Obviously, the Phillies haven't accomplished their primary goal, which was to upgrade the pitching staff through a trade or free agent signing. It's certainly not for a lack of trying. At one time or another, Barry Zito, Mark Prior, Erik Bedard, Matt Clement and a cast of thousands have been on the Phillies radar, only to disappear. Have they upgraded in the bullpen? If you consider 38 year old Tom Gordon to be an upgrade over Billy Wagner, then all is well.
Gillick has been busy, but admittedly, hasn't been able to pull off the blockbuster type of trade that he's been pursuing to bring a top-of-the-rotation starter to town. In fact, Gillick admitted that he doesn't think the Phillies, as they're currently comprised, would be able to win the division.
Let's take a look at the trade-offs in the way the current Phillies have been made up at the expense of last year's squad.
Aaron Rowand for Kenny Lofton: Actually, last year's center field tandem was Lofton and Jason Michaels, who produced for a combined package of 6 homeruns, 67 RBI and a .322 average. Lofton contributed 2-36-.335 and got the majority of the playing time in the center field platoon. Rowand figures to see the lion's share of playing time in center field and hit 13-69-.270 in what was considered somewhat of an "off" season for him. In other words, the batting average is the only spot where the Phillies figure to suffer, and their center field defense, while not horrible last season, should be improved this season with Rowand. Bottom line - this move is somewhat of a wash. You could make the argument that Rowand's defense makes it a slight improvement, but it likely won't gain or lose any wins for the Phillies.
Tom Gordon for Billy Wagner: Let's not kid ourselves, Tom Gordon is not Billy Wagner. Even at the height of his career, he wasn't really what Wagner was for the Phillies last season. Eight years ago, Gordon saved 46 games for Boston. That was when he was younger than Wagner is now. While Wagner has never saved 46 games - his career high is 44 - Gordon hasn't been as dominating as Wagner has been. Gordon is still a decent pitcher and might have been a nice addition to the bullpen, but he wrestled a three-year deal from the Phillies and doesn't figure to be as steady as Wagner was in his tenure with the Phillies. It's a double blow that Wagner wound up in the NL East, signing with the Mets. Bottom line - this move hurts the Phillies and will likely cost them at least a couple of games. Wagner's move to New York has to give them a few more wins over the bullpen mess that they had last season.
Sal Fasano for Todd Pratt: This may or may not be a big deal. Pratt was one of those great clubhouse guys that teams love to have around, especially after Larry Bowa left. He is also great with young pitchers. Fasano doesn't have Pratt's leadership skills and isn't as good with a pitching staff as Pratt was. If Mike Lieberthal has a good season, then the backup catcher position doesn't come into play very much. If Lieby gets hurt or struggles, than the Phillies will miss Pratt, although Fasano is at least a serviceable backup. Bottom line - This is a wash, too. The biggest loss is Pratt's ability to work with pitchers, but it likely won't help or hurt the Phillies to the point where it affects their win total. Pratt signing with the Braves is a minor plus for them and the combination of Pratt leaving the Phillies and signing with the Braves could be considered a mild hit. We'll say it accounts for one less Phillies win, or more likely, one more Braves win.
Ryan Franklin for Vicente Padilla: Let's face it, the Phillies were tired of dealing with Vicente Padilla. He could be temperamental and aloof. He's been plagued by injuries and never was able to show consistency with the Phillies. Good riddance. That's not to say that Ryan Franklin is a great improvement or even any definite improvement at all. Sure, there's the change of scenery argument and that has some validity. Franklin has some talent and could turn things around, but let's wait until we see it to believe it. Bottom line - Again, a wash. Franklin's addition at the expense of Padilla shouldn't do much either way for the Phillies, except there may be an upgrade in attitude. Even if Padilla does turn things around in Texas, don't count on the fact that he would have done that if he were to have stayed in Philly. If Franklin turns things around, then the deal could turn out to add a couple wins for the Phillies, but let's hold off on that prediction.
