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Stark Truths

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At some point, I promise, I'll let the Abreu trade go and get on to what the Phillies need to do over the next two months and through the offseason. I'm a phan, I can't really help it, and evidently I'll remain one. I tried to root for the Mets last night, but found myself cheering--well, at least hissing Billy Wagner--when Josh Willingham beat them with a two-run walkoff bomb. My suspension of disbelief in the ineptitude of the Phillies' decision-makers, currently itself suspended, probably will re-emerge.

But not yet. Ex-Inquirer scribe Jayson Stark goes where none of his Philly beat successors have explicitly gone, and reveals just what was really behind the dumping of Abreu and Cory Lidle:

Over and over in the last few days, people from all walks of baseball have been asking: That's all the Phillies got for Bobby Abreu? And the answer is: You've got it.

"I keep asking myself, 'Is there something I don't know about Bobby Abreu that they know?' " said a high-ranking official of a team that would have loved to add Abreu in a less complicated, dollar-signed world. "I'm just baffled that they could not get anything back for a guy this good. And they paid him $1.5 million to waive his no-trade clause. And they just tossed in Cory Lidle -- tossed him in. I know for a fact there were teams that offered better prospects for Lidle alone. I don't get it."

Well, we don't get it, either. We've always looked upon Pat Gillick as a man of vision. So we'll give him every opportunity to prove that he can take that $21 million he just saved on his car insurance and transform the landscape of a fallen franchise.

But we still don't get it. Gillick is right when he says this group of Phillies had its shot, didn't win and needs to be disassembled. He's right when he says they need to change the mix, and he couldn't do that without more payroll flexibility.

But we still don't get it. Three different teams told us they thought they offered a better package for just Lidle than the Phillies got for both guys. So if the market for Lidle was that good, or even close, why not do that, hold onto Abreu for two months and try to deal him again in the offseason?

If his money situation made him so tough to deal, why not hang onto him until next year, try to win with one of the best offensive players in the league and, if that didn't happen, deal him at the '07 deadline?

To make this kind of trade, just for the joy of cashing out, simply tells the sport that either you think Abreu is outrageously overrated or your team is in major financial trouble -- or both.

Aye, there's the rub. This was a straight salary dump, with the inclusion of "prospect" C.J. Henry, already written off as a draft mistake inside the Yankee organization, a sprig-sized fig leaf to placate those who only heard "2005 first-round pick." Unless you believe Pat Gillick has gone senile or that the Phils know something about Abreu that they haven't shared, the Occam's Razor explanation is that the GM had a direct order to dump the entire contract for any return. Add in the rumors that the team plans to cut payroll to $70 million or less for 2007, and a picture emerges of an ownership group and management team readying--AGAIN--to saddle the fans with the consequences of their own mistakes.

If this interpretation is correct, surely people inside the Phillies know it--and presumably someone eventually will come clean. The question is which of the beat writers, having been led to the well by alumnus Jayson Stark, will draw water and tell the full story.

And then the next question is: what will we, the fans, choose to do about it?