By Barry Jeffrey Jr.:
The clock struck midnight last night, officially beginning the free agency period in baseball. Nothing happened. No players signed any deals, no big news, just the usual hot stove rumors. Baseball’s market opening is a direct antithesis of the NFL’s. In the NFL when the free agency period begins you usually have big news popping up and signings being announced. In baseball the period usually sneaks in, rarely there being a big splash right off the bat. Considering the Yankees penchant for buying it is a bit surprising. The big names, Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Adam Dunn are still free. Of course the teams who eventually sign them will all beg to differ on the free part.
The Phillies almost certainly will be losing Jayson Werth. All signs are pointing to it. Boston is the heavy favorite in signing him after the Yankees came out and said they were not interested in him or Carl Crawford. Boston however has Crawford higher on their interest list than Werth. If they can sway Crawford into going to bean town instead of Los Angeles to play with his friend Torii Hunter and the Angels where most experts expect him to sign, they would then have no room for Werth. Werth would then probably be on the radar of Los Angeles , Atlanta , and Detroit . Detroit is my dark horse for Werth. Jim Leyland likes Werth, a lot. Detroit also has a big opening in rightfield and money to play with. The Cubs, who have a similar opening in their line up are more focused on Adam Dunn so Werth most likely will not wind up there. I don’t see Atlanta spending the amount Werth will likely command. Los Angeles is heavily betting on Crawford coming there, so Werth is a secondary target. Of course the Yankees could be putting on a giant maskirovka and will throw money at Crawford and Werth along with Cliff Lee. One expert claimed Seattle would try to sign him. While I know there is interest from the Mariners, I don’t see Werth signing there.
Jamie Moyer is definitely gone, even before this new potentially serious injury hit. Seattle had a big interest in bringing him back, just so he could be a major guiding influence on their young starters. Seattle felt Jason Vargas, Ryan Rowland-Smith, and Doug Fister all would benefit with the seasoned veteran book ending their rotation with Felix Hernandez. This new injury however may end Moyer’s long illustrious career and throws a monkey wrench into the Mariner’s plans. Looks like pitching coach may be Jamie’s next step.
J.C. Romero, the Phillies main lefty had his option declined. His inconsistency at his price has soured the Phillies on him. The Phillies feel Antonio Bastardo can do the job and he is younger and much cheaper. Romero, being a lefty will be able to find a job, especially since most of the other top lefty relievers like Scott Downs and Arthur Rhodes are type A free agents that will cost a signing team a draft pick. Yankees have a big interest in the left handed relief options with Damaso Marte being out until July. If so J.C. might be this year’s Chan Ho Park. Tampa Bay , Toronto , Minnesota , Arizona , and Oakland may also have interest in the veteran lefty.
Phillies have interest in bringing back Jose Contreras and Chad Durbin. Mets have some interest in Contreras which may drive the price up on him. Price will probably be the issue with both of these righthanders. Durbin started out strong, and then faded as the season went on. The Phillies budget probably leaves them room to bring back one of them but probably not both.
No word on if the Phillies are thinking of bringing Mike Sweeney back to be a bat off of the bench. Right now it looks very unlikely. Sweeney may go back to the American League to be a part time DH with someone or he could retire. Though with the energy we saw down the stretch and in the playoffs I don’t see Sweeney hanging the cleats up just yet.
Greg Dobbs. A minor league contract with a spring training invite at best from someone. Probably teams like Cleveland, Arizona, Kansas City, or Seattle who are hoping he some how returns to 2007-2008 form for a low investment will take a chance on him.
Some bargain free agents the Phillies may be looking at are Brandon McCarthy, Tyler Walker, and Scott Olsen. McCarthy and Olsen were outrights who elected free agency. Both pitchers have injury concerns, so anything involving them would probably require passing physicals and incentive laden contracts. Phillies have had interest in both McCarthy and Olsen in the past and either could push Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley in the battle for the 5th starter position. I do expect the Phillies to bring in a veteran 5th starter type on a minor league deal with ST invite to do just that. Walker pitched on the 2009 NL Champion team as a mop up guy and would probably be willing to accept a minor league deal. With the Phillies having so many spots in the bullpen up for grabs bringing in a few cheaper vets to push the young pitchers the Phils expect to be adding to the bullpen is probably something the Phillies plan to do. They always bring in a few veterans willing to work in the minors with potential to be called up to the team as depth. Eddie Bonine of the Tigers is a pitcher the Phillies are said to have interest in according to Jon Paul Morosi. He spent time in Detroit ’s bullpen but has spot started as well. He would probably be a minor league contract with spring training invite candidate if he does not return to Detroit .
