Sunday, March 11, 2007

Intradivisional Espionage

Lest we forget, there are other teams in baseball -- you know, those guys who come rolling into town to beat the bejeesus out of our pitchers. Over the last two seasons, the Nats have been a bit of a thorn in the Phillies side, and their inability to dominate inferior competition (9-10 in '06 and 11-8 in '05) has been one of the reasons they keep missing the playoffs by a handful of games. And when you're missing by just one game, as they did in '05, sometimes you can point to one pitch, even if it's in the opening days of the season.

They Phillies have made some major changes in their pitching staff. Unlike the Nats, though, they've hoarded actual major-league quality starting pitching. And with an offense built around four good bats: Rollins, Utley, Howard and Burrell, they've got a good chance as any to again lead the league in runs. With the instability in the Mets rotation, this might finally be the year the Phillies get over the hump. (At least that's what Jimmy Rollins told me!)

I recently exchanged questions with our friends from PhilliesFlow. I particularly like the parallels between the Ryans Howard and Zimmerman contracts.

1) How would you assess the job that GM Pat Gillick has done?

I think he's done a great job. When you look at the biggest weakness
on the team a year ago, the starting pitching, and compare it to the
depth the Phillies have in the rotation at this point it's a huge
improvement. He's also managed to overhaul the rotation without
giving away long contracts that are going to saddle the team for years
to come. The addition of [Wes] Helms is a gamble for a team with little
organizational depth at third, but one worth taking for a team that
hasn't had an answer at third base since Scott Rolen lost the staring
contest with Larry Bowa and headed to St Louis.

Under Gillick the Phillies have also been creative in trying to
improve their weak minor league system.

The Phils still have some problems that Gillick hasn't resolved. The
pen is a huge mess and Shane Victorino, a tremendous defensive
outfielder without the bat for the position, is penciled in to play
right field. The biggest change compared to recent administrations
may be that many fans now have confidence the weaknesses will be
addressed. The most exciting thing as a Phillies fan is how quickly
things have gone in the past year or so -- the Gillick plan is either
going to work or not, but we're not going to have to wait a long time
to find out.

2) Pat Burrell: Freedom-hating terrorist or Greatest American hero?
Do you think he finishes out his contract in Philly?

Two feet firmly in the Greatest American hero camp, but it's getting a
little lonely over here.

This may be an understatement that deserves it's own little category
along with "Britney Spears has made some odd life decisions of late",
but it's possible that Pat-the-Bat has alienated some members of the
Philadelphia media for reasons that have nothing to do with his play
on the field. The fans have eaten it up and taken it to a whole new
level. Part of the problem is when he's in a funk at the plate he
looks like he has about as much chance of doing something other than
strike out as he does of teaching a turnip to yodel. It makes for
some ugly at-bats in front of a Phillies' fan base who thinks 1993 was
a long, long time ago and is just looking for a reason to fire up the
E-A-G-L-E-S cheer.

Burrell was victimized by some curious decisions by [Manager Charlie] Manuel last
season, including, but not limited to, hitting Jeff Conine fifth for
part of the season and frequently removing Burrell for defensive
replacements, costing him a significant number of at-bats that held
down his home run and RBI numbers. Despite the ugly at-bats I expect
him to continue to put up good offensive numbers and finish out '07
and '08 in Philly.

I'm pretty sure he does hate freedom, though.

3) What do you make of the Phillies decision to renew Ryan Howard at
such a high amount ($900K), and do you think they'll be able to work out a
long-term deal? Should they?

Interesting that you think the Phils gave Howard a lot of money, cause
pretty much everyone in Philadelphia is ready to storm the Bastille.
You can see where the Phillies are coming from to some degree --
unless they trade him or choose not to re-sign him he is under their
control for the next five years. Howard's '06 season was phenomenal
and he deserves to be paid for it. He will.

I don't think that the Phils need to go nuts with the number of years
they give Howard. 2011 is a long way off. On the other hand they
should definitely work out a way to pay him a lot more than one-eighth
of what they're shelling out for Adam Eaton. Soon.

I think one thing that may go unnoticed by casual fans is that Howard
and [Chase] Utley are not particularly young. Howard will turn 28 in
November, Utley 29 in December. Jimmy Rollins is just 20 days older
than Utley.

4) Over six of the last seven years, the team has won in the mid to
high 80s and hasn't made the playoffs. That has to be frustrating as
a fan, especially because you can point to one or two ABs in the
season, but at the same time, it's certainly something to consistently
win that many games. Was it just dumb luck that has kept you out? Do
you think that that's going to change this year?

The Phillies are going to become the first professional franchise to
lose 10,000 games this year -- they are at 9,956 going into the
season. It's a little tough to feel like the problem has just been a
bad hop now and again.

On the other hand, there are people in Philadelphia who are sure that
the foul ball Utley hit against the Nats late last year is the
greatest injustice perpetrated on the American people since they faked
those moon landings back in the 60's. With ten games left in the
season last year, the Phillies needed to outplay either the Dodgers or
the Padres to get into the post-season. They didn't. The Dodgers and
the Padres both played great and the Phils were the worst of those
three teams over that stretch. They actually played well, just not
well enough. It's hard to find someone else to blame it on.

I don't think the team as it exists today has the pen or the right
field solution they need to make the post-season. But I think the
Phillies are going to fix it, and the depth of their rotation will be
sufficient to finally get them into the playoffs. There are surely
injuries coming -- you have to believe that [Cole] Hamels and Flash Gordon in
particular are at a high risk to see time on the DL in '07. How the
Phillies respond if they do may be critical, but again, for many there
is newfound faith in the front office.

5) What's your opinion of the frequently outspoken Dallas Green?

Phillies' organizational policy apparently requires them to
communicate with their players through the media, sometimes around
issues like trying to convince players to be flexible with their
no-trade clause. It's a not uncommon approach, but it sometimes
yields unusual results like last season when they spent much of the
year bemoaning how Pat Burrell couldn't protect Ryan Howard and then
seemed befuddled that nobody wanted to trade for him. Green sometimes
takes a hit as a voice for at least a segment of the Phillies' front
office -- I don't think they're going to change the policy and someone
has got to put the message out there. I don't care a lot who it is.
It is somewhat telling that the guy they keep around to remind people
of the team's most recent glory days is going to turn 73 this year.


  • Those are some really good answers. I actually think that Gillick is one of the finest GM's of my lifetime. He wins everywhere. You have to give him his due. Although Helms is not the answer at third. Maybe we can trade them Ronnie Belliard?

    Burrell, on the other hand, is a terrible outfielder. He's proved that time and time again at RFK. When Soriano is playing better than him in left, by May 2006, Pat has no reason to be pissed at Conine coming in as a defensive replacement.

    I can't wait for The Phillies to lose their 10,000 game. Only The Mets would make me happier.

    Obviously, Phillie Fans are worried the team is NOT going to pay the freight for Ryan Howard. I'll take him, no problem.

    By Blogger Screech's Best Friend, at 3/11/2007 6:36 PM  

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