Even as Philly is blanketed in snow, the anticipation for the 2006 season is certainly heating up. Today Peter Gammons reported on his recent poll of a few dozen baseball minds asking them three questions leading up to the impending season: which youngsters in their first full season will eventually be "difference makers"; who will have a breakout season; and who will have the biggest comeback. Not surprisingly among the 30 total answers, not a single Phillies was mentioned.
In the first category of future difference makers, the Phils do have a few that could by definition fit the category – Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard – but don’t seem to have convinced the establishment that they will become stars. As for those that could have a breakout year, only Brett Myers comes to mind. He should be able to build upon his respectable performance of last season, but whether or not he will truly "breakout" will have to been seen. Seemingly most must think that Utley and Howard already had their breakout seasons. Howard of course exploded onto the scene last year but still has much room for improvement, while Utley seems more inclined towards gradual improvement rather than an explosion of talent. Burrell certainly already had (and cashed in on) his breakout season back in 2002. Finally, the comeback player category really doesn’t fit any current Phils. We all certainly are hoping Randy Wolf will at least return to form and pitch three full months of the season but no one is waiting for him to comeback on the scale of Bonds, Gagne, Thome, or Nomar.
So after turning an article not about the Phillies into one, I’m left with two related disheartening questions: outside Philadelphia, is there any reason to take notice of the Phils this year? What is their interesting plot line that is salient to the rest of the major leagues? It seems that the 2006 Fightins are basically, to use web parlance, WYSIWYG. Even today, Todd Zoleicki pointed out, "In fact, there is very little buzz at all about the Phillies in 2006." The best answer I can muster up as to the significance of the 2006 Phillies season would be Pat Gillick’s attempt to solidify his legacy of building winning/playoff teams.
On the surface at least, judging by his quote from yesterday’s Inquirer, it seems he has a game plan.
"[Y]ou have to be consistent. That’s why the Braves are so good. I don’t think old way vs. new way. It’s about getting your goals in place and running with them. Don’t all of sudden go off on a tangent. If you have to tweak your game plan, tweak your game plan, but stay consistent. I don’t think anything gets an organization off track more than changing course all the time. Get a plan and stick with it."
Whatever the precise nature of his plan, it appears to include the likes of Alex S. Gonalez and Ryan Franklin. Personally, I don’t care if this plan is boring, puzzling or uneventful and flies under the radar of most of baseball minds as long at it gets the Phillies to the playoffs.