CD's Connect The Dots... Not Left Out

Ronny Paulino

The annual baseball winter meetings are often filled with a cornucopia of hardball news, from player trades to free agent inkings. Historically the Phillies have contributed to that news in some way and 2009 proved no different. In controversial fashion the team was once again...not left out.

In many respects, the word "left" has been an almost pejorative word for the few question marks surrounding the off-season for the reigning baseball world champions. To wit...who will be patrolling "left" field come April 5 when the team takes to the diamond against the Atlanta Braves? And whither "left"-handed starting pitcher Jamie Moyer, he of local fame and a 16 win season, neither of which is easily replaceable?

Admittedly the Phillies waited until the end of the winter meetings to supply the answers to both questions but as Ruben Amaro and Company boarded their jets for home it appears that they have answered the first question completely and have at least formulated a sound plan that may well soon lead to the answer for the second question.

Left [there is that word again!] handed hitting Raul Ibanez is the answer to the first question and a two-year, 15 million dollar offer may well be enough to entice Moyer back to end his career in the City of Brotherly Love. In both cases, the players represent somewhat of a risk for the team because of their advanced ages. Ibanez will start the 2009 season as a 37 year old and Moyer's age is a well chronicled 46.

Although Ibanez comes with an outstanding resume of baseball success, including an outstanding '08 campaign in Seattle, his signing did not meet with universal appeal in Philadelphia and for many reasons that have nothing to do with his talents alone. He signed a three-year deal valued at 30 million dollars.

As for Moyer, the signing will allay the fears of the phanatics who thought that the stylish southpaw should be allowed to return unless his contract demands proved far more cumbersome than they appeared to be. A two-year deal seems more than fair, even considering his advanced age of 46, and if the deal eventually comes in at about 15 million, this seems more than fair for a hurler who has been part pitcher, part instructor and part sage adviser for a team that was badly in need of all three when he was first acquired. Consider the first year of the deal as a reward for his present skills and the second year as a reward for his past services. In any event, two years would be more than fair.

The team also made a somewhat minor trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the winter meetings in a swap of catchers, Jason Jaramillo and Ronny Paulino. The Phils dealt the switch-hitting Jaramillo to the Bucs for the right-handed hitting Paulino, a deal that seemed to insure that A] incumbent veteran Chris Coste would soon be moved and B] hot shot rookie Lou Marson would open the '09 campaign in Triple-A after much conjecture that he might make the teams roster out of spring training.

There has also been much speculation that the Phightins' are in the market for another veteran relief pitcher, one that could hurl multiple innings on a regular basis. Reports had the team negotiating seriously with former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Chan Ho Park for this role but it would seem premature to assume this deal will take place simply because Park has indicated a desire to be a starting pitcher and his agent is Scott Boras, notorious for his aversion to sending his clients to Philadelphia at almost any price. If the Park negotiations eventually prove fruitless, look for the Phillies to continue their pursuit of a right-handed relief pitcher via trade or the free agency route.

With all this whirlwind activity taking place in such a short amount of time it is not too early to assess the moves and conjecture just how they will play out for a team hoping to repeat as champions of the baseball world in 2009. Certainly the signing of Ibanez and Moyer and the deal for Paulino have gone a long way towards determining the final roster in Philadelphia, though spring training in still two months away. Let's examine the moves individually as well as collectively.

The controversial signing of Raul Ibanez has already caused quite a stir among the Philadelphia masses because his signature came with a big price. First and foremost, it made certain the departure of long time Phillie left fielder, slugger Pat Burrell, after nine seasons. This departure undoubtedly will be met with a mixture of resignation, consternation and anticipation for the teams always vocal phan base. Burrell was one of the more controversial figures during his tenure with the team and in many respects represented almost a microcosm of the teams fortunes, both as long time losers to eventual champions of the world.

Equally confusing to many is the addition of yet another left-handed hitter in Ibanez. One of the main reasons for the justification in dealing former Phillie Bobby Abreu back in the summer of 2006 was that his left-handed bat was a detriment to the potential advancement of fellow lefty hitters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Indeed, Pat Burrell provided a welcome protection base with his righty bat in the middle of the order, something that Ibanez will be unable to offer. It seems certain that the Phillies will not be able to offer a 3-4-5 middle of the order lineup that features Utley, Howard and Ibanez back-to-back-to-back.

