He then offered a caveat with the pronouncement that "at least Chico Ruiz didn't steal home." Philadelphia historians with long memories will still remember the fateful night of September 21, 1964 when a Ruiz steal of home began what has continued to this day to be the greatest baseball collapse of all time, the 10 game losing streak that turned a pennant won into a pennant lost. Stark was no doubt saying that as bad as things have been recently, there still was a darker period in Phillie history, one that has left scars even to this day.
Stark was then asked to offer his predictions on just whom the Phils might move during the next two weeks, a period that many Phillie phans view as possibly one of the more important periods in recent memory, given the ramifications of these potential moves. In a season as disappointing as 2006 has been, the one salvaging aspect to the bitterness was the thought that with a roster full of appealing trade prospects and a large group of potential trade partners, the Phils might well strike a bonanza of talented young riches between now and July 31.
The names fairly read like a treasure trove of baseball talents...Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle, Tom Gordon, Arthur Rhodes, Mike Lieberthal, David Dellucci and Rheal Cormier to name just the more prominent ones. Yet, Stark seemed to feel that other than Lieber, and perhaps one of the lefty relievers, the Phils would have a difficult time moving any of the other players and his reasons were as varied as the skill levels they presently offer.
When asked about right fielder Bobby Abreu, who has been courted by as many as six teams, with the latest being the Milwaukee Brewers, Stark felt that no deal would take place until the winter. He sited a difficult to move contract and the no trade clause in Abreu's contract as detriments to any move. He also said there was "little interest" in Pat Burrell, despite the undeniable fact that Burrell has 35-40 home run a year power potential.
He also said that he had heard from Gillick confidants that "absolutely no way" would ace reliever Tom Gordon be dealt, as the Phillie GM wanted to win next year and did not want to dismantle the club. Although he offered no real opinion of the merits of moving such veterans as Rhodes, Lieberthal, Lidle, Dellucci and Cormier, he did think that the veteran righty Jon Lieber would be moved, "if has one or two good starts" before the trading deadline.
Surprisingly, that was it! No megadeals in the works for Bobby Abreu, the baseball version of the on base machine or Pat Burrell, the power hitter deluxe. No top prospects headed to the City of Brotherly Love for the innings eater, Cory Lidle or a starting catcher, Mike Lieberthal. And even with the king's ransom paid to the Washington Nationals this week by the Cincinnati Reds for the privilege of obtaining a few choice relief pitchers there was no mention of the riches headed Philly way for crack bullpen arms like Tom Gordon, Arthur Rhodes and Rheal Cormier.
Why, even the talents of standout reserve outfielder David Dellucci, he of the plus .300 batting average and solid power numbers, were seemingly being ignored. Needless to say, given the credibility of Stark, there no doubt was a negative exhale of massive proportions leaving Philadelphia once Stark's report was finished. Yet, far from becoming discouraged, I endeavored to attempt to place the fractured pieces together and form a clearer picture of just why Phillie journalism's finest had come to these conclusions and how he might just be mistaken.
This investigation lead me back to Pat Gillick and the mysterious thought process he might be going through as the July calendar dwindles down to just a precious few. Remember, it was announced merely a week ago that the Phillie GM would be taking a much needed two week vacation, and would reappear during the final week of July. Of course, I never believed this, given the timing of the announcement and the importance of the period. It would be no major stretch to call these next few weeks fairly important in the overall future health of the franchise, and Gillick certainly knows it.
Moreover, this is a 68 year old man, and if ever the term "man in a hurry" was appropriate, this would be the case. Gillick has probably three years counting this one to completely turn this franchise around, and he knows he hasn't a minute to spare. So, far from being on vacation, my guess is that he has been busy sending out word...to reporters, writers and anyone else who would listen that far from conducting a "salary dump" sale as had been rumored as the trading deadline approached, he was more than comfortable keeping his roster intact and let the wild cards fall where they may.
This information would serve two purposes. It would not only keep the Phillies and their players on page one of almost all the daily rumor mill stories but it would also serve to inform other teams that they would have to ante up some solid players if they intended to do business with Gillick. Brilliant...and it seems to be working! A quick check of the nation's sports pages merely confirms this.
For the past few days, the baseball world from New York to Los Angeles has been abuzz with trade talk involving none other than our very own Philadelphia Phillies. In fact, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even publicly acknowledged his admiration for Abreu and offered the hope that somehow the Yankees might acquire him. This had to be music to the ears of the suddenly reclusive Gillick, the man who didn't seem to be so involved in his "vacation" that he didn't have time to communicate to the Stark's and Steinbrenner's of the world, either directly or otherwise.
In fact, if Gillick is as smart as I suspect, he has to be aware of the fact that the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox are probably the four best teams in baseball yet one of them will be left out of the playoff puzzle come October. Of even greater interest to Gillick is the fact that all four of these teams have specific needs that perhaps only the Phillies can supply. This can only mean good news in PhillieLand if all four clubs should get into a bidding war for Abreu, Lieber or Gordon.
Not only would this seemingly up the price for said players, but might create a bidding frenzy as the teams vie not only to acquire an Abreu or Lieber but keep their rivals from doing the same thing. The simple fact is this...a Bobby Abreu can easily tip the balance of power in the American League East and both the Yankees and Red Sox understand this. A Tom Gordon in the bullpen would make closing games that much easier for either the Detroit Tigers or Chicago White Sox.
Listen carefully to the refrains of almost every team and one word continues to filter out as a position of need...starting pitching. Would not a Jon Lieber look good in Yankee pinstripes? Couldn't Cory Lidle step up and win some very important August and September games for Boston in what has historically been his best months of hurling?
