Tag Archives: Hot Stove History

Cliff Lee: he never wanted to leave Phillies in the first place

During what all fans of the Philadelphia Phillies have been led to believe will be one of the most significant off-season periods ever for the franchise, I’ve been taking a look back at the team’s ‘Hot Stove’ history.

So far we have recalled the signings of Pete Rose (1978), Jose Mesa(2000), and Jim Thome (2002) in free agency. We have also revisited key off-season trades: the 1981 three-way deal that resulted in Lonnie Smith leaving and Bo Diaz arriving, the 1982 trade of future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, and the trading away of Thome.
Probably the most recent important Phillies move during a Hot Stove season came in the middle of December back in 2010. It was then that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. began trying to reverse a huge prior mistake from exactly one year earlier. Both decisions were among the most influential during the 2009-11 period when the club was trying to get back to the World Series.
Those two moves involved a left-handed starting pitcher named Cliff Lee. His pro career had begun after he was drafted three times. Lee finally signed after being selected by the Montreal Expos with their fourth round selection in the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft.
In June 2002, Lee was dealt to the Cleveland Indians as part of a four-prospect package that also included Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in an overall six-player deal that brought starting pitcher Bartolo Colon to Montreal.

LEE DEVELOPS INTO AN ACE

In Cleveland’s minor league system, Lee showed enough with Buffalo of the Triple-A International League that he was given a two-start cup of coffee with the Indians in September 2002. He went 10.1 innings allowing just six hits over those two outings.
Lee won the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with Cleveland
After beginning the 2003 season back at Triple-A, Lee received a spot start with Cleveland in late June. Then in mid-August he was called to the big-leagues for good. Lee would enter the Tribe’s starting rotation and remain there for the next six years.
Lee would develop into one of the top starting pitchers in the game, culminating in a memorable 2008 season. While the Phillies were driving towards their first World Series crown in nearly three decades, Lee was putting together a Cy Young Award-winning season in Cleveland.
In that 2008 campaign, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.110 WHIP. He also had a fabulous 170/34 K:BB ratio over 223.1 innings across 31 starts. In addition to the Cy Young honors, he was an AL All-Star for the first time, and even received AL MVP votes.
Lee was scheduled to become a free agent after the 2010 season, and it became obvious that the Indians would not be able to get him to sign a contract extension. Looking at a rebuilding situation, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro decided to find a deal for him a year early.

LEE ACQUIRED BY CHAMPS IN-SEASON

As defending World Series champions, the Phillies were struggling to open up a lead in a tight NL East race in July 2009. A big reason was that the team’s starting pitching was looking a bit fragile.
Cole Hamels, the hero of the prior season, appeared to be going through a World Series hangover campaign. Brett Myers struggled the entire year with injuries. At age 46, Jamie Moyer was getting hit hard. Joe Blanton and rookie J.A. Happ were giving the club innings, but were not the kind of arms that a team looking to repeat as world champions wanted at the front of a rotation.
On July 15, the Phillies signed 37-year-old veteran Pedro Martinez, who had been sitting out the season to that point. It was going to take Martinez a few weeks to get into pitching shape, and in fact he would not join the team’s starting rotation until August 12.
Amaro was still rumored to be hot after both Lee and Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay. Finally, just before the non-waiver trade deadline, Amaro and Shapiro reached a deal. The Phillies would acquire Lee in exchange for a four-prospect package led by pitcher Carlos Carrasco.
Cito Gaston was manager of the Blue Jays at the time. Once the Phillies had traded for Lee, it meant that Gaston was likely to keep his ace in Halladay. Jayson Stark at ESPN quoted Gaston after the Lee deal was announced: “Who knows? They may come back and get [Halladay], too. That’d be a pretty good staff there, wouldn’t it?” How prescient that comment would eventually prove.
The 30-year-old Lee was everything that the Phillies hoped, and more. Over a dozen starts he went 7-4 with a 74/10 K:BB ratio. Martinez went 5-1 over nine starts with a 37/8 K:BB ratio. The two veterans gave the rotation just the shot in the arm that it needed to push the club to its third straight NL East title.
In the 2009 postseason, Lee upped his game. He made two strong starts in a tough NLDS victory over the Colorado Rockies, then a brilliant start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Three of the NLCS.
When Lee shut down the New York Yankees in Game One of the World Series, the Phillies appeared on their way to back-to-back championships. Alas, it was not to be. The team did win his next start in Game Five, but that only kept them alive. The Yanks would take the Fall Classic two nights later.

THE LEE HOT STOVE TRADE

After the season, Amaro resumed his pursuit of Halladay, who was scheduled to become a free agent following the 2010 season. On December 16, 2009 the Phillies acquired Halladay from Toronto in exchange for a three-prospect package.
Amaro had negotiated a four-year contract extension with the 32-year-old Halladay, who thought that he was joining Lee in the Phillies rotation. Instead, Amaro shocked everyone in the Phillies community by dealing away Lee just hours later.
The justification given by Amaro at the time was shaky from the start. He felt that Lee’s contract demands were unreasonable, and also claimed that the Phillies needed to re-stock their farm system after it had been depleted by that summer’s Lee trade and the Halladay aquistion.
However, the package that Amaro obtained from the Seattle Mariners that day of prospect pitchers Phillippe Aumontand J.C. Ramirez and young outfielder Tyson Gillies failed to convince anyone that it improved the organization to the same level as having Lee remain on the big-league pitching staff.
It would prove to be one of the worst trades in Phillies history. Our own Tim Kelly here at PN wrote in August 2018 about comments made by former outfielder Jayson Werth to a local radio station. Included among those revealing remarks were this quote:
…they [the Phillies] offered Cliff a contract at a marginal number, we’ll say. And then he counters at a reasonable counter, far less for what he ends up signing back for. Within that day, a day or two, Ruben freaks out, he can’t believe that they would ask for that type of money – which was under-market for Cliff – and trades him to Seattle. So he was traded to Seattle for a bag of balls and a couple Fungos.”
 
