Monday, October 31, 2005

Phillies Baseball Presents: Thoughts on 2006 Roster Composition

Whomever David Montgomery settles on in the Great GM Search of 2005 (I see the Phillies ranking potential candidates in order as follows: Gillick, Hunsicker, Amaro, Arbuckle, everybody else right now) will have plenty of work to do after getting the job. Goes without saying, but I said it anyway. That’s what you do when you have no other way to introduce something new. I’ll stop embarrassing myself and just jump right into some thoughts on the potential roster composition of your 2006 Philadelphia Phillies. It should be noted that these are merely one man’s opinions and a topic like this is very much open to debate. There are more than a few guys that could easily be argued into different categories and even some that probably should have their own entirely, separate categories. It is all highly speculative and subjective – that’s what makes it fun to talk about.

Locks to be Phillies in ’06 (4):

Starting 2B Chase Utley
Starting SS Jimmy Rollins
Starting Pitcher Jon Lieber
Starting Pitcher Brett Myers

The keystone combo of Utley-Rollins will not be broken up. No way. Utley may be the Phils only untouchable at this point and Rollins will be in the first year of his extension and, as we all know, begins the year with a 36-game hitting streak. The only question surrounding Lieber and Myers heading into ’06 is the matter of which pitcher throws on Opening Day. Even that issue may not be in doubt after the Phils swing a deal for that “true number one” starting pitcher everybody has been waiting for. Best to keep waiting on that one…

Very Likely to be Phillies in ’06 (12):

Starting Catcher Mike Lieberthal
Starting 3B David Bell
Starting LF Pat Burrell
Starting RF Bobby Abreu
Starting Pitcher Cory Lidle
Relief Pitcher Rheal Cormier
Relief Pitcher Geoff Geary
Relief Pitcher Aaron Fultz
Pitcher Ryan Madson
Outfielder Jason Michaels
Outfielder Shane Victorino
Infielder Tomas Perez

If I was less of chicken, more of these guys would be on the lock list. For example, I am 99% sure Aaron Fultz and Geoff Geary will start the 2006 season as members of the Phillies bullpen. They both did solid jobs and continue to play for low salary, team controlled contracts. Fultz should be an easy enough arbitration case, if it even comes to it, and Geary has less than three years of big league service so he is locked in as well.

Cormier will join them in the bullpen unless the Phillies truly believe he is done and eat the remaining year on his contract. This has not been the Phillies style and, in this instance anyway, I am okay with it. Cormier has the widely accepted weird every other year trend in his career (one good year followed by a bad year – repeat) and we can all agree that 2005 was a bad year. The only problem with this is that it isn’t statistically true – that’s a different story for a different day. Back on topic, I am by no means advocating keeping him out of the hope he’ll have a good year because it’s a year ending in an even number. I would keep Cormier around based on the simple idea of sunk costs. This principle explains that if the Phillies believe it is worth more to their team to pay $2.5 million to Cormier NOT to pitch, they should let buy him out and let him walk. If a guy is hurting your team, then you must swallow hard and cut him loose. What is better: paying $2.5 million to a guy hurting your team (negative VORP), or paying $2.8 million combined to the guy you cut and some kid making the league minimum from your farm system who is at least an average (positive or zero VORP). Bottom line - If the Phils can find a taker for Cormier willing to pay his salary, they have to do it. I just don’t see that happening.

For the record, I like Cormier and would personally be willing to have him on the 25-man roster going into the season. I think he is at least a smidge better than league average at what he does when used properly. I hate paying him what they do, but the check has already been handed out so what can you do about it now – he is getting paid no matter what.

Jason Michaels is an interesting case. His name has been floated in a few random trade rumors while at the same time he could very well be the leading candidate to start in CF next year (at they very least he’d play in some kind of platoon). I think that is exactly what will happen. Michaels will be the starter in Center some nights and be a key bat off the bench on the other nights. He’ll be on the team and he will play, one way or another, in just about ¾ of the Phils games (120 games or so).

His platoon partner might end up being Shane Victorino. Victorino was impressive in his September and was relied on heavily by Charlie Manuel off the bench. He pinch hit in pivotal late game at bats, pinch ran as the tying, go ahead, or insurance run, and served as the occasional late game defensive replacement. He has nothing more to prove at the AAA level. There are many ways Shane Victorino’s 2006 could shake out. Best case scenario he seizes the CF job and develops into a high OBP guy at the top of the order with good speed and pop. Worst case scenario (not actually worst, but worst that I can see happening) is he flops as a starter or one half of a platoon and settles into his role as a fourth outfielder who can pinch hit, pinch run, or play defense in the late innings. That pretty much sums up his September role with the ballclub come to think of it. As a backup outfielder, is there any way Victorino can be less useful than Endy Chavez? If there is, I’m certainly not seeing it.

