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NL Central: Wade in Review
The Brewers made up some ground on the Cubs with wins over the Cardinals on Tuesday and Monday, but the Brew Crew are still two games out with five to play, and will kick off a season-ending four-game set against the wild-card-leading Padres on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Cubs, who are 4-1 over the last week, are wrapping up against the Marlins and heading to Cincinnati. The Brewers may be clinging to life, but this division race is over. All that's left for the Brewers is to pick up one more win to clinch their first winning season since 1992. That is not a typo.
Rather, the big news in the division is that Houston and Pittsburgh have new general managers. The Astros hired former Phillies GM Ed Wade late last week, and the Pirates just announced Tuesday that they've hired Neal Huntington, who was the special assistant to the Indians' general manager.
Wade is the more familiar of the two, having helmed the Phillies from December 1997 until his October 2005 firing. Indeed, the core of the Phillies team that is currently threatening the Mets and Padres in the NL East and wild card, respectively, was assembled under Wade. Jimmy Rollins is the only current Phillie who predates Wade, while Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick, Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson were all drafted, and Carlos Ruiz was signed as an international free agent on Wade's watch. Wade also claimed Shane Victorino from the Dodgers in the 2004 Rule 5 Draft and signed Tom Gordon, Chris Coste, Abraham Nuñez and Clay Condrey.
Wade inherited a Phillies team that had lost 189 games over the two seasons before his hiring and, in three years, turned it into ... well, into a perennial bridesmaid, really. Wade's Phillies averaged 85 wins over his last five years at the wheel, finishing second three times and third the other two. In his final season, the Phillies were unable to catch the Astros for the wild card, falling a game short. That was the final straw for ownership, which fired him just eight days later.
Wade worked in public relations for the Astros from 1977-80, and for the consulting firm of current Astros president Tal Smith from 1986-88. One wonders if the Astros weren't also impressed by the way Wade fleeced them in the Billy Wagner salary dump following the 2003 season, picking up Wagner for three minor league pitchers who have yet to amount to anything in Taylor Buchholz (since flipped to the Rockies in the Jason Jennings deal), Brandon Duckworth and Ezequiel Astacio, none of whom are still in the Astros' system.
Using a method I developed for Baseball Prospectus' It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, I've tallied the value exchange in each of Wade's major trades with the Phillies by crediting him with the remaining career WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player) of the players acquired and subtracting the remaining career WARP of the players dealt. By that standard, the Wagner trade (+20 WARP) was Wade's best. Impressively, his next most successful deal was the Scott Rolen trade (+14.1 WARP), as Placido Polanco (32.4) has nearly equaled Rolen's WARP (36.3) due to the latter's inability to stay healthy, and Wade also got Mike Timlin (18.0) in the deal. Wade also nearly broke even on the Curt Schilling trade (-0.9 WARP), impressive work given that he was more or less forced to make both trades.
Then again, the reason he was forced to make those trades was that both players wanted out of Philadelphia due to what they saw as the organization's lack of commitment to winning (Wade's Phillies didn't sign an impact free agent until inking Jim Thome after the 2002 season). Schilling demanded a trade, and Rolen feuded with the fans and manager Larry Bowa (whom Wade had hired, replacing Terry Francona), then refused to sign an extension entering his walk year. Neither of those players have reputations for being easy to deal with, and the source of the Phillies' low payrolls was ownership, not the GM, but having his two best players whine their way out of town doesn't reflect well on Wade.
Wade also undermined his good work on the Rolen trade by letting Timlin walk as a free agent that winter and flipping Polanco for Ugueth Urbina and infielder Ramon Martinez three years later (-11.9 WARP). Of course, there were extenuating circumstances in the Polanco trade. Wade couldn't have known that a conviction for attempted murder in his native Venezuela would end Urbina's career that winter. The Urbina trade wasn't Wade's worst, however. His acquisition of Eric Milton from the Twins for Carlos Silva, Nick Punto and minor league reliever Bobby Korecky comes in at -15.3 WARP, while his trade of Paul Byrd to the Royals for reliever Jose Santiago tips the scales toward Kansas City at 21.4 WARP. Still, totaling up 18 of Wade's most significant swaps, he comes out ahead by 21.2 WARP.
Wade has already made one deal as Astros GM, flipping arbitration-eligible outfielder Jason Lane to the Padres, who lost both Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron to injury on Sunday, for a player to be named later or cash. His next move will likely be to make a decision regarding interim manager Cecil Cooper, whom Wade has hinted he might retain as the full-time skipper for 2008.
Ultimately, Wade looks like a lazy choice, a retread GM with existing ties to the Houston front office. The Pirates, however, have done something truly impressive by raiding one of the smartest front offices in baseball, Mark Shapiro's Indians, for a young front-office talent in the 38-year-old Huntington. The early hype on Huntington suggests a true rebuilding process for the Pirates that will focus on the draft and international free agents. It'll be a long haul, but it sounds as though, after a decade and a half of futility, the organization has finally found a meaningful direction. In that sense, the Huntington hiring could do for Pittsburgh what the Dayton Moore hiring has done for the Royals: give a moribund franchise a glimmer of hope for the future. That said, Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? sees both pros and cons to the hire.
Labels: NL Central
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