CD's Connect The Dots...Cat and Mouse Game

Jean J. Rousseau once wrote that "patience is bitter, but its fruits sweet." There seems little doubt that Pat Gillick is a strong believer in this phrase, given the deliberate way he is handling the current trading deadline. Gillick is not alone in playing the artful dodger game when it comes to creating doubt as to his true intentions. I refer to it as the...cat and mouse game.

Few periods in major league baseball create as much excitement, anxiety and rumors as the days heading up to the trading deadline, this year on Monday, July 31. There are very few periods that can so quickly change the fortunes of so many teams. It is a period when a playoff contender can become a playoff contestant, as when Houston obtained Carlos Beltran in 2004 or Minnesota in 2003 when they acquired Shannon Stewart from Toronto at the deadline. Both deals solidified the lineups and helped the team enter the playoffs.

It can be a period when a playoff contender can fall from the ranks by making an ill-advised deal, as in the case of our very own Phillies and their acquisitions of such bullpen washouts as Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook and Mike Williams. These three hurlers not only did not contribute in a meaningful way to the playoff push, but their pitching woes contributed directly to more than enough defeats to keep the team out of the Octoberfest.

Still, for other teams, clubs like the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies, it can be a period of renewal, a time when valued veteran players can be moved to teams in return for younger talent. Thus, this next few days is not to be taken lightly and with that in mind, almost everyone has offered his or here opinion about what may or may not happen. The difficulty for the baseball fan is deciphering all of it and determining fact from fiction. With so many rumors, half truths and second hand storied floating around, just what is a dedicated but disappointed Phillie phan to believe?

Of course, Gillick has done nothing to relieve the anxiety, calling the team both a "buyer" or a "seller." In baseball terms, this means the Phils might be trying to either acquire or unload talent. Yes, these were his words and to a baseball lifer like Gillick, these words were meant to convey the uncertainty that he hopes will benefit him when he finally gets serious in a day or two and begins the wheeling and dealing process.

Many very knowledgeable baseball experts are convinced that Gillick will do very little and instead wait for the off season to reshape his team. The feeling is that he knows the team can't win in 2006 and might as well let the season play out before making his moves. The fact that he has decided to let Manager Charlie Manuel finish the season is considered solid evidence of this stance. Perhaps, but I do not believe it.

My guess is that Gillick will create enough uncertainty in opposing teams before determining just what he can accomplish and then make his moves. I still expect either Jon Lieber or Cory Lidle to make their final starts as Phillies this week, and perhaps both of them. I still believe the Yankees provide an excellent fit for right fielder Bobby Abreu's talents and will finally make an offer that Gillick deems appropriate.

I still am convinced that the acquisition of lefty reliever Fabio Castro has created a logjam in the bullpen, one that will be alleviated by the trading of either Arthur Rhodes, Rheal Cormier or Aaron Fultz. I remain of the belief that outfielder David Dellucci will not re-sign with the Phillies and will be dealt if Abreu or Pat Burrell are not moved this week. I do not think it was coincidence that veteran catcher Sal Fasano was designated for assignment 10 days before the trading deadline, allowing Gillick just enough time to include him in any move he might make.

Yet, to hear scouts and baseball analysts speak, the general feeling is that Gillick is playing "hardball" with these players and is asking for too much. One scout, who has known the Phillie GM a long time and admires him greatly, feels that Gillick may be overplaying his hand and could be left with almost nothing to trade come the deadline. Again, perhaps, but I do not believe it.

Many refer to him by his nickname of "Stand Pat" and insist that his history suggests almost no movement. Others suggest that this is "uncharted waters" for him, since he is so accustomed to being in contention at this time of the year, and that he will not know how to play the artful dodger game well. Once more I say perhaps, but I do not believe it. I trust that Gillick understands well the...cat and mouse game.

What I do believe is that Gillick has determined what he will and will not accept in exchange for these players and will stick to this philosophy regardless of the wails and gnashing of teeth of the Philadelphia phandom. He is comfortable playing this out until Monday and then saying "yes" to the best deals available. So, my advise to the frantic phanatic who has heard far too many rumors and far too few facts is to sit back and wait to see what happens. If history is any indication the deals that will eventually be made will never make it to the press until the deal is done. Gillick will see to that.

