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Philly Takes on Taking Wags

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by xiki, Nov 4, 2003.

  1. xiki

    xiki Contributing Member

    Jun 18, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I like checking the 'other city' when a big deal goes down. This is the Philly take, from four writwers:


    Posted on Tue, Nov. 04, 2003

    Bill Conlin | Phils gas up, but pay a premium

    Billy Wagner is the National League's Red Adair. He fights fires with fire.

    Billy Wagner pumps super unleaded gas 1 gallon at a time. A gallon an inning is all he needs.

    Billy Wagner hits 100 mph on the radar gun early and often. He will automatically become the hardest-throwing Phillies pitcher ever. Only three lefthanders in major league history - Dodgers great Sandy Koufax, the Indians' Sudden Sam McDowell and the Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson - have brought that kind of sheer velocity to the mound.

    This, fans, is the closer whom, this time yesterday, you only dared dream about. Better than Keith Foulke, who saved 43 games for the Oakland A's last season. Better than elderly Tom Gordon, a name - because of his age and injury history - who scared me even worse than the Stephen King novel, "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.''

    Premium fuel is costly at the pump, however. The $8 million the Phillies will pay Wagner in 2004 - with a club option for $9 million ($3 million buyout attached) in 2005 - is only money. Brandon Duckworth became more suspect than prospect last season. He might never be more than a No. 5 starter. But in the rest of the deal for Wagner, the Phillies' pitcher-rich minor league system took a hit. It's only me talking, but I like flint-hard righthander Taylor Buchholz better than everybody-loves-Gavin, super prospect Gavin Floyd.

    I saw Floyd blow a 4-0 lead during a fifth-inning meltdown last May that tacked a half-dozen runs on his Clearwater ERA. A year earlier in the same league, I watched Buchholz yanked from an overpowering no-walk, seven-strikeout one-hitter after seven innings because he had bounced off his 100-pitch ceiling. Later in the 2002 season, the sixth-rounder from Springfield (Delco) High School was promoted to Reading. The second time I saw Floyd last summer, he had a so-called "tired arm'' and was on a tight pitch-count leash. Floyd, signed for $4.2 million in 2001, finished an underwhelming season 7-8 with a 3.00 ERA. Blame it on his youth, we were told...

    Dominicans Ezequiel Astacio and Elizardo Ramirez - signed for a couple of hot lunches and the finder's fee for their island "patron'' - combined for a 28-14 record.

    Astacio, who allegedly turns 24 today, was the third man in the Phillies' package, an attractive throw-in if only for the reason he was 15-5 and is a finesse sinkerballer.

    Don't be surprised if the Astros eventually see a closer in Buchholz, whose drop-dead overhand curve was rated best in the Eastern League last season.

    Whatever, Ed Wade and minor league boss Mike Arbuckle still have a full quiver of talented minor league arms, including current Team USA starter Ryan Madson and precocious lefthander Cole Hamels. They might have to part with a few more gold nuggets to acquire the No. 1 starter that has replaced closer as their biggest need.

    Wade has demonstrated once again that he is aware of the new realities of baseball economics. In a business in which many of his peers conduct business the same way it was conducted in 1903, the Phillies' bookish GM is well-positioned to operate in a bottom line-based environment in which most ballclubs desperately need to lop millions from their gluttonous payrolls. In Wagner, the Astros not only had a big contract to dump but a player who publically trashed owner Drayton McLane for the Houston organization's lack of commitment to winning. And isn't it deliciously ironic that Wagner is coming to the same club that Scott Rolen politicked to leave because of his perception of a lack of commitment to winning? If you've forgotten already, that would be the same Scott Rolen who plays third base for the also-ran St. Louis Cardinals.

    The Phillies sent shock waves through baseball last winter when Wade followed up the blockbuster free-agent acquisition of Jim Thome by landing righthander Kevin Millwood from the salary-strangled Braves for Triple A catcher Johnny Estrada. That one startled even Wade. Wagner's contract will pretty much wash Millwood's $10 million contract. One way or another, the kind of starter the Phillies need is going to add another $10 million or more to the payroll and will cost them more prospects.

