Ed Wade's Shot Over The Bow

This time last month, I planned my December column to be a Phillies Christmas List. Well, with the acquisition of Tim Worrell, a big part of that list has already been delivered and the list is getting rather thin. With that in mind, I'll turn my attention to the pitching staff and will try to keep my enthusiasm down while talking about the team that is coming together as the 2004 Phillies.

Right off the top, offering Kevin Millwood arbitration was a great move on the part of Ed Wade. If big ol' #34 decides to sign for one more season, there's no long-term commitment if he falters down the stretch like this past season. If Millwood decides to leave Philadelphia, then the minors get stocked with a first or second round pick (depending where he signs) and a "sandwich" pick. My personal opinion on Millwood is that he's got a lot to prove after last season. He started out 7-1, including the no-no against the Giants, and looked unbeatable. The slump in the second half may be part of why he hasn't received the mega-contract he's looking for. It's a great situation for both sides; the Phillies retain Millwood in a free-agent year, where he's likely to have a spectacular season, and Kevin gets around $12 million and the chance to turn that into much, much more in 2005.

The Phillies were sitting pretty with three starters returning from 2003: All-Star Randy Wolf, 14-game winner Vincente Padilla, and promising youngster Brett Myers. Ed Wade had said all throughout November that a mid-level starter would complement that trio well. That mid-level starter turned out to be lefty Eric Milton, late of the Minnesota Twins. Although he's coming off a knee injury in 2003, he's shown flashes of promise in the past, and should make a serviceable number four starter for Larry Bowa's staff.

Now, to the bullpen; picking up Billy Wagner from Houston is just what the Phillies needed. After the heartache of watching Jose Mesa's career deteriorate before our eyes, having a dependable closer should make it a lot less gut-wrenching for Bowa in the late innings in 2004. Rheal Cormier, the most consistent pitcher out of the bullpen this past year, is now back to setting up the closer; this time, Wagner. Add to the mix Tim Worrell and his 38 saves in san Francisco in 2003, and it's beginning to look like Houston's bullpen in 2003. Brad Lidge set up Octavio Dotel, who, in turn, set up Billy Wagner. And if Wagner happens to slump, no worries, Worrell can pick up the slack.

The middle relievers are the only question mark at this point. All signs point to Dan Plesac returning for a final season in the red pinstripes, but after that, who knows? Rumors swirled for weeks that Terry Adams would be back, but after being non-tendered on Sunday, those rumors can be put to rest. Amaury Telemaco could be a possibility for the bullpen; he would be a capable long reliever, who can also spot start for you if needed. Hard-throwing Josh Hancock comes highly regarded, and could wind up with one of the four possible spots. That's twelve pitchers right there; five starters, three late-inning guys, and four middle relievers.

What now, of the young bucks in the minor leagues? What about Ryan Madson, Cole Hamels, and Gavin Floyd? Well, Millwood (if he signs) and Milton would be eligible for free agency after 2004, Worrell and Cormier aren't spring chickens, and everybody seems to think that this will be Plesac's curtain call. That would give the big three ample time to get ready for "the show". It is not inconceivable that we would see Madson late in 2004, as a precursor to his rotation spot in 2005. Hamels and Floyd would be ready a year or two after that. So then there would be no hurry to get the youngsters up to Citizens Bank Park before they're ready. Nothing but a little more seasoning in the minors.

So, it looks as if, as of December 11, 2003, that the Phillies are making their push towards post-season competition in 2004. It was exciting last December, with the acquisitions of Jim Thome, David Bell, and Millwood. This December is turning out to be even more exciting. If Pat Burrell can regain his 2002 form, if Bell can shake the injuries and season-long slump of 2003, and if all the others who posted solid 2003 seasons can stay the course, we could be looking at the makings of a contender.

We all remember what a contender is, right?

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