Brad Lidge sort of let the cat out of the bag after the Phillies win over the
Rockies Monday night. Exactly why was Jose Contreras closing for the Phillies
rather than Lidge? Charlie Manuel wasn't really saying, but Lidge was. The
Phillies web site announced that Lidge was unavailable because he was having
some stiffness in his right elbow. "Today, it didn't feel great,"
Lidge told two reporters after the game. Lidge went on to say that this isn't
expected and he hopes it doesn't last long, but because he's coming off surgery
on his elbow, there will be times when he's not available. The troubling thought
is that he's far enough away from his days in the operating room that his elbow
shouldn't be giving him much trouble. It's interesting to note that since he
returned from the DL and a lengthy rehab assignment, Lidge has been used in just
one save opportunity, which he converted, but thanks only to the fierce wind
that was blowing in at Citizens Bank Park. Without the assist from Mother
Nature, Lidge could very well have given up back-to-back home runs on Sunday
that could have snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory for the Phillies.
While he's pitched well for the Phillies, Jose
Contreras might be a question mark for the Phillies as a long-term answer to the
closing role. Instead, the
Phillies likely need to put acquiring a bona fide closer on their wish list,
since the news on Lidge doesn't exactly exude tons of confidence. So, just where
could the Phillies look for some closing help?
Heath Bell has been knocked all around the trade rumor market for some time
now, but with San Diego's surprising success in a division that's ultimately
very winnable, the Padres may now be reluctant to deal him. The Padres, who were
picked for the NL West dungeon this season are 19-12 and locked in a virtual tie
with San Francisco for the division lead, four-and-a-half games ahead of
Colorado and Los Angeles.
To find some other potential targets for deals, there are some interesting
names to consider. Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com
rattled off a nice list:
Francisco Cordero and Kerry Wood are two pricey closers who should be
available soon. Their teams will probably be willing to eat some salary.
Bobby Jenks and Billy Wagner could hit the market; they have decent salaries as
well. Wagner, though, could theoretically choose to retire if he doesn't
like the situation.
The Blue Jays could part with Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor, and/or Scott Downs.
The Pirates would probably make Octavio Dotel and Brendan Donnelly available.
The D'Backs would find Chad Qualls expendable if they're not in contention.
First, it's doubtful that Wagner would find Philadelphia to be the right
situation for him. His relationship with the Phillies soured greatly and a
return engagement just isn't likely to happen. Plus, unless the Braves are truly
willing to just put up a white flag on the season, they probably wouldn't deal
with a division rival.
Dotel is an interesting name, since the Phillies have had some mild interest
in him in the past. Right now though, Dotel is the Mitch Williams of closers;
he's converted six of eight opportunities, but his season ERA stands at 8.03
with Pittsburgh. In all fairness though, that ERA is inflated by a horrific
outing against Milwaukee late last month when he allowed four earned runs in 1/3
of an inning in that 17-3 debacle against Milwaukee. If you excuse that outing,
his ERA would drop to 5.25, which is still very high. In fact, Dotel went
through a two-week stretch where he was downright miserable and he allowed runs
in six straight outings, posting an ERA of 15.64 over that stretch. Since then,
he has thrown a scoreless inning and converted a save in each of his three
Like Dotel, Donnelly was pitching well - 1-0, 2.25 ERA - for Pittsburgh
before the massacre in Milwaukee. He was hit for five earned runs in 2/3 of an
inning that day, sparking his ERA up to 7.27 on the season. Just last week,
Pittsburgh placed Donnelly on the DL with a left oblique strain and there's no
exact timetable for his return.
Toronto has multiple targets that are worth examining. Kevin Gregg is the
most impressive on the list, having converted nine-of-ten save opportunities and
carrying a 1.13 ERA to this point in the season. Gregg has 19 strikeouts in 16
innings and obviously, any pitcher who can record those types of numbers should
be able to have success at Citizens Bank Park. Jason Frasor is Toronto's 'Plan
B' closer and he's been lukewarm in that role so far, with three-of-five save
conversions and a bloated 6.92 ERA. Again, his ERA can be traced largely to one
outing last month when Tampa Bay hit him for four earned runs in 2/3 of an
inning. If you're willing to give Frasor a mulligan, his ERA drops to 4.38,
which is workable. Overall, Frasor has had 44 opportunities to save games in the
majors and has been successful in 32 of those chances. Scott Downs has put up
legitimate stats for Toronto this season, but hasn't been overly effective at
closing. His season ERA stands at 3.31, but he's converted just 16-of-31
opportunities over his career.
Kerry Wood has just recently been activated from the DL after missing the
first month of the season with a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle (located
in the back, just under the shoulder). He's had two outings and has allowed two
earned runs in one full inning in the early going. He may be someone to keep an
eye on, but with his injury history, the Phillies might stay away from him at
Meanwhile, Francisco Cordero is a wonderful name to consider. Cordero is a
legitimate closer with a long list of credentials, having closed for Texas,
Milwaukee and now, Cincinnati. In his career, Cordero has notched 261 saves and
even though he turns 35 today - Happy Birthday, Francisco - Cordero has shown no
signs of slowing down.
Last season, all trade talk started and ended with Kyle Drabek. This season,
it starts and ends with Domonic Brown. The Phillies regime has shown that in the
right deal, they'll part with a player who otherwise might be considered
untouchable. On this list, Cordero and Bell are the only names that might truly
make the Phillies think about giving up Brown as part of a package of players.
Before that would happen though, the Phillies would have to be convinced that
Lidge truly is damaged goods and that they're not going to get much - or
anything - out of him as their closer. They might also feel compelled to give
Contreras a longer audition in the role to see if it's something he could manage
to do for them. After all, his numbers show that Contreras is adjusting nicely
to his role as a reliever and his veteran status certainly couldn't hurt him.
The Phillies may have gotten Contreras at just the right time, for just the
right role, but the question remains whether he could take that role into the
closer's spot for the rest of the season. Contreras believes that coming to
Philadelphia was also the right move for him and he's comfortable in whatever
role the Phillies want him to fill.
"It was a good part of the decision to come over here and be in the
bullpen," Contreras told The Sports Xchange. "Everything is
working really good. My arm is making really good adjustments, throwing
back-to-back, throwing three, four or five days out of seven. Everything is
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