Halladay would enjoy a memorable 2010 season in which he would capture the National League Cy Young Award while tossing a Perfect Game and a playoff no-hitter. Hamels rebounded with a solid campaign. The rest of the rotation struggled, but Amaro swung a trade to bring in three-time NL All-Star and perennial Cy Young candidate Roy Oswalt from Houston.
The Phillies struggled much of that summer. But then from late August through late September the team went on an incredible run, winning 23 of 27 games to pull away to a fourth straight NL East title.
As for Lee, he would make just 13 starts for the Mariners. With the club struggling and with Lee still scheduled to become a free agent in the coming off-season he was shipped off to the Texas Rangers following a final start for Seattle on July 4.
At the time of that deal, Lee was 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA and had been selected to the AL All-Star team. He would attend the game not as a member of the Mariners, but instead wearing a Rangers cap.
Over the rest of the season in Texas, Lee would go just 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA. He did produce solid numbers otherwise, allowing 103 hits over 108.2 innings with a 96/12 K:BB ratio in 15 starts.
The Rangers won the AL West crown and the American League pennant, reaching the World Series. However, the Phillies were not there to great their former pitcher. Halladay, Werth, and the two-time defending NL champion Phillies had been beaten in six games in the 2010 NLCS by the San Francisco Giants.
San Francisco would then take out the Rangers in five games to capture the first World Series crown for the Giants franchise in 56 years. Lee was rocked in the opener of that Fall Classic in San Francisco. He then would also lose a pitcher’s duel to Tim Lincecum in the Game Five clincher at Texas.

THE LEE HOT STOVE FREE AGENT SIGNING

The off-season got underway following that 2010 campaign with Lee entering free agency for the first time in his career. A return to the Rangers was possible, but the New York Yankees were seen by most as the early and overwhelming favorites to land his services.
The Yankees had finished in second place in the AL East in 2010, a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays but had comfortably won what was the lone Wildcard berth available at that time. The Yanks then swept the Minnesota Twins 3-0 in the ALDS, but were beaten by Texas in six games in the ALCS. Adding Lee, and subtracting him from the Rangers, would likely push them to the top of the American League favorites list.
The Phillies were not seen to be a contender for Lee at first. They already had a rotation that would include Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt coming back in 2011. It was projected at that point that Blanton and Kyle Kendrick would make up the back of their rotation.
A formal contract offer was extended to Lee by the Yankees, one that would turn out to be the highest offer that he would receive. It wouldn’t be enough.
Shock waves rolled across the game on December 15, 2010 when, seemingly out of nowhere, it was announced that the Phillies and Lee had agreed to a five-year, $120 million contract. Lee would join Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt in what the baseball world would call the “Four Aces” rotation, one of the best in the history of the game.
In Philadelphia it became known as “Merry Cliffmas”, and Phillies fans were euphoric. They would have a dominating pitching rotation that would give their still-potent offensive attack a chance to win every single day.
Not only was Lee’s signing a surprise gift to Phillies fans, but he also won their hearts forever with what he said upon agreeing to the deal: “I never wanted to leave in the first place.” It turned out that Lee and his wife Kristen had enjoyed their brief 2009 time in Philly so much that returning was a relatively easy decision.
The Phillies of 2011 would not win every day, but it seemed like it at times. That club would set a franchise record with 102 regular season wins, leading the NL East from wire-to-wire and ultimately taking the division crown by 13 games.
Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and was named as NL All-Star, finishing third in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Halladay went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and finished as the Cy Young runner-up. Hamels was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA, finishing fifth in that Cy Young Award voting.
Oswalt won just nine games and struggled some with a 3.69 ERA. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the four most effective members of the rotation that year. Neither were Blanton or Kendrick. That status was provided by 23-year-old rookie Vance Worley, who surprised everyone with an 11-3 mark and 3.01 ERA over 25 games, 21 as a starter. Worley would finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
When the 2011 postseason opened, the Phillies were clear favorites to capture their second World Series title in four years. But in one of the most disheartening endings in franchise history, they were edged out in five games by the Saint Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.
Lee played a part in that loss. After the offense bailed out Halladay to take Game One, those same bats then provided Lee with an early 4-0 lead in Game Two. But the Cardinals then chipped away, scoring three runs in the top of the 4th inning and one each in the 6th and 7th, rallying for a 5-4 win to tie the series.
The Phillies took a 2-1 series lead behind a strong outing from Hamels in Game Three, but Saint Louis beat Oswalt in Game Four to once again tie the series.
In a decisive Game Five at Citizens Bank Park, a pitching battle for the ages took place. Halladay allowed just one run on six hits. It would be enough to win almost any game. But Saint Louis received an absolute gem from their starter, Chris Carpenter. He would shut the Phillies out on three hits in a complete game.
With two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Cardinals clinging to a 1-0 lead, Saint Louis native Ryan Howard stepped in for the Phillies. On a 2-2 pitch, Carpenter’s 110th of the game, Howard topped a slow grounder to second base. As the final out was being recorded, the big slugger crumpled to the ground, having blown out his Achilles tendon.
It wasn’t obvious yet at that point, but history would show that the Phillies era of contention at the top of Major League Baseball would end with that play.
The 2012 Phillies struggled from the beginning but were still three games above the .500 mark and within 2.5 games of first place as June began. But the team would collapse under the weight of injuries.
Howard wouldn’t return until July and was never the same dominating slugger. Chase Utley wouldn’t begin his season until late June, and at age 33 was beginning his own slow decline. Both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, the latter obtained just a year earlier to bolster that 2011 team, were traded away at the non-waiver deadline as Amaro threw in the towel.
Lee would pitch well in both 2012 and 2013 as the Phillies tried unsuccessfully to quickly rebuild. He went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, made the NL All-Star team, and finished sixth in National League Cy Young voting in the 2013 season. Incredibly, less than a year later his career would be over.
The 2014 season opened with Lee as the Phillies primary trade candidate. At 35-years-old he still had that season and then 2015 to go on his contract, with a $25 million salary owed both years. There was a $27.5 million club option or $12.5 million buyout for the 2016 season as well.
He began the year as the Opening Day starter. Over his first 10 starts through mid-May he went 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA and a 61/9 K:BB ratio in what seemed a typical Lee season. But following a May 18 win over the Cincinnati Reds he was placed on the disabled list with discomfort in his left pitching elbow.
The Phillies tried to bring him back as the non-waiver trade deadline approached, hoping to find a deal, but he was hit hard in two late July starts. Then on July 31, the exact date of the deadline, he was given a final chance to show that he was healthy and could help someone.
It appeared to observers that things had started out well that night at Nationals Park. Through 2.2 innings, Lee had allowed just one hit and walked no one, striking out four Washington Nationals batters. And then it ended, just that suddenly.
With two outs in the third inning, Lee delivered his first pitch to Denard Span and walked off the mound, tapping his left arm. It turned out that he had been experiencing discomfort while warming up before the game, and then when warming up before each inning. This time it wouldn’t go away.
‘It was there every throw and I just felt like if I kept throwing something was going to snap and I just wanted to make sure that didn’t happen,” Lee said per Sports Illustrated via the AP following that game.
He tried to come back for the 2015 season but was able to throw just two innings at spring training in Clearwater. Lee would spend that entire season on the disabled list after suffering a left common flexor tear. After the season ended the Phillies declined his option for 2016, and his career was over.
In February 2016, when it was becoming obvious that Lee would never pitch again, Grant Brisbee at SB Nation wrote a fantastic piece on the pitcher who he correctly called “one of the best pitchers of his generation.” In that piece, Brisbee described what it was like for a batter facing Lee:
Watching a pitcher move inside and out, up and down, is absolutely symphonic. But it’s even more entertaining to watch the hitters panic, knowing that the baseball can dart a foot away from the plate if it doesn’t bore right in on their damned thumbs. The hitter is acutely aware that the pitcher on the mound can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and there’s a split second to determine if the ball is going to hurt him, be hittable or be so unhittable that it will make him look like an idiot if he swings.
Over parts of five seasons with the Phillies, Lee recorded a 48-34 record with a 2.94 ERA, 1.089 WHIP, and 2.85 FIP. He yielded just 777 hits over 827.1 innings across 118 starts, surrendering just 80 home runs while registering a 21.6 WAR mark.
He also produced an other-worldly 813/124 K:BB ratio, made a pair of NL All-Star teams, and finished among the leaders in Cy Young voting twice. In his time with the Phillies, Lee led the National League in shutouts in 2011, and twice led the league in both the K/BB and BB/9 categories.
Cliff Lee was one of the most popular players on a team populated with those types of individuals, the greatest Phillies team to never win a world championship. That popularity has never waned.
His being traded away in December 2009 may have kept the 2010 Phillies from winning another World Series crown. But neither was his return as a free agent in December 2010 enough to make that happen for a record-setting Phillies team in 2011.
It remains possible that one day we’ll be watching Lee enjoy an induction ceremony to the Phillies Wall of Fame. For the millions of fans who packed Citizens Bank Park during the final years of that heyday, it would be a well-deserved honor.

