CD's Connect the Dots... Do The Right Thing

Moises Alou (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

With the recent agreement to make 3 year financial peace with Ryan Howard, the Phils head for spring training with nary a major decision to be made. Still, they must address the need for one more right handed hitter off the bench, not imperative but probably important. With this in mind, it seems prudent to hope that the team will..do the right thing.

In an initial off season that has proven to be an overwhelmingly successful endeavor, Phillie GM Ruben Amaro has still been somewhat criticized for his decision to bring in free agent left fielder Raul Ibanez at the cost of outgoing and popular long time Phil, Pat Burrell. The choice has proven a controversial one, not only because of the cost of doing business with Ibanez, to the tune of three-years/$31 million, but even more so because Ibanez adds yet another left-handed hitter to a seeming plethora of lefty hitting bats already in tow.

To wit, the fear is that with standout middle of the order sluggers like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard already on the roster, the addition of Ibanez to the middle of the order might cause the team to suffer at the hands of southpaw hurlers that otherwise might have been deemed no more than mediocre. This was always one of the best arguments for the continued presence of the righty hitting Burrell in the lineup, even when he was slumping at the plate. The suspicion is that with Utley, Howard and Ibanez poised to bat in 3-4-5 spots in the order, the team is likely to suffer whenever a left-handed hurler is on the opposition's mound.

Admittedly, this argument is not without merit, even though Ibanez had his best ever season against lefties in 2008 to the tune of a .308 average against southpaw slants while playing in Seattle. Still, this certainly was a reversal of fortune for the talented newcomer, as in the past he normally struggled against lefties while hitting very well against right-handed pitching. It would seem to behoove Amaro, based on lifetime numbers, to find a way to add a right-handed bat to the Phillie roster before the opening of the 2009 campaign if for no other reason than to guard against the possibility of a team leaning much too far to the left. Clearly, Amaro must be wise in bringing in a right-handed hitter and...do the right thing.

To his credit, the Phillie GM has acknowledged just such a need and even reached out to several veteran right-handed hitting free agents during the past several weeks. Unfortunately, the player who might well have been the best candidate to fulfill Amaro's off season right-hand hitting wish list, Ty Wigginton, recently signed a two-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles after seriously considering a one-year offer from the Phightins.

Wigginton would have been a most welcome addition to Philadelphia as he not only would have provided the club with a powerful right-handed bat off the bench [20 home runs in a mere 111 games with Houston in 2008] but is also a versatile and dependable defensive presence at third base, left field and second base. Not surprisingly these are quite possibly the three spots of most concern for Amaro and Company entering the opening stages of the '09 campaign. Not only do the Phils need a right-handed bat in left field on the days that Ibanez may need to be rested against tough southpaws but with incumbent third baseman Pedro Feliz and second sacker Chase Utley coming back from off season surgeries, Wigginton would have provided solid depth at both infield positions.

Still, it is hard to blame Wigginton for his choice of a two-year deal in Baltimore as opposed to a one-year offer in Philadelphia, especially given the fact that he was promised a starting spot with the Orioles while told he would be a utility player with the Phillies. The decision seems a rational one, albeit one that makes the quest for a right-handed bat off the bench a much more difficult one.

Two more names of interest that can safely be crossed off the wish list are veteran infielders Rich Aurillia and Kevin Millar, both of whom signed minor league deals with San Francisco and Toronto respectively. Either would have proven a valuable addition to the Phillies, particularly Millar, who not only provides another power bat off the bench but has always had the reputation as a "hard nosed" player, exactly the kind that seems well suited to the needs of the Phils.

With Wigginton, Aurillia and Millar crossed off the list, just who might still fulfill the valuable role on a Phillie bench that now would seem to include either catchers Chris Coste or Ronny Paulino, infielders Eric Bruntlett and Greg Dobbs and outfielders Matt Stairs and Geoff Jenkins. At first glance, this is an impressive list of bench candidates but as with the starting lineup, the list tilts a bit too far to the left, with Dobbs, Jenkins and Stairs all residing from the left-handed hitting side of the plate.

It would appear that Manager Charlie Manuel would prefer to select one of Coste or Paulino as his backup catcher, but not both, while replacing either Jenkins or Stairs with said right-handed bat. Of course, Dobbs and Bruntlett are quite valuable to the team and are in no danger of being replaced on the 25 man roster.

