Mike Piazza signs a 1-year, $2 million contract with San Diego, thus removing one more body off the list of free agent sluggers. In the meantime, outfielder Richard Hidalgo, who is younger and has hit more home runs in fewer at bats than Piazza the past two seasons, remains available.
The Phillies still seek a primary power threat for the bench, and thanks to Piazza’s low asking price, he may have driven down the cost for some of the sluggers who are still available, including Hidalgo, even though reports are Piazza accepted the small deal with the understanding he will become the Padres’ full-time catcher.
Last season with Texas, Hidalgo hit .221 with 16 home runs in 308 at bats, relegated to a reserve role with the slugging Rangers by the end of the season. But as recently as 2003, Hidalgo hit .309 with a whopping .572 slugging and 28 homers with Houston. In nine seasons, the 31-year-old has 171 homers, finding most of his power against right-handed pitching.
Without adding another player, the Phillies will assemble a bench from a list of candidates that could inlcude Tomas Perez, Sal Fasano, Carlos Ruiz, Matt Kata, Shane Victorino, Abraham Nunez and Chris Roberson, none with the same pop as Hidalgo. Other candidates, such as power-hitting minor leaguer Josh Kroeger may benefit from continued development in the minor leagues.
Defensively, Hidalgo has seen most of his action in right field and could be counted on as insurance for fellow Venezuelan Bobby Abreu, the man he beat out in Houston when then-GM Gerry Hunsicker allowed Abreu to go to Tampa Bay, and then on to Philadelphia.
But mostly, the Phils need a power bat to deliver a well-timed home run in a pinch situation, something they haven’t had for several seasons. The Padres got Piazza to sign on the dotted line for $2 million with bonus money and an expensive option for 2007. Hidalgo, a displaced corner outfielder, might be had for less.
Another possibility could be a small trade with a number of American League teams holding on to extra outfielders with pop, including Tampa Bay (Aubrey Huff, Damon Hollins) or Oakland (Jay Payton, Bobby Kielty). Huff is versatile enough to play several positions including first base, and is better against left-handed pitching than Ryan Howard. The Oakland pair could be had cheaply. Payton launched 18 homers last season, 11 at home. The A's picked up his $4 million option in October, but with the signing of Frank Thomas, he could be expendable.
Gillick calls Kata darkhorse candidate
Answering questions during an online chat Friday, Phillies GM Pat Gillick said infielder Matt Kata is a darkhorse to break camp out of spring training.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent no less than a half hour mulling over the subtext of this comment. For those of you who don’t remember the name, Kata came over in the deal that sent Tim Worrell to Arizona but saw very limited action with the Phillies.
In singling out Kata, Gillick has actually picked the bench candidate with the most big-league experience, save for Nunez and Perez. Like those two, he can play the entire infield.
If you subscribe to the idea that Gillick makes public comments to downplay expectations in order to motivate players, then his answer is right up your alley. Several infielders, including minor leaguer Danny Sandoval, will battle with Kata over that spot. Those with an edgier take could read this as a challenge to Tomas Perez’s stranglehold on the super-utility position.