Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gillick should be last to go

By Tim McManus
The Phanatic Magazine

Seems like Jared and I go head-to-head at least once a baseball season.

Normally I'm not a huge proponent of the counter-article, but when you make as bold a statement as "Gillick should go," I feel a dissenting voice is needed.

So here we go:

First, it has to be noted that the 2007 Phillies are a vision under construction. Pat Gillick inherited a team from an incompetent General Manager that had money poorly distributed despite working for an organization that is financially stringent, thereby putting fiscal intelligence at a premium.

Bobby Abreu was making $13,100,000; Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal were making about 7 1/2 million apiece; Thome pocketed more than 13 million; and Billy Wagner made 9 million in 2005.

In total, those five players comprised a little over $50 million of a $95 million payroll. Notice that just one pitcher, and exactly zero starters, are on that list.

So Gillick took out the chisel, and went to work on sculpting a team that would be built around a strong staff and a few of their young offensive standouts.

Clearly room had to be made for Ryan Howard after a Rookie of the Year campaign, so Thome and his menacing back were shipped to fill a need in center. Billy Wagner would have to be sacrificed, and Bobby Abreu was moved in the name of salary flexibility.

It was around the time of that Abreu trade that Gillick said his team would not be built to truly compete until 2008.

Howard and Chase Utley's rapid development, though, paced an unexpected surge at the end of the 2006 season that nearly resulted in a playoff berth and accelerated the time line.

Those expectations jumped up yet another notch after Gillick's offseason acquisitions, the biggest pulling a front-line arm in Freddy Garcia out of thin air in exchange for a pocketful of potential.

Garcia's arrival plus the signing of Adam Eaton gave the Phils flexibility in the starting rotation for the first time in forever, and the plan was to parlay one of their extra starters -- always the hottest of commodities in the long run -- for some bullpen help and potentially an outfielder.

Believing these moves would be made, the Phillies were anointed the "team to beat" by shortstops and bellhops alike.

The best laid plans went awry once again, however, as relievers suddenly held inflated value. That put Gillick in a bit of a bind, and instead of just trading Lieber for second-rate material, he bit down on the belt and decided to wait until the market became more reasonable.

It is tough to applaud such patience or look at the big picture as the Phillies get worked night in, night out, I understand.

But if you can take a step back, you'll see pieces starting to fall into place. Money is now focused on the appropriate areas. More cash is coming off the books next year. And the team is being built around some of the brightest young stars in the game.

Are you suggesting that you'd rather Abreu and Thome be the central figures of this club, knowing that the likes of Howard and Garcia would have to be taken out of the picture? Would you rather David Bell and Lieberthal still be a part of the nucleus?

And are you really going to critique his tenure by saying he should have gotten the likes of Justin Speier, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker?

To me, that's a bit short-sighted.

Any high-ranking official in baseball will tell you that when the Phillies landed Gillick, they acquired one of the most genius minds in all of baseball.

Call him old, call him over-the-hill, call him what you will. But when he has your team sipping bubbly -- whether it be this season or down the line -- make sure you call him daddy.

And make sure I'm around to hear you do it.


Tim appears on this page every Thursday. You can contact him at tmcmanus@phanaticmag.com.
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