Hey CD: What's The PhilliePulse On...

<b><I>Hey! CD</I></b> is a regular Q&A column by California Dreamin, a Phillie die-hard from SoCal. His unique perspective on Phillie baseball issues & events draws grassroots interest from Phillie fans spread all over the country. Hop on the good ship PhilliePulse and send your questions to CD at <a href=mailto:connectthedots@earthlink.net>connectthedots@earthlink.net</a> and read his response to you in a future edition of this column.

Q: On the Future of Placido Polanco, from Scott Graveline
Hey! CD, I am a big baseball fantasy league player and I have Placido Polanco on my roster.  With all this talk about David Bell and Chase Utley, will Polanco become a Phillie regular this year, I'm curious?  Thanks in advance. 

CD says...
Hi, Scott, and welcome aboard the Pulse! 

I don't usually answer fantasy league questions, but the timing of yours is too important to ignore due to the injuries that have occurred to the Phillies this week. 

Placido Polanco is a regular on the Phils and would have played either second or third base this year, no matter how well Bell or Utley performed.  The best-case scenario would be if Bell and Utley both perform well, and develop a bit of a platoon rotation. 

However, Polanco would be in the lineup anyhow, he is much too important to the Phils for the myriad of ways he helps the team.  Besides his leadership skills, he is a wonderful defensive player, a near .300 hitter at the plate, and seems to be developing more home run power each season.

With Todd Pratt and Jim Thome suffering injuries this week, look for Utley to get some action at first base.  If he performs successfully, this might even give the Phils a silver lining to the Thome injury.  It will keep Utley's fine bat in the lineup, and enhance his chances of getting more playing time down the line.

When healthy, the Phils roster is deep and talented, with many interchangeable parts.  Yet, there are a few players that are nearly irreplaceable, and Polanco is among them.  Trust me, Scott, if healthy Polanco will play 150 plus games this season, with a near .300 batting average, and solid totals in doubles, home runs and RBI.

Once again, welcome to the Pulse, hope you make it a regular stop along your Phillie ride this year.

Q: On the Possibility of Trading Placido Polanco for a Prospect, from Tyler Esh

Hey! CD, I was reading that the NY Yankees need a second baseman and have an outstanding young catching prospect in Dioner Navarro.  Any chance the Phils might swap Polanco to the Yanks for Navarro and possibly another prospect?

CD says…
My, my, Polanco is a popular player this week at the Phillie Pulse!  Good question, Tyler, and while its true the Phils might or might not be in the market for a young catcher, they won't sacrifice Polanco to obtain one.

As in the previous question, I can only remind everyone just how important Polanco is to this team.  It is often overlooked, but not by Phillie players, that the team's slide late last September coincided with an injury to Polanco.

He is simply too important in many ways to the club, to consider trading for a prospect.  Besides, if you have followed GM Ed Wade at all over the years, you know that he almost NEVER trades a proven player for a prospect… he prefers "major league ready" players.  So, it is almost guaranteed that Navarro, although an outstanding prospect, would not interest the Phils.

Speaking of Navarro, he is quite an attractive prospect, one of the best in New York's admittedly barren system.  Just recently turned 20 years of age, Navarro has already climbed the minor league ladder to Double A.  In fact, in half a season at Trenton last year, he hit a very impressive .341 with adequate power.

This followed an early season .298 average while playing in the pitcher friendly Florida State league.  He will probably continue his minor league education at Trenton to open the 2004 season, with a call up to Columbus if he performs well. 

By the way, the Phils may already have a solid backup catcher in their organization in AJ Hinch, a former All-American at Stanford.  When he entered pro ball in 1997, he was considered a can't miss catching prospect, but somehow lost his way, through journeys from Oakland to Kansas City to Detroit, and now to Philadelphia.

With Todd Pratt probably sidelined till mid April, look for Hinch to get a great opportunity to make the Phillies out of spring training.  He is a great defensive player, and that may be enough to solidify a spot on the opening day 25-man roster.

Hope this helps, Tyler, and write the Phillie Pulse again soon!

Q: On the Sore Finger of Billy Wagner's Pitching Hand, from Chad Ridge, West of Philadelphia

Hey! CD, I have read a bit about Billy Wagner's stiffness with the middle finger of his pitching hand.  Is this something we should be concerned about?

CD says…
Chad, my friend, it is never a bother to answer questions about our favorite baseball team, the Fightin Phils!  Besides, your question is not only timely, but also very relevant so I will share you what I know, and then what I think!

