CD's Connect the Dots...Run of the Mills

The term "run of the mill" has always had the connotation of being mediocre or average. For many years, the term was synonymous with Phillies pitching. Thoughts of Kyle Abbott, Joe Cowley, Jeff Juden and Chad Ogea gave new meaning to a run of the mill pitching staff. Yet, if a few things come together nicely, and GM Ed Wade continues his impressive streak of landing on his feet after falling out of trees, the Phils staff in 2004 will definitely do justice to a new phrase… the "Run of the Mills!"

For a Philadelphia Phillie fan, these are heady days. Although the road has rarely been without speed bumps and a "Danger Straight Ahead" sign may pop up at the most inopportune time, the next few days promise a giddiness not seen since 1978. For those too young to remember, the mid ‘70s placed Philadelphia on display as one of the centers of the baseball universe.

Players such as Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton and Garry Maddox graced the lineup and star players from far and wide envisioned themselves in it. In the case of one Pete Rose, he not only envisioned it, he was proactive and went about getting it. He cajoled, begged and sweet-talked his way from free agency to a Phillie contract and into the hearts and minds of Phil's fans forever.

Two World Series births and one world title later, the Phils were rewarded for their patience and ingenuity. They found a way to fit Rose's large salary into their budget. The success at the gate and on the field proved the decision was a wise one.

Enter December 2003. Flush from the disappointment of failing to bring Curt Schilling back to town, and faced with the probable loss of ace-in-waiting Kevin Millwood, Ed Wade pulled off a daring trade on Wednesday and brought to town another Mill's boy, lefty Eric Milton from the Twins.

As if to make the trade even more ironic, Wade obtained Milton's services for basically the same package, pitcher Carlos Silva and infielder Nick Punto, that D'backs General Partner Jerry Colangelo had sniffed at when the offer was made for Schilling.

The delicious irony of this should not be lost on anyone. While Jerry C dismissed this offer as "insincere", the Twins, faced with the same offer, couldn't say, "yes" quickly enough. Make no mistake about Milton, however!

While no one is professing that Milton is better than Schilling, there is more than one baseball scout, several employed by the Phillies, who would not trade Milton for Schilling even up. That's how much they view the upside of this talented lefty.

Yet, just as Philadelphia was about to embrace one Mil (ton) and say goodbye to the other Mill (wood), word began to leak out that Millwood might not be so inclined to leave town after all. In fact, in an interview with a local writer, he acknowledged that the Phils might even be his first choice as a destination point.

This must have proven surprising news to his agent, Scott Boras, who had met with Wade on Tuesday night and flatly rejected the Phils proposal of a four-year deal. The problem with this was that Boras generally negotiates in a vacuum, and possibly failed to inform Millwood of the meeting.

Suddenly, after the trade announcement, Boras indicated that perhaps something could still be worked out… and here is where the drama began to unfold. Wade, after first announcing that Millwood would not be offered arbitration, quickly backtracked to a "well, maybe" position.

For a situation as fluid as this one, it is not a stretch to imagine that Wade began to realize that once again, in an almost surreal setting, he had unwittingly placed himself in the catbird's seat, if only for a few days. How he handles this enviable but often-uncomfortable seat may well define Wade's career in Philadelphia.

In a scenario that seemed to literally rise from the ashes, a Run of the Mills, as in Milton and Millwood, became more than just a pipedream for Phillie fans. It actually has become a living, breathing possibility. For a team that rivals the Cubs and Red Sox in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory this is no minor news story. A starting rotation of the Mill's boys, combined with Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers would rival any team in baseball.

It's not quite a done deal, still a few twists and turns from happening, but pardon a Phillie fanatic if he becomes a bit giddy at the prospect of Myers, a young gun of the rarest kind, being the fifth starter on the staff. Run of the Mill no more, this Run of the Mills' would rival the great 1993 quintet of Schilling, Greene, Mulholland, Jackson and Rivera for stealth, stamina and skill.

But even with a few twists and turns, careful navigation and a strict adherence to all the speed laws may make this run for Wade successful. Surely it will be a swift run, as it has a shelf life that ends on December 19. Whether or not it will be a sure success will depend on a touch of luck, a bit of courage, and a large dose of clear vision.