Abraham Nunez for Ramon Martinez: This is one area where the Phillies upgraded. Charlie Manuel can use Nunez against a lot of the right-handed pitchers that David Bell seems to struggle against so often. For now, Manuel says that he'll basically play whoever is hotter at any given moment. Don't dismiss how important Nunez was for the Cardinals last season filling in for an injured Scott Rolen. He's got talent and is a nice addition to the Phillies, who will help in spelling David Bell or coming off the bench. Bottom line - this could result in an extra win or two for the Phillies, who haven't had someone to spell Bell since Placido Polanco left. Nunez is a good player and should fit well in the clubhouse and on the field.
Josh Kroeger for Endy Chavez and/or Michael Tucker: This is a very minor trade off. There was no guarantee that Chavez or Tucker would have made the club, just as there is no guarantee that Kroeger will make the club. The upside to it is that Kroeger has more potential than Chavez has at this point and could prove to be a better player in the long run. The same is likely true in comparing Tucker and Kroeger, although Tucker has been a decent bat off the bench in the majors. Bottom line - it doesn't really matter, but the Phillies probably get the edge in swapping these players, although it's not likely to adjust the Phillies' win total for 2006.
Ricardo Rodriguez and Chris Booker for Pedro Liriano and Ugueth Urbina: Well, with Urbina's legal problems, there was no way he was coming back to the Phillies. It also doesn't figure that Rodriguez or Booker would be able to step into a setup role right now for the Phillies, so in effect, there isn't much of a replacement for Urbina. The fact that the Phillies would like to add Ryan Madson to the rotation at the expense of the bullpen doesn't help either. The one to keep an eye on here is Booker. He came to the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft and could be a keeper. He developed a split-finger pitch last season that may be one of those changes that turns a young pitcher's career around. He's not ready for a setup role now, but like Madson a couple seasons ago, he could develop into a setup guy before the season is done. Bottom line - the Phillies are hurting here. Booker has the talent to progress, but the Phillies need help earlier than he'll likely be able to give it. Aaron Fultz may step into Urbina's role and if he can be effective, then all is well. Booker's potential and the emergence of Fultz keep this from truly hurting the Phillies, although it may cost them a game or two early on in the season.
Ryan Howard for Jim Thome: Yes, that's right, this is a trade off that the Phillies made. Thome has the reputation, but he was damaged goods last season. So, the question is, would the Phillies have been better off with Howard at first base from the season opener on last season and are they better off with him there from opening day in 2006? The answer to both is yes. Thome will likely rebound as part of a strong Chicago White Sox offense, but being able to DH is going to be a big part of the reemergence and he obviously wouldn't have had that opportunity in Philadelphia. Howard is good enough that he shouldn't suffer from any sophomore slump and give the Phillies a lot of offense from open to close, especially if he can start to hit left-handed pitching. Bottom line - this is worth a couple of wins for the Phillies. Howard is the real deal and it will be interesting to compare and contrast he and Thome throughout 2006.
Julio Santana, Daniel Haigwood and Giovany Gonzalez: Keep in mind that the Phillies also added these three to their club. Santana is no great addition and the only real hope is that Rich Dubee finds some way of turning him around into a decent pitcher. Giovany Gonzalez isn't ready for the majors yet, but he's not far away and gives them a great young left-handed pitcher for their starting rotation of the future. Haigwood will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation, but he's a bit of a long shot. Next season though, he could be the talk of the off-season as the next big thing in the Phillies rotation.
It turns out that Gillick is right. There are definite issues with this club. There are also potential answers sitting out there. Would Jeff Weaver be a good addition to the staff? Possibly and it's likely that the Phillies are simply waiting out Scott Boras, who is Weaver's agent, to see how far Weaver's astronomical asking price will fall. The longer Weaver goes unsigned, the better things look for him to play in Philly. Another month and the price should start coming down in pretty hefty increments. Plus, Gillick continues to shop Jason Michaels, Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal and almost anyone else who may have enough talent to bring some pitching to Philadelphia. Watch the Dodgers and Red Sox. David Wells coming to Philly for a layover on his way to either San Diego or Los Angeles is a possibility. The Dodgers wouldn't mind getting Lieberthal and have Derek Lowe or Brad Penny as possible chips if the right combination can be found.