Although most phans readily acknowledged his past success in Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle, there were whispers of the game having passed him by and of his willingness to do things "The Phillie Way." This recipe had never worked under former GM Ed Wade and so Gillick prepared for his first winter in Brotherly Love with a self-proclaimed mandate to "win five more games" than last year. This would put the Phightins at 93 wins in 2006 and likely insure a playoff birth in the National League.
The masses held their collective breaths and waited to see how Gillick would accomplish this task. From the beginning Gillick made it clear his primary goal was to secure a top of the rotation starting pitcher and to re-sign standout reliever, Billy Wagner. He also hoped to resolve the dilemma at first base that would result if a healthy veteran, Jim Thome, could not reclaim his job from the reigning Rookie of the Year, Ryan Howard.
In no particular order, he also hoped to add a third baseman, replace reserve catcher Todd Pratt, find an everyday centerfielder and add a few solid arms to the middle inning relief corps. All this while carefully overseeing a bloated budget that was fast approaching 100 million dollars. Gillick was nothing if he was not confident and his first move set off an almost universal approval rating as he dealt the seemingly untradeable Thome to the Chicago White Sox for centerfielder Aaron Rowand and two top of the line lefty pitching prospects, Giovany Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood.
Better yet, he was able to convince the White Sox to absorb much more of Thome's large contract than most people thought was possible. In Rowand, the Phils had acquired a Gold Glove type middle outfielder with a wonderful clubhouse presence and added two future rotation starters as a bonus. This was a deal Wade never could have pulled off since he did not trust a Philadelphia sports populace to ever understand the nuances of acquiring minor league plums.
Wade readily acknowledged his preference for "major league" ready players and this philosophy probably hurt the Phils mightily when unhappy stars Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen were moved in separate deals. While it is true that the Phillies acquired seven players in the two deals, not one of them remains from those deals, and only Vicente Padilla and Placido Polanco ever truly made their mark in Philadelphia. The others either performed adequately for a time (Travis Lee and Omar Daal) and left or never made their mark at all (Bud Smith and Nelson Figueroa).
The Thome deal brought Pat Gillick some well deserved accolades...and some more time to win over a skeptical audience. He was even applauded somewhat when he refused to meet the demands of Billy Wagner for a four year deal and allowed the outspoken lefty to take his valuable arm to New York. Gillick wasted little time in replacing Wagner, as he brought in 38 year old Tom Gordon to become the Phils' new closer.
Truth be told, the Gordon signing was when the "good feeling" period between Gillick and the Philadelphia masses began to fade. Many felt he had overpaid for Gordon's services and that the righty was unlikely to remain healthy through the length of his three-year deal. This was followed by lesser additions to the bullpen, as righties Chris Booker and Julio Santana were added at reasonable cost, while backup catcher Sal Fasano, was signed to replace the departed Todd Pratt.
When Gillick signed Abraham Nunez ostensibly to replace David Bell at third base, the audience became restive and concerned, and adding righty Ryan Franklin to the mix as a starting pitcher merely reconfirmed to Phillie phans that Gillick was either attempting to A) rebuild and rearm for 2007 or B) cut costs and lower salary due to an alarming drop in attendance this past summer.
Still, Gillick remained true to himself and continued to preach patience as he reminded one and all that he still kept his eye squarely on the prize...the acquisition of a top of the rotation starting pitcher. He even reluctantly admitted that slugging right fielder Bobby Abreu was the bait and the daily rumors emanating out of Baseball Central made it seem as if Abreu was destined for any city but Des Moine, Iowa.
In no particular order, Abreu was rumored to be headed to Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Oakland, Boston, Toronto, Houston or San Francisco. The names mentioned as preparing to receive their Philadelphia Freedom included Mark Prior, Jose Contreras, Miguel Tejada, Erik Bedard, Jay Gibbons, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Barry Zito, Manny Ramirez, Matt Clement, Vernon Wells, Brad Lidge and Jason Schmidt. This list comprises a veritable Who's Who of baseball all-stars and it is likely that at least a few of these names reached more than just the rumor stage.
Phillie phanatics were split on the justification of trading the popular and productive Abreu. While most felt the slugging right fielder would be missed for his all around offensive production, the thought of a Zito, Prior or Schmidt anchoring a pitching staff was an appetizing treat for the Philadelphia taste buds. Yet, whether it was a lack of concrete offers, Abreu's refusal to give up his no-trade clause or just a general misconception of the real value of the right fielder, Gillick has so far failed in his quest to acquire his dreamed for rotation standout.
This has not only created skepticism about Gillick's real intentions, but has led to the possibility that the team could soon be faced with the prospect of trying to appease a very unhappy and seemingly underappreciated cornerstone of their lineup. To his credit, Abreu has mostly been silent throughout his "winter of discontent" but that may change if and when he reports to Clearwater for spring training in February. Stay tuned.