In January 1982 trade of light-hitting shortstops, the Phillies dealt away a future Hall of Famer

This latest installment of the “Phillies Hot Stove History” series was inspired by today’s 66th birthday celebration for Ivan DeJesus. While we may celebrate his birthday, few Phillies fans have ever celebrated the 1982 swap of shortstops that brought him to the team.

In short order this would prove to be one of the worst trades in franchise history. For younger fans who may have heard of the deal but not know how such a thing could happen, let’s take a quick look back at this key “hot stove” moment from the Phillies past.
As always, a little perspective is required to set the stage. At the time of the deal the Phillies were coming off a 1981 season in which they had been dethroned as world champions.
The veteran-laden 1980 Phillies had won the first World Series crown in franchise history. The following season was interrupted by a mid-season work stoppage, and the Phillies would return to the playoffs in 1981 thanks in part to a split-season format adopted by Major League Baseball.
In baseball’s first-ever Divisional Series, the Phillies were eliminated by the Montreal Expos in five games. Following that 3-2 series defeat, Owens looked over his roster and felt that an aging team that had won four of five NL East titles between 1976-80 needed more adjustments.
One key member of that 1970’s core group and 1980 championship team had already been dealt away when left fielder Greg Luzinski was sold to the Chicago White Sox at the end of spring training just prior to the 1981 season.
Owens decided that it was now time to turn the pages on the 36-year-old shortstop Larry Bowa, with whom he was having difficulty reaching agreement on a new contract.

THE GREEN FACTOR

Another pivotal factor in the trade was the man sitting in the General Manager’s seat on the Cubs side of the deal. Dallas Green had skippered the Phillies to that 1980 World Series title. Following the 1981 playoff defeat, Green was hired to become the new GM in Chicago.
Green skippered Phillies to a World Series crown
and 1981 postseason, then became Cubs GM.

Green first raided the Phillies coaching staff, taking John Vukovich and Lee Elia with him. Then in one of this first deals, Green obtained young catcher Keith Moreland and reliever Dickie Noles from the Phillies in a December 1981 trade.

Just over a month later, Green and Owens were discussing another trade. There wasn’t much at the time to distinguish Bowa from Cubs shortstop Ivan DeJesus from one another as a player. Both were light hitters. Bowa had the far greater defensive pedigree. DeJesus was more than seven years younger.
The big factor for Green was that he wanted Bowa’s strong glove, fiery personality, and leadership as the GM instituted his “Building a New Tradition” plan for a franchise that hadn’t been to the postseason since 1945.
On the Phillies side, Owens was looking for a long-term replacement, one where the talent level wouldn’t drop off much, to help keep the club winning. It appeared to be a clean, simple swap at the shortstop position.
However, because of that age difference between Bowa and DeJesus in the Phillies favor, Green insisted that Owens toss in a young infield prospect. With his intimate knowledge of the Phillies farm system, Green had always liked Ryne Sandberg, and insisted on him as the throw-in player as a possible future shortstop. Owens agreed, and the deal was done.

THE THROW-IN

Most in the Phillies scouting department regarded Sandberg, the club’s 20th round selection in the 1978 MLB Amateur Draft out of a Spokane, Washington high school, as a borderline prospect. He could play second base and shortstop, possibly even some third base.
sandberg1-282x400.jpg
Sandberg was a 20th round draft pick who
most felt would become a reserve infielder.

After a less-than-spectacular first full pro campaign with A-level Spartanburg in 1979, Sandberg broke out at Double-A Reading in the Phillies 1980 championship season. That year he hit .310 with 44 extra-base hits, 79 RBI, 95 runs scored, and 32 stolen bases as a 20-year-old shortstop.

