CD's Connect The Dots... The FoxTrot

Wily, cunning and sharp. All words that describe a fox, have also been used to describe Pat Gillick. Gillick is smart like a fox. Still, he may need all these skills as he attempts to initiate a dance routine with a certain free agent right fielder, former Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon. The question remains...will Gillick and Nixon come together in a baseball version of... the FoxTrot?

The Foxtrot originated way back in the summer of 1914 by an old vaudeville actor named Harry Fox. It has remained popular in the ballroom dance circuit and is a combination of quick and slow steps that permit more flexibility for the parties involved. Not surprisingly, Gillick has used as his central theme the word flexibility when discussing his overriding philosophy when shaping and putting together a major league roster.

It is with this in mind that he seems to have set his sights on Trot Nixon, a player who would provide the team with the sort of flexibility that he craves. It would seem a dance...or match made in heaven. What are the chances of the two...the wily fox and the player named Trot coming together to form a baseball duo that might help the city of Philadelphia to eventually dance the night away in a celebration not seen since the gala days of 1980, and the team's one and only World Championship tango?

Make no mistake, Gillick and Company are being coy when it comes to their thoughts on a Trot Nixon arrival in the City of Brotherly Love. And, truth be told, Nixon seems to be in no particular rush to choose a baseball dance partner at this time, preferring to wait and watch the developments occurring in Boston, the city he professionally grew up in and the only team he has known throughout his solid career. It will undoubtedly be difficult for him to leave, though leave he will should some as yet unresolved issues involving another former reluctant dance partner, J.D. Drew, become settled soon.

Oh, the Phils will publicly tell you that they are happy and content with their present outfield arrangement after the recent signing of former Dodger hotshot, Karim Garcia, to a minor league deal. Garcia, who has been toiling successfully in Japan for the past two years, would at first glance answer the Phillie call for a left-handed bat out of the outfield and that is exactly what the Phils are telling everyone who will listen. Perhaps this is true, but probably not.

For one thing, "Question mark, thy name is Philadelphia Phillies outfield." A more than casual glance at the current group reveals the proverbial question mark wrapped inside an enigma topped off with far too many unsolved riddles. Starting left and moving to the right, Pat Burrell may or may not be the team's answer to the key number five batting slot that will protect current slugger, Ryan Howard, from challenging the major league record for walks in a season. If Burrell cannot take up the challenge, then expect Howard to draw over 200 walks this season.

That could prove disastrous for the team, as well as for Howard's mental state of mind. After all, this is a player who is a threat to hit the ball out of the park every time he swings the bat. It is imperative to the team's chances of challenging the New York Mets for National League East supremacy that Howard be allowed to swing as often as possible and not have the bat taken out of his hands.

Of course, this is where Burrell or someone else comes into play and right now, Pat Burrell is more question mark than exclamation point. The Phils are currently saying all the right things about his oft injured foot, and apparently his conditioning is going well, but until he demonstrates the type of consistency that once made him the greatest collegiate hitter of all time, his status will remain very much up in the air.

Aaron Rowand in center field has been the subject of trade rumors all winter and still seems even money to be moved should a suitable deal be work out for him. In fact, his situation could very well be tied to the Nixon situation as currently it would not seem feasible to move Rowand, given the lack of depth among the outfielders. And Rowand remains a popular figure in Philadelphia as well as a well-entrenched member of the Phillie community. He recently moved to the city, appears to love it there, and has the kind of "get dirty" blue-collar attitude that local Philadelphians absolutely love.

Yet, Rowand plays with such reckless abandon that he is prone to injury, and this can be deadly for a team like the Phils who lack depth in the outfield. Another factor to consider is Rowand's impending free agency after the 2007 season. With youngsters like Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn, Chris Roberson and Greg Golson on the coming horizon, it would appear unlikely that Gillick will wish to spend millions on a long-term deal for Rowand. All these factors would point to a deal...if a suitable one can be found. And if Nixon decides to Foxtrot with Gillick and the Phillies.

Perhaps no Phillie outfielder is the subject of as much conjecture as is young Shane Victorino, who by the end of the 2006 campaign had carved out a nice niche as a regular in the Phightin's outfield. Fresh from an MVP season in the International League in 2005, Victorino quickly proved that his minor league press clippings were legitimate, as he became a standout with the Phils.

At the present time, it appears he is destined to be the starting right fielder with the Phils, but all that could change depending on the tune Nixon chooses to dance to. Should Trot come to Philadelphia Victorino will probably either platoon with Nixon in right field, or take over the center field spot if and when Rowand is moved.

Outfielders four and five in the Phils' current depth chart include free agent signings Jayson Werth and Karim Garcia. Both come with WARNING signs stamped clearly on their labels, but also with significant upsides should they play to their capabilities and remain healthy. Werth in particular could prove a major boon with the Phils, as he seemed on the edge of stardom in 2004 while with the Dodgers, before a broken wrist waylaid his career in Dodgertown. Although the Phils insist he will be fine come spring, there remains a significant risk involved in counting too heavily on his services.

Baseball abounds with stories of players whose careers floundered after suffering a broken wrist, and the reality is that Werth has not played competitively in nearly two years. If healthy, he could provide a strong right-handed power bat from the outfield, and might even work his way into the everyday lineup. If unhealthy, he will quickly disappear from the Phillie landscape and the team's seemingly eternal search for a power-hitting outfielder will continue.

