Now, all are pitching for other organizations and many of them are off to very strong starts in 2006. It can be argued that Derrick Turnbow of the Milwaukee Brewers is at present the best relief pitcher in the National League while Silva, Buchholz, Ramirez and Ascencio have all opened the '06 campaign as starting hurlers with their respective clubs. Both Buchholz and Ramirez had very successful winning starts this week while Ascencio started a few days ago against the Phils. Of course, Carlos Silva is a mainstay in the Minnesota Twins starting rotation and there is more than idle talk in Pittsburgh that Brandon Duckworth may soon be joining the Bucco's rotation.
The St. Louis Cardinals thought enough of Josh Hancock to sign him after he was unceremoniously released by the Cincinnati Reds for being out of shape and with the magic of pitching coach Dave Duncan as an impetus, watch for Hancock to help the Redbirds this years. As for Simon, the Giants see him as a potential closer for them as his 19 saves in Double-A last year attest. Ezequiel Astacio was merely the winning pitcher last September in possibly the Astros' most crucial final roadtrip, a must win game at Wrigley Field against the Cubs.
Perhaps the most painful realization in this discussion is that at present all the Phils have to show for their seeming benevolence in auctioning off such a bountiful harvest of high ceiling hurlers is starting pitcher Cory Lidle. Cory Lidle, that is it! Gone are the likes of Billy Wagner, Eric Milton, Todd Jones, and Felix Rodriguez who were acquired for more than a few of the above named pitching prodigies. Even more painful is the reality that both Turnbow and Ascencio were let go as Rule 5 minor league draft picks so the Phils could protect the likes of such non-luminaries as Kevin Jordan, Billy Brewer, Rob Ducey and Yorkis Perez.
While it is certainly true that almost any team can look back on a deal gone bad and wonder why, in the case of the Phils under the stewardship of deposed GM Ed Wade, clearly he failed to understand the value of young pitchers and how best to utilize them. Instead of showing proper patience when it came to developing refining this bevy of talented youngsters he chose the get rich quick approach in the off-season acquisitions of Milton and Wagner and mid-season trades for Jones and Rodriguez. That all four ultimately left as free agents is yet the latest irony in the whole episode.
Yet, we are not here to recreate the past but to learn from it, something that current GM Pat Gillick would best be advised to do. For in his desire to win now, he well could be tempted to trade a few of his prize pitching prospects in return for a player who might just provide instant gratification, albeit for a very brief time. This would not only be damaging to the organization in the future but would eventually doom Gillick to the same fate that befell Wade.
For all his wheeling and dealing, for the many millions he bequeathed on such free agents as Jim Thome, David Bell, Kevin Millwood and tried to offer to Tom Glavine, the Phils under the Wade Watch never tasted even one playoff game in eight long years. It seems certain that Gillick's reign as GM will be shorter as he is much older than Wade was when he took the job and signed only a three year deal in October. At 68 years of age, he must have the inclination to "win now" if for no other reason than to culminate his career with a guaranteed coronation to the baseball Hall of Fame by transforming the Phutile Phils to the Phabulus Phils.
Still, it is for this very reason that Gillick must quickly open up his history book and learn the lessons of his predecessor so he is not doomed to repeat them. They were short sighted, costly and ultimately foolhardy. Let us hope that Gillick reads, and reads well. If he does, the Phils will be spared another painful and damaging closet cleaning that has up to now left the team short on pitching and long on headaches.
Certainly the irony can not be lost on Gillick...or even Wade for that matter. The Philadelphia Phillies as presently constructed are a team about 1.5 pitchers short of being a National League powerhouse. Their lineup is solid from top to bottom and even the prevailing question marks, third baseman David Bell and catcher Mike Lieberthal have more than held their own in the early season. The bench has been almost non-existent up to now but one suspects this is more a case of misuse from Manager Charlie Manuel than in any lack of talent on the part of David Dellucci, Alex Gonzalez, Abraham Nunez or Shane Victorino.
In fact, the Manuel Watch has already begun and if the team doesn't start winning consistently by mid-May, watch for names like Lou Piniella, Davy Johnson and Mark Bombard to surface as potential replacements for the seemingly overmatched Manuel. It must be noted that Gillick inherited Manuel and did not hire him. Thus, it is up to Manuel to impress Gillick, and quickly, something he has failed to do through the opening 22 games of the 2006 campaign. Yet, this is a story left for another day, and I suspect it is a topic that will eventually be deserving of its own column. Not this one though. Phillie minor league hurlers are the topic and deservedly so, they are that good and should continue to get better.
As previously mentioned, the current club is about a pitcher and a half short of being a dominant team. Even Gillick in a recent interview mentioned that at present he was reasonably comfortable with 8 of his 12 hurlers. A quick guess tells me that he was talking about Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, Ryan Madson, Arthur Rhodes, Ryan Franklin, Rheal Cormier and Tom Gordon. If this is true, and I think it is, then left out of the comfort zone would be Gavin Floyd, Aaron Fultz, Geoff Geary and the recently disabled Julio Santana.
