CD's Connect the Dots... Let's Make A Deal

Some weeks are just more fun than others. For instance, the last week of July is always one of my favorite weeks of the year. For one thing, I get to celebrate my birthday, and that's always nice, though less so with each passing year! For another thing, the Southern California weather is at its best and the beaches never look more inviting. And, lastly, because it's the week that our Phillies almost always make a trade. This week will be no different so let's try to guess what might happen…

As most baseball aficionados know, the major league trading deadline is this Saturday, July 31 at midnight eastern time. Oh, some will make the case that deals can still get done through the waiver wires in August, but if Ed Wade is anything, he is consistent and predictable, and late December and late July are when his trade juices flow most rapidly.

Yet, we are hearing rumblings from the Phillie organization that the team probably won't make a deal, even though Wade has been burning up the phone lines. We are being led to believe that the status quo is what we can expect for our Phightins'. And you can choose to believe this if you wish, but it says here that this is exactly why we can expect one and possibly two Phillie deals this week…. precisely because the Phils are denying it.

In laymen's terms, I call it Philly speak, and it has worked beautifully in the past. In short form, it goes something like this. The Phils know that the populace wants them to make a deal or sign a player. The Phils understand full well the advantage of good public relations. After all, Bill Giles and Ed Wade began their careers not in administrative roles, but in public relations positions. They, better than most, realize the value of looking good in public.

If they send out the perception that they won't get something done, and then somehow do it in the final minutes, they not only get a deal they expected all along, but look good in doing it! Its called Philly speak, and it would be well worth your time to learn when to recognize it.

Need some examples? No problem, the Phils provide more than their share. The Phils used it to perfection when they held a press conference to announce that number one draft pick, Gavin Floyd, would not be signing, but instead would be going to college. They further amplified this by saying that he had turned down the tidy sum of four million dollars. Ahhh, right.

The very next day, the Phils were all smiles as they happily announced the signing of one Gavin Floyd, yes, that Gavin Floyd. The Phils got their man, and the public embraced the organization for rescuing victory from the jaws of defeat!

In 1998, the Phils drafted an All-American slugger from the University of Miami, fella named Pat Burrell. Although negotiations were expected to go well, they didn't and then on July 23, the Phils announced that negotiations didn't look promising and the deal probably wouldn't get done.

The paper had not even dried on this announcement when the Phils made the stunning revelation on July 24 that Burrell had accepted a five-year deal for 8.5 million dollars. Again, the Phils, and Ed Wade could have been voted mayor of Philadelphia.

Fast-forward to the year 2002 and the Phils drafting of a precocious lefty named Cole Hamels from San Diego. Although a bit of a risk because of a prior broken arm, the Phils were lauded for their courage in selecting this talented lefty. Again, negotiations dragged on until in mid-August, when the Phils once again painted a dismal scenario of the negotiations and indicated Hamels might even enroll at a junior college.

Once again, the consternation of a Phillie fan base could be heard from the shores of the Atlantic all the way to the sunny beaches of San Diego, a place where ironically enough, Hamels had spent most of his summer.

Fear not, Phillie faithful…Wade and Company to the rescue, and the following day, Hamels and the Phils gleefully announced a meeting of the minds, in the form of a two million dollar bonus. After all, a person can purchase a lot of surfboards for this kind of money. And once again, Wade fell out of a tree and landed on his feet!

Now this is not to imply that the Phils openly speak falsely when they issue these "organizational" announcements. Rather, they are sending up trial balloons to see which way the Phillie fans wind is blowing. It is quite interesting to observe and it is very effective.

So, true to form, when the Phils used a few of the local media to report that a trade was not imminent, this writer knew that we would soon see a few new players in Phillie red. Probably by Thursday, and perhaps as early as Monday or Tuesday. How can I be so sure of this? What little birdie is whispering in my ear?

Again, it merely takes an understanding of the thought process of Wade. He is quite predictable if you know what to look for. For one thing, he feels pressure to make a deal, not only from the fans, but also from the Phillie clubhouse. Players like Billy Wagner and Mike Lieberthal have been outspoken in their belief that the Phils need help, and not of the minor kind.

Larry Bowa has also made his thoughts well known on the subject, and Wade understands that at the end of this year, either Bowa or Wade, but probably not both, will be held accountable if the Phils fail to win the National League East. It behooves Wade to satisfy Bowa as best he can so LB will have no excuse to use during the dog days of August when Phillie starters are barely pitching six innings and relief pitchers are dropping like flies.

