CD's Connect The Dots... Just a Dream?

To dream, especially during baseball's off-season, is part of what makes the winter months take on such delicious overtones. It is during this time that all baseball phanatics dream up their own trades, sign their own free agents and create their own lineups to insure a World Series birth in next year's marathon. Perhaps more than most, Phillies phans have much to dream about. With this and a tiny bit of "connecting the dots", allow me to take you for a ride on my latest dream scenario...

Eight years is a long time in professional sports, a living eternity for a sports fan. It has been precisely eight years since the Phils turned the General Manager reigns over to Ed Wade with the expressed goal of turning around a franchise in utter turmoil and once again returning the team to its gloried period of 1976-83. By most accounts, that eight year period was the most successful in team history, a baseball ride that included six playoff births, two 100 win seasons, two World Series births and the only World Cahmpionship in the franchise's unstoried history.

While in command of this Philadelphia ship, Wade has seen his budget grow to over $90 million in salaries, augmented by a brand new stadium that promises untold riches to the club that can somehow make it past the regular season. Ah, and herein lies the rub. During Wade's ascendency, the team has exactly zero - count them zero - playoff games to his resume despite having the talent to win at least three times.

Oh, Wade has done much right during this period. He has righted a ship that was taking on water at an alarming rate. He has brought in many outstanding baseball men and allowed them free rein to do their jobs. He has signed such luminary free agents as Jim Thome and Jon Lieber while keeping such players as Pat Burrell, Randy Wolf, Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu in tow. Certainly these things count for something.

Yet in my dream I also see that Phillie management, led by Dave Montgomery, finally has come to the realization that these things alone are no longer enough. The team has reached a crossroads and new and dynamic leadership is needed. No, not someone from within...we no longer need hear the same voices from Mike Arbuckle or Dallas Green. No, a new voice is needed, one that promises a new and exciting way of doing things. Someone like Theo Epstein, current GM of the recently deposed World Champion Boston Red Sox.

For those of you unaware, Epstein has an expiring contract with the Sox come Halloween night, October 31, and negotiations on a new deal have been less than inspiring. While the Red Sox are not speaking publicly, private voices indicate that while a deal certainly seems mutually beneficial for both parties, it is hardly a done deal and Epstein could be inclined to walk away come November 1.

In my dream, the converging forces of Wade's continuing mediocrity combined with Epstein's sudden availability make this a match made in heaven, and one that the Phils would be loathe to ignore. Simply put, Epstein is a rising star in the world of baseball general managers, a man with fresh ideas, a wonderful Rolodex file of baseball people, and the very courage it would take to do the things necessary to place Philadelphia back where it belongs in the National League East...at the top.

Under Wade, things have grown stale and cold, under Epstein they would become fresh and warm. Under Wade, trades are looked upon by Phillie phaithful with fear and disdain, while under Epstein they would become anticipated and celebrated. Under Wade, season ticket holders are becoming an endangered species, while under Epstein a Phillie ticket in July would be as hot as an Eagles ticket in December.

Surely Monty and his band of Teflonic mystery owners have come to realize this. Undoubtedly they appreciate what Wade has accomplished but understand that he is unlikely to accomplish anything further. Certainly they are bright enough to look at the NL East and see a Brave team with an uncertain future, Marlin and National teams headed south and a Met team that looks like a paper tiger to all but the most faithful of New York fans.

The time is ripe for a Theo Epstein to step forward as the next GM in PhillieLand. Even in my dream, this will be no easy assignment. He is not likely to come cheap and his list of potential work sites is likely to be long. Yet, if he has the same dreams as I, then he can see this Phillie team and the potential it has. Not only does this team possess a nucleus of solid players in Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins and Jim Thome but a bevy of future stars in Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Brett Myers.

Add to this list, a potential future pitching staff that may include youngsters like Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd, Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito and this is a team worthy of consideration for any aspiring general manager. Not only Epstein, but Gerry Hunsicker, John Hart and possibly Brian Cashman would all do well to consider Philadelphia for future employment. Still, this is my dream and while I have been a stauch advocate of Hunsicker in the past and still think he would do a marvelous job, Epstein would be part of a dream team duo that could return the Phils to the days of yersteryear...of the Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Pete Rose Era.

I mentioned dream team duo, and this was not done by accident. As long time readers of this column well know, I have long advocated the return of Philadelphia prodigal son, Curt Schilling, to the city that he still loves and yearns to pitch in. Yes, Schilling is older now and not nearly so dominant. And, yes, he still is under contract to the very same Red Sox and is unlikely to demand a trade anytime soon. The key word here is soon and not never.

It says here that if Epstein were to become the Philadelphia GM, he would soon realize that this team is merely a solid hitting third baseman and an ace starting hurler away from a championship run. Ironically enough both are now currently employed by Epstein's very own Red Sox. The third baseman is Bill Mueller, who will soon become a free agent and might be inclined to follow his boss to the City of Brotherly Love.