This would only invite every opposing manager to bring him even his most mediocre left-handed reliever on an almost nightly basis to face the Phillie trio. Manager Charlie Manuel will need to find a way to wisely separate the Phillie threesome, probably by placing righty Jayson Werth between the stances of Howard and Ibanez.

Yet another reason for the dubious response to the acquisition of Ibanez is the cost involved for a 37 year old player, albeit one that is still very productive. Not only was the price tag 30 million dollars spread over three seasons, but since Ibanez was a Type-A free agent offered arbitration by his former team, the Seattle Mariners, he will cost the Phils their first round draft pick in next June's amateur draft. For a team that has netted no less than Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers and the departing Pat Burrell with past first round picks, this does seem a steep price to pay.

Nevertheless, there are some compelling reasons to champion this signing, not the least of which is Ibanez's seeming maturation as a ball player with each advancing season. Clearly to this point, Ibanez has not been a player who has declined with age. During the past three seasons he has seen his batting average increase from .289 to .291 and then to a .293 average in 2008. All the while he has averaged 26 home runs and 113 RBI over the same corresponding period.

It is also worth noting that these numbers were compiled while performing at Safeco Field, a notorious pitchers park. It may also be worth noting that he hit 43 doubles in a spacious park and many of those doubles are likely to be home runs at the more hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park.

There have also been some voiced concerns about his defense but it seems safe to say that he is much less likely to be replaced on an almost nightly basis for defensive purposes than was the slow footed Burrell. His arm is adequate, especially for a left fielder and he is reported to be a very solid citizen in the clubhouse.

If history is any indication, the Phils should expect to get diminishing returns on the production rates of Raul Ibanez. There is every reason to believe that he will more than earn his salary during the first season with a bit less offensive production through the remaining two years of the deal. For a team that is justifiably determined to defend their crown to the best of their ability, Raul Ibanez is likely to provide another solid bat in the middle of the order.

The signing of Ibanez also puts to rest any thoughts of a platoon system in left field. the smooth swinging lefty is an every day player, as witnessed by his 162 games played last year. The Phillie outfield now figures to consist of Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Ibanez with Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs in reserve. Look for young power hitting prospect John Mayberry Jr. to eventually thrust his right-handed hitting bat into the equation somehow and if and when this happens, either Jenkins or Stairs is likely to be jettisoned.

Make no mistake. Opposing right-handed hurlers will quake whenever facing the lefty stances of Mssrs. Utley, Howard and Ibanez. What will be important is that righty hitters like Pedro Feliz and Jayson Werth along with the switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino do a good job of protecting the Phillie lefties when they do encounter a southpaw pitcher.

With Moyer likely in tow the Phillies starting rotation seems all but set. Certainly post-season star Cole Hamels has earned the mantle of "staff ace" and might well be in line for a multi-year contract this off-season. The Phils hope that righty Brett Myers can continue his maturation process and remain stable as the number two starter on the staff. Once Moyer re-signs he will slot in comfortably as the number three hurler with righty Joe Blanton pegged for the fourth spot in the rotation.

No less a word than intriguing would define the potential pitcher who will occupy the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Incumbent Kyle Kendrick, who won 11 games before faltering last season, is certain to vie for the spot but will be pressed by youngsters J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco. Kendrick, who has been mentioned prominently in off-season trade rumors, must regain the confidence in his fastball to win back the starting spot that he relinquished last September to southpaw J.A. Happ.

Happ, the stylish southpaw who pitched very effectively in his September starts, figures in the rotation somewhere down the line unless he is moved in a deal. Much like Kendrick, the lefty has been prominently mentioned in several off-season trades, most notably for Chicago Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa. To their credit, the Phils have on more than one occasion indicated their reluctance to part with the lanky and talented ex-Northwestern star.

If the Phils are naturally reluctant to part with Happ, they are absolutely determined to resist dealing young Carlos Carrasco, arguably the best prospect in what now is a fairly deep Phillie pharm system. Carrasco has everything it takes to someday take his place among the top of the rotation starting pitchers in Philadelphia and it would surprise no one if he was pitching at Citizens Bank Park sometime next summer. Carlos Carrasco, a name to remember.

