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December 14 2006

There were thousands of decisions that impacted the final outcome of the 2006 season for the Phillies.  While we wait for the next article with hard-hitting news about the time a Phillies' ballgirl hopped a plane, it seems like a good time to start to look at some of those that may have been the most critical.

#1: The decision that it was time to rebuild.

On October 2, 2005 the Phillies played their final game of the '05 season.  They won their fourth straight, beating the Nationals 9-3 to improve to 88-74 on the year.  When the Astros beat the Cubs 6-4 the same day, the Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention - an Astros loss would have forced a one-game playoff to determine whether Houston or the Phils went to the post-season.  For a team that had not been to the playoffs since 1993, it was as close as they had been in 12 years.

The Phillies had the option to bring back basically the same team in '06.  The center field tandem of Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels would not be back for '06. In the pen, Billy Wagner and Ugueth Urbina weren't going to return.  Randy Wolf was out for Tommy John surgery, but Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito had combined to make 18 starts and thrown to a 3.59 ERA.

The team was at a crossroads.  They had come so close to the playoffs, yet the same core group of now expensive players had been around for a while and hadn't sniffed the playoffs.  Mike Lieberthal had just finished his 12th season with the Phils and was still looking for his first playoff at-bat.  Corner outfielders Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell each had big contracts -- Abreu was finishing his eighth year with the team and Burrell his sixth.  David Bell, brought in for the 2003 season after the Phillies traded away Scott Rolen in July, 2002, had just finished his third season with the Phils, two of which had been absolutely miserable.

At the same time the Phillies had an exciting group of up and coming players.  26-year-old Chase Utley put up wicked numbers in 2005, hitting 291/376/540 with 28 home runs.  Ryan Howard still struggled for playing time in 2005 but managed to stroke 22 home runs in 312 at-bats.  Jimmy Rollins had just finished his fifth full-season and was just a month older than Utley, although by the end of the year he had signed a contract that guaranteed he would be making far more money than Utley or Howard in the short term.  Brett Myers was still just 25-years-old.  People believed that Cole Hamels was among the best prospects in baseball and that Gavin Floyd may not be that far behind.

In early November, 2005, the Phillies named Pat Gillick their new General Manager.  Whether it was a contingency of bringing Gillick aboard or not, the Phillies decided it was time to tear down the team that won 88 games in '05, the most wins the organization had posted since they went to the World Series in '93. 

The Phillies almost immediately let it be known they were trying to deal Burrell and Abreu.  Before the '06 season started they picked up uber-fourth outfielder David Dellucci, who could have fill in at either corner if the Phils could find a deal.  They brought in Abraham Nunez, who had done a solid job in '05 filling in at third base for the Cardinals when Scott Rolen went down.  By the end of '06 the big contract of Abreu had been dumped.  David Bell had been traded.  Mike Lieberthal made it through the 2006 season but his run with the Phillies was over.  Cory Lidle, who had been pitching in his third season with the Phils was gone.  Of the old guard, it was basically just Burrell and Jon Lieber who remained, and the Phillies were clear they could be had in a deal.

The decision to go out with the old and in with the new would have consequences for the Phillies, and the consequences may have kept them out of the playoffs in '06 as the team came close yet again but fell short.  The most amazing aspect of it all may be just how quickly it all went full-circle.  During the off-season before '06 and into the season, the Phillies were clearly trying to dump.  Earlier this month they made the opposite type of move, dealing away one of the few prospects with significant value in a weak system to get a $10 million pitcher in the last year of his contract.

The Pirates may have suggested a deal where they would send Mike Gonzalez to the Indians for superstar catcher Victor Martinez.  Yikes.  That's, um, ambitious.

The Twins may be the front-runner to sign Rondell White.

The Nationals acquired outfielder Chris Snelling in a deal that sent Jose Vidro to Seattle, which may make Ryan Church more expendable.

Brady Clark is one of the remaining thought-to-be-available center fielders.  This article says he was not offered to the Rockies for shortstop Clint Barmes.

This post in a blog entry by Roch Kubatko of the Baltimore Sun says Aubrey Huff may be looking to make as much as $9 million per year.  That could go a long way towards explaining why he's still out there.

The Rockies may still have interest in Rod Barajas.

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