As the Phillies took part in that 1981 split-season, Sandberg was enjoying a solid season with Triple-A Oklahoma City. He hit .293 while swiping another 32 bags, earning a September promotion to the big-leagues.
With the Phillies during that month of September in 1981, Sandberg got into 13 games. Seven of those were as a pinch-runner. He also played in five as a shortstop, and another at second base.
Three of Sandberg’s appearances during that cup-of-coffee, including the final two on October 2nd and 3rd, came against the Cubs at Veteran’s Stadium. He also had played short during a game at Wrigley Field in the second game of a September 27 doubleheader.

THE SHORTSTOPS

On January 27, 1982 the deal was concluded. Bowa and Sandberg were shipped out to the North Side of the Windy City, while DeJesus became the new shortstop in red pinstripes. The rest is, unfortunately for the Phillies, baseball history.
Bowa was a 36-year-old, 12-year
veteran at time of the deal.
DeJesus would play three seasons with the Phillies and help the club to win the 1983 National League pennant. That team would lose the World Series in five games to the Baltimore Orioles. Over those three years, DeJesus slashed just .249/.319/.319 with 153 runs scored and 37 total steals.
Bowa spent most of the next three seasons as the Cubs starting shortstop, slashing .247/.296/.308 with 169 runs scored and 30 stolen bases while helping the team to the 1984 NL East crown. Chicago would release him at age 39 in August of 1985, and he would finish out his career playing for a month with the New York Mets.
Seems like a wash at that point. But of course, that was not the whole story. There was the issue of that prospect tossed into the deal. Sandberg quickly proved to be far more than a throw-in.

THE HALL OF FAMER

During his rookie season of 1982, Sandberg became the Cubs starting third baseman. He hit .271 with 33 doubles, 103 runs scored, and 32 stolen bases, finishing sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
If the Phillies weren’t already realizing that they had made a grave mistake including him in the trade, Sandberg’s 1983 performance would drive home that point.
In that 1983 campaign, Sandberg scored 94 runs, stole 37 bases, and was honored with the NL Gold Glove at second base. If you thought that his development into a star was tilting the deal way over into the Cubs side at that point, you hadn’t seen anything yet.
The following season he would up his game once again as Sandberg became an NL all-star for the first time. In 1984 he slashed .314/.367/.520 with 19 home runs among 74 extra-base hits, leading all of baseball with 19 triples. He also produced 84 RBI, stole 32 bases, and led the NL with 114 runs scored.
For that performance, Sandberg captured the National League Most Valuable Player award. He also was honored with his second consecutive NL Gold Glove and was awarded the NL Silver Slugger at second base.
Sandberg became an NL MVP and perennial
NL All-Star, Gold Glover, and Silver Slugger
(Photo: Wjmummert)

Over 15 seasons with the Cubs, Sandberg would produce 2,385 hits and score 1,316 runs. He slammed 282 homers, the most by any second baseman in the history of the game at the time of his retirement. He also produced 403 doubles, and 76 triples while swiping 344 bags.

Sandberg won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1983-91, as well as seven Silver Sluggers during that same period. He was an NL All-Star for 10 straight years from 1984-93.

Sandberg finished his career with a .989 fielding percentage, the highest for a second baseman in baseball history.

He produced 15 streaks of 30 or more consecutive errorless games, and at the time of his retirement after the 1997 season, he held the all-time record of 123 consecutive errorless games by a second baseman.

During his third year of eligibility in 2005, Sandberg was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving 76.2% of the vote that year.

As a post-script to this story, Sandberg entered the coaching and managerial ranks following his retirement as a player. Starting as a spring training instructor with the Cubs, he was hired to manage within their minor league system with the goal of becoming the Cubs manager one day.
When that opportunity didn’t come about, Sandberg left to become manager of the Phillies Triple-A affiliates at Lehigh Valley where he became the 2011 Minor League Manager of the Year.
In 2013, Sandberg was back in the big-leagues as the Phillies third base coach. Then in mid-August he was named Manager of the Phillies following the firing of long-time skipper Charlie Manuel. Sandberg would compile a 119-159 record over parts of three seasons before rising the position in early June of 2015.
There have been many trades made during baseball’s “hot stove” months, that late-fall through mid-winter period when teams are positioning their team for the following season, where prospects have been included as supposed “throw-in” players.

Every once in a while a team will hit the jackpot with one of those young players. That was never more the case than with the Phillies-Cubs hot stove trade of Bowa and Sandberg for DeJesus in January 1982.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Phillies Hot Stove History: The 1982 trade of Ryne Sandberg

Remembering the Jim Thome Era in Philadelphia

With this MLB off-season so highly anticipated here in Philadelphia, I decided to take a look back during this month at some of the more important Hot Stove moments over the course of Phillies history.

