Thursday, December 8, 2005

The late-November, early-December flurry of transactions made this offseason one of the richest and busiest offseasons in recent memory, despite a player pool lacking in quality. The Phillies, in fact, are a big part of this offseason not only in players they acquired, but also in players they failed to retain. We saw Aaron Rowand come in along with two adroit Minor League pitchers in exchange for helping pack Jim Thome's suitcase for the world champion side of Chicago. Contemptibly, we watched as Billy Wagner shoved GM Pat Gillick's meager three-year, $30 million offer back in his face en route to the New York borough of Queens for the largest annual salary ever awarded a relief pitcher ($43 million over four years). Other players acquired are the seasoned and sauteed Tom Gordon, along with Julio Santana, Sal Fasano, and Abraham Nunez.

Jim Thome

The acquisition of Nunez all but sends David Bell to greener pastures beyond Philadelphia, but you wouldn't have noticed because the Phillies were equable at the recently dismissed winter meetings. The rumors were there, of course: mostly concerning the universally coveted omnipotence of Bobby Abreu, but nothing really jerked Gillick enough to pull the trigger, and that may have been for the better. Despite what many claim, the starting rotation is not despicable should they go into spring training identical as they went into the winter meetings. Ryan Madson, who was a starter throughout the Minor Leagues, may return to the starting rotation. Considering that his one start against the White Sox in 2004 interleague play is an aberration, he would fit nicely at the back end of the rotation with a low-90's fastball, and two very cunning pitches in the changeup and curveball.

Most have an opinion of Bobby Abreu - most of it in the highest of glowing terms - but mine is indifference. I wouldn't mind if the Phillies dealt him, but you also won't hear me complaining if I see #53 in right field on opening day. He has two flaws at best - his high strikeout totals and his defiance to getting his uniform dirty diving for balls in the outfield - but his intangibles - ability to work counts and draw walks - as well as physical prowess completely dwarf those criticisms. However, seeing as how the Philadelphia batting order is weighted significantly in left-handers and switch-hitters (Rollins, Nunez, Utley, Howard), Pat Burrell's right-handed bat becomes a necessity, and thusly makes him less expendable on the trade market. That leaves Abreu as bait to lure in a top-of-the-line starting pitcher that the Phillies have audibly been soliciting.

Ryan Madson

The Phillies have tried Abreu-for-Prior and Abreu-for-Zito among other trade possibilities, but if not for the 29 other general managers, it was Philly's own locking up his suitcase for business elsewhere. Gillick will not trade Abreu just for the sake of solidifying his rotation or for the sake of being an active part of the offseason. Maybe it won't even take Abreu to land that #1 or 2 starter; maybe Jason Michaels can. One of the other hot items this offseason is, in fact, Jason Michaels. Despite never being a true starting outfielder, teams covet his hard-nosed style of play that compliments his high on-base percentage. Michaels formed a very effective dual-headed centerfielder with Kenny Lofton, whom the Phillies have parted ways with. Of course, Michaels won't land a Prior or Zito without some help, but maybe Gillick can swap him with Boston's oft-shopped Bronson Arroyo, knowing that Boston will need an offense-capable outfielder if Manny Ramirez is traded.

When Gillick wasn't fending off Abreu-themed trade requests, he was looking for an experienced setup man, a man who could potentially fill in for Tom Gordon if he's not the closer he once was several years ago. The man who fits that bill, along with the bill of availability, is Braden Looper, ostracized from New York for a poor second-season with the Mets. If Madson isn't put into the rotation, he may become Gordon's setup man, but he showed signs of fatigue and overuse towards the end of the 2005 season which causes some concern for the team. After acquiring Ugueth Urbina mid-season in 2005, Manuel showed some favoritism in his bullpen, often using the 1-2-3 punch in Madson-Urbina-Wagner, and all three were out of gas before the season had ended. If Madson steps back into the setup role, Manuel must be more delicate in his use of the bullpen.

With baseball looking ahead to the first annual World Cup and spring training, almost every team's roster has undergone some changes, some for good, and some out of necessity. The Phillies seem to be caught right in the middle. Manuel recently claimed that the team is weaker than it was at the end of 2005, so expect Gillick to start pulling the trigger sooner rather than later.