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December 15 2006

If the Phillies' plan was to clean house it didn't take long for Pat Gillick to implement it.  And he didn't seem to care even a little bit if it meant some moves that looked real bad on paper.  In yesterday's post I wrote about what was perhaps the biggest decision of last year, the decision to tear down the team and rebuild, bringing us to another of what may have been the most significant decisions of 2006:

#2:  Vicente Padilla for Ricardo Rodriguez.

The Phillies had acquired Vicente Padilla in July, 2000, in the deal that sent Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks.  2005 had been Padilla's fifth full season with the team, he went 9-12 with a 4.71 ERA in 27 starts.  For Padilla it was his fourth straight season in Philadelphia the team had seen his ERA rise -- as a 24-year-old in 2002, Padilla had his best year with the Phils, going 14-11 with a 3.28 ERA in 32 starts.  He had a reputation for being difficult to get along with.

Gillick was named General Manager in November and by mid-December Padilla was gone.  Traded to the Texas Rangers for Ricardo Rodriguez, a 27-year-old who had thrown to a 5.18 ERA in 39 games over his career.

I think it's safe to say that there is about zero chance that Gillick thought he was going to improve the Phillies on the field by trading Vicente Padilla for Ricardo Rodriguez, in 2006 or any other year.  And he didn't.  Rodriguez came to Spring Training and pitched okay, throwing to a 4.15 ERA in 13 innings while allowing 15 hits and seven walks.  He was released by the end of March with no apologies from Gillick -- no apology was needed cause nobody made a mistake.

The Phillies gained several things by dealing Padilla away.  First, they gained some payroll flexibility that would be important to the rebuilding process -- Padilla, who had made $3.2 million in '05, was eligible for arbitration and would wind up making over $4 million in '06 after agreeing to a one-year contract with Texas.  Second, they opened slots in the starting rotation to get other players experience as starters.  Those players would prove to be Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd, and both did miserably with the opportunity they were given.  But the Phillies were able to quickly evaluate where they were as starters and get them experience at a time when they looked to have little in the way of post-season aspirations anyway.  Third, they got rid of a headache.  Padilla didn't do anything to help his reputation as a hothead with the Rangers in 2006.  He led the AL in hit batsmen.  On August 15 he hit two Anaheim Angels and just missed hitting a third.  The teams would brawl the next day.  He hit AJ Pierzynski twice in a game in June on a night he threw 70 of 109 pitches for strikes.

The Phillies had a plan.  Padilla wasn't part of it and he was gone.  But despite what the Phillies gained, the consequences were severe.  Without Padilla the starting rotation was absolutely abysmal.  The Phillies went 10-14 in April.  And yes, they had gone 10-14 in April the year before as well, but they didn't do it with Ryan Madson throwing to an 8.05 ERA in four starts or Gavin Floyd throwing to a 6.57 ERA in his five starts.  The starting pitching would remain a problem for most of the year.  They finally got help with the emergence of Cole Hamels, the arrival of Jamie Moyer and the return of Randy Wolf, but at the beginning of the season the Phillies put themselves in a deep hole behind a starting rotation that was just plain ugly.  In '06, they never got out of it.

Earlier this month the Phillies traded for Freddy Garcia.  I'm a big fan of the move.  You can make the argument, however, that Vicente Padilla, the guy the Phillies basically gave away last year, had almost as good a season in 2006 as Garcia, the guy they just traded a legit prospect and a young guy who could still turn it around for.


Player GS W-L IP ERA H BB SO Ratio
Padilla 33 15-10 200.0 4.50 206 70 156 1.38
Garcia 33 17-9 216.1 4.53 228 48 135 1.28

Garcia was better.  But it's a little closer than would make some people comfortable.  The thing is, Garcia is going to be better next year, too.  I expect a lot better.  And what a difference a year makes.  In 2007 the Phillies are going to be trying to win.  They look for all the world like they have a legitimate shot at finally pushing through and making the playoffs.  In 2006, at the beginning of the year at least, they were willing to make the moves that would put them position to do just that.

If you're simply evaluating talent it's impossible to like the Padilla trade.  What you do have to like is that it demonstrates undeniably that the Phillies have a plan.  Nobody's going to get to vote thumbs up or thumbs down on the plan -- the Phils are either going to win or they aren't.  But one of the most interesting things about the way Gillick and the Phils have changed directions is that we're not going to have to wait long to find out.  And as a fan, if you're evaluating the direction of the team, I think you have to feel more comfortable today than you did a year and a week ago, when Padilla was still a Phil.

I hope you didn't get too attached to Bobby Livingston.  The Phillies had to give him back.  The Devil Rays, who have a more desirable waiver position than the Phillies due to their '06 record, claimed Livingston off of waivers and sent him to the Phils for cash.  The commissioner's office said no-go and awarded him to the Reds, a team whose waiver position was worse than the Devil Dogs but better than the Phillies (ie, had just the Phils and Reds tried to claim him the Reds would have gotten him).

Vernon Wells may be about to sign a multi-year deal with Toronto.

Catcher Toby Hall is looking for a job.  Over his seven-year career he's on-based .301 and slugged .384.  Last year he threw out 25% of attempted base-stealers. 

How 'bout Jayson Werth?  The Padres and Cardinals may be interested.  The righty Werth turned 27 in May and did not play last season.  In 2004 he hit 262/338/486 with 16 home runs in 290 at-bats for the Dodgers.

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