Karim Garcia appears a consummate Gillick "low risk, high reward" type player. Once touted as a star of the future while in the Dodgers organization, Garcia chose to reestablish his career in Japan for the past two seasons, with somewhat mixed results. Oh, his overall numbers look swell, but keep in mind that many American players go over to Japan and have much more success than Garcia had. Also, his overall power numbers were inflated somewhat by a two day stretch last summer when he hit 6 home runs, the only player ever to have back to back three home run games in professional baseball.

Reports out of Mexico, where Garcia is currently playing winter ball, are that he has lost 20 pounds and appears to have rediscovered the quick bat that made him such a viable candidate for stardom back in the late 1990's. Still young at 31, Garcia could prove a valuable left-handed bat off the bench for a team in dire need of one. More than likely, he is another low cost gamble by Gillick, in hopes that lightning is indeed occasionally captured in a bottle.

It would seem significant that the Phils have almost mentioned youngsters Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson in afterthought phrases when discussing the '07 outfield situation in Phillie Land. The prevailing thought is that Bourn will be better served with another year at Ottawa in Triple-A and Roberson is likely to be used as part of a deal that could jettison either Rowand or pitcher Jon Lieber out of town between now and spring training.

Which ultimately brings us back to the beginning of this story...the behind the scenes dance routine now being played out between the Fox, pat Gillick and the Trot, as in right fielder Nixon. Just what might be happening behind those closed curtains and how possible is it that when the curtain opens in Clearwater this spring, the two will be dancing as one...both with the goal of bringing a world series to Philadelphia?

By most accounts, the Phils have expressed interest in Nixon and the feeling has been mutual...to a certain degree. Make no mistake, while Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, Nixon undoubtedly will leave his in Boston should he leave, which appears near certain. Given his druthers, he would resign with the Sox and finish his career with the only team he has ever known. A once highly ballyhooed high school prodigy, Nixon has proven a steady if unspectacular soldier to the red Sox cause for over seven years.

Known more for his determination and grit than for his physical skills, Nixon has carved out a solid career with a particularly impressive three year run between 2001-2003 in which he established career highs in home runs [28], RBI [94] and batting average [.306]. Along the way, he set records for games played in a season with 152 and had some more than impressive slugging percentages of .505, 578, and .470.

Along the way, he also played with plenty of heart and desire, exactly the type of player that Gillick most admires. Add to that a strong left-handed bat and outstanding defensive skills from right field and he appears just what the doctor ordered for a Phillie team that seems to suffer from outfield vitamin deficiency at the moment. Reports, as yet unconfirmed, are that the Phils have somewhat coyly sent word to the Nixon camp that they would be interested in him for a one-year guaranteed deal at 5 million dollars, with a team option for a second year. And, as is Gillick's propensity, there would be the typical incentives that make a deal just that more appealing at second glance.

What Gillick refuses to promise is a starting job against all pitching, something that Nixon seeks before he signs. Trot Nixon is intelligent enough to see that should he sign, he will immediately take over the starting right field position against right handed pitching, with any of the threesome of Rowand, Victorino or Werth being his potential platoon partners. Signing him would also allow trade talks for Rowand to expand beyond the exploratory stage should Gillick see fit to do so.

By most accounts, the Phils are one of only a few teams that have expressed real interest in Nixon. Recent reports indicate the Pittsburgh Pirates may be inclined to offer him a deal, but as of now, no offer has been made and they may prefer to look elsewhere, either to Milwaukee for Geoff Jenkins or to Chicago for Jacque Jones. Of course, the Red Sox situation remains a fluid one and of course, leave it to that infamous Phillie thorn, J.D. Drew, to possibly muddy the dance floor before Gillick and Nixon even prepare their routine.

It seems that the proposed marriage between Drew and the Red Sox, an event that would cost 70 million and take five years to complete, is being held up by some unseemly x-rays on Drew's shoulder, the same one that bothered him last season in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. You see, Drew is being courted by the Sox to play right field, the same position that Nixon would vacate. However, the Sox have been loath to sign Drew without some protections in case of injury, a clause that Drew's agent, Scott Boras, finds unacceptable. Right now, the situation looks unclear and could explode soon should Boras decide to pursue legal action.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Boras feels he gave the Sox a discount rate on his standout pitching client, free agent Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan, in negotiations that finished last month. Although they would never admit to such shenanigans, it is likely that there was an unspoken wink wink in regards to the signing of both Matsuzaka and Drew, with one possibly signing for under market value while the other signed for over market wages. Now, the Sox would seem to be reluctant partners in this deal and as Boston fiddles, Boras burns.

It would seem that the Sox have at least given Nixon some indication that should the Drew situation deteriorate beyond repair, and this remains unlikely, he would be welcome back to Boston, at probably about seven million a year. Thus, the waiting game continues, while it is well nigh time for decisions to be made concerning all parties involved. February comes quickly once the new calendar year begins and players by nature want to know where they will call home once spring training begins. It would seem Nixon would fit snuggly into this case also, as he could be treading dangerous waters should he remain unsigned much into February.

Teams tend to have their budget salaries allotted and fixed once the arbitration process runs its course and it might be in Nixon's best long term interest to make a short term deal that guarantees he will compete for a starting berth with a team capable of making the playoffs. This will not happen in Pittsburgh, but might in Philadelphia. He also might be well aware that his name has become a popular household name amongst Phillie phanatics as they anxiously await Gillick's next Texas two-step.

Yet, it will not be the Texas two step which will make the wily Phillie GM a trusted figure in a city long known for skepticism and cynicism. No, rather it will take becoming willing partners with Trot Nixon in a dance made famous way back in 1914 when the nation was young and vaudeville was king, the appropriately named dipsy called...the FoxTrot.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will attempt to respond. Also check out PhilliesTalk for the latest in Phillie conversation! Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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