Amaro has indicated an interest in 42 year old outfielder Moises Alou and could still strike a deal with the lifetime .303 hitter sometime this spring. At first glance, this union would seem a natural one as Alou is a solid right-handed hitting left fielder who could well form with Ibanez the best tandem in baseball. Alou, who has proven quite injury prone as he has gotten older, still believes he can be an everyday player in the major leagues and is holding out for just such an offer, this despite the fact that he played only 15 games for the New York Mets in 2008 because of leg problems.

There might also be a problem with salary desires for Alou, as he was paid $7.5 million last season and the Phils are not looking to pay more than two or three million for the privilege of having a right-handed bat on the bench to open the '09 season. Still, given the recent contract offers to such free agent outfielders like Bobby Abreu, Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn and Garrett Anderson, it well might be that Alou's demands come down far enough for he and the Phils to find a mutually beneficial deal in the works.

Another interesting name to ponder is 38 year old infielder Mark Grudzielanek, formerly of the Kansas City Royals. During the past three campaigns, Grudzielanek has hit .299, .302 and .297 respectively. albeit with less productivity each season. In fact, this might prove precisely the reason that the right-handed hitting second baseman might find Philadelphia a desirable locale for the 2009 year. He is not only a capable second baseman, but could well prove valuable as a part-time third baseman and outfielder.

As with Alou, however, it appears playing time as well as salary might be factors to weigh against a potential deal. Grudzielanek made $4.5 million last season and is hoping for a salary of more than two million at this point. Still, it seems highly unlikely that he will find the market prepared to offer him anything near what he made last year so his is a name well worth remembering for the Phillies.

The player that seems to most interest the Phillies remains 35 year old Nomar Garciaparra, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, it appears that Garciaparra has indicated to Amaro that should he decide to play in 2009 it would be as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Apparently, Garciaparra is weighing the option of retirement versus playing one more season with the Phils. Health issues seem to be at the core of the decision making process for the veteran infielder and the Phillies seem more than inclined to wait until the middle of spring training for an answer.

Should he decide to cast his lot with the Phils, Garciaparra would be bringing a still potent power bat with him, though one that has seen his offensive output decrease with each season over the past three. After a standout '06 campaign in Los Angeles [.303, 20, 93] his numbers have been a bit more pedestrian in 2007-08. In 121 games in 2007 he hit a still respectable .283 but with only 7 home runs and 59 RBI and in 2008 he hit .264 in 55 games with but 8 home runs and 28 RBI. Still, the Phillies feel they can coax one last solid campaign out of the veteran infielder and currently he seems the odds on choice to fill the final bench role at Citizens Bank Park in 2009.

In the long shot but still worth mentioning department, watch for developments out of the Texas Rangers camp this spring. With the signing of Andruw Jones this week, the Rangers now have no less than six outfielders at their disposal and will undoubtedly be very inclined to move one of them, most likely either Frank Catalanotto or former Phillie phenom, Marlon Byrd. Both come with baggage however and neither might interest the Phils.

Catalanotto, another hard-nosed player in the Kevin Millar mold, has a $4 million contract for 2009 with a $2 million buyout for the 2010 season and those numbers are way beyond Amaro's desired numbers. The Rangers would likely have to partially pay some of this salary for the Phillies to be interested, though they have long desired the versatile Catalanotto in past trade talks between the two clubs.

The talented Byrd left Philadelphia in somewhat controversial surroundings several years ago and it seems unlikely that the Phils would care to revisit that scenario again anytime soon. Yet, the fact remains that Byrd has become a model citizen while in Texas and has proven to be quite an effective hitter during the past few seasons. In 2008, he hit .288 in 122 games with 10 home runs and 53 RBI. The negative to Byrd, outside of his former off field problems with the Phillies, is that he plays only the outfield positions whereas the club is looking to bring in someone with the versatility to play both the infield and outfield spots.

While it appears probable that Amaro will eventually solve his right-handed hitter situation from the outside, it is worth noting that the team does have two in-house prospects who could well solve the dilemma. Those prospects are infielder Jason Donald and recently acquired outfielder John Mayberry Jr. The Phillies are very high on both players but would prefer to develop their skills at the Triple-A level for one more season before exposing them to the rigors of major league baseball.

