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Steve Phillips, Boy Genius

Mike SteffanosSunday, March 11, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

If former Mets' Genereal Manager Steve Phillips had his way, he would have traded away not one but both of the young cornerstones of this franchise.

Last July, Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun offered up this piece of information:

In late July of 2002 the Blue Jays were nearing the end of the line with outfielder Jose Cruz Jr.

Cruz owned a .227 batting average at the break with 13 homers and 45 RBIs.

Finally, they found someone with interest in Cruz.

The New York Mets said they would take Cruz, offering a minor-leaguer playing his first full season at class-A.

Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi decided against taking the minor-leaguer for Cruz...

The Jays held on to Cruz, who finished the 2002 season with a .245 average, 18 homers and 70 RBIs. After the season the Jays decided not to tender Cruz a contract and he signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants.

That class-A kid? ... You may have seen him at Tuesday's all-star game -- and on a hundred or so highlight clips -- as he grew up to be all-star third baseman David Wright.

Steve PhillipsJust in case you think this was some sort of aberration on Phillips' part, check out this item from Joel Sherman in today's New York Post:

If you think the Roberto Alomar trade was a disaster for the Mets, you should know it could have been worse. Far, far worse.

An official who was involved in the discussions that led to that Dec. 11, 2001 deal said that one of the players the Mets made available to Cleveland was a Low-A shortstop named Jose Reyes. The official said the Indians liked Reyes, but simply did not have enough information from their South Atlantic League scouts to make an 18-year-old with just two pro seasons the key player in the deal rather than Alex Escobar.

The Mets dodged more than one bullet while Steve Phillips was the GM of this club. Thank God he has taken his "skills" over to ESPN, where he can criticize the moves of real baseball men. Phillips gets credit from some for presiding over the club when they drafted Wright and Reyes, but this latest information underscores the absolute low regard Phillips had for young talent. The best thing that Phillips did for the Mets was making enough dumb moves to get himself fired before he could do real, lasting damage to the team. Jeez, what a dope...

Another call to dump a player
In the Daily News, Bill Madden weighs in on the Duaner Sanchez situation:

... even if this little tempest in the otherwise business-like Mets camp has been put to rest, it has raised serious questions about Sanchez and whether he is worth keeping around once the separated shoulder he suffered in that taxi-cab accident last July is finally rehabilitated. It was, after all, supposed to be pretty much healed and pitching-ready by the time spring training commenced. That was what Randolph and Minaya expected - and they had every right to be dismayed at the sight of Sanchez arriving in camp some 15 pounds overweight.

... When will Sanchez be ready? Before Guillermo Mota's 50-game suspension is up? It doesn't matter. Whenever he is ready, the Mets should just get rid of him. The big picture - the work ethic and professionalism Randolph has instilled here - is what really matters.

As Madden documents in this story, Sanchez has a pattern of behavior in his career of liking the nightlife and showing up late. It's fairly obvious that he lacks the self-motivation that drives the really great players. I won't gloss over the fact that Sanchez frustrated the team with the lack of effort he put into his rehabilitation. Perhaps it is even in the long term best interests of the team to eventually trade Sanchez. What doesn't make sense is for the team to "just get rid of him."

As I mentioned many times this winter when the media was pushing the club to take whatever it could get for Lastings Milledge, good organizations resist the urge to deal ballplayers when their value is low. Even after Sanchez proves that he can retire major league batters it's hard to imagine he could command anything close to equal value in a deal. If Sanchez had demonstrated that he was a bad person and clubhouse cancer, than I would agree with Madden. It's not like Sanchez has been a constant source of controversy since coming over last year. It seems to me that Willie Randolph and the veteran leadership of this ballclub have taken the proper approach with Duaner Sanchez.

