Certainly, this Phillie team has been maddeningly inconsistent. Afterall, this is basically the same crew that started out of the gate to the tune of 22 losses in 38 games. Except for a late addition of reliever Ugueth Urbina, this same unit then completely turned it around and won 20 of the next 26. Just when a nototiously skeptical Phillie fanbase was beginning to let their guard down, the team heads west and loses 4 of 6. How can this team be trusted?
The answer may lie somewhere in that famous Aesop Fable, and as difficult as it may be for impatient Phil phanatics to accept, this team may well resemble the tortoise all season long. Plainly speaking, it has just enough strengths to having the staying power necessary to win the race, but just enough weaknesses to make a wire to wire win virtually impossible.
I suspect this logic is precisely why Jim Leyland did not get the managerial position when he interviewed for it. Sage that he is, Leyland probably gave a prognostication that fit well with this team's personality, albeit not with Ed Wade's analysis of the club he had painstakingly put together. Nevertheless, given the players on the roster, and their corresponding ages, the prognostication was probably correct.
Leyland possibly felt that a lineup with Pat Burrell, Jim Thome, Mike Lieberthal and David Bell would be unable to manufacture many runs due to the sheer fact that these players not only strike out often, but don't run particularly well. He also probably felt that a lineup with Jimmy Rollins at the top of the order would be inconsistent offensively, much in the mirror image of their supposed lead off hitter.
He may even have had the audacity to suggest that the best lead off hitter on the team, nay, perhaps the best lead off hitter in the league was none other than right fielder, Bobby Abreu. Nothing makes greater Phillie phodder than discussing the merits of Abreu in the lead off pirch. Unfortunately, you and I know the odds are greater of an elephant flying than in ever seeing Bobby A in the top of the order spot. He doesn't like it there, feels more comfortable in the number three slot, and even though the Phils have 60 million reasons to remind him who pays the salaries, they have always deferred to his comfort zone.
Now Leyland certainly was interested enough in managing this club to know there were some definite strengths to the club. He must have talked to enough scouts throughout the league to know that in Chase Utley, the team had a future All-Star at second base. He surely felt confident that his managerial style would work wonders on the tender psyche of Burrell, and he could restore him to the slugger of yesteryear.
Gentleman Jim must have felt he could coax one or two more solid seasons from the veterans like Thome, Bell and Lieberthal, and he certainly would have been enaomored with the talent of Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Cory Lidle. Brett Myers, much like Burrell, would have been another reclamation project, certainly worthy of future ace status, given his skills and age.
A bullpen of Tim Worrell, Ryan Madson and ace closer Billy Wagner would have matched up handsomely with any Leyland managed in Pittsburgh, and this was before the acquisition of Ugueth Urbina. Leyland was also fond of using relatively inexperienced players, and must have dared to speak in terms of the possibility of not only Gavin Floyd, but Cole Hamels soon becoming part of a stellar rotation at Citizens Bank Park.
One can only imagine how this portrait must have made Wade incredibly uncomfortable. It certainly made the feel good expose of Charlie Manuel's interview that much easier to swallow. It probably sealed the choice, if a choice was ever truly in the cards. We will never know this for certain, but this much we do know. Leyland's portrait was a correct one, and this Phillie team, for all it's warts and beauty marks is what it is.
Oh, there will be speculation all around; in fact the speculation started here, that pitchers like Barry Zito, Mark Redman or Kip Wells will soon wisk their way east to solidify a starting rotation made hollow by the recent injury to Randy Wolf and the continued incosistency of Vicente Padilla. Yet the truth of the story, and this is no fable, is that outside of minor league slugger Ryan Howard, the trading cupboard is bare in Philadelphia.
Yes, we can all play fantasy baseball and create trades for Tim Worrell or Endy Chavez, but the reality is that we have both on our roster today because there was scant interest in them among the other clubs in baseball. This does not mean that Wade will be silent at the July 31 deadline, his job depends on the noise that he creates and noise we will get.
But it is not likely to be Zito, Redman or Wells. Rather expect Wade to do what he does best, and that is to move Howard for a reliever that might free Ryan Madson to do what he most wants to do...start. Lest we choose to believe that this has no chance of occuring, remember this tidy tidbit. Madson is represented by the man who is most reviled in Philadelphia, and probably most feared by Phillie braintrust, Scott Boras. Yes, the same Boras who turned J.D. Drew against the city, and convinced an entire organization that Mark Texiera would no way, no how, ever sign a contract if drafted by the Phightins.
Although still a long way from free agency, Madson is not that far removed from super sophomore status, which may well mean arbitration rights start early for young Mr. Madson. This is something that Boras no doubt reminds Wade of more than occasionally, and when he is done whispering sweet arbitration nothings in Wade's ear, he probably reminds our GM that his young client would be much happier down the road if he was in the starting rotation.
Given this scenario, expect Wade to bring in another bridge gapper to go with Urbina, Cormier and the slowly improving Geoff Geary. This will allow the Phils to move Madson to the forefront where he wants to be, and continue to experiment with Robinson Tejeda, he of the limited experience but solid numbers to back him up.
Now this is not to imply that the Phillies position players will remain totally in tact. Wade is smart enough to recognize that as currently constituted the team has one of the weakest benches in baseball. Watch for him to play the waiver wire in hopes of bringing in a solid veteran hitter, one capable of striking more fear in opposing pitchers than does Ramon Martinez and Tomas Perez.
Speaking of benches, what is the likely status of young Mr. Howard, he of the best left-handed bat developed in the system in 50 years. Unfortunately, the Phillie team often reveals what their intentions are merely by the way they speak to the press and in the case of Howard they have been speaking volumns lately. No less an authority than minor league guru, Mike Arbuckle was recently quoted as saying that Howard is one of the best hitting prospects in baseball and that ample comparisons with other youngsters prominently mentioned in Baseball America makes Howard look even more special.
Before Phillie phaithful interpret this to mean that a Howard sighting is imminent, allow me to suggest that what Arbuckle is trying to do is drum up interest in a "We Want Howard" trade campaign. He no doubt hopes that a Billy Beane might bite at the thought of the high on base numbers that Howard puts up and offer a Zito in return. Maybe, but not likely. That scenario probably left the barn the moment that Placido Polanco was dispatched to Detroit. As I offered in another column, a Howard-Polanco tandem might well have appealed to Beane, but Howard alone is unlikely to wet his taste buds.
Still, good soldier Arbuckle must trump his cards, and Howard is the only ace he has in the deck. Stay tuned, but prepare for a Howard departure by July 31. The chances are the trade will not be a popular one, and is likely to be a deal that does not pay off for the team in the long term. The best that probably can be hoped for is either no deal at all or a deal for a young hurler who might someday fit into a rotation with Myers, Floyd, Hamels and Madson.
If these are the times that try mens souls, then a Phillie fan must gain hope from the story of the tortoise over the hare. For all its blemishes, the tortoise remained close enough to win in the end, not unlike our present day Phillies. The Nationals are unlikely to circle the track, and the Braves are running the race with injuries too many to ignore. The Marlins seem to have clubhouse personality issues, and the Mets as presently constructed can not sustain the pace.
So, perservere stout Phillie fan and remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare and how slow and steady is...how the race was won.
Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast