CLEARWATER, Fla. - In more than a half-century in professional baseball, Pat Gillick has seen thousands of games, from hardscrabble fields in Latin America to perfectly manicured big-league lawns. He's scouted tens of thousands of players, from gangly teens hoping to make it big to aging veterans just trying to hang on.
Along the way he earned the reputation for being a shrewd talent evaluator, a talent that led to such success as an executive with four franchises that he'll be enshrined in the Hall of Fame this summer.
These days he shows up every morning at Bright House Field, a 73-year-old senior adviser to the Phillies, moving from field to field, surveying a team that many think has a chance to be something special.
What makes his perspective unique is that 10 years ago, when he was general manager of the Seattle Mariners, he got the same up-close-and-personal view of a club that went on to reel off 116 wins, most in the expansion era, tied with the 1906 Chicago Cubs for the most ever.
So, Pat, which club is better: the 2011 Phillies or the 2001 Mariners?
"This team is better, on paper," he said. "On paper."
That caveat is understandable. Gillick isn't predicting that the Phillies will set a new record. To win that many games, a lot has to go right, even for the most talented roster. Those Mariners used just six starting pitchers all season. They were largely injury-free. They seemed to have a knack for getting the big hit at just the right time.
A decade later, it's striking to realize that while that Seattle team had a bunch of very good players, only rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki and designated hitter Edgar Martinez could now be considered strong Hall of Fame candidates.
The staff ace was Freddy Garcia, at a point of his career when he could be dominant. Jamie Moyer, continuing to prove that baseball life really can begin after 30, won 20 games. Aaron Sele, Paul Abbott, John Halama and Joel Pineiro rounded out the rotation.
(Coincidentally, three of those pitchers would eventually play for the Phillies, but only Moyer had any success in red pinstripes. Gillick acquired Garcia from the White Sox before the 2007 season. He arrived with a sore shoulder and won just one game. Abbott was toast by the time he showed up in 2004.)
Let's just say that that staff doesn't leap to mind when the discussion turns to finding historical comparisons for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.
This is where Gillick believes the Phillies really separate themselves.
The Phillies' starters have three Cy Young awards and 10 other top-5 finishes with plenty of time to add more hardware. None of the Mariners' sextet ever came in first and they combined for just four top-5 vote totals.
Seattle's closer that season was Kazuhiro Sasaki and he saved 45 games despite a 3.24 earned run average. The primary left- and righthanded setup men were Arthur Rhodes and Jeff Nelson, both of whom had excellent seasons.
Give the Mariners a slight advantage, since Brad Lidge has been up-and-down the last couple of years and lefty J.C. Romero was brought back only after Dennys Reyes was red-flagged by the Phillies' medical staff. But the Phillies certainly have the potential to be just as good or even better.
The Mariners' catcher was Dan Wilson, and their infield consisted of first baseman John Olerud, second baseman Bret Boone, shortstop Carlos Guillen and third baseman David Bell. They had eight All-Star appearances among them.
Assuming Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco do nothing more than reach their career norms, the Phillies are better here, too, with 12 All-Star selections and a pair of Most Valuable Player awards.
Given that the Phillies haven't settled on a rightfielder yet, leftfielder Raul Ibanez is looking for a bounce-back year at age 38 and Shane Victorino is also coming off a down season, the M's get the check mark in the outfield, largely on the basis of Ichiro. Al Martin was in left and Mike Cameron in center. Ichiro and Martinez alone were AL All-Stars an impressive 17 times.
Gillick's bottom line: "Having Oswalt all year and having Cliff Lee all year, there's a chance [the 2011 Phillies] could go past 100 wins."
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. If they put everything together, maybe they will challenge the city record set by the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics, who went 107-45.
But, remember, that this is for amusement purposes only. Because none of that matters once the playoffs begin.
As good as those 2001 Mariners were, they didn't win the World Series. Didn't even get there. Won just one game while being bounced from the American League Championship Series by the Yankees.
And that's not as unusual as you might expect. Since the first World Series was played in 1903, there have been nine teams that ended the regular season with a winning percentage of at least .700. Only five of them ended up winning it all.
So while racking up a ton of wins in the regular season is fun, October is when baseball teams prove how good they really are.
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