- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

The Philadelphia Phillies traded an elite offensive talent and a dependable but not great starting pitcher Sunday to the Evil Empire for four prospects, and the one with the most potential is hitting .240 at low Class A.

Securing talent for the future wasn’t the lone objective in this deal. “Payroll flexibility” was the most valuable commodity in this swap for Philadelphia general manager Pat Gillick.

It was a salary dump, plain and simple. Phillies fans, notorious for their consternation, probably have a right to be mad. Salary dumps at the trading deadline do not work — ever.

It is the same scenario each time with different circumstances. An owner demands to slash the payroll, or in this case Gillick decided he couldn’t rework the roster given his budget with all of former general manager Ed Wade’s backloaded contracts. And so he took B- or even C-level prospects to shed Bobby Abreu’s $15 million salary for 2007.

It didn’t work in 1993 for the Padres, who gave away Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield. Even stumbling upon Trevor Hoffman doesn’t make those two deals acceptable. It didn’t work for the White Sox in 1997 (and the public relations hit made it even worse). It didn’t work for the Pirates in 1997 or 2003.

The fact is any time the phrase “salary dump” or “fire sale” gets floated in the media, the team doing the dumping loses just about any leverage it had. And given the time constraints of the trade deadline, those teams are forced to take the best offer right now.

Teams can dump salary and obtain quality players in return — in the offseason. There is more time to negotiate and less pressure to accept a bad deal.

Gillick started this process by moving Jim Thome in November, and he got two valuable pieces (Aaron Rowand and pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez) for the future.

The Marlins are the best example of this. Florida gashed its payroll this offseason to about what Abreu is due next season. But the bounty the Marlins received (Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Yusmeiro Petit, Mike Jacobs and several others in the minors) helped create one of the top collections of young talent in baseball.

Fire sales in July aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Teams receive pennies for their dollar. Maybe Pat Gillick will put that $15 million to good use this offseason.

But maybe the man known as “Stand Pat” should have waited until December, when he could have ended up with payroll flexibility and a better return to show for it.

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