CD's Connect The Dots... Winter Wonder Land

Nashville is the land of great country music and song and will now play host to baseball's annual rite of offseason passage, the winter meetings. It is a time of wonder for baseball fans eager for news of player dealings that will at last deliver long awaited glory. Phillie phans are no exception and wait in anticipation of this years...winter wonder land.

Once upon a time baseball was faced with the problem of keeping itself in the news during the long and often cold winter months between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training. This interminably long period, lasting from late October till early February, caused consternation and dismay amongst the people charged with the responsibility of keeping the winter embers of baseball burning when the only round ball capable of being tossed was often a snowball.

With this in mind, wise baseball minds devised a plan to promote their product in the most exciting way possible, through what has become its annual December winter meetings. Through this meeting, which generally last four or five days, baseball could not only keep itself in the news via the rumors of deals and player transactions but allow baseball people to all gather in one place, allowing maximum publicity for all involved.

It was a brilliant public relations move and has now become one of the centerpieces of the entire culture of baseball. Beginning on Monday and continuing through Thursday, all 30 teams will have nearly all of their top organizational movers and shakers in Nashville to conduct business that involves finalizing player trades, signing free agents and participating in Thursday's Rule 5 draft of many minor league players not currently on their teams 40 man rosters.

The Philadelphia Phillies are expected to be one of the more active participants in this year's event, given their current needs and the fact that they are so close to becoming a dominant force in the National League after far too many years in the wilderness. Many baseball scouts feel the Phils are no more than a key player or two from taking that step that separates baseball pretenders to baseball championship contenders.

Of course, this always begs the question of will the Phillies, notorious for fiscal responsibility and conservative behavior, make the moves necessary to take that giant leap forward. To listen to the recent public remarks of Phillie GM Pat Gillick is to suspect otherwise but to separate his private designs from his public remarks indicates that Phillie phans may well be in for a treat. Let's take a few moments and attempt to sort out fact from fiction as the meetings are about to unfold.

Throughout his countless years in baseball, Pat Gillick was always known as a man with a plan and many ways to implement that plan. He was also known as a guy who often made his most dramatic moves almost immediately after indicating that he had no chance of making one. Although the offseason is less than two months old he has already put on display these tactics at least three times.

After publicly remarking that he had minimal interest in potential free agent pitcher Curt Schilling, it was later discovered that had Schilling made it to free agency the Phils were prepared to work swiftly and aggressively to get him signed, sealed and delivered to one final season in Philadelphia. Gillick has mentioned his interest as "about a five on a scale of ten" but his public comments were in marked contrast to his private hopes.

A few weeks later he commented that the Phils were happy with their third base platoon of Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs and would not be pursuing a third baseman to replace them. Almost before those words had been completely digested by an unhappy phanbase, it was revealed that Gillick tried very hard to convince free agent third baseman Mike Lowell to leave Boston for the Phils to the tune of a reported four-year, 50 million dollar offer.

The recent acquisition of ace closer Brad Lidge is yet another example. In the days just prior to the trade for Lidge, Gillick was telling everyone who would listen that the market was weak for pitching deals and that the team was not optimistic that anything could be done. We now know that in fact the Phils had been pursuing Lidge since last July and had targeted him specifically by first asking the Houston Astros about lesser reliever, Chad Qualls.

It was a brilliant move of gamesmanship on Gillick's part and revealed much about his character and motives. It also gave pause to reflect on recent rumors filtering out of the Citizen Bank organizational offices in Philadelphia and how they may affect what could take place this week in Nashville.

Once again, Gillick has commented that the Phils needs are "pitching, pitching and more pitching" and that he is unconcerned about the offense and the potential loss of centerfielder Aaron Rowand via free agency. He is also once again repeating the mantra that he is not in the market for a third baseman and is quite comfortable with Helms and Dobbs.

If recent history is any indication and Gillick's words are to be decoded, watch for the Phils to acquire not just one but two starting pitchers, sign Rowand or replace him with another solid outfield bat, and bring in a starting third baseman. This seems a tall order, but Gillick knows his window of opportunity is limited and also understands his place in baseball history can be cemented by bringing home a championship to the long starved Philadelphia Phillies.

