This week, a sad revelation came through the wires: Tom Gordon won’t pitch again in 2008. With that, it’s not far to say Gordon won’t pitch again, period. At the very least, he won’t pitch again with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Gordon came on board in 2006, one of the very first acquisitions of the Pat Gillick era. At the time we received someone we perceived to be a top-level late-innings reliever capable of closing games for a pennant-contending team. That first season he seemed to somewhat resemble that promise, saving 34 games with a 3.34 ERA. Not great, but OK.
But after the Phils mounted a hard charge in late-2006 and fell short, it became certain the 2007 team would be deep in playoff contention. And it became certain an aging Gordon at “not great” status wouldn’t be the answer for the ninth inning.
Injuries removed Gordon from the ninth inning pretty quickly, and you know the rest. Brett Myers became closer and proved worthy of at least a patchwork solution. Gordon became the prime setup man in 2007 and pitched stupendously during the late run to the playoffs. The Brad Lidge acquisition certified Gordon’s place as setup man in 2008, his last contracted season with the Phils.
This season wasn’t meant to be between Gordon and the Phils. He had one nice stretch, a couple really bad performances and a shoulder injury. Now that shoulder injury has become Tommy John surgery, and the end for Gordon in pinstripes.
To assess somewhat hastily, the Phils paid $18 million over three years for:
1.2 years of a closer
0.8 years of a primary setup man
1 year of injury
What other late-inning relievers were available in the 2005-06 offseason?
Mike Stanton: Was used in late innings, but not quite suited. Performed worse than Gordon.
Bob Howry: Cheaper and much better, but no reason to think he could save games.
Bob Wickman: Made less than Gordon in about the same amount of time, with more saves.
Todd Jones: Racked up saves with a mediocre ERA and durability. Probably a better play than Gordon.
Octavio Dotel: Was injured/bad in New York in 2005 before straightening out. Not a great play, though.
Alan Embree: More durable than Gordon but not a closer, I call it a wash.
Kyle Farnsworth: Misused as a setup man in New York, he’s not a big-game guy.
Billy Wagner: Phils couldn’t sign him for $10M per year, like the Mets. Has been better.
Trevor Hoffman: Dropped off lately, but wanted to stay in San Diego anyway.
So when looking at the list of what was out there, Gordon ends up in the middle. Dotel, Farnsworth, Stanton and Howry weren’t as good. But Wickman, Jones, Wagner and Hoffman were better. In hindsight, obviously Wagner and Hoffman were off limits, but it might of been better to go after Wickman, who was cheaper, and add another middle reliever. Maybe then the horrendous bullpen of last season would’ve been better. Maybe.
Looking back, though, Gordon gave the Phils a veteran reliever who provided late-inning experience. Probably a good bit overpaid, but he earned it through his career. The Phils just happened to be the shmucks who took on the salary. Whatever the case, Tommy gave it an OK run in Philly.