Jan 282012
Former Phillies utilityman Wilson Valdez

We'll always have the 19th inning. Thanks Wilson.

Phillies take a step back from the Lidge

Being a closer can be a thankless job at times. At others it can be a job with rewards and many accolades. Brad Lidge has experienced both in his time with the Phillies.Lidge’s 2008 was a season of pure mastery and perfection. He was as lock down as I have ever seen any closer been. When Charlie Manuel took the ball from Ryan Madson, himself no slouch in that bullpen, and handed the ball to Lidge in 2008, the game was plain and simply over.

Lidge blew no saves at all during the year and his dominance was one of the main reasons the Phillies won both the National League pennant and the World Series. Without Lidge it is entirely possible that Chase Utley would not have been telling us we were World F’N Champions. Many people, especially SABRs, say a closer is not that important a position. In some ways they are correct as you can usually plug anyone in to get 20 saves these days.

Having a Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, or a 2008 Brad Lidge in your bullpen is more than just having a guy who just saves some games. A totally dominant closer shutting the door can mean quite a few more wins and a lot less of a Rolaids bill for the manager and the fans. This is the thinking process Ruben Amaro had when he went out and set the market by signing Jonathan Papelbon to a very substantial contract when Free Agency was in its early stages.

The other extreme is, if a closer is ineffective, it can throw a team off kilter and cost them games. His 2009 turned out as bad as his 2008 was good. Pitching through injuries, Lidge had one of the worst seasons a closer has ever had in modern history. While he still managed 31 saves, he blew 11 and had an ERA of 7.21 and gave up 72 hits in 58 2/3 innings. Opponents batted .308 against him. To say it was a nightmare is an understatement.

Yet through this dark time, Brad Lidge managed to remain positive and surprising to those who stereotype Philly fans, Lidge did not lose fan support during the season. He got a standing ovation from the fans when he came into the last game of the season and managed to reach inside of him and put out an effort that looked like the 2008 Lidge. Philly fans cheered him and every one of us showed our support.

His next two seasons were injury plagued affairs with shoulder troubles robbing his fastball of a lot of its zip and movement. Lidge managed to smoke and mirrors into a decent bounce back season. He cut his blown saves and ERA in half, and still managed to strike out more batters than innings pitched. He was not the same Brad Lidge though and many of us could see it. He relied on his slider more than his fastball, often throwing nothing but sliders to some batters.

Last year he only appeared in 25 games, managing only 19 1/3 innings. His fastball was sitting at batting practice levels, but he still managed to hold batters to a .225 average. His closer job was lost, first to Jose Contreras, then to Ryan Madson, then Antonio Bastardo, then back to Ryan Madson. Lidge sat on the sidelines watching until he was healthy at the end of June. After the season the former closer received some interest from the Mets and Rockies early on and it looked like his Philadelphia story was coming to an end. Today it did. Brad Lidge signed a contract with the Montreal Expos Le South, better known as the Washington Nationals. The Nationals may not get much out of Lidge since his better days are behind him.

What they will get is one of the hardest working pitchers in the league and also one of the classiest. Will he be able to slider, slider, and slider his way into their bullpen? That is not known yet. Whatever happens in Washington though I wish him the best of luck and for 2008 alone, to me at least, he will always be a Phillie and when he comes back, like with Jim Thome, I will cheer for him. One positive for him about his signing in Washington, at least he knows most of the fans in the stadium when the Nats play the Phillies. They’re mostly the same people who watched him at Citizen’s Bank Park, Phillies fans.

Sinking of the Valdez

In a move most seem to think was pretty much salary motivated the Phillies traded utility infielder Wilson Valdez to the Cincinnati Reds for left handed reliever Jeremy Horst. Valdez, who just recently signed to avoid arbitration, came out of nowhere to turn himself into a productive and popular player in his time in Philadelphia. Filling in for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Placido Polanco while each was out and missing time on the disabled list. Valdez main skills were his defense, mainly his cannon powerful arm. Some players with strong arms like his throw all over the field, but Valdez’s throws were almost always extremely accurate.

His range was never the best but he was a smart player and like Chase Utley, positioned himself well to get to balls he normally would not get to. Offensively he could not come close to producing like the players he would be replacing in the line up. He had little power, didn’t steal bases, and did not talk a lot of walks, but he did seem to come through for the Phillies when they needed him. In 2011 he had absurd numbers with runners in scoring position. His efforts in the 19 inning win against the Reds will always go down in Phillies lore as well, being the winning pitcher.

The trade is an unpopular one in many circles as Valdez was a popular player among many fans because he always played hard and he was very good in the clubhouse. Myself, I have no problem with the actual trade, getting a young lefty with some upside for a back up infielder is usually a good haul. Jeremy Horst has shown good numbers as a reliever in the Reds system and it gives us much needed left handed depth that was lacking in the Phillies system.

Right now Antonio Bastardo is the closest to a sure thing from the left side as Dontrelle Willis has never really been a relief pitcher in his career and Joe Savery and Jake Diekman are both unproven at the Major League level. Even Bastardo has some questions after his second half troubles of last year. Having depth never hurts, having cheap controllable depth is even better. Horst has even started in the minors (though not well) so it gives even more flexibility.

The one problem I do see with the trade is, it really kills the depth of an infield that has been really injury plagued over the last two seasons and as of right now his replacement is Michael Martinez. The move makes more sense if the Phillies are going to bring in another infielder since Martinez was totally over-matched last season and would be better off with a season at AAA Lehigh Valley. Ruben Amaro talked up having Michael Martinez, Pete Orr, Kevin Frandsen, Hector Luna, and Freddy Galvis gives the team great infield depth. It is what a General Manager does.

While he is talking up the depth, the word is the Phillies are looking at infielders. Unfortunately the word is also they are bottom scraping for infielders. The Hunter Pence arbitration (not to mention the Papelbon contract) is currently handcuffing the team it seems. Good news is that if they can get numbers resolved the Phillies have some interest in Ryan Theriot, who would be an upgrade over the departed Valdez (and a huge upgrade over Martinez and Orr). Theriot had some pretty huge hits for the Cardinals in their World Series run last year and gives the team much needed speed and base running off the bench.

One name to keep an eye on as low price depth is Adrian Cardenas. The former Phillies prospect was just DFAed by the Oakland A’s and the Phillies still think well of him. Cardenas plays the infield and learned to play the outfield as well. You just may see him returning.

Wheeler rolls elsewhere

One reliever I wanted the Phillies to look at was Dan Wheeler. I have mentioned it and even wrote about it several times, as many well know. The former Mets/Rays/Astros/Red Sox righty became a member of the Cleveland Indians today by signing a minor league deal. One of the reasons I wanted Wheeler is because he was a groundball pitcher with good strike out numbers. Until last year he was very durable and he also was a part time closer in the past. With so many young arms in the bullpen I thought Wheeler would have been a perfect veteran compliment to the bullpen, especially on a minor league deal like he signed with Cleveland.

Maybe they can sign Micah Owings instead. With him and Willis in the pen, it would be like having a seven man bench to use as pinch hitters. Eight if you count Cliff Lee. It would sure make for a more strategic team for those 19 inning games now that we have lost our 19 inning ace Wilson Valdez.

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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.