CD's Connect The Dots... Coming or Going?

Benjamin Franklin once remarked that "time is the herb that cures all diseases." Indeed, time and the success of the Colorado Rockies, has somewhat pacified a large contingent of Phillie phans bent on a World Series berth for their heroes. As disappointment gives way to reality, let's take a look at where the team stands, and who might be...coming or going?

There are few terms that represent more of a misnomer that the words "off-season" when used in a baseball context. Truth be told, there is no such thing as an off-season and certainly that holds true for Phillie GM Pat Gillick and his organizational staff as they prepare for the post-season work still yet to be done.

Speaking of organizational staffs, the Phils added one name to that list this week with the creation of a Director of Professional Scouting position and the hiring of veteran Chuck LaMar to the job. Lamar is an intriguing and potentially influential new addition to the Phillies, a man who has developed his skills both in the scouting and general manager positions. This was certainly not just an obscure hiring, and is one that will be discussed further in this column.

Still, for all the potential ramifications of a Chuck LaMar addition to the system, it is the players who make the headlines and it is the players who come and go this winter that are likely to make the news in PhillieLand. Indeed, with the season not yet a month from completion, the names Aaron Rowand, Tadahito Iguchi, Kyle Lohse, J.C. Romero, Abraham Nunez, Rod Barajas, Mike Lowell, Mariano Rivera and yes, Curt Schilling have already been very much in the news.

From a distance, and with the assumption that many things can change quickly during the "off-season", it appears that the Phils will have at least eight spots to fill when formulating their 2008 roster. It seems likely that Rowand, Iguchi, Lohse, Romero, Nunez and Barajas, as well as veteran relievers Jose Mesa and Antonio Alfonseca will not be on the roster when the Phillies take the field against the Washington Nationals next spring on opening day.

Officially, the Phils have made it clear that they would like both Rowand and Romero back next year and will do everything within their powers to make that happen. And, publicly, many of the Phillie players expect Aaron Rowand to return. Assistant GM Ruben Amaro mentioned this week that the team hopes Romero will return as well.

Yet, history tells us that when a player hits the free agent open market, home town loyalties quickly disappear and the team that presents the most attractive offer usually wins the day. With this in mind, it would seem highly doubtful that the Phils will be able to convince Rowand to take a home town discount and stay in Philadelphia.

Admittedly, the loss of Rowand could be a potentially devastating one, especially in the clubhouse. Aaron Rowand, in his two seasons with the Phillies, has established himself as one of the mainstays in the clubhouse and a leader both on and off the field. There are many scouts who doubt he will ever repeat his offensive exploits of 2007 but the Phils will still feel his loss should he leave.

In fact, there has probably not been a potential free agent who has already developed such a following within major league cities as has Rowand to this point. Although the free agent period will not begin for over two weeks, no less than five teams have indicated that he would look good patrolling centerfield in their ballpark.

At last look, the New York Mets, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox have all indicated privately a desire to possibly work Aaron Rowand into their "off-season" plans with a huge contract offer this winter. The Yankees have long admired his desire and defense while the Mets think his leadership qualities would fit in well with their lineup.

The Atlanta Braves would love to replace the departing Andruw Jones with Rowand while the Padres feel the same way with the upcoming departure of their centerfielder, Mike Cameron. As for the Chicago White Sox, many in Chitown are convinced that the heart and soul of their 2005 World Championship club left when he was traded to the Phillies for Jim Thome following that season. They have made it clear they would like him back, and friends of Rowand's have indicated that the only club that might get a "home town" discount would be Chicago.

Rumors indicate a four or five year deal for as much as $50-$60 million might be there for the taking should Rowand have multiple teams fighting for his services. This is likely a price the Phillies will be unwilling to pay, given their somewhat limited resources and positional needs elsewhere.

In fact, a player the Phillies openly covet, third baseman Mike Lowell of the Boston Red Sox, might well determine how aggressively the Phillies pursue a re-signed Rowand. Clearly, the Phightins' cannot afford both of them at over $10 million per year and should the team feel that Lowell might come home to play for his childhood favorite team, the Phillies, they may decide to offer Rowand arbitration and accept the draft picks when he signs elsewhere.

Speaking of draft picks, should the Phils lose the services of Aaron Rowand, they have to be hoping that he goes to a successful club like the Padres or Yankees and not a losing team like the Chicago White Sox. The amateur draft selection order has tentatively been announced and the Phils will only garner two first round draft picks if Rowand goes to a team in the bottom 15 places of the draft.

A quick glance of the list reveals that the team would receive two top picks should he sign with Atlanta, the Mets, the Yankees or with the Padres, but would only receive a supplemental first round pick should he return to Chicago with the White Sox. This is a potentially important consideration for the Phillies as they ponder their likely offer to Rowand in the coming weeks.