    It will be a few seasons before the ripple effect of the disastrous 2003 draft catches up with the Phils organization. By signing Type A free agents Thome and David Bell, the Phils didn't have a draft pick until the third round. Then they took smallish Texas second baseman Tim Moss, paid him $440,000 to sign and watched the 85th played selected in the draft hit .150 at short-season Batavia. Of 48 players the Phils selected, only 29 signed. The Phils also failed to sign Steve Doetsch, the talented high school outfielder they selected in the eighth round in 2002. Doetsch was redrafted by the Braves and came an eyelash from winning the Gulf Coast League triple crown. Scouts say he will play in the big leagues.

    After two straight drafts where a significant number of selections went unsigned, the Phillies were forced to patch and fill out rosters with Rule 5 minor leaguers and free agents. Their top hitter at Double A Reading, for example, was Jeff Inglin, a 28-year-old eight-season minor league journeyman. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's closer was a free agent named Wayne Gomes.

    But the stockpiling of pitchers enabled them to get Wagner. Somewhere, Hugh Alexander is smiling. Uncle Hughie's credo was, "You can't sign enough pitchers.'' Unfortunately, the Phillies have not yet reached the level where they have a surplus of everyday players. They can't dial up Japan and order a Matsui or Ichiro. Other clubs have beaten them into the deep end of an increasingly enticing international talent pool.

    Ed Wade took his second shot at the moon yesterday.

    He came away with green cheese under his fingernails and the knowledge his manager will be able to ease his ninth-inning heartburn with one of the surest closers this side of death.

    Fill up the bullpen with super premium and get ready for the number 100 to light up on the new Citizen's Bank Park message board. Early and often.


    Posted on Tue, Nov. 04, 2003

    Sam Donnellon | Just like Yankees do it

    Turns out you can have too much pitching. Turns out if you draft well and scout well and spend the kind of money on your farm system the Phillies have spent, you can make the kind of three-for-one deal that Ed Wade just made, the kind of dream trade that used to cost too much in dollars, or too much in prospects, for the Phillies to even consider - or be considered.

    Wade, the Phils' general manager, finally let go of some future arms to take a big shot at now. Not an easy thing for him to do when it comes to his nurtured farmhands, as we learn each trade deadline. Not an easy thing for him even when the bait is closer supreme Billy Wagner.

    "I thought it wasn't going to happen," Wade said. "Because of the names. I got a little stubborn. And I talked to myself and I talked to others who told me to be less stubborn.

    "Including myself."

    This qualifies as a breakthrough. There's a reason the Phillies dedicated 60 pages of last season's media guide to their minor league players. After being hammered for years over poor drafts and poor scouting, they have a farm system the Braves probably envy, and the Yankees most definitely do.

    It is deep. So deep that it is irrational to think the team will find places for all those players in the years to come. But when you've made the investment in time and, yes, emotion, that Wade has in rebuilding from near scratch, deciding who shall stay and who shall go is no easy task. Or a welcome one.

    At another time, Billy Wagner would be headed to the Yankees or the Braves. Not just because they would be the teams that could afford to pay him $17 million over the next two seasons. But because they would be the teams that could supply low-cost talent and highly thought-of prospects in return.

    The well is dry in New York. There will be no trade of prospects to pluck a small-market superstar, especially after the midseason deal in which the Yankees sent their top pitching prospect to Cincinnati for Aaron Boone. To maintain their crumbling dynasty this offseason, they will have to dip into those magical revenue streams even more, perhaps pushing that nose-bleed payroll of theirs over the $200 million mark.

    The well is no more than half full in Atlanta. And the payroll, the rumor goes, will be slashed again this winter.

    The Phillies? The talent is there. And so is a willingness to spend, even beyond this deal.

    "I thought we had the players," Wade said. "We probably did some of the same exercises the Astros did in regards to analyzing the market. Who has the players to give up? Who can take on the salary? Who has closer as a priority?