Remember over the winter when we repeatedly read that Milledge would never fit into the Mets clubhouse, and that the club's insistence that they still believed in Lastings was just posturing? That talk has died down, and I'm pretty sure this latest controversy will, too. Randolph does a good job of managing people, and he understands that you have to push different buttons with all of your ballplayers. The Mets recognized that Sanchez' attitude had started to become a problem and dealt with it quickly and decisively. If Omar and Willie believe that the situation has been resolved, I trust their judgment. I'm 48 years old, and fairly "old school" in my attitudes, but this makes no sense to me. The "dump Sanchez" movement might play well to the Chris Russos of the world, but it's not in the best interests of this ballclub.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (15)

Steve Phillips....I'm guessing you saw that quote by Greg Prince when questioned about the ESPN/SI monolith, and what he would do differently if he was running the show:

"... I'd fire Steve Phillips from ESPN, hire him for Sports Illustrated, and then fire him from there. I hated Steve Phillips as Mets GM for his rare mix of ineptitude and arrogance. Seeing him play the role of baseball expert on television undermines the credibility of the sport, the medium, and the concept of expertise."

To which I can only add Amen!

so easy to criticize in hindsight ain't it? Wonder how the Nationals fans feel about some of the trades Omar made when he was running the Expos. Do you think they think heis a genius these days?

dd - Greg does have a nice way with words.
Gene - I criticized Phillips when he was GM for the same reasons I'm criticizing him now. If you want to defend him, feel free, but I'm not buying it.

Everytime I read some of these rants and raves from the likes of Steve Phillips, Joel Sherman, Wallace Matthews or other such so-called "experts" I just feel very grateful that it's Omar Minaya that runs the Mets today and not one of those idiots. Phillips has always had the belief (and he repeats this at every turn on ESPN) that New Yorkers need constant gratification, an instant winner, and have no patience for young talent development. And nothing could be further from the truth.

If Phillips ever bothered to explore the wishes of the loyal Met fan base, he would have realized that what Omar Minaya has done with this team is exactly what we always wanted. Do we want a winner? Sure, who doesn't? But we want one centered around home-grown and young talent. We want prosperity and a reason to go to Shea year after year. We're fans for life, not fans for a year.

Sherman's idiotic call to dump Sanchez is an example of the capricious thinking that has kept this organization in relative misery for so long. No team is without adversity Joel. Every team has someone who comes to camp out of shape. The winners don't cut and run, they just know how to deal with their internal problems in a way that helps the ballclub. And that's what the Mets have done with Sanchez. I wonder what Sherman's column will say when Sanchez returns to action with something to prove, and dominates as he did in 2006.

As for Gene's criticizm of Minaya's handling of the Expos prior to the move to D.C., I can only say the situation was vastly different from the 2007 Mets. MLB gave Minaya a near impossible task of ressurecting baseball interest in a town that had abandoned hope for 10 years, with limited resources and a time limit. He did what he could to build a quick winner and save a franchise. And most real baseball experts commended him on his attempts to save the Expos. Of course we are all entitled to our opinions. But all I would ask you is, would you rather have Omar Minaya as GM of your team, or Steve Phillips?

There is no defense for anyone who empties the farm like that. We lost out on Bay and Mora under his regime, then sacrificed Kazmir because of the same philosophy. I think we'll see the fruits of Omar holding onto Milledge as the season progresses; we also could have easily traded Reyes, Wright and a number of other youngsters for other players. Once Milledge and Pelfrey pan out (I am now more sure of this happening than not), we'll see that sometimes holding onto prospects is the right move. Humber, Carp, Martinez, Gomez, Pena, and many more are coming behind them, and we could end up regretting trading any of them. Honestly, I'm all for keeping these kids around and seeing how they develop rather than trading them or looking to free agency for talent.

First, thanks to those who put words in my mouth and made assumptions based on nothing. I made no comment on Steve Phillips other then it is easy to criticize in hind-sight. Thats a long known fact. I neither said I liked him nor disliked him.
Second, I never said I'd choose Phillips over Minaya, nor did I even make a comment on the job Minaya has done with the Mets. Furthermore the comparison isn't Minaya circa 2007, it's Minayas last year with the Expos vs. Phillips last with the Mets that makes for an interesting comparison. I simply made the point that in hind-sight Nationals fans could be upset with Minaya for much the same farm emptying, must win now, philosophy that Phillips displayed.
That being said I think Minaya is proceeding along the proper path for THIS team at THIS time.

