CD's Connect the Dots... Who's The Boss?

The 2004 Edition of the Philadelphia Phillies is about camera-ready for the showroom. With a few minor touch ups to the offensive engine, a tune up for the bullpen set up crew, and a complete transmission overhaul to the relief closer position, the Phils await but one piece to what promises to be a top of the line model… a rebuilt starter.

There are few teams in baseball that have had a better off-season than our very own Phightin' Phils. After a disappointing stalled finish to an otherwise solid season, the team set out with a master plan to make sure the '04 Phillie Racer would not only operate at peak turbo efficiency, but avoid the pit stops that constantly plagued the '03 model.

Armed with new revenue streams and the wild eyed enthusiasm of a rookie race car driver, GM Ed Wade set out to retool and reshape a model that had the potential of an Indy winner, but the bumps and bruises of an off road vehicle.

The first order of business led to a total transmission overhaul, the closer position. Gone were the stops and starts that beleaguered the Jose Mesa era. In its place is a brand new transmission, guaranteed for a speedy and safe drive. In lefty reliever Billy Wagner, the Phils' completely reinvented the phrase, "speed kills."

With Wagner's often plus 100 MPH fastball, opposing teams rallies will die quickly and quietly, a welcome sight to Phil's fans accustomed to watching too many finishes fall just short of the flag.

Adding to the engine performance is a quality tune up for the Phil's bullpen set up crew, the guys who make sure the engine starter leaves the tank with more than an empty gauge on the fuel tank. In veterans Tim Worrell and Roberto Hernandez, the Phils brought in two veterans of many races, each equally adept at navigating the many twists and turns that dominate an endless pennant race.

With an offense that might need little more than higher octane gasoline, and a charged battery here or there, the Phils chose to leave this part of the engine largely intact. It is hoped that slugger Pat Burrell will regain the daring electricity that drove his '02 season. The Phils also feel quite confident that veteran David Bell, weighed down with a flat tire or two last season, can regain the form that made him one of the sleeker models on the '02 free agent market.

Add to it the turbo charged power of Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal, plus the daring and dash of Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins, and the offensive firepower of this vehicle should become stronger than an all-weather four wheel drive.

Clearly, the '04 Edition of the Phillie Model is a stunning example of modern ingenuity… with but one caveat. The Phils are unsure whether or not the starter will boost the engine to a ten, or even twelve cylinder, and the answer may well determine the finish of this otherwise sleek, stylish, and might I add, ultra-powerful model?

With lefty Eric Milton added to a list of outstanding starters in Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers, the Phils felt sure this eight-cylinder crew would be one of the finest in baseball. However, a fortuitous set of circumstances and a daring bit of courage by racecar driver Wade has increased the chances that this eight-cylinder beauty may yet become fittingly a ten, if not twelve, cylinder speedster.

Ace-in-waiting starter Kevin Millwood only has but to say "YES" on Friday, December 19th to an arbitration agreement, and the '04 edition of the Phillie Racer would be showcase ready. With Millwood in tow, the starter crew goes from a top of the line group to a mint condition model, almost guaranteed to avoid any minor collisions that often stall a winning vehicle.

At first glance, the decision seems relatively simple and painless. The Phils, from owner Dave Montgomery on down to manager Larry Bowa, have made it clear that Millwood is most welcome to stay. It would be the final part to this masterpiece of modern technology; Millwood is not only a solid pitcher, but also popular with his race mates and fellow pit crew members.

For his part, Millwood professed an affinity for the Phils direction in the upcoming race and sounded very much like a guy ready to join the quest for a World Series title in '04. He was not only "relieved" to hear that the Phils had offered arbitration, but also sounded quite confident that he would accept the invitation. Indeed, many Phillie fans have already penciled in his name as the opening game starter at the Pittsburgh Pirate Invitational next April 5.

Yet, amid all the jubilation and excitement lies a shadow, not fully formed but visible enough to cloud the conditions and make this race a difficult one to win. This shadow is in the form of an agent, a man seemingly bent on making every Phillie venture into the victory lap, a tedious and often impossible trip. Scott Boras is the name and Phillie fans with any sense of history are more than aware of the red flags that he has continually waved at any Phillie headed in his direction.

It is unabashedly assumed by this writer that Boras will do everything within his professional power to derail the Phillie engine and steer Millwood in another direction. It is equally assumed by this writer that given his choice of destinations, Millwood would choose the City of Brotherly Love. After all, it is here that he first attained his top of the line starter status and he may also feel a sense of completing some unfinished business after his stall out in September of '03 cost the Phils a photo finish with the Florida Marlins.

However, the history of acrimonious relations between the Phils and Mr. Boras goes back many races, and it would be unwise to underplay the potential pot holes this agent will create between now and Friday. It is impossible to know exactly where or when Mr. Boras developed such a dislike for the Phils organization, but it is quite clear that this dislike borders on almost disdain for the organization.

Clearly, it has nothing to do with the present regime, as Montgomery, Wade, Amaro and Company were not at the starting gates when this festering flat tire began to leak air. Theories abound everywhere and it is not impossible to place some past pieces together to form a complete puzzle to this story.

