Monday, January 16, 2006

Phillies Opening Day Roster Ideas

The Phillies 2006 roster is beginning to take shape - this is a good thing as spring training is, believe it or not, just around the corner. There are so many things (last minute free agent additions, trades, injuries) that could take place between now and spring training that predicting the opening day roster isn't theory anyway. I happen to believe the Phillies roster you see today will be extremely similar to the roster come April with only one (maybe two) spots up for grabs in Florida. The Phillies starting eight and bench appear to be set. The Phils coaching staff/front office still has to decide on who will be the fifth starter - that decision will surely set off a chain reaction of roster moves that will shape the big league bullpen.

The Phillies starting eight will look a heck of a lot like the lineup that finished the 2005 season. Mike Lieberthal is back catching, the infield of Howard/Utley/Rollins/Bell remains intact, and the corner outfielders, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu, both return despite being the subject of many a trade rumor this offseason. If Abreu is traded between now and spring (it is still a very real possibility, but I'd drop the odds of it happening now to 10% - just a personal feeling), just disregard the previous statement. In any event, I am confident in proclaiming those seven guys safe bets for the opening day roster. New addition Aaron Rowand will round out the starting eight and play centerfield everyday. It seems like the Phillies are committed to the idea that Rowand would make a good 2-hole hitter (something I think is a bad, bad idea), but actual lineup construction is another story for another day. For now, I'll stick with my belief that these 8 guys have spots on the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies. Easy so far, right?

The bench is a different story - not so much because of the uncertainty over who will make the team, but because of the belief that some of the guys who are poised to win bench jobs as of now stink and it doesn't have to be that way. The Phillies have put themselves in a position where the bench has room for five guys going into the season - 2 outfielders, 2 infielders, and one backup catcher. IF (infielder, not an emphatic "if") Abraham Nunez is a lock to make the team and should be a guy who will see plenty of time starting around the diamond whenever a starter needs a day off - for better or worse. The two OF spots look to be pretty much guaranteed to Jason Michaels and Shane Victorino. The only thing that could change this is a trade - whether it is of Michaels or Abreu. If either Michaels or Abreu are dealt, Victorino would either be the 4th OF (if Michaels is dealt) or platoon with Michaels in right (if Abreu is dealt). A new 5th OF is needed either way. Chris Roberson, Josh Kroeger, or maybe even Peter Bergeron could then be that guy. Sal Fasano is the obvious frontrunner for the backup catcher spot with Carlos Ruiz having a tiny, tiny chance to make the team instead with a strong spring. The smart money is on Fasano to win a spot on the team, of course.

So, far the bench looks like Michaels/Victorino/Nunez/?/Fasano (in the order they should be pinch-hit). Strong outfielders, poor everything else. Will the "?" mystery candidate for the bench job save us? It doesn't look good. IF Tomas Perez has been a Phillies mainstay over the past few years and seems like the frontrunner for the last bench job. I'm sure many Phils fans believe Tomas is a lock for a spot on the team, but I'm less than 100% certain. If I had to bet on my life on who will win that final bench job, I'd say Tomas. Luckily, nobody has pinned me down with such a proposition, so I am free to speculate on who can seize that job when the Phils finally decide to dump Perez. Matt Kata, Danny Sandoval, and Joe Thurston are all candidates to at least battle Perez in camp. Either Kata or Sandoval would be a better choice (so much is unknown about Thurston) than Perez and it will be interesting to see if either is given a real shot at making the team over him. The best option out there remains Russell Branyan (I get on a bandwagon and I hang on for dear life), but that seems like an out of the box solution to shoring up the Phillies lineup against righties while at the same time strengthening the bench. I have just about given up on Branyan being a Phil just because thinking out of the box isn't characteristic of this organization. Let's say that the last Phillies bench job is up for grabs with the other 12 position player spots looking like they are set.

(My take on the bench real quick - Michaels/Victorino/Nunez/Perez/Fasano isn't all bad, but it just seems like a bit of a waste of resources. My cheaper, more effective, and more versatile bench for 2006 - Branyan/Victorino/Roberson/Ruiz/Sandoval, with a trade of Jason Michaels [nothing personal, but his value is at an all-time peak] for some league average starting pitching in there as well. I like that bench better from a baseball standpoint and it would only cost you around $2.25 million or so to do)

The pitching staff has no shortage of live arms vying for spots - there may not necessarily be great quality, but there sure is quantity. That sounds like an insult (maybe it kind of is), but it is actually a pretty sound strategy to building a staff. Pitching is all about attrition. Teams need depth to succeed and there is no better way to build depth than by inviting as many pitchers as possible to camp and promoting competition for spots on the team - especially in the bullpen. The Phillies are expected to carry twelve pitchers going into 2006 and, by my count, there are only eight locks at this point in time. There is no shortage of candidates for the other four spots. What does all of this mean? I think it'll be an exciting spring.

