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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Pat Gillick - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

With the Phils 9.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East and eighth in the NL Wild Card standings, Pat Gillick's first squad is rapidly stumbling out of playoff contention. There's still over half a season to play - so it's too early to head to Lehigh for Eagles training camp - but with over 2/5 of the 2006 schedule in the books, it's time for an early review of Gillick's work since arriving in Philly.

The Good

The door was still swinging from Ed Wade's exit when Gillick pulled the trigger on his biggest and best move of the season - dealing Jim Thome to the White Sox for Aaron Rowand and a couple of lefty pitching prospects, Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood. While Ryan Howard wasn't involved directly in the trade, the move effectively opened the door for him to become a regular.

Although Jim Thome has captured his form from a few years ago on the South Side, few Phillies fans are missing him. Howard has kept pace with Thome's 22 HR (fourth in the majors), and has probably been the Phillies' MVP so far. Howard's production has taken away any drop-off in production from the first base position that might have been expected after losing Thome.

Add to that equation Aaron Rowand, and you have a winner of a deal. Rowand has performed in the clutch, and despite having missed a couple of weeks, has fit right in with the Phillies' productive outfield. Then, of course, there is his gritty catch where he busted his face open against the center field fence and earned himself a mention in the "How to Earn the Appreciation of Philly Fans" manual.

This doesn't even take into consideration Haigwood and Gonzalez, seemingly the Phillies' only two minor league prospects who haven't been pressed into action for the big club. Gonzalez, age 20, has a 3.35 ERA with an impressive 91 Ks in 78 innings in Reading, but he has also walked 38 and allowed 11 homers, so there's room for improvement. Haigwood's numbers aren't too different - 3.89 ERA, 73 K, 37 BB, 6 HR, 71.2 IP. He's 22, so both of them still have some more seasoning left before the Phils have to throw them in the fire.

The only downside to the trade is that the Phillies sometimes seem to get stung by Howard's propensity to strike out - he's 10th in the majors. He sometimes reminds me of Pedro Cerrano, the voodoo-worshiping slugger from Major League, who struggled to hit a curveball. I think it's time for him to tell JoBu that he no help curveball.

Also, I'll give credit to Gillick for picking up Tom Gordon to replace Billy Wagner - when the Phils hand him the ball, he's nearly automatic (18/19 in save opportunities). Gordon has been the brightest spot in the bullpen, which (with a few exceptions - see below), has been refreshingly solid. Arthur Rhodes, picked up in exchange for Jason Michaels (an expendable outfielder given our depth there), has also been a good setup man.

The Bad

Julio Santana has pitched 8.1 innings all season and got dizzy from watching runners circle the bases around him. Maybe that explains his 9 walks. He hasn't caused more damage because he's been hurt the rest of the season. I believe he is currently working as a paperweight on Pat Gillick's desk.

Gillick signed Alex Gonzalez, who posted a blistering .269 OBP before the following item appeared on the Phillies' transaction wire (on my birthday): "Announced the retirement of INF Alex Gonzalez." That transaction has been Gillick's best move of the calendar year. Happy birthday to me.

Sal Fasano - I know, how could I possibly call Sal Fasano bad? Well, I gotta be honest. I am not Sal's pal. I was vehemently anti-Sal early on, when it seemed like he was an offensive downgrade (acceptable) and a defensive downgrade (unacceptable for a backup catcher) from Mike Lieberthal. Although Fasano has really improved in the past few weeks, I swear his production seems to come when it matters least. On the other hand, he does have an OPS of 1.059 in June, which, bizarrely, puts him among this month's MLB leaders. So, you know what? I'm going to reclassify him.

The Surprisingly Good, But Highly Unlikely To Maintain His Current Level Of Production

Sal Fasano.

I'm still waiting for Mike Lieberthal's return, to be honest. I'd still rather see him at the plate than Fasano. But Sal's apparently a good guy (and he plays for the Phillies), so I'd love to see him keep raking. If those numbers stay up, well, I'll eat my words and reconsider my stance on Sal Fasano.

The Ugly

Gillick dealt away Vicente Padilla and received Ricardo Rodriguez in return. Three months later, Rodriguez was released. Getting David Dellucci from the Rangers in a later trade doesn't make up for this fleecing. Now, Padilla hasn't been lights out for Texas this year - 4.65 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 67 K, 36 BB. However, he's been durable (14 starts, 81.1 innings), which is something the Phillies' rotation hasn't been (Brett Myers and Cory Lidle are the only starters with 12+ starts or 66+ innings). Padilla would have been very welcome in red pinstripes with the way our starters have pitched, especially as the Phils scramble to find people to make starts (Scott Mathieson has potential, but he's not ready yet). Even worse, the Phillies have absolutely nothing to show in return for Padilla's departure. Padilla is 28 years old, a former all-star, and sports a career ERA under 4.00 - and Gillick can't get better value in return? Severely disappointing.

Abraham Nunez has been an unmitigated disaster, and I would rather talk someone out of retirement, scour an independent league, or teach David Dellucci to play infield than see this guy step on the field in a Phils uni again. In 73 AB, Nunez has a .400 OPS, no home runs, and no steals. His career OPS is .634, and unless the Sal Fasano Magic Hot Streak rubs off on him, I wouldn't hold out hope for him to approach that figure.

I saved Ryan Franklin for last so I could gloat (sort of). When Franklin was signed, I predicted that he would surrender at least 41 HR. Specifically, I wrote, "Assuming Franklin stays healthy for the whole season and keeps his starting job, he will have one of the ten worst seasons, in terms of homers allowed, in baseball history."

Well, fortunately, Franklin never got to start. However, he's still given up 8 dingers (which projects to 19 for a full season). Had he been starting, how would he have fared? Well, we can estimate this way: Given his 33.2 IP, were he to maintain his gopher ball pace over 190 innings (a full season for a starter), he'd be serving up 45 homers - which would rank fifth all-time. If I saw this coming - and I wasn't the only one - why didn't Pat Gillick?

It's easy to criticize - I'm not the one who has to perform the GM's duties. At the same time, I don't think there has been much second-guessing among Phillies Phans. With two exceptions (Fasano & Gordon), I'd say the moves of which Phans approved have turned out well, while the moves that weren't well-received didn't work out. That being the case, I'm convinced more than ever that the Phillies organization needs a major overhaul in the way it approaches the construction of the team. The fans should be wondering how the GM knew Player X was due to break out right before he was acquired, not nodding quietly as Player X works out precisely as expected.

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