Ed Wade’s decision to keep Billy Wagner at the trade deadline may have cost the Phillies a golden opportunity to rebuild, and soon, Wagner may slip away, too.
A year ago, I made a big stink about how the Phillies needed to get younger in certain areas, including catcher and third base. My position still stands, with added urgency.
Ed Wade, who orchestrated his decisions on the promise that the core group was good enough to win a championship, had, in turn, sacrificed long term for short term goals, signed free agents to overreaching deals, and never addressed the future by replenishing areas worn thin. For this, he was justly replaced one month ago.
Dealing Billy Wagner at the trade deadline was a golden opportunity to fetch prospects, a move I advocated for heavily. Instead, Wade moved all his chips to the center of the table and stood his ground. Boston, a team with a legitimate shot at a championship, was reported to be offering a young catcher and third baseman. Who knows what else could have been dangled; Days before the deadline, Wagner was yanked off the market, while GMs around baseball instantaneously fell to the floor laughing.
For the first time in years, the Phillies had leverage and didn’t capitalize. Today, the upper hand has been taken away. Wagner is already packed and out the door, a deal with New York nearly in hand. The Phillies have the same holes they had before, in addition to gaping new ones at closer and setup man.
Go for prospects ... at the next deadline
Expectations headed into 2006 are low, free agency offers no real hope, and most believe the current core cannot win and must be changed. If there was ever a time to get prospects, it was at the 2005 trade deadline straight up, without paying out. Today represents another good opportunity, but only if the Phils don’t have to pay out and can make a deal straight-up.
With the money saved by letting Wagner walk, I would stuff that money right back into bullpen, projecting to be their most urgent need in a few days.
However, a need to get younger at catcher and third still lingers for a second year in a row. Looking ahead to next season, I see a nice crop of free agent southpaws on the horizon, but a horrible selection at third base and catcher, David Bell and Mike Lieberthal among them.
If I’m Pat Gillick, getting young replacements at third base and catcher becomes a top priority, ranking right up there with starting pitching. Of course, the ideal would have been dealing Wagner at the deadline. It could have solved a lot of problems.
Instead of dealing a player like Bobby Abreu now and having to shell out for his contract, why not wait for another high-leverage situation at the next deadline when contenders are desperate for help? Then, the Phils would have a better chance at dumping the $28 million left on his contract - including $15 million in 2007 - and maybe get some prospects on top.
Deal I would make right now: Ryan Madson for a top catching prospect.