So far we’ve traveled back to re-examine big free agent signings of Pete Rose in 1978 and Jose Mesa in the winter of 2000. We also took a look back at a pivotal 1981 trade in which catcher Bo Diaz came to Philly from Cleveland as part of a three-team swap which sent outfielder Lonnie Smith to the Cardinals.
This time around we’re going to take a look back at two different Hot Stove moves from the first decade of the 21st century. One is a free agent signing, the other a trade. Both involve the same centerpiece player, Phillies Wall of Famer and Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Thome.
To understand the motivations for the Phillies deciding to open up their wallets and bring Thome to Philadelphia you need to remember the context of where the franchise was and who the player was at that time.
From 1987 through 2002, a period that spanned the final years of Mike Schmidt‘s career through the final year of Scott Rolen‘s career with the Phillies, the team suffered through 14 losing campaigns over 16 seasons.
The 1993 National League champions had proven to be an oasis in a long, wide desert of losing years. But things began to change as the new century dawned.
Under popular and fiery new manager Larry Bowa the Phillies had nearly captured the 2001 NL East crown. Thanks to a stretch of nine losses in 11 games to open the month of September, the 2002 Phillies finished 80-81. Though it was another losing record, something was obviously different.
The Phillies had a talented core group of position players featuring veteran catcher Mike Lieberthal, exciting youngsters Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins, and the power-speed combination of an entering-his-prime Bobby Abreu.
Also, the club was preparing to say goodbye to Veteran’s Stadium. The 2003 season would be the 33rd and final one on turf for the team. A brand new facility to be named Citizens Bank Park was under construction and would open for 2004.
Phillies chairman Bill Giles, club president David Montgomery, and GM Ed Wade knew that there would be major financial benefits coming with the new ballpark. They wanted to make a push to excite the fan base even further, and so went into that off-season on the hunt for marquee names to add to the roster.
On December 2nd they signed 30-year-old free agent David Bell to play third base. This would allow Placido Polanco, obtained the previous summer in trade for Rolen, to shift over to second base, strengthening the overall lineup.
But what the lineup really needed was one truly menacing presence in the middle. A big bopper to serve as an anchor, a game-changing threat with the kind of true power that hadn’t regularly plowed the baseball trade in South Philly since Schmidt’s retirement more than a decade earlier.
As good fortune would have it, just such a talent was coming available on the free agent market. Thome was a 32-year-old veteran of a dozen big-league seasons who was one of the most feared power-hitters in the game at that time.
James Howard Thome was an Illinois native who had been the Cleveland Indians pick in the 13th round of the 1989 MLB Amateur Draft, which was held exactly one week after Schmidt’s retirement.
He first broke into the big-leagues with Cleveland in 1991 with the typical September cup of coffee. The following summer he became a regular at the end of June, but a late August injury brought his rookie campaign to an early end. He returned in 1993 but didn’t receive a promotion back to Cleveland until mid-August.
When the 1994 season opened he was one of the key pieces to a young and quickly improving Indians team. The club bolted out to a 66-47 record with Thome ripping 20 homers. But it was all brought to a sudden end by the player strike.
The true career breakout for Thome came when baseball returned for the 1995 campaign. He slashed .314/.438/.558 with 25 homers and 73 RBI as the Indians won 100 games and an AL Central crown. The Tribe then beat Boston and Seattle to capture the American League pennant before dropping a tough six-game World Series to the Atlanta Braves.
It would prove to be just the beginning of a baseball renaissance in Cleveland. The Indians became the AL Central’s dominant team, winning the division for five straight seasons and six times over seven years through 2001.
However, despite all of their talent and all of the winning, the Indians would return to the World Series just one more time during that stretch of dominance. That one other shot would also fall just short, and may have been the most demoralizing defeat of all.
In Game 7 of the 1997 Fall Classic, Cleveland was just two outs away against the Florida Marlins. But the Fish rallied against Tribe closer Jose Mesa to tie it up. In the bottom of the 11th, the Marlins would win it, sending Thome and the Indians home to another in a series of frustrating late-90’s winters.

During his time in Cleveland, Thome came under the tutelage of Indians hitting coach Charlie Manuel. The plain-spoken homespun wisdom of Manuel would blend perfectly with Thome’s own personality, and the two would become close.

 

Manuel became the Indians manager from 2000-02 and the club continued to win over the first couple of seasons, including capturing the 2001 AL East crown. However, with a number of the players aging quickly and others gone in trades or free agency, the Indians were losing in 2002.
Manuel was looking for a contract extension and some security as he would try to help the club rebuild. The Indians weren’t willing to meet his terms, and Manuel was fired on July 12. The handling of Manuel’s situation did not sit well with Thome, and would become a factor when he entered free agency that off-season.
Over parts of 12 seasons with Cleveland, Thome slashed .287/.414/.567 with 334 homers, 259 doubles, and 927 RBI. He had been a 3x AL All-Star, a Silver Slugger Award winner, and had finished among the top 10 in AL MVP voting three times, including each of his final two years.
He had also earned more than $40 million to that point in his career and received an annual salary at roughly $8 million per year over his last four seasons in Cleveland. This was the player who entered free agency in the fall of 2002.
The Phillies brass rolled out the red carpet in trying to woo the Paul Bunyan-esque Thome to sign with them. He and his wife, Andrea toured both Veteran’s Stadium and the construction site at Citizens Bank Park with agent Pat Rooney.
While outside of the construction site, a group of electricians union members cheered him on. When Thome stopped to speak with them, the group did a fantastic salesmanship job in representing Phillies fans wishes to have him join the team.
”I heard a lot of great things about Philadelphia,” Thome said per an AP report at ESPN at the time. ”You saw what the people did out there and that was heartwarming. It’s going to be a tough decision.”
Fans of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team would continue to apply the pressure that night when the Thome’s were treated to a game. On the couple’s introduction to the crowd midway between the second period the Philly sports fans gave him a rousing standing ovation.
The Phillies would ultimately win the bidding for the free agent star in a process that came down to them and a return to Cleveland. On December 6, 2002, Thome inked a six-year deal guaranteeing him at least $85 million and as much as $94 million over the life of the contract.
Thome would deliver everything that the Phillies hoped and then some. In the first season of 2003 the slugger finished fourth in the NL MVP voting as he led all of baseball with 47 home runs, ripped 30 doubles, and registered a career-high 131 RBI.
The 2003 Phillies led the NL Wildcard race as late as September 19. But a season-closing collapse in which they lost six straight and seven of the last eight games left them frustrated as the Veteran’s Stadium era came to an end.

In 2004, Thome blasted another 42 homers and made his first National League All-Star team. Those long balls included the milestone 400th home run of his career. The Phillies won 86 games for a second straight season and moved up from third to second place in the NL East Division standings. But the club would miss out on the postseason once again, this time it was a rough 5-13 stretch in mid-August that did them in.

 

