As the 2006 baseball season rapidly draws near, Phillies general manager Pat Gillick made what appears to be a very good deal for his club. The Phillies sent slugging first baseman Jim Thome and approximately $22 million of his contract to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for hard-nosed center fielder Aaron Rowand and two highly touted pitching prospects.After being named general manager in October, Gillick made a checklist of several things his team needed to address. The checklist probably went something like this: re-sign free agent closer Billy Wagner, handle the Thome/Ryan Howard situation, acquire a defensive center fielder who can play everyday and make improvements to the pitching staff.
In one move, Gillick has crossed three things off of his list. This move obviously hands the first base job to the National League Rookie of the Year, Ryan Howard. While there was some talk that Howard would spend some time in the outfield in 2006, the most attractive scenario for the Phillies was to move Thome and his remaining $46 million contract. While this proved to be no easy feat, Gillick managed to get rid of nearly half of his contract the money sent in the trade and also added another key piece to the roster.
Rowand, 28, is a gritty center fielder known for his outstanding glove work. And while he’s known for his defense, Rowand has some pop, too. In 2004, Rowand hit .310 with 24 home runs and stole 17 bases. Last season, Rowand had some struggles hitting in the bottom of the order batted .270 with only 13 home runs and 16 stolen bases.
The trade also gives the Phillies a little more flexibility in handling their payroll. By trading Thome, the Phillies can up their offer to Wagner or look for another closer, or just use that money to add another starting pitcher.Although the free agent pool is believed to be very weak this offseason, there are still a few gems in the pack. The Phillies have contacted the agent of starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, and have had preliminary talks about a possible deal. Abraham Nunez, who filled in for the injured Scott Rolen last season for the St. Louis Cardinals, has also had talks with the Phillies. This could cause a platoon at third base with David Bell, which would certainly not be a bad thing.
Acquiring a prized free agent will only be possible if the Phillies can free up some money creatively, whether it be letting Wagner go, or sending away another big contract. Gillick can offer Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal or David Bell in a trade.
In fact, Gillick has already said that no one player is untouchable, a word former Phillies general manager Ed Wade used often to describe the aforementioned players.
Speaking about moving Abreu, the Phillies reportedly have had conversations about a trade that would send Abreu to the Toronto Blue Jays for center fielder Vernon Wells. However, this was all before the Thome deal was completed. Now with Rowand aboard, Wells would not fit in, but it is interesting that Gillick is not afraid to send Abreu out of town. If the word gets out that Abreu could be dealt for the right price, Gillick may open up a bidding war and force the other team to take on the contracts of Lieberthal or Bell. This would free up significant space for some pitching, either in the bullpen or the starting rotation, which the Phillies desperately need.
Before the season, Gillick was asked what his goal was for this Phillies team. He responded by saying he wants to improve the team by five games. If Gillick can just cross one more item off his checklist, the 2006 Phillies might not only accomplish Gillick’s goal, but the one goal which many Philadelphia fans have been striving for since 1983: A parade down Broad Street.