So, Wade will deal, probably for a center fielder and a pitcher, though it is not known whether he will fill a starter spot or opt for a reliever. Given his history, it is also fairly predictable when the deal will take place. Wade is a cautious sort and rarely makes deals too early.

In fact, his cautious nature probably cost him Kris Benson. It is well documented that Benson was available for trade since late June, but with each solid start his price tag has gone up. What once would have cost only minor league slugger, Ryan Howard, now has escalated to second baseman, Chase Utley, and this is a price Wade wisely won't pay.

By the same token, Wade also is not prone to wait until the last minute, whether it's because he recognizes his weakness as a poker player or because he fears the perception that he may look desperate. Most of his major deals have taken place between July 26 and July 30, so this week should be a most interesting one in Phillieland.

Many Phillie fans remember well where they were on July 26, 2000 when the Phils traded Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks. This deal had been in the works for a few days, and Wade felt enormous pressure to get it done. Thus, he made what he thought was the best deal he could on July 26, though many felt he could have done better by waiting a few more days.

Maybe, and maybe not. What is known is that he felt he had learned from his mistakes when the Scott Rolen problem occurred in 2002. After rebuffing a large offer from the Phils in the spring, Rolen made it clear he would leave the Phils after the '02 season. Wade decided to make a deal, and thought he had one with Cincinnati on Saturday, July 27. However, Cincy upper management vetoed the deal at the last moment, fearing that they could not resign free agent to be Rolen.

This late rebuff forced Wade to go back to St. Louis and accept a deal that was undoubtedly less than he had originally been offered. Hindsight indicates that Wade might have been better off keeping Rolen, and then offering arbitration. Rolen still would have left, but the Phils would have received two top draft picks, certainly better than the deal they brokered.

Although Placido Polanco has been a steady and serviceable player, he will be leaving soon, either via a trade or through free agency. Relief pitcher Mike Timlin was merely passing through town on his way to Boston, and his ill-timed words about the city of Philadelphia made him unpopular even while he toiled for the Phils.

As for young lefty Bud Smith, supposedly the crown jewel of the whole deal. There seems little doubt that the Phils received damaged goods when they acquired Smith, and now two surgeries and too many days on the disabled list later, he will probably be released this fall.

As a matter of record, the deal for Rolen took place on July 29, and most thought Wade again acted a bit too soon. Hindsight is always 20-20 so this is not meant to rehash old wounds, but rather to find a way to forecast what is likely to take place this week, and when.

So, without further delay, let's take out our crystal ball and see if it reveals anything crystal clear. In fact, it does! It shows a center fielder in the Phils grasp, probably Steve Finley of Arizona. Oh, it will cost youngster, Marlon Byrd, but the Phils are built to win now, and Finley's talent and experience could prove invaluable during the tough months ahead.

If the Phils can't pry Finley loose from Arizona, they may again try their hands with Tampa Bay for Carl Crawford, or the Yankees for Kenny Lofton. Regardless of the name, it appears most likely that when the Phils get back from their long road trip in August, a new player will be manning the green grass of center field at Citizens Bank Park.

Yet, even should the Phils land Finley, and if they do, it will be done by Wednesday, look for the team to address their pitching needs. Although they are still interested in Benson, logic dictates that he will probably go to a higher bidder, if he goes at all. The Bucs are playing surprisingly well, and they may decide to keep Benson and see if they can't convince him to stay next year.

Keep an eye on Cincinnati this week. They are in that very nebulous position of attempting to decide if they wish to be buyers or sellers. If they decide they are buyers, then all bets are off, but if they continue their free fall through the next few days, the Phils may make a play for either Cory Lidle or Paul Wilson. While either would be an upgrade on Paul Abbott, Wilson seems more appealing to this writer.

He is a real middle of the rotation starter, and might fit neatly between the slants of Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton and the inconsistent antics of Randy Wolf and Brett Myers. Lidle might be less expensive, but he has number five starter written all over him. Better to wait for Vicente Padilla than risk giving up a Ryan Howard type for Lidle.

What other names are likely to be bantered about this week? Names like Ron Villone, Livan Hernandez, Miguel Batista and Ramon Ortiz are sure to be mentioned, but Wade always brings in a reliever before the deadline and this year should prove no exception.

No matter the final result, this week promises to be a newsworthy one for Phillie fans, and it should culminate in a deal fairly quickly. This writer doesn't promise the deal will meet with smiles from a demanding populace, but does guarantee that some day this week the Phils will once again hold their annual July press conference to announce the latest acquisition of…

Book it!

Columnist's Note: Please send any comments or suggestions to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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