CD's Connect the Dots... View From The Top

In a scene out of a classic movie, one could envision Commander Ed Wade viewing the valley from the mountaintop. To the north, a Vlad-less Expo team. To the south, the ruins of a Brave team stripped of key players and a suddenly Pudge-less Marlin club. To the west, the Giants, Dodgers and D'backs in retreat. As his generals waited for the expected word of "hold the high ground," Wade stunned them all. With a daring cry of "CHARGE", Wade sent a message; The Phillies are a team on the offensive.

Civil War historians are quite familiar with the story of Joshua Chamberlain and his heroic maneuvers at the battle of the Little Round Top. Given the high ground on top of the hill, he was told to defend it and hold it, whatever the cost. Defensive moves were to be the order of the day. Yet, in a stunning reversal, Chamberlain was not content to just protect the hill and defend it, instead he took the offensive and charged down the hill.

His strategic brilliance is discussed even today for its courage, daring and timing. He sensed the importance of this moment and seized it. History has recorded that he was correct.

Baseball history will determine the correctness of Commander Ed Wade's daring and courageous move, but there is little doubt that he is to be applauded for the decisiveness to offer ace-in-waiting pitcher Kevin Millwood arbitration, despite the potential pitfalls involved.

As Wade peered over the valley, he saw his NL East opponents in financial retreat, with former Phillie tormenters, Vlad Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez and Pudge Rodriguez about to be jettisoned out of the division.

Common sense dictated that the Phils, even without Millwood, would be the favorites to win the East, and probably battle the cursed Chicago Cubs for NL supremacy. Common sense dictated a "hold the high ground" conservatism that has dominated the Phillie landscape for over 50 years.

Yet this was about so much more than common sense. This was not about holding the high ground… but seizing the territory. This was about grasping the moment, a moment in time that might not come this way again for the Phils.

In a convergence of events that may not repeat itself again, the Phils were suddenly face to face with an opportunity to move into a brand new stadium with a pitching staff second to none. After losing out in the Curt Schilling sweepstakes, and with Millwood seemingly free agency bound, Wade made his first daring move by acquiring star lefty Eric Milton from the Twins.

This writer believes that Wade was at first content with this move, and fully prepared for Millwood's exit by adding Milton's name to the list of starters that included Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers. Millwood would be allowed to leave, and the Phils would find their fifth starter from among a cast of thousands.

Yet, a strange whisper came from the mouth of Millwood, the whisper too loud to ignore. It appeared that despite agent Scott Boras' comments to the contrary, Millwood was very much interested in returning to Philadelphia. This set in motion a string of events that struck at the very heart of a Phillie philosophical shift not seen since 1978.

Could the Phils afford to just let Millwood leave town without at least an arbitration offer. Arbitration meant so much to the future of this franchise, whether or not Millwood accepted. A rejected offer still meant the acquisition of two valuable draft picks in next June's amateur draft. This would allow the Phils to select four of the top sixty amateur players, a stout fortune indeed.

Any mention of Phillie assets must include Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle, the architect of a rebuilt Phillie farm system. Under Arbuckle's stewardship, the Phils have drafted and developed such luminaries as Pat Burrell, Randy Wolf, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Marlon Byrd, Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd and the recently departed Scot Rolen.

Clearly, giving Arbuckle four of the top sixty players would mean a bountiful harvest next June. Yet, the other scenario, much murkier in nature, was also at play. What if Millwood accepted the arbitration offer and decided The City of Brotherly Love was his destination of choice?

Would the Phils accept the financial burden of a potential 11-13 million dollar contract that Millwood might receive? Was the normally conservative Phillie hierarchy prepared for this risk? Again, common sense said no. Hold the high ground, protect the territory, and don't make any unnecessary moves.

Yet it was precisely this move that Wade and Company made and the potential benefits from this move are just now coming to the forefront. Phillie fans, far and wide are meeting this decision with unfettered approval and the timing could not be more appropriate.

Phillie fandom have long spoken with their feet, and December 8th is the day when season ticket plans go on sale. It is no surprise that the Millwood announcement will be greeted with the enthusiastic support of a fan base more than ready to purchase tickets for a clearly superior product.

If superior sounds like too stirring a word, in this case it is not hyperbole. With a five-man rotation of the Mills boys, Wolf, Padilla and Myers, the Phils starting staff will be deep and talented. With star lefty closer Billy Wagner manning the bullpen, Phillie leads will now more often than not become Phillie victories. Adding Rheal Cormier, Dan Plesac, Ryan Madson and Dave Coggin to the mix will only make the staff stronger.

Even with the departure of relievers Terry Adams, Jose Mesa, Mike Williams and Turk Wendell, the Phils bullpen should be stronger and deeper. Watch for free agents like Ugueth Urbina, Tim Worrell and Jeff Nelson to not only be courted… but also court the Phils!

Players understand winning cures many ills, and the Phils are set to win! When the dust settles the Phils will probably have one of the aforementioned righties on their roster and the staff will be set.

The everyday lineup has never been an issue and one can expect sluggers Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu to continue their onslaught. While Mike Lieberthal may have trouble duplicating his near career numbers from 2003, it is not a stretch to expect Pat Burrell to recover his 2002 form and lead a potent Phillie attack.

Even with the uncertainty of injured third sacker David Bell, the Phils appear well fortified with Chase Utley and Placido Polonco to man the infield. With shortstop Jimmy Rollins and center fielder Marlon Byrd set to add a touch of dash to the lineup, and with Michaels, Pratt, Perez and Ledee back for an encore performance, this club promises to make Citizens Bank Park a happening place next summer.

Make no mistake, there are still details to be worked out and Millwood could surprise everyone and decide to take his trusty right arm elsewhere. The lure of Atlanta or the lights of New York could still prove too tempting to dismiss. Possibly. Yet it says here that come December 19, or maybe even before, Millwood will stamp his name on the 2004 rotation with a hearty "yes" to the Phils offer of arbitration.

The decision makes too much sense, the potential rewards too great for Millwood to choose otherwise. He has caught the vision of Commander Wade and he will no doubt want to be part of the victory charge of 2004.

Vision. Even with a near full moon hidden behind the clouds, and the snow covering the Eastern seaboard, Wade saw the vision. From an imaginary hill overlooking the entire National League, he saw that holding the hill was not merely enough; he wanted to take the valley.

With a stroke of genius built into a win-win situation, Wade has painted the picture that can now be seen by Phillie fans from California all the way to Florida. It is a picture that promises to be discussed for years to come, the clearest Phillie picture in years. It is a picture born from a man seeing a suddenly beautiful view… the view from the top.

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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