Mailbag: Who's on first in 2006?

Mailbag: Who's on first in 2006?

Does the [general manager] Pat Gillick factor change the thinking regarding the Ryan Howard-Jim Thome situation? -- Daryl W., Marlboro, N.J.

Here's a story that bears retelling, and feel free to stop reading if you heard it before. The Blue Jays entered the 1990 offseason with two left-handed-hitting first basemen entering their prime.

One was Fred McGriff, a 26-year-old "veteran" basher who Gillick stole from the Yankees in 1982 for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd. The other was John Olerud, a 21-year-old natural hitter who hadn't spent a day in the Minor Leagues. McGriff had batted .300 while clubbing 35 homers in 1990, while Olerud hit .265 with 14 homers over 358 at-bats. Something had to be done, so Gillick rang up San Diego and shipped McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Tony Fernandez and Joe Carter. Problem solved.

Gillick inherits a similar issue in Philadelphia that becomes more complex for two reasons. 1) The Phillies don't have the benefit of a designated hitter and 2) Jim Thome has a difficult, almost untradeable contract and is coming off an injury. Gillick called the situation a good problem, and will set out toward solving it during this week's general managers meetings in Indian Wells, Calif.

The possibilities have been well documented -- trade one of them, play Howard in left, and either move Bobby Abreu to center or trade Abreu or Pat Burrell. One thing is certain: Gillick will figure something out, by the trading deadline at the latest, though that might be the least attractive option.

What is your reaction to Gillick being chosen for the GM position? I would have preferred Gerry Hunsicker, but Gillick is a good choice. -- James M., Willow Grove, Pa.

Team president David Montgomery believed Gillick was the best candidate, but that didn't mean Hunsicker wasn't also an outstanding choice. While both have sterling resumes, Gillick appeared to win out because he believed the organization wasn't in need of wholesale changes. He has a reputation of getting the most from his employees, and I'll give a man with two World Series championships and nine total playoff appearances with three different teams the benefit of the doubt. He deserves it.

Speaking of Todd Pratt and the catching situation in Philly, how seriously are the Phillies exploring a change in that position for 2006? Many people, including myself, are huge Mike Lieberthal fans, but I believe the demanding job has taken its toll on him. -- Kevin B., Fredericksburg, Pa.

Manager Charlie Manuel gave Lieberthal more days off in 2005 then the veteran would've liked, as the skipper tried to keep him fresher. That, coupled with Pratt's capable hitting and outstanding connection with ace Jon Lieber, carved out a situation that looks to continue -- even if the role of Pratt is recast. Lieberthal's backup catcher could start between 50-70 games, depending on who it is. Pratt, who has said he wants to return, and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre receiver Carlos Ruiz, are decent possibilities.

What's going to happen with Michael Bourn, Cole Hamels and Chris Roberson? Are any or all of them Major League-ready? -- Phillies fan

None are expected to make the team out of Spring Training, but it's possible that Hamels and/or Roberson might find their way to the Majors at some point in 2006. If not for two years worth of injuries, Hamels may have already established himself as a part of the Phils' starting rotation, but he'll be ticketed for either Double-A or Triple-A, depending on how he pitches. As for Roberson and Bourne, both could somebody be top-of-the-lineup big league threats. Roberson, a switch-hitter, is further along.

Is there a greater chance of Billy Wagner leaving now that Gillick was hired over Hunsicker? I understand that Wagner was a fan and friend of Hunsicker. -- Eric R., Philadelphia, Pa.

Have a question about the Phillies?
Todd ZoleckiE-mail your query to Phillies beat reporter Todd Zolecki for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
First Name, Last Initial:


Email Address:


While Wagner knows and respects Hunsicker, the selection of Gillick shouldn't affect negotiations one way or the other. The two sides couldn't reach an agreement during the season, and Wagner wasn't bowled over by either of Philadelphia's two offseason proposals, all but guaranteeing that he'll reach the open market this week. He'll be highly sought after once he gets there, putting the Phillies at a disadvantage simply because they would no longer have exclusive bargaining rights.

With the deep-pocket Mets emerging as a serious player, the Phillies might have a tough time matching salary, so they'll have to convince Wagner that he'll have a better chance of going to the playoffs as a Phillie. Judging by his words, Wagner intends to give Philadelphia every chance to keep him, but also wants to test the waters. In other words, he wants to be like every other free agent.

Why does no one seem to be discussing the center field problem? Kenny Lofton is basically gone and who does that leave? Jason Michaels? -- Steve S., Hainesport, N.J.

Center field is certainly a need, just not a top priority. At this point, Michaels, Shane Victorino and Endy Chavez are the options, and there are clearly pros and cons of each. Michaels would be the most solid across-the-board performer, while Chavez provides the best defense. If Victorino learned as much as his Triple-A stats suggest, he will be a productive platoon player/fourth outfielder. It also can't be assumed at this point that Lofton won't be back, so consider him a possibility as well.

Will Rheal Cormier be a Phillie next season? It was clear from his performance that the end is near, plus they have Aaron Fultz to fill the lefty relief role. Ryan Madson concerns me, too. He looked like a phenom his first year, but was either overworked or suffered from a sophomore jinx. What's his story? -- Steve, Washington

Barring a trade or retirement, Cormier will return for the second year of his contract, and could kick in the vesting option that guarantees a third. His 2005 performance was the worst of his career, and he'll enter the 2006 season a month shy of his 39th birthday, and three years removed from his career season. The veteran battled through back, shoulder and foot injuries in 2005, and lost some movement on his slider. He'll try to adjust to the point where's he's a trusted late-inning member of Manuel's bullpen.

As for Madson, he was exhausted by September, and began leaving his changeup higher than he would like. It wasn't so much the innings as it was the increase in the number of games he logged. Better pitching by Tim Worrell, Terry Adams and Cormier could have reduced his workload and kept him fresher. While the possibility exists of him returning to the starting rotation, the second year of experience can only serve as a benefit.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.