Thursday, September 02, 2004

GM's and Managers To Be

When the Phillies owners finally face reality and begin casting about for a new GM, they needn’t look any further than their own Mike Arbuckle, Asst. General Manager and Director of Scouting and Player Development. And they’d better not tarry. Arbuckle, widely respected throughout baseball, was seriously considered for the GM position in Boston last year before the Red Sox chose Theo Epstein. As they say on draft day, he isn’t likely to be on the board by the second round.

Despite his Assistant GM title Arbuckle should not necessarily be tarred with the same brush as his boss, GM and trader far-from-extraordinaire Ed Wade, when accounts are settled at the end of the current dismal season. While one would assume Arbuckle was consulted on the disastrous trades Wade engineered over the last few months (Todd Jones and Cory Lydle in particular) it doesn’t necessarily follow he would have made them himself.

Indeed, Arbuckle appears to be a far better judge of talent than his superiors. He is widely credited with having revitalized the Phillies woefully depleted farm system after taking over as scouting director in 1992. As chief overseer of the drafts, Arbuckle’s record has been impressive. Among those chosen during his tenure were J.D. Drew, Scott Rolen, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Randy Wolf, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd. Neither the decision to draft Drew, admittedly risky with his agent Scott Boras insisting beforehand his client would never sign with the Phils, nor the departure of Rolen after several apparently unhappy years in Philadelphia should be laid at Arbuckle’s feet.

The rest of Arbuckle’s choices have formed the nucleus of the current team, picked by many to contend for the division title prior to this season; and until Wade began an almost wholesale trading of prospects for questionable pitching help, the farm system assembled by Arbuckle and his staff was still reasonably well regarded. Now it is nearly empty behind Coles, Hamel and Ryan Howard.

A shrewd GM can make a tremendous difference in building and managing a farm system, assembling the big league team and in maintaining the right chemistry on that club. Given the responsibility, the judgment here is Arbuckle is up to these tasks.

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Former Phillies third baseman and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was coaxed out of retirement to manage the Phillies Single-A Clearwater Thrashers this season. From all accounts he didn’t enjoy the work. By his own admission he lost money doing it instead of other lucrative baseball-related activities. Inquirer columnist Jim Salisbury quotes Schmidt as saying "’I can't devote my life to my job. I need freedom to say 'yes' if someone wants me to speak in Los Angeles and the fee is attractive. People might think this is the wrong thing to say, but it's been tough for me to take this job financially. I've given up a lot of appearance income. I couldn't take this job again. I need to be out earning.’”

In the same column Schmidt did leave the door ajar somewhat should he ever receive a call from some major league club regarding a managerial opening. “'If I got a call in the off-season from someone interested in talking to me about a major-league job, I'd have to think long and hard about it. I think I could do it, and do a hell of a job. But that's all I'm going to say.'"

My advice to Schmidt is to forget about managing altogether, especially the Philadelphia opening that looms. He would never be comfortable with the demands in the clubhouse, from players or the media, nor would he long tolerate the heat from the fans. On numerous occasions he didn’t handle these pressures all that well as a player. True, he produced numbers that landed him in the Hall on the first ballot and recognition as perhaps the greatest all-around third baseman in history, but he rode quite an emotional rollercoster getting there. He would like the pressure even less as a manager, especially with the current underachieving bunch at his disposal. Take the fee in LA, Mike. Every time.

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In last night’s 7-2 loss to Atlanta, Vicente Padilla’s performance once again underscored the profound problems within the Phillies pitching staff. Larry Bowa was quoted in this morning’s Inquirer as saying Padilla loses his concentration once he gets into trouble; on the other hand, catcher Mike Lieberthal said in the same article he didn’t notice anything unusual on that front, at least not last night. One batter in particular highlights the problem but fails to identify the source. With two men on base (a hit and a hit batter), Padilla hung a curve to pitcher Jared Wright, who singled in a run. TV analyst Larry Andersen immediately and correctly wondered aloud what a pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90’s was doing hanging a curve to his opposite number. The larger question remains: who called the pitch? Bowa? Lieberthal? Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan? And why didn’t Padilla shake it off? Isn’t anyone thinking out there?

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