CD's Connect The Dots...Best For The Industry

Good will is a variable and unpredictable trait and must be earned. The Phillies have done much to dampen the good will built from their heroic play last September with a seeming lack of regard for the very phan base that gave them that good will. Fear not, loyal phans, and know that it is all in the interests of doing...what's best for the industry.

Defining moments are sometimes difficult to measure, but many astute followers of Philadelphia Phillies baseball are of the opinion that the end of the good times came almost immediately after slugger Ryan Howard stepped into the arbitration room and decided to do battle with the club's organizational higher ups.

In the end, it mattered little whether or not Howard won the case, which he did to the tune of a $10 million dollar contract for the 2008 season. The shot had already been fired across the bow as far as the team was concerned, and it seems as if the entire organization has been reeling ever since. The effects of this case have certainly carried over into the season, with not only the team, but the player struggling in its aftermath.

And if Assistant General Manager Mike Arbuckle is to believed, and there is no reason to think otherwise, things are unlikely to change anytime soon despite the cherished and long awaited "window of opportunity" season that had finally arrived after far too many years lost in the wilderness.

The question came recently in a local Philadelphia newspaper blog, a typical question and answer session featuring someone from the organization, in this case Arbuckle, and area fans who write in with their questions. One in particular was quite revealing if at first glance quite innocuous. It involved the signing of draft picks and the Phillies seeming resistance to "break slot" and offer more money to top notch and often difficult to sign amateur draft picks.

Now, it should be noted that there is no written rule concerning the monetary slotting of amateur draft picks, merely a gentleman's agreement among MOST of the teams within major league baseball to adhere to this unwritten rule. The key word is MOST, because teams like the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels have made no effort to hide their disdain for this rule and ignore it whenever they feel it is in their best interests to do so.

Of course the Phillies, ever the good and loyal soldiers, have followed the rule almost to the letter [though it is unwritten!] and have in some cases lost out on several top draft picks because they refused to break slot. Certainly the most celebrated case involved star outfielder J.D. Drew in 1997, who remained unsigned through the entire process and eventually reentered the draft and signed within days with the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that successfully "broke slot."

Other notable lost picks who now seem perched on the ledge of major league success include pitcher Greg Reynolds, arguably one of the best prospects in the entire Colorado Rockies system, outfielder Jordan Parraz with Houston, outfielder Aga Barto, a collegiate star and future top draft pick now performing at Tulane University and lefty Joe Saunders, a solid starting pitcher with the Angels.

In all of these cases, and in several more, it finally came down to dollars and sense, with the Phillies a few dollars too short and a whole lot of nonsense in their reasoning. Still, it was something that mostly festered below the surface, and was usually only discussed by the true die-hard Phillie phanatic inclined to understand every nuance involved in the day-to-day operations of the club. They would constantly bemoan the lost picks, and the seeming penny wise, pound foolish ways of the team that they loved.

This all changed this week when Mike Arbuckle answered the question publicly about the team's philosophy concerning the signing of draft picks and the difference between them and alleged rogue franchises like the Yankees and Tigers. Amazingly, he not only acknowledged that the Phillies were a "club that tries to do what is best for the industry" but then added further salt to the wounds by adding that "I do think there is something to be said for trying to do what's best for the industry."

Now, at first glance the uninformed might nod and say how nice it is that our Philadelphia Phillies are such wonderful team players and should be applauded for this. However, this short-sighted and total regard for the best interests of the industry of baseball almost completely ignores the best interests of the Philadelphia Phillies and its loyal paying customers, the fans.

What exactly is in their best interest? A team that regularly competes for a championship, something that management has promised every time they raise ticket prices, or a team that will follow the best interests of the industry, regardless of the fact that many teams refuse to do so and that said best interests almost guarantees continued mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

Further, just what exactly is Philadelphia's role in doing what is in the best interests of baseball. It would seem that the team can further the best interests of the sport by offering the fourth largest fan base in the nation a strong, entertaining and competitive baseball team and nothing less! This can only be done by attempting to procure the best available talent by any means legally, and the draft was designed over 40 years ago specifically with this in mind.

Arbuckle's comments will reverberate throughout the Phillie Community once they are exposed for what they appear to almost complete disregard for the very fans that they wish to woo. And, make no mistake, this fan base has for the most part been a skeptical group as a whole for quite some time with continued accusations that ownership would never spend the money necessary to put a true championship team on the field.