So, please squash the talk of a Pat Burrell deal to Baltimore for Rodrigo Lopez. This deal makes absolutely no sense and was probably put out there to communicate to teams that Burrell just might be available. In point of fact, Burrell has mentioned that he would only accept a deal to either the Yankees or the Red Sox and given his no-trade clause, if he means what he says, Burrell is probably going nowhere but Citizens Bank Park come Tuesday, August 1.

Conversely, it would best be advised to ignore the talk of all the naysayers who insist that Abreu's contract will prove far too much of an impediment for any deal to take place this week. They point to the fact that Abreu's agent made a statement to the effect that any team dealing for Abreu would have to guarantee his 16 million dollar contract for 2008. While this all sounded well and good, and convinced more than a few of the baseball public that this would make Abreu untradeable, there was one tiny point being missed, a point that Abreu finally cleared up.

Those were the words of the agent, and not the player. In fact, Abreu mentioned that he might well be inclined to forgo this demand IF he were dealt to the New York Yankees. Why would this happen? Did Abreu's agent misspeak or are agent and client not communicating well? My guess is that they are communicating just fine, and the agent's comments were meant to scare away such teams as the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, two clubs who have indicated more than a tiny interest in securing the talents of the Phillie right fielder.

My guess would also be that the Yankees have always been well aware that these demands were not meant for them, but were meant instead to possibly steer him to New York. Will it work? We will know within days. We will also know within days whether or not the Phils were serious when they insisted that any deal with the Yankees would have to include the young and outstanding pitching prospect, Phillip Hughes.

In the end, the Yanks are likely to stay the course in regards to Hughes and I suspect Gillick knows this. My guess is that he asked for Hughes and hopes to receive such talent as major league outfielder Melky Cabrera and young infielder Eric Duncan. In fact, if this deal materializes it will be a great deal for the Phils as both Cabrera and Duncan are 21 year old players with high ceilings and low miles. It was probably not coincidence that the Phils have insisted on a "major league ready" player as part of any Abreu package with the Yankees. This speaks overwhelmingly of Cabrera, and in the end we will see who blinks first.

Yet, let not your heart be troubled, as the roller coaster of emotions is likely to run fast and furious over the next few days as trade talks ebb and flow like the changing tides of the Pacific Ocean. It will prove pointless to trust as foolproof the speculations and rumors that are likely to fill the airwaves between now and Monday night. In the end, Gillick will make at least three moves and probably acquire players that were never discussed on any sports radio talk show or television program. That has always been the nature of the July trading deadline.

Still, when the sun rises on Tuesday morning, the Phillie roster is likely to have undergone an overhaul simply because it must and Gillick knows it. He also knows that he has desirable players at the most opportune of times...in the heat of a pennant race that as many as 19 teams still feel they can win. Best of all, he has a surplus of moveable pitchers, and this may prove the most advantageous gift of all. Teams are much in need of healthy pitchers, both starting and relieving and are prepared to pay a healthy price to obtain them.

The Cincinnati Reds recently sent solid starting position players Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to Washington for what seemed fairly non-descript relievers like Gary Majewski and Billy Bray. While many people felt the Nationals had come out far ahead in the deal, the Reds remain convinced that without more dependable pitching their chances of winning the National League wildcard are nonexistent and felt the trade was well worth the risk.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also showed the price of pitching when they not only shipped talented but disappointing lefty Odalis Perez and two solid pitching prospects, Julio Pimentel and Blake Johnson to the Kansas City Royals for the privilege of obtaining the valued right arm of Elmer Dressens. There are more than a few cynics who would insist that Pimentel alone might some day be worth more than Dessens but not in Los Angeles and not now. For the Dodgers, there is a division race to be won and if Dessens can somehow make the difference, then all the future exploits of Perez, Pimentel and Johnson will have been well worth it.

These trades cannot help but make the Phillie phan wonder just what riches await the team for the right to obtain the talents of starters Jon Lieber or Cory Lidle and relievers Arthur Rhodes, Rheal Cormier, not to mention All-Star closer Tom Gordon. If pitchers like Dessens and Majewski brought such talent in return, any Phillie phan can only imagine the king's ransom that may come the team's way for the teams very marketable arms.

