This period from mid-October to mid-January is known as the "Hot Stove" period, a time generally looked upon with skepticism for Phillies phans. True, there were the occasional pursuits of such wunderkinds as Jim Thome, Tom Glavine or Jon Lieber but usually this time passed not with a bang but a whimper. Not so this year, not so this general manager.
He has already created a stir within the baseball community by letting it be known that there are few if any sacred cows on the Phillie roster and already made a pitch to the Toronto Blues about a Bobby Abreu for Vernon Wells trade. Close followers in PhillieLand know that this deal never had a chance of working for several reasons, not the least of which dealt with the fact that centerfield, the position Wells occupies, is hardly on the list of Phillie wants and needs.
More than likely, Gillick was wisely putting out the word that the Phillies were open for business, come one and come all. He mischieviously mentioned that it would be difficult to trade his corner outfielders, Abreu or Pat Burrell, but not impossible. He went out of his way to let the world know how important re-signing Billy Wagner was to the club, while emphasizing that he already had a Plan B in place.
He talked in generalities about the value of keeping Jim Thome and Ryan Howard while surveying the landscape for Thome's next address. He spoke glowingly of the efforts of catcher Mike Lieberthal and third baseman David Bell while opposing GMs made it clear that Gillick was seeking help at both positions.
On the pitching front, he made it clear that Vicente Padilla was a valued member of the pitching staff and would be offered a contract in December, allaying fears among Phillie faithful that another strong arm would be lost with nothing recouped in the deal. Remember, Padilla is the last and best remnant of the July 2000 deal that saw ace righty Curt Schilling swapped to Arizona for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa and Padilla. All but Vicente are long gone from the Philadelphia landscape while Schilling has gone on to two World Series championships since that infamous deal.
Gillick went on local television and announced for all to hear that neither veteran, reliever Ugueth Urbina or Kenny Lofton would be returning, as he commented that the Phils were going "in a different direction." He then anointed International League MVP, Shane Victorino, the starting centerfielder, something that would have been unheard of under the previous regime. Only veterans were ever given jobs in November while such up and coming stars like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were merely going to be thrown into the mix.
Make no mistake, these proclamations rang like music to the ears of Phillie phans, who for far too long were accustomed to hearing talk of "budget restraints" and "untouchable players." Gillick clearly set the tone for what promises to be the most active Philadelphia winter since 1992 when swashbuckling GM, Lee Thomas, brought in such rogue outcasts as Pete Incaviglia, Milt Thompson, Jim Eisenreich, Danny Jackson and David West to help form the last Phillie club to participate in a World Series.
Allow us to take a few moments to peer inside Pat Gillick's mind and try to decipher for public consumption what he might be hoping to accomplish in the next few months. We might even think in terms of timelines as a man with a plan almost always presents himself with said timelines in order to stay focused on the ultimate goal. If Wagner is to be believed, then Gillick made clear to the southpaw what his goal was...to give Philadelphia a winner for years to come. Refreshing ideas, indeed!
While Gillick has repeated several times that singing Wagner is his top priority, one must begin to wonder if this is actually the case. For one thing, the rival New York Mets have already made it clear that they intend to woo Wagner next week and rumors of an offer of up to four years and $40 million is making the rounds in all the New York papers. If these numbers are correct, then Wagner will face a choice in destinations because there is no way the Phils will match either the dollars or the years.
In fact, Wagner admitted that when Gillick heard about the Mets proposed offer, he didn't even bother to change the Phils' original proposal when he and Wagner met on Wednesday. The offer on the table remains a three year deal for roughly $27 million, with only the first two seasons guaranteed. Watch for the Phils to guarantee the final year if Wagner makes it clear he prefers Philadelphia Freedom to New York, New York, but if Wagner says money is the object, watch for Gillick to fold up tent and give another lefty, B.J. Ryan a call.
Truth be told, there is an ever-growing faction of Phillie executives who remain convinced that Ryan may be the better long term call anyhow. He throws almost as hard, is equally as left handed, and is several years younger. Ryan will probably want similar dollars to what the Phils are currently offering Wagner so this decision may ultimately lie in the hands of Gillick and his scouts.
This much seems sure, given Gillick's "plan." If Billy Wagner waits until Christmas, as he is intimating, in order to make a decision about which bullpen he will sit in next year, it won't be Philadelphia's. Pat Gillick is clearly a man in a hurry and is unlikely to let the Ryan's and Trevor Hoffman's of the world move elsewhere while Wagner fiddles. Expect some sort of announcement by the winter meetings to be held from December 5-9.
Gillick has also made it clear that he favors pitching and defense, so watch for him to attempt to bring in another starting pitcher. The word in baseball circles this year is to expect more trades and less free agent action, as the trade market is deep and the free agent pickings are small. Still, if Gillick decides he needs another starting hurler, he is likely to zero in on such innings eaters as Jeff Weaver, Jarrod Washburn, Esteban Loaiza or Paul Byrd.
Of course, the hot name of the free agent hurler market is A.J. Burnett and Gillick has talked to Burnett's agent. He was promptly told that Burnett has already been offered a five year, $50 million deal with Toronto, so don't expect to see Burnett in a Phillie uniform. History has shown "the man with a plan" that giving long term deals to pitchers with fragile arms is bad for business, and no hurler is likely to get a contract longer than the one Gillick signed...three years.
This probably precludes Weaver or Washburn also as they are both represented by agent Scott Boras and he usually doesn't even have coffee with an executive who won't start at four years and counting. Still, "Life with Boras" is likely to become at least an occasional sitcom in Philadelphia now as he and Gillick have a healthy respect and working friendship, unlike the tepid relationship between Boras and the previous GM, Ed Wade.
