CD's Connect the Dots... Ears To The Ground

Shhhhh, be silent. You must be perfectly still and listen with your ear firmly to the ground. The noise you hear is hardly a rumble, barely a whisper, but if you listen closely you can hear it...faintly at first and then a bit louder as the static clears. It is the sound of Phillies management speaking and the voices speak of things that always become center stage as the calendar closes fast on the month of July.Shhhhh...

Plainly put, this year is unlike any in recent memory for General Manager Ed Wade and his not so merry men of the round table. During the early years of his often stormy tour of duty as GM, Wade was resigned to the fact that his team was not poised to make a run at a post season birth and took on the role of "sellers" a loosely worded term for a team relinquishing all hope of playing past September.

Indeed, it was during the month of July that we saw such luminaries as Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen and Andy Ashby bid their not so pleasant farewells to the City of Brotherly Love. Ironically enough, although Wade often put up the white flag, of surrender during this time period, he never quite used his valuable resources to being in much long term help. Names like Bruce Chen, Bud Smith, Mike Timlin, Travis Lee and Nelson Figueroa are but blips on a Phillie radar screen that has too often looked unimaginative and damaging.

On rare occasions, as in 2001, 2003 and 2004, the Phils were not only in the playoff hunt, but looked like sure bets to still be playing when the summer turned to fall. In these cases, Wade would put on his "buyers" hat and attempt to solidify his standing by bringing in what he considered to be the "final pieces" to the playoff puzzle. Names like Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook, Todd Jones, Felix Rodriguez and Dan Plesac became the flavors of the day, all in their hopes that the Phils would end their playoff drought which now approaches 12 years.

Unfortunately, as any Philadelphia baseball phanatic will testify, these names have more often than Wade cares to acknowledge not only failed to assist the Phils in their futile playoff push, but on some occasions actually hindered the chase. Countless Phil Phaithful can recall the nightmarish finishes when Jones, Cook or Wendell would allow a game winning home run to once again frustrate Phillie fans.

Yet, the year 2005 is much different than all the rest for the simple reason that as we approach August 1, the reality of the situation is that Wade isn't quite sure just what he has or where it is headed. Oh, there are those heady days when the team plays well and a victory gives the intoxicating aroma of a club finally playing to it's potential.

Sadly, those days have usually been followed by a hollow effort that caused not only defeat, but anguish, and the playoff birth looked further away than Christmas in January. Thus, Wade is faced with a dilemma of major proportions, and his very job as well as those of his trusted minions may well rest on the decisions he makes this week. It is said that a cat has nine lives. If Ed Wade were a cat, then it could safely be said that he has used at least seven or eight of them to this point. His walk through the minefields of failed Phillie seasons and frustrated Phillie fans has no doubt reached its zenith, and Wade may well be witnessing the most important week of his career.

With this in mind, just what may happen this week? What exactly is Wade most likely to do and who are the most obvious names being mentioned. Again, you must be silent and place your ear to the ground for it is here that you are most likely to get your answers. Of course, even the whispers could change tone as this week evolves, after all a trip to Houston involves battles with Andy Pettite, Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens. It would be no major surprise if the team limped out of the former dome city with three more games in the loss column.

From there they go to Colorado, where the thin air and stratospheric baseball scores have more often than not seen the Phils on the short end of the stick. In the past, this has been distracting. This week, it could be disastrous. If these worst case scenarios take place, and the Phightin's lose say 5 of 6, then all bets are off in a week. Chances are that the Phillies will fly home a sadly beaten non-contender and Wade may pull the plug on the season.

In that case, watch for a fire sale come August, as names like Billy Wagner, David Bell, Kenny Lofton, Vicente Padilla and Ugueth Urbina are placed on the waiver list in hope that some teams will not only sniff the bait, but bite into it. Even Jim Thome could find his way to this list come August if he shows that his once thundering bat has once again discovered its lightning bolt.

Wade would probably hope that these names would slide through waivers and he could negotiate trades with all contenders. If, however, a team were to claim a Bell, Lofton or Padilla, the team might well be tempted to just allow those players to go, freeing the team of unwanted salary as well as age. Please be advised, these names are being bantered around as we speak, and when Wade decides on his course of action, these will be the names meant for public consumption.

Of all the names on the list, it is Wagner who most resembles the Man with the Golden Gun. It is Wagner, he of the 100 MPH fastball and the enticing expiring contract that most interests teams like the Boston Red Sox. Indeed, it has been whispered [again, ear to the ground talk] that the Sox have so far been rebuffed at least three times in their efforts to give Wagner his often perceived desire at Philadelphia Freedom. More than one scout has felt that the lefties more than occasional knocks at stadium and clubhouse issues was more a call for surrender than a call for help.

If so, Wade may be more than happy to accommodate Wags, but not yet. Presently, there is a pennant push to be pursued and with Tim Worrell now relocated to the desert state of Arizona the bullpen has one less arm to swap. Even more important is the often under utilized but quite important amateur draft picks that Wagner might bring in should the Phils offer him arbitration, something he will undoubtedly refuse. In an organization whose pharm system has been decimated by past July trade follies, this is no small thing.