The Phillies have made little attempt to disguise their desire to bring in one more solid relief pitcher, preferably a right-hander. Someone who can come into a game and hurl two innings at a time in order to protect the arms of J. C. Romero, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge for the final innings of a game. Certainly Chad Durbin fulfilled that role effectively last year but the team would like to add at least one arm since the attrition rate of relief pitchers from year to year is a high one.

With this in mind, it is understandable the rumors of an impending deal between the Phils and veteran righty Chan Ho Park would surface. In fact, many reports indicated the signing was "imminent." Perhaps, but probably not. As previously mentioned, Park is represented by long time Phillie antagonist Scott Boras, an agent well known for floating rumors whenever they serve his purposes, regardless of the validity of said rumors.

It seems quite conceivable that Boras wants Park to sign elsewhere [perhaps back with the Dodgers or somewhere else on the West Coast] and floated the Phillie rumor to perhaps cause some consternation with the real team of Park's choice. It is also well known that Chan Ho Park wishes to be a starting pitcher again after several seasons in the bullpen and he is unlikely to even compete for a starting berth in Philadelphia.

Should the team eventually ink the Korean righty they would be bringing in a hurler who had a very solid 2008 campaign. He was healthy again for the first time in several years and pitched in 54 games, all but five of them as a relief pitcher. His record was 4-4 with a 3.40 ERA and hurled 95 innings with 79 strikeouts. It is well worth noting that Park has not started regularly since 2006 when he was pitching in San Diego.

If Park signs elsewhere, watch for the Phillies to renew their pursuit of someone like righty Braden Looper, formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals. Looper, whose uncle Benny Looper works for the Phillies, was a starting pitcher in 2008 with the Cards and fashioned a 12-14 record. However, he has effectively pitched out of the bullpen in the past and might well enjoy a return to the pen given the proper motivation. Pitching for the World Champions might well provide that motivation. Stay tuned on Looper.

At first glance the deal for catcher Ronny Paulino seems a minor move, nothing more than a small transaction of one former catching prospect for another. Indeed, catcher Jason Jaramillo's star has dimmed considerably after several seasons at the top of the Phillie catching prospect list. In defense of Jaramillo, he played on an absolutely abysmal Triple-A Lehigh Valley club in '08 and the losing had to wear on the switch-hitting 26 year old. Still, he hit .266 in his second season in Triple-A and had once been considered the future starting catcher in Philadelphia.

Several things have happened to change that thinking. For one thing, Carlos Ruiz has taken the job and done just enough to maintain his role as the starting backstop, at least for the early part of 2009. For another, the emergence of young Lou Marson has completely revamped the thinking of the Phillie braintrust. No longer is Marson considered merely a prospect. He is now considered a future star in the making, and one of the very best prospects in baseball. It will surprise no one if he is starting in Philadelphia by the end of the '09 campaign.

The Phils also have a plethora of outstanding young catching prospects, including Travis D'Arnaud, Joel Naughton and Sebastian Valle. In short, the team was no longer interested in the potential of Jaramillo but rather the immediate production of someone like Ronny Paulino. Whether they have guessed right or not remains to be seen as it should be noted that former Phillie minor league manager John Russell is the current skipper in Pittsburgh and wanted Jaramillo in the deal.

As for Paulino, the proof will eventually be in the pudding. Should he return to the form that made him an outstanding prospect in 2006-07 the Phils will have found their backup to Ruiz. During those two seasons, Paulino hit .310 and .263 with home run totals of 6 and 11 and back-to-back campaigns with 55 RBI. Respectable numbers, and more than enough to satisfy the Phils. However, Paulino took a giant step backwards in 2008 and was finally banished to the minor leagues in July.

His final numbers were quite pedestrian, a .212 batting average and but two home runs and 18 RBI. Perhaps even more condemning were the whispers of a bad attitude, lazy work habits and an inability to concentrate on the task at hand. Admittedly, he would not be the first person to suffer from these ailments in Pittsburgh, given the continual losing on a yearly basis, but that will not be an excuse in Philadelphia. The back up job is his for the taking.