Gene, I didn't intend to criticize your point or put words in your mouth. I only tried to explain my take on Minaya's actions in the waning years of the Expos. And I feel that comparing Minaya's decisions in his situation with the Expos to Phillips moves on a New York team that just came off a trip to the World Series is comparing apples and oranges. The situations were so vastly different that you can't adequately judge and compare them in hindsight. That's what I would tell any Nationals fan upset at Minaya. In any case, if it offended you in some way, I do apologize.

Gene - To tell you the truth, when you wrote that it's easy to criticize in hindsight in response to my article it certainly felt like a shot at me.

"Jeez, what a dope..." actually sums up the Phillips record remarkably well.

I imagine all kinds of names are thrown around in trade talks all the time. If we are to go back to December 2001, we were, most of us, probably hailing any deal that would bring us the great Robbie Alomar. Some kid shorstop? Don't let that get in the way.

Of course we're not the GM. So yeah, that's awful if it's true. It's even worse that the Indians didn't leap on Reyes and took Escobar (who was the Mets' top prospect at the time, but when did that ever mean anything?).

Stevie Wonder was so mesmerized by the concept of acquiring name players who weren't named Alex Rodriguez that he did not hold his own organizational inventory in any kind of regard, whether it was at the Major League level (letting go Olerud, trading Reed, Mora and, when he could have been a helluva lot more useful than Donne Wall, Bubba Trammell) or the minor (Bay for sure -- and I don't care that Minaya and others made a similar mistake; and, apparently two nobodies named David Wright and Jose Reyes).

In other news, how nice of Bill Madden to unburden us of one of the top setup men in baseball from 2006. Perhaps he can steer him to the Cubs so he'll have something else to quote Lou Piniella about.

The above was me, accidentally anonymous. I may be alleged to have a way with words, but sometimes the finer technical points of posting elude me.

Greg - I've always maintained that one of the most important things a GM does is to understand what he has is his own system. Knowing who to trade is as important as knowing who to trade for.

Mike - Fair enough. I still say its rather easy to kick a dog when its down. Phillips has been gone for a long time now, thankfully, berating him, deservingly or not, doesn't do anyone much good. Now you wanna talk about the current idiot who wants to dump Duaner, thats fair game IMO, because its current and ongoing.

Gene - I've been kicking Steve Phillips since almost the beginning of his tenure as GM. He's still fair game because he chooses to keep himself in the spotlight on ESPN criticizing other GMs. You won't see me criticize Joe McIlvaine the same way, though I wasn't thrilled with him, either.

There is no money or prestige in blogging, but the one thing you do get is that without an editor telling you what to do you can voice your opinion on whatever you want. So with (seriously) due respect to you, or anyone else, that doesn't agree with my take on Steve Phillips, if I feel it's warranted I'll continue to do so.

By the way, though I disagree with Madden, I understood where he was coming from. I don't totally discount his point of view on Sanchez, I just don't agree with it.

Mike it's refreshing to read a clear unwavering take on Steve Phillips, although it boggles the mind that some want to go back and rewrite history. It's frustrating that his legacy is even a question after this latest report.

Sure I dislike him personally b/c of the way he balanced the arrogant ineptitude mentioned above with shady ethics. But he was bad for the Mets because he just didn't get it. Period. He played the Mets like a 12 year old on a video game with no regard for the shadow of the future.

As for "just getting rid of Sanchez" I see this as an artifact of the beat writers trying not only to manufacture stories (a traditional concern) but also trying to compete with the 24 hr news cycle and even the blogging phenomenon for attention. As such I cant take it seriously. But i do wonder at what point will baseball commentators like this realize that their credibility, now squandered, was actually their greatest asset?

Phillips really did rub me the wrong way. If he had just gone away or taken another job in baseball I would have left him alone. Your analogy of a "12 year old on a video game" is perfect.

Bill Madden is old school, and as a fellow geezer I can understand where he's coming from. Although I don't agree with him, I honestly believe he feels this way. I know there are some in the media that are just attention wh*res, but's that's not him.

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