Saturday, March 25, 2006

Rheal Rumors

The Phillies played 20 innings in two days, but come out of the whole experience without a win. After a 4-4 tie with the Braves on Wednesday, the Phils lost to the Detroit Tigers in 10 innings on Thursday by a score of 8-7. Ryan Howard was the story of the day for the Phils after hitting his 10th homerun of the spring, an official Phillies record. Chris Coste continued to clobber the ball with a perfect 2 for 2 day with an RBI. Chris Roberson cooled off considerably with an 0 for 5 afternoon with five men left on base. The pitching was downright comical to me - the players I've been pushing for spots on the team got rocked, and the players I've doubted performed very well. Chris Booker, Aquilino Lopez, and Ryan Cameron were all beaten up; Aaron Fultz, Rheal Cormier (more on him later...), and Julio Santana were all excellent. Go figure.

The Tigers are the team that has been linked to Rheal Cormier most often over the past few days. Various media outlets have reported some variation on the basic story that the Tigers are one of the few teams out there with interest in Cormier if the Phils were looking to deal. It goes without saying that the Phillies will not be getting Justin Verlander or Joel Zumaya in return for their overpaid, aging lefty reliever, but the Tigers do have some under the radar minor league talent that could make a deal work. I'm convinced that MLB teams often don't employ people with great long-term strategies and desperation, in this case that inexplicable obsession with acquiring a lefty for the pen the Tigers seem to exhibit, can make general managers do some pretty wacky things.

The value of the player the Phillies get in return for Cormier is relative to the amount of cash they are willing to cover to pay Cormier's remaining salary. Think of it as a small scale Jim Thome situation - the more salary the team covers, the better value they get back; the less salary, the lesser the quality of the prospect would be. All of this is surely self explanatory and I apologize if anybody feels their intelligence has been put into question, but it never hurts to go over details every so often, right?

So, what would be fair value for Cormier anyway? And do the Tigers have the right young player to make a deal work? Outside of the aforementioned Verlander and Zumaya, the Tigers farm system is thin. The bulk of the talent after those two pitchers are in the form of June 2005 draftees - Cameron Maybin, Jeff Larish, Kevin Whelan are all '05 draftees that appear on many a Tigers top ten prospect list.

Whelan, a college reliever with closer potential, looks to be a fast riser through the system and, based on the way teams seem to overvalue veteran relievers and undervalue minor league relievers, seems to me like guy worth asking around about as a possible pickup. He would have to be included as a PTBNL (player to be named later) because teams can not officially trade draft picks until a year goes by after the signing of their pro contracts. Whelan may be setting the bar a bit too high (maybe even way too high), but still could be a good name to get the ball rolling in discussions.

The Tigers also have a good bit of third base depth in their system. None of the guys listed below profile as sure fire major league starters; in fact, the majority of the guys are even beyond the age where they can even be called prospects at all and now can only hope to catch on as backups somewhere.

Jack Hannahan is a 26-year old third baseman with a glove at third that both scouts and stats believe is special. There is a minor problem with Hannahan's game however - he can't hit. A guy like him (older, clearly flawed but extraordinarily skilled in one area) just feels like the type of player Rheal Cormier could acquire.

Don Kelly is another player that profiles similarly to Hannahan - Kelly is a 26-year old third baseman/infielder looking for a shot to stick in the majors in some role, somewhere. He is a solid fielder at third and can also play a serviceable shortstop as well as a decent first base. His versatility in the field and slow to develop power makes it likely that his quickest route to the majors is by impressing a team enough to give him a job as a utility guy. Kelly hit very well in AA last season (.340/.402/.508), but he was an overaged prospect who later struggled big time after getting a promotion to AAA (.250/.306/.319). The Phillies may be overstocked with utility guy types this spring, but he'd make decent insurance at the AAA level.

Kody Kirkland is yet another good defensive third base prospect who has some questions about his bat. He'll turn 23 in June of this year and is expecting to get his first taste of AA to start the season off. Kirkland hit .266/.342/.470 last year in Lakeland (high A) with 16 homeruns, 24 doubles, 9 triples, and 12 steals in 15 tries. He is a big kid (6-4, 200 pounds) and his strong 2005 may have priced him out of the Phillies range in terms of a potential acquisition. It never hurts to ask about a guy though.

Ryan Raburn is the last infield prospect on my list that could possibly intrigue the Phillies. Raburn hit .253/.323/.437 with 19 homers and 22 doubles last season in AAA Toledo. He is primarily a second baseman these days, but has some experience at third and is believed to be capable of playing any of the infield spots in a pinch. He is going to have to hit better than he has in the past if he wants to stick in the major leagues, but this 25-year old still has a shot to get back to the majors (Raburn hit .138/.194/.172 in a brief 29 at bat stint in the bigs in '04).

Nook Logan and Marcus Thames are two outfielders off the Tigers major league roster that have been rumored to be available. It seems the Tigers have finally come to their senses and realized that Logan's ceiling as a major leaguer is as a fourth outfielder and pinch-runner. He is very, very fast and was called a "legitimately great center fielder" by Baseball Prospectus. Players who can run and play high caliber defense in center often find themselves in the majors for a long time. Logan has consistently hit around .260 wherever he has been as a pro, but he has absolutely no power (.335 slugging last year) and very little plate discipline. He'd have to get his batting average way up to have any kind of value as a hitter and the odds of that happening at this point (Logan is now 26 with a track record of just not hitting) appear to diminish by the second. He could still be a useful part on a major league club though.

Thames is a player currently in no-man's land. He has completely figured out AAA pitching by now (he hit an eye popping .340/.427/.679 in 314 at bats in '05 and an even better .329/.410/.735 in 273 at bats in '04), but consistently struggles when given shots in the bigs. Thames is now 29 years old, but I think the guy is a good enough hitter that he could help a team out in a backup outfielder role.

Or, the Phillies could demand a certain infielder with an unusually shaped peanut-esque noggin who just so happens to be perfectly suited to playing a good third base and hitting in the 2-hole...


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