Sidearm right-hander Jim Ed Warden and catch-and-throw backstop Ryan Budde are selected by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft, as the Winter Meetings in Orlando come to a close. Fireball right-hander Alfredo Simon is acquired in a post-draft trade.
Pat Gillick’s excitement over the Rule 5 draft is well documented. This is how the former Toronto GM acquired George Bell from the Phillies back when he was Jorge Bell. It’s also how the Phils got outfielder Shane Victorino, and Fabio Castro went through the process last season.
A surprising number of major league relievers have been acquired this way, or by some other low-risk means like minor league free agency or even through the independent leagues. That statement would apply to both World Series teams, whose bullpens are peppered with pitchers like this. It’s still a longshot to find that kind of quality, but at the very least, it’s a nice way to boost inventory.
This season, the Phillies are wishing on two interesting bullpen possibilities with good arms and unique styles. Jim Ed Warden of Cleveland is a 6-7 low arm slot pitcher with a sinking fastball that hits 93 on the gun. The other is Alfredo Simon, who was originally part of the Phillies’ system until he was traded to the Giants, along with Ricky Ledee, in the Felix Rodriguez deal. Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle told reporters that Simon - once a highly regarded prospect - was touching 98 in Dominican Winter Ball.
The Giants have been trying to make it work with the 25-year-old as a starting pitcher, but Arbuckle told reporters they plan on testing him strickly for the bullpen. His situation resembles that of Chris Booker, last year’s Rule 5 selection who was supposed to have a good shot at making the club until injuries shut him down. He ended up back with Washington after a brief stop in Kansas City.
Arm troubles have hindered Simon over the past two seasons; his combined numbers with Class-A San Jose and Triple-A Fresno were 88 1-3 innings, 70 strikes to 33 walks with a 6.62 ERA, pitching 17 of 28 games as a starter. There is a report he was recently shut down in the Dominican. He missed two months of '06 because of tendonitis.
Simon is a risk, but the Phillies hope he has enough stuff to toss an inning or two in relief. A player drafted onto a Major League roster in the Rule 5 draft must remain on the 25-man active roster, or the DL, for all of the subsequent season, or the drafting club must attempt to return him to his original club.
It’s common for the original club to decline; that was the case with Victorino and the Dodgers. Occasionally, the drafting club will work out a trade with the player's original team, allowing the drafting club to retain the player but send him to the minors. However, since a returned Rule 5 player must first be placed on outright waivers, a third club could claim him. This is what Kansas City tried to do with Booker, but couldn’t find a reason to keep him on the 25-man roster.
The Phillies will also look at Warden, 27, who was plucked away from the Tribe. The reports say the Indians wanted to keep him, but ran out of room on their 40-man roster. The big right-hander spent 2006 with Double-A Akron and went 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA with 11 saves in 55 relief appearances and held opponents to a .167 average. He’s got some numbers you look for in a reliever and doesn't allow hits, in addition to being a pitcher with a different look.
The organizational catching shortage has lasted for ages, so Budde, a 27-year-old defensive specialist, servers the purpose of filling out a roster, likely Triple-A Ottawa if they figure out a way to keep him. "We took [Budde] for some catching inventory,” is what Arbuckle told Phillies.com, and that’s probably all you need to know about Budde. (Imagine being referred to as ‘inventory’.) Last season in Triple-A Salt Lake (LAA) he hit .233/.324/.414 with with eight homers in a backup role.
The Phillies also selected slashing outfielder Victor Hall from the Yankees in the minor league portion of the draft. Hall, 26, spent last season with Class-A Tampa and hit .321 with four homers and 35 steals in just 65 games. If the Pat Gillick era has shown us anything, it's his undying love of athletes.