Still, if "need is the mother of invention" then both Donald and Mayberry might well get a second look this spring in Clearwater. Lets examine both players and see if there could be a natural fit for either of them. After all, this would certainly prove the best and most inexpensive solution to the problem and would continue to put on display the teams desire to build from within whenever possible.

Jason Donald is a fascinating player, much more substance than style if ever a player existed. Scouts are always less dazzled by his talents than by his results but it is precisely those results that have recently catapulted him to the top of the Phillie prospect chart. Of course, it hasn't hurt that no other than former major league greats, Tony Gwynn and Ryne Sandberg, have issued ringing endorsements on behalf of the former University of Arizona All-American infielder.

To this point in his professional career, Donald has played only shortstop but the team is giving him a crash course in playing second and third base and so far, with desirable results. The team views him not only as a possible short-term solution at second base should Utley not be completely recovered from off season hip surgery but as a possible long-term solution at third base should Pedro Feliz depart as a free agent following the '09 campaign. This would give the team the distinction of fielding an "all nurtured within the pharm system" infield of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jason Donald in 2010 and beyond.

Donald has done nothing but hit since he debuted in 2006 and had perhaps his best season in 2008 with a .307 average and 14 home runs and 57 RBI in only 92 games. He also was a standout performer in the Summer World Games and was voted one of the best players in the Arizona Fall League. It was here that former second base great, Ryne Sandberg, managed him and waxed poetically about his skill level.

It is well worth noting that Donald has actually brought back memories of Sandberg with not only his demeanor but the similarities in their game. Sandberg was once a Phillie infield prospect without a position who was eventually traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he transferred his considerable skills into a Hall of Fame career at second base in Chicago. No one is suggesting that Donald has future Hall of Fame skills but nearly everyone is suggesting that the Phils not make the same mistake twice and deal Jason Donald merely because he may currently appear to be a player without a position.

The fact remains that he is a right-handed hitter with solid gap power, a strong work ethic and the ability to play multiple infield positions. He is certainly a player with a future in Philadelphia and should Garciaparra decide that "home is where the heart is" and retire from baseball, Donald could well force the issue with a standout performance this spring.

John Mayberry Jr. comes to the Phillies with a strong pedigree and great power potential. Could he be the right-handed bat off the bench that the Phillies need to find?
(Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

One final name to keep an eye on is slugging outfield prospect, John Mayberry Jr. There is little doubt that Amaro values his power potential as he was the first player acquisition made this winter after the Phillie GM was given the reigns from retiring former general manager, Pat Gillick. The fact that he plays corner outfield positions [both right and left field] only enhances his chances of catching the eye of management this spring.

It also helps that Mayberry is a major power potential player, to the tune of 50 home runs over the past two minor league seasons while in the Texas Rangers farm system. It can't hurt that both Amaro and Mayberry Jr. are former Stanford University alumnus, though no one is suggesting that this would ever prove to be the determining factor in whether or not Mayberry stays or goes this spring. What will be the determining factor is how well he hits.

The prevailing thought is that Mayberry needs at least another half-season of Triple-A baseball before he can be taken seriously as a potential major league candidate but his pedigree suggests that he could well come very quickly this spring. His father, John Mayberry Sr., was a well known slugger with the Kansas City Royals and Mayberry Jr. has long been considered every bit the prospect that his father was. It is also well worth noting that he is considered a pretty decent outfielder with with a right fielder's arm and could form with Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino a very impressive defensive trio eventually.

It is expected that once the Phils decide on the proper choice for a right-handed bat off the bench, be it Garciaparra, Grudzielanek, Alou, Donald or Mayberry Jr. the team will attempt to remove either Geoff Jenkins or Matt Stairs from the roster. Simply put, they are two very similar players and there is little need for their competing talents. The Phils would prefer to move Jenkins because of his hefty salary [$6.5 million] but it is precisely this price tag that makes moving him such a cumbersome task. Stairs has a much more rudimentary salary of a bit over $1 million and would seemingly become an easier move if and when the Phils make their decision on a right-handed bat.

Author Charles Caleb Colton once observed that it is important to "deliberate with caution, but act with decision and promptness." Currently, Phillie GM Ruben Amaro seems to be doing just such a thing, deliberating with caution but preparing to soon make his decision promptly. There is little doubt that he understands the need for a right-handed hitter to better balance a roster now dominated by left handed power bats. The recognition is clear. It remains now only for him to make a wise choice and...do the right thing.

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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