Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Before Cutting Ties, Gillick owes Manuel a Move

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

I prescribe to Philadelphia Daily News columnist Rich Hofmann's proclamation on Monday's Daily News Live, just hours after the Phillies bullpen snatched another victory away from Cole Hamels.

Before even thinking of firing Charlie Manuel as skipper, general manager Pat Gillick owes him a move, likely in the form of a bullpen piece with the qualifications to get somebody, anybody out with a lead.

That isn't to say the normally patient Gillick is planning a preemptive strike before the Phillies ship sinks by April's end. Before posting Charlie as the scapegoat for this season's dreadful start, Gillick undoubtedly should give Manuel a loaded gun.

Who knows what Charlie will do with it -- if his outward appearance sitting alone in the dugout following Monday's loss is any indication of his state of mind. But at the moment, Manuel is firing blanks with every available bullpen weapon, and it only appears to be getting worse.

"We've got to fix our pen," Manuel said. "If it's in-house and someone steps up, good." That wasn't a statement. It was an impassioned plea for help.

But where will this help come from? Gillick has stated endlessly since last season's conclusion that one of his highest priorities wasn't going to appear out of nowhere. Plenty of teams are in need of arms at the back end of games, Gillick theorized with an obvious attempt to lessen the blow, and the thin farm system prevented any type of blockbuster trade.

At least according to "Stand Pat," a baseball veteran, a former scout, a card player who was categorized as a folder before a gambler. If the chips were on the table and the hand wasn't a royal flush, Gillick was known to back away.

So, safe and cheap became Gillick's offseason -- and now in-season -- motto. Antonio Alfonseca will be 35 and is coming off a year in Texas of significant arm troubles. Ryan Madson has started slowly, Geoff Geary doesn't have the dynamic speed or movement on pitches usually seen in set-up men or closers. Tom Gordon is 39, and has a bad right shoulder along with other aches and pains.

Francisco Rosario was brought in from Toronto for $100,000. Team scouts like his arm, but aren't overly confident in his makeup with little big league success to support catching lightning in a bottle. Jon Lieber is an unhappy $7-plus million starter filling a role he isn't comfortable with or accustomed to.

Needless to say, it's a mess. At least it's not Bobby's fault.

At 1-6 for the second straight season, Manuel's job is firmly in jeopardy. Though, after listing an offseason acquisition list that resembles the supporting cast of a weekday afternoon soap, perhaps the wrong member of management is slowly walking to the gas chamber.

Before throwing Manuel to the wolves that constitute the illiterate and moronic sector of the Phillies fan base screaming for his head, Gillick needs to mortgage the future in order to save a talented team with a payroll nearing nine digits.

The Aaron Rowand-Scott Linebrink trade appears laughable now. With Rowand's batting average stuck in the mid .200s and several defensive lapses already in toe, Linebrink is part of a Padres bullpen which started the season with 25.1 scoreless frames.

Young power arm Jose Capellan may be available in the right trade with Milwaukee. The Bill Hall adventure in center field isn't panning out too well, but the Brew Crew need his bat in the lineup. Moving Aaron Rowand and either Lieber or a pair of second-tier prospects to Milwaukee for Capellan and a throw-in is a move that could be made with the right man in charge of negotiations.

The 26-year-old Capellan was excellent for the Brewers in 2005 over only 17.1 innings, but his 2006 was inconsistent on the surface with a 4.40 ERA in 61 games. However, inside the numbers, the power right-hander yielded less than one hit an inning (67 hits in 71 frames) and had a solid 1.30 WHIP.

After being shipped to the minors earlier this season, Capellan has asked for a trade while pending possible retirement.

Another name to throw out is former Astros closer, now middle relief man, Brad Lidge. The pitcher threw what many scouts once considered an unhittable slider with a mid 90s fastball, but now his slider is a little flatter and his hard stuff a few degrees slower.

Yet, scouts still feel the slider is a plus pitch (and that he may not throw it enough, according to CNNSI.com's Jon Heyman) and he may just need a change of scenery after losing the closer's job in just 1 2/3 innings of work this season.

Again, looking at the numbers inside the numbers because that's what we do here at The Phanatic Magazine, Lidge's last three seasons -- even his supposed "horrendous" 2006 -- leave plenty of room for promise.

He struck out 157 with just 30 walks and 0.92 WHIP and a 1.91 ERA in 2004, punched out 103 batters with 23 walks, a 1.15 WHIP and a 2.31 ERA in 2005 and "struggled" to 104 K's, 36 walks, a 1.40 WHIP and a 5.28 ERA in 2006.

But how much was attributed to allowing hits at the wrong time, losing confidence with an increase in walks, and perhaps just plain luck? Lidge held opponents to a .233 batting average in '06 and right-handers hit just .201 off him.

In his final eight games of 2006, Lidge gave up three earned runs in 11 1/3 frames with five hits allowed, 10 strikeouts and four walks. The moral of the story is the guy still has stuff.

Perhaps a 2-for-1 change of scenery swap including Madson along with prospect Michael Bourn for Lidge. The Phillies would be adding payroll in that sense, but management is already on record saying "money" was set aside for in-season trades.

Whatever the case may be, Gillick needs to make a move -- and without the worry of looking desperate because, well, he should be. The bullpen is in dire straits, management has lost at least $1 million in revenue due to the slow start and it could get worse unless something is done.

The fear here is that "something" will be relieving Manuel, inserting Jimmy Williams, and continuing to throw Geary, Lieber and Madson out to blow games for a solid starting staff.

By the end of April, the Phillies will either have a new face at game's end, or it will spell end game for Charlie.
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Jared Trexler can be reached at jtrexler@phanaticmag.com
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