May 06, 2005

An organization in shambles

Instead of a Mets series recap, I'd rather talk about the issue on everyone's mind, the overall state of the Phillies organization. Here's my take:

General manager
Rewarding home-grown talent like Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf with lucrative, overreaching, overly-loyal, long-term deals will become Ed Wade's bitter legacy with the Phillies.

Along with spending big money for established, older veterans, like Jim Thome, David Bell and Jon Lieber, Wade's formula built a dinosaur that's stagnating, falling further past its prime, and giving young players, like Brett Myers and Jimmy Rollins, reason to follow Scott Rolen out of town.

If rebuilding is the answer - as we should know if it is by the end of this month - the long-term deals have handcuffed immediate efforts to transition to that stage, as teams like the Oakland Athletics are able to do frequently.

With payroll at an all-time high $93 million, and with attendance at their new state-of-art facility dropping nightly by the thousands, baring a miraculous turnaround, things may only get worse.

Farm system
What goes unnoticed is a farm system largely devoid of major-league talent, as a handful of prospects - Marlon Byrd and others - have failed to transition to the next level. In Double-A Reading, they're fielding a squad of older retreads. Aside from a hidden gem or two, the strategy runs a high risk of creating a huge talent void for the next two seasons, perhaps more.

May 6
The rest of this road trip is vitally important. Day to day, the biggest concern is which aspect of their game will fail them next. Will it be the offense, averaging around three runs a game, or will a starting pitcher, like Padilla or Wolf, open the floodgates? Maybe the bullpen, ranking second worst in the National League with an ERA of 6.06, will fail them tonight.

At 12-17, they are 5 1/2 games out of first-place Atlanta, a team that's really starting to click. Between the cellar and ceiling are three capable teams.

This offseason, I thought if they could get a legitimate number one starter they had a shot to contend this season, otherwise, they should move aggressively to shed their big contracts. Jon Lieber has lived up to that billing. The problem is, the staff is getting about two and a half quality starts each turn through the rotation, along with the rest of the problems I mentioned before.

An asset they have this season they haven't had in the past are expendable chips other teams covet. The problem: the teams willing to spend don't have the goods to give in return.

Off to their worst start since 1991, the Yankees could really use a versatile infielder (Placido Polanco) and a left-handed starter (Randy Wolf). What the Phils could use most, in my estimation, is a third base prospect, with Bell getting older and the team losing confidence in one-time top prospect Juan Richardson.

The Cubs offense is a real mess, and the two teams have already talked about a deal involving Placido Polanco. There's rumor the Phils are holding on to Polanco to make a major deadline package move with Ryan Howard. Unless they're two games in back of Atlanta for first, any deal for Howard should include third base, shortstop or catching prospects. The Phils should have a contingency plan if J-Roll decides to leave, and the tandem of Lieberthal and Pratt are the oldest in the league.

I see two problems standing in the way of a full rebuilding effort. First and foremost, the long-term contracts, and second, if Wade sticks to his guns and continues to believe this team is built to win a championship.

Either way, the grace period is over. The road trip continues 3:05 p.m. in Chicago, and when they return home in a week, its time for an honest look at where they're headed.


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