Friday, December 6, 2002 Updated: December 9, 5:41 PM ET
Rumblings: Schilling back to Phillies?
By Jayson Stark ESPN.com
Life looks beautiful in Philadelphia now, with Jim Thome and David Bell ready to transform the Phillies into the 2003 favorites in the NL East (even if they must do without Jamie Moyer, who re-upped with Seattle on Saturday). But some baseball people wonder how much the Phillies will be tying their financial hands down the road.
Thome will average more than $14 million a year over his contract. Bobby Abreu starts collecting $10 million-plus in 2004. And the Phillies are already trying to wrap up Pat Burrell long-term -- ostensibly for slightly more than they're paying Tomas Perez. So that's a huge hunk of payroll in very few hands.
"They're taking a chance -- which I give them credit for," said one AL GM. "But there's a cost to that. In today's game, when you lose flexibility, that's when you put yourself in a corner."
But the Phillies claim they've taken all that into account. They've given no deferred contracts to anybody. They expect their farm system to produce enough low-budget players to complement the big-ticket items. And they expect that a combination of winning and their new ballpark will make all this economically possible.
"We've never talked about what 2003 would look like," said team president Dave Montgomery, "without planning what 2004 and '05 and '06 look like. We pay constant attention to that. We've run all those numbers."
Almost exactly a year ago, the Phillies handed Scott Rolen a piece of paper indicating they were willing to give him a potential $140 million over 10 years. It now looks as if it worked out better for everybody that Rolen said, "No thanks."
Rolen was able to go to St. Louis, where he is happier. And the Phillies were able to turn around and offer Thome, Bell and Glavine $133 million -- and win back many more fans by signing Thome than they ever would have by re-signing Rolen, whom many Philadelphians had decided wasn't their kind of guy.
Asked flatly if the Phillies could have signed Thome if Rolen had said yes, Montgomery's reply was a succinct: "Probably not."
The Phillies continue to weigh where to bat Thome in the order. But some of that depends on where they decide to hit Abreu. Sources say that what manager Larry Bowa wanted to do was use Abreu in the leadoff hole. And Abreu -- a 20-homer, 30-steal, 50-double man with a .409 career on-base percentage -- could have been the best leadoff man in the league. But his answer was a flat, "No way."
"That ain't gonna happen," said one friend of Abreu. "I don't know where he will hit, but it won't be leadoff. Bobby thinks of himself as a run producer, and he wants to be in a position to drive in runs."
So he's liable to wind up batting fifth, with Thome third and Burrell fourth. For what it's worth, Abreu hit .313 with men in scoring position this year, Thome .342 and Burrell .295.
Thome says that one reason he wasn't willing to accept a vesting option for a sixth and seventh year to stay in Cleveland is that, unlike most of those options, he couldn't have guaranteed the option years based on plate appearances. The Indians wanted the sixth year to guarantee itself only if Thome finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting in the fifth year of the contract. To vest the seventh year, he would have had to do the same in 2008.
Meanwhile, one of the strangest rumors of the week involved the Phillies making a deal with Arizona to bring back Curt Schilling. The Phillies did make a brief run at Schilling early in the offseason and were rebuffed faster than you could say, "Cy Young."
Schilling is said to have told friends that if he doesn't finish his career in Arizona, he would love to pitch in Philadelphia again. Had the Phillies signed Glavine for three years, that would have taken care of that possibility. Moyer would have likely received only two guaranteed seasons at age 40. So suddenly, a deal for Schilling in a year or two doesn't look out of the question.
One general manager on which veteran left-hander he would rather have, Glavine or Moyer: "I'd give Jamie Moyer two years in a heartbeat. I'd rather have Moyer. Right now, I think he's a better pitcher."
Baseball survived its near-death experience as an Olympic sport last week as much because of IOC politics as anything else. But somewhere down the road, Major League Baseball is going to start feeling pressure to permit big leaguers to participate -- either to keep the sport in the Olympics or to allow the United States to stay competitive. Or both.
"I don't see any way that Major League Baseball could shut down for an extended period of time for the Olympics," says baseball's executive vice president, Sandy Alderson, who represented MLB in its dealings with the IOC. "There's no way we could shut down for two weeks. Think of all the complications.
"Start with the fans. If you ask fans to make a choice between watching their own team for two weeks or watching the United States team play Cuba maybe once, I think most people would rather wake up in the morning and look at the box scores."
One option being examined, though, is shortening the Olympic baseball competition to only five games. If that were to happen, MLB could just fit the Olympics into a break a few days longer than the All-Star break.
Or there has been talk about expanded Olympic rosters so that big-league teams could loan players to the Olympic team for a few days or a week, then have them replaced by other players.
But would that work? Would the Diamondbacks, for instance, let Randy Johnson miss a start to pitch for the Olympic team if the other NL West teams weren't sending off players of similar caliber? No chance.
So everyone will keep brainstorming. For now, though, Alderson says there will be better players in the 2004 Olympics than there were the last time around -- just because the Athens games are in August instead of September. An August Olympiad means teams can allow better prospects to play because they can still return in time for September call-ups.
That Dodgers-Cubs trade-dumpfest this week could have many ramifications. But one of them is a possible opening for the Dodgers to sign Cliff Floyd to play first base. And the ironies to that are off the charts.
The last time Floyd played first base regularly, in Double-A nine years ago, his manager happened to be ... a guy named Jim Tracy. And the last time Floyd played first base extensively in the big leagues, back in 1995, he broke his wrist in a collision at first with ... a guy named Todd Hundley, whose trade to L.A. made Floyd's signing a possibility. It's a crazy, crazy world.
