The day beforeThanksgiving, Aaron Rowand was at home in Las Vegas, headed out for a morninground of golf, when his cellphone rang. White Sox general manager Ken Williamswas calling to tell Rowand he'd been traded to the Phillies with two minorleaguers for Jim Thome. Rowand, who had been the starting centerfielder for the2005 World Series champs, was blindsided by the news. "I didn't golf realwell that day," he says.
It wasn't justthat Rowand was practically still cleaning championship confetti out of hishair. The 28-year-old had spent his entire career in the Chicago organization,having been drafted by the White Sox in 1998. "I was real comfortablethere," Rowand says. "I knew the city, knew the fans, knew all thepeople in the front office. I had great relationships with my teammates. I hadhoped to spend the rest of my career there. In this day and age I guessthinking like that is pretty unrealistic."
Though the dealshocked Rowand, it came as a pleasant surprise for new Phillies general managerPat Gillick. Thome missed the second half of the 2005 season with an elbowinjury, and Gillick thought the 35-year-old slugger might have to prove he wasphysically sound in spring training before he could be traded. Not only did thedeal bring the Phillies a new starting centerfielder, but it also made room atfirst base for Ryan Howard, who replaced Thome in the lineup last summer andwent on to be named National League Rookie of the Year.
Rowand's statsactually slipped last year from his breakout season of 2004, when he batted.310 with 24 home runs and 17 stolen bases, but numbers aren't the entire storywith him. Says Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, "He wants to play the gameright, and he's always talking about winning. In our clubhouse we're going toneed that. I think he goes with [second baseman] Chase Utley in that they areblue-collar players, hard-nosed guys who just live to play baseball."
Rowand, 28, sayshe has acclimated to his new team, which has plenty of players who are aboutthe same age and at a similar point in their careers. The fans should alsoembrace Rowand, who'll no doubt remind the hoagie-eaters of former Philliesfavorite Lenny Dykstra--another spark-plug centerfielder who came toPhiladelphia after winning a World Series elsewhere. Like Dykstra, Rowand has atendency to run into walls. "The bottom line is, I'm trying to catch theball," Rowand says. "Whatever it takes to do that, that's what I'mgoing to do."
Rowand is aprominent acquisition in an otherwise middling off-season for Philadelphia.Free-agent pickup Tom Gordon, the former Yankees setup man, is a capablecloser, but he can't fill the shoes of Billy Wagner, who signed with the Metsafter a season in which he had 38 saves and the second-lowest ERA in the majors(1.51). The Phillies also must juggle the rotation, with righthander VicentePadilla gone in a trade and lefty Randy Wolf recovering from elbow surgery.Free-agent righthander Ryan Franklin (12-31 in 2004 and '05 combined with theMariners) and converted reliever Ryan Madson (15-8 over the last two seasons)will likely fill those spots.
Manuel believesthat if he can get consistent performances from his pitchers, his club cancompete with the Mets and the Braves for the division title. "Defensively,our infield was as good as any in the National League [in '05]," he says."Offensively, we are definitely going to score runs."
Gillick alsolikes the mood in the clubhouse. "This group will play together quitewell," he says. "If you compare them part by part with other teams inour division, maybe we don't stack up, but I think as a unit they're going tobe pretty good."
One thingGillick especially likes about Rowand is that the new centerfielder bringsWorld Series experience to a team that hasn't been to the postseason since1993--the year Dykstra was a big part of a worst-to-first turnaround for thePhillies. Rowand downplays that notion. "We had a pretty inexperiencedgroup [with the White Sox] last year," he says. If his first year in Phillyturns out like his last in Chicago, that would be a shocker too. --B.S.
Rightfielder Bobby Abreu has had seven straight years with 100-plus walks. Ifhe reaches triple digits in bases on balls in '06, he'll tie Frank Thomas andMax Bishop for the big league record.
a modest proposal
Ryan Madson'stwo-year apprenticeship in the bullpen appears over, as the 25-year-old isslated to open the season in the rotation. But that decision may not be theright one. While the Phillies have a number of candidates for the fifth starter(Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels, Robinson Tejeda), Madson (right), who had 79strikeouts in 87 innings last year, is by far the best righthanded setupoption. Given the importance of the innings he would throw in that role and thedrop-off to journeymen Ricardo Rodriguez and Julio Santana, Philadelphia needsMadson in the pen more than in the rotation.
projected roster with 2005 statistics
second in NL East
second season with Philadelphia
AARON ROWAND [New acquisition]
ABRAHAM NU√ëEZ [New acquisition]
[This articlecontains tables. Please see hard copy or pdf.]
|RH||Ryan Franklin [New Acquisition]||145||8||15||93||1.44||5.10|
|RH||Tom Gordon [New acquisition]||59||5||4||2||1.09||2.57|
|LH||Arthur Rhodes [New acquisition]||199||3||1||0||1.04||2.08|
|RH||Julio Santana [New acquisition]||255||3||5||1||1.26||4.50|
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...
If the rotationneeds a boost this year, Philly will likely turn to Cole Hamels (left), a22-year-old southpaw with an 11-3 record and 1.54 ERA in three minor leagueseasons plagued by injuries (in 2004 elbow tendinitis, last year a chronic backproblem and a broken left hand). Healthy at last, he looked strong in minorleague games this spring, and with continuing solid performances, he'll be aprime candidate for a call-up.