Meanwhile down in the minor leagues, a 24-year-old first baseman named Ryan Howard was making an enormous impression. In that summer of 2004, Howard blasted 46 homers and had 131 RBI while playing at the two highest levels in the Phillies farm system.
It was fairly obvious that Howard could not be kept in the minors for much longer. But first base was his only real position. It was also Thome’s position, and the veteran still had four more years to run on his contract. Something had to give. The Phillies tried Howard out in left field, but there was no way that the big man could handle the position.
When the 2005 season opened the Thome-Howard had yet to resolve itself. But as so often happens in those situations, fate would step in to lend a hand.
Howard began 2005 ripping 16 home runs and driving in 54 runs while slashing an other-worldly .371/.467/.690 over his first 61 games back at Triple-A.
Thome started fast as well over the first couple of weeks. But then something began to change. The veteran began to slump, and then missed three weeks at the end of May. He returned to the lineup but struggled, hitting just .207 with seven homers through June.
It turned out that Thome had suffered a frayed tendon in his right elbow. He would require season-ending surgery and miss the entire last three months of the 2005 season. The decision to hang on to Howard was apparently going to pay at least short-term dividends.
Getting the call to the big-leagues, Howard would not waste the opportunity. In just 88 games he slashed .288/.356/.567 with 22 home runs, 17 doubles, 52 runs scored, and 63 RBI. For the performance, Howard would be named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
Howard was just 25-years-old and was now part of an exciting, youthful Phillies lineup that included Rollins and Burrell, still both in their 20’s, and a 26-year-old second baseman named Chase Utley who had emerged that same summer as a future star.
Those 2005 Phillies again fell short of the postseason. But they improved to 88 wins, finished just two games behind the Braves in the NL East race, and were an agonizing one game short of the Houston Astros for the NL Wildcard berth. They had been done in by five straight early-September losses, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Astros at Citizens Bank Park in which all three were agonizingly close.
The writing was on the wall for the now 35-year-old Thome. The surgery, Howard’s electrifying performance, and the latter’s perfect fit with the core of an emerging contender was going to make Thome expendable. It was time for new GM Pat Gillick to find a deal that would work for both the team and player.
That deal would come together over Thanksgiving, and on Black Friday of 2005 the Phillies general manager sent Thome to the newly-crowned World Series champion Chicago White Sox. The Phillies would include cash to help off-set the nearly $45 million still owed on Thome’s contract over the next three years.
In return the White Sox would send 28-year-old center fielder Aaron Rowand to the Phillies. Rowand had just completed his fifth big-league campaign, his second straight as a full-time starter. He hit .270 with 13 homers, 30 doubles, 16 steals, and 77 runs scored in helping the Chisox capture their first world championship in 88 years.

The deal worked out for both clubs. Thome bounced back all the way from his surgery, blasting 42 home runs and making the AL All-Star squad in the 2006 season. Rowand played a fantastic center field in Philly, including making one of the most memorable catches in team history, one that earned him an eternal place in the hearts of Phillies fans.

 

Then in 2007 while Thome was ripping another 35 homers with Chicago, Rowand became an NL All-Star and was a key piece in the Phillies capturing the first of five straight NL East crowns.
Meanwhile, Howard made sure that the Phillies didn’t miss a beat with their production from the first base position. In 2006 he followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign by slamming a franchise-record 58 home runs. He also slashed .313/.425/.659 and drove in 149 runs.
For that performance he was selected as an NL All-Star, and then was named as the National League Most Valuable Player. over the next five seasons, Howard would become known as ‘The Big Piece’ with five straight NL East champions, and one of the biggest pieces on a talented 2008 World Series championship squad.
In the late Fall of 2002, Jim Thome arrived in Philadelphia as a drawing card and hopefully the final piece to push an emerging contender to the postseason. He was absolutely the former, but never quite became the latter.
When he left in the Fall of 2005 it was to bring in Aaron Rowand, someone who would not be as big a drawing card, but who became a popular player with the fan base, and who would himself become one of the final pieces to a Phillies posteason team.
Thome would have one final moment on the stage at Citizens Bank Park when he signed to re-join his old mentor Manuel, who was now the Phillies manager. Manuel had been at the helm for that 2008 title and the Phillies were coming off a 102-win season that was the best in franchise history.
Ironically, Thome was brought in because Howard had been injured as the Phillies were eliminated in the 2011 NLDS. With the expectation that Howard’s injury could linger for a couple of months into the 2012 season, it was hoped that Thome could provide a veteran presence and some short-term power at first base.
Alas, it was not to be. The 2012 season turned out to be the most frustrating in more than a decade of Phillies baseball. The team sank to the .500 mark at 81-81, their first non-winning campaign since the 2002 season. Howard would not return until July, and his career would never again be as impactful as prior to the injury.
Thome would not be around for it. With Howard’s return looming and the team at 36-44 and 10 games off the NL East pace, the 41-year-old was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles for a pair of lesser prospects. Thome would help the Orioles to an AL Wildcard berth and appear with them in the postseason that year.
He would retire following Baltimore’s tough five-game loss to the New York Yankees in the ALDS. In 2016, Thome was honored by being enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame.

At just two full seasons and parts of two others, he has the shortest service time of any player enshrined by the club. Few fans will argue Thome’s impact at a time when the Phillies were trying to establish a winning environment and tradition.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Phillies Hot Stove History: The 2002 coming and 2005 going of Jim Thome

Free agent signing of Jose Mesa helped Phillies springboard to 2000’s contention

Rumors continue breaking nearly every single day during this off-season that the Philadelphia Phillies are ready to make some big moves.

Today came rumors that the club had put relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter on the trade block, joining Carlos Santana there. The team was also once again linked strongly to the two biggest free agent names, shortstop Manny Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper.
It was with all this current activity in mind that just yesterday I began a regular ‘Phillies Hot Stove History’ series in which I plan to re-visit some of the big free agent signings, trades, and other transactions made by the club on this date in off-season history.
That first entry took a look back at a 1981 three-team trade in which the Phillies sent outfielder Lonnie Smith to the Saint Louis Cardinals and landed catcher Bo Diaz from the Cleveland Indians. Within weeks that deal would have permanent ramifications for two of the team’s 1980 World Series heroes, catchers Bob Boone and Keith Moreland.

Today we’ll take a look at a big free agent signing from this date in the year 2000. To fully understand the signing and the reasons that it took place, you need to go back and recall what was happening at that time in Phillies history.

