Monday, December 22, 2003

Milking Millwood

The dailies took varying approaches to reporting Kevin Millwood's acceptance of arbitration. The Inquirer's Todd Zolecki was more enthusiastic, writing Saturday that the Phillies' 2004 rotation "shapes up to be one of the deepest rotations in baseball, with four former all-stars and all five capable of throwing more than 200 innings if healthy." But the Daily News's Marcus Hayes couldn't resist needling Millwood's agent, Scott Boras, who tried and failed to secure a long-term, big-bucks deal for his guy. Hayes wrote gleefully:

No team besides the Phillies came forward with a solid, fair, multiyear offer. Millwood, 29, could be sitting on as much as $35 million for the next three seasons, the Phillies' best offer since they acquired him last season. This, after a disappointing season capped by a late fade -- 0-3 in his last five starts, two of which came against Florida, who overtook the Phillies for the wild-card playoff slot. He compiled a 14-12 record and a 4.01 earned run average in his first season as a No. 1 starter, his first with the Phillies after six with the Atlanta Braves, who traded him to cut costs a year ago today.

Instead, he's looking at a 1-year deal and a small raise, probably to a salary not exceeding $12 million.

I would have preferred that Ed Wade take a shot at a true No. 1 guy, as I'm not sure Millwood is capable of such status, and none of the other starters, including Eric Milton, has so far shown himself worthy of it. That said, Wade has been able to assemble a rotation of startling depth without committing Yankee-type scratch and without parting with key components at either the major league or the minor league level.

Reaction among observers, both the faithful and the objective, has been predictably favorable. The Philling Station pegs the Phils as "clear" division favorites, and literally is putting his money where his mouth is: ". . . I just slapped 25 bucks down on the club to take the NL pennant at 8 to 1 odds. Yes, Millwood struggled down the stretch last year but it is conceivable that with the improved bullpen, another year of seasoning for the young guns, and Milton in the rotation, that there will be far less pressure on him this year." The more sober David Pinto writes that Millwood's return "gives the Phillies a very solid pitching staff going into the 2004 season," and he makes an interesting point concerning the economics of the situation:

There [is] a significant chance the Phillies can win this year, especially with the Braves offensively weakened by their departing free agents. Making the playoffs their first year in a new stadium is going to mean big crowds, and that extra revenue might make up for Millwood's salary.

Much was made of Millwood's tossing his glove into the stands after he was hooked in the team's final game. But in the stories reporting his acceptance of arbitration, he said that he likes us -- he really, really likes us: "I always wanted to play in Philly. I like the people there. I like everybody in the organization. I like my teammates. And you've got fans that care. I'm definitely happy to be back where I'm at right now."

Hey, regarding the glove thing, no hard feelings, Kevin. And I'm not the only one who feels that way. On my way to the superb New Jersey wine retailer Moore Brothers Friday to stock up on holiday beverages, I passed a pleasantly dumpy sport bar whose sign read, in all its misspelled glory, "MILWOOD!" -- mere hours after the news broke. As Zolecki wrote in his lede Saturday, "So when again is opening day?"


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