The what-if game, starring Pat Gillick

Posted: July 18, 2014

AMONG THE never-ending games of what-if played repeatedly over the last few summers here, the what-if-Pat-Gillick had stayed game probably does not get enough plays.

At the very least, it is far less popular than the what-if-they-had-picked-Mike-Arbuckle-as-GM game. And yet there is far more evidence to make the case that things would have been different if Pat remained general manager than if Mike was made one, evidence supplied in his previous stops in Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle.

So let's play that one, as we count down the days before the non-waiver trade deadline and wait out the who, where and how of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s redistribution program. One caveat, though, right off the bat: You have to believe, as I do, that Gillick is not nearly as involved in the day-to-day operations of the team, just as he wasn't when he stepped down as Seattle's GM following the 2003 season and became a "special consultant'' for the next two seasons.

Here are some numbers right off the bat: Gillick became a first-time GM with the Blue Jays prior to the 1978 season - their second in existence. They lost 102, 109 and 95 games in his first three seasons, but from 1983 through their second championship run in 1993 (against you-know-who), the Blue Jays won at least 86 games each season.

In the 20 seasons since he resigned, they have done so four times, and have not made the playoffs.

Of course, he had Molson's deep pockets back then, just as Ruben has benefited from the massive sea change in that regard by the Phillies ownership group, especially after their cold-feet decision to trade away postseason star and immensely popular Cliff Lee to Seattle on the same Amaro swung the deal for Roy Halladay. Imagine the two of them at the top of the rotation for 2010. You have to wonder if there would be one more championship banner above Citizens Bank Park.

Imagine, too, if Gillick was filling out the roster those years. You wonder whether Gillick anticipated that sea change, and if he had, would he have stayed longer. You wonder, too, if Gillick was filling out the roster those years, would the complementary pieces have been more effective than the ones Amaro obtained.

That, really, is what separates general managers, more than the draft or big free-agent signings. Team building. Finding pieces to fix the flaws of your roster, often at a favorable price. Signing free agent Jayson Werth for $850,000 in 2007 softened the affect of the failed, $5 million free-agent gamble on 33-year-old Geoff Jenkins a year later. Grabbing Greg Dobbs, he of a thousand positions, off waivers in 2007 for $385,000. A throw-in to the deal that brought Brad Lidge to Philadelphia, reserve shortstop Eric Bruntlett only batted .217 as a reserve in 2008, but had a career-best 10-game hitting streak amid 28 straight early-season starts in place of injured Jimmy Rollins.

Adding Lidge, Chad Durbin (the younger, good version) and Scott Eyre shored up a balky bullpen and allowed pitchers like Clay Condrey to mature. The world might be a better place for Ruben Amaro Jr. if he could have figured out his bullpen a little better in 2009, 2010, or 2011. And yeah, this season is dripping in irony in that respect. The one promising aspect of his otherwise bad ballclub is the performance of his young bullpen. They are inconsistent and maddening for sure, but there's a lot of good stuff there, with the potential of improvement.

And, as has been pointed out many times, Gillick was no savant. Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez for the damaged arm of Freddy Garcia was a bad deal and smacked of a lack of due diligence. Same goes for that 3-year, $24 million deal he gave Adam Eaton.

Pat wasn't all about youth and development, either. He won 116 games in Seattle after he traded away Randy Johnson and lost Alex Rodriguez in free agency. Besides 38-year-old Jamie Moyer, his 116-win, 2001 Mariners consisted of 38-year-old reliever Norm Charlton and 34-year-old reliever Jeff Nelson, and 33-year-old starter Paul Abbott, who went 17-4 for the team that had already released him once and would do so again the following season.

In Baltimore, Gillick tried to squeeze the last few drops of baseball from Eddie Murray with little return. In Philadelphia, he traded for Moyer, then 43, with great return. Gillick was dubbed "Stand Pat" at times, but that's not what paved his way to Cooperstown. It was those huh? what? moves of his, the kind of moves that pushed the Phillies over the hump in '08, and pushed the Giants and Cardinals past them in 2010 and '11. Cody Ross. Brian Wilson. Arthur Rhodes.

Would a more involved Gillick, as GM, have made a difference in those seasons? It's sure fodder as we await the latest retooling, wondering what, if anything, we'll get get back in trades, dreading what will be left in the shed when it's done.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon


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