CLEARWATER, Fla. - Pat Gillick needs baseball advice from sportswriters like he needs another shirt with palm trees on it. Then again, this advice isn't about baseball as much as it is about chemistry:
Don't trade Aaron Rowand.
That's not an absolute, of course. If the Florida Marlins are willing to give you Dontrelle Willis, then sure, you'd consider nearly every player on the roster, Rowand included. But nobody is talking about sending lefthanded aces for the Phillies' scrappy centerfielder.
The talk runs more to middle relievers who may or may not make a difference in the bullpen, hardly adequate for an everyday player who makes a demonstrable difference in the clubhouse.
This will irk the stat-based community of baseball fans - the ones who believe in numbers and dismiss intangibles - but that's OK. Watch Rowand closely for a few days, and his contribution to the makeup of this Phillies team is obvious. For a franchise with a long history of treating baseball like some kind of grim task performed by equally grim men, it is vital to have a free radical like Rowand around to keep things loose.
He's a pretty good player, too. Let's not lose sight of that. He is out of favor with the stat-based community because his numbers last season weren't all that impressive. But it's ludicrous to crunch numbers without considering the impact that, well, impact had on Rowand's season.
He broke his face and broke his ankle in pursuit of fly balls.
"Freak accidents," Rowand said yesterday, a few hours before the Phillies played an exhibition game against Florida State. "I've been playing 10 years, and I've only been on the disabled list twice. It just happened to be twice in the same year. I really had hoped to go my whole career without being placed on the disabled list."
Rowand is still working through the fractured ankle, suffered in a collision with Chase Utley on Aug. 21.
"I've been trying to get the stiffness and the soreness out," Rowand said. "I wake up with some and try to get it out as I get in my cleats every day. Whatever you do in the off-season, it's not the same as wearing cleats every day. It's a little better every day. It feels pretty good now, which is good timing, because we're about to start playing games."
Rowand said the injuries would not change his style of play, and he proved it almost immediately. With two runners on in the second inning last night, Rowand face-planted on the warning track in left-center to take away an extra-base hit.
Between the injuries and making the transition from the American League to the National League, Rowand hit .262, 21 points below his career average. Still, he hit 12 home runs and drove in 47 runs while playing in just 109 games.
If he can get close to where he was with the White Sox in 2004 - .310, 24 homers, 69 RBIs - he'd give the Phillies all the offense they need out of a solid defensive centerfielder batting sixth or seventh.
Far-fetched? For the record, Rowand was hitting exactly .310 when he shattered his face on the unpadded fencing at Citizens Bank Park.
But that's the baseball stuff. The other stuff is important, too. Rowand was a vital cog for the White Sox team that won the World Series two seasons ago. He was one of the players Sox GM Ken Williams pointed to as examples of the kind of players it takes to win in a high-pressure market like Chicago, New York or Philadelphia.
The Phillies have more of those kinds of players right now than they have since 1993, the last time they reached the postseason. This group is even more talented than that team. That's a promising combination.
"In the year I've been here," Rowand said, "you can see a turnaround not only in the clubhouse, but the personnel, the people Pat [Gillick] brought in. We've got a group of guys who enjoy the game, who have a good time."
It's clear that Rowand, who was less than thrilled about being traded from Chicago in the Jim Thome deal before the champagne on the clubhouse rug was dry, wants to stay here. And yes, he's heard the rumors: to the Padres for reliever Scott Linebrink?
"I love the guys on this team," Rowand said. "But it's not my decision. [Gillick] is the boss. I have zero say, so I don't worry about it."
Rowand is one of the few Phillies who have a World Series ring. He knows firsthand what it takes, and he sees it when he looks around the clubhouse.
"We've got the talent to accomplish a lot of great things," Rowand said. "No doubt about it. It's about doing it, about getting lucky and staying healthy. A lot can happen over 162 games, but we've got the team to do it. We've got a great chance to win."
The centerfielder, this centerfielder, is one reason for that.