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Pat Gillick, King of the Dumpster Dive

As the Phillies ended August on a high note, with a six-game winning streak that brought them within two games of the NL East lead, the man of the hour was Jayson Werth. After going 9-for-9 in the first two games of the streak, Werth then led the charge in the memorable 9th inning of Thursday's 11-10 win over the Mets, leading off with a bloop single and then stealing second and third on consecutive Billy Wagner pitches before scoring the tying run on Tadahito Iguchi's pinch-single. After getting just 85 at-bats through the first four months of the season, Werth became a starter in August after Shane Victorino got hurt, and hit .414 (36 for 87) for the month with a .500 on-base percentage and .609 slugging percentage.

With a 2007 salary of just $850,000, Werth might be Pat Gillick's best acquisition of the last year. But he's not the only bargain-pickup hero on the Phillies roster right now. Perhaps surprisingly, Gillick's low-cost additions have been clearly positive. The following table lists all the current Phillies who joined the team via the waiver wire or free-agent contract for less than $1 million, and their Value Over Replacement Player.  

Pos Name How Acquired VORP 2007 Salary
OF Jayson Werth Free agent signing 16.6 $0.85m
IF/OF Greg Dobbs Waiver claim 10.6 $0.385m
RP J.C. Romero Waiver claim 8.8 $1.6m*
RP A. Alfonseca Free agent signing 2.6 $0.7m
SP/RP J.D. Durbin Waiver claim 2.2 $0.38m
IF/OF Russell Branyan Cash trade 1.1 $1m*
RP Jose Mesa Waiver claim -7.4 $2.5m*

* in practice, the Phils will pay Romero and Mesa only a prorated portion of the major-league minimum salary ($380,000); the Red Sox and Tigers respectively are responsible for the balance of their contracts, as the Padres are for Branyan.

Even with the mistake of Mesa--the sort of subtraction-by-addition move that has crippled Phillies bullpens all decade--that's 34.5 VORP for a total cost of less than $3 million. By comparison, Pat Burrell--whom I think has clearly earned his big paycheck this year--has a VORP score of 29.3.  

We've gone back and forth, at TGP and elsewhere, about whether Gillick really represents an improvement on his predecessor, Ed Wade. Probably the two strongest arguments his defenders can offer are, one, his clear superiority when it comes to finding value on the waiver wire and in the free agent discount bin, and two, Gillick's ability to make in-season trades that actually strengthen the club rather than just recycle the likes of Dennis Cook and Mike Williams. Tadahito Iguchi presumably need never pay for a drink in the greater Philadelphia area, and both Gooch and those treating him can thank Gillick for that. (I guess a third would be the aggressive promotion of pitchers like Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick; were Wade still running the show, I think it's questionable whether Hamels would have yet reached the majors.)

Of course, it's a good thing Gillick's dives into the dumpster have yielded such value--because his more expensive acquisitions mostly have stunk. For mercy's sake, we won't go into Freddy Garcia here--but a look at the three free agents Gillick signed for more than $1 million still yields a pretty damning picture:

Pos Name How Acquired VORP 2007 Salary
C Rod Barajas Free agent signing 2.6 $3m
IF Wes Helms Free agent signing -4.2 $2.05m
SP Adam Eaton Free agent signing -8.8 $6.875

That’s more than 11 runs below replacement level, at a total cost of just under $12 million. And if the Phillies fall short in their bid to make the post-season, there’s your reason why.

I’m normally all for the team spending more on the roster, but maybe it would be for the best if the organization limits Gillick to a maximum of $900,000 or so for any free agents he’d like to add this winter.