CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... In The Aftermath

Staggered. Punch drunk. Bewildered. These are all good words to describe loyal Phillie fans that follow the entire organization. Oh, you know who you are. You're the one that even knows that Greg Golson plays center field and bats lead off for the Phillies...Gulf Coast League style. In fact, if you are reading this column, which deals solely with the players below the radar screen, still toiling in the minors, then you are one of them. And you are probably in pain. I know I am.

Pillage may be too strong a word for what Phillie GM Ed Wade just did to the team's farm system, but not by much. In less time than you can say, " We traded six decent to top prospects for who???" he had done just that. Gone were Josh Hancock and Elizardo Ramirez, talented enough to have already pitched at Citizens Bank Park this season. Gone was righty power arm Alfredo Simon, just when his seemingly limitless potential was kicking into high gear.

Gone was former shortstop wunderkind, Anderson Machado, he of the Wizard of Oz glove, watchful batting eye, and oft-times frustrating lack of concentration. Gone was lefty Joe Wilson, he of the 90+ mile per hour fastball, and solid mound presence. Gone was one half of the Speed Kills twins from Lakewood, outfielder Javon Moran. Combined with teammate and fellow speedster Michael Bourn, Moran was on pace to combine with Bourn for over 110 stolen bases this season. It still may happen, but now it will be with different organizations.

In and of itself, it is not necessarily a bad thing to swap minor league prospects for major league talent. It is a skill that teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers have been doing for years successfully. However, the key is to make sure that the talent received is really going to improve the ball club, and especially long term.

Baseball history is replete with tales of quick fix trades that have haunted teams forever. Baseball scouts still tell stories of trades like Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell, John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, and Ferguson Jenkins for Larry Jackson. All were quick fix trades of solid minor league players for aged veteran players on their last legs as big league regulars. Players like Todd Jones and Cory Lidle.

A baseball friend of mine, who follows the Phillie minor league system even closer than I do, recently rated the system in terms of Top Twenty Five talent. All six of the players recently traded made that list, including three in the Top Ten, Machado, Simon and Ramirez. Trust me, friends, these three trades were a veritable plunder of the system, one that the team is unlikely to recover from for as long as Wade has free reign to make baseball trades as he sees fit.

Wade is a fascinating man, a seeming walking contradiction in personalities. Bright, witty, and very public relations conscious, he can be an excellent face of the organization at times. He also has great understanding of the waiver wire rules, is tough to beat in arbitration cases, and generally hires solid baseball people and allows them to work. I use the word generally, only because it was Wade who hired manager Larry Bowa, and continues to keep him employed, against all odds.

Yet, for all these seeming strengths, Wade has a dark blind spot and this has led him to plunge the Phillie organization into a sea of mediocrity. Bluntly speaking, he has little regard, nor understanding of the value of minor league prospects, except for the very best, and almost never acquires minor league talent in any trade that he makes.

In fact, one of Wade's favorite phrases is "major league ready" talent. Loosely termed, this means that Wade only values players that are either currently in the big leagues or have played in the big leagues at one time. Of course, the classic case was the Curt Schilling trade in 2000.

After several weeks of posturing, it became clear that Schilling was going to be traded to Arizona for four players before the deadline of July 31, 2000. It also was clear that Diamondback reliever, Vicente Padilla and first baseman, Travis Lee were going to be part of the deal. Since the Phils also needed a starting pitcher to replace Schilling, lefty Omar Daal was going to be part of the deal.

Now came the part that has Phillie phanatics gnashing their teeth to this day. The fourth player was up for negotiation, and Phillie fans familiar with the D'back farm system were clamoring for either infielder Alex Cintron or outfielder Jack Cust. At the time, Cust was a big time minor league power hitter, and Cintron was a little known minor league infielder with great tools.

There was little doubt that had Wade insisted on Cintron, he would have been able to acquire him. D'back GM Jerry Colangelo was not going to let the acquisition of Schilling fall by the wayside just to protect a minor league infielder. However, Wade wanted "major league ready" talent, and insisted on pitcher Nelson Figueroa, a non-descript hurler who quickly faded from the scene.

Cintron is now a solid middle infielder for the D'backs, exactly the kind of young player that would complement the talents of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. In fact, a case could be made that with Rollins, Utley and Cintron to man the middle of the diamond for years, the Phils could well concentrate on other areas, instead of finding the need to plug in veterans like Tomas Perez, David Bell and Placido Polanco.

To a lesser extent, the same thing happened in 2002 when Wade was forced to trade star third baseman, Scott Rolen. Wade's need to bring in "major league ready" talent caused him to settle for veteran reliever Mike Timlin when young pitching prosect, Jimmy Journell was there for the taking. Again, revisionist history will say that the Cardinals might have been reluctant to send Journell to the Phils instead of Timlin, but logic dictates that when push comes to shove, a team won't turn down the opportunity to acquire an All-Star like Rolen over the reluctance to part with a minor league prospect.

Most baseball analysts feel that Wade missed a golden opportunity to make the Phillie farm system one of the deepest in the game when he allowed stars Schilling and Rolen to exit without bringing in one minor league prospect. Sadly, it is a trend that Wade continues to follow.

