ESPN senior baseball writer and author of “Worth the Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies" stops by with his insights before heading off to a 6 p.m. book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse Square.
Beerleaguer: The difference between the Yankees' table setters and the Phillies in the World Series cannot be overstated. You recently suggested that lead-off gem Chone Figgins would not only carry a high price tag, but constitute a tough sell for Jimmy Rollins. Be that as it may, how much more rope are they willing to give J-Roll if he struggles the way he did last season?
Stark: That's a tough question to answer in 25 words or less. Charlie Manuel loves Jimmy Rollins and the energy he brings to that team. But there's no doubt that the manager and the hitting coach (Milt Thompson) want Jimmy to get back to having better at-bats. For a couple of years, starting with his hitting streak in 2005 and running through his MVP season, Jimmy seemed to have a great feel for his swing. In the same period, while his walks didn't increase that much, he was much more willing to work counts and look for his pitch. But the last couple of seasons, he's gotten away from that because he seems to be trying too hard to duplicate his MVP numbers. So they've talked to him about this. But it remains to be seen how they'd react if he has the same kind of approach next season. Let's just say that both he and the Flyin' Hawaiian should take note of this team's interest in Figgins and Placido Polanco, even though it's unlikely they'll wind up signing either of them.
Beerleaguer: It's shaping up to be another sluggish offseason for free agent signings. The Phillies have started off with an economic upgrade in Juan Castro. Should we expect more value signings, and are the Phillies basically maxed out at this point?
Stark: I don't think that "maxed out" really describes them. They have money to spend, and they're going to have a record payroll (close to $140 million). But they need to find an every-day third baseman, and they need to make an impact bullpen signing, or maybe several. So that's where their money is going. And that'll pretty much eat up the signings budget. If they sign any combination of Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre, Brandon Lyon, Mike Gonzalez, etc., I can promise you those would definitely not be on-the-cheap type signings. They wouldn't be at Sabathia/Teixeira dollars, but they won't be million-dollar-a-year players, either. There will be some more of those, though, to fill out the bench and bullpen. But I see at least two significant signings at some point.
Beerleaguer: The Phillies have traded offense for defense at third for several seasons (Pedro Feliz, Abe Nunez, David Bell, etc.). Are you worried what a defensive downgrade such as Mark DeRosa might do to the confidence of the pitching staff?
Stark: That depends on whether DeRosa winds up being the every-day third baseman or something else. If he's the guy they sign -- instead of Beltre, who can play the heck out of third base -- I think they'd use him at other positions, too. DeRosa's greatest assets are offense and versatility, so it wouldn't be out of the question to see him play some left and some second base to spell Ibanez and Utley. I don't know if I like the idea of the "regular" third baseman also being the primary backup at two other positions, but they've kicked that around. Then again, it's not a slam dunk that he'll be the guy they sign. And other than Beltre, everybody on their shopping list would be a defensive downgrade from Feliz. There's a price to be paid for that. The question is whether the pros outweigh the cons. I'm a big DeRosa fan, so I'd vote yes. He'd be a major step toward balancing out this lineup.
Beerleaguer: Would the Phillies consider trading Cole Hamels?
Stark: Now? No chance. None. Nada. Why would they? This guy doesn't even turn 26 for another few weeks. He's younger than most of last year's big rookie-of-the-year candidates: J.A. Happ, Jeff Niemann, Randy Wells, Ramon Troncoso, etc. Compare his overall '09 numbers (strikeout ratio, WHIP, K/BB ratio) with Cliff Lee's sometime. You'll be shocked how close they are. And remember this, too: Cole Hamels has s been great every year of his pro career until last season. Great. So with Lee's future so uncertain, they can't even consider trading a pitcher with that much upside. And they aren't.
Beerleaguer: Which prospects have the Phillies most excited?
Stark: Domonic Brown and Kyle Drabek are the clear 1-2, and there's a big dropoff to everyone else. They love everything about Michael Taylor, but I still sense they're skeptical he'll ever be a star. They like Travis D'Arnaud a lot as a potential Catcher of the Future. And while Anthony Gose is really, really young, he's the clear-cut Centerfielder of the Future. They have a ton of pitching prospects. But Drabek looks right now like the only one with top-of-the-rotation upside. The big name to file away is Domingo Santana, a 17-year-old outfielder from the Dominican who's already 6-5 and 200-plus, who looks like an offensive monster. The ETA might not be till 2013, but if he stays on his present path, look out.
The "Worth The Wait" book tour has cranked back up for the holidays. So if you're in center city Philadelphia tonight, Jayson will be signing books at the Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse Square at 6 p.m., alongside Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler, columnist-laureate Bill Lyon, Philadelphia baseball historian Rich Westcott and ever-popular Philly TV sports guy Steve Bucci.