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A fine mesh in Philadelphia

Gillick and his team put it all together

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 19, 2008
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Pat Gillick is looking forward to serene days and nights at his home in the Great Northwest (Seattle). He has been trying to retire for a few years and has been lured back a couple of times, but this time it might be for real.

If so, he's going out in style.

The 71-year-old Phillies general manager led Toronto to two World Series titles, in 1992 and 1993. His Phillies will be in the World Series this year for the first time since 1993 - when they were beaten by Gillick's Blue Jays.

"The great thing about Pat," said a National League official who worked for Gillick in Toronto, "is that when he comes into a new situation, he won't clean out what's there. He takes what's there and works with it and makes it better.

"I think Pat realizes there's too much change in this game, and if people are doing good work, why get rid of them? That's why so many people love working for him. Oh, he'll add one or two people that he's familiar with, but rarely will he fire anyone."

In Philadelphia, Gillick inherited manager Charlie Manuel, who had been hired before the 2005 season, and two top front office assistants, Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mike Arbuckle.

Arbuckle is the guy who was building the team long before Gillick got there, making some terrific draft picks since the mid '90s:

1996 - Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 National League MVP, in the second round.

1998 - Left fielder Pat Burrell, taken first overall, and setup man Ryan Madson, in the ninth round.

1999 - No. 2 starter Brett Myers, with the 12th overall pick.

2000 - Second baseman Chase Utley, with the 15th overall pick.

2001 - First baseman Ryan Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, in the fifth round.

2002 - No. 1 starter Cole Hamels, 17th overall.

The management team also landed center fielder Shane Victorino as a Rule 5 pick from the Pirates in 2004 and took reliever J.A. Happ the same season in the third round. The Phillies signed amateur catcher Carlos Ruiz in 1998, signed catcher Chris Coste as a minor league free agent in 2004, and signed right fielder Jason Werth as a free agent in the winter of 2006. They signed J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, Geoff Jenkins, So Taguchi, Pedro Feliz, and Greg Dobbs, and traded for Brad Lidge, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, and Matt Stairs.

Gillick almost landed Mike Lowell last offseason, offering him more money than the Red Sox, but Lowell stayed put.

"You try to put together a ball club you think will work with the type of team you have - the type of manager, the other players around him," Gillick said. "I think we've done a good job of fitting the right guys in the right places. We've taken some chances and they've worked out for us."

Lidge was brought along brilliantly after a down season in Houston to solidify the bullpen along with Madson, Durbin, and Romero (a Red Sox castoff). The Phillies were 79-0 when they had the lead after eight innings, and their bullpen ERA of 3.22 was the best in the majors.

They also hit 214 homers, second in the majors to the White Sox, and with mashers in Utley, Howard, Burrell, and Victorino, they are close to being an AL-type lineup.

They were a hot team at the end, winning 20 of their last 25 games. They also were a very good road team at 44-37, second only to the Angels - and that's significant, because they will not have home-field advantage in the Series.

They have one of the best lefthanders in the game in Hamels, the NLCS MVP. Myers has had ups and downs, but if they can bash and their bullpen can continue to pitch well, they should make the Series competitive.

So while the Cubs got most of the attention in the NL before they fizzled, and while the Dodgers rode the coattails of Manny Ramírez, Gillick's Phillies managed to again overtake the Mets in the East and then dispose of the Brewers in four and the Dodgers in five.

"I think the great thing about this team is that so many of us came up together through the farm system," said Myers. "We know each other well. We know what buttons to push on each other, what makes us tick.

"I think that creates such a great atmosphere to play in. We're going to the World Series together for the first time, so that's so exciting for all of us. We know how hard it's been to get to this point and we're not taking any of it for granted."

Will Lowe start over here?
Derek Lowe is putting Boston first on his list of preferred destinations now that he's a free agent.

Lowe told this reporter that while money is important, he wants to go to a quality organization committed to winning, and no organization, in his mind, fits that description better than Boston.

Would the Red Sox be interested?

That's what Lowe doesn't know. He left Boston after the 2004 season to sign a four-year, $36 million deal with the Dodgers. Off-the-field issues were a big factor in the Red Sox making a tough decision to part ways after he won three clinching games in the postseason that year.

Lowe, 35, who still lives in Fort Myers, Fla., and is expected to be one of the most sought-after pitchers in the free agent market, doesn't seem to think he'll be back with the Dodgers. He was still upset about being lifted after five innings in Game 4 of the NLCS, when he had a 3-2 lead, only to see the bullpen squander it.

Lowe, who was working on three days' rest, felt he was just getting into his rhythm and had pitched his best inning. He went to the bathroom after the fifth, and when he returned, he was informed he was done.

"I want to be with an organization that's committed to winning and that can win," said Lowe, who is scheduled to meet with Dodgers manager Joe Torre this week to discuss his future. "An organization that is going to be there year in and year out and do everything. That's what means the most to me at this stage of my career."

The Red Sox replaced Lowe with Matt Clement, an exchange that didn't work out so well.

The Yankees, Mets, Tigers, Indians, Cardinals, Cubs, Angels, Braves, Phillies, Rangers, Astros, and Blue Jays are all said to be very interested in Lowe.

Lowe is represented by Scott Boras and said he will direct Boras on what's most important to him in the next few days when they meet in Los Angeles.

Mueller enjoying it at his new base of operations

A few questions for Dodgers special assistant and former Red Sox batting champion Bill Mueller:

Any desire to play again?
BM: "Well, I would in a heartbeat if I could ever get cartilage regrowth in the knees. There's all kinds of new procedures and advancements in surgeries out there now where they might be able to grow cartilage, which would make it possible for many athletes whose knees are pretty much shot to possibly play again.