The organization was struggling mightily at that point. From 1987 through the 2000 campaign the Phillies had finished with a winning record just once, in the magical 1993 run to a World Series appearance.
Aside from that 97-65, first place and pennant-winning miracle, the Phillies had fashioned a horrendous cumulative record of 912-1,128 over the other prior 13 seasons.
To say that it was a long, dark dry-spell would be an understatement. The sustained losing would eventually cost five managers their jobs: John FelskeLee EliaNick LeyvaJim Fregosi, and Terry Francona, as well as general manager Lee Thomas.
But things began to change for the better as a new millennium dawned, even though it hadn’t yet shown up in the win-loss column. The Phillies finished the 2000 season with a 65-97 record, the second-worst during that stretch.
However, new and talented young players were beginning to make their way into the lineup. At age 25, third baseman Scott Rolen would win his second Gold Glove Award that year and was better than a 4-WAR player in each of his first four big-league seasons.
The Phillies first round pick in the MLB Draft just two summers earlier, 23-year-old Pat Burrell busted into the lineup with 18 homers and 79 RBI as a first baseman/left fielder. He would finish fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
26-year-old right fielder Bobby Abreu had his second straight 20-20 season with 25 homers and 28 stolen bases. He slashed .316/.416/.554 with 77 extra-base hits and 103 runs scored and was emerging as a premier offensive threat in the middle of the Phillies lineup.
The catcher was 28-year-old Mike Lieberthal, a future Phillies Wall of Famer who just might be the best all-around backstop in franchise history. A year after capturing the NL Gold Glove Award at the position he had made a second-straight National League All-Star appearance.
In mid-September of 2000, the lineup made room for an exciting newcomer. 21-year-old Jimmy Rollins hit .321 over 14 games and 55 plate appearances and flashed serious leather. That performance set the stage for a career that would see him become the greatest shortstop in Phillies history.

Phillies GM Ed Wade made the decision to bolster his emerging club’s bullpen for the 2001 season, a decision that paid off big-time.
Though the Phillies finished last in Major League Baseball with 708 runs scored and next-to-last in OPS, 44-year-old third-year general manager Ed Wade correctly surmised that he had the position player core to grow into a winner.
Where the Phillies were really lacking was on the mound. The mercurial ace of the staff, Curt Schilling, was dealt away at the non-waiver trade deadline in 2000. In exchange the Arizona Diamondbacks sent first baseman Travis Lee and three pitchers who Wade hoped could help the pitching depth in Vicente PadillaOmar Daal, and Nelson Figueroa.
The team’s second round 1997 MLB Draft pick, lefty starter Randy Wolf, was coming off his first full big-league season and appeared to be at least a long-term mid-rotation mainstay.
After four losing seasons, the notoriously tough Philly fans had seen enough of Francona as the manager. To be fair, this was the future multi-World Series winner’s first chance at an MLB managerial gig, and he wasn’t given much depth of talent to work with.
It was deemed time to give a new voice a chance to wake up both the players and the fan base, and there was one logical choice for the job: Larry Bowa. The former longtime World Series champion Phillies shortstop and coach, Bowa was hired as the new skipper.
Wade believed that if the position players continued to develop as he expected, then one way the Phillies could quickly begin to win was by bringing in major reinforcements for the bullpen.
The Phillies closer during the 2000 season had been 13-year veteran righty Jeff Brantley. He had recorded 23 Saves, but also had unsightly 5.86 ERA and 1.681 WHIP marks. The 36-year-old surrendered 64 hits over 55.1 innings and yielded a dozen home runs.
The primary setup men for Brantley on that 2000 Phillies team were righties Chris Brock and Wayne Gomes. After the Schilling trade, Padilla was used out of the pen on a regular basis as well. To call their performances poor would be an insult to the word.
Brock had a 4.34 ERA and 1.350 WHIP, allowing 21 home runs and 41 walks over his 93.1 innings which included five starts and 68 relief appearances. Gomes had a 4.40 ERA and 1.452 WHIP and had a poor 6.0/4.3 K:BB per nine innings rate. In 28 games, all out of the pen, Padilla had a 5.34 ERA and allowed 40 hits over 30.1 innings with a 21/18 K:BB ratio.

MESA GOES FROM STARTER TO CLOSER THROUGH FIVE TEAMS

 

Mesa had originally signed with the Toronto Blue Jays as, believe it or not, a 15-year-old outfielder out of the Dominican Republic all the way back in 1981.
In early September of 1987, Mesa was sent by Toronto to the Baltimore Orioles as the player-to-be-named-later in a deal that had netted the contending Jays a veteran starter in Mike Flanagan.
Mesa received a cup-of-coffee with his big-league debut that very month, making a half-dozen appearances for a horrendous Orioles team that was playing out the string. He would return to the minors for the next couple of seasons, working as a starting pitcher.
From 1990-92, Mesa made 43 appearances with the Orioles, 42 of those as a starter. Then on July 14, 1992 came what would become his big career break. Mesa was dealt by Baltimore to Cleveland for speedy outfield prospect Kyle Washington.
With the Indians, Mesa remained in the rotation at first, with 48 of his first 49 appearances in the Tribe uniform coming as a starting pitcher. It was in 1994 that Indians manager Mike Hargrove made the decision to switch the big right-hander to the bullpen. It would prove to be a career-making move.
His 1994 switch to the bullpen was successful but was also cut short by the player’s strike. When play resumed in 1995, Mesa was made the closer for an Indians team on the rise.
Cleveland would capture the next five consecutive American League Central Division titles. Mesa became an all-star, representing the Tribe in both the 1995 and 1996 Mid-Summer Classics.
In that 1995 season, Mesa would have a career year. He led all of baseball with 46 Saves and 57 games finished. His other numbers were tremendous: 1.13 ERA, 1.031 WHIP, 49 hits surrendered in 64 innings over 62 games. For that performance he finished as runner-up in the AL Cy Young Award voting to Randy Johnson.
The Indians would lose the World Series that year to the Atlanta Braves in six games, shut down in the opener by future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and then twice by future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. Mesa earned the win in Game 3 out of the pen.
After being knocked out in the ALDS by the Orioles in 1996, the Indians returned to the Fall Classic in 1997. This time they would face the upstart Florida Marlins, who had a pair of 1993 Phillies heroes on the roster in Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich.
The two teams battled through seven epic games, and that final Game 7 went to the bottom of the 9th inning with the Indians ahead by 2-1. With Cleveland just three outs away from their first World Series championship in nearly a half-century, Hargrove motioned down to the bullpen and called for his lights-out closer.
Mesa surrendered a base hit to Moises Alou, but then struck out Bobby Bonilla swinging. Two outs away. The next batter, Charles Johnson, dropped a line single into right field with Alou rolling around to third base as the tying run.
On a 1-1 pitch, little second baseman Craig Counsell lined a ball to right field. It was caught for the second out but was deep enough to score Alou for a tie game.
Hargrove had his horse in the game and decided to ride him longer. Mesa got the lead batter, but then surrendered two more hits in the bottom of the 10th. After striking out John Cangelosi for the second out, Hargrove made the decision to pull Mesa, who had thrown 39 pitches.
Veteran starter Charles Nagy came on to get the last out in the 10th and end that threat. With the score still knotted at 2-2 in the bottom of the 11th, Nagy continued on.
The Marlins then put together another threat without hitting a ball hard. A ground single, an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez, and an intentional walk loaded the bases with two outs. Up stepped 21-year-old shortstop Edgar Renteria. On the second pitch, he lined a clean single to center field and Counsell gleefully scampered home with the series-winning run.
The following year, Mesa seemed to fall apart. After 44 games his ERA had more than doubled and his strikeout rate was falling for a third straight season. As the non-waiver trade deadline approached, Indians GM John Hart decided to deal the pending free agent, sending him along with veteran infielder Shawon Dunston to the San Francisco Giants.
After finishing the season with San Francisco, Mesa became a free agent and signed a two-year, $6.8 million deal with the young and talented Seattle Mariners.
In the second year of the deal, the 2000 Mariners led the AL West Division from late June through late September but fell a half-game short of the Oakland A’s for the division crown. As the American League Wildcard team, they swept the Chicago White Sox 3-0 in an ALDS, but then were eliminated by the New York Yankees in six games in the ALCS.
Mesa wasn’t really wowing anyone at that point in his career. After recording 33 Saves his first season in Seattle he lost the closer job. Over the two seasons with the Mariners, Mesa had a cumulative 5.18 ERA and 1.701 WHIP.

