By Barry Jeffrey Jr.,
Despite the only major news that came from the winter meetings being the signing of lefthander Dennys Reyes, the Phillies were still very active. General Manger Ruben Amaro scoured the wire for players to fill out the spring training roster and also to help flesh out the roster of Ryan Sandberg’s Iron Pigs where he signed Brian Bass. Rumors had the Phillies tied to Jeff Francoeur, Matt Diaz, Scott Hairston, Pedro Feliciano, Hisanori Takahashi, and Brian Fuentes.
Unfortunately the Phillies struck out on everyone of those players and also lost Jayson Werth to a out of the blue Washington Nationals mega-deal that paid Werth much more than he was going to get anywhere else, including both Philadelphia and Boston. Boston instead signed Carl Crawford and traded for Adrian Gonzalez. The Phillies have decided Ben Francisco, Dom Brown, and Ross Gload will pick up the at bats in right field.
Many fans were entirely disappointed in the results of the winter meetings, including myself. Maybe we have Yankeeitus now, since we all want and expect the Phillies to do everything to make a winner. Maybe we all have our goals for the team set sky high. Nothing short of World Series victories will suffice for us. We expect this best run in Phillies history (with apologies to 1976-1983) to continue and the Phillies to become the NL Dynasty comparable to the Yankees or at least the Braves mid 90’s to mid 2000s teams. Losing a right fielder who put up some pretty good numbers and coming home with just a chunky lefty who had both arm troubles and trouble getting left handed batters out last year looked like a real down turn. Maybe it was a white flag that the glory days just might be coming to a close.
Of course Monday night changed all of that. During the winter meetings I told people that sources were saying the Phillies had been in contact with Cliff Lee’s agent. Nothing seemed to come of it though and the winter meetings ended with the Yankees still the favorites to sign him, with the Rangers trying to jockey for position to bring him back. The Phillies did not seem to be on the radar, except to a few of us die hard fans who have been saying (and hoping mostly) that Lee was coming back to Philadelphia.
Monday night Ruben Amaro proved that he learned from both Hall of Famer Pat Gillick and a “mistake”. Years gone by, the Phillies would have settled for just bringing home Reyes and then saying getting Jimmy Rollins back was as good as signing a free agent. They would have been content to go through the motions of the offseason without making a statement that said winning is something important. How times have changed. Ruben Amaro said well we may have lost Jayson Werth, but you know what? We are going out and we are improving this ball club anyway. This attitude is one the Phillies fans are coming to love after so many years of who cares as long as we make a profit winning don’t matter. The Phillies are saying we will improve and go on to try to be the best.
What an improvement too! Bringing Cliff Lee back to the Phillies and giving them the best rotation in baseball. Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, former Cy Young winner Lee and a pair of pitchers in Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels who have the stuff to win a Cy Youngs themselves. That is the best rotation since Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Avery/Neagle/Millwood at the least, possibly since the Orioles 4 20 game winner rotation of the early 70s. It is that good, at least on paper and projections. Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley will battle for the 5th spot, with perhaps a cheap reclamation project starter brought in as depth to push them. Someone like a Brad Penny, if he is willing to take a low base salary or minor league deal with an invite to spring training may be that type guy they bring in. Joe Blanton will be on his way out of town to free up some salary room for Lee’s deal. The Yankees, whom Lee spurned, Twins, Orioles, Jays, Rangers, Royals, and Mariners may be potential destinations for Blanton. I added the Mariners since it seems we are always linked to them for potential deals. The Oakland A’s are also looking for more pitching depth, could we possibly see Blanton going back there, for say maybe Michael Taylor, whom the A’s have apparently soured on. Highly doubtful but I sure wouldn’t mind it.
Monday night Amaro proved that he learned from the mistake in dealing Lee last year. Although it must be said the mistake actually has benefited the Phillies, since they most definitely would not have acquired Roy Oswalt at the deadline had they still had Cliff Lee. In the end we have 3 prospects that had bad years but still have room to improve, Roy Oswalt, and we got Lee back. All in all that is not a bad turn out. Losing J.A. Happ is a downer as he loved being here, and was a good pitcher when healthy, but you have to pay to get good parts. I really hope Happ pitches well in Houston, but I am very happy with Roy Oswalt in Philly. I am even happier with the Oswalt trade now that Cliff Lee is back.
Cliff Lee played a huge part in his return. He initiated a lot of the talks and took less money and years while telling the Yankees no thank you to their attempts to sign him. He also turned down the Rangers, who had a substantial offer. Lee himself called John Daniels to tell him he was signing in Philly, while his agent called Brian Cashman. Not to read into it but, maybe those fans who spit on Lee’s wife during the playoffs should have kept their mouths shut and their saliva to themselves because it sure seems like he did not want to go to New York.
Is it not also refreshing to see someone actually turning down more money? Someone who is willing to take less to go exactly where they wanted is rare in this day of sports. Granted Lee will not be a pauper, the Phillies are paying him pretty well with $120 mil over 5 years with a vesting option for a 6th year. Leaving $28 million on the table is almost unheard of in baseball. Seeing the Yankees strike out on the entire top tier of the free agent market is also almost unheard of. George Steinbrenner must be spinning in his grave. It is also nice to see pitchers like Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee want to come to Philly and pitch at Citizen’s Bank Park, when a guy like Randy Wolf could not wait to leave and did not want to come back because of the park.
Lost in all this celebrating, is the fact that this will take a big load off of the bullpen since all of the big pitchers are inning eaters. It may mean the Phillies can carry one less pitcher in the bullpen and maybe add an extra bench bat. Having an extra bat will help even more since right field is probably going to be a platoon situation so the extra spot will probably be needed. Chad Durbin may still re-sign here so the bullpen should be really solid once again.
Keep an eye on Scott Hairston still as a potential pick up. He may still be on their radar as a right handed bat since Matt Diaz went to Pittsburgh and thankfully Francoeur went to the Royals. The Phillies have liked him for awhile and would like to add some extra depth to the team. Hairston having an ability to back up in the infield (he came up as a 2nd baseman) may add extra flexibility to the roster. He won’t be a defensive whiz but having an extra guy behind Valdez backing up Utley and Polanco may be a good idea. It also helps that he can play all 3 outfield spots. His bat did not flourish back in the cavernous ballpark in San Diego but switching to a more hitter friendly park here may help. His brother Jerry would not be a bad pick up either, but word has it the Yankees are looking at him and he would probably be well out of the Phillies price range after Monday night.
So before the GM meetings began Amaro had signed catcher Eric Kratz, utility man Pete Orr, and right handed swingman Eddie Bonine. When those meetings were over, he had added former top prospects Brandon Moss, Josh Barfield, Dan Meyer, Jeff Larish, and Ryan Feieraband. None of them have panned out in the majors yet but maybe one may develop into a diamond in the rough like a Jayson Werth or a Jack Cust both have. He also resigned several Phillies minor league free agents such as Tagg Bozied, Nate Bump, Dane Sardinha, and Rich Thompson. At the winter meetings he signed Dennys Reyes and Brian Bass and drafted utility guy Michael Martinez and 2 minor leaguers in the rule 5 draft. Of course, this news is not only the icing but the whole cake. Cliff Lee is back. That’s a pretty good offseason if you ask me, even with the losses of Werth, Moyer, Dobbs, and Romero. One thing for sure a bland offseason just became really exciting in the matter of 24 hours.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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