CD's Connect the Dots... Trick-or-Treat

Much like the wrapped candy that so many youngsters put in their Halloween bags this year, the baseball world is about to enter its own "wrapped candy" extravaganza beginning in about a week. Instead of a Reggie Bar it will be a Reggie Sanders. Inside the wrappers won't be a Mr. Goodbar but Mr. Goodwin, Tom Goodwin. No Graham Crackers but a Graham Lloyd. Yes, this is the time of year when the words, "let the bidding begin," have true meaning, baseball's free agency - period.

In many respects, the signing of free agents has been one of baseball's biggest off-season pubic relations boons. Although the signing of these players can hardly be synomous with the word "free," the publicity that major league baseball gets from this endeavor certainly is. Make no mistake, this is the period when even a Detroit Tiger fan can dream of signing a Vladimir Guerrero or Gary Sheffield and attain instant respectability. Yet, much like the famous Halloween phrase, "trick or treat", free agent signings are fraught with unseen dangers and a team is just as likely to get a trick, as it is to obtain a treat. In proper terms, let the buyer beware.

Our very own Philadelphia Phillies are Exhibit A of this often "tricky" business. Although the Phils have been much more conservative in their approach to signing free agents than other clubs, they have tested the waters enough to know that if you are not careful all you will get is… wet. While the wonderful stories abound about the Pete Rose, Pete Incavilia and Jim Thome signings, there are equally disastrous stories involving such luminaries as Danny Tartabull, Ed Farmer and Gregg Jefferies. Few players in recent Phils' history left a more unsavory taste than did Danny Tartabull.

Signed as a free agent in 1997 after a 27 home run season with the White Sox in 1996, Tartabull fouled a ball off his foot on Opening Day, and proceeded to spend almost the entire season on the disabled list. In fact, the next hit he gets as a Phillie will be his first; he batted a resounding .000 in Phil's pinstripes.

Yet, few fans would argue at the tremendous "treats" that players like Rose, Inky or Thome have been. Some other one stop bargain buys have been Mariano Duncan and Jim Eisenreich. Indeed, without the efforts of many of the aforementioned "treats", World Series births in both 1980 and 1993 would have been impossible.

So, with the cautionary notice duly noted, lets take a look at the latest models, the Free Agent Class of 2003, both from the standpoint of interesting names and as to how they might make a snug fit for our very own Phillies!

Names, names, yes there are names. There's a Shane (Reynolds) and a Shawn (Estes) and a Shannon (Stewart). How about a Borders (Pat) and a Bordick (Mike) and a Burkett (John). Not a King but a Prince (Tom), not a mountain but an Everett (Carl), not a big but a Lidle (Cory).

If its brothers you wish, we have the Alomars, Sandy and Roberto. Future Hall of Famers, you say?…try Rafael Palmeiro, Ricky Henderson or Fred McGriff. Perhaps, you would like to start a team of Jose's? No problem, there is Felix [Jose] or Jose Mesa, Jose Lima or Jose Cruz, Jr.

You can go Young (Eric) or old (Jesse Orosco), White (Rondell) or Wright (Jamey), home (Darren Holmes) or away (Arthur Rhodes)! If its alphabet letters you wish, we have them, too! Need a Q (Paul Quantrill) or a V (Dave Veres)? No problem. How about a U (Ugueth Urbina) or a Z (Greg Zaun)? If you want to buy a vowel, how about Antonio Allfonseca?

If you're interested in cars we have a Mercedes (Jose) or a Rolls Royce (Clayton). How about a Raines (Tim) or Snow (JT)? If you are sad, try Ben Grieve, maybe sick, here's David Wells, or holy, Mark Grace.

Perhaps you are nostalgic for Phils from the past? Then what do I hear as bid for Terry Mulholland, Doug Glanville or Jason Grimsley? How about Andy Ashby, Todd Zeile or Robert Person? Not to mention Julio Franco or Garrett Stephenson!

If its potential bargains you seek, here are a few. Pitcher Kelvim Escobar is an innings eater from Toronto and is a solid middle of the rotation starter. Chad Fox and Steve Reed are dependable relief pitchers without the outrageous salary demands. Outfielder Raul Ibanez is one year removed from a 100 RBI season.

Other low risk, high yield players include lefty Steve Kline, shortstop Rich Aurillia and outfielder Jose Guillen. While not necessarily players the Phils would be interested in, they are among the probable "treats" that some fortunate club will be happy they signed!

Yet, what of the upper end rent district group? Are there any potential plums headed to the City of Brotherly Love? When the dust settles, where will such luminaries as Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood, Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield call home? Lets venture a guess, based on both logic and luck!

