Since this little site goes by the name ‘Phillies Baseball,’ I figure it is about time to actually talk a bit about…Phillies baseball. Pitchers and catchers have now had time to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with one another and shake off some of the offseason rust. Now things get serious. Now it becomes a daily game of which pitcher on the bubble can catch the manager’s eye. The Phillies will go into 2006 with a 12-man pitching staff – this much is known for sure. Who will the 12 guys be? Let’s take a look.
The starting rotation looks like it is set in stone: Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, Ryan Franklin, and Ryan Madson. Tom Gordon will be the closer with the three headed lefty monster of Arthur Rhodes, Aaron Fultz, and Rheal Cormier setting him up. There is an outside chance that something happens with Cormier between now and the start of the season, but don’t count on it. Our total is now…nine. Three more guys to go. I said way back on October 30th that Geoff Geary was a 99% lock to make this team. I make tons of dumb predictions, heck check that same link for others, but I liked that claim at the time and I will stand by it now. Pencil Geary in as arm number ten. This is where things get dicey.
What does Phillies.com beat writer Ken Mandel think about those last two bullpen vacancies? Mandel claims that because Santana signed an $800,000 guaranteed contract this offseason, he "appears to have a lock on one of the jobs." This is obviously good logic, but I have one minor quibble. According to some of the websites I trust most, Santana's contract does not guarantee the full $800,000; only the first $325,000 is guaranteed while the remaining $475,000 only goes into Julio's bank account after he makes the team out of spring training. Like I said, it is a minor quibble and there could be a mistake on my end - Mandel has much better sources than I do and it is likely he knows something I don't. The contract may have been guaranteed from the start or maybe the Phillies decided to guarantee the full amount after becoming more convinced that Santana would be a useful player. Who knows? It all boils down to Ken Mandel thinking Santana has a "lock" on one of the bullpen jobs and that has got to be considered useful information. Santana is the eleventh man in. One more spot to go.
The three remaining candidates, according to Mandel, are Chris Booker, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Robinson Tejeda. Now that’s a fun bunch. Booker may have been the favorite heading into camp based on the club’s enthusiasm over selecting him in the Rule 5 Draft, not to mention the fact they’d have to offer him back to the Nationals if he didn’t make the team out of spring training. Either he’d be on the team to start ’06 or he’d most likely be lost. Then…tragedy struck. Okay, that may be just a smidge overdramatic, but an old injury to Booker has surely complicated things this spring. Take it away, Ken… Booker's throwing debut has been slowed by a left knee injury. He had surgery in the offseason, experienced soreness during his rehabilitation, and been limited to light jogging and long-tossing. He hasn't been cleared him to throw off a mound.
This may seem like bad news, but it could be very beneficial to the Phillies. One of the most exploited loop holes of the Rule 5 Draft is the technique some teams employ of stashing a Rule Fiver on the disabled list to buy time in evaluating him. If Booker starts '06 on the DL, the Phillies will have a few extra weeks to decide what they want to do with him. Pretty clever, right? In reality, if the Phillies liked Booker enough I'm sure they could work out a deal with Washington that would enable them to acquire the real rights to Booker, not just the Rule 5 rights. The Phils could send a little something over to the Nats (a player to be named later would probably suffice) in order to actually make Booker a permanent member of the organization. Then the team could do whatever they wanted with him. Anyway, as it stands now the Phillies have got to be hoping that the DL trick works so that they can delay the decision and go with the guy that I think they really want to see win the coveted last spot in the pen.
Who is that guy? I think it is the one, the only, the...Ricardo Rodriguez. Why? Well, I'll apologize in advance because I think this may come off as negative. So, why Rodriguez? Well, because...the Phillies are dumb. Oh, and poorly run too. Ricardo Rodriguez was the big prize in the Vicente Padilla salary dump - the savings by unloading the Padilla contract, by the way, look a lot less valuable when you consider the rather reachable incentives in Ryan Franklin's that were just made public. Gillick himself said that there were "other reasons" behind the Padilla trade. That's fine, I can respect that. But the bottom line about the trade hasn't changed - the Phillies, as a baseball team, are worse for making what amonted to a Padilla/Franklin+Rodriguez swap; I can't imagine that point being argued from a pure baseball standpoint.
