It is an understatement to say that the Phillies over the last five years are better than those Phillies teams I played for in the late '90s/early 2000s. We had some talent, but in none of my six seasons in Philadelphia did I see the postseason.
That is not to say we were never in a position to consider what key move could get us there. But on the two-way street between player and team, the desire for a certain key move may not necessarily go both ways.
In 2001, we did scoop up Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook in an effort to bolster our bullpen. They weren't A-list options, but as we saw with the 2010 Giants, the impact of an A-list acquisition is overrated. We had just enough starting pitching to know we had an outside shot, we had enough offensive firepower to score, but we certainly didn't have the clout to get a Roy Oswalt-caliber ace to drop from the sky, waive a no-trade clause and willingly join us. (Remember, we even had to move an ace in Curt Schilling, who was traded away in 2000 to Arizona).
Today's Phillies have earned their stripes, which represent a change in the limitations of their 2001 reality. By the end of my Philly run in 2004, in a new stadium, we still didn't have the ability to draw players who were looking for a big contract for 2005. The lingering effects of the idea that "no one wanted to go to Philadelphia" was still present, even in a brand spanking new ballpark. But that was only step one; now just over five years later, elite players can't wait to get some brotherly love.
The organizational resource war has begun and it will continue to heat up until the very last minute of the trade deadline. GMs across MLB are bluffing, dodging, thinking and pulling triggers on what is needed to make a second-half push for the postseason. And it matters if you are already a champion. It matters that you may be able to re-sign someone with a no-trade clause. It matters a lot.
Make no mistake about it, the Phillies weren't handed this new look. They needed to win on the heels of a new stadium to get their supporters and local sponsors to believe; they had to stretch a family-owned organization into the realm of high-level corporate marketing to reach into a new possibility. And it paid off.
Now the Cliff Lees of the world seek out Philadelphia, and they even offer a discount in the process. And this is why the Phillies are positioned to make the moves they need to make with the entire marketplace at their fingertips, while seven years ago, they had access to only a corner of that marketplace. Back in the day, they could not draw the elite of the elite at this critical time. Nor could they truly afford them.
But what a difference a championship and, maybe more importantly, consistent excellence can make. When you go down the list of suitors for the top talent out there, it is hard to place Pittsburgh in the same breath as St. Louis, Philadelphia, Boston or San Francisco, when you think of the teams most likely to woo talent that has the right to veto any trade or represent an Aramis Ramirez–type 10-5 guy.
So the rich do get richer in this sense. They are more desirable because they have won and can win this year. They also have power because they can pay and take on risk, and they can set up a player for next season by either extension possibilities or just the higher chance that he can walk away with a ring on his finger when all is said and done.
The one year I did make the postseason was 2003, and just like the San Francisco Giants of last year, the Cubs pieced this team together with B-listers. And the smoke and mirrors worked out well. We jelled, we played selfless baseball and we knocked on the door to the World Series against the odds.
So maybe the Pirates can be the new Giants, make smart moves and timely fits for the next two months of the season. In fact, for them to compete, they have to be creative, because it is not likely that the top-shelf free agents to be are going to kick down their door to be there. A team's attractiveness to top-echelon players is based on a team's ability to secure the present and the future for that player, and if his agent is worth his salt, he is trying to have both if his client is among the rare few with the leverage to demand it.
Cook and Wendell struggled for the most part after their trade to us that year. We were chasing the Braves, as usual, and we managed to take it all the way to the wire in September. But we fell short. We seemed to be missing just one piece of the puzzle, and missing one is enough to make you watch the playoffs from home.
But these Phillies don't know much about falling short over the past few years. They have come to expect to get what they need when they need it. They have earned it. And the beauty of where they sit right now is with many injuries in their bullpen and their core lineup, they still have the best record in baseball. So maybe, they can choose to just turn talent away at the door simply because they can.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLBPAA (MLB Players Alumni Association). His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville