The first step in this story is to separate fact from fancy. It is a fact that the Phils, under current manager Charlie Manuel, are playing alarmingly inconsistent baseball with an almost lackadaisical effort on a nightly basis. It is also a fact that when new GM Pat Gillick was hired back in October he not only mentioned that his goal would be to find a way to help the club "win 5 more games" than last year but would give Manuel and his coaches time to prove that he was the guy to help achieve this goal.
It is also a fact that far from improving on last year's 88 win season to Gillick's stated goal of 93 victories, the team is currently on pace for an 80 win campaign, a far cry from the 93 win season expectations of Gillick. How much of this is Manuel's fault is subject to opinion, but it does seem he is often confused and out-coached when it comes to the National League intricacies of the double switch and the concept of using relief pitchers efficiently.
Neither was an issue in the American League where the designated hitter often makes a manager's task no more difficult than writing out a lineup and deciding which starting pitcher to throw. Not so the NL, where a manager must be thinking of the fifth inning when the scoreboard insists the game is merely two innings old. And it has been these tiny but important issues that have placed Manuel directly in the fire of his critics who feel he is ill-prepared to match wits on a nightly basis with the likes of Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Phil Garner.
The Manuel Misadventures will one day become trivia talk at Phillie dinner parties, much like the stories told about former manager, Danny Ozark. Still, just as Ozark, there is much to like about Manuel's ability to get along with his players, and to place total responsibility for their failings on his shoulders would not only be unfair, but inaccurate. In fact, this may be the very reason that the Dallas Green stories began in the first place.
Ultimately, however, it is the manager who eventually pays for the misdeeds of his players, and much as Ozark finally lost his job in 1979 when the team underperformed, Manuel may soon do the same. Ironically, it was Dallas Green who replaced Ozark in the dugout, and it could very well be the same Green who ventures back to a place he vowed never again to return to...the dugout.
If Green does return to the playing field, it would be on an interim basis only and with the directive not so much to turn around a potentially lost season but to find out specifically which players can be salvaged for 2007 and which players must and will be moved, either by trade, free agency, retirement or release. As harsh as this sounds, management rarely has much patience when a team with a $95 million dollar payroll plays with the apathy of this year's squad. Add to this the fact that if the losing continues, it will make 13 straight years without as much as one playoff berth and it becomes easier to understand the management's frustrations with the club's players.
It is also a fact that there is a precedence for this type of action in PhillieLand, as they have tried this approach not just once, but twice, and both with the ultimate success. As previously noted, back in 1979, then minor league Player Personnel Director Dallas Green was asked by GM Paul Owens to replace Ozark on an interim basis to find out exactly why that star-studded club of Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Greg Luzinski was performing so far below expectation. Saddled with a 65-67 record after three straight NL Eastern Division titles, Ozark's Phils responded under the tight reign of Dallas Green to the tune of a closing 19-11 record.
Although the team missed the playoffs in 1979, Green was convinced that this group deserved one more chance at a World Series chase before being completely dismantled and his instincts were proven correct when the team won it's one and only World Championship in 1980 under the stern taskmastering administered by Green. He stayed through the strike torn 1981 season and although the team made the playoffs, free agency was making life miserable for then owner, Ruly Carpenter, and when he sold the team to Bill Giles and his group, Green left for "greener" pastures in Chicago.
This led to the hiring of former Phillie catcher Pat Corrales but when his team was playing below expectations in 1983, despite a first place position in the NL East, then GM Paul Owens decided to once again take matters into his own hands and replaced Corrales in the dugout himself. His stated goal was once again not so much to win games as to find out just which players were salvageable for future employment and which were not.
Surprisingly enough, the 1983 squad caught fire in September, and didn't stop winning until Game 2 of the World Series, when they then proceeded to lose four straight games to the eventual World Champion Baltimore Orioles.
Still, to a Phillie brain trust that remains remarkably intact from those days, from Dave Montgomery to Bill Giles, it did appear that lightning could indeed be captured in a bottle more than once, and to the tune of not one but two World Series berths.
Keeping this in mind, the current rumor makes more sense than would have seemed possible if not for the past successes of this experiment. Green will turn 72 years of age in August, and has seemingly been far removed from day to day operations of the club since the hiring of Pat Gillick back in August. But apparently this is not the case, and in fact Green has become a very trusted soldier under Gillick, who values Green's knowledge and insights.
Far from being removed from the daily happenings of the club, Green has become very much a part of Gillick's inner circle and this gives added credence to this rumor. If Green's expertise is so valued by Gillick, and if he has shown an ability to right a sinking Phillie ship in the past, then who better to return to the dugout on an interim basis than Green.
It is important to note that under no circumstances would Green be viewed as the long term savior of the franchise. No, that prize continues to be Lou Piniella, the former manager of the Seattle Mariners under Gillick. If the rumors are true, the scenario would shape up as Green doing the assessment and recommendations, Gillick doing the cleanup and remodeling and Piniella doing the long-term detail once the model is constructed. In a perfect world, the story makes too much sense to be denied, but this is certainly not a perfect world and in fact, the Phillie organization is far removed from a perfectly run franchise.
With all of this as a backdrop, the question thus becomes, "Just how much of this story is believable and if it is to be believed, on what basis should we place this trust?" It was first reported to me last weekend by a trusted reader, whose daughter overheard some of the Phillie broadcasters discussing it over lunch at the stadium. Although I found the story fascinating and intriguing I needed further corroboration before making it public in my column.