Rodriguez, as stated earlier, was the prize for dumping Padilla. The fans, by and large, realize that the Padilla trade didn't make a whole lot of sense. The pressure is now on the Phillies to prove to the doubters that they are right. If Rodriguez were to fail to make the team, then the Phillies would be admitting their mistake. I don't see that happening. In five weeks, we'll now for sure. Just for laughs, let's hear what Rodriguez has to say about the spring competition...
"I've never been a bullpen guy," Rodriguez said. "I'm fighting to make the staff. If [the bullpen] is what I'm fighting for, I hope they tell me, so I can prepare."
I love it when 27-year old journeymen guys (28 in May) with 39 games of big league experience make comments like that, don't you? Give me a break. It should also be noted that Rodriguez has no minor league options remaining (Geary still has options by the way...that little piece of knowledge makes me glad I said 99% and not 100%) and would have to pass through waivers before being outrighted to Scranton. If they don't use him, they could lose him. I think they'll make a point to use him.
Apparently Robinson Tejeda is also in the mix to win the last spot in the pen. I go back and forth on this one - he'd be the best option (especially with Booker starting on the DL) for a spot in the bullpen and he may actually be best suited for middle relief down the line, but at the same time he has more value long-term as a starting pitcher. In the end, it may just be best to send him to Scranton and let him start every fifth day. Tejeda is just 24 years old and is far from a finished product. His minor league BB/9 and K/BB ratios are not impressive at all and he has only pitched 28.1 innings at the AAA level. Tejeda and Gavin Floyd can go down to Scranton together, headline the rotation, and wait for the call that notifies them that Ryan Franklin has been busted for steroids again and they need to step into the big league rotation.
To close, with a rant...
Eude Brito, Yoel Hernandez, Ryan Cameron, Travis Minix, Brian Sanches, and the forgotten Aquilino Lopez are all also said to be in the mix. None (well, maybe Lopez) are likely to be taken seriously by the Phillies as they search Brito should join Tejeda and Floyd in the Red Baron rotation and be ready when called upon in case the Phillies decide the need yet another lefty for the bullpen. The other guys...they simply don't have much of a shot and it's a damn shame. I'm a sucker for relief pitching - I find it fascinating. To me, the Ryan Camerons and Travis Minixsss of the world should absolutely be given the shot to come in and provide the better than average work they are completely capable of for the minimum salary. Cameron, Minix, and Lopez can all step into a big league clubhouse right now and get the job done - I'm not getting carried away and predicting All-Star games and huge endorsement deals, but it seems painfully obvious that the 28-year old Cameron (9.29 K/9, 8.12 H/9 career) and 28-year old Minix (8.26 K/9, 8.86 H/9 career) at least have the basic skills necessary for some degree of success in the big leagues. These kind of players are not limited to any one team like the Phils - there are examples of pitchers all over the league that are all capable of doing well enough in the majors but are never given the opportunity.
Kevin Barry (ATL), Brady Borner (PIT), Jason Bulger (ATL), Josh L. Fields (CWS), Lee Gronkiewicz (TOR), Cesar Jimenez (SEA), Hong-Chih Kuo (LAD), Shawn Marcum (TOR), and Sendy Rleal (BAL) are just a few of the names out there that come to mind as guys who are ready to pitch in the big leagues but are jus not given the chance. Should you take your chances on the proven Scott Eyre for $11 million over 3 years or give one of (or some combination of) Barry/Borner/Bulger/Fields/Gronkiewicz/Jimenez/Kuo/Marcum/Rleal/
Minix/Cameron/Hernandez/Sanches/Lopez a shot? Okay, I'm done. I promise.
Back on topic...my prediction for the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff as of 2/23/06:
SPs Lieber, Myers, Lidle, Franklin, Madson (5)
RPs Gordon, Rhodes, Fultz, Cormier, Geary, Santana, Rodriguez (7)
Relief pitching really shouldn't get anybody this worked up...it can't possibly be healthy.