By Barry Jeffrey Jr.:
Every now and again I will post an article like this on a few potential players that one of the Philly teams could or should (in my own opinion) target as an acquisition. The first of these will be in this article today and of course deals with the Phillies. What can I say? I am a baseball guy first and foremost.
The Phillies have a few question marks on the team. Among those positions of question are the bullpen, bench, rightfield, right handed power bat, and speed off the bench.
Today we will be looking at the right handed bat/rightfield issue. Domonic Brown should be the starting rightfielder and the person who is taking over for the now departed Jayson Werth. However there are still some questions about the young outfielder after his showing last season during his call up to the majors when Shane Victorino was injured. Striking out at an alarming rate and only hitting at a .211 clip put some luster on the shine of the rising star for some. Some people have even gone so far as to already label him a bust. Naturally the sanity of those people is openly questioned by anyone with even a remote knowledge of the game. The sample size was hardly enough to consider Brown a bust already. The potential of him is just too much for the results we all saw last year.
People need to keep in mind he was called up and at the time the Phillies were a bit reluctant to call him up because they were unsure if he had enough time at AAA and they were not sure he would get enough at bats to remain sharp. They also need to keep in mind the fact that when Victorino was brought off the disabled list Brown was forced to the bench and played very sparingly and later he also suffered a leg injury which hampered him. Brown’s abysmal winter ball season was also pointed to by some using the bust label. He really did have a horrid time but also keep in mind he started late in winter ball because of that leg injury and I am well sure there was some rust on him.
The main question with Brown is he really ready. Some members of the Phillies staff have questions on this point. Even General Manager Ruben Amaro has hinted at times that Brown may need to start in AAA. Spring training will tell, if Brown does have a great spring training, the job is his to lose. The main drawback with this is that an already left-handed heavy line up will become even more left-handed.
In the event Brown is not ready, the question of rightfield becomes huge. The in house candidates are well known. Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr., and Ross Gload are the guys on the roster who would get a shot. Add in minor league signees Jeff Larish and Brandon Moss to the list of potential replacements. It’s a less than inspiring line up to many people after the production the Phillies received out of Jayson Werth. I will discuss these internal candidates down the line, right now I want to come to an external candidate. With most of the really effective free agents signed to contracts the cupboard is pretty bare. Most of the outfielders who are still out there for signing are lefties like Scott Podsednik, an aged switch hitting Gary Mathews Jr., or an old and expensive right hander in Jermaine Dye who has defensive issues and has not played in over a year and wants top dollar still. So to improve the club, it would have to come via a trade.
Juan Rivera has been mentioned as a candidate for acquisition. My candidate however would be from an American League team, a team that plays in the AL East, namely the Tampa Bay Rays. He is also switch hitter instead of just a straight righthander, which is a major plus for this line up as he can add the needed right handed at bats and still switch to the other side if he has to. He is also younger than Rivera by almost 2 years being 29. The biggest plus is, if Brown shows he is in fact ready during Spring Training or after some time in the minors he can play other positions. Where Rivera can only play the outfield corners and first, the person I would pursue could fill several holes on this team.
He has experience at second, shortstop, third, first, and all three outfield positions. His defense at the positions he plays is pretty sound for a guy who has moved around quite a bit during his career too. He is not a stone handed Dan Uggla at second if you put him there. He has shown some power with his bat and has a good batting eye, able to draw some walks. He also has decent base running instincts, another plus over Rivera. He runs the bases well and is able to steal a few. He had a regression offensively last year after a big 2009 which I will discuss below. I do think he will bounce back (especially getting to work with Charlie) and would be a very valuable bat both in the Phillies line up and in Citizens Bank Park. The versatility is really what makes me want to acquire him. Wilson Valdez has a nice glove and his offense was actually surprising, but as I have said before players like Valdez who have a career year late in their career as a utility guy often tend to step back to mediocre levels the next year. Players like Juan Castillo, Edwin Diaz, and Jorge Velandia all come to mind as players like Valdez. It would be good for Charlie to have options instead of being just locked into one person.
