Open season on Phillies, Flyers

Posted: May 16, 2014

IF THERE IS a front-office season in Philadelphia, this is it.

We've had an appropriate number of games to gauge the baseball team's offseason maneuvers, we've just given birth to another football draft (because that's what it feels like by the time it occurs).

The Flyers have finished off another near-miss (get ready for the "We lost in seven games to a team that went to the finals" rationale from the chairman this summer, should the Rangers win another round), and have again shuffled their homegrown hierarchy without managing to fire anybody.

Meanwhile, the Sixers, who are almost habitually contemplating whom to take with their high draft pick, likely will have to make that decision twice in a little over a month. In the wacky world of the NBA, there's even been a suggestion that they would trade away their one really good player for even more draft picks.

Now, who would do such a th . . . Oh, wait, never mind.

I would like to focus my comments today on the baseball and hockey teams, for a few familiar reasons. Their seasons operate like a relay team, the early results of the Phillies' offseason plans coinciding with the Flyers' plans for theirs. And while the Sixers and Eagles have searched far and wide for their new coaches and general managers - San Antonio, Oregon, Houston and Marlboro, N.J. - those who own and operate the Flyers and Phillies have promoted exclusively from within over the last 12 months, promoting two on-field assistants into the manager and head-coaching jobs, and bumping one homegrown general manager into the vacant role of team president, so they could bump another homegrown guy into his place.

Go back further, and both clubs' provincialism suggests a severe self-limitation of talent pools.

What's odd is that the greatest recent successes of both teams occurred by looking outside the organization.

I don't know what happened to Peter Laviolette over the last season and change, but his fingerprints were all over the Flyers' surprising 2010 run to the finals. Ken Hitchcock got them a game away in 2004. Both men had coached a Stanley Cup champion.

In 2005, Pat Gillick was named general manager of the Phillies, replacing Ed Wade, who had held the post since 1998. Wade had overseen the bottoming-out years of the late '90s and early 2000s when the team was so bad that Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen begged and misbehaved their way off it. But Wade also was the general manager when many of the Phillies' current core were drafted or discovered. And by the time Wade was fired, the team was winning more than it was losing.

Gillick was far from perfect here (see Freddy Garcia and Wes Helms). But he had a scout's eye for talent and the knack of a card player to rally from a bad hand. And he could build a bullpen. He did it in Toronto, in Seattle, in Baltimore, and here.

The Phillies used 18 relief pitchers in the volatile 2007 season when they scored 892 runs and allowed 821. The following season, when they won the World Series, the number shrunk to 11. Gillick retired after that season, and Ruben Amaro Jr. took over.

Wade's Achilles' was in building a bullpen and making the roster whole. In fairness, he did not have the resources afforded Gillick and Amaro, but that covers only some of it. He simply didn't have the scout's feel Gillick did, and his trades and signings reflected that. Even when he got a guy like Billy Wagner, he couldn't assemble that all-important bridge of middle relievers.

Trades for the well-paid but overused arms of Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook doomed the upstart Phillies in 2001. Deals for Mike Williams (2003) and Felix Rodriguez (2004) - again guys with big resumés and big mileage on their arms - didn't work out well, either.

Amaro should have learned something from that. Instead, paying big for guys such as Mike Adams smacks of the same thing, and for the same reason: The homegrown guys have let him down. Repeatedly.

Paul Holmgren got "bumped" to president this spring because he gambled like Gillick, but lost a few more bets, and big ones. People say he got unlucky with Chris Pronger, but signing a guy that old for 7 years was not exactly prudent. I'll always believe Holmgren had a shotgun to his head when he gave Ilya Bryzgalov that big contract, and I still like the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trades that returned four of the better players on the current team, and for less money. But the Vinny Lecavalier deal, especially after escaping from the contract constraints of Bryzgalov and Danny Briere, is a long-lasting awful one.

Still, the Flyers have a future the Phillies can't even see these days with a telescope. The Flyers have a roster full of guys at or near their peak, including a goalie, and a handful of exciting players such as Shayne defenseman Gostisbehere coming up. And while new general manager Ron Hextall isn't exactly an outsider, he built the championship resumé that got him hired somewhere else.

That's the hope. Which is something the Phillies are already running low on, thanks again to a combustible bullpen and a bench that was suspect even before they jettisoned Kevin Frandsen and demoted Freddy Galvis. Amaro has said often that if he can't win with the financial resources afforded him, he's not the right man for the job. And if this latest edition looks like this or worse by the time we're evaluating the Flyers' offseason next fall, he might prove prophetic.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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