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New Park Has Put Phillies on a Pay Roll

February 09, 2003|Ross Newhan

Ed Wade, the Philadelphia Phillies' general manager, answered the phone himself, prompting the caller to wonder if all the money the Phillies have been investing in players had resulted in a staff cutback.

"We're all having to do a little more now," Wade said with a laugh. "I'm working the night shift on the construction crew at the new ballpark."

Well, no one is really pulling double duty to compensate for the expenditure, but this much is true:

* No team has undergone a bigger change in personnel and payroll and no division has undergone a bigger overhaul than the Phillies and the National League East.

* No one could have envisioned, in fact, that Philadelphia, with all of its free-agent, trade and re-signing investments, would be the team most frequently cited by industry officials insisting there has been no market collusion this winter.

Indeed. Agents looking for a hot line have only had to dial the Main Line.

In a three-month period covering the free-agent signings of Jim Thome and David Bell, the trade for Kevin Millwood and his subsequent signing, and the re-signing of Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf to multiyear contracts, the Phillies have guaranteed $185 million to five players. In the last year, adding in the multiyear deals for Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal, the total is $270 million for seven players.

All of this happened after Scott Rolen had rejected a potential 10-year, $140-million offer, questioned the Phillies' commitment to winning and was subsequently traded to St. Louis.

Rolen's comments, however, did not prompt the spending spree.

"Basically," said Wade, "two factors came together."

The first, he said, was that the Phillies made a commitment in 1996 "to get our farm system straightened out."

The result? Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, left fielder Burrell, center fielder Marlon Byrd and catcher Lieberthal of the projected lineup, and Brandon Duckworth, Brett Myers and Wolf of the projected rotation have come out of the system to provide a foundation for the Phillies.

The second factor, Wade said, was that "as a means of stimulating interest among our fans and a bridge to moving into our new park in 2004, we decided to borrow against the increased revenues of the new park. We've often been criticized for not maintaining a payroll commensurate with our market size, but our lease [at Veterans Stadium] didn't allow it. We received no revenue from parking and had a small cap on concessions. We'll have far greater control in the new park."

Thus, after maintaining a payroll that ranked in the bottom third of the 30 teams and reflected revenue similarly ranked, Wade said the Phillies "will continue to live within our means by trying to make smart baseball decisions," but their means will improve significantly in the new park. He estimated that the revenue would rank between seventh and 12th, and the payroll would jump accordingly.

The Phillies, in other words, are reinvesting in their business.

If that approach is to be applauded, it's a far cry from the philosophy in San Diego, where the Padres also move into a new park in 2004 and have shown no willingness to improve their lamentable product, and Cincinnati, where the Reds move into a new park this year and are cutting $6 million from the payroll, prompting General Manager Jim Bowden to take 32 pitchers to camp in the hope of finding lightning among the retreads.

In the NL East, meanwhile, even the Florida Marlins got into the competitive act with their surprising signing of catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a one-year, $10-million contract.

How much impact the acclaimed catcher can have on a team that has so much distance to make up is questionable, especially considering the more comprehensive moves made by Philadelphia, Atlanta and the New York Mets.

The Braves have three-fifths of a new rotation -- Mike Hampton, Paul Byrd and Russ Ortiz -- a basically new bullpen to support John Smoltz and a new first baseman, Rob Fick.

The Mets, coming off a tumultuous, disappointing season, have a less visible and less controversial manager in Art Howe, more potential run production with Cliff Floyd, a proven winner in Tom Glavine, a valuable set-up man in Mike Stanton and new depth with Rey Sanchez and Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

Catcher Mike Piazza has already said his Mets are the team to beat in the division, echoing what Burrell had said about the Phillies after signing his six-year, $50-million extension.

Wade is more cautious.

He knows his team is the first in history to add a 50-plus home run hitter, Thome, and an 18-game winner, Millwood, in the same off-season, but he also knows his bullpen blew the second-most saves in the league last year, 24, and that is one area that has not been appreciably improved.

After a promising, 86-76 finish in 2001, the Phillies were a disappointing 80-81 last year, when the Braves won their 11th straight division title in a rout.

Of course, this is basically a replenished and new Philadelphia team.

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