Perfect world scenario – Burrell and Abreu in the corners, stud everyday guy in center, and Michaels and Victorino are you versatile, play anywhere backup outfielders. That would be a deep and dynamic 5-man outfield and the bench would be that much stronger. My bottom line here is that I expect both Michaels and Victorino to be on the 2006 team unless the Phils are blown away by a trade offer including either. Oh and there ain’t no such thing as a perfect world.

Now there is a chance that both Michaels and Victorino will be starting for the Phils in 2006. That is one perfect transition to a discussion on the futures of two longtime Phillies – Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu. I have no factual information to back this up, but I have a feeling that one of the two guys will not be back next year. I touched on this topic a while back and hope to get into it later in more detail, but for now I think we can still rationally assume that both Burrell and Abreu will be back in 2006. Even with my gut feeling, I still am confident in their placement on the Likely to be Phillies list. It should be clear, however, that it is not impossible to imagine either being dealt this offseason. Not likely, but not impossible. Let’s leave it at that for now.

One last thing on that large group of outfielders. I personally am not one to advocate violence, but an age old axiom comes to mind concerning a certain spear-fishing/bottle cap baseball loving outfielder. I believe the quote goes something like this: "Every winning team needs a guy who can beat up a cop - you never now when a skill like that can come in handy." Right or wrong, the logic behind that little truism isn't for me to judge. I'm merely the messenger here. Draw your own conclusions.

Mike Lieberthal and David Bell were lumped together in many discussions throughout the year, so it makes sense to treat them as entity here. I’m getting to the point where I feel I can only defend these knuckleheads so much. I won’t either bother to defend them here, but I will say this – both will make more than they deserve this year and are all but unmovable this offseason. They will almost definitely be Phillies again in 2006 unless the Phillies are able to trade their garbage contracts to add some new garbage contracts from another team. Be patient, ride out one more year of each player, and it’ll all be over soon. At least we can always be thankful these two have never gotten into trouble for punching cops. Allegedly punching cops. My mistake.

The Phillies should really try to add a backup catcher who can play two or three times a week. The more rest Lieberthal gets over the course of a season, the more effective he is when he does play. I don’t have the stats to back it up at this moment, but anybody who watches the Phils on a regular basis can probably attest. The catching free agent market this year is devoid of any real talent, so the slightly above average Ramon Hernandez and the incredibly overrated Benji Molina will get ridiculously out of whack contracts that will begin hurting their respective new clubs the moment they are signed. When we hit the upcoming Free Agent Class Preview (coming soon!), I think it would be wise to keep an eye on undervalued backup types that could potentially help the club. And if all else fails, they’ll just bring back Todd Pratt to backup another year anyway. If brought back, Pratt makes as good a candidate as any to be the leading Phillies cop puncher in '06.

The Phils should also look to add another third baseman to the mix. An ideal guy would be someone who has hit righties well and would sign for one year to platoon with Bell. I actually like what I see out of some potential free agent targets, but I’ll keep that under my hat until the Free Agent Class Preview (coming soon!).

Cory Lidle is under contract for only $3.3 million in 2006 making him a great bargain for the Phils. He is a dependable back of the rotation type guy that more than likely will be on the team next year. I would be fairly shocked to see him dealt anywhere (despite very much unconfirmed rumors of interest from both Texas and Tampa). Cory Lidle should still be a Phil in 2006, but where he slots into the rotation is an entirely different issue. If Lidle is the third starter next season, this team could have a problem. Lidle is a nice, innings eater that fits in nicely as a 4th or 5th guy on a staff. He is just about a league average starting pitcher which makes him a bargain at just over $3 million a year. The market for good starting pitching is really that crazy.

Tomas Perez has another year on his contract, so I expect him to be back in the red and white next year. The bad is obvious – Tomas isn’t a very good major league baseball player. I can’t imagine much argument to the contrary. There is good though and that’s why the Phillies gave him a 2-year deal in the first place. Perez seems like a good clubhouse fit with this team, he is a switch hitter, and he is decidedly above average at all the infield positions. I’m not sure if I agree that the goods outweigh the bad, but there are worse 25th guys on teams out there I suppose.

Ryan Madson is a guy that will be rumored to be out the door in every major trade package this time of year. There is also rampant speculation that he’ll be converted to a starter this spring and will fill a key rotation spot in 2006. I like the sound of that much better. His repertoire seems better suited for a starting role and he has lots of success as a starter in his minor league career. I think he’ll stick around in 2006 as a member of the rotation and begin to entrench himself as a core guy in the eyes of the new Phillies management.

We’ll hit Question Marks, Phillies Free Agents, and some other assorted Phils without fun categories on the 40-man roster tomorrow.


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