The Crow’s Nest: “Arsenic and Old Age”

Phillies ace Cliff Lee

Phillies ace Cliff Lee

By Barry Jeffrey Jr:

So the Phillies have signed Cliff Lee and they now have possibly the best rotation in baseball in the last decade. Yet mostly what I am hearing out of the so-called experts is how old the aces are and how old and injury prone the rest of the team is.  These same experts who salivate over the Red Sox and Yankees turn their nose up at the Phillies.  They say Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt are all in their 30s and are risks.  You would think the Phillies are the only team with players in their 30s in the entire league listening to some of these people.  Let’s look at this rotation of World War I veterans. 

Cliff Lee will be in his late 30s by the end of his contract.  The same contract that is 2 years less than what the Yankees offered him mind you.   Had he signed that contract with the Yankees, would these same people be pointing things like his age out?  It is very doubtful.  I mean Roger Clemens, David Wells, David Cone, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettite were all at an advanced age when they pitched for the Yankees, but it was never an issue.  The Yankees have a magic fountain of youth hidden in George Steinbrenner’s former office or something I guess.  Halladay and Oswalt have the same thing said about them as Lee. 

They mention Oswalt’s back issues, but does not Josh Beckett of the Red Sox have his own back issues and is in the same age bracket?  Does that not make him just as much a risk as Roy Oswalt?  Despite the fact that Oswalt’s back issues were in 2009 and showed no real signs of being around in 2010, when Beckett had his issues. Yet Oswalt is still the “injury risk”.  Roy Halladay is “old” and “he pitched so many innings”.  Well yeah, that is what Roy Halladay does, has pretty much always done since he rediscovered himself as a pitcher back in 2002.  However they never mention just how much of a work ethic Halladay has, how great his physical shape always is.  Do people think he is a bigger injury risk than a CC Sabathia, who while younger has a physical shape more like Bartolo Colon than a MMA fighter?  

Sometimes things like that mystify me.  We hear about how Cliff Lee may injure an elbow, yet could Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, or Daisuke Matsuzaka, who all have had injury issues, also injure themselves just as easily?  Then we come to Cole Hamels, who is not old at all.  We hear how he was so inconsistent back in 2009; the same people forget AJ Burnett and Clay Buckholz have had inconsistency issues in their careers.  The air in Boston and New York apparently is a hyperbolic chamber and the Philly air causes a diabetic like condition where players get injured and heal slower and become just total inconsistent. 

They talk about the Phillies core getting older too.  It is true that they are, but JD Drew, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, and Jason Varitek are not 21 year old college kids themselves.  They also point out the Phillies injuries, but fail to point out most of them were freak injuries,  They also fail to mention that Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Mike Cameron, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Varitek, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, & Damaso Marte all had injuries as well.   Even though the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, it does not mean their players are all going to be completely healthy and Raphael Soriano won’t make the Yankees 4th and 5th starters, who do not even exist yet, 15+ game winners.  

Same way Cliff Lee does not replace Jayson Werth’s offense and defense in Philly.  Basically what I am saying is, if you are going to bring up the Phillies issues “experts”, don’t turn around and claim the Red Sox and Yankees are unstoppable forces without issue of their own.  Oh yeah and as for the Phillies “old men pitchers” there happens to be quite a lot of quality in the lower minors in guys like Jared Cosart, Brady Colvin, Jessie Biddle, Trevor May, Julio Rodriguez, Jonathon Pettibone, Josh Zeid, Justin DeFratus, BJ Rosenberg, Vance Worley, and Michael Schwimer who will possibly be in the rotation or bullpen either very soon or just when the big 3 will be ending their contracts. 

Spring Rolls 

It’s almost time for those most magic words for most baseball fans.  Pitchers and catchers report.  We hibernate from November to February, with a small wake up in December for the Winter Meetings.  New faces, new hopes, and in some cases new pains where pills cannot reach brought on by what a person’s respective team has done during its off season.  For some players, like Tony Sanchez of the Pirates, they get to taste their first big league camp.  

Our Phillies are welcoming several new faces and we said goodbye to a few as well.  This will be the first camp without Jayson Werth in rightfield in 4 years.  Gone also from last year’s spring squad are Chad Durbin, Greg Dobbs, Jamie Moyer, Juan Castro and Sergio Escalona.  Coming in are Rob Quinlan, Eric Kratz, Jeff Larish, Brandon Moss, Eddie Bonine, Dan Meyer, Josh Barfield, Delwyn Young.  Of course Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt are also experiencing their first Phillies’ spring training as well.  