So, with the reality that Jones and Lidle will probably be gone at the end of the season as free agents, and Frank Rodriguez is no more than a 50-50 bet to return, given his player option to leave as a free agent, chances are excellent that for the two month rental of three pitchers, none of whom is a difference maker, Phillie phans will angst for the next several years as young hurlers like Ramirez, Simon, Hancock and Wilson, as well as shortstop Machado and outfielder Moran display their talents at the big league level.

Now that the damage is done, just how can we rate our departed half dozen, and what can we possibly expect to see in their futures as potential big league talent. While it can often be difficult to fully project a player's future potential, I will go on record as predicting that all six of them will someday grace the rosters of major league teams. Yes, they are that talented.

In fact, Hancock is already pitching in Cincinnati, and has emerged as a starting pitcher with the Reds. His success in now solely up to him, but the talent is there, and the opportunity has presented itself. In his first start on Thursday, he received a no decision in an eventual 6-5 Reds win over the Dodger Blue.

Probably the next player to make it to the major leagues will be Machado, the former "Davy Concepcion" clone from Latin America. Ironically, Concepcion achieved his fame and fortune in Cincy and if Machado can become half the player Davy was, he will become a mainstay with the Reds.

Machado is a switch-hitter with gold glove like defensive skills, and a solid propensity for drawing walks. In fact, in 78 games this year at Scranton, he walked 73 times. The bottom line will be Machado's ability to hit big league pitching. If he hits, he will play. If he hits well, he will be an NL All-Star. At worst, he should have a career as a solid utility infielder, much like Perez.

Certainly the two most potentially damaging losses for the Phils were the two Dominican dandies, right handers Elizardo Ramirez and Alfredo Simon. At worst, they were two of the top five pitching prospects in the system; at best they might have rated 3-4, behind Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd.

Ramirez is more recognizable, as he made the leap from Single A Clearwater all the way to Philadelphia in May, when Phillie pitching injuries left the team short-handed. One still recalls the rave reviews given Ramirez by Atlanta Braves announcer, Don Sutton, after seeing Ramirez dazzle the Brave bats in relief. Sutton was convinced that Ramirez was a future big league star.

Nicknamed "Easy", for his smooth delivery and calm demeanor, Ramirez should never have been traded for a major league hurler like Cory Lidle. Frankly, baseball is full of hurlers like Lidle, and indeed, a case could be made that the Phils already had pitchers in their own system as skilled as Lidle. In any case, Ramirez will be missed, and in five years, Lidle will be retired while Ramirez is retiring major league hitters.

If losing Ramirez was painful, the loss of Simon was almost equally so. Formally known as Carlos Cabrera, the real name of a cousin, Alfredo Simon by any name is a talented young pitcher. Indeed, he was fresh off three straight dominating complete game victories when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for F-Rod. Equipped with perhaps the best fastball in the Phillie organization, Simon routinely lit up the radar guns with fastballs in the 94-95 mile per hour range.

Simon left with a 7-9 record and an organization best four complete games. Scouts see Simon as a future closer in the big leagues. Unfortunately, instead of saving games for the likes of Floyd and Hamels, he will probably be saving games for Jason Schmidt or Kirk Reuter.

Regular readers of Phuture Phillie Phenoms are more than familiar with Javon Moran, the speedy center fielder with Lakewood. Equipped with lightning like speed, Moran leaves the Blue Claws with a .285 average, and 41 stolen bases. However, unlike the losses of Ramirez and Simon, this loss seems somewhat explainable.

With fellow teammate Michael Bourn, and youngsters Chris Roberson and Greg Golson all in line for auditions as the Phils future center fielder, Moran was probably a trading chip that could be sacrificed. The question becomes, was it wise to trade him for a 37-year-old reliever like Todd Jones. The answer here is no. It would have been better to use the talented Moran as a chip to acquire a young pitcher, ironically a youngster of the ilk of Simon or Ramirez!

The final part to this six-piece puzzle was lefty Joe Wilson, a 2003 draftee in the thirteenth round. He was an intriguing prospect for several reasons, none greater than the fact that he was a lefty with a 90+ mile per hour fastball. As skilled as Randy Wolf and Eric Milton are, they almost never reach 90 on the radar gun, and in fact, lefties with solid fastballs are harder to find than a Randy Johnson look-a-like.

Wilson leaves with a 4-7 record, but a solid 3.64 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 94 innings of work. He will no doubt become a starting pitcher in the Reds farm system, but look for him to eventually become a middle reliever. Left handed relief pitchers are much in demand, and it will be no surprise if Wilson one day is called into face the likes of Chase Utley, Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu.

In baseball, nothing is guaranteed, and when a team has a chance to make a trade that might be the impetus to make that team a playoff contestant, the end generally justifies the means. Yet, when a consistent and dangerous habit of sacrificing tomorrow for today continually pulls up bad cards, criticism is not only important but also necessary.

GM Wade has been entrusted with a job to not only make the Phillie nine better for today, but to protect the team for future successes. Sadly, these recent three trades merely continue an alarming and painful trend of showing almost total disregard for the protection of the Phillie future, a future that Wade is unlikely to be a part of.

For Phillie fans everywhere, the immediate future looks dim enough. Yet even more painful, is the future, as the system without six solid players is an unhappy commentary on the trading peculiarities of Wade….in the aftermath.

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

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