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The Curse of Ed Wade

No, the damage didn't end when he was fired, finally and mercifully, last autumn. Far from it. Wade's mistakes continue to haunt the Phillies, on and off the field, and could do so for years yet.

First, the easy joke. Last night's game, an 8-6 come-from-ahead loss to the Padres, seemed out of the Wade/Bowa playbook, even though two of the three relievers who failed weren't Wade's acquisitions. When the Phils picked up Rick White a couple weeks ago, my theory was that part of Wade's severance agreement was that he still got to add one crappy old reliever for the next year or two; allowing two singles and a walk to load the bases with two out before ending the inning was a nostalgic tightrope walk. Then Ryan Franklin--who wasn't signed as a reliever, but in terms of performance for pay has stepped comfortably into the Wade tradition--began the meltdown in San Diego's 7th before Rheal Cormier, perhaps the signature Wade reliever, gave up the game-losing home run. Given that Wade is now a Padres employee (a scout, believe it or not), the whole thing kind of felt like homage.

But his big legacy, the problem now badly hampering successor Pat Gillick as he tries to clean up Wade's mess, is the contracts he gave to four Phillies regulars: Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Pat Burrell, and Mike Lieberthal. Abreu and Burrell got their deals complete with no-trade clauses (NTC); while the Bell and Lieberthal deals were run-of-the-mill bad contracts, both set to expire at the end of 2006, the deals for the corner outfielders both obligate a ton of money and vastly complicate efforts to move either.

I don't think it's necessary to get too deeply into the Burrell situation. While he's still a productive hitter--and he's been going great recently--he hasn't earned his money, and he's about to get prohibitively expensive ($13 million next year, $14 million in 2008). He's almost untradable.

So that leaves Abreu. Bobby, I'd argue, has earned his money and then some. And personally I go back and forth about whether he should be traded; my guess is that he'll keep hitting through the duration of his Phillies contract. But I think he will be traded, because he's more easily moved than Burrell and the front office seems to be inclined toward change for the sake of change.

And that's where the Curse of Wade kicks back in. Here's Jerry Crasnick writing about Abreu for

As trade rumors continue to swirl around Philadelphia outfielder Bobby Abreu, the $15 million owed him for 2007 stands as a potential deterrent to any club interested in making a deal.

In reality, the acquisition cost could be a whole lot higher than that.

Abreu's five-year, $64 million contract with the Phillies includes a complete no-trade clause. Agent Peter Greenberg told that if Abreu consents to waive it, he's going to expect some sort of compensation in return.

That could mean that his new club agrees to pick up his $16 million option in 2008, or gives him a contract extension. Either way, Abreu's next team will have to pay.

Under normal circumstances, a team trading for a guy like Abreu might both pick up the contract--he's owed about $21 million through the end of 2007, plus a $2 million buyout for 2008--and send along one or more top prospects plus complementary parts. But what the NTC does, as Crasnick points out, is seriously raise the cost for any team interested--just because Wade gave Abreu and agent Peter Greenberg the leverage to do so. Thus, if the Phillies want to move him, they'll almost certainly have to either take a bath on the talent exchanged to shed the contract obligation, or agree to pay some portion of Abreu's money to get better players back.

As Gillick already agreed to take on some of Jim Thome's cost--though we don't get credit for half those homers he's hitting for the ChiSox this year--I have a feeling he won't do the same for Abreu. He'll want as much payroll flexibility as he can get to remake the team as he wishes. (Hopefully this will mean more Tom Gordons, and fewer Abe Nunezes.) So prepare yourself for the announcement, in a week or two, that Bobby has been traded to some high-dollar contender (the Yankees make the most sense) for little more than a bag of balls and some Derek Jeter posters.

Thanks, Ed.