Jim Thome's return to Philadelphia is a feel-good story, and it does help the Phillies' bench, providing a lefthanded power bat that was nonexistent a year ago. You really can't expect much else from the 41-year-old Thome except a positive clubhouse attitude that never gets old.
He's not going to be the guy who helps Ryan Howard figure out how to hit better against lefthanders because he has had his own share of issues with southpaws during his career. Thome's .239 career average against lefties is only eight points higher than Howard's .231 average, and the strikeout ratio - once every 3.44 plate appearances for Thome and once every 3 PAs for Howard - is also similar.
The bat the Phillies really need is that of Michael Cuddyer, the versatile 32-year-old free agent who was Thome's buddy with the Minnesota Twins. Cuddyer made a visit to Philadelphia last week, so he is obviously of interest to Amaro and the front office.
He needs to be the guy they do not let get away.
Cuddyer, a righthanded hitter, is the type of player the Cardinals had and the Phillies did not during the postseason. While Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa had the flexibility to tinker with his lineup on a daily basis during the postseason, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel did not have enough trust in any of his bench bats to insert them in place of the ailing Placido Polanco as the third baseman went 2 for 19 against the Cardinals.
Amaro defended Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez as solid role players, but it was telling that neither one made a plate appearance in the postseason.
"In the National League flexibility is big off the bench, and I don't think there were any players with more versatility than those two guys," Amaro said. "They were two middle infielders who could also play third base and the outfield."
Considering one was acquired as a minor-league free agent and the other was a Rule 5 draft pick, Valdez and Martinez were both good finds for the Phillies. But do you really need two of those guys?
"The main focus of the guys on the bench is defense," Amaro said. "It's nice to have the combo of a guy who can play defense and hit, but those guys are usually everyday players."
Cuddyer should be an almost-everyday player who allows Manuel to look at his lineup in an entirely different way.
There was a time when the idea of sitting Howard or second baseman Chase Utley because a tough lefthander was pitching would have seemed ridiculous, but that time has passed. Howard batted .224 with a .286 on-base percentage against lefties last season and will be coming off Achilles tendon surgery whenever he returns in 2012.
Utley, a solid .275 career hitter against lefties, batted just .187 against them last season. Maybe it had something to do with the patellar tendinitis in his right knee that forced him to miss the first 46 games of the season.
"I think health is part of it," Amaro said. "At the same time, I think pitchers continue to adjust to hitters and the hitters have to try to adjust back. There are good years and there are bad years, and hopefully they can get back to being more consistent at the plate."
Better than hoping would be giving Manuel an alternative like Cuddyer, a career .290 hitter against lefties with a .378 on-base percentage. A year ago, Cuddyer hit .311 against lefties with a .403 on-base percentage.
The fact that Cuddyer can also play third base would provide an insurance policy in case Placido Polanco struggles through another year of ill health. Cuddyer would also give the Phillies an insurance policy in case outfielder John Mayberry Jr. does not continue the upward trend that he started last season.
You can argue that Cuddyer is older and the Phillies need to get younger, but age is just a number. It's about getting better.
You can argue that Cuddyer may be a jack of all trades in the field and a master of none, but so what? David Freese was considered a defensive liability when the postseason started. When it ended, he was the World Series MVP.
One more thing to like about Michael Cuddyer: a .338 postseason batting average.
That's the kind of hitter the Phillies have not had nearly enough of during their last two playoff appearances.
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover
or @brookob on Twitter.