Too bad you stopped hitting home runs
Sigh. Good bye Bobby. You were a very good player here- the best Phillies’ outfielder I can recall. Too bad you stopped hitting home runs. Now you’ll get to walk a lot, play diffident right field, and hit warning track fly-balls where I can see you more regularly: New York.
Now, baseball insiders shriek continually that the baseball trading deadline needs to be pushed back- as the all these teams in contention means deadline deals in July are not going to happen. Teams can’t give up talent- because no team is really dead with sixty games to play.
I tend to think that is a lot of nonsense- and the Phillies were clear evidence. Here is a ballclub, only four games out of the wild card, who simply could not wait to dump one significant outfielder and one very decent starting pitcher for nothing. Frankly, I hate to think what would have happened had the Yankees refused to do the deal without Burrell being thrown in.
Baseball economics has evolved to the point where almost everyone has productive players available- because everyone has multiple someones with a bad contract. But clubs have to resign themselves they aren’t getting anything of value, player-wise, in return. Any product in surplus- and players with bad contracts always are- has zero pricing power.
Bill James used to frequently write that the major leagues were stupid to stop teams from “selling players”- as it was a viable economic tool to keep “poorer teams” from losing all their talent. To wit, they can’t keep all their good players anyway, and when a poor team makes a mistake on a player it can kill them for season after season. So by allowing them to sell veteran players to other clubs, poor teams can both subsidize the retention of their younger talent & get rid of over-paid mistakes in order to stay more competitive. For all intents and purposes, baseball bans this practice now- which used to be fairly common place (see Babe Ruth for example).
But this Abreu trade is a similar exercise. The Phillies didn’t get cash from the Yankees per se- but they did get “cash” in the sense of climbing out of over twenty million dollars in obligations to players whose best campaigns are probably behind them. The Yankees can justify $23 million for a guy who has one home run in two months and a .500 pitcher going well for a few starts; the Phillies probably can’t. Or at least can’t when they are continually six games under .500.
So you could argue Bobby probably had to go. My only objection is that if they were going to let him and Lidle go for nothing- why didn’t they wait until the end of the season? It would have only cost them these two guy’s salaries until the end of the year, they have had to these two assets to try and make a run (ed. no matter how hopeless) at this wild card thing and yes- I believe the Yankees’ (or whomever) fourth best prospect and 27 year old LHP would still have been there to make this similar deal?
But I believe Gillick continues to stick to his plan. The Phillies biggest problem wasn’t they had tons of bad players- but rather a mis-allocation, as it were, of resources: fifteen million dollars devoted solely to the back-end of the bullpen, fifteen million to Thome, more big money to foundation players who couldn’t play (Bell & Leiberthal) or are declining (Abreu and Leiber) or a mystery (Wolf).
Gillick has made progress on these fronts. You simply can’t trade unproductive players- the catcher for instance. And you can’t blow up a team’s foundation but not move what productive players you can trade. Get either the necessary payroll fleibility or young players to move forward. Frankly, I'd rather have the cash; I'm not sure the Phillies feature organizational excellence in developoing, say, young pitching.
Some of it as simply biting the bullet and letting these contracts run until they are small enough that Gillick could move them.
So, if Gillick’s goal upon taking the job was taking a wrecking ball to old foundation- and establishing the new nucleus of Utley, Howard, Myers- as well as restoring 50 million dollars in spending flexibility- well, he’s made progress. But the hard part is still to come- signing this new franchise corps & surrounding them with the necessary, but totally absent, complimentary cast.