Nov 152010
Phillies do it all bench INF Wilson Valdez

Phillies do it all bench INF Wilson Valdez

By Barry Jeffrey Jr.:

This week is the annual post World Series General Managers meetings.  Ruben Amaro will be traveling down to Orlando to talk with his fellow GMs and MLB personnel about mostly off the field affairs such as the state of the game, arbitration, the next CBA, and suggested rules changes. Unlike previous years however, Ruben will be solo at these meetings because the Assistant GMs were not invited this year.   The meetings will begin Tuesday and last through Wednesday, though Amaro (along with most of his counterparts) will probably stay over on Thursday when the Owners get together for their meeting, which will also have a session with MLB commissioner Bud Selig.  The next CBA may be a huge issue during these meetings as the current one ends after the 2011 season.  Getting a head start on this issue is probably a very good idea as it is an issue MLB hopes to be easily resolvable. 

After the mandatory MLB activities during the day are over, and then that is when the fun begins.  All the real Hot Stove nuts and bolts start to take place.  The GMs get together and start exchanging ideas and begin talking potential trades.  Chances are, you will not see actual major trades going down at these meetings, and most of the free agents will not move until November 23rd when teams will decide whether or not to offer arbitration to their Type A and B free agents.  Most likely you will see only teams resigning their own players and minor trades like the few we have seen during the past week.  These talks however are sometimes what set up the trades that happen later at the Winter Meetings in December.  Austin Jackson’s 3 team deal that had him move to the Tigers from the Yankees for Curtis Granderson was a trade where the discussions began at the GM Meetings. Florida’s Dan Uggla is definitely on the market right now. Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton, Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, and San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez are names that may also get discussed heavily this week.

Several agents will also be down in Orlando peddling the players that are their bread and butter.  You can bet that the GMs will be talking with them and probing to see if there is interest from the clients in playing for the GM’s teams. Among the agents going to be present are Scott Boras, who never misses any kind of meeting like this.  The representatives of Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Victor Martinez, and Carl Pavano will also be present.  Sometimes even the actual players just happen to be “in the area”.

Many beat writers and other sports news reporters will also be down in the area, so be ready for some nice juicy rumors and a lot of speculation. One has to occasionally be wary of a few tall tales just to stir up interest or controversy in an attempt to sell a few headlines.

Time will tell what the Phillies end up doing to prepare to return to prominence in the baseball world, but one thing is for sure.  The foundation to all of these efforts might just be getting laid down this week.  Who knows, the guy who gets the game winning hit in the World Series, may get his chance to do it from idle comments exchanged over a steak dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Breaking down the bench and the bullpen revisited:

With big holes in both rightfield and the bullpen, one can imagine that the Phillies will be very active any talks to try and improve on last year’s NL East winner after falling short of their 3rd straight World Series appearance. 

The bullpen looks to be like it will have a major make over next season with JC Romero, Chad Durbin, and Jose Contreras all free agents.  With teams rumored to be courting Durbin as both a reliever and (gasp) as a potential starter it looks like he will not be coming back.  Romero’s inconsistency in his control and make up over 2010 likely means he won’t return either as Charlie Manuel lost most of his faith in the lefty down the stretch.  Jose Contreras may price himself out of the mix after his resurgence after switching to the bullpen full time.  The Phillies however are actively courting him to return.  At 39 years old however, will he be able to repeat the performance?  The Phillies did sign former Tiger knuckleballing swingman Eddie Bonine to a minor league deal.  He might be the favorite to assume the slot David Herndon (who most likely will be in AAA this year for some further seasoning) had in the bullpen of the long relief man.  [Editor’s note: Contreras re-signed soon after this column was submitted]

One name I would like to see the Phillies look at is former Tampa Bay righthander Dan Wheeler. His nasty slider would probably be a great fit in the Phillies bullpen and he doesn’t give up a lot of walks or hits.  Of course Scott Downs is the favorite left handed option among the fans.  The Phillies have had interest in him for a few years now.  As a type A free agent he will require forfeiting our 1st round draft pick for.  The Jays will definitely offer him arbitration.  Same with Jason Frasor, a right hander many, including myself like.  One of the reasons I am for getting Wheeler is, he won’t cost you a pick.  Another reason is, Wheeler has playoff experience, including in the World Series with both with the Rays and the Astros.  Pedro Feliciano might be who the Phillies grab to be their main lefty.  Feliciano has been linked to the Phillies in the rumor mill and will not cost them a pick.  Signing him weakens a division rival, he is death on left handed hitters, and the guy can pitch just about every day.  Feliciano has led NL in appearances three straight seasons.  Lefties hit .211 with a .576 OPS off him and for his career they are .214/.282/.297.  Those are some pretty good numbers and he will probably come at a lower price than you will pay for Scott Downs or Brian Fuentes and let’s face it; cost effectiveness is an object to the Phillies. Another name to keep an eye on as the Phillies have been linked to being interested in him is Chicago’s Bobby Jenks, who may be a non-tender candidate. 

