CD's Connect The Dots...Delayed Gratification

The days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training are now counting down to a precious few. Predictably, Phillie phans are apprehensive about a few spots in the lineup, notably third base and starting pitchers. Yet, if form follows function then that apprehension should soon turn into...delayed gratification.

Few things in life are assured. Death. Taxes. Consternation within the ranks of the Phillie phandom. And either GM Pat Gillick or his sidekick, Ruben Amaro, predicting that all that can be done has been done and not to expect much more. Yet if the first three are guaranteed to occur at some point, the final one is merely the smokescreen used by Gillick and Company to keep expectations at sea level until their next move occurs unannounced and completely without warning.

Gillick undoubtedly learned his lessons well after his first off season in 2005 proved somewhat embarrassing. The veteran Phillie GM, unaccustomed to the high octane sports appetite of Philadelphia, announced quite publicly of his goal to move right fielder Bobby Abreu or left fielder Pat Burrell for a top of the rotation starting pitcher. Names like Eric Bedard, Mark Prior, Chris Carpenter and Jason Schmidt were mentioned far too frequently and when Gillick was unable to deliver due to circumstances beyond his control, he was predictably criticized by the masses.

The end result was several aborted attempts to move Burrell before the July 31, 2006 trading deadline and the eventual "salary dump" of Abreu to the New York Yankees shortly before the deadline. Oh, Gillick bravely championed the return of lefty Matt Smith, former hot shot first round pick C.J. Henry and youngsters Jesus Sanchez and Carlos Monasterios but with Smith and Henry both recently released, the Phils are left with Sanchez and Monasterios to salvage the deal.

Though the Phils post-Abreu are undoubtedly a better club for reasons that have little to do with the former star right fielders absence, Gillick now remains mum whenever questioned about upcoming moves, regardless of just how imminent or predictable they may be. In fact, his recent Sounds of Silence could soon become every Phillie phans new best friend as it generally means an impending move or three are soon on the way.

In fact, a quick glance at the team's 40 man roster reveals several names that could soon be replaced by more familiar, albeit much more expensive names as players prepare for the opening of camp next month. It would not be surprising to see such names as pitchers John Ennis and Anderson Garcia as well as outfielder T.J. Bohn soon moved from the roster if more familiar names like third baseman Pedro Feliz and/or pitchers Kris Benson and Kyle Lohse are added to the roster.

Yes, these are the names being whispered ever so softly by the Phillie brass, despite protestations to the contrary. The Phillie organization understands that there is currently a tiny "window of opportunity" for this club to maximize its chances at a World Series berth and seems bent on doing everything possible to insure that this window stays open as widely as possible.

There is little doubt that from Manager Charlie Manuel on up, a not so subtle uneasiness about the state of the hot corner position exists within the organization. The same can be said of the pitching staff, especially when it comes to the starting rotation. Oh, Manuel may wax poetic about the third base combination of Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs but privately he has made his thoughts quite clear. In a lineup of stars throughout the Phillie galaxy, a huge black hole at third base threatens to dim even the brightest lights within this star system.

Thus the whispers about one Pedro Feliz are becoming louder and more prevalent with each passing day. The Phils appear to have little interest in free agent Morgan Ensberg and remain apprehensive about the health of Chicago White Sox slugger Joe Crede. They have in recent days seen Scott Rolen and Troy Glaus switch uniforms, thus satisfying the hot corner needs of both the Cardinals and Blue Jays. Ditto the signing of center fielder Mike Cameron by the Milwaukee Brewers. This will allow Bill Hall to return to his familiar third base position.

With these moves, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers decision to cast their third base fates to either veteran Nomar Garciaparra or rookie Andy LaRoche, the potential future destination for Feliz has seemingly been reduced to either the San Francisco Giants or the Philadelphia Phillies. While a return to the Giants is not out of the question, logic dictates a move from one coast to the next for the power hitting third baseman.

Ironically enough, the departure of former Phillie center fielder Aaron Rowand to the Giants may assist the Phightins' in their pursuit of Pedro Feliz. It seems that the former Giants infielder/outfielder felt that the Giants seemed more interested in signing Rowand than they did in keeping one of their own, namely Pedro Feliz. Apparently, he was deeply hurt by this snub and is now quite reluctant to return to the Giants despite San Francisco's suddenly renewed interest in him.

He seems intrigued with the thought of signing with the Phillies on a one year deal with the hopes that his probable increased power numbers might translate into an even larger contract next off season. By most accounts, the Giants are currently dangling a two year offer at Feliz while the Phils are countering with a one year offer plus a player option for a second season. The numbers have not been announced but a good guess would be in the 12 million dollar range for two years.

Of course the mere mention of the name Pedro Feliz has caused apoplexy among a large contingent of Phillie phans who are unimpressed with his low OBP [on base percentage]. Truth be told, his numbers of less than a .300 OBP are among the lowest of any regular in baseball and this might indeed cause one to ponder whether or not the acquisition should be dismissed out of hand.

Yet, a closer examination of the player reveals several reasons to consider the short term signing as a wise investment for the team. For one thing, Pedro Feliz is an outstanding defensive third baseman, something the Phils have not had since the departure of Placido Polanco. With Feliz at third and Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, the left side of the club's infield would be among the best in baseball defensively.

Gone would be the days of replacing either Helms or Dobbs with a solid glove like Abraham Nunez. Instead, Dobbs would instantly become a standout member of a suddenly deep and productive bench while Helms could then be moved for a relief pitcher. While there is little evidence that this deal is still on the table, Helms was once highly coveted by new Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, and a Helms for reliever Kyle Farnsworth deal was discussed at length. Perhaps this deal could be revived should the Phils sign Feliz.

