The Phillies have pulled the trigger on the first major trade of the off-season by sending Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo to the Houston Astros for closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett. As a result, Brett Myers will move back into the rotation.
Lidge, who turns 31 in December, is the owner of 123 career saves, including 19 in 2007. A former first-round pick and 2005 All-Star, he lost his job as closer in April then reclaimed it in mid-July, returning to the role he dominated for a two-year stretch. Last season he went 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA, posting a 2.89 ERA in his final 53 appearances. Over the last four seasons (2004-07), no relief pitcher in the major leagues has more strikeouts than Lidge's 452 and he has the fourth-most appearances in that span at 294.
On the injury front, Lidge had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee on Oct. 1, but is expected to be ready for spring training. The Phillies scouted Lidge and other Houston relievers at the tail-end of the last season with any deal contingent on sending Bourn, a Houston-native, along in the package. Lidge is arbitration-eligible and is scheduled for free agency in 2009.
Bruntlett, who turns 30 next season, is a .250/.323/.364 hitter in five big-league seasons with nine career homers. He’s seen action at every position besides pitcher and catcher and will become the club’s new super utility man.
Beerleaguer: Pat Gillick said he needed pitching and wasted little time getting some. This is a nice trade for the Phils. Lidge has an electric arm, plus it gives them depth and flexibility. It paves the way for Myers to move back into the rotation, plus it allows more resources to go toward other priorities like resigning Aaron Rowand, J.C. Romero, upgrading third base, catcher or corner outfield.
But pitching is the key here -- Gillick's ability to avoid free agency and get himself a good one. With Schilling gone, starting pitching is scarce. Gillick told the Inquirer last night that Myers was better than any starter on the open market and it's hard to disagree. That’s easier to live with knowing the Phils have five starters and a closer four months before pitchers and catchers report.
There were only a few circumstances where I would endorse moving Myers back to the starting five and getting a closer of Lidge’s quality would be one of them. He's in his walk year, he's done it before and there was still a degree of uncertainty with Myers.
The story on Lidge is he's never been the same after Albert Pujols took him deep in the 2005 NLCS. There's no denying the stuff, but his departure from Houston was a long time coming. He's reportedly excited to change scenery.
Bruntlett is an upgrade over Abraham Nunez. He was acquired for speed and versatility and won’t embarrass himself at the plate quite as badly as Nuni. He plays all over the field and has a chance to become a very useful utility guy, a nice change after watching Nunez and Tomas Perez carry that torch for a decade. Bruntlett could serve as Pat Burrell's late inning replacement or even Jamie Moyer's personal third baseman.
Bourn will be missed. Given a chance, he has an opportunity to set the table for Ed Wade’s Astros for years to come. At the very least, he’ll provide speed and defense. The move also suggests that Shane Victorino is here to stay.
Costanzo is not a prospect. His ceiling is as a Russell Branyan-type platoon player and good teams don't hesitate in moving guys like Costanzo while they can.
Geary served the bullpen well and made a career for himself with marginal talent. There are a lot of innings on his arm, and after a couple of demotions and being cut from the playoff roster, his future is in the garbage innings for sure. I wasn’t certain he would be tendered a contract this winter.
Lidge for Bourn and Geary, then Bruntlett for Costanzo is a great way to simplify it. At the worst, it's a wash for the Phils.