Hey CD...On Off-Season Trades, Cormier & Rule Five

<I><b>Hey! CD</I></b> is a weekly Q&A column by California Dreamin, a Phillie die-hard from SoCal. Known as CD to baseball friends, he is a favorite source of information by Phillie fans, curious about his unique perspective on various Phillie baseball issues & events. Send your comments or questions to CD at <a href=mailto:connectthedots@earthlink.net>connectthedots@earthilink.net</a> and read his response to you on a future edition of this column. Thanks!

Q: On Off Season Trades, from Ed Siegler, Norristown PA

Hey! CD, what is the rule on off-season trading? Can trading commence immediately after the season is done, or do teams that are not in post-season contention have to wait until the end of the World Series to trade, as kind of a "gentleman's agreement"?

CD says...
Welcome aboard, Ed, and thanks for the question. There is a moratorium on trades from the end of the season until the World Series ends. Generally, teams will wait until after the free agency filing takes place before making their off-season moves.

Potential free agents will have 15 days from the end of the World Series to file for free agency. After this period, most teams will have met with their baseball people and determined what are the trade possibilities, who might be available in free-agency, and who to protect on the 40 man roster.

As for the "gentleman's agreement", I don't doubt that these may take place occasionally, but when it comes to trades, there are few gentlemen in baseball, so these potential agreements are not worth the napkins they might be written on.

I will share with you something I do believe and that's the possibility that agents and general managers may sometimes strike "gentleman's agreements". Let's face it, agents want to supply their players with a place to play and it would not surprise me if agents and general managers occasionally had "gentleman's agreements" about a certain player.

By the way, in regards to the Phillies, I expect them to make one big trade, one small trade, and sign 2-3 free agents during this off-season. Most of their acquisitions will involve acquiring pitching help and possibly a third catcher. Hope this answers your question!

Q: On Cormier as a Possible Closer, from Ray Kanoun, Cleona PA

Hey! CD, with the Phillies in need of a closer for 2004, what do you think about the possibility of Rheal Cormier becoming the permanent closer?

CD says...
Another "welcome aboard" to a brand new poster! Thanks for the question, Ray. Perhaps the two most asked questions directed my way concern the status of Kevin Millwood for 2004 and about the Phils closer for next year! I will answer your question and then offer my opinion about who may become the Phil's closer in 2004.

Quite possibly no pitcher in a Phillies uniform enjoyed a better year in 2003 than lefty Rheal Cormier. A pitcher who was 50-50 to be released in spring training instead became a rejuvenated hurler under the guidance of pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.

Cormier became the best arm out of the bullpen and even saved a few games in September. However, Ray, I do not see him as the permanent answer to our closer problem for a couple of reasons. Number one, he suffered an arm injury a few years ago and probably could not handle the stress to his arm of pitching on an almost daily basis.

Remember, Ray, that often when a team goes on a four or five game winning streak, the closer will save every game. This would probably be too difficult for Cormier to handle. His role will probably continue to be the same as this year, and he will still be a key member of the club.

The other reason I do not think Cormier could be our closer is that he is quite unfamiliar with this role. He has been in the big leagues for several years, with several teams, yet has never been considered to have "closer" potential. I suspect there is a reason for this and it possibly involves comfort zone, the ability to come in and get a strikeout, and the ability to pitch four or five times a week. In all of these areas, Cormier has probably come up just a bit short.

Nevertheless, this in no way minimizes his importance to the Phils! Expect him to be a set-up man for our new closer…righty Tom Gordon, late of the Chicago White Sox. Gordon had a solid season in Chicago and wants to pitch somewhere that he can close again. There is perhaps no greater opportunity than in Philadelphia, where he is familiar with Kerrigan and will be coming to a solid team in a new stadium. If I were to handicap the closer possibilities it would be Gordon, Ugueth Urbina, Keith Foulkes and Billy Wagner, in that order!

Q: On the Rule 5 Draft in December, from Joe Nadler, Charlotte NC

Hey! CD, with all the Phils pitching prospects in the minors, who do we have a chance of losing in the Rule 5 draft?

CD says…
Ah, Joe, there is perhaps no more compelling question to all of us minor league lovers than this one! Great question and I will tell you why. As most followers of the Phils farm system know, the Phils have taken two big hits in recent years by losing outstanding young pitching prospects to the Rule Five Draft in December.

Derrick Turnbow was drafted by the Anaheim Angels a few years ago, was stashed on their roster for the year, and is now a potential 96-97 MPH closer for the Angels next season. They absolutely love his stuff.

Then, as if the Phils hadn't learned a lesson. They failed to protect young righty Miguel Ascencio in 2001 and the Kansas City Royals drafted him. He ended up becoming a starter in their rotation in 2002.

Needless to say, both would look good in Philadelphia red, especially Turnbow. One would hope that after this double whammy, we could hope that the days of losing outstanding young pitchers in December would be over. Sadly, I suspect this is not the case.

As you probably know, the Phils must protect 40 players on their winter roster. The rules are intricate but the simple explanation is that any player with three years of professional experience must be protected or become exposed to the Rule Five Draft.

Unfortunately, once again, we may see an outstanding young pitching prospect picked by a team like Tampa Bay, Kansas City or Pittsburgh. They will be more than happy to keep a young hurler on their roster in 2004.

So, without further ado, here are some names to look for. Any of these pitchers could fall through the 40-man roster crack, and into the laps of a more than willing team. Any of these three young guns from Clearwater could be lost…15 game winners Ezequiel Astacio, Elizardo (the Lizard) Ramirez or Rob Tejeda. Another potential Rule Five draftee could be righty Keith Bucktrot, who is now pitching in the Arizona Fall League.

These would be the top four possibilities, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Astacio is probably the most advanced, Ramirez the most talented, Bucktrot the highest ceiling and Tejeda the best pedigree. Let's just say that I will be holding my breathe and hoping that we do not lose any of these fine young hurlers!

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