Not All He Did Was Wrong, Anyway

It was always hard to like Steve Phillips. From his I-wish-I-were-still-a-ballplayer goatee to his marital infidelities, there always seemed something just a little smarmy about the guy. These days there are plenty of baseball reasons not to like him as well. We are all painfully aware of the abject deficiencies the New York Mets regularly display. This is a team that can't do any of the three things any baseball team must do in order to be considered a baseball team.

They can't hit. They can't field. They can't throw.

Yet somehow they are getting a collective $120million to do what amounts to the exact opposite of what they're supposed to be doing. And so we blame Steve Phillips, architect of the embarrassment, designer of the duds, CEO of this comedy of errors. But why not cut the guy some slack, if not his facial hair. Let's get inside the head of Smug Phillips. Let's go back to the beginning of the end - the Mets World Series loss to the rival Yankees in 2000.

The first and most calamitous of all the moves or in this case non-moves - not signing Alex Rodriguez. There are two ways to look at this. The Mets had a chance to sign a player who most likely will go down in history as one of the three greatest players of all time, if not the greatest, period. He wanted to play for the Mets. I will say it again; he wanted to play for the Mets. Of course, it would have cost them about $25million a year, but maybe it could have been less. The Mets never made an offer.

Can we blame Phillips for this? Probably not. This had to be a directive from ownership and one that reeked of righteousness. They simply decided no one deserved or deserves a contract of that size. Ultimately, it couldn't have been Phillips' decision. I mean no GM in his right mind would turn down the opportunity to acquire a player of this magnitude, especially for a team playing in the shadow of the greatest sports franchise of all time. I assume Phillips made a case for A-Rod and was rebuffed. Verdict: Not Guilty.

Next on "When GMs Go Bad:" signing Kevin Appier for $40million over 4 years. Not too many people really know what it's like to have millions upon millions of dollars to throw around, but it's generally acknowledged that many a wise business move have had to have been made in order to accumulate that size bounty. The following cannot possibly be considered a wise business move: You don't sign perhaps the greatest baseball player of all time, though you do have the money, but you do sign a once dominant, but now simply hard-working pitcher for $10million a year. Egads!

A-Rod would have put at least 5,000 more people in the seats for every home game. Kevin Appier puts one additional person in the seats if his wife shows up. Do the math, Mr. Wilpon! Nevertheless, Phillips could have found someone else to spend $40million on or hey, here's an idea: Save it for someone worth it. Verdict: Guilty.

The Appier mistake was compounded when someone had the bright idea to send him to Anaheim for Mo Vaughan, he of almost double the contract, and most certainly, double the waste line. Mo of course, produced very little in his first year and is now facing retirement because of arthritic knees. Did you know Vaughan is actually the highest paid player in baseball this year? And to think, Phillips and the Wilpons were afraid to make Alex Rodriguez the highest paid player in baseball. Oh, the irony.

Well, they got the highest paid player in baseball anyway, but he ain't on the field. He's been flying around the country trying to find a doctor who won't tell him is career is over. It has been reported however that the suggestion to get Vaughan was Bobby Valentine's. No wonder he was fired first! Phillips apparently opposed it, but was swayed when this Mets brain trust watched him take some cuts in a batting cage in Massachusetts. So it wasn't Phillips idea. He did in the end however, sign off on it. Verdict: Deadlocked.

The Burnitz and Jeff D'Amico trade can be debated two ways. From a strictly personnel standpoint, it was a decent idea. The Mets gave up very little, thanks to the three team nature of the deal, to get a guy who averaged more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the previous 4 years, and a pitcher, who prior to the deal, was occasionally dominating when healthy. Most Mets fans liked Todd Zeile, but other than a fantastic Series, he had had a terrible year at the plate and wasn't a natural first baseman.

