CD's Connect The Dots... Buyer Beware

The question is as open ended as it is perplexing for a Philadelphia Phillie team standing dangerously close to a ledge yet refusing to acknowledge a potential fall into pretender's oblivion. Buyers or sellers as the trade deadline nears? Contender or pretender? The wisest course might be to follow these two simple words...buyer beware!

It speaks volumes about a season as up and down as a wildly exciting yet often terrifying roller coaster ride that the Phillies approach the second-half of the National League pennant race with 44 up and 44 down. A .500 record that belies their talent yet cries their consistency. Yes, consistency, if that ever be a word for a team that wins and loses with equal parts predominance.

Still, turn the volume down a notch from the rising crescendo and outcry of a Philadelphia populace long ago starved for a baseball winner and there may yet be a voice in the wilderness that speaks of logic and reason amidst the frustration.

Ironically enough, that distant voice in the wilderness may come from a man who has known the tars and feathers of a fanbase less impressed with his resume and rolodex file than with his seeming inability to produce a playoff contending baseball team. Yes, the next voice you hear may well come from current Phillie GM, Pat Gillick, a man who has promised much more than he has produced since his introduction as the latest Phil decision maker back in early November of 2005.

Remember, it was Gillick who indicated a goal of "five more wins" in 2006, the number he felt it would take to make an 88 win team in 2005 into a playoff bound 93 win team in '06. Unfortunately, the prediction came up eight wins short, although a spirited and inspiring second-half surge gave the team a final win total of 85 games.

Still, Gillick had to be judged purely on his predictions and with that as his judge, his final grade was far below what he and the City of Brotherly Love had expected. Yet, armed with the off-season acquisitions of such potential luminaries as pitchers Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton, as will as position players like third baseman Wes Helms and catcher Rod Barajas, most felt Gillick had replaced the question with an exclamation at the end of the Phillie sentence for 2007. Not quite.

Injuries to key hurlers like Garcia, Jon Lieber, Brett Myers and Tom Gordon have led to the early pledge week Major League graduations of youngsters like Kyle Kendrick, J.D. Durbin, J.A. Happ, Francisco Rosario, Matt Zagurski, Anderson Garcia and Yoel Hernandez. Predictably enough, a few [Kendrick and Zagurski] have treaded water well enough while the others have shown that further minor league swimming lessons may still be in order.

With all of this as a backdrop, and the July 31st trading deadline looming ever more closely, the question of the team's intentions at that deadline have become ever more obvious. Does Gillick and Company view the team as a viable contender for a National League playoff berth in October or not? If they do, then the team becomes a buyer and will pursue the talent necessary to make the playoff goal a reality.

If not, however, then the team becomes a seller, much as it was last July 31 when it appeared all that was left of the '06 season was the shouting. In this case, the Phils attempt to move as much valuable yet unnecessary player talent as possible to A] lower a 95 million dollar payroll and B] procure the young talent that will hopefully insure future playoff berths for a city badly in need of one.

Buyer or seller? Contender or pretender? Of these questions and their eventual answers may well lie the legacy of Pat Gillick with the Phillies. Midway through his three-year contract with the club, the 70 year old future Hall of Fame GM has to be thinking that this will be his final contract, and indeed, this may be his final year with the team.

Certainly, the team is unlikely to push him out the door unless the club does an unexpected freefall during the Dog Days of August, but by the same token, Gillick is unlikely to feel comfortable rebuilding a team in 2008 that he will have largely constructed himself.

With this in mind, and with the firm knowledge that neither the New York Mets nor the Atlanta Braves appear to have the current horses to ride off into the National League East sunset anytime soon, the prevailing thought is that the Phils will be buyers at the deadline. It is with this as a caveat that those dreaded yet wise words must be uttered to all within earshot...buyer beware!

To his credit, Gillick seems to understand this. The voice in the wilderness utterances he recently made spoke of a desire to acquire a pitcher who will be helping the club win in 2008 and beyond instead of merely a pitcher with a For Rent sign clearly posted on his uniform and a desire to sign with the highest bidder come this Fall's free agent frenzy.

Reading between the lines is always a risky business, but if we take Gillick at his word that he is looking to acquire a starting pitcher who might just call Philadelphia home for more than just a summer, it might be fun to speculate on the names he probably has written down on his Wish List.