For this run to be successful Wade must first hope that between now and Sunday, December 7, Millwood does not sign a contract with another team. Though there are rumors of a Mets offer, it says here that Millwood has no intention of going to New York to finish last.

A quiet, introspective sort, Millwood seems ill equipped to handle the "in your face" lifestyle that exemplifies New York. As a player that has known only success with Atlanta and Philadelphia, it seems incomprehensible that he would take the money and run to a team that is at least a half a lineup away from making a dent in the tough National League East.

It's possible that Atlanta could jump in unexpectedly, but they seem inclined to wait and see what develops with their slugger, Gary Sheffield. Only after he officially exits for the Yankees will the Braves free up money for someone of Millwood's stature. Although he still could end up in Atlanta, the odds on it happening before December 7 are huge, indeed.

Now, with luck out of the way, the courage part must take over. Here is where Wade will have to shed his conventional clothes for some fancy new threads. If there were but one word that could be used to describe Wade's leadership, it would be consistent. He has always been as easy to read as the Sunday paper, maddeningly steady in his approach and rarely steering off course.

Some examples of this come to mind quite readily. Wade will always make a trade for a relief pitcher in July… the list reads like a "Who's Who" in the Baseball Register Guide. Players like Dennis Cook, Turk Wendell, Mike Williams and Mike Timlin all saw their change of address postmarked in July.

Another consistent Wade pattern is to make deals in December. He has acquired players like Doug Glanville, Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton in this most merry of months. While other GM's were gift-wrapping presents, Wade was gift-wrapping deals. Let us hope he has a few more in his holiday bag of goodies.

The final consistent pattern for Wade is not to offer arbitration to players though they might bring valuable amateur draft picks, if he senses that there is the slightest chance they might accept the offer.

This is where he needs to change direction, and it will require of him a certain amount of courage. The easy course would be a decision not to offer Millwood arbitration, save the money, and congratulate himself on acquiring one Mil while regrettably letting go of the other Mill. Yet, in doing this, it would effectively negate the very skill it took to proactively trade for Milton.

Offering Millwood arbitration is a win-win situation for the Phillies. If he says "no" to arbitration, and he just might, then the Phils wish him as he returns to Atlanta, and accumulate the two top draft picks they will have garnered for the attempt. This not only helps replenish a farm system that is solid though thinning, but take a precious pick from the team that signs Millwood, probably the Braves.

While this may be the most likely scenario, it says here that Millwood might just say "yes" and take his 12-13 million dollar payday at arbitration to become the lynchpin on a staff that would be the envy in the NL, if not all of baseball.

This is where the vision comes in to play. By most accounts, the Phils payroll is set for about 85 million dollars this season. Signing Millwood through arbitration might bump that figure up over the 90 million dollar range, rarified air that Phillie ownership will undoubtedly find difficult to breathe.

Yet, if they allow themselves to see the forest through the trees, and it takes vision to do this, they will see a picture of possible untold riches. With Milton on board, the Phils are a solid team, capable of winning a division, and possibly a league championship.

With Millwood on board to lead the Run of the Mill's collection of arms, the Phils become the odds on favorites to win the whole National League. Remember, not only will the staff be composed of a one through five collections of stars, but also in time of need, they can turn their services over to 100 MPH flamethrower, Billy Wagner.

With Wagner in the pen, the days of Phillie fandom wiggling and squirming through a tense ninth inning are over. Generally, it will be 1-2-3, and lights out… another Phillie victory!

Monty, Wade, Giles, Arbuckle, Green… can you see the vision? Does a sold out 42,000 screaming fans at the brand new Citizens Bank Park excite the juices? Can you begin to count the new revenue streams of a team competing in the playoffs, not to mention possibly the World Series? Do sellouts from 2004-2006 mean anything to you?

Phillie fanatics, its more than just a novel, it's a potential best seller. Its almost difficult to fathom, and may still go up in smoke before our very eyes. We know all about dashed hopes and jilted dreams.

But… if a touch of luck, a bit of courage and a large dose of clear vision are added to the December Recipe for Success, the Phils history of Run of the Mill pitchers will be replaced by a stunning new cast of characters… led by the "Run of the Mills"!

Catch it soon at a theater near you!

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

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