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 outings.
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 this point.
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 good."
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