The Phillies need pitching. What else is new. They needed pitching last season, but it didn’t stop Pat Gillick from making Alfonso Soriano a top priority. With options available at a lower cost, will Pat get his bat?
We’ve discussed the availability and interest of soon-to-be free agent Mike Lowell manning next season’s hot corner, whether the Phillies will get into a bidding war to retain Aaron Rowand and what the future holds for Pat Burrell, who’s arrived at the final year of his contract. A multi-dimensional third baseman like Lowell would solve a lot of problems, but frankly, they’re all tied into the general idea of right-handed power and lineup protection, a central concern from the previous off-season. We’ll get back to that shortly.
The Phillies had a great year at the gates and may be willing to spread the love. According to the Allentown Morning Call, team president David Montgomery and general manager Pat Gillick said the Phils are willing to increase the money spent on player salaries. Montgomery says the Phillies spent $103 in player contracts in 2007, a figure echoed by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Although the number may include perimeter players on the 40-man roster, as suggested by Todd Zolecki of the Inquirer, $103 million is still a significant marker, moving them a little closer to earning a varsity jacket and dating a hot cheerleader.
They’re committed to $65 million in salaries for 2008. Pencil in $8 million for Ryan Howard’s first arbitration year, leaving roughly $30 million to match the $103 million total of last season, minuns a million or two for the flotsam/jetsam of Rule 5 picks, minor league veterans and players around the edges. Besides Howard, who could be seeing Albert Pujols-type money, Jayson Werth, Geoff Geary and Ryan Madson are among the noteworthy arbitration-eligible players. Set aside a million to resolve those issues, though I’m betting on a fat non-tender for Geary, who was demoted twice and didn’t make the post-season roster. Conservatively speaking, call it $25 million to fiddle with, before Monty's bump in payroll.
Back to the power bats. Lowell makes a lot of sense. He’s a good warrior with good totals. His bat would fit in nicely. But at 34, which is what he’ll be next season, is he with best investment? Lowell might command two years, $22 million, minimum.
Other players have been discussed. Miguel Tejada, reportedly ready to move to third if it means playing for a contender, would constitute a “big bat” – barely. The Phils may be able to squeeze one more all-star season out of him before his career goes into sharp decline, which may have already started.
You can’t mention Tejada and Baltimore without bringing up Burrell, who has the steadiest numbers over the last three seasons of all the possibilities mentioned here, including Andruw Jones, who I’ll get to in a moment. The Phils were ready to spend millions to replace Burrell with better right-handed lineup protection just one year ago. Today, Burrell has never looked so desirable.
The difference? Statistically speaking, absolutely none: -.002 BA 2006/2007; +.012 OBP; .000 SLG. Yet, Howard took a statistical hit in 2007 and lineup protection, strangely, no longer generates any headlines. Go figure. It just goes to show that the lineup protection debate had more to do with lingering Burrell discontent than statistical merit. (I was on the wrong end of that debate, BTW.)
Back to the bat. Where to put it, and who should it be? Fact: The Phillies have no legitimate right-handed power hitters developing in the minor leagues. Fact: The Phillies have no high-ceiling outfielders developing in the minor leagues. This is a major problem, which strengthens the case for resigning Rowand, extending Burrell, or both.
However, neither of these players has ever hit 51 home runs, the amount Jones hit when he was NL MVP runner-up in 2005. Rowand’s career year doesn’t come close to Andruw’s average one. Coming off a brutal contract year, his worst since 2001, the 30-year-old free agent has been matched with the Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, White Sox, Nationals, Mets, and yes, the Phillies. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"And there’s Philadelphia, where Andruw’s hit an awful lot of homers and stolen an awful lot of extra-base hits over the years. If the Phillies don’t re-sign Aaron Rowand, they might take a run at Andruw. Seriously."
Seriously is right, and it would make a serious statement, too. After a dismal '07 campaign, Andruw Jones probably played himself into baseball’s second tier, which is where the Phillies thrive. Figure Jones will command a lesser commitment than Soriano, who ended up with eight-years, $136 million from Chicago. Scott Boras has suggested he's seeking a contract for Jones at the “fair-market value” of $17-20 million per year, with no length specified. You have to wonder whether the Phils would take the plunge. The pitching market is bone dry. The trades may not be there. Is this best course of action? Taking the money and building an unstoppable offense?
Third basemen Hank Blalock, Joe Crede and Garrett Atkins have also been mentioned as possibilities in a trade, but those are harder to predict, and thus, harder to discuss. Besides Jones, other right-handed free-agent outfielders include Torii Hunter and Mike Cameron, players largely left out of the discussion so far.
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