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Offseason Target: Jason Michaels

While the vast majority of general managers are waiting until next week’s Winter Meetings in Dallas to sign or trade for their Great White Whale, newly-hired Philadelphia Phillies GM Pat Gillick got a head start on overhauling his team’s roster last week when he acquired center fielder Aaron Rowand and a couple of prospects from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for first baseman Jim Thome. At the time the deal became official, Gillick had been on the job in Philly for exactly 23 days. So much for getting settled in.

The thought of Thome being back in AL Central gives me nightmares of days gone by, but the deal made too much sense on far too many levels for Gillick not to pull the trigger. First and foremost, it eased a mini-logjam at first base, as Rookie of the Year and Missouri State alum Ryan Howard made his rather large presence known at Citizen’s Bank Park with 22 home runs and a .924 OPS in 312 at-bats. Second, although they’ll be paying nearly half of the $49 million still owed to Thome over the next three seasons, moving him for the cheaper Rowand will save the Phillies tons of money over the long haul. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), it’s entirely possible that injuries will continue to plague Thome for the remainder of his career, limiting whatever declining production he’d give the White Sox in the first place.

Of course, making one positional picture clearer can muddy up another, and that might be what Gillick did by adding Rowand to an outfield that already included Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, and Jason Michaels. Unless Gillick decides to pare even more payroll, Abreu (an All-Star the last two seasons) and Burrell are almost locks to remain Phillies in 2006, but Michaels is pretty clearly the odd man out of a starting job and could become available in a trade. According to Rotoworld.com, the Kansas City Royals have expressed quite a bit of interest in the 29-year-old Michaels, who I think is one of the most underrated players in the game.

After refusing to sign after being drafted in 1994, 1996, and 1997 by the Padres, Devil Rays, and Cardinals respectively, Michaels finally started his professional career in 1998 when the Phillies made him their fourth-round selection. Taking three years to finally reach the majors in 2001, he didn’t exactly jump through the ranks quickly, but got only slightly more than 1,500 official at-bats in the minor leagues, hitting for a decent average and moderate power. Save a short 2003 stint at Triple-A Clearwater, Michaels was in the majors to stay by 2002, and has had a pretty damned good start to his career:

2002 105 .267 .347 .476 .823
2003 109 .330 .416 .569 .985
2004 299 .274 .364 .415 .779
2005 289 .304 .399 .415 .814

Between his ability to draw walks, the career .291 batting average, and a decent reputation as a defender in left field, there’s a lot to like there. And besides the fact that there are always questions about how a part-time guy will hold up when given playing time every day, the only worthy concern one might have with Michaels’ hitting abilities is his strikeout rate which, until he curbed it to one every 6.42 at-bats in 2005, was entirely too high for a guy with an isolated power number of just .141.

With his on-base skills and no long-term commitment already on board, Michaels -- who is arbitration eligible -- is essentially the perfect target for Royals GM Allard Baird. If he’s acquired, he’d likely be the starting right fielder and hit second when the Royals take the field against the Detroit Tigers on April 3, joining leadoff man David DeJesus and left fielder Emil Brown, the guy whose defense was as unpleasantly surprising as his .804 OPS was shockingly encouraging.

However, the reality here is that the Phillies aren’t under any kind of pressure to move Michaels. He’s probably one of the five best fourth outfielders in baseball. Additionally, his 2006 salary won’t be any kind of a financial burden, so if the Royals want to swing a deal, they’ll go into talks with Gillick knowing that the Phillies hold all the cards and then some. However, with discussions involving Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn, and/or Kevin Mench all seemingly at an impasse, Baird would be foolish not to try.

One More Thing

  • While my favorite aspect of baseball as it’s played on a field is the likelihood that you'll see something you’ve never seen before on any given night, my favorite thing about baseball analysis is evaluating how well teams know their own personnel. To me, the successes (or failures) of front offices in that department can give you a solid gauge of just how intelligent your team’s general manager really is. There's no telling what kind of careers Billy McMillon, Calvin Pickering, Patrick Lennon, or Phil Hiatt would've had without complete ignorance by their superiors.

    Unfortunately, an analogy of this can now be drawn to the big business of television after FOX, clearly not knowing what they had, cancelled the Official Television Show of KRB, Arrested Development, earlier this month. The network that brings you such viewing pleasures as Stacked and Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy axed the show because of extremely low viewership, leaving me wondering whether we should blame the FOX execs for not sticking with the brilliant comedy through thick and thin, or the people in America who weren't watching.

    Either way, it's a total shame, because the adventures of the Bluth family were original and cleverly concocted, not written with a can opener at the ready. In an age where TV shows routinely stink on ice, show creator Mitchell Hurwitz gave us incredible storylines while Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett, Tony Hale and countless others executed the stories with flawless precision.

    Here's to Arrested, the Pat Lennon of TV.

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