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In the Country of the Blind...
2006-12-08 21:08
by Mike Carminati

The one-eyed man will be King in the country of the blind only if he arrives there in full possession of his partial faculties—that is, providing he is perfectly aware of the precise nature of sight and does not confuse it with second sight ... nor with madness.
—Angela "Don't Call Me Gary" Carter

The Phils finally made a move that made some sense this offseason, at least from one perspective. With a rotation full of tail-end starters and second-year phenom Cole Hamels, the Phils were begging for a reliable starter.

They didn't help their cause by signing Adam Eaton, a quintessential number five pitcher, for the astronomical sum of $32 M over four years. Not only did they bypass pitchers of better quality, they drove up the price tag for the more valuable pitchers by overpaying for Eaton early in the free agent season.

The one piece that didn't fit into the rotation was the once-heralded, now-debased Gavin Floyd, who failed in two tryouts the last two seasons in the bigs (1-2, 10.04 ERA in 2005, 4-3, 7.29 ERA this past season) and will be a seemingly ancient 24 in 2007.

Rumor had Floyd being packaged with 36-year-old Jon Leiber, whose innings were severely down and whose ERA was severely up in 2006, in a deal to get corner outfielder Kevin Mench and defrocked closer Derrick Turnbow from the Brewers. That deal was supposed to follow a deal fro Freddy Garcia with former White Sock Aaron Rowand supposedly as bait.

The deal instead ended up being Floyd and a player to be named, who is unofficially officially Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez came out of the White Sox organization and came to the Phils in the Rowand trade. He looks like a very good power-pitching prospect, has struck out more than a man an inning throughout his professional career (10.31per nine innings), is just 20, and was un Double-A last year. He seems to have a great shot at moving up to the majors late this season or early next season.

The Phils in turn get a reliable, durable starter in Garcia with one year and $10 M left on his contract. One year from a pitcher who is on a stratum just below ace for two potentially pretty good pitching prospects? Sounds like a bad deal, right? Especially, if the Sox can do their usual stellar job of developing young pitching prospects. Can anyone say Millwood-for-Estrada?

But I submit that given the Phils track record in developing young pitchers—witness the stellar job they have done so far with Floyd himself—had they kept these two, they would have been another Pat Combs and Carlton Loewer. Therefore, getting anything in exchange for them is a plus.

Garcia could move into the number two spot and Hamels could blossom into an ace. If so, the Phils will have a solid rotation in 2007. At least that seems to be Pat Gillick's plan. Then again, Gillick is on record saying that the Phils would compete until at leats 2008. Of course, that was before the Phils ended up getting back into the wild card hunt this past season.

Gillick is my one-eyed man in the parable cited above. He is a good baseball man, who has made some deals that have been quite impressive, but I have to say that about two-thirds of his moves leave me scratching my head. Why would anyone sign Wes Helms as anything but a fallback guy, especially at third?

The plan behind the plate seems to change on a daily basis: either it's rookie Carlos Ruiz with 35-year-old, second-year man Chris Coste backing him up or they are getting a veteran backup for Ruiz or they are signing a veteran like Benjie Molina to tend to the catching duties until or if ever Ruiz is ready.

The team now has two center fielders (Rowand and Shane Victorino) and have been desperately trying to trade their only corner outfielder, Pat Burrell. Burrell started the offseason wildly overpriced with two years and $27M left on his era-defining contract. However, with the ever-escalating free agent salaries—especially J.D. Drew's five-year, $70M, Scot Boras-aided deal from Boston—Burrell seems somewhat reasonably priced.

They'll have two backup players platooning at third and will apparently have to resort to the ever-streaky Jimmie Rollins in the leadoff spot. Their free-agency depleted bullpen is now down to aging, overpriced closer Tom Gordon, long reliever Ryan Madson (himself the subject of trade rumors), setup man Geoff Geary, and an assortment of youngsters (Matt Smith, Clay Condrey, Fabio Castro, plus two Rule Five draftees).

So Garcia helps set up the rotation, the biggest problem the Phils have had in recent years. It's issue number one out of about a dozen to be fixed this offseason. It's a step in the right direction in a journey of a thousand steps, or in the Phillies' case, missteps.

Should the Phils figure out the Gordian knot behind the plate and pick up another corner outfielder, trade Rowand for a veteran catcher or some bullpen help, maybe the Garcia trade will be the launching pad for their first playoff appearance in 14 seasons.

Then again, this is the Phillies we are talking about. Given that, the odds are that Garcia will have an unremarkable season and then leave as a free agent, Gonzalez and Floyd will blossom in Chicago, the Phils will not resolve the laundry list of issues, and they will end up at or about .500 again.

Still they are the best team in this once proud sports city. When a USFL team (the 1984 Stars) is your last champion, you've got problems.

2006-12-08 22:55:17
1.   das411
Rowand and Lieber for Wilkerson and Otsuka.

and the Phantoms are our last champion.

2006-12-21 21:57:39
2.   sanchez101
"astronomical sum of $32 M over four years..."
- eaton is certainly overrated, but this isn't 2004. $8m per is actually on the low end for FA starters, and when was the last time a reasonably-persued starter signed for less than a three-year commitment?

It seems like the vast majority of deals this season, especially pitchers deals, are being described as overpaid and too big and too long. How can that be true? Either all the GM's have suddenly gotten stupid, or the market has changed. I'll take the latter.

The Phillies didn't drive up the price of pitching this offseason. The new CBA did.

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