Undoubtedly, the name Matt Morris is likely to be bantered about often during the next few weeks, and for obvious reasons. Although Morris will be 33 years of age this August, he appears to have plenty left to give as his 7-5 record in 17 starts for a mediocre San Francisco Giant club can attest.

Even more convincing is the fact that Morris is a Gillick favorite and has another year yet to go on what is a very reasonable three-year contract signed with the Giants before the '06 season. The Giants might well wish to rid themselves of Morris's contract in hopes that they will have more money to spend this off season when superstar Alex Rodriguez is expected to file for free agency and leave the New York Yankees for greener [as in dollars] pastures.

Morris is a veritable workhorse, something the Phils could use in abundance. Last year, despite a less than overwhelming 10-15 record, he still hurled 208 innings in 33 games and would become no less than the Phils number two starting pitcher behind Cole Hamels the minute he stepped off the airplane in Philadelphia.

Another name to consider is righty Jon Garland of the Chicago White Sox. Garland is an enigma wrapped in a question mark for all baseball sabermetric advocates who keep expecting him to fall flat on his face even as he continues to win games by the handful. Fresh off of an 18 win season in 2006 despite a pedestrian like 4.51 ERA, Garland currently sports a 6-6 record in 17 starts for a very poor hitting White Sox team.

Granted, the ChiSox have shown no inclination to move Garland at this time, but any team that has just paid another pitcher [lefty Mark Buehrle] 64 million dollars over the course of the next four seasons might just be looking for ways to cut costs in other ways.

Much like Morris, Garland comes with a contract that runs for more than this year and at age 27, his best years could well be ahead of him still. The price might be steep, but the rewards could be immense. It behooves Gillick to at least find out about Garland's status.

A pitcher that might well evoke the high risk, high reward definition is righty Bronson Arroyo of the Cincinnati Reds. Certainly a more than reasonable candidate for the Buyer Beware award, Arroyo nevertheless possesses the kind of ability that might just help the Phils change their names from pretenders to contenders quickly. Arroyo is 30 years of age and was a 14 game winner as recently as last season.

Better still, his 2007 struggles [a 3-9 record in 18 starts] and the fact that his Reds are in last place in the Central Division make him a perfect candidate for a change of address come July 31. The Phils could probably get Arroyo for a song, unlike Garland and Morris who might require if not a king's ransom, at least more than a paupers wages in return.

However, if Gillick should decide to truly reach for the stars, he would cast a knowing glance immediately down Interstate 95 to the city of Baltimore, the home of the woebegone Orioles. They are a team without hope, cast forever in the shadows of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Still, they are a team not with valuable resources, none seemingly more valuable that lefty Erik Bedard.

Why, as recently as this past July 7, Bedard hurled what undoubtedly was one of the best half-dozen pitching efforts of the '07 season in a 3-0 whitewash of the Chicago White Sox. Bedard [7-4] not only hurled a two-hit complete game shutout in Chicago but struck out an amazing 15 ChiSox hitters while walking nary a batter.

Certainly the cost for Bedard would be high, but there are still reasons he could be had from the Orioles. For one thing, the O's could decide that they need to rebuild as quickly as possible and that might mean moving their most valuable trading piece right now while his value is the highest.

For another thing, there is no reason to believe that Bedard will choose to stay in Baltimore once his opportunity to seek free agency becomes due. Of course, the same story could unfold in Philadelphia [see Garcia, Freddy] but the Phils are not concerned with 2009 and beyond but this season and next only.

Actually, Bedard fits exactly into the mold of the kind of pitcher that Gillick acknowledged that he would be looking for in the next few weeks. As hard to believe as it is, Bedard could well challenge lefty Cole Hamels for the title of "ace of the staff" should he move northward on I-95 before the end of the month.

Admittedly, the acquisition of Bedard is the longest of shots right now, but in a market where "buyer beware!" is the prevailing theme of the day, Bedard would represent anything but that for a team in search of a pitcher for 2007 and beyond.

There is one more hurler on the market who could immediately come in and make the Phillies pitching staff 25 percent better and that is reliever Chad Cordero of the Washington Nationals. It seems better than even money that Cordero, a standout reliever for the Nats, will be dealt before the deadline so the Phils would certainly do well to inquire about him.

