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Remember when the Phillies almost had Tom Glavine?

When the impending opening of Citizens Bank Park made the Phillies suddenly decide to spend, they almost landed an ace

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies

In the years before Citizens Bank Park officially opened its doors, the Phillies’ front office, despite playing in a large media market, would continuously cry poor when it came to free agent acquisitions. Sure, there were some ill-fated splurges, like Lance Parrish and Danny Tartabull, but for the most part they shied away from the shiny big ticket items at the top of the line. Once the team knew it would suddenly be flush with cash thanks to a brand new stadium, they looked at their roster and decided it was now time to go for it. The year was 2002 and the Phillies were hungry.

2001 wasn’t the greatest year for the Phillies, but it was still a solid one. They finished the year at 86-76. They had two young stars in Scott Rolen (.286/.376/.498, 25 HR, 107 RBI in ‘01) and Bobby Abreu (.289/.393/.543, 31 HR, 110 RBI) to anchor the lineup, a young emerging shortstop in Jimmy Rollins (.274/.323/.419) that finished 3rd that year in Rookie of the Year voting, their young left fielder Pat Burrell (.258/.346/.469) building off of his own solid rookie season from the year before and some decent role players that made the offense one of the better ones in the National League. They threatened for a playoff spot for a little while before fading thanks to a pitching staff that simply wasn’t good. Headed into 2002, this wave of talent looked like it was going to crest on the shores of the National League hierarchy. It was not meant to be.

While Burrell took a step forward with the finest season of his career, most of the rest of the team took a small step back. Rollins’ batting average fell almost 30 points, Abreu didn’t quite match the totals he had the year before (though he was still quite good) and the rest of the offense couldn’t match 2001. The pitching staff saw Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla have very good seasons, but no other starter was able to keep his ERA below 4.25. Sure, Brett Myers made his debut and showed promise, but the team needed pitching. It was obvious.

Oh. And Scott Rolen.

Yes, the Scott Rolen contract saga that had been dragging on for some time finally reached its nadir. Over the winter, the team had offered him a 10 year/$140 million contract extension that he turned down. When they went to the winter meetings, they apparently had a deal in place with Baltimore to trade him in a huge nine player package headlined by Sidney Ponson and Erik Bedard. Unable to find another suitor, Rolen played for the Phillies until the trade deadline of 2002 when he was finally dealt to the Cardinals in the infamous deal that brought back Placido Polanco and others. It was a bitter ending to a strained relationship, but the previous extension offer also showed that the team would spend for stars. They would prove that over the winter.

Tom Glavine wanted to get paid.

He had just finished his 16th year with the Braves, had an ERA at 2.96 over 224 23 innings and wanted his money. His goal was to stay with the Braves, but they were leery of giving a soon to be 37 year old a lot of money. According to one article, the team offered him a 1 year/$9 million contract with multiple options, something that was essentially a “lifetime commitment”. So he tested the market, finding multiple suitors in the free agent waters in the Mets and the Phillies.

The Phillies were surprising since they had already inked Jim Thome to a 6 year/$85 million contract and David Bell to a 4 year/$17 million contract. And them targeting and spending even more money on Glavine wasn’t actually out of the realm of possibility. In fact, it was the plan according to Larry Bowa’s autobiography. An excerpt from that book:

With Scott Rolen traded to the Cardinals, [Ed] Wade had and enormous surplus in the budget after the 2002 season. And with [David] Montgomery projecting a large increase in revenue and attendance in the new ballpark, the Phillies could finally be big players in the free agent market. The goal was to have a successful 2003 season and then to charge into 2004 and beyond. To that end, the Phillies had a budget they didn’t want to exceed during the last season at the Vet, but they wanted the team pumped and primed for the anticipated capacity crowds and a possible 3.4 million in attendance that first year in Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies fully expected their local revenue to jump 66 percent in the new ballpark from about $100 million in the last season at the Vet.

So, suddenly flush with cash now that the news of what they had offered Rolen in an extension was out, they spent. They were targeting Glavine to helm the rotation in from of Wolf (who they also extended), Padilla and Myers. It would have been a pretty solid group to go with an offense that had Thome, Burrell and Rollins ready to go, along with the anticipated solid bat in Bell.

And it looked like they almost had him. From the previous article, it was mentioned that Glavine’s agent was asking for 4 years/$45 million, something all contenders for his services balked at. When negotiations continued, it suddenly appeared that the Phillies were indeed the front runner. One newspaper even went so far as to declare the Mets’ pursuit of Glavine to be completed unsuccessfully, the team having lost out to the Phillies’ 3 year/$30 million offer. Of course, the week before that, Bill Giles apparently thought that Glavine was staying in Atlanta.

We all know the outcome though. In the end, Glavine ended up choosing New York as his new residence, taking the Mets 3 year/$35 million guaranteed offer over what the Phillies proposed. While Glavine had originally wanted four years guaranteed, no one would go that far, only offering the fourth year option based on number of innings pitched. It’s possible that the Phillies didn’t offer more money, there was apparently another reason why the Phillies came in second in the running for the ace:

Glavine, who has played his entire 16-year career with the Braves, the Mets’ fiercest rival, opted for the Mets over the Phillies, a person close to him suggested, because of the veteran status of the Mets compared with the youth of the Phillies...‘’He has to be able to relate to people,’’ said the person close to the left-handed pitcher. ‘’He’s not going back to the bar scene with those young Philadelphia guys.’’

Thanks alot, Burrell.

So what if?

What if Tom Glavine had joined the Phillies instead of the Mets? Would things have been different? It’s possible. That first year in New York, Glavine was pretty bad, going 9-14 with a 4.52 ERA, allowing the most hits per nine innings in his career (10.1), not cracking the 100 strikeout total for the first time in 14 years, and having his ERA+ dip below 100 for the first time in 13 years. After that, he was pretty effective over the remainder of the contract, averaging a 3.65 ERA and 207 innings over the next three years of it, the fourth year being picked up by the Mets.

The Phillies, in 2003, didn’t really seem to miss him seeing as how they traded for Kevin Millwood to fill that rotation void at the top and he was perfectly....average. Replacing him with Glavine that year probably doesn’t do much, but when the team moves on to 2004-06, that is where you can start to see the ripples of not signing Glavine. 2004, their first year in Citizens Bank Park, they were trotting out Eric Milton 34 times and giving ten starts to names like Corey Lidle and Paul Abbott. In a year in which they fell short of the playoffs yet again, costing Bowa his job, you have to wonder if having Glavine or not would have made a difference in playoff baseball being played in the first year in the new stadium. While the team did finish second that year in the National League in attendance, hosting even at least one playoff game there would have meant more money for the team to spend in free agency. 2005 the team came agonizingly close yet again to a playoff spot. Again, Lidle was getting 31 starts to produce a 4.51 ERA, Padilla began his nosedive and Rob Tejada had at least 13 starts.

Putting all of this together and you can see how the team’s window of opportunity to win would possibly been opened a little earlier than 2007. There are also other questions to consider:

  • If Glavine is here, does the team hit the eject button on Bobby Abreu in the trade with the Yankees?
  • Do they trade Thome and allow Ryan Howard to begin his run of dominance?
  • If Glavine was here, does the team continue adding veterans in order to try and win with they have?
  • Does Glavine stay effective long enough to even help the team in the new ballpark?

It’s all just a drain of “what ifs” that could drive a person mad. However, it’s also fun to think about during this time of no baseball to watch. We can only sit and speculate on one of the team’s free agent misses of the past 20 years.