Nevertheless, Mueller is fodder for another day and another column, it is Schilling that interests me in this dream. No player that I have written about has evoked more e-mail discussion over the years than the often esteemed and often reviled Mr. Schilling. Some phans are certain he belongs back in the city that first made him famous while others feel he betrayed the entire town and should never be invited back. I am among the former and think he might just be the perfect final piece to put the entire staff puzzle together.

Remember, it was back on Thanksgiving of 2003 that Schilling was still a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, albeit a reluctant one. He had already turned down a trade to the New York Yankees and seemed determined to either receive a trade to the Phillies or play out his contract with the D'backs. Although one can never be certain of the exact details, it is well known that Schilling deeply wished to return to Philadelphia and made his intentions quite clear to both the Phils and D'backs.

While then Managing General Partner Jerry Colangelo did not truly wish to grant Schilling his dream [yes, dreams are open to all interested parties!] of a return to PhillieLand, it seems that this deal might still have happened if not for the stances of two GMs; Ed Wade and Theo Epstein. Wade took on the role of the reluctant partner, offering a package of a then unproven Carlos Silva and jouneyman infielder, Nick Punto. This offer seemed insulting to Colangelo, and was probably meant to. Truth be told, Wade never wanted the outspoken Schilling back, but was forced to take on the appearance of the good soldier for a demanding phan base of Schill supporters!

Still, Wade may have eventually capitulated except for one Theo Epstein, who had his own dream. In his dream, Schilling would co-anchor a staff with Pedro Martinez that might eventually end 86 years of frustration and return the Red Sox to World Series glory after far too many near misses. He made a trade proposal to Colangelo that was accepted, with the stipulation that Schilling relinquish his no trade clause, something he said he would only do for the Phillies.

Epstein, in all his wisdom, convinced Schilling and his family that he had no where to go for Thanksgiving dinner and knew that the outgoing and very generous Schilling would invite him to stay for the feast. This was the perfect elixir for a night of fun, family and contract negotiations. Within 24 hours, it was a done deal and Epstein had his man...and his dream. Curt Schilling became a Boston Red Sox anchor on a team that won a World Series, all because Theo Epstein did what few thought possible.

It says here that the same scenario might well take place if Epstein were to become the GM of the Phillies. He would study the roster and see a potential starting staff of Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle and either Hamels or Floyd, with Randy Wolf due for future delivery. He would wisely size this group up as a collection of wonderful two, three, four and five hurlers without an ace in the bunch. He would then think back to 2003 when none other than Curt Schilling became Epstein's ace-in-waiting and all the ensuing glory attached to it.

In my dream, the Red Sox reluctantly agree to allow Schilling to go home to Philadelphia, as much to thank Epstein for the championship trophy as to accomodate Curt for being the co-author of this championship. In so doing, all parties end up content. The Sox let a player leave with a contract too rich for their blood, while said player returns for another run at a World Championship...and under the only GM wise enough to cause him to move twice in three seasons.

Admittedly, this move would not come without risks. Schilling is the owner of a still dominating fastball and an equally troublesome ankle. He has an arm with as many aches as it has victories and a propensity for saying exactly what is on his mind, aftermath irrelevent. Still, even the most ardent Schilling opponent must admit that the thought of him leading a staff of Lieber, Myers, Hamels and Lidle is an enticing one. Even the greatest Schilling detractor must acknowledge that having Schill chase a Hall of Fame birth would take on added excitement if he was wearing a P on his cap.

Dreams die hard for those who have the passion to follow them, and as I have always dreamed of Schilling ending his career in Citizens Bank Park, I suspect his dream has always been much the same. Theo Epstein seems the perfect man to create the dream scenario. He could do for Philadelphia what he did for Boston. He could bring his twenty-first century brand of baseball to an organization which for too long has been drawn back to the glory days of 1980.

Under Epstein, the Phils would find a way to accomodate a trade of Thome to a worthy American League club. Under Epstein, a deal for Billy Wagner could probably be negotiated. Under Epstein, trades would no longer be viewed with fear and loathing but with anticipation and excitement. Under Epstein, a season ticket base that is shrinking by the day would expamd and grow, giving Phillie owners what they have always desired most, increased revenue streams.

Finally, under Epstein, the Prodigal Son might at last return to his roots, and this time for good. Theo Epstein and Curt Schilling could do for Philadelphia what they once did for Boston, and who in PhillieLand could ever argue with that. For until another banner is hoisted over City Hall, William Penn will still look forlornly to the past...to an eight year era when things truly were as good then as them seem now.

Eight years is a long time to celebrate, and a long time to suffer. Under Ed Wade's eight year reign, the suffering has completely dominated the celebrating. Much like 1976-83, Ed Wade's time has passed and a new dream must emerge. Theo Epstein and Curt Schilling together encompass my vision of a new and revived era that could last for quite awhile. Indeed, this is my vision for the future.

The question now becomes, is this a vision or... just a dream?

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


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