Still, the market for players can be a difficult one and with teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers and Angels as major players in this seasons auction, it will take all of Gillick's persuasive powers to insure that Phillie phans are no longer forced to wonder just when the winter wanderings will lead to the eventual promised land.

With this in mind, who are the names likely to to interest Gillick and how likely are they to become Phillies either this week at the meetings or in the near future? One name sure to come up often this week is left-handed starting pitcher, Randy Wolf. The former Phillie southpaw, who carved out several successful seasons in Philadelphia before leaving for Los Angeles, won nine games last season with the Dodgers before his season ended in July.

The Phils have made it clear to Wolf that they would like him back as a starting pitcher and the interest has been decidedly mutual. Rumors speak of a one-year deal at between five and six million dollars and could be wrapped up sometime this week between the two parties. Of course, as with most free agents, Wolf has several suitors and it is no slam dunk that the Phils will get this deal done.

The San Diego Padres and Houston Astros have indicated a strong interest in Wolf and should the Padres step up with a solid offer the stylish lefty could decide to stay in Southern California. The Astros, in a rebuilding mode, seem a less likely destination for Wolf. Regardless, expect something to get done with him this week and the odds still favor a Phillie reunion.

Should Wolf rejoin Philadelphia, this would seem to give the team a solid starting rotation of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Wolf, with righty Adam Eaton on the periphery. However, another interesting and perhaps far reaching scenario could develop.

Myers was outstanding as the closer last year and has made it clear he would love to stay in that role despite the recent acquisition of closer Brad Lidge from Houston. Should the Phils somehow acquire another starting pitcher in addition to Wolf, the team could decide to move Myers back into his closer role and make Lidge available for the eighth inning slot, something he did well in 2007 with the Astros.

This would enable the Phils to field a very deep and talented bullpen fivesome of J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson and Tom Gordon in addition to Lidge and Myers. The Phils would basically be making every game a six inning affair with the idea that a lead by the seventh inning would almost insure victory with such a deep, talented and versatile bullpen.

With this in mind, it would not be a surprise if the Phils attempted to work out a deal for another starting pitcher during the winter meetings. Some of the names being mentioned as available include Jason Marquis of the Cubs, Joe Blanton and Dan Haren of the Athletics, Mark Prior of the Cubs, Chris Capuano of the Brewers as well as free agents like Livan Hernandez and Bartolo Colon.

One more name is worth noting, lefty Erik Bedard of Baltimore. The Phils have long sought this talented southpaw and even discussed the parameters of a deal of Bedard and outfielder Jay Gibbons for Bobby Abreu back in the winter of 2005 before the former Phillie rightfielder was eventually traded to New York.

At first glance the thought of Bedard in a Phillie uniform seems ludicrous given his undoubtedly expensive price tag. However, the rumors of the Phils supposed interest in Oriole third baseman Melvin Mora might have more to do with their real interest in Bedard than in Mora. Remember that Gillick first approached Astro GM Ed Wade about Chad Qualls when it was really Lidge that he was after.

It does not take a major leap of faith to think that Gillick has talked to the Orioles about taking on Mora's salary as part of a larger deal for Erik Bedard. The price tag would be hefty, to the tune of something like Ryan Madson and prospects Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and probably one more player.

However, the O's are in a major rebuilding state of mind and have determined that they are unlikely to be able to resign the talented Bedard once he reaches free agency following the 2009 campaign. They may move him this week in Nashville and should they do so the Phils figure to try and be in the mix if possible.

Speaking of the teams "supposed" interest in Mora, it could be that their real target is slugging shortstop Miguel Tejeda instead. The Orioles have indicated that they might be inclined to move Tejeda in the right deal and the Phils could have interest in him to play third base. At any rate, talks between Gillick and O's general manager, Andy McPhail, certainly figure to take place this week at some point.

Watch for the Phils to also gauge the market for a starting outfielder until the Aaron Rowand situation is resolved one way or the other. With the recent signing of fellow centerfielder Torii Hunter by the Angels for five years and 90 million dollars, the market price tag for Rowand no doubt went up. Whether or not this puts him out of the Phillie range is subject to what day of the week it is.