Yet, the possibility still exists that much could change between now and the first day of camp next month. To his credit, Gillick admitted his frustration with doing so little to seemingly improve the club and promised to continue the process. Indeed, just this week, three separate but equal news stories made their way to the national press. Taken separately, each presents little more than fodder for a results starved fan based. Taken in unison, Hawthorne's "wild goose chase" for happiness might just find it's way to Citizens Bank Park before winter winds turn to spring thaw.
As has been mentioned countless times both here and elsewhere, outfielder Jason Michaels finds himself with one foot clearly out the door and the other foot soon to follow. The latest buzz has Michaels and his trusty bat and stellar on base percentage headed to Cleveland for left-handed reliever, Arthur Rhodes. The deal was still contingent on the Indians swapping outfielder Coco Crisp to Boston, but that portion of the deal could be in some jeopardy. If Rhodes is reunited with Gillick for a third time, look for him to take over the valued and important role of eighth inning bridge from starter to closer.
On the face of it, this deal does not seem to improve the Phillies roster, but Rhodes is a trusty arm out of the bullpen and might allow young righty Ryan Madson to claim a spot in the starting rotation. Madson has been ever the good soldier up to this point in his two years of major league service, but his yearnings to become a starter have been evident for quite some time. If Rhodes heads East, Madson heads north, from bullpen to starter. This would ease the "winter of discontent" somewhat as most Phillie phans have been clamoring for Madson to move to the front of the class for some time.
Another rumor has the Phils talking to future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza about coming home to finish his career in The City of Brotherly Love. Word is that the talks are still preliminary, and money may still squash the deal but on the surface this looks like a win-win situation for both parties. The Phils would be signing a popular home town star who still has a bit of thunder in his trusty right-hand hitting bat (19 home runs in '05) while Piazza would probably get a chance to receive 350 at bats as a part-time catcher, full-time pinch hitter and designated hitter, and as an occasional replacement for Ryan Howard when a tough lefty is hurling.
Piazza is said to be considering the offer, and it seems but a matter of time before he makes up his mind whether to accept the team's offer or pursue a job in the American League as a full time designated hitter. If Piazza should say yes to Gillick and Company, the winter frowns could soon begin to disappear. Time will tell on this deal.
Perhaps the most exciting possibility of a newcomer joining the Phillie ranks was the rumor that free agent righty Jeff Weaver might be inclined to accept a one-year deal with a club looking for starting pitching. The Phils were said to be looking into this possibility and this alone is good news. Gillick has long said he would be disinclined to sign a starting pitcher for more than between $5 and $6 million a season but clearly Weaver will want much more than that.
With hard line agent Scott Boras representing Weaver, the market is likely to start at between $9 and $10 million and if it were my money, I might just offer Weaver this deal for several reasons. The first reason is that Weaver represents precisely what Gillick longs for, a top of the rotation, hard throwing innings eater. In point of fact, he would fit quite snuggly amongst the solid arms of Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle and Ryan Madson. This would allow the Phils to use Franklin in a reduced role, and give the staff some depth and skill from top to bottom.
The second reason Weaver makes sense is that it would free up the need to trade Bobby Abreu for a hurler of Weaver's ilk. Although there are still many who feel Gillick is openly trying to move Abreu (yours truly included), signing Weaver would assure those who don't believe this that their favorite right fielder will be in a Phillie lineup for at least one more season.
The third reason that signing Weaver would be a good move is that it would begin the long, probably arduous process of reestablishing negotiation dealings with the often contentious Boras. This was almost impossible under the Wade watch but Gillick has had past successful dealings with Boras and is unlikely to be deterred from the process. Keep in mind that Boras also represents Madson, so the sooner that harmonious relations between club and agent can be attained, the better!
The final reason this deal makes sense is that even if Weaver becomes a one year wonder and then departs via free agency, the Phils are likely to garner two top amateur draft picks for their efforts as this is what Weaver would return if he leaves after the 2006 season. This exit might even be a mutual blessing as Weaver could establish his worth as a top of the rotation starter while the Phils buy valuable development time for such future pitching stalwarts as Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd, Robinson Tejeda, Scott Mathieson and the Chicago pair of Gonzalez and Haigwood.
Of course, the simple truth is that the skeptical masses may indeed still have their day and the roster we currently see in January becomes the roster we see in April. I don't believe this, but I have been an "In Gillick We Trust" fan for quite some time now and see no reason to abandon the ship now. I will wait to see just how his incomplete puzzle looks come opening day and then make my assessment.
Still, Opening Day is still a spring away, and this is not yet spring but winter. The weather is nasty, the people are restless and Gillick continues to hammer his nail into an unforgiving cement wall. The question remains, which will give first, the ever pounding Gillick or the cement wall. Although I remain confident the wall will soon crumble, the masses tell me otherwise and their voices are beginning to resonate in the form on unbought season tickets.
Clearly, Gillick has heard their cries and is determined to allay their fears. How or when he will be successful at this task remains an open question? Much like the weather, the forecast changes with the seasons. Hired by the Phillies in the fall to bring happiness and success to the springs and summers, Pat Gillick has first had to endure and survive his first winter in Philadelphia...the winter of discontent.
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