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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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