Yet, there must be a barometer, something that a phanatic can use as a guideline to determine just how well Gillick played this game of cat and mouse. With this in mind, I propose to offer some things that must happen for these deadline deals to offer the faithful a quick glimpse of future success. In my mind, three distinctive things must happen and are probably at the top of Gillick's secret wish list.

The first priority must be that the cumulative affect of the deals makes the organization younger and more athletic, especially in the skill positions. The reality is that in Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Mike Lieberthal, David Dellucci, Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle, Arthur Rhodes, Rheal Cormier, Aaron Fultz and even Tom Gordon, the Phils have players who probably have had their "best" seasons and are comfortably settling in to their twilight years of service. To be sure, every one of them could turn a pretender into a contender and a contender into a potential champion with their immediate contributions but not in Philadelphia, and not now. That window of opportunity is probably gone forever.

So Gillick must insure that in his deals he rebuilds the system, both at the major league level and in the minor leagues. For all it's pitching riches, the system is in need of some talented and athletic hitters and it behooves Gillick to acquire a few. In fact, this has been one of his few stated goals, and the suspicion is that he will put a premium on making sure it happens.

The second priority is to make sure that the deals give him the desired "financial flexibility" he needs to put monies into free agents this winter. Gillick must make sure that the contracts he trades allows him some finacial breathing space so acquiring younger and cheaper talent is a must. It will make no sense to spend dollar for dollar on dealing this players, he must bring in some less costly talent to give him the monies needed to bring in a Mark Mulder or keep a Randy Wolf.

There is absolutely no way a Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt will make Citizens Bank Park their home when they test free agency this winter, but Mulder might and Wolf seems inclined to stay, all things being equal. Naysayers will insist that Mulder is damaged goods, but if he checks out healthy, he might wish to resurrect his career in Philadelphia while Wolf has insisted all along that he likes the only home he has ever known, the City of Brotherly Love. If either are healthy, they could add a strong stabilizing force from the southpaw side in 2007.

The final priority will be the most difficult to fill but if Gillick is to achieve a solid grade when the trading report cards are passed out he must attempt to meet this need. In third baseman David Bell and catcher Mike Lieberthal, the team has two players on the final years of their contracts, and both are unlikely to return. Abraham Nunez has shown no ability to replace Bell on an everyday basis and there is a distinctive "black hole" in the organization's immediate ability to plug the gap at the hot corner.

The same can be said at catcher, though Carlos Ruiz has displayed some potential in his brief appearances with the big club this summer. Still, the Phils seem reluctant to anoint Ruiz their starter in '07 and even more alarming is the disappointing season put in by the seeming heir apparent, Jason Jaramillo at Reading. While still showing solid defensive prowess, Jaramillo has not only hit poorly but has been injured much more than the Phils would like.

Far from being ready sometime in 2007, Jaramillo must reestablish himself next year either at Reading or Scranton before he can truly hope to call PhillieLand home. This sets up an interesting dilema for Gillick, one he must attempt to address in his dealings. He must try and bring in a young third baseman and catcher, positions that are quite difficult to find. One name to keep in mind is 21 year old Eric Duncan. He is currently playing in the Yankee system at Double A and would seem the perfect fit for the Phils.

Many skeptics have doubts about Duncan's ability to handle third base at the big league level but I am not one of them. This is a player who at 20 was considered the jewel of the Yankee system and is just now beginning to resemble the player that had baseball scouts drool with anticipation when he was in high school. It seems imperative that any deal between the Phils and Yanks must include Duncan in the equation. My guess is that someday he will play in an All-Star game and it can only be hoped that he performs with Phillie red pinstripes. Stay tuned.

Younger, more athletic, cheaper and position specific. These are heady goals for Gillick and ones in which he will ultimately be judged. Many phans doubt his ability to turn lemons into lemonade and are anticipating more disappointment come August 1. Time will tell.

Time will tell, oh yes, time will definitely tell. As the clock continues to tick, Phillie phanatics are feeling anxious and expectant of the worst but Gillick seems unmoved by the doubt. Although the clock continues to move towards midnight, he seems confident, without the normal jitters of a batter who anticipates a strikeout when the clock strikes midnight. He appears fully expectant of waiting for the most promising pitch and then swinging for the fence. We will all know soon enough. Yes, time will certainly tell if Gillick understands and performs well at his latest and perhaps most important game... the cat and mouse game.

Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net or visit Philliestalk.com and email me there and I will attempt to respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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