I am sure many have figured out that this player that I am speaking of is Ben Zobrist. As I said, Zobrist fits for many reasons. He is exactly the type of player the team needs. He can play for Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Ryan Howard, Dom Brown or Raul Ibanez in the event of injury or just needing a rest. If you are in a pinch he can even back up Victorino. He won’t have the range or glove of Victorino or Rollins, but as noted he won’t kill you either. With his ability to play so many spots he will definitely get his at bats. If he is not starting he gives you two good right handed pinch hitting options off of the bench with some power instead of just one in Ben Francisco. He also can give you a second left hand option with Ross Gload since he is a switch hitter as mentioned earlier. He has more value than a Rob Quinlan for the same slot because Quinlan can’t play the middle infield positions. He also has a better recent track record than Quinlan.
He won’t come cheap; Tampa will want some quality in return, but likewise, coming off a sub .700 Ops season he is not someone you will be trading Singleton, Cosart, Colvin, etc. for. Losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and most of their bullpen, Tampa is trying to rebuild while staying a contender in the tough AL East. They have outfield depth with Zobrist, BJ Upton, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and young prospect Desmond Jennings so it is not like losing Zobrist would kill Tampa’s outfield picture. It would also save them at least $4.5 million this year and money to Tampa is an issue. The only reason they signed Manny and Damon was because their prices came down enough that Tampa felt it was feasible to acquire them.
For the Phillies, his arbitration years were bought out so they would have control over him for 3 years at $4.5, $4.5, and $5 mil. There are 2 $7 mil years on the contract but they can be bought out at $2.5 mil in 2014 or 250k in 2015. The $4.5 in 2010 is actually cheaper than Juan Rivera’s $5.25 mil and you may lose Rivera as a free agent at the end of the season.
Tampa is strong in starting pitching, even after trading Garza and they still have a decent line up despite losing Crawford and Pena, at least they do if Damon and Ramirez play well and Sean Rodriguez’s bat that tore up the minors finds its way into the majors. Their holes are first base, which they just signed Casey Kotchman and still have Dan Johnson whom they want to try there and in the bullpen.
The Phillies can possibly help with the first base situation, since Matt Rizzotti’s bat is blocked by Ryan Howard. He is not a top flight prospect but Rizzotti has shown he can hit in the minors. He is possibly a better option hitting wise than Casey Kotchman and Dan Johnson, both who have had opportunities and have come up short. Rizzotti is more an American League type player to begin with since his defense is not very good.
The bullpen the Phillies can also help with as they have several near the majors relief options like Scott Mathieson, Michael Stutes, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Schwimer. I am not saying include any of them but I am showing that there is depth here, enough so that the Phillies have actually given up the idea of bringing Chad Durbin back and that the Phillies do have some pieces to make a fit with Tampa if they did try to acquire Zobrist. Plus there is even more pitching depth in the lower minors. A small package deal would probably be needed but there is enough to do it if Amaro ever wanted to and not feel a huge loss.
The salary would probably make it necessary to make another deal to clear some salary but that can be done by dealing Kyle Kendrick. The Phillies have that great 1 through 5 and if anything does happen, they do have a cheap starter in Vance Worley waiting in the wings who most likely can put up any numbers Kendrick does at a much cheaper cost. Since it is 5th starter depth, Drew Carpenter or Drew Naylor could probably hold the position as well. Let’s face it, 5th starters across the league are pretty much mostly the same. Guys with ERAs about 4.5 to 5 you hope you get 6 innings out of, they are replaceable. Plus these guys are actually 5th starter depth, not the de facto 5th starter. The need for any hitting from the right hand side is more important than 5th starter depth.
Now as to Zobrist’s 2010 season, he had an alright first half with a good on base percentage, though his slugging was down, and an abysmal second half. Part of the bad second half from what I have been able to gather is because he may have been playing through a back injury. Apparently it was not a structural problem because he did not have surgery or see any doctors to do rehab for it. Plus he rebounded to hit .300 with a .914 OPS in the postseason against Texas, including a home run against Cliff Lee. That is another plus in acquiring him; he has post season and World Series experience.
All in all I think it is worth the risk, but I am just a fan, not Ruben Amaro.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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