GM Gillick: Without pitching, Phillies can't compete

Updated: January 17, 2006, 4:19 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Pat Gillick is realistic about Philadelphia's chances to compete for an NL East title. He knows the Phillies aren't quite good enough yet.

"The team we have, we're going to be competitive," Gillick said Tuesday as the team continued its winter tour with a stop at Citizens Bank Park. "Are we going to win the division? No. We have to improve."

Since replacing Ed Wade as general manager in November, Gillick has stressed that he must upgrade Philadelphia's pitching. So far, the Phillies lost All-Star closer Billy Wagner to the New York Mets, didn't re-sign setup reliever Ugueth Urbina and traded former All-Star starter Vicente Padilla.

They replaced Wagner, one of baseball's most dominant pitchers, with Tom Gordon, a 38-year-old right-hander who hasn't been a full-time closer since 2001. Ryan Madson, the setup man before the Phillies acquired Urbina last summer, is tentatively slated to return to that role.

The biggest questions surround the starting rotation. Gillick has tried to get a No. 1 or No. 2 starter since his arrival in Philadelphia but hasn't been able to finalize a deal. The Phillies reportedly offered Bobby Abreu to several teams, though they may have overvalued the All-Star right fielder.

"We're looking for a top-of-the-rotation guy, someone who can strike people out and stop losing streaks," Gillick said. "I'm optimistic we can find one. They're available. It just depends on what you have to give them. You may have to overpay."

Jon Lieber, Brett Myers and Cory Lidle are Philadelphia's top three starters going into spring training next month. Ryan Franklin, coming off consecutive 15-loss seasons, is penciled in behind them, while several pitchers are in the mix to be the fifth starter. Robinson Tejeda, Eude Brito, Gavin Floyd and Ricardo Rodriguez are among those who will compete for the final spot.

If the Phillies can acquire a setup man, Madson would likely move into the rotation. Still, it wouldn't seem enough. While Lieber (17-13, 4.20 ERA), Myers (13-8, 3.72) and Lidle (13-11, 4.53) are solid, they don't compare favorably with the top three starters on the Mets and Atlanta Braves.

The Mets' rotation includes Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson. Atlanta has John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, Horacio Ramirez and Jorge Sosa.

"I'm not really worried about it a whole lot," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We have a pretty good team on the field. A lot of teams have the same problems with pitching. If we can correct one or two, I see us competing. We're at the same point we were this time last year."

The Phillies finished 88-74 last season, one game behind NL wild-card winner and eventual league champion Houston. It was the Phillies' third consecutive winning season and fourth in five years, but they missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year and 21st time in 22 seasons.

Gillick's biggest move since taking the job was trading first baseman Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand and two prospects. Thome's departure cleared the way for Ryan Howard to play first base every day. Howard won the NL rookie of the year award after batting .288 with 22 homers and 63 RBI in 88 games.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press