Of course, in baseball as in life, one mans gain is another mans loss and if Paulino succeeds, that will make veteran Chris Coste and his feel good story quite expendable. While certainly appreciative of Coste's efforts during the past two years, the reality is that the more he played the less effective he was and he was never going to be the quintessential defensive catcher that Manuel and Company look for in a backstop. Watch for the Phillies to move Coste in a trade if Paulino works out well, and moving a major league catcher is rarely a difficult task.

There may be one more small twist to the Ronny Paulino acquisition, albeit a tiny one and probably not something that new Phillie GM Ruben Amaro would be particularly adept at just yet. Still, it is worth noting that the Florida Marlins are in need of a catcher and have openly coveted Paulino since last season.

Maybe, just maybe, Amaro has his eye on someone in the Marlins system and hopes to use Paulino as his trading chip. This is a tool seldom perfected by any but the very best major league general managers so if Amaro eventually performs this small bit of GM magic, it will be a large and well earned feather in his cap. More than likely though, he acquired Paulino to play him and not to trade him.

Ruben Amaro now has several trading chips at his disposal, though none of them are likely to be seen as any more than spare parts to other organizations. In addition to Coste, the Phils may well wish to move either Jenkins or Stairs in a minor move and have let it be known that they will deal pitcher Adam Eaton for a song to any willing partner. Well, if not a song then no more than one million dollars and a song. Eaton is scheduled to make nine million of the final year of his three-year contract and the Phils have indicated they will pay up to eight million of that contract if only a team will take him off their hands. Given the state of pitching today in major league baseball, don't be surprised if some team doesn't take the bait sometime in the spring.

Not as likely to be moved are pitchers Kyle Kendrick and J.A. Happ and infielder Jason Donald. Amaro indicated that all three were very much in demand during the winter meetings and all could have been had, but for a high price tag. The Phils contemplated dealing Donald, a budding infield star, for outfielder Delmon Young of the Minnesota Twins but with the signing of Ibanez, that deal is now dead. As previously mentioned, the Phils tried to pry infielder Mark DeRosa from the Cubs as part of a three team deal with the Padres and were willing to part with either Happ or Kendrick in the trade but the Cubs were unwilling or unable to make the deal for Padre ace right-hander, Jake Peavy. Again, given the deal for Ibanez, the acquisition of DeRosa now seems somewhat superfluous.

Yet, in the first 40 days of Amaro's new administration he has shown an ability to make the risky move, despite the protestations of many other knowledgeable baseball people. The dealing of former top draft pick Greg Golson for young power-hitting prospect John Mayberry Jr. was seen by some as a dubious move but given the Phillies penchant for hitting home runs in their hitter friendly ball park, the deal looks like a potential winner down the line for Amaro.

The same holds true of the Paulino deal. He is likely to be rejuvenated in a winning organization and might just provide some much needed power behind the plate, something that Ruiz is loathe to offer. If the Phils sign Moyer and Park, and the likelihood is that at least one of these transactions gets done, the pitching staff will quietly fall into place and the controversial signing of outfielder Raul Ibanez is a move that definitely provides Amaro with an immediate imprint on the team he has now been entrusted with guiding.

It was once said that "the chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions." Certainly the deal for Ibanez shows that at least for the time being, Ruben Amaro has chosen to throw caution to the wind. With these moves, the Phils have decided to join the New York Mets, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in aggressively pursuing talent wherever they can find it.

Even in a difficult economy the daily task of a professional baseball team is to attempt to build the best team possible, given the financial restraints inevitably placed on every club. In the end, the question becomes, which teams choose to be "in" and which teams choose to be "out." Clearly, the Phillies have placed their names authoritatively on the list of teams decidedly...not left out.

Spring Training Announcement!!! What better way to celebrate the 2008 Champions than to attend Spring Training in Clearwater, Florida with Allen Ariza [aka CD from the Left Coast]. We will spend 4 days, March 20-23 at the Phillies spring site, watching the team prepare to defend their title while also visiting with the players in the sun and fun that only Florida can provide. The trip will include 3 nights stay at a 3 star local hotel, several outstanding meals, many baseball related activities, and at least two spring training games. For more information on this once in a lifetime opportunity, please email me at allenariza@earthlink.net for more information and cost. See you in Clearwater!!!

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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