Glendon Rusch, the other principal in the deal, was a lefty, but only rarely flashed the ability to be a consistent winner. The biggest problem with this deal was the roughly $33million left on Burnitz's contract. I hate to beat a dead horse, but you won't pay the greatest player in all of baseball and someone who could so easily turn New York into a Mets-first town a ton of money, but you will, for a little less than a ton of money, pay for a guy who looks and swings like Freddy Krueger and another guy who looks like he ate Freddy Krueger? How do these guys sleep at night? But the fact remains, they didn't give up much and ultimately the money didn't come close to the Rodriguez commitment. Verdict: Deadlocked.

By all accounts the Roberto Alomar deal was a steal. Scouts and pundits alike marveled at the boldness and execution of the trade. The Mets were acquiring perhaps the greatest second baseman of all time, coming off one his best years, for "only" $16million over two years. There was the little issue of the fact that the Mets already had a very qualified second baseman in Edgardo Alfonzo, but what did that matter when you can just instruct that certain someone to change positions, especially one so loyal to the organization.

We know now that this deal stinks. Alomar, for the second consecutive year, is producing well below his average and he hasn't exactly endeared himself to Mets fans with his general aloofness. The Mets gave up two top prospects in Alex Escobar and Billy Traber so this deal could look even worse if Escobar lives up to his potential and Traber continues to pitch well for the Indians. Nevertheless, you can't really fault Phillips for making this deal at the time. He was lauded. We can't recant that praise in hindsight. Verdict: Not Guilty.

Roger Cedeno. The name sends shivers up and down the spines of Mets fans everywhere. But what about his previous years with the Mets? He stole 66 bases for crying out loud. He hit .300. No one really remembers any ghastly defensive or baserunning blunders. The Astros certainly thought he was a prospect, accepting him as part of the Mike Hampton trade. But that's where it ended for Roger. He regressed significantly.

Perhaps he should have followed Rickey Henderson everywhere he went, that includes this year to the Newark Bears. Phillips must have thought he'd thrive again in New York and decided to ignore all the scouting reports that damned Cedeno as the baseball player with the worst baseball instincts. He produced once for the Mets. Phillips assumed he'd recapture that flash. He was so very wrong. But I'm not sure it was the worst decision made. Verdict: Deadlocked.

There are also a host of smaller moves that Phillips orchestrated that are also defensible or at best debatable. Who knew Ventura would recover and produce again? Mike Hampton was never going to sign. John Olerud wanted to go home to Seattle. Donnie Wall was a good reliever though Phillips should have been reluctant to give up a productive and cheap outfielder in Bubba Trammel for him. Matt Lawton for Rick Reed was a wash though I wouldn't mind have Reed back. It would be nice to have someone on the roster this year for Jay Payton, particularly a decent and hard throwing right-hander like John Thompson, who's doing much more for the Rangers than David Cone, Mike Bascik and Jason Middlebrook combined. Oh and Steve, you really should have done more to get Gary Sheffield. But I understand. Management wants upstanding citizens on the roster.

Phillips or more specifically Fred Wilpon tried hard to rectify last year's mistakes. The signings of Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd and Mike Stanton were all good baseball decisions, especially for a team with money. Though they haven't been great, they are producing enough. If only they had been available the year before. Phillips may not have been in this mess.

The biggest mistake Phillips and the Mets made since 2000 was to act desperately. But that desperation wasn't immediate. They obviously felt comfortable after their Series loss or they would have signed Rodriguez. Instead, they stood pat. But when that same Series team stumbled the following year, looking lethargic and offensively impotent, Phillips started reaching. They wanted offense. They wanted names. They wanted back pages.

That is no way to run a baseball team. The strangest thing of all about Phillips moves since 2000 is that, to the man, almost every single one failed miserably. That's a little more than bad luck. That's just being bad. And for that, you lose your job. So, so long Steve Phillips. We appreciate the Piazza and Leiter deals and the Subway Series. Now go call Tom Hicks and see if you can't patch things up with A-Rod.


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