    "We came down to maybe one or two other clubs that could have been players in this to get it done now."

    Can you imagine how ludicrous that statement would have sounded even a few years ago?

    Parting with Brandon Duckworth was the easy part for Wade. Which farmhands to part with, that was hard.

    There were "eight or nine phone calls" with Houston general manager Gerry Hunsicker, Wade said. A meeting in Florida, a trip to Houston for another meeting, and still nothing was done.

    "The second and third names took a while," Wade said.

    Like a parent who finally learns to let go, Wade parted with Duckworth and two touted prospects and got a closer who, manager Larry Bowa said, is one of the three best in the National League. "When you see this kind of guy coming into the game from the other bullpen, you feel like the game is over," Bowa said.

    The stats support that. Over the last three seasons, he has as many saves as the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, and has finished more games than anyone.

    This year, Wagner had 44 saves in 47 opportunities and a 1.78 earned run average in 78 games.

    "When you look at the dollars attached to Billy Wagner, I'm not surprised that there wasn't a bigger market," Wade said. "If we viewed this as a free-agent market that was all about the economics, we probably would have done a different deal that would have cost us less money and covered the closer spot. But they weren't Billy Wagner."

    No, the names would have more likely been Ugueth Urbina or Tom Gordon or a name that required less talent but implied more risk.

    It's the way the Phillies used to conduct themselves not very long ago, the reason Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen and, yes, I, questioned their commitment to pursuing a championship.

    Yesterday was another resounding in-your-face to such doubt.

    "Somebody else might go out and save 46 games next year," Wade said. "Might turn out to be a whole lot better than what Billy does for us. But based on Billy's track record, this was the right thing for us to do."


    Wagner worth closing costs
    Trade with Astros big relief for Phils

    "I HATE to do this..."

    Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker was on the phone. It was shortly after the regular season ended, during the playoffs, and he was calling Ed Wade to talk business. The Phillies general manager had a pretty good idea what was coming next. He listened intently.

    "I hate to talk about trading a guy like Billy Wagner, but we're in a position where we're looking at some other things," Hunsicker continued.

    Wade wasn't surprised. It was no secret that Houston had an eye on paring its 2004 payroll and that Wagner might be available even though he was one of the top closers in baseball because he'll make a guaranteed $8 million next season, with a club option for $9 million in 2005 or a $3 million buyout. The Astros also had some younger, cheaper pitchers - Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge - who might be able to fill the role. And it probably didn't help that Wagner had taken a public swipe at owner Drayton McLane's commitment to winning on the last day of the season.

    Wade, naturally, was interested. It was also no secret that the Phillies were looking for a closer to replace Jose Mesa.

    Just because the needs of the two organizations seemed to dovetail so nicely didn't mean a trade was inevitable, of course. The Phillies had to decide if they wanted to commit that much of their available payroll to the 32-year-old Wagner. Both teams had to agree on the players the Astros would get in return. At one point, Wade was convinced the deal was dead.

    When he checked his hole card, though, he decided this was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

    So the Phillies called a news conference yesterday and announced that they had picked up lefthander Wagner, who had a 1.78 earned run average while converting 44 of 47 save opportunities last season, in exchange for righthanders Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio.

    It was those last two names that almost caused the deal to snag.

    During his initial conversation with Hunsicker, Wade mentioned that he would shortly be going to Florida to meet with the organization's professional scouts. It was during those sessions that the organization decided to make obtaining a closer its priority.

    After that, the process was surprisingly simple. The names of all the available relievers the Phillies viewed as potential closers were written with a marker on a white dry erase board. Potential free agents Keith Foulke, Tom Gordon and Ugueth Urbina were listed. The debate that followed lasted for hours. And when it was over, a strong consensus had been reached:

    Wagner was the best closer available.

