Saturday, August 21, 2004

Do Something!

While Eric Milton has quietly assumed the role of staff ace his future status with the team slipped under my radar. I was unaware he becomes eligible for free agency after this season so it was encouraging to read in a piece by Todd Zolecki in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer that Milton likes the city and his teammates and seems disposed to returning. Re-signing him should and probably will be the Phillies top priority. Subtract Milton from the rotation and the Phillies would have trouble contending in the Arizona Fall League.

As long as we are retooling my faulty radar it should be noted there are a number of other potential free agents Zolecki mentions in his article:

[GM Ed]Wade's list of free agents includes catcher Todd Pratt, infielders Tomas Perez and Placido Polanco, outfielder Doug Glanville, and pitchers Milton, Cory Lidle, Kevin Millwood, Roberto Hernandez, Rheal Cormier and Todd Jones. Pitcher Felix Rodriguez has a player option after the season. Pitcher Billy Wagner has a club option.

I have mentioned most of these players in other posts and won’t repeat myself here other than to say out of this list Tomas Perez would be my other top priority. He is an invaluable player especially given the fragile health of David Bell and the likely departure of Polanco.

All of these potential roster comings and goings raise another important issue. An expectation has grown in Philadelphia over the last month or so that something, anything, must be done to placate the fans who, after all, were virtually promised a contender this season. When teams fall flat on their collective faces as the local edition has clearly done the fans demand change. Much of the attention has been justifiably focused on Ed Wade, Larry Bowa and his coaching staff; indeed, the national media has established a de facto death watch for the manager and general manager.

Closer to home bloggers, talk-show hosts and their callers, TV commentators and most cab drivers and hoagie shop patrons want heads to roll. The situation is classic: the fans want action and ownership feels the pressure to take it even though it is unclear what can be accomplished in the short term. Meanwhile the usual excuses are being offered daily in the clubhouse as players decline to comment on upper management’s status or culpability while insisting they have to “get it done” on the field. The GM, under fire himself, provides luke warm support for the manager, who in turn has uncharacteristically thrown up his hands as if to say, “What else can I do at this point?”

One note that slips into the discussion more frequently is talk of the absence of any clubhouse leader. Many observers pine for the days of Darren Daulton, the catcher on the ’93 pennant winner who was known to get into other players’ faces when called for and who commanded respect from one and all. Various candidates for the job on the current club are disinclined or unsuited for the task. One who seemed to have some leadership credibility, Ricky Ledee, was reluctantly traded on July 30th. Whether or not there is much merit to the notion that grown men need this sort of guidance is beside the point. Outsiders are convinced they do; thus, we are back to square one with the many members of the media and most of the fans clamoring for action.

Whatever course of action management does take in the near term one thing remains clear: there are so many areas of dysfunction and underperformance on this club no single decision will right the ship immediately.

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