First things first. Isn't it ironic that the first two moves of the off-season erase what were perhaps the biggest free agent signing and the biggest trade of Ed Wade's tenure in Philadelphia? In less than a week, Jim Thome and Billy Wagner are in other cities. Perhaps the most interesting part of it all is that the fans are, for the most part, loving it. A year ago, if you would have said that Thome and Wagner would be gone, fans would have likely cringed. It's also somewhat ironic that Thome's departure came on the same day that the Mets - Wagner's new team - picked up slugger Carlos Delgado in the Marlins latest fire sale. That one day, combined a few days later with the big bucks contract given to B.J. Ryan from the Toronto Blue Jays, will likely go down as the biggest day of the off-season for the Phillies. With the Mets adding a big piece to their puzzle and Thome being subtracted from the Phillies, may have been enough to convince Wagner that New York was the way to go.
Thome's departure saves the Phillies approximately $7 million in 2006 and Wagner made $9 million last season, for a total savings of $16 million dollars. Plus, the Phillies are in line to get the Mets first round pick (number 18 overall) and a supplemental pick after the first round to combine with their first round pick (number 21 overall). The only salary taken on so far is $3.25 million for outfielder Aaron Rowand. With the newfound financial freedom and the added draft picks, the Phillies are in a pretty good spot.
There are still some pretty good relievers on the free agent market. Yes, some are a little suspect with injuries and visits to the surgeon in their not too distant past, but overall, there are some good choices. Of the bigger names, the Phillies have long been interested in Tom Gordon. If the Phillies bite the bullet and add a third year to their offer to Gordon, it's likely that "flash" will be coming to Philadelphia. At 38, three years is a little risky for a guy with a surgically repaired elbow, but Gordon has put up awesome stats over the past few seasons. In fact, they compare favorably to those of Billy Wagner, just without the saves. That brings up another point of concern. Gordon has been working as a setup man and although he has a history as a closer, he hasn't done it for a few years and you have to wonder at least a little bit if he can handle the job at this point in his career.
Trevor Hoffman and Bob Wickman have had injury issues in the past, but both appear to be sound again. Hoffman has saved 84 games over the last two seasons and has an ERA of 2.64 during the span. Wickman has saved 58 games for Cleveland and has an ERA of 3.04 in his last two campaigns. Both are risks, but both seem to have recovered nicely and are quality options.
Then, there's Kyle Farnsworth. For years, scouts waited for Farnsworth to put it all together and he seemingly has done just that. Farnsworth saved 16 games between his time in Detroit and Atlanta in 2005 and posted a 2.19 ERA. Farnsworth will turn 30 soon after the 2006 season gets underway, but may have a lot more mileage on his arm than Gordon, Hoffman or Wickman.
Reliever comparisons for 2003 through 2005.
*Bob Wickman did not pitch in the majors in 2003. His stats cover only the past two seasons.
The real upside to this is that the Phillies might be able to get two of the above pitchers for just a little more than they planned on having to shell out for Wagner in 2006. Gordon is figuring on getting about $5 million per season and the others aren't likely to be too far off of that price, with Hoffman and Farnsworth figuring to be a little more expensive and Wickman figuring to likely be a little cheaper. The plan though would likely be to sign one of the available relievers and either deal for more bullpen help or fill spots from within.
The other part of the Wagner exit that benefits the Phillies is the draft picks. For a system that's been somewhat drained of resources over the past few seasons, having an additional first round pick and a supplemental pick could be a very good thing. The alternative way of looking at it is that if the Phillies sign one of the above relievers, who are all 'Type A' free agents, they would lose their first round pick, but would still have one from the Mets and the supplemental pick. That plus the financial savings could add up to decent benefits for the Phillies. The Phillies could also sign one of the above relievers and hope that another - most likely Wickman - isn't offered arbitration next week and could be signed without the added tag of a draft pick.
It's also possible that the Phillies could now decide to fill the closer's spot from within, possibly with Ryan Madson, and spend the money and draft pick on a starting pitcher to add to the rotation. Names like A.J. Burnett and Jarrod Washburn could now become possibilities in Philadelphia.
While Wagner's exit hurts, it's certainly not the end of the world. Pat Gillick is an experienced general manager and it's likely that at least a small part of him isn't sad to see Wagner sign with the Mets. One luxury that Gillick didn't have was financial flexibility, but with the exits of Thome and Wagner, he's got some money to walk around with. There is no doubt that Gillick can parlay that money into some interesting additions for the Phillies. Those additions are likely to come in the form of pitching, whether it's in the bullpen or the starting rotation, and it's likely that there will be some pretty big names rumored to be coming to the City of Brotherly Love. Don't think either that those names will be limited to the free agents that are out there either. Gillick has had discussions with other clubs about players like Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell and it's possible that more money could exit. What seems definite is that there will also be some money leaving the city as new faces join the fold for the Phillies.