Sunday, May 14, 2006
By Tim McManus
Phillies' fans have every reason to be happy about the recent surge, one that has moved the club to within striking distance of the Mets in the NL East.
Just don't be fooled into thinking it's going to last.
It's easy to get sucked into the moment, to think that all of the Phils' problems are solved. They're not.
Truth is, right now everything is going right. The bats are producing in big spots, the starters have been pretty magnificent, and the bullpen has been close to flawless. The result is a 12-1 record in the month of May.
Just in the rearview, though, is an image that is every bit as representative of this team as the one currently in front of you. In April, the Fightin's were hitting about 50 points lower with runners in scoring position; the starting pitching bordered on atrocious; and the bullpen (Tom Gordon aside) labored in mediocrity. That combination led to a 10-14 record to start the season.
The lesson isn't even that the true Phillies' identity lies somewhere in between; it's that they are both of those teams.
By nature, hitting is streaky, particularly when home runs are such a major part of your makeup. This offense is quite capable of putting up big numbers, and will be one of the top producing units in the majors when all is said and done. There will be stretches, however, when they go collectively cold.
This is where pitching comes in.
The good teams -- you know, like the ones who don't go 13 years between playoff appearances -- garner their strength from the mound. This way, they are sustained even in the times when the offense whispers rather than roars.
Without pitching as a backbone, a team is vulnerable to sudden streaks --sometimes toward the heavens, sometimes toward the sewer.
And that brings us to our 2006 Philadelphia Phillies, who find themselves with a rare opportunity in front of them.
The New York Yankees, as you may have heard, are in the market for a right fielder. The Phils, it just so happens, have a rather productive one whom they have been unabashedly shopping since Pat Gillick assumed the role of general manager.
So here's my thought: Trade Bobby Abreu for Randy Johnson.
I know, I know, he's 87, appears lost in the weeds despite his 7-foot stature, and has a gigantic contract. This, and a chill-invoking image of having Bubba Crosby roaming the outfield on a daily basis, could make Johnson expendable in the Yankees' eyes, especially with Carl Pavano set to return in the near future.
In any other year, a playoff-caliber team would never think of trading a five-time Cy Young winner, even amidst struggles. This is why the Phillies should pounce, and pounce now.
If money is your concern, know that Johnson makes only $2 million more a year than Abreu does.
If Johnson's recent woes are your focus, I gotta say, you have a point. Maybe he is washed up, and Philadelphia in turn would be saddled with a monster contract and a lifeless arm for the next several years.
But what if he rounds into form? Getting a No. 1 of Johnson's caliber would not only propel the Phillies into the postseason, but give them a legitimate shot at winning the World Series. For a rotation of Johnson, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and/or Jon Lieber, backed by this offense and a filthy-deep bullpen, is quality enough to go toe-to-toe with any club in the National League.
At best, Johnson will thrive minus the New York pressure and guide this team into the playoffs while tutoring Hamels, a fellow lefty. If this is the case, you can hold onto Johnson for another year or ship him in the offseason while his stock is high.
At worst, Johnson will be a sub par hurler who, if nothing else, teaches the young pups a trick or two en route to an unspectacular end to his career.
If this happens, the Phils would likely miss out on the postseason.
That, however, would be nothing new. So in essence, there's nothing to lose and a potential World Series to gain.
Knowing that Abreu is on his way out regardless, isn't that a risk worth taking?