Connect the Dots... Wade's Winter Wish List

The time for Thanksgiving is past. Besides giving thanks for our personal blessings and good fortune, Phillie fans can give thanks for such baseball related gifts as Jim Thome, Marlon Byrd and Brett Myers. A hearty thank you for the unexpected acquisition of Kevin Millwood and the continued development of players like Randy Wolf, Jimmy Rollins and Vicente Padilla. Now we turn the calendar to December, the month of wishes and hopes. In a Philadelphia stocking of requests, here is the wish list.

December… no month in the year surpasses this period in terms of player related activities, movement, signings and trades. It is the month when rumor becomes fact, fact becomes fiction and whispers become shouts! It is the month of action, the month when general managers certainly earn their salaries. It is the month that paves the way to a time of optimism, pessimism or despair for baseball fans from Seattle to Florida and all points in between.

As Phillie fans contemplate what promises to be a very active month it is a good time to take a glance at December and see where we are, where we are going and where we might be by the time we ring in the year 2004. A glance at GM Ed Wade's winter wish list may offer us a better idea of the outcome.

Wade has undoubtedly circled five important dates in December, each with its own significance, and each of which may well affect the Phils fortunes both in 2004 and thereafter. Here in chronological order are those dates and what to look for at that time.

The first significant date is December 7, the final day to offer arbitration to players eligible for free agency. Included in this list are players like Terry Adams, Dan Plesac, Todd Pratt and Kevin Millwood. Without underestimating the importance of the first three, each of whom the Phils hope to sign, none has the significance of Millwood.

Acquired nearly a year ago by a suddenly cost-conscious Atlanta Brave team, Millwood is now eligible for free agency and has been unclear what his future intentions are.

The Phils have attempted to sign him to a three-year extension but his agent, Scott Boras, has so far rebuffed their efforts. Many baseball insiders expect Millwood to resurface in Atlanta, a city he still calls home.

Regardless of what his future intentions are, the Phils will certainly protect their interests by offering him salary arbitration by December 7. Watch for the Phils to make efforts this week to reach agreement with Millwood and expect them to be fruitless. With former Brave slugger Gary Sheffield signed, sealed and delivered to the New York Yankees, it only makes sense that the Braves will refocus their team on pitching… hence the probable interest in Millwood.

With the December 7 arbitration offer, the Phils are guaranteed two first round draft picks in next June's amateur draft should Millwood bolt for sights unseen. It is inconceivable that arbitration won't be offered Millwood's way and then the wait begins. The probable Phillie wish would be for Millwood to accept arbitration and continue his relationship as resident ace for one more season.

Equally important are the much-anticipated Winter Meetings held from December 12-15, the next set of key dates. These meetings usually commence with an influx of rumors and culminate with a flurry of trades and free agent signings. Many of the anticipated moves were actually planned at the recent General Manager's meetings held in Phoenix.

These previous discussions will lead to much activity at the meetings. Among the players who could be moved are A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza, Carl Pavano, Livan Hernandez, Richard Hidalgo, JD Drew and Magglio Ordonez. In fact, not in recent memory have so many high priced stars been available for a price… and economics is the mitigating factor behind these potential moves.

Baseball as an industry is in a cost-cutting mode and teams like the Braves, White Sox, Marlins, D'backs, Cards and Astros are attempting to stay competitive while reducing costs. It is a tight rope act meant for a magician and if Wade is a wise shopper he could well stuff his Christmas stocking with a plum package.

He will probably look to finalize his 40-man roster, which now stands at 36 players. If they haven't already done so by the winter meetings, the wish list will include re-signing relief specialist Dan Plesac and back up catcher Todd Pratt.

Depending on what Millwood does, the Phils may look to acquire a starting pitcher at these meetings.

Among the pitchers they may inquire about would probably include Expos starters Javier Vasquez and Livan Hernandez, plus Odalis Perez of the Dodgers and Pavano of the Marlins. If Millwood agrees to a contract extension with the Phils at or before these meetings, acquiring another starter will probably be unnecessary and Wade can concentrate on fortifying his bullpen.

If Millwood is still uncommitted by this time or has signed with another team, then look for the Phils to accelerate their efforts to acquire another starter.