While two top draft picks might yield a future bonanza for the club, the likelihood that a late first round supplemental pick, somewhere between 35 and 40 in the slotting, could replace the mercurial Rowand is certainly problematical. Expect the Phils to think long and hard about this one before deciding that the chances of signing Lowell are worth the risk of losing Rowand.

Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi informed the Phils this week that he won't return after they approached him about the possibility of playing third base next year. He quickly turned down that offer, and hopes to hook up with a club that will allow him to play his natural second base position. This loss means the Phils will need for find at least one and possibly two infield backup players this winter, given the loss of both Iguchi and Abraham Nunez.

If the Phils can pry Mike Lowell away from Boston with a three or four year deal [the Sox have publicly stated they will not go past two years for him] they will have the best infield in baseball and make the need for another infielder much less important. In fact, the signing of Lowell might allow the team to fill that spot from within, perhaps bringing up either Danny Sandoval or Michael Garciaparra from within the system. Granted, these are both career minor leaguers and unlikely to be major additions to the Phils, but then again, so were Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs and they have been wonderful components of a strong Phillie bench.

Should the Red Sox re-sign Lowell, and it will be difficult not to if they win the World Series, then look for the Phils to try and fill the third base spot with names like Morgan Ensberg or Hank Blalock. In particular, Blalock is an interesting player, someone the Phils have long coveted and a player who might find the Phillie lineup as the best tool to rejuvenate his past talents.

In many respects, the decisions made by Aaron Rowand will dictate much of what the Phillies accomplish this winter. If he comes back to the Phillies, watch for the club to attempt to move Shane Victorino for a starting pitcher, someone of the ilk of a Jon Garland from Chicago or Ian Snell of Pittsburgh. Both teams have indicated that they would move these hurlers in the right deal and both could use an outfielder with the talents of Victorino.

However, all bets are off should Rowand depart. The Phils will then hope to field an outfield of Pat Burrell in left, Victorino in center and a combination of Jayson Werth and Michael Bourn in right field while attempting to sign a mid-range free agent as a spare outfielder. With former hot shot minor leaguer Greg Golson still struggling in the Arizona Fall League, the Phils might be less inclined to count on him anytime before 2010, if then.

At best, Golson might make his major league debut sometime in 2009 and the Phils are a team in a hurry this year and will not be afraid to sacrifice long term rewards for short term gains in 2008. Gillick has made it clear that he dearly wants to leave the Phils with a World Series berth and if he remains true to his announcement to retire at the end of his contract in 2008, his window of opportunity is only one year.

Mike Cameron is a fine defensive centerfielder and has always hit well in Philadelphia and might come East if he receives a multi-year deal. As with Blalock, the Phils have long admired his skills and should Rowand leave, the team will certainly inquire into Cameron's demands. Forget Andruw Jones or Tori Hunter however, regardless of what Aaron Rowand decides to do. Both are demanding huge long term deals, and the Phils are uninterested in either of the veteran flychasers.

Certainly, the Phils will try and resign both pitchers, starter Kyle Lohse and reliever J.C. Romero, but it appears that the team might strike out with both of them. Lohse, although somewhat effective with the Phils, is going to ask for much more than the Phillies are prepared to pay, and with agent Scott Boras in the negotiations, the Phils will undoubtedly let Lohse leave.

Not so Romero, who formed with righties Tom Gordon and Brett Myers, a highly effective trio during the final days and weeks of the 2007 pennant push. Undoubtedly, the Phils want the stylish lefty back and to his credit, Romero has indicated a deep interest in returning.

However, much like almost everything else this "off-season" the decision will be based more on monetary demands than in loyal followings. Romero is likely to ask for a three-year deal in the $15 million dollar range, using former free agents like Chris Bradford and Jamie Walker as examples. The Phils, on the other hand, will be wary of Romero's curious habit of following a strong season with a weak one and are unlikely to offer more than a two-year deal for the southpaw.

In the end, the market will dictate the terms and given the fact that Romero is perhaps the best lefty reliever on the free agent market, he is unlikely to find the Phillies offer to be his best one. It seems that the team will need to look elsewhere for a lefty bullpen brigadesman.

With the possible loss of Romero and the almost assured departure of Jose Mesa and Antonio Alfonseca, the Phils will probably study the health of pitchers like Jason Jennings, Randy Wolf, Kris Benson, Josh Fogg, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Scott Linebrink and lefty Jeremy Affeldt and attempt to sign one or two of them. All are free agents this winter.

Given the expected loss of starting hurler Kyle Lohse and the fact that the Phils will be hoping to add a ground ball pitcher to their starting rotation, watch for the Phils to heavily pursue former Phillie Carlos Silva to the City of Brotherly Love. Silva is a prototypical ground ball hurler and at 29 years of age, is just approaching his peak seasons of value.

With Minnesota in 2007, Carlos Silva polished off a 202 innings season with a 13-14 record and a decent 4.19 ERA. He was highly effective in his first stint with the Phillies and might just return should the club offer him a three-year deal. He has publicly said he wants at least four years on his new contract, but perhaps the Phils could structure it as a three-year deal with an option for a fourth.