Offensively, it would behoove Philadelphia to bat Feliz in the eighth spot in the order. The former Giants third baseman has been a consistent 20-plus home run hitter for the past four seasons but was regularly stationed in the middle of the order in San Francisco. This undoubtedly contributed to his low base on balls totals and hurt his OBP.

From the eighth spot in the batting order, he would not only protect catchers Carlos Ruiz or Chris Coste hitting directly in front of him, but would draw more walks in front of the pitcher's spot in the batting order. This would probably cause his OBP to rise to a more acceptable plus .300 number. He would also become probably the only 20-plus home run hitting threat in baseball hitting eighth in the batting order.

An everyday lineup of Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz and Pedro Feliz would be versatile, productive and balanced. It would feature six hitters with 20-plus home run potential and become even more of an opposing pitcher's nightmare than was last seasons Phillie lineup.

With Greg Dobbs moved to the bench and Wes Helms dealt away, the Phillie backups would feature Dobbs, Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett, So Taguchi and either Jenkins or Werth. Again...versatile, productive and balanced. Add to this mix the possibility that Chris Snelling will stay healthy and the team's bench becomes even deeper.

Yes, the signing of Feliz on a short term deal makes abundant sense and if it happens, the team becomes just a bit stronger than before, the acknowledged goal of the ever tinkering Pat Gillick. However, this is unlikely to be his final move, though it probably will complete his everyday lineup.

The acquisition of pitching, pitching and more pitching has been the mantra in Philadelphia since the season ended and nothing has yet changed despite the addition of reliever Brad Lidge and other less notable names during the winter. Even with Lidge added to the mix, and with the expected return to good health of relievers Tom Gordon and Ryan Madson, the Phillie starting rotation still needs help and said help could be soon on the way.

This week the Phillies will once again watch free agent hurler Kris Benson throw and if they like what they see, watch for him to shortly thereafter sign a one year contract with the club. The team scouted Benson in December and felt that he was progressing nicely but were reluctant to sign him until he showed continued improvement from last season's arm surgery. Reportedly, Benson was throwing free and easy in December but his fastball topped out at 70 MPH and the Phils told him to continue to rehab.

Although there were as many as nine teams scouting the lanky righty, it makes abundant sense for him to sign a one year deal with the Phillies. He has long made his home on the East Coast and knows the National League well after long stints in Pittsburgh and New York. The opportunity to pitch with a lineup as deep and skilled as Philadelphia will also play positively into the mix.

If Benson signs with the Phillies, he will compete for a starting spot in the rotation with Adam Eaton and Rule 5 lefty Travis Blackley. The first four spots in the rotation seem comfortably manned by Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick and veteran Jamie Moyer but the final spot in the rotation remains completely in flux at present. Thus, the Benson audition continues along with the word that Kyle Lohse is considering returning to the Phillies after all.

The possible return of Lohse on a three year deal would be a complete surprise for several reasons. For one thing, his agent Scott Boras has long had a very contentious relationship with the Phillies, based on his non-negotiations with former GM Ed Wade concerning J.D. Drew. For another, Lohse and Boras were quite adamant in their desire for a five year/50 million dollar deal. They have since lowered their demands to four years/40 million dollars. Should they alter their stance yet one more time they could very well strike a deal with the Phillies.

Kyle Lohse is an interesting hurler. He seems a perplexing contradiction of strengths and weaknesses and the very consistency of these contradictions have followed him throughout his career. His strengths are his ability to pitch consistently into the seventh inning of most starts. This was quite appealing to the Phillies and, indeed, they won nine of the eleven games that he started. He also is a durable hurler and can be counted on for about 30 starts and 180 innings per season. Again, this plays well for the Phillies, a team that could well have a deep back end of the bullpen this year.

He also throws strikes, has playoff experience in both the American and National League and is one of the better free agent hurlers not yet 30 years of age. For three seasons, the Phillies are unlikely to find a better pitcher on the free agent market.

However, his weaknesses are equally pronounced. He remains nothing more than a .500 pitcher to date with a maddening propensity for giving up the home run at the worst possible moment. It should be recalled that Lohse surrendered the grand slam to Colorado Rockies second baseman Kaz Matsui during the second game of the playoffs last October. This blow turned the entire series around and eventually doomed the Phillie fate in the series.

Still, it would appear that the going up may well be worth the going down with Lohse and if he is agreeable to three years, a deal might soon get done. This would also be a personal triumph for Gillick in Philadelphia's long adversarial relationship with agent Scott Boras. It should be recalled that Boras had such a disdain for the city of Philadelphia and its baseball team that he refused to even allow former Phillie hurler, Kevin Millwood, to negotiate a long term deal with Wade and Company back in 2004.

The signing of Lohse could produce a long overdue thaw in the relationship between the unpopular agent and the team that occasionally desires to negotiate with his long list of talented clients. This can only be good for the Phillies. Stay tuned.

Pedro Feliz. Kris Benson. Kyle Lohse. A potential return for Wes Helms. Place these names aside the current Phillie roster and it would be difficult to believe the team is incapable of competing for a World Series berth in 2008. If this should happen, patience will have been the key.

Philadelphia has never been known as a patient place. Losing consistently will do that to almost any city and certainly to one as passionate and demanding in their love of sport as the City of Brotherly Love. Into their sporting den entered a general manager so well known for patience that he was accordingly named "Stand Pat." The combustion was as predictable as the possible results.

Benjamin Franklin, born and bred a Bostonian, but bred a Philadelphian if ever there was one, once mused that "he that can have patience, can have what he will." Pat Gillick wants what Philadelphia wants, one more championship before he retires. It would be ironic indeed if in following Franklin's sage advice, he finally gave Phillie phans what they have up to now found so painful to swallow...delayed gratification.

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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