MESA BECOMES PHILLIES RECORD-SETTING CLOSER

This was the man who Wade signed to anchor his new bullpen. Mesa would take this new opportunity to close as a re-birth, and he would prove to be born-again-hard, at least for the first two seasons of his deal.
In the 2001-02 campaigns with the Phillies, Mesa saved 42 and 45 games respectively. In 2001 he registered a 2.34 ERA over 71 games. In 2002 his ERA was at the 2.97 mark across 74 games. He yielded just 130 hits over 145 hits during the two seasons with just nine home runs allowed.
Wade didn’t stop his bullpen rebuild with Mesa alone. On November 30, 2000, he added a veteran left-hander to the mix by signing free agent Rheal Cormier. The 33-year-old became the primary southpaw out of the pen, pitching in 60 games and allowing just 49 hits over 51.1 innings.
On December 15, 2000, Wade would further bolster the pen, bringing back former Phillies all-star closer Ricky Bottalico to serve as Mesa’s primary setup man. Over 66 games, ‘Ricky Bo’ would allow just 58 hits across 67 innings.
Adding this new trio of veteran pitchers to the maturing position player mix worked perfectly. The Phillies very nearly went from worst-to-first. They led the NL East at the MLB All-Star Game break and as late as July 16.
The club continued to fight, never falling more than 3.5 games behind the six-time defending division champion Atlanta Braves. After winning the opener of a key three-game series in Atlanta on October 2, the Phillies were just a game out.
However, the Braves recovered to win the next two straight and open a three-game lead. Despite the Phillies sweeping a season-ending three-game weekend series in Cincinnati, the club would finish two games shy of Atlanta for the division crown.
Still, the Phillies 86-76 mark was their first winning season since the 1993 team. They would slip slightly to 80-81 during the 2002 season, Mesa’s second as closer, but would then begin a string of nine consecutive winning campaigns that would include the second World Series title in franchise history.
The 2003 Phillies would win 90 games and finish just five games off the NL Wildcard pace after a late September swoon. But in the final season of his contract, a now 37-year-old Mesa would prove ineffective.
In that 2003 campaign his ERA swelled to 6.52 and he allowed 71 hits over 58 innings. During an injury-riddled September, Mesa appeared in just a half-dozen games and was awful when he pitched, surrendering nine earned runs on nine hits over four innings.
Mesa’s contract was up, but his career was not yet over. Neither, in fact, were his days in Philadelphia. Mesa would again emerge as a strong closer in the 2004 season, saving 43 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent the 2005 season again in Pittsburgh, recording the 300th Save of his career. He then hooked on with the Colorado Rockies for the 2006 season at age 40.
In 2007, Mesa signed with the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers to bolster their bullpen as a 41-year-old veteran. However, after 16 ineffective appearances, the Tigers released him. Six days later he re-signed to give it one more shot with the Phillies.
The 2007 Phillies were a team on their way to the first of what would be five straight NL East Division crowns. Mesa, who had been there at the beginning of this great era in the team’s history, was back as it was finally all coming to full fruition.
He became a regular piece out of manager Charlie Manuel‘s bullpen over the rest of that season. In 40 games, Mesa allowed just 34 hits over 39 innings and surrendered just two home runs.
On August 5, 2007 in Milwaukee he registered his lone Save of the season, the 321st and final of his big-league career. He is currently 20th on the all-time MLB career Saves list. On September 18 at Saint Louis he earned the Win, the 80th and final of his career.
Mesa did get to take the mound for one final postseason appearance that year, but it was not a successful swan song. The Colorado Rockies swept the Phillies out in three straight games.
During Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park, Mesa came on top pitch the top of the 6th inning with Colorado already on top by 6-3. He lasted just four batters. After walking the first two, Yorvit Torrealba drilled a two-run double, upping the Rockies lead to 8-3. Mesa then retired pitcher Josh Fogg on a sacrifice bunt. It would prove to be the final batter he would face in the big leagues.
Prior to Mesa signing with the team back in December 2000, the Phillies all-time career Saves record was held by 1987 NL Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian with 103. Over his first three years in Phillies pinstripes, Mesa broke that record by saving 111 games. The one more that he tacked on in 2007 left him with the Phillies record of 112 career Saves.
That record would last for more than a decade until another big free agent closer signing, Jonathan Papelbon, would set the new and current Phillies career Saves mark of 123 over his three seasons with the team.
It was on this date 18 years ago that Wade’s plan to push the team forward by bolstering his bullpen began to take shape with the free agent signing of Mesa. That signing has to be considered a complete success with Mesa becoming the club’s all-time Saves leader.

With Mesa as the closer and the subsequent additions of Cormier and Bottalico, the Phillies 2001 bullpen was indeed greatly improved. That trio was a major reason that the team finally emerged from more than a dozen years at the bottom of the standings. The Phillies would use that 2001 contending season as a springboard to a decade of success.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as Phillies Hot Stove History: The 2000 Jose Mesa free agent signing