Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Forty-one baseballs sailed over the fence at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan thanks to the effortless swing of Bobby Abreu. Somewhere among those forty-one homeruns, Bobby Abreu's stock hit the highest it will ever hit, and the general managers of many teams went to sleep that night dreaming of having a multi-talented outfielder of their own. And they could have had one, all it took was a phone call to recently dismissed Phillies GM Ed Wade.

Maybe it wasn't the Homerun Derby that made Abreu's value hit the ceiling; maybe it was the sweet-stroked single to the opposite field in the All-Star game off of dependable White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle, showcasing the natural hitting talent he possesses. That, and the fact that Abreu almost perennially hits .300 with 25 HR and over 100 RBI. Or it could be his Vladimir Guerrero-like arm that averages close to 9 assists a season in right field. Whatever the case, Abreu is a top-rank outfielder, and his needle was in the red during the first half of the 2005 season.

Abreu's skills are certainly coveted by any team with an outfielder deficiency, and the Phillies should have taken advantage of that when his stock went through the roof. The Phillies had no truly dependable starter, and could have used Abreu as fodder to get that elusive ace they haven't seen since the Curt Schilling era circa 1993-2000. They were also lacking at third base due to the perpetual underachievement of David Bell, at catcher due to the perpetual underachievement of Mike Lieberthal, and at left-handed setup due to the perpetual underachievement of Rheal Cormier.

It would be tough to part with Abreu, whose contributions of the team are swept under the carpet of their zero postseason apperances since 1993. However, a lot of positives would have come from trading Abreu, such as clearing that $13 million per year contract of his, allowing enough cap room to definitively sign Billy Wagner for the amount he's asking for (estimated around $27-30 million for 3 years with a full no-trade clause). With Abreu gone, that leaves a slot open for Ryan Howard to once again attempt to convert to a left fielder, allowing the Phillies to keep Jim Thome at first base and move Pat Burrell to right field.

Even if Howard is a defensive liability in the outfield, his offensive prowess more than makes up for it. And don't forget about whatever we got in return for Abreu. The Phillies would have been stronger as a team in 2006 if Abreu had been traded before the second-half of the season resumed, and the public was granted full access to the demise of Abreu. Not complete demise, mind you, but enough demise to pop the thoughts of getting a Roy Halladay or Ben Sheets in return for him, for after the All-Star break until season's end (74 games), Abreu hit just 6 homeruns and struck out at a much higher clip in clutch situations. A large contribution to his decline was his daily struggle with aches and pains due to gutting out all but four games in the 162-game season.

But wait, if Abreu hadn't been a Phillie from mid-July to early October, would the Astros have sweated their Wild Card lead down to their very last game? The answer is no, they wouldn't. The fact is, the Phillies didn't make the playoffs yet again, and a majority of the team felt that they didn't have a shot before their late-season surges. Billy Wagner most notably said the team had no shot of making the postseason with the way they were playing at one point in the season, and he was partially correct. Without Abreu, the Phillies still don't make the playoffs, but they are extremely strong for the 2006 season - a 2006 season that will not be orchestrated by Ed Wade.

Trading Abreu was a decision that had to be made by Wade, though, and given the public backlash for unloading Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen the way he did, he was in no position to let another superstar leave Philadelphia on his watch. So, to save his own hide, Wade slighted the Phillies of an opportunity they had to seize at that very moment. It's no longer feasible to trade Abreu with his value right now, but with a new GM coming in, unloading Abreu may be second on the list of things to do right after re-signing Wagner. One thing is for sure: the clock is ticking for the Phillies to capitalize on Abreu's worth. It may already be too late.

As the Phils head into the offseason fairly certain of their makeup for the 2006 season, there might come a time for the new GM to make a bold, impulsive decision to start things off on the right foot. Don't be surprised if that right foot may not have that Bobby Abreu hangnail.