October 31, 2008
On the Beat
Let's Play for Two
PHILADELPHIA-The carpet in the Phillies' clubhouse was still soaked with champagne as manager Charlie Manuel surveyed the happy scene in the hallway between his office and the players' dressing area and thought ahead to 2009. "This is a lot of fun," Manuel said to no one in particular Wednesday night as he flashed a huge grin. "Let's do this again next year." Manuel already had designs on winning the 2009 World Series just an hour after Brad Lidge had closed out the Phillies' series victory over the Rays by striking out pinch-hitter Eric Hinske to cap a 4-3 win in Game Five.
It seems like a rather tall order to ask for a second consecutive championship, something no club has done in this decade of parity. The last team to win back-to-back World Series was the Yankees, who won three in a row from 1998-2000, but Manuel and the Phillies were certainly entitled to dream after ending a 28-year championship drought. The Phillies don't feel that winning it all again next season is outside the realm of possibility. "It's tough to do once, I can tell you that," said Lidge, who signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension that includes a club option for 2012. "I would imagine it would be that much tougher to come back and try to do it a second time. I think we could do it, though. I really believe we have an outstanding nucleus of players and a front office committed to winning. If I didn't think the commitment was there, I would not have signed long-term with the Phillies."
The first order of business in their quest to repeat is to find a new general manager. GM Pat Gillick, whose three-year contract expires today, addressed the fans during Wednesday night's trophy presentation, and left open the idea of returning. While talking to a group of reporters two days before the World Series began however, he had been adamant in insisting that he was leaving the organization, and he will not attend the GM meetings next week in Dana Point, California.
Assistant GM and former Phillies outfielder Ruben Amaro Jr. is expected to be promoted as Gillick's replacement. While he politely declined to talk about his future during the Phillies' post-game celebration, Amaro did say that he felt the Phillies should be competitive for years to come. "When we starting building this team in 1998, when I was first hired by [former GM] Ed Wade, it was with the intention that we wanted to be competitive on a regular basis, not just on a one-shot deal," Amaro said. "It took longer than we wanted to reach this point, but this isn't a surprise to anyone who has been involved with this organization. Building a team that could win a World Series has always been our goal. It took longer than we wanted for it to happen, but we've done it, and we would certainly like to put ourselves in position to win more than one."
The Phillies do have a group of key players in the prime of their careers. The double-play combination of second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins will be 30 when next season begins. First baseman Ryan Howard, who led the National League with 48 home runs, and right fielder Jayson Werth will both be 29, while center fielder Shane Victorino will be 28. Left-hander Cole Hamels, the MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series, will be just 25, and right-hander Brett Myers, the number-two starter, will be 28. Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels, and Myers were all drafted and developed by the Phillies. "What really makes this team special in my eyes is that so many of our star players came up through our organization," Amaro said. "A lot of people throughout the organization can take a lot of pride in this title because they played a part in it, particularly our scouting director, Marti Wolever, who drafted so many of those guys."
The Phillies have two key free agents in left-hander Jamie Moyer and left fielder Pat Burrell, another homegrown product. Moyer wants to keep playing despite being 45 years old, and will almost certainly be in a Phillies' uniform next season. He was 21st in the NL and second on the Phillies' staff with 5.0 SNLVAR, trailing only Hamels' 7.1. Burrell is a trickier proposition; the 32-year-old has had a solid career, but has not developed into the superstar that the Phillies had expected when they used the first overall pick in the 1998 first-year player draft to select him from the University of Miami. Burrell has been a dependable hitter however, with EqAs between .295 and .305 in each of the last four seasons, and a .291 career mark; his .296 EqA this year was third on the club among regulars behind Utley (.308) and Werth (.297). Burrell's expiring contract was a six-year deal worth $50 million, and it's hard to imagine the Phillies paying him that kind of money again. While he has had a long love/hate relationship with the Phillies' fans, he does want to stay. "It's really up to the Phillies," Burrell said. "The ball is in their court. If they want me, I would gladly come back."
Letting Burrell go would leave the Phillies with Werth as their only significant right-handed power hitter. The best in-house options to take over in left field are veterans Matt Stairs and Geoff Jenkins, but both are left-handed hitters, and it is questionable if either is capable of playing regularly; Stairs is 40 years old, and Jenkins had a .239 EqA in 322 plate appearances this year. Regardless of whether Burrell returns though, Howard believes that the Phillies will have one psychological advantage going into next season: "No one can call us losers anymore and keep bringing up how we haven't won a World Series since 1980," Howard said. "We've heard that a lot, and it's going to be nice to go to spring training next year being called defending world champions. That has a very nice ring to it."