CD's Connect the Dots... Just Wondering?

Just wondering... that if in a football mad town like Philadelphia, with January wind chill factors at ridiculously low temperatures, is anyone thinking baseball? Here on the Left Coast, I am, and with pitchers and catchers due to report in three weeks, I have given thought to ponder such Philadelphia Phillie's questions that are of course unanswerable at this time. Still, if life begins in spring training, then I am ready to live again and I was just wondering...

Questions, questions...always the questions. Still, what would spring training be if not for the beginning of that long journey that will ultimately answer several questions while no doubt introduce many others? Allow me to share some of the questions I have been asking myself since one season ended, and the another one is about to begin.

If any organizational success starts at the top, then I will begin there. Frankly, so little is known about Phillie ownership, other than Managing General Partner Dave Montgomery, that it is almost impossible to ask a relevent question about them. Still, like with most issues, it eventually comes down to money, and I ponder the question about Philadelphia ownership and their commitment to winning. Oh, I know that it always helps at business functions to say that you are a part owner of a winning franchise, but do these seemingly faceless owners really understand the passion of a true Philadelphia fan?

It can only be hoped that they have observed the fanaticism generated by the Eagles march to the Super Bowl, and that this will lend itself to a commitment to do whatever it takes to make the Phillies winners in 2005. Certainly we will have our answer by July 31, the time when meaningful trades must be made. It is hoped that ownership will allow General Manager Ed Wade the financial resources to go out and acquire a starting pitcher like Javier Vasquez or Livan Hernandez, or a center fielder like Brad Wilkerson.

There is ample evidence that we missed out on all three of these players over the past year and a half, and I am just wondering....were these baseball decisions or financial ones? Let us hope it was the former, and not the latter. We will know soon enough.

Speaking of Wade, I was just wondering if he understands the magnitude of this season on his future as not only the GM of the Phillies, but as a general manager at all. It seems highly unlikely that he will find a GM job anywhere other than Philadelphia, what with the new emphasis on "Moneyball" GM's and he must know that the shadow of one Gerry Hunsiker looms large on the horizon.

For those unaware of Hunsiker, he is the architect of the Astros' outstanding club in 2004, and a Philadelphia resident. In nine years as the Astro's GM, he built up a large resume of success stories and now sits unemplyed in Philly after leaving the ‘Stros of his own choice. Rumor has it that he is enjoying a year off but yearns to return to baseball in 2006. It seems logical that if the Phils fail to make the playoffs this season, Wade will pay the price, and Hunsiker seems a wonderful choice.

Just wondering...if Wade will once again opt for acquiring overage middle inning relievers at the trading deadline, or will his sense of impending doom cause him to act boldly in bringing in a top of the rotation starter like Javier Vasquez. Desperation often casues people to do things they normally would be reluctant to do, but if Wade becomes properly desperate it may be the Phillies and their fans who become the beneficiaries.

While important to ponder the organizational theatrics of a team, it is much more fun to think about the actual players on the field, and for a Southern California Phillie fan, there is much to think about. For instance, I was just wondering...if players like Pat Burrell, Brett Myers and Marlon Byrd will benefit as much as I think they will from the arrival of Manager Charlie Manuel and the departure of deposed Larry Bowa.

As has been well documented in this column, Burrell, Myers and Byrd fairly chafed under the scrutiny of Bowa's critical mind games and it seems logical that all three talented players should bloom under the more relaxed atmosphere that Manuel is guarenteed to provide. One can only surmise how powerful the middle of the order might be if Burrell reverts to his 2002 form and joins forces with fellow 3-4-5 hitters, Bobby Abreu and Jim Thome.

It says here that Burrell will indeed recpature his lost magic, and the Phils will benefit from his reformation. If healthy, this trio should easily hit 100 home runs and knock in over 300 runs, allowing the team the luxury of having a pitching staff without a genuine number one starter.

Speaking of number one starters, I was just wondering... if this is the year that Myers turns potential into production and fulfills the promise he has long displayed. Remember that as bad as he often appeared to pitch, this is a hurler who won in double figures in both of his first two full seasons, and this has historically been a positive sign for future success.

As with Burrell, it says here that Myers will take that next step towards stardom and may be the Phils top starting pitcher by June. At worst, he certainly should take his place in the middle of a pitching staff lead by Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and newly signed Jon Lieber. Combined with re-signed starter Cory Lidle and rookie Gavin Floyd, this group should keep the Phils afloat until July...when I was just wondering if Vasquez or his ilk will be joining the potential Phillie pennant chase?

Ah, still so many more questions? Some small ones like the offensive output of Chase Utley, the stolen base totals of Kenny Lofton, and the 30-30 possibilities of Bobby Abreu. And still, some much larger ones as the condition of David Bell's back, Jim Thome's finger and Billy Wagner's elbow? If the past is any guide to the answers to these questions then here is what history teaches us.

Bell's back is unlikely to get better, but with careful nurturing, a few days off a week, and Placido Polanco in reserve, third base should not be a problem. Thome reports that his finger feels fine and this too can be a question likely to be answered affirmatively.