Given the dearth of starting pitchers on the free agent market, hurlers like Silva, Lohse and veteran Curt Schilling will be highly coveted and well paid. It behooves the Phils to sign one of them...which leads to the latest Curt Schilling news.

It seems that Schilling and the Phillies will forever be tied at the hip, regardless of whether or not he ever returns as an active pitcher. This week, on his weekly blog to the Red Sox Nation, he was commenting on the skills of current Red Sox and former Phillie manager Terry Francona. Schilling is in the unique position of having played for Francona both as a former Phillie and current Red Sox hurler.

He remarked that Francona has changed little from his days with the Phillies but, and we quote "he just has a front office of people that understand winning games on the field matters more than anything else." He then mentioned the "know it alls" in Philadelphia and was thought to be referring to some of the sportswriters like Bill Conlin and a few of the sportscasters on radio station WIP.

There was much speculation as to why Schilling has chosen this time to make such public remarks, comments that might just drive a complete wedge between him and the Phillies front office management team. Curt has indicated on several occasions recently that if Boston chooses not to re-sign him for one year, he would enjoy returning to Philadelphia to finish his career.

If this is true, and there is little reason to doubt him, then why would he make such inflammatory statements now? Perhaps former Phillie reliever and current broadcaster Mitch Williams, a former teammate of Schillings, was on to something when he remarked that there was "no way" Schilling was coming back to Philadelphia. The speculation was that Williams knew something first hand, and that perhaps Schilling had been told the same thing and was now lashing out at an organization that refused to let bygones be bygones. Perhaps.

Still, Schilling was interviewed by Conlin in Philadelphia the following day and almost sounded apologetic when waxing enthusiastically about the current Phillie front office. It has been widely rumored that former GM Ed Wade was the real thorn in Schilling's side and now that he is gone, the Phils would be open to a return engagement. It remains to be seen if this latest outburst closes that chapter forever.

Logic does dictate that Schilling would seem an almost perfect fit for the rotation, and might provide the veteran presence needed to help youngsters like Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Scott Mathieson and even Brett Myers over the hump. However, the odds, probably at least 50-50 before the post season of a Schill to Phil return, dropped prohibitively given his post season success and his latest comments.

Did anyone say comments? Certainly they were sparsely uttered when the announcement came on Thursday that former Tampa Bay Devil Ray General Manager Chuck LaMar was joining the Phillie organization as Director of Professional Scouting. However, don't let the lack of public utterances give the false impression that this was just some minor move. It was not, and the ramifications of the hiring might be felt in Philadelphia for years to come.

Simply put, LaMar has an impressive resume, if indeed a somewhat uneven one. He worked closely with John Schuerholz for years while learning the ins and outs of scouting in Atlanta before taking over the new Tampa Bay franchise in 1995 as their initial GM.

While in Tampa from 1995-2005, LaMar never fashioned a winning record in the brutal American League Eastern Division but displayed a wonderful ability to draft and sign solid amateur talent. Under his watchful eye, the D-Rays produced such name players like Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Aubrey Huff and Delmon Young as well as current minor leaguers, Jeff Nieman, Reid Brignac and Wade Davis. He also was the architect of perhaps one of the most one sided trades in big league history, the absolute pilfering of lefty phenom Scott Kazmir from the Mets.

How the addition of LaMar all plays out in PhillieLand remains to be seen but this much is apparent. The Phils specifically created a new position designed to attract LaMar to the organization and he will now be working with one of the most talented members in the system, top major league scout, Gordon Lakey. Lakey is the Director of Major League Scouting and will work with LaMar to recommend trades, free agent signings and many other personnel moves this season.

Clearly, it sends a message that when Gillick steps down the future job of Phillie GM has not automatically been given to Ruben Amaro, regardless of the respect he has within the organization. It also may have ramifications within the Scouting Department, a group now lead by the highly respected Marti Wolever under the watchful eye of Mike Arbuckle.

It will be interesting to watch upcoming developments with Amaro and Arbuckle, both of whom have aspirations of becoming general managers, either in Philadelphia or elsewhere. LaMar could become the heir apparent to Gillick but more likely will continue to do what he seems to do best, scout talent at the major league and amateur level.

The former great Brooklyn Dodgers baseball announcer, Red Barber, used to refer to any position of advantage or prominence as someone sitting in the "catbird's seat." Clearly, it would appear that LaMar is sitting in just such a position right now in Philadelphia. As are Aaron Rowand, Mike Lowell, Curt Schilling and J.C. Romero among others.

Highly coveted, undeniably talented, and all expected to become movers and shakers in the upcoming winter days and months ahead. This much is certainly not open to question. Rather, the question remains on every Phillie phans mind, whither these skilled players, and will they be...coming or going?

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



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