    Wade, along with assistants Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mike Arbuckle, attended the World Series in Florida. Wade left before Game 5 to fly to Houston to attend a memorial service for Beverly Rains, an administrative assistant in the Astros' baseball administration office he'd known when he was Houston's public relations director in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During that time, he spoke with Hunsicker face-to-face.

    In a strange twist, he stayed at the home of Astros president Tal Smith, who he had worked for 15 years ago when Smith was running a consulting business specializing in arbitration research.

    Still, when Wade got on his plane at George Bush Intercontinental Airport to return to Philadelphia, he didn't think the trade would be made. Duckworth was the only name the teams had been able to agree on.

    At that point, he still was unwilling to part with top prospects. After he returned, however, he discussed the situation with his lieutenants. He looked in the mirror. And he decided to take a deep breath and proceed.

    "The price of doing business is very high when you're talking about getting a quality closer," Wade explained yesterday. "And this guy's credentials are as good as they can possibly be."

    Those credentials include holding opposing batters to a .169 batting average, striking out 105 batters in 86 innings and throwing a fastball that lights up radar guns at 100 miles an hour.

    In player rankings compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau that cover the last two seasons and are used to determine free-agent compensation, he was rated behind only Eric Gagne, of the Dodgers, in the National League.

    Still, Wade had to think long and hard before pulling the trigger. While he continues to insist that he believes Duckworth has the potential to be a successful big-league pitcher, there was a growing perception that it wasn't going to happen in Philadelphia. In the last 2 years he was a combined 12-16 with a 5.24 earned run average. In each season he started in the rotation and pitched his way to the bullpen or the minors.

    Buchholz, a 22-year-old native of Springfield, Delaware County, was 9-11 despite a 3.55 ERA at Double A Reading last season. The Phillies believed he could arrive in the big leagues as quickly as late next season.

    Astacio, 24, led the Class A Florida State League with 15 wins at Clearwater.

    "They sort of represent the top of the line in our organization," Wade said. "The Astros got three pitchers who will perform in the big leagues."

    What the Astros didn't get was the players they originally asked for. "When you get in the process of putting a deal together, we have three or four guys who are marked as virtually untouchable," Wade said.

    While he wouldn't identify those prospects, strong indications are that lefthander Cole Hamels, righthander Gavin Floyd, second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard fall into that category.

    Because of the level of prospects the Phillies are giving up, Wagner's 2005 option was important to Wade, even though he noted that the pitcher has a right under the Basic Agreement to demand a trade at the end of the season.

    As always, the longterm implications of this trade won't be fully known for years. It seems safe to say, however, that the Phillies are a better team today than they were last week.

    "This is a big pickup," said manager Larry Bowa. "When you see this kind of guy coming into the game from the other bullpen, you feel like the game is over. This was a big void for us and we filled it quickly.

    "There aren't that many closers you can bring in, sit back and say, 'Let it go.' I hope he's as happy to be here as we are to have him."

    Said Wagner, who has spent his entire career with the Astros after being selected in the first round of the 1993 draft: "We've been a player or two short as long as I've been in Houston. Coming to Philadelphia gives me a chance to realize the ultimate dream of every player.

    "This is an emotional day for me. My head is swirling. I've got a lot of things ahead of me to get ready for. My wife [Sharon] is a little upset but she's also excited because it's closer to our [Charlottesville, Va.] home and a great opportunity to win a championship."

    The deal that the Astros hated to do could turn out to be one that the Phillies love.


    Posted on Tue, Nov. 04, 2003

    Without question, he's the answer
    For Phils, Wagner best deal available

    Any time a team makes a deal the magnitude of the one that brought dominant lefthander

    Billy Wagner to the Phillies

    yesterday, it raises a series of questions. Here's an attempt to answer some of them:

    Q - If Billy Wagner is so good, why were they able to pull off this deal so quickly?

    A - For the same reason that only two teams seriously bid on Jim Thome last year. It's still a buyer's market. The fact is that there aren't many teams out there who had the need for a closer, the ability to take on his $8 million contract for 2004 and the prospects that Houston was looking for.