4/5th's of the starting rotation can be penciled in with great certainty - Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, and Ryan Franklin all will open the year in the rotation. The fifth starter job will be the most highly publicized battle going into camp and will go a long way in shaping the entire staff. As it stands now, the job comes down to Gavin Floyd, Robinson Tejeda, Ricardo Rodriguez, Eude Brito, and Ryan Madson (in order of how likely they are to win the job, Floyd being the guy who I think will win it). Each guy comes with some pretty major questions - Floyd was a disaster in 2005, Tejeda has had some recent control issues, Rodriguez hasn't done anything in the big leagues, Brito is an over-aged/under-talented prospect, and Madson still might be better suited in the bullpen (prior success in the pen and durability concerns if he joined the rotation).

As of now, Madson will remain a reliever. He is out. Brito just isn't good enough, though his being lefthanded could make the Phillies consider him longer than they should. He is out. Rodriguez is probably is a better fit for the bullpen and may not even be looked at as a starter at all. Out. It's down to Floyd or Tejeda. Let's assume Gavin Floyd has a good enough spring and overcomes all other contenders to win the fifth starter job. Now what? Do the Phils send Tejeda to AAA to start every fifth day or has he proven enough to warrant a job in the big league bullpen? If Tejeda is better than the other bullpen candidates, then the bullpen is where he should be. The team is looking to win in 2006. If he isn't, then he should be in AAA and serve as the Phils 6th starter (pitching depth is key, remember?) and potential trade bait. Now let's assume Tejeda impresses Gillick and company enough to earn that fifth job. A bullpen job is then absolutely opened up as there is no chance the Phillies will make the mistake of sticking Floyd in the bullpen again. Floyd would then be sent to Scranton to spearhead the Red Barons starting rotation.

Depending on the fifth starter shakedown, there will be either two or three bullpen jobs available (Tejeda being a possibility to land one if Floyd wins the job). It should be a seven man bullpen with five locks to this point - Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson, Rheal Cormier, Aaron Fultz, and Geoff Geary. There are a ton of guys fighting for the remaining two (maybe one) spots (or spot). For the sake of discussion we will stick with Floyd winning the 5th starter job. The two remaining bullpen spots then come down to a mix of failed 5th starters (Rob Tejeda, Ricardo Rodriguez, Eude Brito) or a bunch of guys that had limited or no big league time in 2005 including Aquilino Lopez, Julio Santana, Chris Booker, Travis Minix, Ryan Cameron, and Brian Sanches. The battle for those spots should rival the events at Waterloo some time ago.

Lieberthal, Fasano, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Bell, Nunez, Perez, Burrell, Rowand, Abreu, Michaels, Victorino. That's 13. Lieber, Myers, Lidle, Franklin, Floyd. That's 18. Gordon, Madson, Cormier, Geary, Fultz, That's 23. Tejeda is 24. Since the Phils value experience, I'd peg Lopez (due to actually being a Phillie for a bit last year) as the 25th man. It is only mid-January, but there is my projected opening day roster.


Anonymous Braveswin said...

Are you worried about Gordon at closer? He had some really good Yankee days in relief, but back in Chicago he was a little shaky at closer. Maybe it was the whole Gordon/Alfonseca/Borowski mix and match Chicago had going.

Have you heard of Cole Hamels? Over the weekend I picked up a Ryan Howard Bowman RC and saw many Hamels amongst the cards. I hope Howard has another good year, except for the times he plays Atlanta of course..

I do not like Tomas Perez, he's a Braves killer. He would always freakin pitch-hit to some game winning run. So, Matt Kata is in Phillies camp? I thought he would be apart of the future in the D'Backs infield along with Cintron at SS. Well, I just checked out Kata's stats and see why he was released, last year was pretty bad.

3:02 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

Any 38 year old pitcher not named Roger Clemens makes me nervous, but I think Tom Gordon will work out ok with the Phils. If he can put up the numbers he put up as a Cub (98 K's in just 69 innings) then I'd be very, very pleased.

Cole Hamels is the pride and joy of the Phillies minor league system. When healthy, he has been as good a lefthanded pitching prospect in baseball the past few seasons. The problem there is the "when healthy" part. Hamels always seems to be hurt and his recent occurance of back pain will prevent him from making the jump to the majors to start '06. I still am very high on Hamels as a prospect and hope to travel to Reading (the AA team) to see him as many times as I can during the season.

The Phils actually picked up Kata in the Tim Worrell trade last year. He'll be 27 this upcoming season and has yet to prove he is a major leaguer. I think he could still hook on somewhere as a utility guy, but you're guess on his future is as good as mine.

9:42 PM  

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