Even more appealing is that having Cordero on board would allow the Phils to move erstwhile closer Brett Myers back into the starting rotation, something that seems much too logical to ignore. In fact, Myers would represent to the Phillie rotation all and more than Morris, Arroyo and Garland would bring to the table in PhillieLand. Only Bedard seems a more talented hurler in the group than is Myers when healthy.

Cordero has a track record of closer success, with 15 saves this year and 29 last season. And, while those save totals may seem a tad pedestrian by today's astronomical save numbers, it is well worth noting that he plays for a team that rarely enters the ninth inning with a lead. Cordero's greatest value would come to a team like the Phillies, who might be one standout closer short of a National League championship.

Yet, this is a column on "buyer beware" and I would be remiss if not to list the pitchers who would certainly fit comfortably in the Who's Who of Buyer Beware Hurlers lists for this July 31. These are the hurlers who Gillick should avoid at all costs for it is extremely probable that they would not only NOT help the Phillie cause but would likely make the staff even worse.

Among those names to avoid are Kyle Lohse of Cincinnati, Steve Trachsel of Baltimore, Jose Contreras of the White Sox, A.J. Burnett of Toronto, Kevin Millwood of Texas and Woody Williams of Houston. All might seem enticing to the untrained eye, but a closer look reveals red flags that scream for avoidance.

Lohse and Trachsel are bookend twins for righties and well might be innings eaters but would also lose far too often for the Phils tastes. Currently both are being shopped and at least one of them is likely to be moved before the deadline. Hopefully, the Phils will pass on both of them, though the whispers speak of Phillie interest in Lohse.

At present Lohse sports a 5-10 record, precisely the recorded he finished last campaign with. In other words, a team that starts Kyle Lohse is twice as likely to lose as to win the game. This is not the recipe for success that Gillick should wish to stir in what might be his final July 31 trading deadline foray.

Trachsel's sins are less apparent, though still quite revealing. In 2006 he did win 15 games for the powerful New York Mets yet the fact that they so readily allowed him to leave for Baltimore should speak volumes about their little regard for his talents. At present, Trachsel sports a 5-6 record and near 5.00 ERA while toiling in Baltimore for the Orioles.

Word to the ever wise Gillick...avoid these pitchers with all due haste! In other words, "buyer beware!" The same could well hold true for another righty with solid past credentials but an alarming track record that seems to indicate his best days are well behind him. The pitcher of note is Jose Contreras, the allegedly 35 year old starter for the White Sox.

Truth be told, no one is quite sure just how old Contreras is, seeing as how he escaped from the island of Cuba with realistic birth certificate to verify his age. Some scouts think he is closer to 40 years of age and his 5-10 record and 5.19 record suggests that his best years are past and he would not cure what ails the Phillie Nine.

Two other hurlers who carry invisible warning signs but might attract the attention of the Phils are Woody Williams of the Houston Astros and Kevin Millwood of the Texas Rangers. The Texas twosome both bring records of recent success but both have been injured and struggled mightily this season.

Williams is a verifiable 40 years of age and his 4-10 record suggest that he is pitching to save not only his season, but his career. The same might be true of Millwood, who has already called Philadelphia home once and might not be adverse to returning for a second curtain call. This would probably end in disaster for the Phightins' as his 6-7 record and horrendous 6.16 ERA suggest that his nagging injuries are becoming more normal than nuisance and more troublesome than temporary.

Still, these are all names to remember for the next three weeks as several of them will undoubtedly be tied with rumors to the Phillies and at least one of them may take up residence in Philadelphia before the end of the month.

With this as the backdrop, it would behoove Pat Gillick to think long and hard before settling for a short term solution to a long-term problem. It is comforting to know that he has indicated a desire to solve that long-term problem with an operation rather than a band-aid. For though the band-aid may well stop the bleeding temporarily, it, like most retail store bought items will probably cease to work effectively shortly after it is used.

In baseball, like in life, there is a cost for everything purchased and in the coming weeks Gillick may decide that the price of an operation is less expensive in the long run than the price of a band-aid purchased at a discount store clearance sale. It is well worth remembering the warning written in small print during the course of any permanent purchase...buyer beware!

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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