Sam Donnellon: Phillies should just tinker, and bring back Victorino and Madson

Posted: October 05, 2012

ONE ABSOLUTE foolproof indicator of a failed season is the love affair with new faces, faces who have not struck out in playoff contests with the winning run on third base, faces who have not failed more than seven out of every 10 times over a major league career that has lasted years, not months or even weeks.

So Thursday, and Wednesday, and really over the last few months, there has been a considerable number of people urging the Phillies' brass to let go of the old players who represent not five straight trips to the postseason but a dismally failed attempt to return to it this summer. In their place, of course, there is a yearn for new faces who excited us this summer amid our misery, with names like Ruf, Kratz, Frandsen and Aumont.

What's always entertaining about such infatuation is the short memory it requires. Jonathan Singleton might have been the first baseman/outfielder everyone was talking about in late September instead of Darin Ruf had Domonic Brown been the rightfielder everyone was talking about before the 2011 season. Once, way back in 1992, before many of Philly.com's most active posters were even embryos, people in these parts fell in love with a young centerfielder named Ruben Amaro Jr. after he replaced an injured Lenny Dykstra at the start of the season. A local product, Amaro, then 27, batted .304 with three doubles, three homers and six RBI in his first six starts. There were, predictably, predictions that the Phillies had found their centerfielder of the future.

A year later, Dykstra nearly beat out Barry Bonds for MVP as the Phillies reached the World Series. Amaro batted .333 in 58 plate appearances that season - after finishing 1992 with a .219 average over 427 plate appearances.

Last year at this time, many of us agreed with the Phillies' assessment that a 2012 outfield of John Mayberry Jr., Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence would be plenty potent enough to offset any potential slow starts by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Well, we all know what occurred. Both, in pushing their respective recoveries, reinjured themselves and disappeared for the first half of the season. Howard never looked right. Utley improved as the season wore on. That he played the final meaningless games can be seen as foolish or hopeful, depending on your outlook on this team.

But it's easy to do this. It's easy to say now that it was foolish to place so much faith in Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo based on one season, just as it is easy to build the can't-miss team of 2013, or to urge the Phillies to blow up a veteran team for prospects - unless you are willing to promise to continue attending games as they rebuild and, more important, continue to watch them from your living-room couch.

I believe this is a team that must be tinkered with, not torched. So here goes:

Bring Victorino back. He won't get the deal he wanted from the Phillies from anybody, and since he never wanted to leave, he might come here for less than he could get elsewhere, and less than it would cost to sign free-agent centerfielders Michael Bourne or B.J. Upton. As bad a year that he had, Victorino still stole 39 bags and had 47 extra-base hits and finished with a .255 average. Upton, 4 years younger and a free agent, hit .246 this season, stole 31 bases and had 60 extra-base hits, including 28 home runs.

Go back to 2011 and Victorino, too, finished with 60 extra-base hits. Go back to 2011 with Upton, and he had 54 extra-base hits. But Upton has not hit over .250 since 2008. Over that time, his strikeouts - about double those of Victorino - have increased steadily. This season he struck out 169 times. Victorino's 80 strikeouts this season are a career high. And he has hit .272 since 2008.

Victorino gets anything near him, has one of the best outfield arms in baseball and, while a yapper, is good in the clubhouse. With that Rule 5 mentality of his, he would be motivated to prove he was worth whatever money he received. Or more than it.

At the right price, a Victorino signing might free up money to dedicate elsewhere, particularly the bullpen. Be careful, though. The Mets spent a ton on bullpen help for this season and got burned. Spending lavishly on relievers, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto told the Los Angeles Times the other day, "is akin to going to Las Vegas and throwing it down on double-zero green."

One thing I believe is often overlooked in obtaining relievers is where and when they pitched well. Teams are perennially fooled into paying too much for guys with gaudy statistics compiled in smaller markets in front of smaller crowds, and guys who build their numbers pitching for losing clubs. With that in mind, reacquiring Ryan Madson seems a decent risk, especially with an aging core running out of chances. If he's right, you've got two closers in the back end and two guys who have pitched in many pressure-filled games. These are not new names, and not too sexy, either. But they may be the best ones for this team. You know both men can handle Philadelphia, can perform in big-game pressure.

They might even relieve some pressure on those new faces everyone has fallen in love with. Might even help them become the future many believe they already are.


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @samdonnellon. For recent columns, go to philly.com/SamDonnellon.

 

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