Since it's always fun to play pretend, here is my "If I was GM of the Phillies" scenario where I get to pretend that a multi-million dollar business entity like the Phillies organization would be willing to hand the reins to some punk kid running a sporadically updated Phillies website. But since we are all fans and we all are free to dream, here is exactly what I would try to do if I was named general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies tomorrow:
I am more than happy going into 2007 with the catching tandem of Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste handling duties behind the plate. I have plenty of confidence in Ruiz’s last three minor league seasons (his OPS in each of the last three minor league seasons: .822, .812, and .894) to hand him the bulk of the at bats at the catching spot early on in the season; a 2-1 ratio of games started compared with Coste would be ideal. I should point out that I have an illogical love for Carlos Ruiz and have followed his last four minor league seasons with much care; I haven’t had a true favorite Phillie since Bobby Abreu was dealt and it is a possibility that Ruiz could seize that highly sought after honor heading into 2007.
From April 21, 2006:
Quick note about Carlos Ruiz (who continues to hit the heck out of the ball down in AAA)...my new, best possible scenario prognostication for him is...Paul LoDuca...I think it's a pretty solid comparison...both players were late bloomers as pros, both with unconventional hitting styles for catchers, somewhat similar minor league stats, and, last but not least, extremely similar (in my mind anyway) batting stances and physiques...watching Ruiz at the plate reminds me so much of LoDuca, it's scary...just a thought.
LoDuca hit .320/.374/.543 in his first full big league season, by the way. It was obviously a heck of a season for LoDuca, but it wasn’t a great predictor for his future big league numbers – I mean, where did all that rookie season power come from anyway? That said, I don’t think any objective follower would object if Ruiz had a rookie season like LoDuca’s…or, for that matter, a career like his. Ruiz will be 28 years old on opening day, Chris Coste will be 34; both players are expected to earn the league minimum ($380,000).
I said earlier that I would be more than happy with Ruiz and Coste sharing the catching duties, but if an intriguing catching option pops up, I would not be adverse to adding a third backstop. Fortunately for the Phillies, an intriguing catching option has popped up. J.R. House was recently dropped by the Houston Astros off the 40-man roster and is now a free agent. House broke out big time as a prospect way back in 2000 when he hit a robust .348/.414/.586 in Low A ball as a catcher in the Pirates organization. Injuries (abdominal hernia, torn muscle, Tommy John surgery, rotator cuff surgery, mono) and the pressures of being a two-sport star (he holds the national high school record with 10 touchdown passes in a championship game and actually threw 4 passes for West Virginia in 2005 – almost ten years after deciding to play pro baseball rather than sign with the Mountaineers out of high school) have held him back as a ballplayer, but his 2006 numbers are very, very encouraging: his combined line of .345/.392/.521 in 493 at bats split between AA and AAA is nothing to sneeze at.
House will be 27 in a few weeks and should be willing to sign with a team willing to give him a guaranteed big league contract ($380,000). I’m not typically a fan of having a third catcher on the roster, but the flexibility that both Coste (capable of playing first and third) and House (capable of playing first) provide make the idea possible. Having three catchers on the roster also frees up one of the three as a pinch hitter on any given night – the Phillies bench was so underwhelming last year that it would be a welcome sight to see Coste, House, or Ruiz come up to the plate in a tight late inning spot. Adding House to the roster could also pay off in the long-term – he is still relatively young and the hidden benefit of his many minor league injuries is the lack of wear and tear on his body from catching a ton of innings. A move like this would take some big time guts on the part of the Phillies, but the potential payoff is huge.
Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste, J.R. House
Total Cost: $1.140 million
Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins are part of the Phillies core and should all be in Philadelphia for a good, long time. Patching up the black hole that is known as third base will take a whole lot of creativity and open-mindedness by the Phillies organization – luckily, they are free to use any of my ideas at no charge. I see about a half dozen possible solutions on the free agent/trade market, but there are very few players that will realistically be available that can man the position all by themselves. My solution to this: a good, old-fashioned platoon.
The Phillies, as of this second, have two spots to fill in their everyday lineup going into ‘07: third base and an outfield position. They have also stated that one of their offseason goals is finding another righty bat to protect Ryan Howard in the lineup. We can then put two and two together, and see that a power hitting, righty third baseman or outfielder is what the team wants. Finding a power hitting, righthanded third baseman would be ideal, but rather difficult to accomplish – Aramis Ramirez would be perfect, but there are so many hurdles that need to be jumped for that to happen that it isn’t worth mentioning at the moment. There are a few other options at third available, but none that jump out as rock solid additions that will contribute consistently going forward. Again, my solution to this problem can be found in a platoon.
Mark DeRosa put up an OPS of .983 in 146 at bats against lefthanders last season. He posted an OPS of .876 against lefties in the three year stretch from 2003-2005 (291 at bats). DeRosa would be a perfect fit as a lefty masher in the Phillies lineup and the UPenn grad could be very receptive to returning home to play for the Phils. He also gives you incredible flexibility on days he is not in the starting lineup as he has played every position on the diamond in his career with the exception of centerfield. I have no real idea what kind of market there will be for DeRosa’s services, but I think a two-year deal that pays about $7 million total would be a competitive offer. DeRosa at $3 million in 2007 would be a great fit for the Phillies. If the Phillies strike out on DeRosa, I would be more than happy to move on to former Marlins infielder Wes Helms. He probably deserves offers in the same range I expect DeRosa to get, but I bet he winds up being the cheaper option of the two. Helms really took to his role as a reserve last season and had a career year (.965 OPS in 240 at bats), but has previously shown himself to be stronger against lefties than righties (.886 OPS against lefties in 262 at bats from 2003-2005). Either Helms or DeRosa works for me, but I think DeRosa is a tad more desirable because of his versatility.