Another area of interest will probably be the bench.  Even though Ross Gload, Ben Francisco, Wilson Valdez, and Brian Schneider seem to have slots locked up, there is still some room for improvement.  Ross Gload is solid, and probably the least worrisome of the bench players.  He is a very consistent performer and one of the top pinch hitters/bench players in the game.  Ben Francisco, despite his playoff woes, is still a pretty good option as the 4th outfielder on a team.  The worry is, will he be pressed into the starting 9 if there is a failure to either resign Werth or acquire a suitable replacement if Dom Brown is not ready like the Phillies brain trust seems to think.  That would heavily weaken this bench and involving Gload in a potential platoon weakens it even more as he is their top pinch hitter. 

Wilson Valdez was a life saver through out 2010 after he took over for the failed Juan Castro experiment. One thing MLB history tells us that players like Valdez after a season where they step up and provide above average production, they tend to take a step back.  Getting some more depth for the middle infield may be a good idea for the 2011 Phillies.  If Utley, Rollins, or Polanco get hurt, will Valdez be able to reproduce his 2010 breakout, or will he become ineffective like the man he replaced was.  If Valdez can’t do it, the Brian Bococks, Melvin Dortas, or Luis Mazas are not the answer. Taking a flyer on some of the middle infield free agents for depth is probably a really good idea.  An intriguing internal solution may be Harold Garcia, whose bat finally blasted him onto the scene after a lackluster beginning of his career.  Garcia can play secondbase and shortstop and in a pinch thirdbase, though he lacks the arm strength to be used there very often. The problem is that he has no experience above AA, having finished up in Reading last season.  He is probably not close to being ready to face actual major league pitching.  He is also currently struggling in the Dominican Winter League. 

Brian Schneider was the back up catcher, but both he and Carlos Ruiz had some injuries in 2010.  The scary part was, both seemed to get injured at the same time forcing the Phillies to go with both Paul Hoover, and Dane Sardinha during the season.  While the two of those players were not much of an offensive force, neither was Schneider when he played.  Schneider’s defense also seemed to have some lapses as well.  Several times during the season it seemed there was a badly misplayed passed ball at crucial times with Schneider behind the plate.  Hoover was let go, and while the Phillies brought back Sardinha and also signed Eric Kratz for Lehigh, there is still room for improvement here.  Some rumors have the Phillies showing some interest in Jason Varitek.  Eddie Bonine’s signing with the Phillies may be a reason they are rumored to be looking at Varitek, since he has a lot of experience with knuckleballs after catching Tim Wakefield in Boston.  It’s not known how much substance there is to these rumors but Varitek did show that in a part time role he can still be effective at times.  I’m not sold on that he is actually a major improvement over Schneider even though Varitek did out slug Schneider by almost 100 points, Schneider got on base more however.  Varitek’s .293 OBP is a very scary statistic.  Injury was a problem with Varitek again adding a further red flag on this potential signing. Interest in Varitek, if true, shows that the Phillies coaching staff is not exactly happy with what they got out of Schneider last year.  Many fans would agree.

The last spot on the bench is wide open with Greg Dobbs no longer being in the organization.  You can bet it won’t be Brian Bocock or Cody Ransom getting this slot.  A right handed bat, especially if Francisco moves into the starting line up, is a must.  Mike Sweeney does not seem to be in the Phillies plans so Eric Hinske, whose teams have a habit of making the playoffs, might be a good look for the slot. Ty Wiggington would be better but he wants to start somewhere and it is doubtful he would want to sit on the bench. Wigginton will command a much higher salary as well and as previously mentioned cost effectiveness is a major issue with the Phillies right now.

On a closing note on this 14th of November, I would like to wish a very Happy Birthday to someone who holds a special spot with me during my time with the Philly internet sports scene.  She was a very important part to the writings done on another place that no longer deserves being mentioned by name.  She did a lot of the editing in the middle to later years when we had writers and she was always my own personal editor when I contributed with the first Crow’s Nest column and when I was writing short stories.  She contributed a lot of time and did a lot of hard work, with not a lot of thanks or recognition for doing it.  While the former place [that hosted The Crow’s Nest] does not deserve any mention, she does.  Happy Birthday CgrGrl and I hope you have many more to come.

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