Gillick also mentioned that he expected to make several moves in the near future, many of which might involve players from Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. He has already called up reliever Clay Condrey to replace the injured (actually, he's more ill than injured) Santana and more moves are expected soon. Catcher Carlos Ruiz is off to a brilliant star with the Barons and is currently hitting .382 while outfielder Chris Roberson is playing smartly after a slow start. Still, these are players who would not replace incumbent Phillie starters but might help to replenish a lackluster bench.
No, Ruiz and Roberson will not in and of themselves change the course of the currently dismal opening month in PhillieLand. If successful change is to be assured, it will take place 60' 6" from home plate, on the pitching mound, and it is here that Gillick will be most tempted to make a move, not for a Clay Condrey or a Chris Booker but for a Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt. If this happens, the names certain to be requested by opposing teams are young pitchers like Cole Hamels, Giovanny Gonzalez, Daniel Haigwood, Scott Mathieson, Zack Segovia, Kyle Kendrick, Yoel Hernandez or Carlos Carrasco.
Before Gillick says yes, he should remember to reread his Philadelphia Phillies history book, especially the years marked 1999-2005, for it was in those years that youngsters like Turnbow, Buchholz, Ramirez, Astacio, Silva and Simon were mortgaged for short-term and short-sighted acquisitions like Wagner, Milton, Jones and Rodriguez. If Billy Wagner is good, Derrick Turnbow is better, and younger. While Eric Milton had one solid season with the Phils, Carlos Silva, the pitcher Milton was dealt for, would have had many more than that.
While Jones and Rodriguez provided very little relief in the Phils' bullpen for half a season, Simon and Astacio were likely to provide at least as much relief and without the headaches and high salary. Of recent performances it seems likely that Buchholz and Ramirez might well have been at least that 1.5 pitchers that the current club seems short on solid hurling. This is the history lesson Gillick must study, and remember if the team is ever to get off that mediocre cycle of 85-87 win seasons and elevate themselves into the 90 plus win category that separates the winners from the also-rans.
Truth be told, nothing else will suffice for the frustrated Phillie phanatic as Gillick has promised them nothing less than that. At his introductory press conference back in late October, Gillick said his goal was "5 more wins", a reference to getting the team from it's 2005 total of 88 wins to a more impressive 93 victories. More than most, Gillick realizes that teams that can't consistently enter the 90 plus win category are unlikely to ever play a post-season game, especially in the National League where teams like the Mets, Cards and Astros seem poised to stay in that win area for years to come.
Thus, it is imperative that Gillick understand how he can best enter the "winners circle" of special teams and it says here it will start and end with pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Young pitching. Young pitching like the kind that Hamels, Gonzalez, Haigwood, Mathieson and yes, Floyd and Madson are likely to display. If the Phils are to win out this decade, and it says here that they can, it will be with the likes of Hamels and Floyd, not Zito and Schmidt. It will feature the hurling heroics of Gonzalez and Haigwood, not Odalis Perez or Freddy Garcia. The names in lights will be Mathieson, Carrasco and Segovia, not Lowe, Lohse or Lawrence.
Now is the time for Pat Gillick to remain firm in the convictions that he set forth when he began his reign as GM of the team. His mantra was to "protect and guard young hurlers," something he didn't do very well when he traded young and talented Robinson Tejeda for the as yet underachieving David Dellucci. Tejeda has only recently begun to pitch well at the Texas Ranger's top farm club and seems certain to take his place shortly in the Ranger rotation. If he does well, and he probably will, it might well be viewed with unhappiness by a Philadelphia populace already skeptical of Gillick's recent transactions.
Still, Tejeda for all his potential, would scarcely garner a mention when compared to the ceiling of such mega prospects as Hamels, Gonzalez and Mathieson. All three are pitching brilliantly in the minor leagues and could be hurling at Citizens Bank Park either this year or next. Hamels was recently promoted to Triple-A Scranton after clearly being a man among boys while dominating the hitters of the Florida State League. In his first start on Thursday he was dominant with 14 strikeouts in 7 innings of work in a 5-0 victory. A few more of this outings and Hamels will be in the Phil rotation by June.
Gonzalez and Mathieson have been almost as good at Reading, while Segovia has been dominant at Clearwater and Kendrick equally so at Lakewood. It should also be noted that these are not merely middle round draft picks having early minor league success but high round draft picks who were expected to be good, and are. It will be no surprise if all of them eventually surface at Citizens Bank Park, along with the likes of Haigwood, Hernandez and Carrasco.
The key question remains...in just what uniform will they were? Will it be in Philadelphia Phillie red and white or will it be as Turnbow's teammate in Milwaukee or as Buchholtz's buddy in Houston? Will it be as a member of the home team in Philly or as Ramirez' roommate with the Reds? This is the question that only Pat Gillick can clarify and the ultimate answer will tell us much about the future of the team.
It behooves him to study and study hard, regardless of the current misfortunes of the team or the impending trade deadline in July. For his lasting legacy will not be in the winning the team does while he is around but in the winning they do after he leaves. For all his apparent success in wooing free agents like Thome and Bell, former GM Ed Wade will always bitterly be remembered not for the ones he brought in, but for the ones he let get away. It is a lesson Gillick would do well to remember, most assuredly as...a history lesson revisited.