THE 2008 PHILLIES are a Hollywood movie set of a baseball team. Cecil B. De Mille would have been proud of the facade they present. What the camera sees is the Roman Forum in all its marble-faced grandeur.
Walk behind the set, however, and it is the clever handiwork of skilled carpenters, propped up by timbers, a plywood, styrofoam and plastic edifice that can be broken down in moments and configured into a gracious plantation manor.
General manager Pat Gillick will understand the analogy, even if he does not agree with it. After all, he grew up in Southern California and knows how things work in Hollywood.
This team can and should win the East. But it is a one-take team. One major setback and the Phillies are out of film.
The reality of the economic handcuffs slapped on Pat when he was hired to replace Ed Wade by the limited partnership that runs baseball's Comfort Inn has never been any clearer than it was last Thursday. The trade deadline passed and all the Phillies had to show for the month of rumor, conjecture and wild surmise was a sideways move. Gillick acquired Oakland's Joe Blanton in hopes the hulking righthander could become what an expensive bust named Adam Eaton failed to be.
It was a sidestep worthy of Fred Astaire . . .
With seventh-inning guys J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson ping-ponging in disabled Tom Gordon's setup role, there was a hot rumor Gillick would acquire Ron Mahay from the Royals to be an urgently needed lefthander.
They brought up J.A. Happ a second time. Nobody can figure to do what. After two solid starts during Brett Myers' therapeutic odyssey through three minor league levels, the 6-6 Happ is back, but without anything close to a defined role. Anybody else hear the tick-tick-tick of the annual Cole Hamels DL stay fast approaching?
And the new situational lefty is not accomplished veteran Mahay. It's a 31-year-old minor league veteran with more destination stickers on his luggage than a circus juggler. Les Walrond did have 17 strikeouts in an IronPigs shutout, so the guy is worth a few looks before Rudy Seanez comes off the 15-day.
There is an excellent reason why CC Sabathia is knocking them dead in small-market Milwaukee, why the Matt Holliday-Brian Fuentes rumor was another instance of a team with first-class dreams holding a coach ticket. And Manny was only going to be doing his Manny Thing here at the cost of a guy - Pat Burrell - who is having a better year than he is. And that would have flown only if the Red Sox baseball bunch, including stat maharishi Bill James, considered Burrell a better fit than Jason Bay. James rates Burrell's baserunning and outfield range among the game's worst.
The reality is, deadline fans, teams moving the Griffeys, Mannys and CCs, high-priced stars nearing their expiration dates, are not looking for "prospects" in the classic sense. What would a Carlos Carrasco, just promoted to Triple A with less-than-stellar Double A numbers, have done for a contender playing in the present tense? Ditto Double A all-stars Lou Marson, the Phils' catcher of the future, and Jason Donald, the Phils' Eric Bruntlett of the future. Both are playing for the U.S. Olympic team.
The sellers giving up future Hall of Famers on career down-ticks want major league-ready prospects who have survived the high-minors crucible. They want them gifted and they want to have those golden years before arbitration and free agency.
That left the Phillies with one realistic, tradeable, option from the varsity - Shane Victorino. Fans, you didn't want to see a Phillies outfield next month without him in it. Nor did you want to go into a stretch drive with untested Greg Golson and his high strikeout ratio as your centerfield anchor.
Gillick's leading men, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Burrell, parade past the Made-in-Hollywood Roman Forum at the head of a thin Legion. One major injury could take this team out. Gillick was able to cut the Utley loss last year because Tad Iguchi was dropped in his lap.
Pat is a brilliant baseball man who won back-to-back World Series titles in Toronto and revived moribund Baltimore and Seattle. Baseball's Great Oz has done excellent work behind the curtain. He knows talent. And when he has the money and the parts to trade, he knows how to acquire it. But that has not happened here. His masterpieces are Aaron Rowand, Jamie Moyer, Jayson Werth and Brad Lidge. But you'll most likely remember Pat for Adam Eaton and Freddy Garcia, for signing Tom Gordon instead of Billy Wagner, and for not re-signing Kyle Lohse and Rowand.
Pat Gillick left Toronto after the 1994 season. In the next 3 years, the Blue Jays were 56 games under .500, including 56-88 in 1995, just 2 years after a world championship.
Pat Gillick took the revived Orioles to the postseason, but left when his contract expired in 1998. In the next three seasons, the O's were 55 games under .500.
Pat Gillick's 2001 Mariners juggernaut won a record-tying 116 regular-season games, despite trading away superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. He left his GM position after the 2003 season and stayed on as a special adviser. In the three seasons after he stepped down, the Mariners were a staggering 66 games under .500.
Sounds about right for teams put together like a Hollywood movie set.
Cut . . . Print . . . And, tell the set carpenters to start hammering. Cecil B. Gillick will be shooting on location back in Seattle next spring. *
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