"Houston, you have a problem" was probably the initial reaction anyone who follows the Phillies, or baseball for that matter, had when they heard that the Houston Astros had hired Ed Wade to be their new general manager.
Wade was fired from that same post in Philadelphia two years ago after failing to compose a team to reach the playoffs -- and brutally suffering for it publicly -- during his eight year tenure in town (1997-2005).
Even a few years out from Wade, the Phillies' last October appearance dates back to the mullets and beards of 1993.
But that's another story. The issue at hand is whether or not Wade is a good hire for the Astros. That's hard to say unless you were one of the lucky fans chosen at random to sit in on the interview process, but it is possible to judge Wade's history with Philadelphia and then consider if his strengths and weaknesses are suitable to the Astros' needs.
If you scan the field at the start of a Phillies home game, you'll see that six of the starting "everyday eight" were acquired under Wade's watch, and they make up the most potent lineup in the National League
- Pat Burrell was drafted, developed, and, for better or worse, signed to a long-term contract.
- Shane Victorino was acquired in the Rule 5 draft.
- Jimmy Rollins, a strong contender for this year's MVP award was developed and signed to a bargain of a long term contract.
- Another MVP candidate and the best second baseman in baseball, Chase Utley, was drafted and developed under Wade and signed to a long term contract under Wade's successor, Pat Gillick.
- First baseman Ryan Howard was drafted and developed well enough under Wade to win a Rookie of the Year award and then an MVP award in the two years since Wade left.
- Rookie starting catcher Carlos Ruiz was signed by Wade as a 19-year old out of Panama.
Wade also drafted the Phillies' three best pitchers: Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, and Brett Myers, and at one time, traded away their worst, Adam Eaton, only for him to be re-acquired under Gillick's regime. Let's not forget, before he was general manager, Wade campaigned hard within the Phillies to trade for Bobby Abreu before anyone knew who he was (Kevin Stocker was the "bait" that eventually landed him). That's quite a nucleus, no doubt about it. [An aside: Critics will point out that one of Wade's assistant GM's, Mike Arbuckle, who's still an assistant in Philadelphia, was responsible for acquiring that nucleus, not Wade. That might be true, but consider these two points: even if Arbuckle did acquire all of that talent, Wade was smart enough to let him do it, and second, when general manager vacancies arise, Arbuckle is almost never a name that comes up, at least not publicly.]
After that nucleus however, the bullet points in Wade's resume are a little harder to come by. In ballyhooed off-season moves, Wade acquired Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, David Bell, Eric Milton, Kevin Millwood and Andy Ashby, none of whom were able to get the nucleus over the hump and into the playoffs. Prior to that he got very little in return for Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen, both players having made it clear they wanted out of Philadelphia. The best piece from both of those deals, Placido Polanco [apologies to all of you who still think that some day Vicente Padilla is going to finally "get it"], was eventually dealt to the Detroit Tigers, where he's flourished, for Ugueth Urbina (currently playing as number 283948 in the Venezuelan Penal League) as a rental in 2005.
Other water that flowed under Wade's bridge were several trades where the Phillies gave up several forgettable minor leaguers (to name a few: Taylor Bucholz, Eaton, Elizardo Ramirez) for several forgettable relievers (to name a few: Todd Jones, Terry Adams, Mike Timlin) and his penchant for handing out no-trade clauses in contracts, an obstacle Gillick has had to deal with on numerous occasions.
The trend is clear: Wade was able to develop a very fine nucleus, one that is scoring runs for the Phillies in bunches, but was unable to add the necessary supporting pieces, even after he was given an adequate budget to do so in the later years of his tenure.
In other words, Houston, he's shown he can get you to the launch pad, but don't hope for the moon.
Tom Goyne is the author of Balls, Sticks, & Stuff ("Phillies, Eagles, golf, and other matters of great importance...") and maintains the Phloggers' Pheeds page, a source for the latest commentary from around the "phlogosphere"..
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