Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The Expectations Game

My day job is in public relations, and an underappreciated aspect of that field is the management of expectations. Ed Wade and the rest of the Phillies' front office sure have been paying attention, though.

Almost since the season ended, the local baseball writers -- and fans -- have written off Kevin Millwood as departed after one year and speculated on whom the Phillies might target to replace him. Yet Wade has consistently attempted to dampen that talk, saying the team may sign or trade for a No. 2 starter or even a No. 3. If recent stories on the team's postseason needs and happenings are any indication, Wade's tap-dancing appears to have paid off.

All of the coverage of the Wagner trade, for example, has dutifully noted that landing a closer, not a starter, was the Phils' top priority, and that Wagner was the guy at the top of that list. By comparing the southpaw to Jim Thome -- that is, by identifying him as the player to pursue in the off-season -- Wade gives himself an out if he's unable to find a new No. 1 starter.

Jim Salisbury swallows the bait, writing, "At the moment, it doesn't look as if they'll get a premium No. 1 type, unless Arizona dramatically lowers its asking price for Curt Schilling. You have to wonder whether the Phillies have enough to get Javier Vazquez from Montreal, if he becomes available." Only Bill Conlin, savvy enough to know better, calls on Wade to supplement the Wagner trade with a top-shelf hurler. Referring to the kind of prospects the Phillies had to give up for Wagner, Conlin notes: "They might have to part with a few more gold nuggets to acquire the No. 1 starter that has replaced closer as their biggest need."

The PR guy in me admires Wade for attempting to manage expectations. But the Phillies fan in me, while thrilled beyond belief at the much-needed Wagner acquisition, worries about a team with no proven stopper.


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