CD's Connect the Dots... Thinking Out Loud

On the surface, it was a quiet week in Phillieland. Oh, the team has started its Winter Caravan and players, coaches, and officials were all speaking enthusiastically about the upcoming season, as well they should. Yet, a closer look at what was said may reveal much about what the Phils are thinking, simply by "thinking out loud."

The Phillies organizational structure is an interesting blend. Some are careful, quiet types like Managing General Partner Dave Montgomery, General Manager Ed Wade, and Assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.  They weigh their words carefully, and are always quite conscious of what they say and how it might be perceived in public. This is an attribute that has served them all well in the past, and will serve them well in the future.

However, in contrast to these introspective, mums-the-word administrators, the Phils are also blessed with individuals who speak freely and from the hip. They generally say what they think and worry later about the impact of what has been said. In particular, the Phils have three such individuals, Manager Larry Bowa, Assistant General Manager Mike Arbuckle, and Advisor Dallas Green.

While the meek seemed reserved yet enthusiastic, Bowa and Arbuckle were talking freely about the upcoming season, and if one listens closely, some very valuable information could be gleamed from the verbiage.  Of such issues as the 25-man roster, Jason Michaels, David Bell and several young pitchers were the topics of much speculation.

From this premise, lets see what was said, what was not said, and how this may relate to the makeup of the 2004 Philadelphia Phillies. In other words, lets all play the game of "thinking out loud!"

Early in the week, while Bowa was addressing a group of supporters in Philadelphia, Arbuckle was in Scranton Wilkes Barre to promote the Triple A club.  Both are very comfortable in front of a microphone, and both tend to say exactly what they are thinking. They both dealt with several topics, and one in particular was about the makeup of Phils pitching staff for 2004.

Bowa mentioned that he would like to open the season with an 11 man staff. This seems very reasonable and simple math says that nine spots are secured.  Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Eric Milton and Brett Myers easily compose the five man starting rotation. The bullpen births are led by closer Billy Wagner, and set up men Todd Worrell, Rheal Cormier and Roberto Hernandez.

It would appear that two spots are open with Amaury Telemaco favored to grab one of the spots, based on his solid September performance last year. This would seem to imply that the one spot open for competition would be decided among youngsters Geoff Geary, Josh Hancock, Ryan Madson or Eric Junge.

In fact, this was something that Arbuckle confirmed when he was asked about Geary, Hancock and Madson while in SWB. He commented that all three might make it to Philadelphia this year.  Sounds reasonable, and deservedly so! All have had solid minor league careers, and their apprenticeship in the minors has earned them a chance to compete for a major league job.

However, Bowa let slip a comment that may have far reaching effects for youngsters Geary, Hancock, Madson and Junge. He mentioned in an almost off hand fashion that the Phils would probably sign not one, but two veteran free agent hurlers to minor league contracts and give them a chance to make the major league squad out of spring training.

The acknowledgement sent this writer scurrying to the free agent list and it can be reported that such luminaries as former Phillie Terry Mulholland, Ron Villone, Trevor Miller, Scott Elarton, Mike Lincoln, Jose Lima and Scott Sauerback are currently unemployed and awaiting an invitation to a big league camp. Considering Bowa's revelation, it should come as no surprise if one of more of these names are signed in the next few weeks and invited to Clearwater.

Actually it will surprise few Phillie observers if a Mulholland or Villone not only get a look-see with the Phils, but make the club coming out of spring training. Bowa has often received a bad rap in regards to his seeming preference for veterans; his patience with Marlon Byrd, Jimmy Rollins and Brett Myers disprove that theory, but this team will have a decided "veteran look" on '04.

Bowa may be more inclined to trust a Mulholland or Villone over a Geary or Junge in the early going. Whatever happens on the pitching front, Bowa and Arbuckle were revealing much about the possible makeup of the Phils staff come April with their comments.

Speaking of veterans, the subject of the recent signing of Doug Glanville and the affect to the roster was also a topic that Bowa addressed openly. While not guaranteeing Glanville a spot, the manager made it clear that he views DG as a positive influence on the club and a player who will push outfielder Jason Michaels to greater heights.

Few players have had more press coverage over the past month than has Michaels, an erstwhile 5th outfielder on a team that generally plays four. Michaels, who hit .330 last year, has been the subject of many rumors, from possible trade material to an option back to SWB and Triple A.

Arbuckle did his best to refute this when he commented that it was "highly unlikely" that either Michaels or infielder Chase Utley would be sent back to SWB. This was both interesting and somewhat revealing, as there had been much speculation, and even whispers that one of the two players would end up back in the minors after the signing of Glanville. It now appears that they will either be in Philadelphia, or with some other major league organization come April.


Speaking of Michaels, one is left to wonder what fate awaits him. As mentioned, he has received more than his fair share of press coverage since December.  It has been a very interesting winter for him, from his strange "hand injury" that curtailed his winter league activity to the rumors that Glanville might replace him.

Although the Phils have not openly announced that they are looking to trade either Michaels or Utley, they have casually mentioned the possibility. It was even speculated that the Phils might dangle the pair in hopes of acquiring a solid young catcher to back up and someday replace the veteran Mike Lieberthal.

This was an interesting revelation, especially with word out of Seattle that the Mariners might be close to signing World Series hero, Pudge Rodgriguez, to a free agent contract.  The Mariners have made no secret of their interest in Pudge, but acknowledge that they would first have to trade one of their two catchers, veteran Dan Wilson or youngster Ben Davis.

