CD's Connect the Dots... Encore!

William Shakespeare once said that "all the world's a stage". Even though Philadelphia might be only a tiny little corner of the world, the stage of leading characters in an upcoming production is getting more crowded by the day. How the actors in this Phillie melodrama play out their parts could well determine the chances of a National League pennant flying over the new Citizens Bank Park in 2004.

General Manager Ed Wade, a leading character in this production, opened the performance to a standing ovation with his Act I acquisition of ace lefty reliever Billy Wagner. Possessor of a flaming 100 MPH fastball and ice in his veins, Wagner will no doubt decrease the sale of antacids when he enters a ballgame in the ninth inning. No reliever not named Gagne, Rivera or Smoltz is a better bet to finish the opposition than Billy the Phillie!

Jose Mesa will be missed for many of the intangibles that made him a valued Phillie. Among the hardest working players on the team, Mesa was also a comforting presence to many young hurlers like Carlos Silva and Valerio DelosSantos. He served the Phils well for two years and will be missed.

However, his high-wire act in 2003 became increasingly dangerous and it does not take a stretch of the imagination to say that had Wagner been a Phillie in 2003, it night have been the Phils hoisting the World Series trophy instead of the Florida Marlins. Wagner saved a cool 44 games in 47 opportunities and that has been his career average. Without reciting all his mind-boggling statistics, it can be stated that the man is very, very good and Wade and Wagner are definitely the stars of Act I.

Nevertheless, much like a dramatic mystery, Act I is merely a prelude to the real action. What is likely to take place during the next few months might make Act I seem like the intermission between double feature movies!

As most Phillie fans are aware, ace right-handed pitcher Kevin Millwood recently filed for free agency, and the chances of him returning to the City of Brotherly Love are problematic at best. Make no mistake, Wade is saying all the right things about wanting Millwood back, and, indeed, the door is still open.

Yet when Wade acquired Wagner this week, he discussed the need for a number one hurler as if it was an afterthought. He spoke of possibly acquiring a middle of the rotation starter, and of waiting until players are non-tendered in late December to pluck a potential plum out of the branches. Again, Wade was saying all the right things for public consumption.

Nevertheless, logic dictates that when Wade corralled Billy the Phillie, he made a conscious choice to go for the gold next year. As I have mentioned in another column, Wagner is a Rolls Royce reliever and it makes no sense to put a Pinto engine in a Rolls Royce sports car. The point is that with Wagner in the fold, it becomes imperative that the leading role in this production is given to a genuine leading actor, and a middle of the rotation starter just will not do.

The man who has been quietly auditioning for the part of the leading role is none other than Curt Schilling, former Phillie star and current Arizona Diamondback gem. Schilling has made no secret of his desire to return to the city of his roots, and he would like nothing better than to play the starring role on April 12, 2004 when Citizens Bank Park opens to a "standing room only" audience.

Wade has been playing his role perfectly, feigning disinterest so as not to tip his hand… and cause the stakes to rise. As Act II opens, another character will appear on stage, Jerry Colangelo, the part owner and protector of the purse strings for the D'backs. Colangelo is well equipped to perform at center stage and has memorized his lines perfectly.

After years of living off a credit card, which helped bring a championship to the desert D'backs in 2001, the bill is now due. Colangelo is forced to make some serious financial decisions and one of them could involve cutting ties with the ever-present Schilling. The problem with this scenario is that Schilling has a no-trade clause in his contract and has stated that he will only allow a trade to one place… Philadelphia

Act II is already beginning, with the usual denials and coy references to players of lesser ilk. However, the actors are performing brilliantly and some of the leading actor's lines have given a small hint as to how this play may evolve. Just this week, Wade made a brilliant reference to his seeming reluctance to part with four "untouchable" players. Although he did not name them, the reports in a Philadelphia newspaper surmised that the four were Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Close followers of the Phillies farm system nodded in complete agreement about the first three, but even mentioning Howard in soft whispers was an indication that he may become more than a bit performer in any trade that takes place between the D'backs and Phils. Howard is a solid player and was actually voted the Most Valuable Player in the Florida State League. No less an authority than Phils minor league hitting guru Charlie Manuel has even compared Howard to a young Willie Stargell. This is all well and good; but there is one slight problem with Howard.

As talented as Howard is offensively, he is equally challenged defensively and is capable of playing only one position, first base. Howard, who will start next season at the Double A level, is probably two years from the big leagues, where one Jim Thome will no doubt block his path.

So, it seems more than problematic that Wade, having memorized his lines perfectly made an off-stage remark about Howard being an "untouchable", which can only increase his value to the D'backs. After all, to justify trading a star like Schilling to a potentially angry populace of desert loyalists, it certainly helps to acquire one of the other team's "untouchable" players!

Now that the stage has been set for Act III, a few other actors should be introduced as their roles are yet undefined. We are speaking of Mr. Millwood and his agent, Scott Boras. Although currently playing silent parts in this potential blockbuster production, they may acquire talking parts soon.

It seems that Wade indicated that if Boras was interested in negotiating a contact for 2004 with the Phils, he should make the first call. So far, the silence has been deafening as Boras awaits November 9, and the hoped-for free agent frenzy for his client. Ah, here is where the play takes on extremely intense overtones.

The Phils will no doubt protect their 2003 investment in Millwood by offering him a one-year arbitration deal in early December and he will have until December 19 to decide yea or nay. It says here that he says nay and accepts a probable three year deal elsewhere, possibly in Atlanta.

Ed Wade may well decide that he is not just happy to be a star actor in this production. He may choose to audition for an Academy Award. If this happens, he will play it close to the vest on the Schilling front until he finds out exactly what Millwood will do. Wade understands that a strange and mystical convergence of forces will be at work during this late December period.

Not only will the Millwood situation be settled, probably during the December 12-15 Winter Meetings when Boras loves to make a splash, but all non-contract tendered pitchers will be free agents on December 20. This could flood the market with pitchers such as Carl Pavano, Livan Hernandez, Brad Penny and Danny Baez.

Wade may figure that if he waits long enough, Colangelo may lower his demands on the asking price for Schilling and a trade could be announced in time for all parties to have a holly, jolly Christmas. Afterall, it is this writer's opinion that if Schill isn't traded to the Phils this winter, then he will remain a D'back in 2004 and sign as a free agent with the Phils next winter.

Although the final script has yet to be written, and the stage could get very crowded before the last act, this coming play promises to receive solid reviews and encore performances from all the actors involved.

When Act IV finally closes and the curtain falls on this Winter Play, it is probable that Phillie fans everywhere will stand and cheer a Shakespearean-like performance by Wade and Schilling.

In the end, waiting for the grand finale will have been well worth it. Encore!

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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