Utley is likely to become the greatest offensive Phil's second baseman since Juan Samuel, and if Lofton tops 20 stolen bases the Phils should consider themselves fortunate. Yet it is the nagging suspicion that all is not right with Wagner's elbow that continually gives me pause to ponder. Truth be told, the stories coming out of PhillieLand speak of mysterious visits to the Phillie doctors with not necessarily positive results.

The word is that Wagner's valuable left arm - as in 100 MPH fastballs and 40-plus saves - is far from pain free and if this recurring rumor is proven fact in spring training, I was just wondering... who takes the ball in the ninth inning of a one run game?

Do the Phils dare allow youngster Ryan Madson to take on this awesome responsibility? Is that dreaded "bullpen by committee" term about to rear its ugly head in Philadelphia? or do the Phils go out and acquire a known closer like Ugueth Urbina or take a chance on a rehabbing Robbie Nen? Just wondering...?

Speaking of history...I was just wondering if that dreaded fifth year of service becomes the albatross around shortstop Jimmy Rollin's neck that is often the case in baseball. Talk to any scout, agent or management type and they will tell you that it is not the sixth year, the free agent season, that normally plays havoc with a player's psyche and a team's chemistry, but rather the fifth season, the prelude to fee agency.

Not much is being made of Rollins' recent agreement to another one year deal, and all sides are publicly saying all the right things, but I can't help but think that we are likely to hear more of this issue during the season than we care to. For the Phillie's part, they will wax enthusiastic about their commitment to sign Rollins to a long term deal after the '05 campaign, and Rollins is likely to indicate it doesn't bother him.

Still... history indicates that Rollins is very likely to be quite bothered by this, not only for fear of a contract altering serious injury, but in the uncertainty of his next baseball home. One need look no further than former Phillie shortstop prospect, Anderson Machado, and his recent serious knee injury. He suddenly went from Reds' shortstop of the future to possible Reds' shortstop of the past. Yes, it can happen that quickly, and Phillie fans are likely to hear of Rollins' unhappiness on a regular basis.

No discussion of "on a regular basis" would be complete without mention of Phillie backstop mainstay, Mike Lieberthal. No player has been here longer, and no current player has seen more roller coaster rides of emotion than has Lieberthal. Be that as it may, I was just wondering... if Lieberthal can maintain his health for at least two more seasons, or until minor league hot shot, Jason Jaramillo. is ready to take over the shin straps.

While often dismissing Lieberthal's contributions, it remains a fact that no player on the roster may be more invalauble. Lose Bell and you replace him with Polanco. A Thome injury might allow us to witness the birth of young Ryan Howard as the next Phillie home run king. Ditto with a Burrell slump or mishap.

Lofton is certainly replaceable with Byrd or super sub Jason Michaels, and both could adequately replace Abreu for a short period of time. As Phillie fans are well aware, no starting pitcher is deemed irreplaceable, at least not yet. And while the loss of Wagner would be painful, it might not be impossible to fix. Yet, picture a daily Phillie lineup sans Liebethal and one is left to ponder the unthinkable.

In Todd Pratt, the team has the perfect backup. Strong, heady and with great leadership qualities, Pratt can do an adequate job for a few days. Not so, on a regular basis. One need think no further than that late May evening in 2001 when Lieberthal tore a knee ligament in Arizona. At the time, the Phils were comfortably in front of the National League East race, and appeared a division champion in waiting.

Without Lieberthal, the team was never the same, and although the eventual deficit of a few games was small, the injury loomed large in that team's fate. The same would happen in '05 if Lieberthal is injured. It remains imperative for the Phil's to do whatever is necessary to keep Lieby healthy, happy and wise.

Did someone just mention the word "wise"? As in managerial wisdom? If so, this leads me to my last Phillie question, to wit. I was just wondering...what effect new manager, Charlie Manuel will have on the troops this season? Will his positive yet down home style fit like a glove with an often combustible Phillie clubhouse? or will the Phils regret that they failed to hire the sage from Pittsburgh, the respected Jim Leyand?

Most regular readers of this column know that I feel the Phils made the wrong choice in picking Manuel over Leyland. It still says here that an outsider like Leyland might well have caused more long term positive change in this organization than the insider Manuel. Be that as it may, the choice has been made, the coronation complete. Manuel, it was, and Manuel, it will be!

Let us hope that Wade made the right choice and that the coronation becomes complete with a crown...a National League crown, placed firmly on the head of the newest Phillie leader, Charlie Manuel. It will certainly be a popular coronation for long starved Phillie faithful, a guarenteed expectant group after the current success of the Eagles.

So, on with the Super Bowl, and may the longer starved Philadelphia faithful be well fed on Super Sunday. After that, on to Clearwater and a hoped for continuation of the victory party. Speaking of a victory party...would a Left Coast native be welcome at an East Coast celebration or be thought an outsider left to look in from afar. Of these and many other things, I am... just wondering?

Columnist's Note: Please send any questions or suggestions to and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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