Wagner May Be Just The First Step

The Phillies, for the second consecutive year dove into the off-season signing period head first and came out an improved club from the year before. Unlike the signings of 2002, this trade was a necessity to the betterment of the Phillies. Ed Wade has taken a lot of heat since the final loss to the Florida Marlins in September, and has taken the first step towards satisfying his critics. After this trade, many Phillies fans are wondering, what's next?

On a beautiful Monday afternoon the Phillies pulled the trigger on the first move of the off-season and once again improved the overall landscape of the franchise. This move was a no-brainer. Anytime you can add a player of Billy Wagner's caliber for only a struggling young pitcher, and two prospects, you have to pull the trigger. Wagner has been one of the most consistent closers over the past three years, and now will be wearing Phillies pinstripes. Not only did Philadelphia fill an enormous void in their bullpen, but also made Citizens Bank Park an even more lucrative prospective home for baseball free agents.

His impact on the field aside, Billy Wagner may be the player who makes the goal of a playoff run in 2004 a reality. His 44 saves speak for themselves, and his leadership role in the clubhouse will only help this team. But what moves general manager Ed Wade makes in the coming weeks and months may be expedited by this first trade.

What is so important about this trade is the fact that it still leaves room for more changes, both via trade and free agent signings. Both Wade and owner David Montgomery both hinted at the fact that the team intends to bring in a number one pitcher in the coming weeks. "I think that any pitcher who was evaluating the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, just got a whole new picture of the club following this move" Wade told local media following the announcement of the trade. One pitcher in particular who has long been rumored to be atop the Phillies wish list is former Phil, Curt Schilling. It's been no secret that the Diamondbacks are looking to cut salary, and Schilling would then be available. By adding Wagner so cheaply, without losing any of their top prospects, the team now has the ammunition to make an offer to Arizona. This is not the only move the team can make however, and the team will still have money to spend on free agents, following this acquisition.

There will be a plethora of starting available in a few weeks and rest assured, the Phillies will leave their options open when it comes to finding an ace. Should Schilling not be acquired, this move by Wagner proves the club won't settle for second best. Look for a legitimate number one starter such as Andy Pettite or someone of similar talent to be signed during free agency. After all, if Philadelphia was searching for an average closer, they would have settled on someone such as Tom Gordon, not the best available in Wagner. What would be different about finding a starter?

The team's needs go beyond pitching and should the Phillies target a player such as Vladimir Guererro or Miguel Tejada, there would be no question of the club's potential next season. Many people doubted the possibility of these players being added even a few days ago, but after adding Wagner, it would not be so surprising anymore to see one of, or both of these names written on the back of Phillies jerseys.

It's no secret that I have been one of Wade's biggest critics, especially following his inability to improve this team when it needed to be during the stretch run of last season, but this move reaffirms the franchise's commitment to winning both now and in the future. With Billy Wagner in the bullpen and some new faces added to the club this winter, the Phillies will be a force to be reckoned with come next April and beyond.

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