Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Making Sense of It All

How does Gonzalez fit on this team? What will be done about David Bell? Why is Abraham Nunez even here? Should Danny Sandoval and Matt Kata start shagging flies right this minute? How in the world did Tomas Perez even get a 2-year deal (with an option!) in the first place? (Yesterday’s post)

Jeez, what kind of crazed egomaniac publicly quotes himself? I’ll tell you what kind – this kind! In my defense, I left out the last line about Ed Wade so at least I spared the agony of reading my bad jokes anymore than you have to. In all seriousness, the above questions raised yesterday serve as a delightful intro to today’s topic/question: what the heck does the Alex Gonzalez signing mean to the makeup of the Philadelphia Phillies?

Well in case you were so worried that Gonzalez and the Phillies wouldn’t agree on an appropriate salary figure for 2006 that you couldn’t sleep at all last night (I won’t name names…), you can rest easy now that Alex Gonzalez is officially a Philadelphia Phillie after signing a one-year deal worth $750,000 earlier today. The Phillies now have a bit of a surplus at the middle infield positions – Alex Gonzalez, Abraham Nunez, and Tomas Perez all have guaranteed deals in ’06 while Matt Kata and Danny Sandoval also remain in contention to earn bench spots with the big club. There is also the matter of figuring out what will become of one David Michael Bell. Let’s see if we can figure this all out.

On David Bell…I have a hunch that he can still play a little – obviously not at the All-Star caliber level we’ve come to expect out of him (conveying sarcasm through the written word is a bitch, I learned that the hard way when I was accused of being a Ryan Franklin fan a few days ago), but I believe that he is still capable of better than anything the combined efforts of Abe Nunez, Alex Gonzalez, or any other utility guy the Phillies elect to bring in can do (though this may be seem like some kind of backhanded compliment, it is still in fact a compliment). I know claiming to have a “hunch” about a player is counterintuitive to most everything written on this site (I’d say things are fairly stat driven around here, no?), but it is a feeling I can’t shake. His 2005 season was just so far out of line with his generally decent career numbers, it seems like he is at least a reasonable candidate for some kind of bounce back year in 2006. I don’t have a say in personnel matters with the Phillies, so pretty much everything I said in the past few sentence might be useless to you dear reader since it seems pretty clear that the new Phillies regime thinks quite differently than I do; Bell has been rumored in more than a few under the radar deals this offseason and Phils GM Pat Gillick has made no secret of his desire to upgrade at third base in ’06. The Abraham Nunez signing was indicative of this – Nunez was signed because Gillick viewed him as having the potential to be a solid fill in at third for the 2006 season after he could find a way to deal Bell this offseason. No deal involving Bell went down (remember how close he was to becoming a Dodger?) and the Phils were stuck with two “starting quality” third basemen. Not a problem in the eyes of the Phils brass though, as Nunez was still viewed by the organization as an upgrade over Ramon Martinez as the first backup infielder off the bench. Bell would play third, Nunez would be the top infielder, and Tomas Perez would be back as the second infielder off the bench. Sal Fasano would likely win the backup catcher job over Carlos Ruiz (Fasano is a proven veteran after all…) and Shane Victorino would be the top backup outfielder. All that was missing was a fifth outfielder – after this acquisition or promotion the Phillies 13-man position player roster would be all set. And then they went out and signed Alex Gonzalez. Not necessarily a bad move or anything; it’s just that it’s a curious one.

Let’s assume David Bell isn’t going anywhere – a very good assumption despite the Phillies looking to move him (who wants him now?) since I’d put the odds at him being moved between now and when the season starts at around 25-1. It’s safe to pencil Bell in as the starting third baseman at this point. Abraham Nunez and Alex Gonzalez are both assured spots on this team – they are both locks to be here. Victorino will obviously be here and a spot will also be reserved for a backup catcher. This leaves one spot available. This spot just so happens to be the spot where a team would typically go with another reserve outfielder. The Phillies, always looking to keep their fans on their toes, came forth with this bit of pre-spring training logic today in the Inquirer:

Manuel said yesterday from his Winter Haven, Fla., home that he would like to see Gonzalez, who has spent the majority of his 12-year career as a shortstop, and infielder Abraham Nunez play a little in the outfield this spring. The Phillies suddenly are an outfielder short after they traded Jason Michaels to the Cleveland Indians for relief pitcher Arthur Rhodes. Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand and Shane Victorino are considered the team's top four outfielders, with a fifth spot open. The Phillies also could make a trade in the spring to get a fifth outfielder. "I think those guys could play out there," Manuel said of Gonzalez and Nunez. "Tomas [Perez] is still in the mix. I want to play [Matt] Kata in the outfield. You know what? We want the best team out there. So there's going to be some competition. Going in, people are going to have to play. We've got a lot of players in the mix, and we want to see what our best team is going to be."

Phils manager Charlie Manuel is looking forward to seeing Nunez, Gonzalez, and Kata play the outfield this spring. This is a terrible idea for a few reasons. Believing that either Nunez or Gonzalez is capable enough to play the outfield creates a spot on the roster for a non-outfielder to make the team…seems like Tomas Perez would be that guy to me. Believing Kata can work as an outfielder would mean that he’d make the team as the last bench option – the silver lining there is that Tomas Perez would be booted from the team (though not before collecting $775,000 in severance pay on the way out). I just don’t get the feeling Sandoval will be given a fair shot at all to win a job which is a shame for all parties involved, but not the end of the world. There are worst things than having Sandoval serving as insurance at the AAA level in something unforeseen occurs.

So the first 4 bench spots look to be locks with the only real competition at the last spot. The most realistic look at the roster points to this being the 2006 bench setup: Nunez, Gonzalez, Victorino, Backup Catcher, Kata/Perez. It is still possible that the Phillies could come to spring training and not be overly impressed by Nunez, Gonzalez, or Kata’s progress in the outfield. Then a backup outfielder could be sought via free agency or through promoting from within. It is also possible that a deal could be made to bring in a backup outfielder through a trade of one of the spare parts in the infield. I’m not so sure what team is willing to add Tomas Perez or Matt Kata to their roster, but anything is possible I suppose.

In a perfect world, the Phillies would come to their senses and realize that sticking a marginal backup infielder in the outfield is not a good solution to solving the problem of an offensively below average bench. There is no player on this bench that an opposing manager would have to do any extra late game strategizing for. The sight of Abe Nunez striding to the plate in a tense late game situation isn’t going to strike fear into the collective heart of any opposing team. If the plan to try Nunez, Gonzalez, or Kata in the outfield is carried out and the last roster spot is given to either Kata or Tomas Perez and not a real major league outfielder, then the bench will cost the ballclub games in 2006 – you can count on it.


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