Some bigger name free agents the team may look at are lefty Scott Downs and right handed pitchers Dan Wheeler, Jason Frasor, and Octavio Dotel. All relievers the Phillies have had some interest in at the trade deadline. Price once again may come into play here. With Frasor and Downs , losing a draft pick may be a steep step with relievers usually being inconsistent from year to year. Chad Qualls is another reliever they may have interest in, but he had a really disastrous 2010. Aaron Heilman can pitch every day, but the Phillies know how unstable he can be. Blowing games during his days with the Mets and Cubs, Heilman is an enigma. Brian Fuentes is an intriguing option, but price will come into play again and he wants to close. With all the money Brad Lidge is earmarked to be getting this year and his resurgence over the second half of the season last year I doubt the Phillies will give Fuentes what he wants. Pedro Feliciano will cost a pick as will Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes already pitched in Philly and wasn’t a fan favorite after putting up poor numbers. It is doubtful he would want to return and at his age you have to wonder when the sand in his hourglass will run out. Feliciano may be too pricey with Boston , the Yankees, Braves, and White Sox interested in him and the Mets having interest in bringing him back. Joaquin Benoit had an amazing 2010 with the Rays, but with Rafael Soriano not returning the Rays may resign him and give him a chance to be their closer.
In the outfield the Phillies would love to unload Raul Ibanez, but may have to trade away Shane Victorino instead to get something of value. Ibanez’s price and a no trade clause make moving him hard. Seattle is one of the few places I can see the Phillies being able to move him. Ibanez was highly thought of and very popular with the fans and the Seattle front office during his time with the team. They still think very fondly of him too. He actually would be a large improvement in either left field or at DH for the Mariners as well. Likely the Phillies would have to pay part of his contract unless they are taking back another bad contract like Milton Bradley, a cancer I am not sure the Phillies want introduced to their clubhouse. One name in Seattle that they may want to move is Josh Lueke. The Mariner’s front office was really upset when they found out about Lueke’s past arrest history. Upset enough that Carmen Fusco, the scouting director lost his job and General Manager Jack Zdurniek is currently on very thin ice with the Mariners top executives. Would a Raul for Josh Lueke trade work? Who knows, but there is precedent for the Phillies taking a player with legal troubles off of the Mariner’s hands. Julio Mateo was acquired a few years ago by the Phillies after a domestic violence issue. Of course Lueke has a much higher upside than Mateo did and Ibanez makes quite a bit of money so the deal is probably has no chance, but this IS the hot stove league so you have some speculation.
Trading Victorino only really makes sense if the Phillies have already resigned Jayson Werth or have acquired another centerfielder like a Matt Kemp. Domonic Brown could step into center but you still have the big hole in rightfield and the Phillies are not yet fully convinced Brown is ready to be an every day player. While Ben Francisco is a nice player to have, he is probably more valuable as a 4th outfielder than as the every day rightfielder. You would use him in centerfield only if you had no other options as you would lose a lot of defense. Tyson Gillies could play great centerfield defense in the big leagues right now. His bat at this point however would remind you more of Steve Jeltz than Steve Garvey. John Mayberry Jr. has played center in the minors, but he has yet to hit curveballs effectively. He also has been hurt in the Arizona Fall League and has not played since the first game. With the trade of Anthony Gose and the release of Quiton Berry there isn’t any other potential in the system centerfield options after Brown, Gillies, and Mayberry. Like Gillies it is also very doubtful either of those players will be major league ready in 2011. In Berry ’s case, his stock has fallen enough that there is doubt he will ever be ready. Where have you gone Javon Moran? Jeremy Slayden is back with the organization, but what does he have left after his 2009 midseason retirement and not playing in 2010? There would definitely have to be more moves made down the line any situation where Victorino is traded.
Phillies are looking at some right handed outfielders to give the team some more flexibility if they do lose Jayson Werth. Most of the names mentioned are either trade candidates or will have to wait for non-tendering. Some of those names like Jeff Francouer, Matt Diaz, and Magglio Ordonez, leave a lot to be desired after being spoiled by Jayson Werth during his time in Philadelphia . A free agent like Andruw Jones may be a possibility, but with him you have to wonder what shape he will show up in and will his heart really be into it. It was for the White Sox, but several seasons on the Braves and his time in LA and Texas his heart, physical shape, and attitude were major questions. Juan Rivera is a name I really like. He has some power and while he does not take a lot of walks he also does not strike out a lot. He will be expendable in Los Angeles if they sign Crawford/Werth. Would he be worth moving a Kyle Kendrick for him since the Angels want some pitching? Then the Phillies could sign a Javier Vazquez or a John Garland, 2 veterans the Phillies have had some interest in the past. I’m sure it isn’t a thought Ruben Amaro has had but at this point you would think the Phillies need to look at every option and angle.
So as the wheels turn, the rumors fly, reporters probe, and everyone becomes an arm chair GM speculating how they would improve their teams, the real GMs are now on their phones, sending emails, or even having cocktails with a opposite number of a team, an agent, or their scouting department. What are they doing? The same thing we are. Trying to figure out just how they are going to improve their team. Of course their ideas have a lot more weight and in most cases, more basis in reality. For the rest of us, there is always blogs, web boards, conversations around the water cooler, or APBA Baseball.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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