The mention of Davis might bring forth more than a passing interest among Phillie officials. Only 27 years of age, Davis is a local player, with roots to Philadelphia, and a solid lefty bat to support Lieberthal. It does not take a vivid imagination to picture the Phils potential interest in Davis, given the dirth of catching prospects in the organization, and Davis's potential long-term future as a Phil.

Would a Jason Michaels, or Chase Utley be enough to interest the Mariners in a trade.  Perhaps. Davis has a contract for 1.4 million dollars this year, and a Michaels/Utley duo might be enough to entice the Mariners to say yes. Would the Phils be interested? While difficult to say, they seem to be going out of their way to indicate that Michaels and Utley are far from guaranteed employment in Philadelphia this year.

Add to this conjecture the fact that Arbuckle said that it was "highly unlikely" that either Michaels or Utley would be sent to the minors, and a Davis for Michaels/Utley trade makes perfect sense.  Stay tuned.

While on the subject of Utley, Bowa made another somewhat revealing statement concerning the makeup of the squad for 2004. Given his statement that the Phils will carry 11 pitchers on the 25-man roster, this would seem to leave room for 14 position players. With the signing of Glanville, the Phils appear to have one too many players for the 25 man roster.


At this point, these players appear a lock to make the club. Mike Lieberthal and Todd Pratt are the catchers, while Jim Thome, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins and David Bell are penciled in as the starting infielders. The infield bench consists of Tomas Perez, Shawn Wooten and Utley.  That is nine players, with room for five outfielders.

The starters are Pat Burrell, Marlon Byrd, and Bobby Abreu, with Michaels, Glanville and Ricky Ledee as likely spare parts. Simple math suggests that one player will not make the club; thus all the speculation about either Michaels or Utley.

However, Larry Bowa, when asked about this seeming predicament made a very interesting comment. He indicated that he was not worried about this because "injuries always come into play in the spring," and this would likely be the case again.  Why would this seeming innocent comment evoke such scrutiny?  Again, lets play "thinking out loud."

Unless Michael's hand injury is much worse than announced, the Phils enter the spring with only one player questionable due to injury. That player is 3rd baseman David Bell. Now the Phils have gone out of their way to insist that "all is well with Bell" and a reporter's phone call to Bell this week found him to be in top spirits about his recovery.

Yet, the same Larry Bowa who has professed his confidence in Bell's recovery also stated that he "hoped" Bell would play 125 games this year. As mentioned, Bowa is notorious for his honesty, almost to a fault.  Fans have long known that Bowa's enthusiasm and passion for the game often find him at cross hairs with his candid comments.

It does not take much imagination to assume that Bowa has some concerns about Bell's health, both by his comments about injuries in the spring, and his hope that Bell can play 125 games.  This much is known… the Phils have no intention of platooning David Bell with another player, and only a catcher generally goes into the season with a goal of playing in about 125 games.

Again, "thinking out loud", given Arbuckle's statement that it was "highly unlikely" that either Michaels or Utley would be in the minor leagues, and Bowa's comments about injuries, one can safely assume that David Bell is a major question mark enter February. How do we know this?  Both Arbuckle and Bowa told us so.

So, what can we gather from "thinking out loud?' What information can we take with us that may allow us to better understand the coming two months before the season officially opens? Here are some likely things to look for in the not too distant future.

Watch for the Phils to soon announce the signing of one or two veteran free agent pitchers. They will be signed to minor league contracts, with an invitation to spring training. At least one of them will be left-handed, and it would not surprise me if they were both southpaws. 

Because of his roots to the Phillies, Mulholland seems a strong candidate, if only for sentimental reasons. Lefties like Villone, Sauerback, Miller, Nate Bland or Carl Sandler are also possibilities.

If the Phils do keep one of the youngsters from their minor league staff, Geary or Junge are the likely choices. Both are relief pitchers with major league experience and some success. It is much more likely that Madson and Hancock will begin the year as starters in Scranton, though both may pitch in Philadelphia before the end of the season.

Keep a watchful eye on the doings in Seattle. If it appears that Pudge is close to signing with the Mariners, expect either Ben Davis or Dan Wilson to be traded. It would not surprise if the Phils inquired about Davis, the fit seems much too snug to ignore.

Do not be surprised if Jason Michaels continues to appear as if in "the eye of a storm."  The Phils have long made clear when a player was potentially leaving by giving outward hints that this was about to take place.

The status of Chase Utley is almost directly related to the health of David Bell. If Bell appears questionable in the spring, the Phils will either give the 2nd base position to Utley and move Polanco to 3rd, or trade Michaels and or Utley for a 3rd baseman.  Listen for the comments about Utley; the more positive they are, the more inclined you can be to believe he is our starting 2nd baseman this season.

Finally, watch for the Phils to invite Bell to come to spring training early. This is a situation that needs resolution as quickly as possible. Nothing would thrill the Phils more than if Bell reports healthy, wealthy and wise, and ready to play. This would make the Phils eight man lineup the envy of teams everywhere.


However, if Bell appears unable to answer the call in April, watch for the Phils to address the issue quickly. This was a situation that caused the Phils much anguish last summer; they will not wish a repeat of this anguish in '04. 

Yes, Phillie fans, it was a calm and quiet week in Phillieland. Talk was of triumphs and trophies, not troubles, trades and trends. It was a week befitting a team on the rise, and a fan base much inclined to follow that rise.  Team officials, players, and fans were all part of a gala week of promotion and good will.

Yet, while all may be well, all is not really quiet. For in the unscripted words of Larry Bowa and Mike Arbuckle came revelations about much of the coming shape of the 2004 Phillie. All it took was a bit of listening, a bit of speculating, and a bit of "thinking out loud." 

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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