Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Off-Season Begins

As free-agent filing gets underway comes today's unsurprising news that the Phillies will be more passive off-season players than they were last year. Telling the Daily News, "We want to see how the market develops," GM Ed Wade implicitly warns not to expect a repeat of 2002-03's atypically bold moves, which included the signings of Jim Thome and David Bell, an aggressive courtship of Tom Glavine, and the trade of Johnny Estrada for Kevin Millwood.

The DN's Marcus Hayes writes:

[The Phillies] told Kevin Millwood and his agent, Scott Boras, to call them if and when they're ready to discuss the possibility of Millwood's return. They contacted closers Ugueth Urbina, Tom Gordon and Keith Foulke as well as other free-agent pitchers, including relievers Terry Adams and Dan Plesac, veteran setup men with the Phils the last two seasons. They let teams know that, yes, when the time comes, they would be interested in talking trade -- which is how they would get hold of, say, Expos starter Javier Vazquez.

Lest we Phillies fans, accustomed to the team's historical bargain-basement approach when a trip to Rodeo Drive was called for, fear a return to the past, Hayes reassures us: "Don't worry, they're not standing pat. While they have options on the roster to fill their bullpen, they know they need a closer and at least one setup man. They need a starter, preferably a No. 1." Then, though, comes the cold-water-splash of reality: "But they're not going to overpay, and they're not going to rush. 'The right way could be through free agency; the right way could be a trade,' Wade said."

With the DN stuffed with Eagles coverage through the holidays, the Inquirer's Todd Zolecki is able to deliver a more extensive piece today that focuses on the team's search for a closer. He also slightly contradicts Hayes's reporting with a quote from Wade indicating that the Phillies won't lose sleep (surprise, surprise) if they're priced out of the market for a No. 1 closer, whether Millwood, Vazquez, or anyone else: "The better the guy, the better off we are. Whether it's a guy at the top end of the marketplace or somebody in the middle, we frankly think that with the progress that [Randy] Wolf, [Brett] Myers and [Vicente] Padilla have made that we have a pretty good framework to work around there. It'd be great to add a guy at the top of the rotation. But if we can add a guy in the middle of it, I still think we'd be OK."

Zolecki reported yesterday that Thome's buddy Charlie Manuel, hired last year as a special assistant to Wade, is a candidate to replace Grady Little in Boston. (File under "Job, Thankless.") He also scooped Hayes with the news that the 41-year-old lefty Plesac, who was extraordinarily effective out of the bullpen this season, would like to come back next year. His agent and Wade have begun preliminary negotiations.

I hope to file a more thorough review of the Phillies' 2003 season soon, but off the top of my head, Ed Wade in his heart of hearts can't think that landing a No. 3 guy will turn the Phils into a playoff team. None of the current pitchers he cited appears ready yet to be a No. 1. Wolf had a fine season, but the hurler whose profile fits him best, Glavine, wasn't even a good No. 1 for the Mets, for God's sake. Myers has a Josh Beckett-type look, and could develop in a similar way, but still needs more seasoning. As for Padilla, you never know which guy you're going to get in any given start.

Then again, I picked the Marlins to lose in every round of the playoffs. . . .


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