"But right now I'm not counting on that. I miss it, believe me. I don't think any player wants to end his career before he's ready to do it mentally. I think you always have the feeling that something was left unfulfilled. But I won a ring and did some things in the game that I'll always remember."

Enjoying your front office role with the Dodgers?
BM: "I really am. I'm able to roam around with our minor league teams and take a look at some of our talent and evaluate and help out where I can. I've learned so much from the staff here and I like to think I can add something to the evaluation process or helping a kid."

A lot of people believe Jed Lowrie is a lot like you. Have you seen him?
BM: "Wow. I've seen Jed play and he's a terrific young player. I think he's going to be very good. It's hard for me to say he reminds me of me, but if that's what people say, I guess it's flattering to have someone as good as Jed compared to you."

You replaced Eddie Murray as the Dodgers' hitting coach last year but you returned to the front office this season. Any designs on being a manager?
BM: "I don't think so. I have a young family and the demands on your time when you're a manager I think is something I'd rather leave to someone else. I enjoy the role I'm in now.

"It's a privilege to be a player and there wasn't a day when I didn't feel blessed to be in a uniform. I loved the game, and just to be involved in it in this capacity is pretty special. I live in Arizona, all of my family lives around me, and I get to stay in baseball."

Still keep in touch with former Red Sox?
BM: "Oh yeah. Those are memories I'll never forget, and the guys over there are still good friends and I speak to a few of them every now and then."

Etc.
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Now I understand why Curt Schilling wanted to pitch for the Rays; 2. It's fitting that the Rays' Cinderella story started at Wide World of Sports in Disney World April 22-24, with three wins vs. Toronto that pulled them to .500 for good; 3) OK, Dodgers, so what do you do with Andruw Jones?; 4. Looks like Jeff Kent will close the curtains on a Hall of Fame career, with a .290 average, 377 homers, 1,518 RBIs, and 2,461 hits; 5. I think the Red Sox have to re-sign Jason Varitek.

Pitching change here?
Greg Maddux said he will survey the marketplace and consider pitching in 2009, but one Dodger teammate feels Maddux will hang it up. According to the player, Maddux has a chance to return to the Padres as a player/coach. Maddux has also expressed an interest in becoming a major league bench coach (not pitching coach).

The final four
The Mariners have whittled their general manager candidates to Milwaukee vice president and special assistant to the GM Jack Zduriencik, named 2007 Executive of the Year by Baseball America; Arizona director of player personnel Jerry DiPoto, who worked for the Red Sox from 2003-04; Toronto assistant GM Tony LaCava; and Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng, who would be the first woman to serve as a GM. The Mariners should announce their choice later this week.

Blown away
When the Red Sox think about picking up Tim Wakefield's rolling $4.5 million option, they should consider that he was the victim of seven blown saves. That tied Seattle's Jarrod Washburn, Washington's Tim Redding, and the Mets' Johan Santana for the most in baseball.

Measuring Giant steps
In a weak NL West, the Giants could make a move or two that gets them back in contention quickly. Would they be a dark horse candidate for Manny Ramírez, as a draw to replace Barry Bonds? All sorts of possibilities. Pat Burrell? If the Giants don't go there, they would prefer a hitter they can have under their control for a while. Delmon Young, who flamed out in Minnesota this season, has been talked about.

Market forces
Will the economy play havoc with free agent signings? Longtime player agent Alan Nero, who represents Randy Johnson among others, said, "It would be logical to assume that this economy would strike fear in businessmen and that it would have an impact. I think players who are eligible for arbitration, or players under the control of teams, you might see teams trying harder to sign these players, much like Tampa Bay did with Evan Longoria. And certainly teams that go to arbitration will fight harder. I would think if you're a baseball owner and you were worth $600 million and now you're worth $400 million that you would think twice before signing a $20 million-a-year player. But obviously it comes down to what the market will bear, and my guess is in the end, the big teams will spend it."

No National interest
A couple of coaches the Nationals had set their sights on have rebuffed them, feeling there's an unsettled situation there with management. One was Al Pedrique, who elected to become the Astros' minor league field coordinator. The Nationals are trying to land Willie Randolph to be Manny Acta's bench coach.

Trade may be brewing
The Braves are pushing hard to land San Diego ace Jake Peavy (Atlanta shortstop Yunel Escobar would have to be included in a deal), but if you're looking for a sleeper for Peavy, a few people are keeping their eye on Milwaukee, which will likely lose CC Sabathia, and possibly the oft-injured Ben Sheets. Milwaukee makes sense, considering the Padres want a shortstop and the Brewers would move J.J. Hardy in the right situation. Peavy has indicated he would prefer to pitch in the National League and can control things with his no-trade clause. He's listing Atlanta, Houston, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Chicago as preferences, but Milwaukee wouldn't be a hard sell. This hasn't stopped the Yankees from being involved, and it may not stop the Red Sox from making inquiries.

Throwing out catchers' names
Teams needing catchers are looking at two veterans as trade possibilities: Baltimore's Ramon Hernandez, 32, and San Francisco's Bengie Molina, 34. The Orioles will likely go with Matt Wieters as their everyday guy, making Hernandez expendable. Molina is intriguing because he combines good defense with his hitting ability. The Padres recently let former Sox catcher Josh Bard go. One NL scout said his team didn't have good reports on Bard defensively. Bard cleared waivers and has not been signed yet.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: "In their careers, Ryan Howard and Vernon Wells have each hit 177 homers; Howard has a .279 lifetime average, Wells .283. But Howard has 100 more strikeouts in about 2,200 fewer at-bats." Also: "No team hit more fly balls than the Red Sox [1,816] this past season; the Nationals [1,400] hit the fewest." . . . Happy 36th birthday, Keith Foulke and Joe McEwing, and happy 43d, Mike Gardiner.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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