I’ve sung at full volume on occasion in the chorus of lamentations all season and am not about to recant (pun intended) just because the Phils won two straight games at Pro Players Stadium. The Phillies broke my heart just as much as the next fan. They entered the season with great hope and promise and proceeded to dash the former and renege on the latter. But enough expressions of grief; it’s time to look forward.
Management faces a number of difficult decisions in the coming months, not the least of which is what to do with Placido Polanco and Chase Utley. Utley has virtually disappeared since going through a torrid stretch in July, appearing only occasionally as a pinch hitter or fill-in for Jim Thome at first base. Larry Bowa figures Polanco is his starter and that starters don’t lose their jobs because of injury. I concur and would go a step further. I’d re-sign Polanco and keep him at second base.
Has anyone thought of giving Utley a trial in the outfield? Can that be any more hair-brained than sending Ryan Howard to Arizona with more than a first baseman’s mitt? Remember, Pat Burrell was drafted as a third baseman and he turned into a decent left fielder. The ideal infield next season would have Bell and Rollins on the left side and Polanco and Thome on the right. Tomas Perez would be the utility man. This alignment hinges on the outcome of the above-mentioned experiment; were it to fail, I would reluctantly agree to let Polanco go and insert Utley at second. Of course, all of this maneuvering may come to naught if Polanco decides to move on.
There are those who would argue Burrell has made a significant comeback; I am not among them. Though he is hitting nearly forty points above last season’s dismal figure with three more home runs and seventeen more rbi’s through Wednesday, Pat continues to look lost at the plate more often than not. If the Phillies feel he has made significant strides, they should consider trading him now while his value has risen. The chief obstacle to any deal will be his contract, which has four years left on it and calls for him to make $7 million in 2005.
Among current roster players Doug Glanville and Shawn Wooten will definitely be let go. Kevin Millwood, Rheal Cormier, Roberto Hernandez and Todd Jones will likely join them. Taken together they free up $16,300,000 in salaries; throw in Polanco and the figure nudges over $20 million, a total that wouldn’t buy more than a single more-or-less frontline player in today’s inflated market. Even the addition of Burrell’s salary would come with caveats; the Phils would no doubt be stuck with at least some of it even if they traded him, another factor making it likely Pat will still be here next year.
Mike Lieberthal’s late season surge has at least temporarily quieted the legions calling for his trade, but catchers at his “advanced” age have few upside years left. Still, look for Mike to be in Philadelphia next season. They simply do not have any other choice.
There isn’t enough money in the Phillies’ till or sufficient top quality hurlers available to solve all their pitching woes. Moreover, most if not all of the money that will be freed up by departures may be needed just to re-sign Eric Milton. Milton may have a high ERA and be a fly-ball, home run-prone pitcher working in a launching pad of a stadium, but he wins and he competes. Milton is certain to have many suitors and may be beyond the Phillies’ reach.