Scott Boras was an aspiring major league infielder, when he was derailed in his efforts to make the major leagues by injuries. Although he was never clear about his allegations, Mr. Boras once remarked in an interview that "he felt some teams had not treated him fairly," and that he would never forget these alleged slights.

One can only surmise about the possibility that the Phils were one of his alleged culprits. This much is known… that perhaps the first Boras client drafted by the Phillies was an All-American collegiate right hander named Carlton Loewer. Drafted in 1994 out of Mississippi State, Boras had Loewer hold out all summer.

Finally, after turning down the team's final offer, Boras informed the Phils that Loewer was headed back to college for his senior year. When Loewer's parents heard about this, they contacted the Phils, and he signed at the deadline. It can be assumed that Boras was none too happy with the Phils for intervening on behalf of his client. Thus began a professional tug of war that has lasted 10 years, with no end in sight.

Of course, the most famous Boras client to snub the Phils was outfielder JD Drew, the All-American from Florida State. Drafted in 1997 with the second pick in the nation, Drew was counted on to lead a Phillie team out of the wilderness and back into respectability. It became apparent from the start that Boras had no intention of allowing Drew to sign with the Phils.

After demanding a 10 million dollar bonus, Boras set out to disrupt the amateur draft through a series of moves designed to frustrate the Phils and keep Drew from Philadelphia. Needless to say, it worked, and Drew has endured an injury fraught five years with the St. Louis Cardinals since his misadventure with the Phils. The Cards, a probable player in the Millwood sweepstakes, have had very cordial relations with Boras, and have seemingly had many players steered in the direction of the arch city.

During the past several years, Boras has instructed the Phils not to draft his client, All-American third sacker, Mark Texiera, and represented former Phils Bruce Chen and Travis Lee. One constant with Chen and Lee was the lack of negotiations involved in either player, or the seeming reluctance they both had to embrace the city or team.

It is also duly noted that many Boras clients have it written into their contracts that they cannot be traded to the Phillies. Clearly, there is more to this than a mere lack of professional respect for the organization. The Phils have been known for their futility in the past, but this ‘04 model of the Phillie Racer is one of the finest in the field. It can no longer be argued, as Boras has argued in the past, that the Phils are a poorly run Model T, ready for the junkyard heap at any moment.

Hence, the current crew of Phillie executives beginning with Montgomery has their eye squarely on the prize, another World Series triumph in Philadelphia. With a new stadium, solid players, and an attendance total that figures to climb north of three million, this freshly minted Lamborghini has few competitors and many admirers. Seemingly everyone is giving his or her nod, except for one Scott Boras.

Phillie fans are surely speculating at this moment how this may all play out. When the clock strikes midnight on the eve of Friday, December 19, will Millwood holler an "aye" or "nay" to the Phillie Racer of '04? One thing is guaranteed, and that is to expect a very loooooong three days and nights.

It seems inconceivable that Boras wouldn't encourage Millwood to take all the time necessary before making a decision. It is also inconceivable that Boras won't attempt to pull another team into the equation in order to justify a Millwood "nay." It takes very little imagination for one to gather that Boras will once again cast a gleaming eye at St. Louis and seek to garner an offer from the Cards.

In fact, Millwood has indicated in past conversations that the Cards would not be a bad second choice, but given his druthers, he would rather be in Philadelphia. To this writer, the choice seems clear. The Phils, poised for a break neck speed race to the finish in 2004, need only the steady hand of starter Millwood to make the run successfully.

The Cards, on the other hand, faced with financial restraints and the loss of regulars Fernando Vina, Tino Martinez and the aforementioned Drew, seem a long shot to finish any higher than third place in the Central Division Grand Prix. Even with Millwood to assist the race, the Cubs and Astros seem primed to lap a Cardinal team that has lost much of its turbo charged delivery.

One thing can safely be predicted. If Millwood says no to the offer of arbitration, he will have effectively said good-bye to the Phils. Oh, we will hear admonitions that both sides can still negotiate until January 8, and Boras may even put up a false front that he is hopeful that a long-term deal can be struck.

It is suggested that this should all be ignored. If Millwood is not a Phil on Saturday, December 20th, then his career in Philadelphia is over. Wade will not budge from his one-year offer, and it is inconceivable that Millwood could make more money in a negotiated one-year settlement than he could by winning an arbitration hearing.

The crucial decision is bound to impact the futures of both Millwood and the Phillies. With Millwood on the hill, the Phils look like a once in a decade model, a vehicle designed for speed, safety and delivery. It is also a chance for Millwood to stamp himself as an ace hurler, capable of taking a great team to even greater heights.

If Boras has his way, and Millwood opts for the Midwest, it is still possible that he will become more than just an ace-in-waiting. Yet, much like former Phil Scott Rolen has achieved financial wealth but no pennants, Millwood may also find that the grass, if not the wealth, is rarely greener on the other side.

One of Scott Boras's favorite lines in addressing the press is his contention that "I work for the player, and the player is the boss." The line of players who followed Boras's instructions, often with unhappy results, proves otherwise.

For Phillie fans, hopeful of a wire-to-wire first place in the Indy baseball race of 2004, the response to "Who's the Boss?" will surely mitigate and dictate the acceleration of the new, improved and revved up model in the upcoming Grand Prix.

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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