Friday, August 20, 2004

Too Many Holes

Next year officially arrived yesterday afternoon as the Phillies limped out of Citizens Bank Park losers of seven straight games and nine of ten overall on their just completed home stand. The latter figure represents a new club record in domestic futility.

The rebuilding process that began in the late ‘90’s can be pronounced a failure; the rebuilding process that must begin immediately may not produce a winner either. This much is clear: the Phillies have too many weaknesses to contend and not enough leverage to do much about it.

Consequently, radical measures are called for and on this front a few bold initiatives are in order. First, the Phillies don’t have many prospects in the minors other team’s covet and those they do possess are untouchable; therefore, they should trade Pat Burrell and Brett Myers. Neither of them will flourish in Philadelphia if anywhere. Burrell’s contract will be a major obstacle to moving him, but his value, such as it is, will not increase going forward so the time to act is now. Myers may fulfill his promise some day but do not count on it. He is neither bright nor patient enough to get by on raw ability alone. Together these two will at a minimum bring some very good prospects to the Phillies, but timing is everything in their cases. Another mediocre season from both and the potential newcomers will be of equally diminished value.

The areas of greatest need for the Phillies right now are catcher, center fielder, then pitching. Notice the vectors here. Yes indeed, straight up the middle is where they are weakest. Mike Lieberthal’s greatest liability may turn out to be handling pitchers not failing to hit with runners in scoring position, a failure most of these Phillies can be said to be guilty of. Neither Marlon Byrd nor any committee the Phils throw out there in center field are ever going to be the answer either.

The infield can be said to be set though again there are weaknesses. David Bell’s health will remain a concern for the rest of his career. Jimmy Rollins may not wish to remain once he becomes eligible for free agency down the road. Chase Utley will replace Placido Polanco, who will surely escape at the first opportunity once the current season ends. Jim Thome is set at first base. No one seems willing to acknowledge Jim is getting older and has suffered a number of nagging small injuries. This isn’t an infield that reminds you of the Big Red Machine, the Orioles in the late ‘60’s or early ‘70’s or the Cardinals of right now. It is a decent infield period.

In the outfield only Bobby Abreu is set in right; the other positions are wide open, especially if the team moves Burrell.

Pitching is a huge question mark going forward even when one factors in highly touted prospects Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd. Brett Myers was a highly touted prospect, too. Enough said on that subject. Randy Wolf is never likely to flourish in Citizens Bank Park. He is a fly ball pitcher in a park when routine outs almost everywhere else leave this yard in a hurry. Vicente Padilla may have the best pure stuff on the club according to Lieberthal but he cannot get by on that alone. Kevin Millwood is unlikely to pitch in Philadelphia again but his stock is so diminished by his mediocre two-year stint here he may not find many takers. Nevertheless, in the final analysis there is always a market for starting pitching. Look no further than Philadelphia, which acquired Paul Abbott and Cory Lidle.

Eric Milton may be the lone starter with much of a future here and he isn’t without his limitations either. Chief among these is his tendency to give up the long ball [see Randy Wolf].

The relief corps is too frightening to contemplate. It may be they were too overworked in the early season and ran out of gas as the literal heat was turned up, but one suspects there are more issues here than just fatigue. Yesterday’s ugly loss to Houston was a perfect example of implosion on a grand scale. Everyone who came in surrendered home runs or extra base hits and suddenly a big lead in the later innings turned into another ugly defeat. Naming names is pointless at this juncture; none of the current relievers are reliable anymore.

As for closers, I have said many times on this blog Billy Wagner is the single biggest disappointment of the year and despite recent statements by him that he is willing to come back to Philadelphia next year I cannot believe he won’t take the first good offer to move on.

The Phils face a daunting task and, frankly, there are far too many holes to fill in one or two seasons. It wasn’t that long ago they seemed to have a plan that had worked in various forms in Cleveland and elsewhere. Groom young players, acquire a few more and sign them to long-term contracts thus solidifying the nucleus. Where did it all go wrong?

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