Now that the Phillies have hired a new manager they can move on to more pressing needs. Unfortunately, the likelihood they will fill them is very small. Indeed, if the Phillies aren’t bold, and the Manuel hiring clearly indicates they aren’t particularly so inclined, next year’s team may conceivably be worse than the disappointing 2004 installment.
The Phillies were never going to sign Carlos Beltran so the question remains who else is available? The answer appears to be no one among the free agents. While Maglio Ordonez is intriguing, he isn’t a centerfielder; moreover, he is coming off a knee injury that occurred in July and finally sidelined him from late August on.. Whatever the Phillies do, they must resist even the slightest inclination to rent someone for a season. That means the prospect of signing Steve Finley is remote and should remain so. Finley is 39 years old and no matter how much scouts rave about his physical condition, he is past his prime. Likewise, any interest in Kenny Lofton should also be assiduously avoided as I wrote once before, in late July, prior to the trading deadline. He is nearly 38 years old and, like Finley, his best years are clearly behind him.
Free agent pitchers are going to be hard to come by as well. Carl Pavano will receive a lot of attention from everyone coming off a season during which he went 18 – 8 with a 3.00 ERA.. Let us keep in mind, however, that he is a sub-500 career pitcher over eight seasons with a .421 ERA. Only twenty-eight years old, Pavano may be emerging as a quality pitcher but one season does not make him a certifiable number one starter. In this era of diminished expectations and performance for starting pitchers, however, it is noteworthy that Pavano will be in such demand. Another starter who interests the Phils is the Twins’ Brad Radke. A ten-year veteran, Radke is 127 – 118 with a 4.23 ERA. Radke isn’t a classic number one starter, either, but he would certainly help solidify the Phillies’ rotation.
That brings us to Eric Milton. A seven-year veteran, Milton is 71- 57 with a 4.76 ERA. The most troubling aspect of his game is well-known. Milton is a fly-ball pitcher in a ballpark that is unforgiving to fly-ball pitchers. Since Milton also yields a half a run a game more than Pavano and Radke, he is not likely to be the Phillies first choice among the available hurlers. The Phillies have made Milton an offer but he is on record as saying he wants to test the market.
Based on his last several starts with the Phillies, Cory Lidle will also probably receive some sort of offer. As a sinker-ball type pitcher, Lidle seems better suited to Citizens Bank Park than a lot of the available free agents. With career numbers of 57 – 51 and a .452 ERA he is also right in the middle of the pack.
The Phils still have the nucleus of a solid staff if Randy Wolf comes back from arm troubles, Vicente Padilla stays healthy and focused, Brett Myers benefits from a new pitching coach and learns to maintain his composure, and Gavin Floyd develops. These are all big “ifs” but none are beyond the realm of possibility. Padilla and Myers have the tools; they lack the maturity. Wolf is at a major crossroads. He was being touted last season as a number one starter, a challenge he was not up to. He must produce this season if the Phillies entertain any hopes of improving let alone contending.
If the Phillies cannot land a quality outfielder and starter during this off-season, what are a few of the bold moves they should consider? Listening to any reasonable offers for Pat Burrell and Jim Thome would be a good place to start. By “reasonable offers” I mean demonstrable and considerable young talent. Pat Burrell is never going to be the hitter everyone envisioned following the 2002 season. For two straight seasons he has looked completely lost at the plate more often than not. One bad season is an aberration; two are a pattern. If the Phils are satisfied with an outfielder who will hit between .250 - .260 and drive in 85 runs, they should keep him. If not, move him now while he retains some value and eat whatever portion of his salary is necessary.
Thome is a more difficult and controversial choice. Very popular and productive at times, he is coming off a second half of the season which saw his numbers decline precipitously. More troubling, perhaps, was his health. Though most of his injuries were “minor”, they hindered his performance from Spring training throughout the entire season. Thome, who will be 35 in August, 2005, is literally a big man and might not have the recuperative powers of somewhat smaller and younger. His huge contract would also be a major obstacle to moving him, but I imagine the Yankees would listen, especially with that short right porch beckoning. They alone could afford Thome, but what have they got to offer in the way of bodies? With Ryan Howard waiting in the wings (but not for long), dealing Thome would not be a disaster, just a huge gamble. It won’t happen, of course, but it doesn’t cost anything to inquire.
Freeing up these two salaries would give the Phillies are lot more leverage in bringing in some pitching help. Lest everyone out there think I have completely taken leave of my senses, I acknowledge it would also cost them 189 rbi’s.