In the course of only one week, Rowand has been rumored to be headed for Los Angeles with the Dodgers, to Texas with the Rangers or back to Chicago with his former club, the White Sox. Indications are that he would love to go back to Chicago but they may have determined that he is too pricey for their tastes at five years and upwards of 60 million dollars.

For their part, the Phils have been consistent in their comments that they would welcome the talented and valuable Rowand back but probably not for more than four years. If Rowand sticks to his stated demand of a five or six year contract, the Phils will likely look elsewhere and collect the two top draft picks once he signs elsewhere.

Should the Phils deem it necessary to acquire an outfielder to replace Rowand, they could decide to either trade for the likes of Jason Bay of Pittsburgh or attempt to sign a free agent like Geoff Jenkins or Japanese free agent Kusuke Fukudome. Privately, the team thinks Jenkins will be too expensive and the Cubs seem to be the forerunners for the services of the immensely skilled Fukudome.

Gillick has made it clear that he prefers to keep outfielder Shane Victorino in centerfield and wishes to use Jayson Werth in a platoon role so he will no doubt be in the market for another outfielder this week. As for Rowand, he expects that situation to be resolved before Christmas and the odds remain about 50-50 that he will eventually return.

The mention of Victorino reminds everyone that the Rule 5 draft of minor leaguers on Thursday does occasionally offer a team the opportunity to pluck a potential plum from seemingly out of nowhere. The Phils used the draft to pick Victorino from the Dodgers system a few years ago and it has paid off well for both the team and the player. The Phils generally draft someone and they will probably do so again this week.

There are two more names worth mentioning who could somehow meet the Phillie needs for the 2008 campaign and are currently available. Outfielders Victor Diaz and Jody Gerut would both seem to have the skills that Gillick looks for in a reserve outfielder and it would be no surprise if the Phillie GM inquired about their price tag.

Diaz spent the '07 campaign with the Texas Rangers and seems the kind of player that appeals to Gillick...a low risk, high reward type of hitter in the Jayson Werth/Greg Dobbs pedigree of talent. He plays multiple positions and would seem a proper fit for the Phillies.

The same might be said of the former top prospect Jody Gerut, who last played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Gerut was once a top-notch hitter, who suffered several injuries and was eventually released. He has resurfaced recently in the winter leagues and appears to have recaptured much of his former hitting skills. The Phils could attempt to sign him much as they did Karim Garcia last winter in hopes that lightning might once again strike in a bottle. Time will tell but both Diaz and Gerut will get a spring training invitation somewhere and both might find the friendly hitting confines of Citizens Bank Park to their liking.

In any event, the view from here is that the Phillies will be among the most active teams this winter and it should start this week in Nashville. Phil phanatics have reason to wonder just what changes, be they major or artificial, will be made by Gillick to allow the team to enter the rarified lands of teams like New York and Boston.

With the National League seemingly in transition and teams like Arizona and Colorado on the upswing while teams like St. Louis and the Dodgers appear headed south, it behooved the Phils to make the moves necessary to insure that they will be regarded as one of the leagues elite clubs. It does not take a major leap of faith to see this happening provided the proper moves are made.

Leonardo DaVinci once observed that "inaction saps the vigors of the mind." During his two years with the Phillies, Gillick has shown, despite his occasional foibles, that his is a particularly active mind during the cold recesses of the winter months. It was during these supposed dark and dreary periods that some of his best work was done, in acquiring the likes of Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs, Tom Gordon, Aaron Rowand and Antonio Alfonseca.

Admittedly, he has made some of his more ill-fated moves during this period also, such as the trading for Freddy Garcia and the signing of free agents Adam Eaton, Rod Barajas and Wes Helms. Yet inaction has never been the sin, and it is unlikely that in his probable swan song as a major league general manager, Gillick will resort to that most grievous of transgressions.

It is with this history as a backdrop that Phillie phans wait with eagerly awaited anticipation their likely answer to what will soon take place in this years...winter wonder land.

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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