Or Jeff Kent could wind up in L.A. as a result of this deal. But it's amazing how little Kent's name comes up this winter when GMs talk about their free-agent options, considering he has driven in more runs the last five years (568) than any of this year's free agents, including Thome.
One GM says Kent's punchless postseason (8 RBIs in 67 at-bats -- half of them in one game) concerned him.
"We saw the Angels pitch him differently than anyone in the National League," he said. "They buried him with breaking stuff and really frustrated him. ... He's looking for four years at big dollars, and I'm just not certain that four years down the road, he's worth it."
You can find many opinions on which closer you would rather have out of that A's-White Sox deal -- Billy Koch or Keith Foulke. But the ultimate key to which team makes out better could be Joe Valentine, whom the A's view as a potential closer of the future.
"He's got a chance to be a dominating guy, a Kyle Farnsworth-type guy, but he's got to throw more strikes," said one scout. "He's got an outstanding arm, and he's definitely not afraid. But he's still a bit away from the big leagues for me, command-wise. And he doesn't have a great feel for the mound yet. In a perfect world, I'd start him at Double-A, then bump him to Triple-A in a couple of months. But I'm sure he'll go to (Triple-A) Sacramento, so they can try to run him up there (to Oakland) as soon as possible."
The Reds keep denying they're trading Junior Griffey. But several sources say it isn't because he's not available. Officials of two teams looking for outfield help say they've been felt out by Reds people asking if they would have interest in Griffey.
But while he has no official no-trade clause, Griffey is believed to have an understanding with the Reds that they won't trade him without his OK. And clubs we've surveyed say they would need to see some evidence Griffey has rededicated himself to physical conditioning and his game before they would have any interest.
While on the subject of rededication, scouts returning from Puerto Rico say word is everywhere that Pudge Rodriguez is "on a mission" to get himself back in shape, so he can restore his reputation (and, not coincidentally, his income level). At the moment, his best option still appears to be the Cubs, who are treading water for a couple of weeks waiting to see if Rodriguez can establish his current market value.
"He's got a lot to prove," said one scout. "But if everything you hear is true, somebody might catch him having a hell of a year."
Some players who have opened a few eyes in Puerto Rico, with scouting reports:
Blue Jays shortstop Felipe Lopez: "Seems like he's a driven guy down there. Made some outstanding plays -- and made the routine play. There's a lot of interest in him, and with his ability, there's no reason he shouldn't be a premium shortstop. What worries me is that I've seen him during the year, and there are times he really has trouble concentrating."
Braves pitching prospect Andy Pratt: "Hasn't pitched above Double-A, but he's pretty damn close to the big leagues for me. Handled himself like a veteran."
Royals smoke-thrower Mike MacDougal: "This guy pitches consistently at 99-100 miles per hour. He's kind of like a Matt Anderson. It's hard to love his command, but he's got tremendous arm strength and nasty movement when he throws in the strike zone. Is he ready to close in the big leagues? Who knows. But I'd bring him into camp and give him the opportunity."
Best trade rumor bouncing around Puerto Rico lately: Lopez to the Orioles for Sidney Ponson. Only one problem with that one: The Blue Jays have no interest in that one.
Speaking of the Toronto rotation, Chris Carpenter is now a free agent and probably can't pitch again until at least next August after shoulder surgery. But the Blue Jays have made him a multiyear offer. He has until Tuesday to say yes or no.
Winter-ball phenom of the year: 20-year-old White Sox left-hander Arnoldo Munoz (32 IP, 17 H, 63 SO, 9 BB in the Dominican).
"I saw his numbers," said one scout, "and they were like cartoon numbers. But then I saw him, and the guy was unhittable. I don't know where he's been. But he showed an outstanding breaking ball, a Barry Zito-type curveball. He came in there and did it for three innings, too. He was really impressive."
The union and the commissioner's office are closing in on a deal to approve the Expos' 22 games in Puerto Rico. One component will be a pledge to make renovations to Hiram Bithorn Stadium and, according to MLB executive vice president John McHale Jr., bring "all aspects up to major-league standards."
Still, the Expos and their visitors could be in for a shock when they arrive in cramped clubhouses that, in their current state, wouldn't go over too hot in the Gulf Coast League. Clubhouse improvements are part of the plan, but McHale also concedes: "There's only a certain amount you can do in some areas."
Even if Edgardo Alfonzo's Mets days are over, one of Alfonzo's agents, Chris Leible, says "a dozen clubs" have called to express interest in Alfonzo as either a second baseman or third baseman. Back in spring training, Alfonzo wanted a seven-year contract. He's willing to take two years now.
Spring-training attractions to mark on your it-won't-snow-forever calendar: Dusty Baker's Cubs open the all-important Cactus League campaign against (who else?) the Giants in Scottsdale on Feb. 27. And Jim Thome's Phillies visit the Thome-less Indians in exotic Winter Haven on March 8.
One of Thome's many Phillies' recruiting calls came from his favorite crooner in all the world, Tim McGraw, son of the man who got the last out of the Phillies' only World Series triumph in history (Tug McGraw).
"All Tim said," Thome reported, "is, 'My dad's ring is getting too heavy. So you should wear one, too.'"
We're not sure what that means. But Thome ought to know as much about chasing rings as Tug or anyone he'll meet in Philadelphia. With Cleveland, he finished first six times. In the entire history of the Phillies' franchise, they've finished first eight times.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.