Rob Quinlan is a former Angel, both Anaheim Angel and Los Angeles Angel.  Last season the 33 year old spent most of his time in AAA but a few years ago he was a valued member of the Angels bench.  Quinlan, whose brother Tom played for the Phillies, can play first base, third base, right field, and left field.  He also has some experience both DHing and pinch hitting.  His numbers have not been great over the last few seasons, but maybe a fresh start can help him be a valuable member of the new Phillies bench. He has shown some power but that was years ago.  His defense is adequate in the infield but he does not have a lot of range in the outfield.  He is definitely a bench player and not a starter. A right handed Gregg Dobbs, let’s hope it is the Dobbs of 2008 and not 2010. 

Eric Kratz is a catcher who played for the Pirates and their AAA affiliate.  His signing is heartwarming, as he grew up a Phillies fan Lansdale, PA and now the 30 year old could possibly end up seeing some time for his favorite team.  An AAA All Star for Indianapolis last season, Kratz’s most memorable moment in the bigs was his steadfast blocking of the plate and taking a Prince Fielder charge to get an out.  He is a great character guy and hopefully can help both the Iron Pigs and the Phillies sometime in 2011. At AAA he showed he finally learned to hit and showed some power and his defense was above average and he showed a good arm. He has also played first, third, and even seen some time as a pitcher in the minors.  He should be an improvement over Paul Hoover if called up to the majors. 

Jeff Larish was once a top prospect with Detroit.  Like Quinlan he plays first, third, and the outfield corners.  Unlike Quinlan he hits left handed and is still fairly young at 28.  He has had good power and batting eye in the minors but has not put it together in the bigs over an extended period of time.  His defense is good at first, adequate but not spectacular at the other positions.  Last year he was waived by the Tigers and picked up by the A’s, putting up bad numbers with both teams. 

Like Larish, Brandon Moss was once a top prospect.  The left handed hitting outfielder was a Boston Red Sox until he was moved to the Pirates as part of the deal for Jason Bay.  He played for the Pirates but has not lived up to his billing.  He plays all three outfield positions and firstbase.  Another left handed hitter that has not the power or offense he displayed in the minors. He does run well and plays good defense. He has a pretty nice arm in the outfield as well.  Moss may be one of the non-roster position player invites who has a chance to still develop into something as he is only 26 years old. 

Eddie Bonine is a 29 year old right handed knuckle balling swingman, having seen both starting and relieving work with the Detroit Tigers.  Unfortunately he did neither very well.  If he sticks with the Phillies he will give them something they did not have last year after they lost Nelson Figueroa to the Astros on waivers.  A long reliever capable of going multiple innings during a game or spot starting if the team needs him to. One question is will Ruiz and Schneider be able to handle his knuckleball?  

Dan Meyer has had some success in the big leagues with the Florida Marlins.  Two years ago he was Florida’s best left handed reliever pitching in 71 games with a 3.09 ERA.  Last year injuries and inconsistency saw him being bounced out of the Marlins bullpen and the big leagues after 13 games.  Originally property of the Braves he was traded to the A’s as part of the package for Tim Hudson.  A starter converted to relief the 28 year old is looking to supplant Antonio Bastardo as the possible second lefty in the bullpen behind JC Romero. 

Josh Barfield has some good baseball genes.  He is the 28 year old son of a member of one of the best outfields of the 1980s. His father Jessie was a power hitting outfielder of the Blue Jays and Yankees (he was also with the Astros but cut in Spring Training and retired). Unfortunately for Josh, he did not inherit his father’s bat.   He has seen time with both the Padres and Indians. Playing mostly second base he is acceptable but nothing special.  He has also seen some time at third base, shortstop, and the outfield in the minor leagues, where he has spent the majority of the last few years.  Early in his minor league career he displayed good power and speed but that seems to have abandoned him since his rookie year with San Diego. 

Now we come to the biggest of the non-roster signees.  Delwyn Young was a minor league powerhouse and a top prospect of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The Dodgers had viewed him as a possible replacement for Jeff Kent’s at second base, but in Spring Training of 2009 the Pirates traded two pitching prospects for him and then made him Freddy Sanchez’s replacement once Sanchez got injured.  His minor league success did not follow him to Pittsburgh as his bat has been average. He has not displayed the power he did in the lower levels, or the .300 batting averages he put up on the farm.  He has shown value however as a pinch hitter and utility player.  Young can play right and left fields, second, third, and first base.  He has decent skill in the outfield but below average at second, while adequate at third. He also has a good arm at any position. As a pinch hitter he is a career .271 hitter with 3 home runs in 170 at bats. He also has 14 walks as a pinch hitter too. Young will probably compete with Quinlan for the last spot on the bench this spring. 

Of course these are mostly only filler signings, the real signings were Cliff Lee and the re-signings of Jose Contreras and JC Romero, but you already know all about them. 

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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC. – Philadelphia sports news, rumors, blogs, & message board discussion forums