Major Stat For Phillies: 55 GF

The Phillies are in the middle of a pennant race and all sights are focused on this season, of course. The problem is that good teams – except, maybe the Yankees who don't worry about finances – keep an eye on the future. The Phillies need to keep an eye on the future too, although the mere fact that they're in a pennant race may impact their future more than some fans realize. What's good (and necessary) for the short-term isn't always good for the long-term and the Phillies realize that.

Certainly, the Phillies have done a decent job of securing the future. Players like Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf were wrapped up long-term before they got a whiff of free agency.

Here's the problem. Any team in a pennant race relies heavily on their closer. If things go right, their closer piles up numbers in the save category and in the games finished category. That's one column the Phillies faithful should be watching and you can rest assured that the Phillies front office is faithfully watching.

Games Finished (GF); One of those miscellaneous columns in the mind-numbing array of stats that make up the game of baseball. Most people breeze right past them, but Jose Mesa and his agent didn't when they negotiated the closer's contract. They made that column a sticking point of their negotiations and they look pretty smart for having done that. You see, there is a clause in Mesa's contract that states that if he has 55 GF in the 2003 season, his option for next season automatically kicks in. Through the Phillies first 100 games, Mesa has finished 38 of them. That option has a $5.9 million price tag attached to it, which is actually only slightly more than the $5.2 million tag for this season of Mesa's deal.

Mesa is on a pace to finish 62 games this season, meaning he collects the big paycheck for next season. Of course, with the Phillies in a pennant race, they don't always have the luxury of avoiding the "GF Factor" where Mesa is concerned. Keep in mind, that if Mesa doesn't finish 55 games and the Phillies do want him back, they can still exercise the same $5.9 million option, but at least in that scenario, the choice is theirs.

Actually, that makes things in the decision making department easier for Ed Wade. If you think about it objectively, would the Phillies want Mesa back at $5.9 million if given the choice. He's not the worst closer around, although that is a lot of money. It comes down to alternatives. The Phillies don't have any potential closers staring at them from their minor league system, signing a free agent closer is always a risky proposition since you don't know if you'll be successful and trading for one isn't easy either. Of course, the recent acquisition of Mike Williams does give them one potential alternative.

The deal for Williams is genuinely intriguing. The Phillies on the surface bolstered their already strong bullpen and added a veteran arm, yada, yada, yada. Below the surface, they got a guy who can spell Mesa here and there if the save opportunities come fast and furious and they also got a guy who could potentially be their closer next season for less than Mesa's $5.9 million. Williams option is worth only $4.0 million for the 2004 season.

Eric Gagne – LA100 (34-34)
Jose Valverde – Ariz100 (9-9)
John Smoltz – Atl95 (37-39)
Billy Wagner – Hou91 (30-33)
Jose Mesa – Phil86 (19-22)
Todd Worrell – SF85 (23-27)
Joe Borowski – Cubs85 (17-20)
Mike Williams – Phil83 (25-30)
Rocky Biddle – Mon83 (24-29)
Matt Mantei – Ariz83 (10-12)
Braden Looper – Fla81 (17-21)
Cal Eldred – STL62 (8-13)
The truth is that it's going to be tough to keep Mesa from reaching the 55 GF mark. He only needs 17 more to get there and you have to figure that he should sail past that without much of a problem, considering that the Phillies figure to be in the wild card race for the rest of the season.

What does Mesa's option mean for the Phillies? With the Phillies wanting desperately to re-sign Kevin Millwood, but perhaps, being a little short in the checking account to do it, the $1.9 million savings that going with Williams provides might be huge. In fact, it could be just about the right amount of money that the Phillies would need to find somewhere to be able to sign Millwood long-term. That's not to say that if Mesa's option kicks in and the Phillies can't sign Millwood, that it's Mesa's fault. After all, Mesa is a better than average option as a closer and there is no doubt that the Phillies may in fact, want to keep him around for their inaugural season at Citizen's Bank Park.

Mesa's option also brings up another interesting situation. The battle between front office and manager. While Ed Wade would never tell Larry Bowa to not use Mesa in save situations, you have to think that he may ask him to cut back on the non-save situations that Mesa appears in for the rest of the season. Again, it may be a mute point, since there are likely to be more than 17 save situations the rest of the way. Keep in mind though, that Bowa is a huge fan of Mesa, perhaps, a bigger fan than Wade may be. Just something to think about.

So, as you comb through the mountains of stats and numbers that make up the great game of baseball, when you peruse the Phillies numbers, you may just want to pay at least a little attention to the column that has the "GF" at the top. It's suddenly more important than you may think.

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