I know this much about Wagner's injury. There is a tightness to a very important digit of his left hand, the one that is connected to an arm that throws a ball at 100 MPH on occasion.  I know that any injury that is categorized by stiffness, tightness, joint soreness or other symptoms can be chronic and bothersome.

I also know that Billy Wagner is a warrior making 8 million dollars to not only save ballgames for the Phils but also to help lead them to the promised land of the playoffs and World Series.

I know that this warrior mentality will cause Wagner to pitch even if his finger is causing him discomfort.  I also know that when an athlete compensates for one injury, he is likely to suffer another.

Finally, I know that if Wagner does compensate for his left finger stiffness, it is likely to affect his left pitching arm.  And… that if Wagner hurts his left pitching arm, he will have allowed a molehill to become a mountain.

So, my friend, those are things I know and now I will tell you what I think. 

As mentioned in one of my recent Connect the Dots articles about the Phils and pitching injuries, their track record is better but still scary.  I think this injury has every chance of being something that is lingering, frustrating and eventually the kind that sits him down for a while.

Do I think it is career threatening?  No.  Do I think we might still be talking about it in June of this year?  Yes.  That said, let us Phillie fanatics ALL hope that I am wrong!

Please never feel that you bother Chad, I welcome your thought-provoking questions.

Q: On The Phillies Possible Alternatives Now that Jim Thome is Injured, from Dominick Patrone, Richmond, VA

Hey! CD, I know this is a last minute question but given the news of today about Jim Thome's fractured finger, what do you see the Phils doing to compensate for his absence?  Will they fill the spot from within or do they go out and make a trade for 1st baseman?

CD says…
Dom, you are not the only person who has asked this question, it is not only extremely relevant, but carries with it some possible long-range ramifications. 

First off, it will be impossible to know what GM Ed Wade will do until we hear about the examination in Philadelphia on Sunday.  If the news is good, and it is only a non-displaced fracture, then Thome might be back in a month and the Phils will no doubt make do with players already on their big league roster.

If the news becomes a worst-case scenario, and there is a tendon involved, then the story gets a bit more complicated. If this happens, then we are looking at possibly two months of inactivity for Thome. This puts the Phils into May, and the thought is not appealing at all.

With Thome out for two months, the Phils might look to bring in someone like Randall Simon or Brian Daubach, players with decent gloves and good left-handed bats.  However, this seems highly unlikely, given their contracts and the fact that the Phils may already have a solid left-handed bat on their team!

Chase Utley is a solid left-handed hitter without a starting position. Given the clean bill of health of third sacker, David Bell, and the solid play of second baseman Placido Polanco, Utley would seem to be the odd man out.

However, he has done some work at first base before, and by all accounts handled himself well. As a natural second baseman, he is familiar with a ground ball to the right side of the infield.  And given the skills of his bat, he would seem a natural replacement for Thome on a short-term basis.

Look for Shawn Wooten to get some time at first base against tough lefties, and Jason Michaels might even take some practice ground balls at first.  Todd Pratt, when he returns from his knee injury, is also familiar with the position.  All are possible short-term solutions to what would become a long-term problem if Thome is gone for a protracted amount of time.

I have read some overly optimistic theories today about when Thome will be back. I have seen predictions of three weeks, before the end of March, by opening day on April 5 in Pittsburgh…and so on.

Just for the record, and without trying to paint a depressing scenario, I find it highly doubtful that he is back in less than a month and even then he will play in pain.  If I am a hard thrower like Josh Beckett, Roger Clemens, Mark Prior or Kerry Wood, I throw my fastball inside to Thome and make him try and hit it solidly in the cold weather.

Even when the injury is healed enough for him to play, it will bother him in cold weather and may not be completely healthy until June, when the weather warms up in the East Coast.  Though not a back breaker for the Phils, this injury may just preclude the Phils from getting that 22-8 or 23-7 start that was predicted by some.

It will be interesting to watch how this injury affects Pat Burrell. Already burdened with the expectations of making everyone forget his struggles of 2003, this may put more weight on his back to help carry the team in Thome's absence.  It should be noted that this was a weight that he carried very well after Scott Rolen was traded in July of 2002.

In a spring where the fingers of Wagner and Thome have already become major news stories in Philadelphia, a Phillie fan can only cross their healthy fingers and hope that the adage, "for the lack of a finger, a pennant was lost" does not apply to this team.

Take care, Dom and everyone, and stay with the Pulse for the latest injury updates!

To My Co-Fans:  Thank you for your continued patronage and undying interest on our beloved Philadelphia Phils.  Keep the questions coming and I'll keep responding.  Until next time! CD from the Left Coast

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