Abreu-for-Prior swap, only a Padilla-for-Rodriguez (Ricardo, that is) deal that may have forced the respective GM's to avoid eye contact with each other, it was that pointless. The Phillies have given Ryan Franklin, formerly of the Seattle Mariners, a chance to redeem himself after a poor 2005 season that included a 10-game suspension for testing positive for banned substances. In fact, the Phils gave Franklin 2.6 million reasons to redeem himself in 2006. Why the Phillies brought in a career 35-50 fly-ball, non-strikeout pitcher to a launching pad of a stadium is inexplicable at the present moment. The soon-to-be 33-year-old Franklin has been under Gillick's tutelage in Toronto in 1991 when he was drafted (but refused to sign), in Seattle from 2001-2003, and now in the City of Brotherly Love for 2006.

All theories aside, Gillick has yet to assemble an improved Phillies package, and he must do just that by the time spring training ends, and then again by the time the July 31 trading deadline closes. The current rotation of Myers, Lieber, Lidle, Franklin, and most likely Ryan Madson, is average at best, and considering the NL East is over the weight-limit for talent, the Phillies will soon find themselves plunging south in mighty turbulence, as many question marks remain.

Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard may split time at first with Pat Burrell
until he can adequately handle left-handed pitching.

Assuming Gillick continues at his current pace, the Phillies will head into spring training with no more major changes: a mediocre starting rotation, a bullpen that has gotten older and less dependable, a catcher whose time is running out, and a right-fielder who is either the most underappreciated player in the Majors, or is not living up to his potential. The Phightin's are in no position to seriously contend with the wined-and-dined New York Mets, who took a page out of their neighboring Yankees' book in overspending for talent.

The starting lineup is essentially the same besides the switch from Kenny Lofton to Aaron Rowand in centerfield. Youngsters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have a full year of big-league experience under their belts, and the same can be said for pitchers Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito. The starting rotation figures to be the same besides the switch from Padilla to Franklin, and the #5 spot largely depends on how Tejeda, Brito, and phenom Gavin Floyd pitch in spring training. Because the Phillies already have two left-handers in the bullpen with Rheal Cormier and Aaron Fultz, Brito's chances of making the club appear slim at this juncture. To boot, Gavin Floyd has had an extremely reassuring winter in Puerto Rico, giving him the inside track to the #5 spot as long as the Phillies don't sign a set-up man, as Ryan Madson is in that role currently. There are questions of whether a starting rotation without a left-hander is smart; however, Gillick regards his pitchers not with which hand he throws, but with how many outs he can get.

Projected Lineup
SS Jimmy Rollins S/R
CF Aaron Rowand R/R
2B Chase Utley L/R
RF Bobby Abreu L/R
LF Pat Burrell R/R
1B Ryan Howard L/L
3B David Bell R/R
C Mike Lieberthal R/R

The bench has clearly changed since the Phillies wrapped up an end-of-the-season sweep of the Washington Nationals. Reliable backup catcher Todd Pratt was released and Sal Fasano was signed to take his place backing up Mike Lieberthal. Ramon Martinez, the "other guy" in the Placido Polanco-for-Ugueth Urbina trade last season, was not resigned. Gillick made a buzz early on by signing former Cardinals backup third baseman Abraham Nunez, a move that almost certainly signaled the end of the David Bell era in Philadelphia. Returning as infield backups are youngsters Matt Kata and Danny Sandoval, as well as veteran Tomas Perez.

Projected Rotation
SP Jon Lieber R
SP Brett Myers R
SP Cory Lidle R
SP Ryan Franklin R
SP Ryan Madson R

Backup outfielders remain a constant in Philadelphia, with Jason Michaels and Shane Victorino returning. However, both names have been dangled in trade rumors throughout the offseason. Sometime after the July 31 trading deadline, we could see both a fresh face and a vaguely familiar face in Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson respectively, if Michaels, Victorino, or even Bobby Abreu are traded. The Pharm system, besides being rich in left-handed talent and catchers, also is ripe with outfielders, so this year could be a changing of the guard in Philadelphia.

And let's not forget the bullpen, the crux of the Phillies since the 1993 World Series when closer Mitch Williams, tired from overuse, served up a three-run World Series-winning homerun to Toronto Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter. Throughout the years under Ed Wade's tenure, he has mixed and matched his bullpen to no avail, and Gillick may have to do the same, as the bullpen has only slid backwards since Billy Wagner switched his pinstripe colors from red to blue. Replacing Wagner is Tom Gordon, who spent the last four seasons setting up for Cooperstown-bound Mariano Rivera. Gordon most certainly has retained his velocity and control, the question is regarding his state of mind: Is he ready to handle the responsbility of the Phillies' ninth inning? We can only hope.

Tom Gordon
Tom Gordon is
the new closer.

Handling the eighth inning for the Phillies will be Ryan Madson, unless a set-up man is signed or traded for, in which case Madson will assume the last spot in the starting rotation. As mentioned previously, Cormier and Fultz will handle the middle-relief and lefty-specialist duties. Rule-5 signee Chris Booker appears to be assured a spot in the bullpen as he can reach the mid-to-high-90's with his fastball. Tejeda, Brito, Geoff Geary, Julio Santana, and Rodriguez will compete for the sixth and seventh spots during spring training.

The Phillies certainly have plenty of parts to work with -- or without -- going into the 2006 season. The only question is if it's enough to get them back to the playoffs for the first time since Joe Carter mightily stuck that dagger into the collective heart of Philadelphia.