David Murphy: Phillies' faces of uncertainty

Phils' Kevin Frandsen mans third as Nationals' Jayson Werth slides into bag for a triple.
Phils' Kevin Frandsen mans third as Nationals' Jayson Werth slides into bag for a triple. (GREG FIUME / GETTY IMAGES)
Posted: October 05, 2012

WASHINGTON - BASEBALL IS America's pastime, a designation that is fully supported by the free-market principles that have long governed it. So it should not come as a revelation that baseball clubhouses often resemble the society outside of their walls. On Wednesday afternoon, in between handshakes and phone-number exchanges, various members of the Phillies' upper class took time to reflect on their .500 season. It had ended less than an hour before, with a 5-1 loss to the Nationals, but most had long since resigned to the fact that such a day would come. Their futures plotted out, their livelihoods secure, they spoke confidently about the season that was and the one that will be. Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee - all sounded a similar note. They shook their heads at the injuries and the disappointments while at the same time expressing a belief that next time it will not end so maddeningly soon. And then they slipped on their blazers and rolled away their suitcases and disappeared into the offseason, knowing full well that they would return.

But in other corners of the clubhouse, the expressions were different, the words less steady. For several minutes after the game, Kevin Frandsen sat in silence in front of his locker, dirt on his uniform and grime on his face. He had just capped off the finest season of his career with a 2-for-4 day, improving his average to .338, his on-base percentage to .383 and his slugging percentage to .451. Yet his face bore the look of a man who knows there will be questions, perhaps about the sample size (206 plate appearances, roughly a third of a season) or maybe about the defense (seven errors in 49 starts at third base). Or, really, any of a number of variables that may or may not have a justifiable bearing on whether he returns to the Phillies next year.

Over the last 4 years, Frandsen has spent time with four different organizations, first the Giants, then the Angels, then the Red Sox, and finally the Phillies, who called him up only after they had little other choice, their roster plagued with injuries and Frandsen hitting .302 at Triple A. He is 30 years old with a stress fracture in his leg and enough service time to qualify for arbitration. In other words, he has no idea. The Phillies have talked about the prospect of him filling a utility role next year, but they also know that free-agent market is impossible to predict.

Instability is not something that a person gets used to.

"I don't like it," Frandsen said. "It's be nice to know where exactly you are going to be, but that's just the nature of the game. I'm not the only guy in my spot. There are so many guys that do it."

Another one of those guys was standing at a locker across the room, buttoning up his shirt and preparing for the drive to Virginia. Erik Kratz's wife was scheduled to give birth to the couple's third child the next afternoon, so in this particular case, the end was also a beginning. The backup catcher was one of the big reasons why the Phillies managed to avoid a complete implosion after a rough first half that prompted the front office to trade away stars Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. Kratz hit .248 with ferocious power, clubbing nine home runs and nine doubles in just 141 at-bats while filling in for, and eventually supplanting, injured veteran Brian Schneider. At 32, Kratz has seen enough offseasons to know that it is futile to project. He has 199 major league plate appearances in his career. He has never signed a guaranteed contract. Publicly, the Phillies have spoken in glowing terms about his performance. Earlier this week Charlie Manuel stopped just short of naming him the team's backup catcher heading into spring training.

Still . . .

"The only thing I'm thinking about is 12:30 tomorrow," Kratz said.

For baseball's lower class, the stories are as different as they are the same. A couple of lockers apart, Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown outlined their plans for the offseason. Ruf is headed to Venezuela, where he plans on hitting more home runs and playing leftfield. Brown is heading to the doctor, who will perform an MRI on the right knee that has hampered his running ability throughout the second half of the season. Of all the random faces that passed through the Phillies clubhouse this season, Ruf's was probably the most unexpected. He is living proof that if you can hit a baseball so hard and so often, the game can no longer ignore you, even if you are a 26-year-old Double A player who does not have a clear position. Ruf drove in another run in Wednesday's loss, giving him 10 in 12 major league games. He also has six extra-base hits, three of them home runs, and a .333 average in 33 at-bats.

The sight of Brown, a long-heralded prospect, and Ruf, a one-time afterthought, standing in close proximity in a major league clubhouse provided the perfect snapshot of baseball's unpredictable life. A month before the free-agent signing period, there is still plenty that we do not know.

Just remember that somewhere out there, somebody is living it.

Contact David Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com.

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