This came quickly as Philadelphia sports talk station WIP ran the story in one of its local broadcasts early this week. Interestingly enough, Green and Gillick suddenly made themselves quite accessible to the local media and far from denying the story, they coyly avoided direct denial while still giving themselves room to maneuver should they decide maneuvering was what they needed to do.
Green never once said he wouldn't manage again but instead talked of the difficulties of taking over a team in mid-stream and how he would want to surround himself with coaches of his choice. Was this a stab at the current coaching staff, one that Gillick rehired with the proviso that they would be evaluated during the season before long term commitments were made to any of them? It certainly seemed to be.
On the other hand, Gillick talked of the problems within the pitching staff and of the accountability of the players to perform better. Still, his endorsement of Manuel was lukewarm at best and far from the ringing endorsement he had placed at Manuel's lap merely two weeks before. This is not surprising given the fact that the team has continued to fall further behind the surging New York Mets and unless things change quickly, the Phils may find CBP a very lonely place in August and September.
Gillick is well aware of this and seems determined to do whatever possible to guarantee that the team will at least be representative come late Summer and early Fall. He probably knows in his heart that this team has some potentially fatal flaws, a starting staff at least two pitchers short, deficiencies at third and behind the plate and a bench that continues to fail far more than it succeeds. What has yet to be determined is if he feels the manager is also a major part of the blame.
Should he decide that Manuel is more problem than solution, the Green/Piniella scenario would seem to make perfect sense. Dallas Green would evaluate the team for the rest of the season and then give his recommendations to Gillick. The GM would then attempt to build his roster around those recommendations and the suggestions of the new manager, possibly Piniella. It is interesting that Piniella has stated a preference for returning to the dugout, but only with a club that he felt could win, and win quickly.
After the painful experience of managing the woebegone Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the fiery former skipper is in no mood for rebuilding again. He has tasted the ultimate success as a World Series winning manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 and would be ill-inclined to take over a team unless he felt all components were in place to win. His relationship to Gillick is one of mutual trust and admiration, and it is no small accomplishment that together they helped mold the Seattle Mariner team that won 116 games in 2001.
Should Piniella agree to take over the team in 2007, and that is surely a big IF, the question would then become, "just which players would he be managing?" How many of the current players, and which hot young prospects might constitute a team that Piniella and Gillick might feel could compete for at least a playoff berth in '07. This remains an open question, but again we might have received more than a few answers just this week when the New York Yankees were in town.
Along with stars like Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez, the Yanks brought into town with them a current third base coach and former Phillie manager and great, Larry Bowa. Far from being the reticent type, Bowa was in his usual form and presented the local press with more than a few desirable quotes for their efforts. Of course, he talked of his former players, and praised such current Phils as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Brett Myers and Aaron Rowand. He pointedly left out Pat Burrell, David Bell and Mike Lieberthal but saved perhaps his most telling statements for right fielder Bobby Abreu.
Bowa never revealed if he had conversed with Abreu but mentioned that the current Phillie outfielder could well benefit from a change of address and strongly hinted that Abreu might just feel the same way. He also implied that he had strongly endorsed an Abreu to the Yankees deal should one potentially materialize and with this resurfaced the Abreu trade rumors again.
Truth be told, an Abreu to NY deal might just make some semblance of sense given the fact that the Yankees are very short handed in the outfield with both Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui injured and indisposed. With the Boston Red Sox once again making life uncomfortable for the Bronx Bombers, the Yanks are certainly in the mood to deal for an outfielder. It remains to be seen if Abreu is the chosen target and if Gillick would find the Yanks an appealing trade partner.
The Yankees are said to be looking at both former Yankee, Alfonso Soriano and Chicago Cubs outfielder Jacque Jones as potential replacements for Sheffield and Matsui and Gillick may be less than inclined to accept a package that the Yankees might deem fair and equitable for the highly paid Abreu. It is interesting that one name that surfaced was Yankee hurler Jaret Wright, and not so coincidentally he was the starting pitcher in the final game of the Yanks-Phillies series. The fact that he pitched effectively should not go unnoticed though it seems inconceivable that a Jaret Wright alone would interest the Phils.
No, the prize package in any Yankee deal would have to include young pitching phenom Philip Hughes, by far the best prospect in the Yankee system. Might a deal of Wright and Hughes get it done for Abreu? It seems far fetched but this would depend on many scenarios, not the least of which being just how much does Abreu fit into future Phillie plans?
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether the Phils consider themselves "buyers" or "sellers" as the July 31 trading deadline is fast approaching. If they should decide to become "sellers" the names of Abreu, third baseman David Bell, outfielders Pat Burrell and David Dellucci and pitchers Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle and Arthur Rhodes are sure to surface in trade rumors. Even star closer Tom Gordon could be had in a deal if Gillick decides it is in the team's best long term interests to move him for a prospect.
Still, what is taking place on the field may soon take a back seat to what is taking place off the field if things don't improve quickly. A recently concluded homestand that saw far too few victories and far too many defeats has left the Philadelphia populace in a very unhappy mood and this could well soon be reflected in largely empty seats at the stadium come August. This would cut directly at the profits of management, never a happy scenario in PhillieLand.
With this in mind, and with more questions than answers being placed on display almost daily, perhaps the most compelling question of the day is one that might soon be answered, "Will Dallas get the Green Light?"
Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Philliestalk.com and email me there and I will attempt to respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast