Why Charlie Manuel Should Be Safe

There were a lot of times during the season when it appeared that Charlie Manuel had one foot in the unemployment line. But now that all is said and done, he should be firmly back in the manager's seat for 2007.

General Manager Pat Gillick wouldn't guarantee that manager Charlie Manuel will return in 2007, even after Mauel led the Phillies' unexpected playoff push. Manuel has one season remaining on a three-year contract.

"He's under contract, and if he's under contract, it sounds like maybe a decision has been made," Gillick said before Sunday's season finale. "I can't really comment any more than that."

Not exactly a glaring endorsement, but then again, it doesn't sound like Gillick is going to be issuing walking papers anytime soon. At least he didn't give one of those "we'll evaluate everything" sort of messages.

The truth is that Manuel should be back as the skipper of the Phillies. Once Bobby Abreu was out of the picture, this team took off. Whether you want to say that Abreu's presence was some sort of distraction or go so far as to put Scott Rolen's 'cancer in the clubhouse' sort of moniker on him, this was a much better team once Abreu traveled up the turnpike to the Bronx. And don't blame Manuel for not getting the most out of Abreu. After all, he is the third manager to have suffered through issues with Abreu; Terry Francona and Abreu had well chronicled battles and Abreu and Bowa weren't exactly the best of buddies either. Their styles clashed like white socks with sandals. Manuel and Abreu co-existed, but never did get in tune with each other, probably because they were both too laid back.

It's also true that Manuel has his share of warts. He's not the greatest in-game strategist, including how he has used - and at times - abused his bullpen. Keep in mind though that his bullpen wasn't really the deepest or most reliable of 'pens in the league.

Here's the bottom line. This group of players enjoys playing for Manuel. Both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have credited him with helping them adjust to their new-found status and with helping them to reach those levels. Manuel is also the first manager to truly stand up to Pat Burrell without upsetting the moody sometime slugger. Burrell was repeatedly benched at times during the season - as Bowa tried to do - but took it in stride. There was no real griping or complaining from Burrell as there was when Bowa made the same moves. The reason for that is communication; Manuel talks with his players and works with his players. That's a big part of the game and Charlie Manuel knows how to communicate with both veteran and young players.

In 2007, Manuel will need to make some adjustments. First is that if the Phillies don't find a big bat to put behind Ryan Howard, he'll need to move Utley out of the third spot and put him behind Howard. It's a move that Manuel never did pull the trigger on this season. "I considered that, but I thought Utley was just as important hitting in front of him as hitting behind him," Manuel said. "Don't forget: Utley got on base for him, too."

Getting on base is one thing. Protecting your slugger is another.

The Phillies came close - again. Charlie Manuel has them right there and now is not the time to change managers. If that move was going to come, it should have come back in July when this team appeared to be dead in the water. Funny, how had Gillick fired Manuel back then and the team would have had the same turn around, the new guy would be hailed as a genius; a hero. Nobody will ever confuse Manuel with a genius, but he played a role in turning things around and needs to stay.

With just one season remaining on his contract, the Phillies should employ the following strategy. Give Manuel a definite vote of confidence and let the world know that he's their manager. If the team starts well in 2007, reward Manuel with an extension, so as not to let him become a lame duck. If they struggle, that's the time to make a move. Plain and simple, now just isn't the time. This is a team with a lot to build on and no good will come of dismissing Manuel now.


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