Esteban Loaiza or Paul Byrd could be interesting look sees as they both had successful '05 campaigns and might be inclined to trade years for the chance to pitch with a powerhouse offense like Philadelphia's. Certainly, Byrd has fond memories of his years with the Phils, while Loaiza might be inclined to wish to stay within a division that he knows well, having pitched with the Washington Nationals last season.
If Gillick decides he might have better success on the trade front, an interesting name recently made the newswire. Javier Vasquez has made it known to his Arizona club that he wants to be traded to a team on the East Coast. Vasquez was always a pitcher in Phillie demand when he toiled in Montreal and although he has said he wants nothing to do with Philadelphia and its homer haven ball park, his mind could probably be changed when Gillick mentions to him that the friendly confines of left center field will soon be moved back.
Other hurlers who may interest Gillick include Chicago White Sox hurlers Jon Garland and Jose Contreras, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Odalis Perez, Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers Kip Wells and Josh Fogg or Minnesota Twins righty, Kyle Lohse. Another name to keep an eye on is Seattle Mariner's righty Joel Pineiro. Gillick knows the Mariner system well and might just think that a change of scenery could do wonders for the 27 year old Pineiro.
Speaking of knowing Mariner personnel well, it is quite likely that Gillick has at least inquired into the availability of third baseman Adrian Beltre. Although signed to a long term deal that still has about $50 million left in salary, Beltre is a young power hitting third baseman, the kind the Phils might find too appealing to ignore. There were whispers of an expanding deal with Beltre and Thome as the main characters but this seemed more idle chatter than actual fact.
While maintaining that incumbent David Bell is a "solid veteran" there seems little doubt that the "man with a plan" would explore ways to improve the hot corner this winter. While the common thought was that Gillick might look to sign either veteran Bill Mueller or Nomar Garciaparra to play third base short term, he seems bent on looking in another direction. Gillick is enamored with young Abraham Nunez, the player who took over when Scott Rolen went down in St. Louis and carried himself quite nicely as a regular through the final three months of the season.
It seems that Nunez could be signed if he were guaranteed a starting job, something Gillick can not do as long as Bell is on the roster. Watch for Gillick to attempt to move Bell at the winter meetings, and then sign Nunez to a three year deal. Failing that, another name on the radar screen could be Wes Helms, he of Milwaukee Brewer fame and a player the Phils tried to get last August. The Brewers refused to deal him then, but he is a free agent now and can sign with any interested team.
While Nunez would want nothing to do with platooning with Bell, this situation might be more appealing to Helms, a player with more mileage and less skill than Nunez. Another interesting name that is sure to be bantered about during the winter meetings is young Sean Burroughs, the erstwhile star of the San Diego Padres. No doubt that star has dimmed due to knee problems but Burroughs is young and talented enough to recapture what appeared lost in the Philadelphia setting. At worst, his name will be mentioned, at best he will be pursued.
As in life, perception is often greater than reality in baseball, and the perception has been that ailing slugger Jim Thome is untradeable until Spring due to the uncertainty of his back and elbow problems. The reality is that Thome appears quite in demand with such clubs as the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins at least making inquiries about Thome's availability while the Chicago White Sox reportedly said that if their first base slugger, Paul Konerko, leaves via greener free agent pastures, then they are definitely interested.
Gillick has continued to be coy, allowing as to how the Phils might just best be served by keeping Thome and playing Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard in right field. Don't believe this for one minute. Gillick knows that the best course of action is to set up a bidding war for Thome and deal him to the highest bidder. No doubt he has already discussed these options with Thome, and the slugger has quietly given approval to trades to a few of the above mentioned clubs.
It will be surprising if Thome goes to Spring Training as a member of the Phils and absolutely shocking if he opens the 2006 campaign with the Phightins. He is much too valuable as a trading chip to keep in limbo and first base clearly belongs to the young slugger, Howard. Watch for Thome to fetch a starting hurler and possibly a prospect in return for the Phils paying a large chunk of his salary.
On the catching front, the name that continues to be whispered in backdoor meetings in Gerald Laird, a backup backstop currently toiling with the Texas Rangers. Laird recently turned 26 years of age and might present a solid alternative to the more veteran stance of incumbent Mike Lieberthal. If Laird were obtained, the plan would probably be for Lieberthal to catch no more than 100 games while Laird would catch the rest. If this happens, the chances are great that the popular Todd Pratt would finally bid good-bye to the City of Brotherly Love. There is already talk that the New York Yankees are enamored with Pratt as a backup to Jorge Posada, a fact given more credence by the arrival of Larry Bowa as Yankee coach.
Bowa and Pratt always formed a mutual admiration society during their time together in Philadelphia and it seems apparent that Pratt may leave if the opportunity arises. Regardless of whether or not Laird is acquired, this may still be in the Phils' best interest as they have youngsters Carlos Ruiz, Jason Jaramillo and Louis Marson in the system and all projected to be major leaguers sooner rather than later. Ruiz should vie for a spot this spring while Jaramillo might make his major league debut in late 2007. Marson is possibly the most talented of the three but is far from a finished backstop project. Watch for him sometime at the end of the decade.
No matter the ultimate addresses of these aforementioned players, this much is certain. Philadelphia Phillie baseball phanatics are primed and ready for a wild ride this "hot stove league season", one that should leave them more than ready for the 2006 campaign. There is a new name in the house and he has promised one and all that he will settle for nothing less than a championship run during his time at the helm.
More than just idle words, these seem like promises of better days ahead after over a decade of disappointment, defeat and despair. While it is true that the Mets may have their Beltrans and Glavines and the Braves are Chipper with Andruw, it is the Phils who seem primed to make the biggest winter splash in the National League East. How do we know this? Because clearly in Pat Gillick the Phillies finally have a Man with a Plan."
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