Diaz for Werth? It's possible

The Braves' Matt Diaz , a righthanded hitter, can play both corner outfield positions.
The Braves' Matt Diaz , a righthanded hitter, can play both corner outfield positions.

The free-agent outfielder could be a good fit for the Phillies.

Posted: December 03, 2010

The righthanded bat the Phillies are looking for may have officially hit the free-agent market Thursday.

A day after the Phillies' own top free agent, Jayson Werth, reportedly met with Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein in a Chicago hotel, the Atlanta Braves opted not to tender a contract to veteran outfielder Matt Diaz.

The Phillies, meanwhile, did tender offers to outfielder Ben Francisco and righthanded pitcher Kyle Kendrick, both of whom are eligible for salary arbitration. Salary figures from both sides are scheduled to be exchanged Jan. 18.

As a righthanded hitter capable of playing both corner outfield positions, Diaz could be a nice fit for the Phillies. He lives near Charlie Manuel in Winter Haven, Fla., and has a great relationship with the Phillies' manager.

Diaz, who'll be 33 in March, also has an impressive career resumé, albeit mostly as a part-time player. An eight-year veteran, he is a career .301 hitter with 43 home runs and 192 RBIs. He hit above .300 during three of his five seasons with the Braves, and in 735 career at-bats against lefthanded pitching Diaz has a .335 average with 29 home runs and 100 RBIs.

If Werth leaves as a free agent, a corner outfield platoon of Diaz and Raul Ibanez in left field and Francisco and Domonic Brown in right field could be an attractive alternative.

Francisco has had limited playing time with the Phillies since joining the team in the 2009 trade that also included Cliff Lee, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. spoke highly of the 29-year-old outfielder earlier this week.

"Benny has been a productive player," Amaro said. "Is he an all-star-caliber player? I don't know that. But in terms of major-league service time, he's fairly young, and when he has had a chance to play he has produced. Can he be an everyday rightfielder? Possibly. It certainly is an option. We're still trying to assess what's best suited for us."

After combining for 62 doubles and 30 home runs during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Francisco saw his playing time considerably reduced in 2010, his first full season with the Phillies. He batted .268 with 13 doubles, six home runs, and 28 RBIs.

"Sometimes it's just a matter of getting an opportunity in a lineup like ours," Amaro said. "When he was playing in Cleveland, the lineup probably wasn't quite as strong, but he still stole some bases [27 in his last two seasons with Cleveland], hit some home runs, and drove in some runs. He's a guy that there's a lot of interest in because he has ability, he's fairly young, and his salary hasn't gotten to the point where it can be debilitating. He still has upside."

According to reports out of Boston, Werth met with Francona and Epstein on Wednesday, but that comes as little surprise. The Red Sox have been considered a potential suitor for the rightfielder. Boston has also met with Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford, the other premier outfielder on the free-agent market.

As for Kendrick, he figures to receive a raise over his $480,000 salary from last season after going 11-10 with a 4.73 ERA in 2010. He has a career record of 35-24 with a 4.69 ERA. Kendrick, 26, is expected to compete for the fifth spot in the Phillies' starting rotation next season.

Extra bases. Phillies ace Roy Halladay is among the finalists for the male athlete of the year award to be presented by the United States Sports Academy. Fans can vote for Halladay by going to ussa.edu.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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