This morning I received a little missive in my inbox from the president of the Phillies.
Oh, it's not as if I think my little scribblings drew Dave Montgomery's attention away from his very important job of running the Phils, a team stuck in neutral for the better part of this millennium. Though we share the same alma mater, I don't even run into the guy at homecoming or even Ivy Day. Dave wouldn't know me from Terry Adams. Everyone on the Phils website mailing list got the same letter.
It's basically a request from the team not to throw in the towel on the 2006 season yet. The Phils brass took the inevitable and coincidentally crowd-pleasing step of letting go of their GM of eight years, Ed Wade, at the end of the season. The Phils inner circle must be kvelling that the Eagles are mere mortals this season, and they must be hoping no one jumps back on the hockey bandwagon by attending Flyer even though no one knows who's left on the team.
It's interesting that Montgomery's email comes a day after the Astros, the team that edged the Phils out of the playoffs on the last day of the season, made it to the World Series. While the Astros are girding their loins for the White Soxand we all know how painful that is, the Phils are looking for a new GM and are busy throwing whatever is not stapled down Billy Wagner's way.
It's encouraging that the prez supports the youth movement in Philly (i.e., Utley and Howard). However, the Phils' actions since their new-ballpark-inspired mini-renaissance started about three years ago belie these statements. The Phils like vets. The wooing of Wagner will bear this out.
On top of all the other hefty contracts that the team has taken on in the last few years (Thome, Bell, Lieberthal, Burrell, Abreu), they are likely to add a three (or so) year contract for something like $30 M to retain the services of a closer, very good closer, but still just a closer.
The Phils go into 2006 without a starting centerfielder, no set rotation behind Brett Myers, barely passable starters at third and behind the plate who are still getting hefty checks, and a huge issue at first. Really, especially what has been going on throughout the game the last few years, does it really matter if they don't have a top-line closer?
The crux of the Phils problem and the issue that will define the new GM's term at least at the onset, is who will play first base and what will be the ramifications of that decision. They would probably like to get rid of Jim Thome, his injury history, his contract, and his age in favor of Howard, who should probably be the NL's Rookie of the Year, but who can or would take a chance on Thome. Maybe the Yankees, but they just had their own high-paid and oft-injured first baseman work through his issues this year.
So Thome will probably have to be appointed the starting first baseman, at least if he's healthy. But Howard is apparently not a good enough defensive player to move to another position. They tried him in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League last year and had to abandon the experiment. Bill Jabba Conlin is promulgating moving Howard to left, Burrell to right, and Abreu to center. That would be a slighter larger gamble than moving Thome back to his original position, third base.
So maybe the Phils should trade Howard, right? Well, aside from what's left of the fanbase being up in arms, if Thome goes down again or demonstrates that he is no longer the same player he was, they won't have a viable alternative.
So they're stuck unless they can get the NL to adopt the DH rule. Maybe they'll just let both come to camp and hope that Thome gets injured. At least they can recoup some insurance money that way.
This team is a Ghordian knot with the first base situation being the tightest tied bow. I pity the next GM. The only thing he will have going for him is a built-in lame duck manager and ready-built scapegoat. Charlie Manuel was Wade's boy and is generally despised by the remaining fanbase. Manuel will be used as a body shield for the new GM, and more importantly, at least for them, the Phils' upper management. But he can be used just once.
The Phils are at a crossroads. They can embrace and expand upon the 2005 youth movement or they can continue throwing money at veterans. The first alternative is harder to predictwho knows how youngsters will perform. The second alternative, in my opinion, consigns the franchise to a downward spiral to the basement until they ride out the big contracts. The two things to watch are the Wagner re-signing and the Thome/Howard wrestling match at first.
On behalf of the entire Phillies organization, I want you to know that we appreciate your passion and loyalty. We know full well that without our fans there would be no Phillies baseball. I am writing to give you a brief update on ballclub matters.
As I am sure you are aware, a search for a new General Manager is underway. Our intent is to conduct a thorough and intensive search in order to select a General Manager who will get us to the postseason and bring a championship to Philadelphia.
We know that we have work to do this offseason. Getting the right person as the General Manager is step No. 1. From there, we need to make the necessary improvements to get our win total over 90 games, capture the division title, and play in the postseason.
Looking back on the 2005 season, although we didn't achieve our goals, we believe that there were very positive signs for the future. The players played hard to the very last day in Washington. They never gave up and battled to the end for a postseason spot. Some individual performances were outstanding. Jimmy Rollins' 36-game hitting streak during the pressure of a pennant race was a remarkable feat. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- two young players who excelled in clutch situations and fed off the energy of our passionate fans -- provided great excitement. Many other achievements and strengths could be mentioned, but we recognize there is more to do and we intend to do it.
Thank you for your support throughout the 2005 season and past seasons. Our entire organization is very appreciative of the dedication exhibited by Phillies fans. We will not take that for granted and we will work hard each and every day to earn and keep your support.
We look forward to providing you with further updates as we proceed during the offseason.