Indeed, almost to a man the Phil players have embraced the change. Not only does Jim Thome consider Manuel to be one of his best friends in baseball, but returning Phillie veterans like Rheal Cormier and Todd Pratt both mentioned that having Manuel at the helm weighed heavily into their decision to return.
This is all well and good, and it will be no great surprise if players like Pat Burrell, Brett Myers and Vicente Padilla, players who often chaffed under Bowa's scrutiny, rebound with solid 2005 campaigns. Once again, barring some last minute National League East shakeup, the Phils will be favored to win the division in '05.
However, since the hiring of Manuel, a clear picture of Manuel's rolodex file has begun to crystallize and it may be an alarming one for Phillie fans who long for a team built to withstand the long haul. Clearly, under Manuel, as well as GM Ed Wade, there is a philosophy that the team is being constructed to make one last stab at a pennant chase before rebuilding instead of reloading.
No further evidence is needed than in the players the Phils have either signed or are attempting to sign. With youngster Marlon Byrd only one year removed from a banner .300 hitting rookie campaign, the team chose to trade for near 40 year old Kenny Lofton, a Manuel favorite from his Cleveland days. This trade was quite problematical for several reasons.
To acquire the often disruptive Lofton, the team had to dispense with righty reliever Felix Rodriguez, also affectionately known as F-Rod. For those who have forgotten, it was not that long ago, July to be exact, that Wade thought it so imperative to bring in the streaky Rodriguez that he not only traded lefty hitting Ricky Ledee, but added standout pitching prospect Alfredo Simon to the equation.
Fast forwarding to November, it seems not unreasonable to ask if the Phils might have been better served by just keeping the younger and stronger Ledee over the older Lofton, and having Simon prepared for a breakout season at Reading in Double A. Instead, because of Manuel's preference for the veteran Lofton, someone he knows well and is comfortable with, the Phils will probably be witnesses to Ledee homeruns and Simon strikeouts long after Lofton has come and gone.
In fact, Manuel's fondness for veteran players seems to run so deep that the Phils may well be the oldest team in baseball before he and Wade finish their reconstruction effort. Clearly, it was Manuel's "rolodex file" that caused the Phils to consider bringing in ageless Sandy Alomar Jr. to be the backup catcher. Not surprisingly, Alomar was another Manuel favorite with the Indians.
Only an old knee injury that had red flag written all over it caused the Phils to reconsider this misadventure and bring back the equally seasoned Pratt. In an almost ironic twist to the tale, the Phils were actually getting younger by keeping Pratt instead of Alomar. This would be almost humorous if it was not so alarming.
Since the Manuel hiring we have seen aging veteran Doug Glanville offered arbitration, and equally aging players like David Wells, Ron Villone, Jose Hernandez, Josias Manzanillo and Kent Merker rumored to be Philadelphia bound. This can not be coincidence. With Wade having hired Manuel despite the popularity of Jim Leyland, he clearly must attempt to build the team to Manuel's liking.
Speaking of Byrd, it is being rumored that he will soon be swapped for a relief pitcher, another example of the "rolodex file" syndrome that Manuel brought with him. Remember, he was privy to all the talk about Byrd's poor work habits and inability to adjust his hitting form to compensate for a slump that seemed to go on forever.
Yet only one year earlier, Byrd's swing seemed just fine as he hit a cool .330 over the final three months of the 2003 season to earn more than his share of Rookie of the Year votes. It certainly seems reasonable that a manager from the outside like Leyland might just have displayed a bit more patience with Byrd, assuming that time might be the best ally for what ailed Byrd.
It has always been this writer's contention that what most ailed Byrd was the signing of Glanville a year ago. Not only did Bowa and Wade trumpet the signing, but went out of their way to announce that Glanville would get plenty of playing time whenever Byrd struggled. This seems the most obvious of self fulfilling prophesies, and seemed to add unnecessary pressure to a player who seemed sensitive to begin with.
If Byrd is traded, and it says here he will be, don't be surprised if this is a move the Phils long lament. At 28 years of age, he is a dozen years younger than Lofton and has more than enough time to carve out a solid career in the big leagues. With Leyland it might have happened. With Manuel it seems unlikely.
The most important thing that Leyland would have brought to the Phils is an outsider's ability to come in with a fresh outlook and no preconceived ideas of what makes the Phils click. Rather, Leyland probably would have cleared the slate clean and given every player on the roster a fresh start, Byrd included.
It also seems safe to say that with Leyland on board, we would not have seen Lofton, nor heard talk of Alomar. Yet, Leyland would have brought his own "rolodex file" to the team and it says here that the Phillie fans would have preferred this file. As previously mentioned, even much reviled agent Scott Boras has a place in Leyland's "rolodex file" and this might have proven quite beneficial when Boras clients like Derek Lowe or Jason Varitek were considering their new home base.
While one cannot criticize the signing of Jon Lieber; indeed, it was mentioned in this column a few weeks ago that Lieber might be a solid citizen, it still seems preferable that Lowe might have been a better fit. His groundball first mentality seems quite conducive to pitching in the homer haven that is Citizens Bank Park.
Varitek might also have been a perfect fit and would have allowed the Phils to field offers for Mike Lieberthal, especially from the catcher poor Los Angeles Dodgers. Even had Lowe and Varitek not chosen to make Philadelphia home, it seems probable that with Leyland in tow, the frosty atmosphere between Boras and the Phillie hierarchy might have at last been warmed.
Simply put, Phillie fans must begin to brace for a season where all efforts will be placed on winning in 2005. Only teams with a sense of urgency chose to bring in such players as Lofton and Lieber, or court such players as Alomar, Villone, Hernandez or Wells.
Using history as a guide, the results are decidedly mixed. Certainly the 1993 team was built to "win now" and it did so quite handsomely, with one of the most scintillating Phillie teams ever. Yet, by 1995 they were neither dashing nor daring, merely old and injured. Baseball purists would still insist that this was a Faustian deal that caused 10 years of misery for one year of gold.
However, for every golden oldie like 1993, there are more than a few examples of veteran Phillie teams that failed to overcome Father Time. Teams in 1966, 1984, and as previously mentioned, 1994-95 are fairly recent examples of a veteran team gone bad. Only time will tell if the 2005 edition of the Philadelphia Phillies bares a closer resemblance to the madcap club of 1993 or the decaying clubs of the mid 90's.
This much is clear. Charlie Manuel's "rolodex file" of players are veterans he is comfortable with rather than youngsters he is unfamiliar with. He has placed his stamp on this team, and by all appearances is quite happy with what he sees. With players like Thome, Lieberthal, Lofton and Pratt, as well as incumbents David Bell, Billy Wagner and Tim Worrell, the hour glass is more than half empty.
It remains to be seen if Father Time is another member of Manuel's "rolodex file" and can be counted on to assist the Phils in their race to the finish in 2005.
Columnist's Note: Please send comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast