CD's Connect the Dots... Pressure

It is as tangible and real as the air we breathe. Yet, like the air, it is unseen, and rarely discussed. It is called pressure, and it is now squarely placed on the shoulders of current Phillie General Manager Ed Wade. While a "breath of fresh air" is a welcome respite for the tired and weary traveler, winning is what will be a welcome relief for the pressure that Wade now feels. Let's see how he got to this point, and how he is likely to deal with it.

Unlike many of my writing colleagues, I am not yet ready to dismiss Ed Wade as a viable candidate for redemption. Yet the fact remains that now that former manager Larry Bowa is no longer Exhibit A of a failed system, the buck clearly stops on Wade's desk. And after seven years of mostly erratic play and underachieving performance, this is as it should be.

Simply put, this team has Wade's fingerprints clearly stamped on it, from the aging but still imposing everyday lineup to the now questionable five man pitching rotation. Add to that a bullpen that ranges from possibly dominant to wildly erratic and the 2005 season shapes up as a melodrama that could either be titled "Wade's Redemption"… or "Wade's Finale."

Although many, including yours truly, have questioned the hiring of insider Charlie Manuel over outsider Jim Leyland, the popular ex-Tribe manager gets a pass this year regardless of the outcome. Truth be told, he is wildly popular with the players and is unlikely to have anything but a positive influence on whatever transpires this season.

No, the blueprint for success or failure will ultimately be placed at the feet of Wade, and how he handles the pressure of this reality will be interesting to observe. In many respects this is the first year that he will feel the heat after years of either Tito or Bowa bashing from an impatient populace of frustrated Phillie fanatics.

Pressure is an interesting and quite revealing phenomenon. Although athletes often deny its existence, they will almost always privately acknowledge its existence. It is caused by heightened expectations, and the coming together of that moment in time when hope meets reality. It can bring out the best in people, or expose the worst.

Suffice it to say that I know not how Wade will handle this pressure, but allow me to surmise a guess. This guess is based on a seven year observation of the man, and the clear philosophies that he holds dear. If the past is any indication, the road is likely to be bumpy for Phillie faithful unless the team gets off to an unaccustomed quick start.

To start with, just what does Ed Wade believe and how might it affect his decision making process in 2005. Unlike many GM's who cloak themselves in secrecy and intrigue, to his credit Wade is quite transparent. He holds dear to certain philosophies and has consistently made decisions based on these beliefs.

For one thing, Wade holds dear the feeling that "major league ready" players are the way to go in any trade or transaction that he makes. This mindset has often frustrated fans who feel that it is important to not only relinquish young talent when making a trade, but to replenish that which is lost by occasionally replacing it with equally talented but inexperienced players.

In fact, Wade's record in this regard is quite embarrassing. When outfielder Brad Correll was a throw in player during the Todd Jones acquisition last July, he marked one of the first players that Wade has ever acquired without major league experience. Put another way, the number of players on this list would still leave a few fingers short of a handful if placed end to end.

This would not necessarily be a problem except for the fact that under the Wade watch the Phils have seen an alarming number of young talent leave the stable, especially during the last year. This list includes such players as Carlos Silva, Nick Punto, Bobby Korecki, Taylor Buchholtz, Ezequiel Astacio, Brandon Duckworth, Josh Hancock, Anderson Machado, Alfredo Simon, Elizardo Ramirez, Javon Moran and Joe Wilson. This list does not include catcher Johnny Estrada, a player the Phils probably underrated.

Please understand that this hindsight second guessing is not meant to necessarily indict Wade on these moves. The Estrada trade for pitcher Kevin Millwood clearly appeared a steal for the Phillies, and was roundly and justifiably applauded. Buchholtz, Astacio and Duckworth seemed a reasonable price to pay for a relief pitcher, Billy Wagner, with a 100 MPH fastball.

Silva and Punto were thought a small price to pay for an experienced talent like lefty Eric Milton, and relievers Todd Jones and Feliz Rodriguez as well as starter Corey Lidle may all end up with more major league success than Hancock, Machado, Ramirez, Moran and Wilson ever attain. Fair enough.

Individually speaking, all of these moves could be argued with strong conviction. But taken together, they present an alarming look at the way Wade operates and how he has thinned what once was a deep and burgeoning farm system.

On the other hand, Wade has demonstrated that when armed with the money to chase free agent talent he has more than held his own. Jim Thome, David Bell, Tim Worrell and Jon Lieber are testament to his ability to bring in highly coveted, albeit highly priced free agent talent.

Another quality that Wade has demonstrated to this point is the ability to bring in top notch administration and organizational talent and give them free reign to work their magic. Under the Wade watch, such skilled baseball people as Mike Arbuckle, Dallas Green, Sal Artiaga, Marti Wolever, Gordon Lackey, Ruben Amaro Sr. and Jr., Gary Ruby, and Manuel have either been hired or seen their responsibilities increased.

Such former Phillie kingpins like Paul Owens and Bill Giles were brought back to the fold and Wade has also reached out to former Phil's stars like Mike Schmidt, Bob Boone and the aforementioned Bowa. This has not only added class but a sense of history to a team that needed both.

Wade has also shown an ability to lock up key players like Pat Burrell, Randy Wolf, Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal. The fact that Burrell has underperformed since the long term deal does not necessarily detract from the wisdom of the move at the moment. If you disagree, keep this in mind.

One of the new owners of the Arizona Diamondbacks is none other than former Burrell agent, Jeff Moorad, and if you think Moorad wouldn't have made bringing Pat the Bat in at free agent time a top priority, then you fail to understand the relationship between the two. As costly as Burrell might have been, it will be a bargain compared to what the team might have had to pay to retain his services had Moorad and the D'backs come calling.

Still, Wade has made more than a few extremely questionable signings. Perhaps no team but the Phillies would think that Doug Glanville is still useful, and if it is indeed owner Dave Montgomery encouraging this action, then it is up to Wade to discourage this idle and damaging talk.

Likewise, the inking of utility infielder Tomas Perez to a two-year deal seemed strangely exorbitant. While Perez certainly offers a solid clubhouse presence and redeeming qualities as a utility infielder, a quick glance of the free agent list showed a sizeable list of infielders of Perez's ilk, and at a less costly price.

Wade has also demonstrated a strange and often damaging desire to acquire veteran and often mediocre middle inning relief, especially at the trading deadline. More than one Phillie fan has felt that rather than assisting the team in their so far fruitless chase of NL East glory, the acquisitions of such relievers like Dennis Cook, Turk Wendell, Roberto Hernandez, Victor DelosSantos, Jones and Rodriguez have in fact hurt the team.

Many Phillie faithful still cringe at the thought of another "veteran presence" on the team; a staple of the Wade legacy. In fact, a quick glance at the Phillie 25 man roster is likely to show that the team may well be the oldest club in the National League in 2005. While players like Thome, Lieberthal, Lofton, Wagner, Worrell, Bell, Pratt and Lieber may still have a few solid seasons left, the window of opportunity is closing rapidly.

Add all this up, and it speaks volumes to the pressure Wade will be feeling to possibly win at all costs in 2005. It certainly does not decrease the pressure to know that highly rated former Astro GM Gerry Hunsiker lives in the Philadelphia area and might well enjoy working in his home city.

Whatever the future holds, this much is certainly predictable. The knuckles are likely to be a bit whiter, the decisions a lot more weighty. Each loss is certain to be more painful, each win a bit more joyous. For Phillie GM Ed Wade, the 2005 season promises to include all of the above and much more. It promises to include something he has not felt to this degree since he first took the job back in the fall of 1997. Pressure.

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


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