Bullpen help could come in the form of Terry Adams, who pitched for the Phils last season, Paul Quantrill or LaTroy Hawkins. Whatever else happens the Phils will concentrate on the pitching side of the ledger, unless Pratt signs elsewhere. In the unlikely event that this happens, the Phils would attempt to sign another catcher.

Wade's winter wish list by the culmination of these meetings would be to have a top of the rotation starter, another middle inning reliever or two, and Pratt. However, he may attempt another avenue that has not been used by the Phils in quite some time, the major league drafting of a Rule 5 player on December 15.

The mere mention of the Rule 5 draft has sent shivers up the spines of Phil's fans for the past few years as minor league pitching gems Derrick Turnbow, Miguel Ascencio and infielder Travis Chapman have all been drafted from the Phils. Only Chapman was returned and Turnbow in particular appears headed for a solid major league career with the Angels.

However, this year Wade may decide to add a minor league plum to his winter wish list and draft a young player from another club. The only drawback is that in order to keep the player, the Phils would have to keep him on the roster for the entire season. Nevertheless, it would surprise no one if the Phils picked a pitcher in this years Rule 5 draft, especially after surrendering three top prospects in the Billy Wagner trade.

As much as Phil's fans would love to see the team bring in a new player, it is the players lost list that they fear the most. Probably the most likely candidates to be lost would be pitchers Greg Kubes, Rob Tejeda and Yoel Hernandez. Of the three, Tejeda's loss would be the most sorely felt.

Wade will barely have time to take a deep breath before the final two important dates in December occur, the 19th and 21st. December 19 is the final day that arbitration players eligible for free agency can accept or reject arbitration.

December 19 is probably D-day for Millwood… if he accepts, he is a Phillie in 2004, and if he rejects arbitration, he is no doubt gone for good. The rumors have surfaced in both directions, which lead one to conclude that it is unknown at this point what he will do.

It is the feeling here that he will reject arbitration, preferring to seek a long term contract elsewhere. This view is based on the history of his agent, Scott Boras. Boras has always been loath to seek arbitration unless he was convinced there would be no other offers. In the case of a 28-year-old pitcher like Millwood, it seems almost unimaginable that as the market for pitchers dwindles to a precious few gems, some team won't step to the front of the line.

In Wade's best-case scenario, he is front and center when Millwood makes his choice. If this should not occur, then December 21 becomes a very significant date, one of which the likes of baseball has never seen.

Contracts must be offered to all major league players by December 20 or they automatically become non-tendered free agents the following day. Although the exact count is still unknown, whispers speak of anywhere between 100-150 players about to be set free in a diminishing market. Make no mistake; this is the most significant date Wade has circled on his calendar, as he has indicated many times.

Watch for the Phils to be one of the more active teams in pursuing a few of these players… the lure of a top team with money to spend and a new stadium will be quite attractive to these players. Although this list is not yet known, speculation has placed such former luminaries as Adrian Beltre, JD Drew, Adam Kennedy, Eric Milton and the ever-present Hernandez as possible victims of this cost cutting measure.

The list is guaranteed to be a potpourri of talented, but formerly high priced talent, available to any team wiling to offer a contract and a possible spot on the roster. It will be very surprising if Wade doesn't finalize his winter wish list with one or two players form this non-tendered group. In fact, compliments of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Charles O. Finley, and this trend may become a regular way of doing business in the future.

No owner frightened former Major League Union Chief Marvin Miller greater than Finley when he suggested that the best way to curb free agent costs was to make every player a free agent. This suggestion, made during baseball's free agency's infancy back in 1976, was so enlightened, it was certain to be rejected by owners at the time.

However, countless battles and financial losses have shown major league owners that Finley may have been on to something, a fact that players are witnessing with greater frequency every year. It is becoming evident that the day of total free agency is fast approaching, and Finley will have been the architect of this movement.

A note about Wade's Winter Wishes… history indicates that December has always been a busy month for him. He acquired Doug Glanville and Kevin Millwood in December and has always had a penchant for doing business as others were preparing for Holiday cheers.

Keep in mind that Wade is a man of his word and his continuing mantra is to keep active in December. Whatever the outcome, Wade's winter wishes are a welcome wetting of the whistles for a wide world of Phillie fans waiting for a wild, wacky and wonderful 2004 season.

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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