The Delaware County Times’ Jack McCafferty, perhaps taking a tip from Pat Gillick’s gloomy prognosis, claims the Phillies have already given up on 2006 and are building towards the following season.

This trail of clues led to the realization that the Phillies are targeting 2007, not 2006, for baseball satisfaction:

– The new general manager, Pat Gillick, did not immediately fire Charlie Manuel, whose many odd decisions easily cost the Phillies the necessary triumphs with which to have passed the Houston Astros for a wild-card playoff spot.

A standard technique for a new sports management team, it allows a year™s grace period. Jeffrey Lurie did it, as a matter of fact, when he kept Rich Kotite (above) employed for a year, even though the change seemed necessary then. If Manuel — like Kotite then — succeeds, then Gillick looks like a genius. If not — and it™s 1-to-10 that he will continue to make curious moves that cost the Phillies games — then Gillick can blame the manager at year™s end, then bring in the guy he really wanted all along.

– Gillick made just surface changes, with one exception — and that exception was one for long-term, not immediate, on-field baseball value. That was when he traded Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand, freeing National League Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard from any playing-time threat. Howard now has the elbow room to survive any sophomore slump, should there be one, as the Phillies, yes, anticipate him being at peak experience and value in 2007.

– Despite an offseason where some of the most valuable players in the sport changed teams, Gillick stayed relatively patient. He kept saying he needed a new, No. 1 pitcher, but didn™t exactly suffer a sports hernia trying to handle that burden.

At the end of this season, these contracts will expire: Mike Lieberthal ($7.5 million), Randy Wolf ($6.25 million), David Bell ($4.7 million), Rheal Cormier ($2.25 million) and Tomas Perez ($650,000). That™s more than $20 million, right up front, with which to go shopping for a new third baseman, a new catcher, and pitching, bullpen and bench help.

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