So, let us play prognosticator here and assume for the sake of argument that the Phils survive the trek through Texas and withstand the offensive onslaught that is known as Coors Field, Colorado. Who might be a Philadelphia Phillie this time next week? Shhhhh, the voices are speaking as we listen.

The voices speak with one central theme, that being the need for an "ace" type pitcher to wear Phillie red through at least the end of 2005 and possibly longer. Rumors of an A.J. Burnett for Padilla and Urbina deal have fallen on deaf ears in Florida as the Marlins are loathe to swap a potential star in Burnett to a division rival. In fact, the main reason that a possible Burnett to Boston swap has stalled is the Marlins fear the Sox will then immediately trade Burnett to Philadelphia for Wagner.

Whispers say that the Marlins have told the Phightin's that only in a last case scenario would they consider trading Burnett for Padilla and Urbina is if all other efforts fail. Given the recent Sidney Ponson proposed deal to San Diego, if and when this trade takes place, make it even money that Burnett is wearing a Birds cap come the end of this week. If not, then A.J. may still join a suddenly rejuvenated rotation of Brett Myers, Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle and Robinson Tejeda. Stay tuned for more whispers.

Assuming that the closest Burnett gets to Philadelphia is in the opposing dugout, then who might well be wearing Phillies colors soon. Watch for names like Kip Wells, Odalis Perez, Jeff Weaver, Jake Westbrook, Mark Redman and Shawn Chacon to filter the airwaves this week. Of these names, Wells or Redman seem the most likely scenario. Weaver has as his agent one Scott Boras, and the Phils would prefer to walk through a field of rattlesnakes than fly with the unfriendly skies of Boras Airlines. So, forget Weaver.

Perez seems an intriguing name and his recent 1-0 shutout shows that he could pitch in Citizens Bank Park. Still, the Dodgers seem precariously close to be considering themselves "buyers" also and it appears more likely that they will be bidding for the same names as the Phillies rather than swapping players in Philadelphia's direction.

Of the other names mentioned, Westbrook seems too talented for the Indians to consider relinquishing and Chacon is more reliever than starter. He seems an unlikely fit but given Wade's penchant for acquiring overpriced and underperforming relievers, Chacon has a chance of moving East. More likely, however, is an intra-state trade between the Phils and Pittsburgh Pirates.

As always, the Pirates are going nowhere but home come October, and they are always in the market to unload unwanted salary. Unwanted salary, thy names are Kip Wells and Mark Redman. Wells is probably the more skilled, while Redman may be the more desirable given his southpaw slants. Still, for a Wells or Redman deal to get done, the Pirates will have to cease and desist from demanding Ryan Howard. Any Phillie follower just knew that no trade column could be finished without the mention of one Ryan Howard.

Phillie followers, allow me to be the first to say that Howard is going nowhere but home next Sunday after the final game in Colorado. Again, with ears to the ground, it has been indicated that upper management has informed Wade that Howard is not be traded, and this is welcome news to everyone who reads this column. As someone who has followed Howard's exploits since his rookie days at Batavia, I still think Howard is a 40 home run hitter waiting to happen, and soon.

So if the Bucs are willing to accept a combination of players that might well include prospects like Chris Roberson or Carlos Ruiz, then a deal for Wells or Redman may well get done. If, however, the Buccos continue to insist on the likes of Howard, Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd or Michael Bourn, then the deal never gets done. Plain and simple as that! The ears to the ground hear this implicitly.

Of course, we may also hear really big names like Jason Schmidt or Kevin Brown mentioned, but this is sheer lunacy. Schmidt is an impressive sort, but comes with a huge price tag, one the Phils are ill-equipped to meet, and Brown would not only bring his baggage to the table, but also his agent Scott Boras' as well.

The ears to the ground also reveal that Wade will once again attempt to fool the public with issued proclamations that no deal is imminent and he may even convince some of the local reporters that this is so. Forget this balderdash. Wade's very career hangs in the balance, and if this be his final battle, he will not go down with his bow and arrows on the ground. Expect some action by the end of the week.

Indeed, if there are any things certain in life, it be death, taxes and an Ed Wade deal at the deadline. Wade will not disappoint the masses this late in the game. If there is a deal to be made, he will make it. It can only be hoped by Phillie types everywhere that when Wade eventually shakes hands on the trade he will not leave Phil's fans once again gnashing their collective teeth at another "done deal gone wrong."

The curtain closing draws near. An expectant fan base awaits the results. Will the Phils pull a plum from the pie and bring in a Wells, Perez or the like? Or we once again be left to shake our heads in collective misery at yet another "mission unaccomplished" by Wade? Time will tell, but as the days turn to a precious few, take a few moments, and find a quiet spot. Cup your lobes and listen for the sounds. Shhhhh, the voices are speaking and the words they well may turn into action could dictate the fates of not only a team and a city but the very people whose voices we now hear....with our ears to the ground.

Columnist's Note: Please send all comments and questions to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast


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