Friday, August 4, 2006

Bobby Abreu
Bobby Abreu will be getting on base plenty
for the New York Yankees.

July 29, 2006 marked not just a matchup between the Phillies and Marlins that featured one proven ace in Dontrelle Willis and one future ace in Cole Hamels, but it was unofficially the end of the Abreu era in Philadelphia. Abreu was not in the lineup that day, and nor was he in the lineup the next day, pulled just ten minutes prior to the first game of a doubleheader with the Marlins. In the ninth inning, it was announced to the fans that Abreu and pitcher Cory Lidle were heading north to the media capital of the world. Respectfully, the fans in attendance gave one of the organization's best hitters a standing ovation, a token of appreciation that Abreu had learned not to expect in the tough sports town.

Going into 2006, Abreu had the fourth-highest on-base percentage in Phillies history at .415. His slugging percentage was fifth at .519. The introverted right fielder could be counted on to hit at or near .300 every season with at least 20 homeruns, around 100 RBI, and 20 stolen bases every season. At the time of his trade, he led the Major Leagues in pitches per at-bat and walks. Yes, Abreu was the model five-tool player -- despite what Philadelphia fans will tell you, Abreu had an above-average arm, hence his 2005 Gold Glove Award.

Phillies general manager Pat Gillick received instant criticism from armchair GM's and paid journalists alike, most of it, he'll tell you, is warranted, despite the fact that Abreu's full no-trade clause limited the available suitors to four teams. Abreu's hefty contract then left essentially only one suitor: the free-spending New York Yankees. The Yankees, putting "untouchable" tags on pitcher Phillip Hughes and infielder Jose Tabata, only had to give up one valuable prospect: their 2005 first-round draft pick in shortstop C.J. Henry -- infielder Eric Duncan was surprisingly not included, a slap in the face to anyone with emotional stock in the Phillies organization.

David Dellucci
David Dellucci will be playing regularly.

Taking Abreu's spot in right field is David Dellucci, who makes roughly $900,000 per season and will be a free agent at the end of the season. Dellucci, in roughly 200 less at-bats, is producing nearly as much as Abreu did, as he is hitting .329 with 8 HR and 24 RBI. Shane Victorino will also see increased playing time, particularly against left-handed starting pitchers and as a late-innings defensive and baserunning substitution.

Since the Abreu Era unofficially came to a close, the Phillies have gone 6-1, including a recent three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, the second-best team in the National League, leaving them just two games behind the Wild Card-leading Cincinatti Reds. During the seven-game stretch, the Phillies are averaging exactly nine runs a game and have gotten quality pitching performances out of Brett Myers, and rookies Cole Hamels and Scott Mathieson. Hamels has gone at least seven innings in his last two starts, including tying a career-high with twelve strikeouts in the series finale with the Cardinals.

Gillick has admitted that the team may not be viable contenders in 2007, a shock to anyone who has followed the rise of Brett Myers, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. The Abreu trade was admittedly a salary dump, as were the trades of third baseman David Bell and left-handed relief pitcher Rheal Cormier, who went to the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinatti Reds, respectively. While the Abreu trade seems ill-advised and lopsided at first glance, remember that Pat Gillick was the general manager of the Seattle Mariners when future Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. was traded to the Cincinatti Reds for Mike Cameron, Brett Tomko, and Antonio Perez. The Mariners then went on to go 207-117 in the next two seasons in which they made the playoffs. Gillick then signed right fielder Ichiro Suzuki from Japan in 2001, and went 93-69 in 2002 and 2003, Gillick's last two seasons in Seattle.

Cory Lidle
The only thing Cory Lidle wants to do is fly around in
his airplane and gamble, according to Arthur Rhodes.

Lidle was barely settled into New York before taking a cheap shot at his former teammates by saying, "On the days I'm pitching, it's almost a coin flip as to know if the guys behind me are going to be there to play 100 percent." Phillies relief pitcher Arthur Rhodes quickly responded to Lidle's comments: "He is a scab. When he started, he would go 51/3 innings and (the bullpen) would have to win the game for him. The only thing Cory Lidle wants to do is fly around in his airplane and gamble. He doesn't have a work ethic. After every start, he didn't run or lift weights. He would sit in the clubhouse and eat ice cream. When he pitched, we busted our tails for him, he shouldn't say that, he shouldn't say anything like that because he is a scab. He crossed the line when guys like me, Flash (Tom Gordon) and (Mike) Lieberthal were playing. He is a replacement player."

The comments Lidle made were reminiscient of comments former Philly closer Billy Wagner made, when he claimed players like Pat Burrell called him a rat and that his teammates wanted to see him fail. Not surprisingly, Gillick made a half-hearted attempt to resign Wagner when he was a free agent in the 2005 offseason. The trades of Bell, Lidle, and Abreu, as well as the failed Wagner signing point to a change in culture for what is now truly Pat Gillick's team. Pat Burrell, known for his ability to flick bottle caps in the off-hours, is probably playing his last two months in Philadelphia. This is now the team of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Brett Myers, three players who are do-or-die competitive and hunger for success.

At 2.5 games behind in the Wild Card and winners of six of their last seven games, no one is giving up on the season yet, despite that there has been a youth movement on the Major League roster. Pitchers Scott Mathieson, 22, and Brian Sanchez, 28, infielder Danny Sandoval and outfielder Chris Roberson, both 26, have found spots on the roster following the trading deadline. Randy Wolf, 30, is coming back from "Tommy John" surgery, and Abraham Nunez, also 30, will be playing every day in Bell's absence. The rest of the season will be a reasonable barometer for the current state of affairs in the Phillies organization. Gillick won't be looking for too much outside help in the offseason.