Now that we have a third baseman who can hit lefties, we of course need the more important half of any platoon – it’s time to find someone that can handle righties.
The best option as I see it on the free agent market is Russell Branyan (.894 OPS against righties in 510 at bats from ’03-’05, pretty even split in OPS in ’06). Unfortunately, it appears that the Padres have a $1 million option on him and they’d be fools to decline it. Assuming he isn’t available, I’d turn my sights to the trade market and try to snag a player that has actually been compared to Branyan at times – 26-year old Angels third baseman Dallas McPherson. A Michael Bourn for Dallas McPherson would give both players a fresh start in an organization that could provide regular playing time as early as opening day ’07. McPherson’s job with the Phillies would be to play a solid third (although both Nunez and DeRosa could sub for defense in the late innings), keep his back healthy (I consider his aching back the number one reason for his struggles in recent years and it is apparently now as healthy as it has been in years), and hit the heck out of righthanded pitchers.
Corey Koskie could also be an option here if the Phillies decide to explore the trade route. It has been rumored that not only will the Brewers look to move Koskie this offseason, but they will also be very open to picking up a good chunk of the $5.75 million he is owed in 2007. If the Brewers pick up at least $2 million in salary, then the Phillies could get themselves an undervalued commodity that could be used as the righty hitting half of their third base platoon. Koskie had an OPS of .857 against righthanded pitching in the three year stretch preceding his injury plagued 2006. The more I think about Koskie, the more I like the idea…but if my deal of Bourn for McPherson is feasible (I’d be willing to add a low level arm to make it work if need be), I think that is the move to make.
Abraham Nunez will be back as a late inning defensive replacement, pinch-bunter, and backup middle infielder. There is no way that he is bad in 2007 as he was in 2006…right?
Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Dallas McPherson/Mark DeRosa, Abraham Nunez
Total Cost: ($500,000 + $4.5 million + $8 million + $380,000 + $3 million + $2.1 million) = $18.480 million
The Gary Sheffield situation as gotten too complicated for me to rationally expect the Phillies to get involved, so I made the sacrifice and scratched him off of my personal offseason wishlist. With Shef out of the picture, please allow me to introduce the newest member of my version of the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies – free agent OF Moises Alou. Alou decides to join the a Phillies team very close to breaking through to the postseason after accepting a two year contract worth $17 million. Alou is similar to Sheffield in a lot of ways – both guys are older, righthanded hitting corner outfielders coming off of somewhat injury plagued seasons – but different enough in a lot of key areas that ought to appeal to the Phils – Alou will be cheaper and is far less of a sourpuss in the clubhouse. Alou would join an outfield already occupied by returning starters Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino. Jeff Conine is a bat off the bench/fourth outfielder already under contract, and Chris Roberson makes a fine fifth outfielder/pinch runner/defensive sub for Burrell.
If you really want to go platoon crazy and Moises Alou isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to check out the splits of Frank Catalanotto and Jose Cruz Jr. (you don’t really have to check on your own, I have them here: Cat regularly posts .800+ OPS figures against righties and Cruz destroys lefties to the tune of a .885 OPS in the three year stretch from ’03-’05). Another option would be Jose Guillen – a useful player coming off a year completely wrecked by injuries. I have no idea what kind of contract he’ll get (I’d hope for a one year, make-good deal worth $3-$5 million) and he has something of a negative reputation in the clubhouse, so his coming to Philly is a stretch.
The best outfielder that is likely to be made available this offseason will be Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford. It would probably take a package featuring both Carlos Carrasco and Gio Gonzalez to land him, a package that is almost definitely worth it but still very, very difficult to pull the trigger on. My initial offer to Tampa would be Gonzalez, Jason Jaramillo, Welinson Baez, and Clay Harris (Gonzalez and Jaramillo being the headliners of this deal). In the end I don’t think Crawford coming to Philly is all that realistic a possibility, but it is something to keep in mind as the offseason events unfold.
Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Moises Alou, Jeff Conine, Chris Roberson
Total Cost: ($13 million + $380,000 + $8.5 million + $1.45 million + $380,000) = $23.710 million
Running Total Cost for All Position Players (14 total) = $43.330 million
SS Jimmy Rollins
2B Chase Utley
RF Pat Burrell
1B Ryan Howard
LF Moises Alou
3B Dallas McPherson
CF Shane Victorino
C Carlos Ruiz
SS Jimmy Rollins
C Carlos Ruiz
RF Pat Burrell
1B Ryan Howard
2B Chase Utley
LF Moises Alou
3B Mark DeRosa
CF Shane Victorino
C/1B/3B Chris Coste
1/1B J.R. House
IF Abe Nunez
(UTIL DeRosa or 3B/1B McPherson)
OF/1B Jeff Conine
OF Chris Roberson
Pitching staff ideas come Monday…