Defenders, and they are equally vocal, have always insisted that once the pieces were in proper place, ownership would quickly step up to the plate and put the finishing touches to complete such a championship masterpiece. For these defenders, 2008 was their true test case. Not since the days of Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and Bob Boone has PhillieLand had such an imposing and talented cast of characters.

The current Philadelphia Phillies roster reads like a genuine Who's Who List of potential major league all-star candidates. Reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins. Former MVP Ryan Howard. Potential future MVP Chase Utley. Slugging outfielder Pat Burrell. Star pitchers Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and Brad Lidge. Solid foot soldiers like Shane Victorino, Jamie Moyer, Geoff Jenkins, Jayson Werth and J.C. Romero.

Yes, this is a club worth celebrating but still somewhat flawed. The pitching staff has been performing better than advertised but few expect this to continue. Clearly, the team needed, and still needs at least one more starting pitcher, and a lefty out of the bullpen would be a nice addition also. Yet reports that free agent starter Kyle Lohse was rebuffed when he offered to resign with the Phightins' for a mere 4.5 million dollars on a one-year deal merely serve to reconfirm what the critics continue to insist, that management is less interested in winning than in the bottom line profits of the club.

Mike Arbuckle's recent answer to a very pointed and intelligent question merely add fuel to this smoking gun theory and offer little hope that things will ever change unless management someday does. As previously mentioned, the pall that currently envelops the club seemed to cast its shadow on the day that Howard and the team went to arbitration and the slugger's winning of the case only seemed to add fuel to the fire of inertia within the team ever since.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Kyle Lohse was turned down by the Phillies merely days after Howard's arbitration award and now there are rumors that the club was so stung by the decision that it may affect their ability to bring in solid reinforcements at the July trading deadline should they be available and necessary. This cannot be good news for Phillie fans.

On the field, it has basically been more of the same for the team that never seems to show up for baseball till May. Disheartened by the loss of speedy top of the lineup players Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, the club wasted several solid pitching efforts by consistently hitting poorly in the clutch and playing some of the worst fundamental defense since the woebegone days of Frank Luchessi in the early 1970s.

Largely forgotten already was the stunning and largely successful September race to the division championship last year which left most local fans more excited and anticipatory than they had been in decades. Instead, this has been replaced by an attitude of "the more things change, the more they stay the same" for this seemingly cursed and somewhat dysfunctional organization.

Certainly, all has not been complete gloom and doom for the Phillies, and nowhere does it dictate that things cannot quickly and efficiently turn around for the team. Left fielder Pat Burrell, in possibly his swan song season with the team, has opened the campaign with a very impressive display of hitting prowess, precisely the kind predicted for him when he was the top draft pick in the nation back in the summer of 1998.

Top of the rotation hurlers Cole Hamels and Brett Myers have largely been as solid as advertised and the bullpen brigade of Romero, Tom Gordon, Rudy Seanez and Brad Lidge has been even better than hoped. Second baseman Chase Utley still performs like the best middle infielder in baseball and outfielder Jayson Werth looks like he might just become the best acquisition of the Pat Gillick era. Still, these are the exceptions that appear to prove the rule, in order to keep from falling back, you must continue to lean forward.

Speaking of Gillick, he has been strangely silent through most of the month, leading to continued speculation that he is becoming less involved in the day-to-day operations of the club and instead has entrusted Arbuckle and fellow Assistant GM Ruben Amaro with more of the daily routines of operating a major league franchise.

It will be little surprise if Amaro is eventually entrusted with Gillick's current job and should that happen, more of the status quo can be expected. Amaro is not only a protégé of Gillick but of former Phillie GM Ed Wade and has shown no inclination to differ from their philosophies on how to do business.

Still, be it Amaro, Arbuckle or an as yet unannounced future candidate behind Door Number three, the chances are that for many Phillie phans, continued frustration will be front and center when discussing the aspirations for their favorite baseball nine. Better they take heart from the wise words of Benjamin Franklin when discussing the dangers of blindly following the industry.

The sage philosopher once quipped that "Industry need not wish, and he that lives upon hopes will die fasting. There are no gains without pains." Perhaps, it might well behoove Philadelphia's baseball management team to listen to the words of Franklin instead of routinely and foolishly doing...what's best for the industry.

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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