Phillies' free agent menu could include bullpen, outfielder, bench

Associated Press
Associated Press
Posted: November 05, 2010

WHEN THE free-agent signing period opens Sunday, Ruben Amaro Jr. will be faced with that classic conundrum:

What do you get for the baseball team that already has everything?

OK, so the Phillies might not have everything. They just finished a season in which they battled through lengthy periods of offensive impotence. They suffered a disappointing loss to the Giants in the National League Championship Series. And their lone middle-of-the-order righthanded hitter is poised to test the market.

Nevertheless, the Phillies are pot-committed in most aspects of their roster. They have seven regulars and four starting pitchers under contract for next season, with little apparent wiggle room apart from a trade. A deal with the aforementioned middle-of-the-order bat, Jayson Werth, seems like a longshot, but there aren't many options on the market who can single-handedly replace his production.

The Phillies, Amaro said, have money to spend. But you can bet your unused Game 7 tickets that the amount pales in comparison to the $62.5 million they will be paying to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino in 2011.

Which brings us to . . .

1. The bullpen

On the surface, it has all the excitement of a $25 Applebees gift card, especially when you consider the potential gaping hole in the middle of the lineup. Still, if there is one thing the Giants' championship run showed, it is that a team can win a title without sex appeal. San Francisco's highest-paid outfielder spent the majority of the playoffs on the bench. Two of its three outfield starters were waiver-wire pickups.

In Amaro's perfect world, Werth would return and the GM still would have money to spend on other needs. But after doling out huge chunks of money to Howard, Ibanez and Brad Lidge over the past three seasons, the Phillies have reached a point where they feel they have to make some tough payroll decisions. And fortifying their bullpen at the expense of a five-tool, everyday rightfielder might be one of those decisions.

Why? The simple answer is that they only have three relievers under contract for 2011, and one of those is righthander Danys Baez, who posted a 5.48 ERA in the regular season and was left off the postseason roster. The more complex answer involves a starting rotation that logged the most innings in the majors.

Roy Halladay finished with 272 2/3 innings, the highest total of his career. His previous career high came in 2003, when he logged 266 innings and spent the following season battling shoulder problems. Roy Oswalt pitched 231 1/3 innings, his highest total since 2005. And Cole Hamels finished with 223 2/3, the second-highest total of his career. Hamels should be in peak physical condition at 27 years old. But Halladay turns 34 in May. And Oswalt is only 3 months younger.

Although the biggest reason Phillies starters pitched deep into games was their talent, a contributing factor was Charlie Manuel's uncertain faith in his bullpen. The unit was hardly a liability in the postseason, allowing just four earned runs in 19 innings. But three of those runs came in key moments in a pivotal Game 4 loss to the Giants, which ended with Oswalt on the mound as a reliever. During the regular season, the Phils' bullpen finished 10th in the NL with a 4.02 ERA.

Lidge, who will earn $11.5 million in the final guaranteed year of his contract, converted 27 of 32 save opportunities with a 2.96 ERA in 2010. But the veteran closer has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last two seasons and the Phillies were careful about how they used him - the 45 2/3 innings he logged were by far the fewest of his career.

Baez, who is guaranteed $2.75 million next season, likely will have to earn a job in spring training. But even with him and setup man Ryan Madson, the Phillies still have at least four openings to fill in the bullpen. Righthander Chad Durbin, a workhorse the last three seasons, and big-armed veteran Jose Contreras, who was a force in his 1 year with the team, are free agents.

The Phillies have some options in their minor league system, including fast-rising reliever Justin DeFratus and young lefty Antonio Bastardo. Righthander Vance Worley also could be a factor as a multiple-innings reliever if he doesn't push Kyle Kendrick for the fifth starter's job. But don't be surprised if Amaro devotes a chunk of money to signing an arm (or two) who Manuel will not hesitate to pitch in the late innings of tight games.

Names to watch, other than Contreras and Durbin? Toronto lefty Scott Downs, whom the Phils eyed at the trade deadline, could be an option, depending on his price tag. Fellow Blue Jay Jason Frasor, a big-armed righthander, is another intriguing option. Righthander J.J. Putz had a bounce-back season with the White Sox and was drafted and developed by the Mariners under the watch of current Phils assistant GM Benny Looper. Rafael Soriano, who had a dominant season as the Rays' closer, is a familiar face from his days with the Braves. But he earned $7.25 million this season and could be in line for a significant, multiyear deal. Former Rangers closer Frank Francisco has the skill set, but also has an injury history.

Other available names: Minnesota righthanders Matt Guerrier and Jon Rauch; Mets lefty Hisanori Takahashi; and Rays righty Grant Balfour. Former Diamondbacks closer Chad Qualls, who struggled mightily in 2010 but has a solid resume, could make for an intriguing low-risk, high-reward, bounce-back signing.

2. Rightfield

On several occasions, Amaro has publicly tempered enthusiasm for what many fans seem to think will be Domonic Brown's quick and seamless transition from 23-year-old prospect to everyday rightfielder.

Fact is, Brown still has plenty of developing to do, both at the plate and in the field. And while it isn't out of the question, asking him to step in for Werth's .296 batting average, 27 home runs and .921 OPS is a tall order.

Whatever happens, the Phillies certainly will be looking to add a righthanded bat via free agency to supplement Ben Francisco, who hit all six of his home runs against lefties. There just aren't a lot of viable options on the market right now, although former Brewers utility man Bill Hall could warrant a long look. More could hit the market in early December, when players like Atlanta's Matt Diaz and Texas' Jeff Francoeur could be non-tendered. Marcus Thames, who hit .288 with 12 home runs in 237 plate appearances for the Yankees in 2010, is a free agent who carries a career .264 batting average and .838 OPS against lefthanded pitching. But defense could be the deal-breaker there.

Other potential platoon-type bats include Xavier Nady, Austin Kearns and Jose Guillen. Amaro also could explore the trade market.

3. The bench

Already in the fold are Francisco, first baseman/outfielder Ross Gload and backup catcher Brian Schneider.

With Rollins, Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco all coming off injury-plagued seasons, the Phillies could decide they need to upgrade over Wilson Valdez in the backup infield department.

There are plenty of infielders available, but it is difficult to convince a player to sign without being able to guarantee him at-bats. Willie Bloomquist is a veteran utility man who can play infield or outfield. He doesn't bring much power to the table, but is a righthanded hitter with a career .264 average. Other names who could be in line for a part-time role include Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto and Julio Lugo. Bigger names who are available: Juan Uribe, Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera and Cristian Guzman.

One intriguing player who could fill several needs is Hall, who hit .272 with an .830 OPS and 66 home runs for Milwaukee from 2005-07. Despite overall struggles over the last 3 years, he is a righthanded bat who has started at least 125 games in the outfield and at third, second, and shortstop. Hall hit .247 with 18 home runs and nine steals in 382 plate appearances for the Red Sox in 2010.

Shopping season begins Sunday.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.

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