Monday, May 15, 2006
By Jared Trexler
The Philadelphia Phillies are baseball's hottest team. They aren't its best squad.
The Phillies aren't the pitching-deficient 10-14 team that showered its way through a frustrating April. They also aren't the 12-1 team that has received contributions from 1-to-25 on the big-league roster and blossomed during May.
However, my trusted colleague is slightly misguided in his analysis that the Phillies are both of these teams. Because of a season's length, even the best clubs run hot and cold. The Chicago White Sox built a large lead in the AL Central last season, then held on for their dear lives as the clutch hits and incredible pitching disappeared in the regular season's last month.
The White Sox ended up showing the season-ending slump was a mirage. They were truly the team that stormed out of the gates so fast. They have the rings to prove it.
I have asserted from the season's first pitch that the Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in the National League East. Thirty-seven games into the season, I remain firm in my convictions.
The Philadelphia Phillies have flaws. Every team, including the New York Yankees, has deficiencies. However, the Phillies make up for such flaws with the game's best hitting second baseman. The game's best fielding shortstop. A young and promising slugger. And a right-hander who seems to have finally resolved the mental/emotional issues that at times have overshadowed enormous physical talent.
As is, the Philadelphia Phillies can make the playoffs. They can win the division. They can advance one round in the playoffs. They can't win the World Series.
So naturally, fans seeing a team in need of a push dream for a player that can put a talented team over the top.
Fans fantasize a trade that will finally bring a championship-starved city another crown. They assert that one player (or more) needs to pack their bags, with a high-profile pitcher brought in to sew up the Phillies greatest weakness.
The player leaving should not be Bobby Abreu. And the player coming in should not be Randy Johnson. PERIOD.
Five wins to four losses. An earned run average of 5.13. A fading fastball and a slider that just doesn't slide anymore. A 42-year-old arm that is showing alarming signs of wear and tear.
Are those numbers significantly better than any of Philadelphia's starters? Jon Lieber was brilliant on Saturday in Cincinnati and seems to be settling into his comfort zone. Cory Lidle, minus one start against the Mets, has been a dependable innings eater. Gavin Floyd, he of the baseball magic act, gains confidence with each win. Cole Hamels is the supposed savior. Brett Myers has been electric.
That staff is not great, and an upgrade would boost the club's chances of success come late Fall. However, the answer is not a 42-year-old power pitcher who has lost movement on his out pitch and five miles per hour off a once feared heater.
The worst part of my colleague's trade is the player the Phillies would be trading in return for the aging acne-covered hurler.
BOBBY ABREU. BOBBY "ON-BASE MACHINE" ABREU. Abreu is not only the best hitter on the club, but he is also the most important part of the lineup.
Without Abreu penciled into the third hole for the last two games in Cincinnati because of back spasms, the Phillies offense scored four runs in 21 innings. Two of them came on solo shots by an ill Ryan Howard.
The lineup lacked pop. More importantly, it lacked discipline. Abreu leads the league in walks and sees more pitches than any player in baseball. That's important for a lineup that features Jimmy "Willie Mays Hayes" Rollins at the top and free-swinging David Bell and Mike Lieberthal at the bottom.
So even when Abreu is in a slump, (like the 4-for-32 struggle he is in now) he still is getting on base. During the last 12 games, the All-Star right fielder has scored nine runs. His OBP is still well above the National-League norm despite struggles at the plate.
No team trades it's best overall batter for an aging arm, even if pitching is both a priority and a weakness.
Do I think the Phillies will make a move by the deadline? Absolutely. General manager Pat Gillick's wish list will include Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito, Livan Hernandez, Dontrelle Willis, Brad Radke and Greg Maddux, who while up in age pitches with the finesse necessary for a 40-something pitcher's survival.
My feeling is Gillick will nab one of those arms. My guess is either Schmidt or Radke depending on the package he is willing to part with. Lidle will bedangled (who believe it or not is a perfect trade piece to send to a non-contending team -- veteran, cheap arm in a contract year), as will David Delucci and minor-league prospect Daniel Haigwood.
Any combination of Lidle, Delucci and one or two minor leaguers should be able to nab one of the above-named arms.
My colleague is a Phils fan and of course wants to see them succeed. Now imagine a starting staff in September of Myers, Schmidt/Zito/Radke, Lieber, Hamels and Floyd.
Scary. Do you know what would be even scarier about that team?
Abreu would be batting third.