As this writer has maintained since he was acquired, I believe Millwood will retrace his steps and head back to Atlanta. The fit was always a comfortable one and it is not hard to envision him replacing Maddux in the Braves rotation. The fact that the same agent, Scott Boras, represents both Millwood and Maddux makes this scenario even more likely.

Greg Maddux, on the other hand, has made it clear that he would like to settle West, and San Diego looks like a good nesting ground. The Padres are opening a new stadium with a young staff and Maddux would be a welcome addition to this potentially solid club.

Slugger Gary Sheffield is an interesting study and very hard to read. He has stated that he would play for whomever would pay him, and has indicated an interest in returning to his home in Florida. Although he would look good in the middle of Tampa Bay's lineup, it is hard to imagine the D'Rays paying Sheffield what he will probably command.

If the Boston Red Sox could somehow trade Manny Ramirez, he of the 100 million dollar contract and tempestuous ways, Sheffield might look good in a Red Sox uniform. Stay tuned to this one. Other possible scenarios could see Sheff in New York with either the Yankees or the Mets.

Watch for the Chicago Cubs to make a big play for slugging catcher Javy Lopez, and star shortstop Miguel Tejada seems a natural fit for the Anaheim Angels. It says here that righty Bartolo Colon stays with the White Sox and catcher Benito Santiago goes back to his original home in San Diego. Seattle is bound and determined to sign a top free agent and it would seem that outfielder Shannon Stewart may be a good fit there.

Perhaps the most sought after free agent will be the mercurial talent, Vladimir Guerrero of the Montreal Expos. Most baseball experts believe that Guerrero may be the most talented player in the game, and only the relative anonymity of Montreal has kept him from being recognized as such.

Although teams like the Yankees and Mets make it quite clear they would love to see Guerrero in their uniforms, it is doubtful that he would be happy in New York. Most people close to him say he would prefer to play with a team less likely to focus entirely on his exploits. In fact, most feel that if he had his choice, he would stay with the Expos, and this may still be a possibility, albeit a slight one. Watch for a team like the Baltimore Orioles to make a big play for Guerrero.

One more name to watch for is a brand new one, another Cuban defector named Maels Rodgriguez. A 24-year-old pitcher, he is said to possess a 100-mile per hour fastball and seems a natural fit for the Yankees. Look for the Yanks to try to complete their rotation by resigning lefty Andy Pettitte and signing Rodriguez as a starter.

While the average baseball fan may be excited about these happenings, it is our Philadelphia Phillies who wish to improve their chances for 2004. Are there any potential free agents available to them? The answer is yes and it will be a real surprise if the Phils do not fortify their bullpen with a couple of signings.

The Phils first order of business is to sign a closer and their closer of choice is righty Keith Foulke, late of the Oakland A's. In a potentially significant move, the Phils just announced that they will be lowering their mound at the new Citizens Bank Park. Foulke had made it clear that he did not like the old mound and this seemingly sudden turn of events could influence his decision. In fact, it is potentially significant that Kevin Millwood liked the old mound and probably wouldn't like the new one.

The Phils are certainly not indicating that this change is in any way to influence Foulke's decision, but the timing of the announcement is hardly coincidence! Look for the Phils to make a big push for Foulke and quickly. If this move fails, the Phils will move on to Plan B, and sign righty Tom Gordon. Gordon, a personal favorite of Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan, would be a good fit for the Phils, either as a closer or as a set-up man.

It would be a surprise if the Phils didn't sign either Foulke or Gordon but if this happens, then Ugueth Urbina would be Plan C. It is highly unlikely that the Phils will strike out on all three players. Expect one of the threesome to be the closer at the new park next season.

Also expect the Phils to resign lefty Dan Plesac and catcher Todd Pratt. Both players are favorites of Manager Larry Bowa and contribute both on the field and in the clubhouse. They will both be welcomed back with open arms. It would also not be surprising to see righty Terry Adams return. Although some off-field problems clouded his season, Adams was a solid reliever for the Phils and would help solidify a Phils bullpen.

Both GM Ed Wade and Bowa have made it clear that they are happy with the starting lineup, but potential bench help might be a priority. If so, look for the Phils to inquire about versatile players like Eduardo Perez, Joe Randa or Eric Owens. If these players are willing to accept a role off the bench they may be good fits for the Phils.

Make no mistake… wherever these and the other nearly 120 free agents eventually call home in 2004, the term "trick or treat" will apply. For many lucky teams, the "treat" signed, may lead to untold glory and possibly a playoff birth. Yet chances are, far more "tricks" will be unwrapped and the outcries of baseball people everywhere will be heard from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco all the way to the Monuments at Yankee Stadium.

Fascinating, unpredictable and often downright scary, the Trick or Treat Season is upon us, and the howling of the agents, players and owners will be heard long after the last candy has been taken out of its Halloween bag.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast


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