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Squeeze Play, continued...


Down on the field, Schilling has just notched another strikeout on the Schill-o-meter–the invention of a loyal group of fans who hang large Ks (baseball parlance for "strikeouts") high in the leftfield stands every time their hero whiffs an opposing batter.

"We think it would be wrong, and would betray the fan base we're building, to jeopardize this young nucleus because of commitments to some free agents."

Schilling, one of the premier starting pitchers in the game, and a relative bargain at $5.5 million a year, has also been loudly challenging the team in the press to spend more money on free-agent pitchers–or sell to somebody who will. I mention this to Montgomery, who is seated beside me in the executive box, keeping score.
    "Yes," he responds. I press him, feeling positively boorish.
   
"We really respect what Schill does on the field," he says finally, "and we admire his competitive nature. The job we believe we have to do is to create this young nucleus and build on it. Some people always gravitate to free-agency as what I would describe to be the short-term fix. But it can have long-term implications. And one of the things that we think would be wrong, and where we would betray the fan base that we think we’re beginning to build, is to put the retention of this nucleus in jeopardy because of commitments to some free agents."
    Better to get younger players through an improved farm system and judicious trades–and then hang on to them, he argues, pointing with justifiable pride to the trades that brought Glanville and Abreu to the team.
   
"A player," he adds, "probably has the luxury of looking at today and not worrying too much about tomorrow. It’s not a luxury we have as far as making decisions overall for the good of the organization."
   
Besides, as Ed Wade has been pointing out a lot lately, there are a only a few high-quality arms available each year and 30 teams who want them; as a result, those free agents tend to go to teams that are competitive now, not a few years down the road. And trying to snag one in a mid-season trade can cost a team dearly in young talent. Montgomery and Wade have indicated that once the team is just one or two key players away from the playoffs, they’ll be willing to get out the checkbook. Until then–patience.
   
The long-term approach is all good and well, says Paul Hagen. "But if they get to the point in four years where they’re where they want to be, but Scott Rolen is so disgusted that he leaves to become a free agent, how have you gained?"
   
A sobering thought, that. I don’t get to ask Rolen about it directly, but I do track down the estimable Doug Glanville, who recently signed a four-year contract worth $5.57 million. He can’t really speak for anyone else, he says, but he’s quite happy to be playing with the Phillies.
   
"A guy like Rolen, that’s going to be his decision at the end of his contract," says Glanville, "and I guess he’ll see, based on what happens up until then. But I think he’s pretty happy with what he’s seen. Seems to me, just like they said, they wanted a younger team that would develop together, and now, within a year, we’ve made some strides. I know I’m optimistic.
   
"From my point of view," he adds, "Dave’s been great ... When I signed, I just asked for them to be fair. And when my agent got the initial offer, he said, ‘You know, that’s a pretty reasonable opening offer.’ He showed me where I fit in with other players in my class, and he said, ‘That’s showing a lot of good faith.’ So I didn’t feel the need to squeeze it to death. I just told them what parts of the contract I’d like to improve, and he didn’t waste any real time changing it."
   
As it turns out, Glanville is the hero of the taut but sparsely attended game, coming through (again) with a two-out, 10th-inning single to knock in the only run of the game. As the winning run crosses the plate, and the players stream out of the dugout, Montgomery’s eyes crinkle with delight.
   
"There’s your Penn guy!" he yells, slapping me on the shoulder. And for a moment, anyway, he looks like a man without a care in the world.
   
Like a fan.

 

 

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