Even in the National League, where things appear a bit more sane and serene, the National League West is there for the taking to the team that acquires that one extra bat like Dellucci's or bullpen arm like Rhodes or Cormier. As poorly as the Padres, Giants and Dodgers have played this season, baseball dictates that someone has to win the West and it most likely will be one of these three clubs. They would be foolish to allow Gillick's hard line whispers to get in the way of attempting to bring in a player that could promise October riches.
Far be it from me to question the baseball instincts of Jayson Stark, a writer I have admired and trusted for oh so many years, even from afar. This is a man whose ears to the ground listening skills are second to none...and in this case he could be right. Come August 1, the starting right fielder for the Phils might still be Bobby Abreu. When the starting rotation is announced for an upcoming series that month, the names Lieber and Lidle may still be listed in Philadelphia red. Manager Charlie Manuel may even comment on the lefty bullpen riches he enjoys with the likes of Rhodes and Cormier added to the skills of Aaron Fultz and Fabio Castro.
Manuel may even announce that he will begin to platoon Pat Burrell and David Dellucci a bit in left field, not only to allow Burrell's sore foot to heal but to insure proper at bats for Double-D. Perhaps these will all come to pass. Perhaps. But my instincts tell me that this team will make no less than three fairly significant moves within the next few weeks, and that programs will become quite popular in Philadelphia come August as local phans are attempting to learn the names and numbers of all the recently acquired players.
Truth be told, Pat Gillick could morph into the former GM Ed Wade during the next two weeks and give away all his trade secrets, but I don't think so. Remember, it was Wade who announced to the baseball world that he absolutely had to move his two biggest stars, pitcher Curt Schilling and third baseman Scott Rolen, guaranteeing that the return would be minimal. Predictably, it was, and the franchise still suffers from those mistakes. My guess is that Gillick is determined not to make the same mistakes and that he will wait until he is entirely satisfied before making the moves he wishes to make.
But, in the end, he will make them because he understands, perhaps better than most that this Phillie team is in need of a major overhaul and only he has the means to accomplish it. He knows that in Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson and perhaps Brett Myers he has the makings of a solid young pitching staff. He knows that in Gavin Floyd, Scott Mathieson, Zack Segovia, J.A. Happ and Giovany Gonzalez, he has the solid odds of finding the two missing pieces that will finalize that five man starting rotation.
Gillick knows that in Michael Bourn he probably has his next leadoff hitter and a place in the outfield will need to be made for the speedy fly-chaser. He understands that he cannot fill the holes at third base or catcher unless he brings aboard reinforcements, the kind that only trades or free agency can find. He is well aware of the fact that with a 95 million dollar roster of players that are individually talented but team-wise challenged, changes must be made to give him the "financial flexibility" he so desires.
I say that far from being one of the "worst periods in Phillie history", this month could one day be looked upon as one of the "best periods in Phillie history" if the proper moves are made. I hear the words of the naysayers and experts and refuse to accept them as fact. Rather I choose to believe that the Phillie GM has been playing much of the baseball world like a fiddle and seeks to do a Gillick Jig before the tune is completed.
So, what should Phillie phanatics look for in the next two weeks of action? What needs to happen to insure that the Phils have the greatest chance to use their trading chips to the best possible advantage? The first and perhaps most important thing that must take place is the absence of a prolonged winning streak by the Yankees. It is imperative to the Phillies that the Yanks be in a position of need rather than want when they sit down to discuss the Abreu's Gordon's and Lieber's of the world.
It has been nearly six years since the Yanks last won a World Series and to King George that is a veritable lifetime. He wants to win now because many of his players, from Randy Johnson to Gary Sheffield are advancing in age and can't be counted on to produce much longer. There is no greater way to receive solid value in return than when the Yanks are part of the bidding. For a Phillie phan, it is important that the Yanks don't overtake the Red Sox by much if at all before the July 31 deadline.
Another thing to look for is a rebound by the defending champion Chicago White Sox. They are beginning to fade and the distance between them and the Detroit Tigers is growing. Even worse still for the ChiSox, the Yanks may soon overtake them for the wild card lead in the American League. It is important for the White Sox to right their ship and do well in Detroit this week. Still, it is almost equally important that the Red Sox and Tigers continue to do well so the Yanks are the pursuers rather than the pursued.
In the American League West, the Angels are always an inviting trade partner due to their strong minor league system, but dealing with their General Manager, Bill Stoneman, is difficult and often impossible due to his cautious ways. He rarely makes a splash at the trading deadline and to wait for him to move would seem to be a dangerous waste of time.
In the National League, the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals seem almost assured of winning their division races so only the National League West and the wild card hopefuls would seem to offer much in the way of trade possibilities. The Los Angeles Dodgers might be interested in Cory Lidle and a surprise team could be the Atlanta Braves, who seem only a closer away from contending for a wild card berth in the NL.
Of course, this could present the Phils with a difficult decision...whether or not to assist a division rival. In the end, Gillick must trust his instincts and if the deal can help both the Braves and Phillies, then the deal must be made. The Braves, much like the Dodgers, are prospect rich and could offer the Phils a solid third base prospect in return for veteran pitching. This might be a deal too good to turn down.
As the calendar moves inexorably to it's July end, many outstanding baseball pundits scoff at the chances of a Phillie bonanza on the trading front. They see a team with too much age, too many dollars committed and too few ideas to bring forth anything but bits and crumbs left over from the other teams feeding frenzy at the deadline. No less an authority than Jayson Stark feels that in the end the Phil's roster will remain almost intact and in the end, he could be correct.
Still, hope abounds in the human heart that this year will be different...that the days of acquiring the overpriced and underskilled relief pitchers will make way for the acquisition of young prospects and players who will become cornerstones of a new generation of Phillie players. This is the view from here, a view not necessarily shared by most baseball insiders, and most certainly a view...in stark contrast.