    Q - Should the Phillies be concerned that Wagner has some kind of injury the Astros are hiding?

    A - Injuries are always possible. But general manager Ed Wade's ties with both Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker and president Tal Smith go back more than 20 years. It's highly unlikely they're trying to pull something. Besides, Wagner did allow just 52 hits in 86 innings last season. That doesn't sound like somebody with health issues.

    Q - So is this a steal?

    A - Not necessarily. It's similar to the trade that brought Kevin Millwood last offseason for catcher Johnny Estrada.

    At the time, that looked pretty lopsided. But the Braves, without Millwood, made the playoffs. The Phillies, with him, didn't. Now it seems likely that he'll walk away as a free agent. And Estrada could well be Atlanta's regular catcher next year because it's doubtful they'll re-sign Javy Lopez, even though he's coming off a big year.

    When you add it all up, the Braves could end up with a catcher and the Phillies walk away with nothing but some pretty memories of Millwood's no-hitter back in May.

    The success of this deal will ultimately depend on whether Wagner helps them make the playoffs. If he leaves without the Phillies going to the postseason and Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz or Ezequiel Astacio develop into frontline big-league pitchers for Houston, it can't be viewed as a one-sided trade.

    Still, just like Millwood-for-Estrada, this was a deal the Phillies absolutely, positively had to make.

    Q - Was this the best they could have done?

    A - The Dodgers weren't going to trade Eric Gagne, the Braves weren't going to trade John Smoltz and the Yankees weren't going to trade Mariano Rivera. So, yes, he sure looks like the best available closer.

    Q - Will they try to sign Wagner to a long-term extension like they did after getting Millwood last year?

    A - No. Since they hold a 2005 option they'll see how it all plays out, even though he has the right under the Basic Agreement to demand a trade at the end of the season.

    Q - What will they do next, then?

    A They need to add a starting pitcher and still have several holes in the bullpen, although bringing back lefthander Dan Plesac and/or righthander Terry Adams would address some of the relief questions.

    Q - There were reports that the Phillies were really high on free agent reliever Tom Gordon. Will they still try to sign him as a setup man?

    A - Gordon had apparently expressed considerable interest in coming to the Phillies. It remains to be seen whether he'll still be interested in signing on if he's not the closer. But the Phillies will talk to him to find out.

    Q - Do they have enough payroll left to get a legit No. 1 starter?

    A Good question. General manager Ed Wade said several times that he still had "flexibility." But he didn't specifically say he could afford, say, Bartolo Colon or take on the contract of a pitcher like Javier Vazquez or Curt Schilling in a trade.

    And he repeated that he doesn't necessarily think it's necessary to get an ace, that slotting somebody into the middle of the rotation could be good enough. So it appears probable that whoever they get will be more of a middle-of-the-rotation guy.

    Q - How does the rotation set up right now?

    A - Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers plus whoever they can add. The fifth spot is up for grabs from a group that includes Ryan Madson, Amaury Telemaco, Bud Smith and Josh Hancock.

    Wade made a point of mentioning that Madson is a member of the Olympic Qualifying team and that he'd gotten a phone message from pitching coach Dave Stewart "raving about how he's performed."

    Q - How quickly will they move now to fill the other holes they have?

    A - Don't hold your breath. Another trade is always possible but they can't start talking to free agents until Nov. 9 and they might even wait to see what players become free agents because they aren't offered salary arbitrations or are non-tendered.
  2. redgoose

    redgoose Contributing Member

    Jun 27, 2003
    Likes Received:
    I really like the way the Philly organization has been performing the last couple years. Next to the Yankees and RedSox, i'd say they're trying to put the pieces of a championship team together better than anyone else.

    They have a good starting 3 combo w/o Millwood and Brett Myers will be a stud next year, and i didn't realize they had so many pitching prospects in their farm sysytem.

    It's a good thing Houston drafted all pitchers in last years mlb draft because our system has been depleted. And to make a big trade, everyone wants pitching prospects in return.

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