Phils' hidden gems sparkle at right time
Other teams' 'castoffs' making most of opportunity in Philadelphia
LOS ANGELES -- Within minutes of each other last week, J.C. Romero and Shane Victorino used these words to describe their respective roads to Philadelphia."Someone's trash is someone else's treasure."
If asked, fellow discards Greg Dobbs, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Jayson Werth and Matt Stairs could utter the same six words. The sextet arrived in smaller moves over the past two seasons that barely registered on the transaction wire. Of that group, only Durbin appeared at an introductory press conference, and that was likely only because free-agent signee Geoff Jenkins was welcomed on the same day.Even then, he was known as the "other Durbin," the complement to the since departed J.D. Durbin. Their convergence and emergence in Philadelphia, at this time, speaks to the talent-recognition skills and dice-rolling ability of general manager Pat Gillick and those evaluators he trusts, people like Gordon Lakey and Charley Kerfeld. "Sometimes small steps are just as important as large steps," Gillick said. "You get two or three small steps and they add up to a large step." While other teams added more high-profile names like CC Sabathia, Rich Harden, Johan Santana, Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter over the past two seasons, the Phillies enhanced a powerful infield nucleus with names that tend not to raise an eyebrow. They have paid dividends, and recognizing that potential is half the battle. Part of it is business, as annual roster decisions often come down to cost. Much of it rests on recognizing talent. Not all opportunities are created equal, and players don't always seize their first chance, if they get that many. The challenge is combining those factors, with the goal always to make more positive moves to offset bad ones, such as trading for Freddy Garcia or signing Adam Eaton. For Gillick, this is an art form, leading four different organizations to 11 total postseason appearances, including two World Series championships in his 27 years as a GM. Philadelphia fans may remember the second of those championships, in which the 1993 Blue Jays took down Macho Row, or the '93 Phillies. Team president Dave Montgomery recalled that, too, and hired the now 71-year-old after the 2005 season. Should this team Gillick assembled bring a second World Series title to Philadelphia before he ends his run as Phillies GM, fans would likely forget about his role in '93. Much depends on those "castoffs," who have played roles in the postseason. Despite a sweet swing and the ability to play first base, third base and the outfield, Dobbs was jobless in Seattle. At risk because of the after-effects of a broken left wrist, Werth was cut by the Dodgers. Relievers Romero and Eyre became odd men out with the Red Sox and Cubs, respectively. Detroit's inability to recognize Chad Durbin's versatility became Philadelphia's bonanza. Toronto wanted to make room for top outfield prospect Travis Snider, so Matt Stairs became available. The Phillies pounced, and have already been rewarded with two pinch-hit home runs during the regular season. Victorino, a Dodgers castoff selected in the Rule 5 Draft, arrived on former GM Ed Wade's watch, but Gillick gave him the chance to play every day when he shed Bobby Abreu's contract at the July 2006 Trade Deadline. The speedy switch-hitter has developed into a top-of-order sparkplug for the 2008 team, a constant stolen-base threat with a penchant for coming up with huge hits (See: grand slam off Sabathia; triple off Billingsley, Chad). "It's kind of fun that we're playing the Dodgers, since they were the team that originally drafted me, then let me go twice in the Rule 5 Draft," Victorino said. "I thought about how I could be there with them right now if things had been different. But when one team doesn't give you the opportunity, you hope to get one somewhere else. I don't hold any grudges. I just want to play the game and have fun." Added Romero, "You don't win games by having the biggest names. You win by executing." Finding those guys is the key. "Usually, if somebody is going good, you're not going to get a player," Gillick said. "And so, you've got to get that guy when he's going bad. There might be an injury factor. Or for some reason, the guy is not getting a chance to play." Gillick knew of Werth and Dobbs from his time with Baltimore and Seattle, respectively. He knew Dobbs was stuck behind Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson and wouldn't play, for example. "It's putting the right guy in the right slot," Gillick said. "Maybe in the situation they were in, they were miscast. Maybe they weren't given the opportunity. Or maybe there was somebody ahead of them that didn't allow them to play." Victorino and Werth wouldn't acknowledge any special satisfaction in playing -- and potentially beating -- the Dodgers. Romero, on the other hand ... "I would like to face Boston in the World Series," said Romero, who received a ring for his brief time with the Red Sox in 2007. "You move from one place to another. You can't think about stuff that way, because you'll make yourself miserable. You climb a ladder, and sometimes you have to stumble to get back up. That's how it happened for a couple of guys in here. "Pat has got the right eye for gambles like us. I think he looks into the work ethic, and what we've done in the game. I was pretty consistent until I had that bump in the road. And that made me better."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.