|Friday, December 6
Updated: December 9, 5:41 PM ET
Rumblings: Schilling back to Phillies?
By Jayson Stark
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."
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."
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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."
"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."
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.
"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."
"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."
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."
"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.