For young bullpen hopefuls, Danys Baez is the lowest hanging fruit.
One could dedicate thousands of column inches to drawing up all the scenarios that will unfold between now and Opening Day. Instead, here's one related to the topic at hand: The Phillies pay $2.75 million to make Danys Baez go away. Many of you remember Baez from such cameo roles as the 19 appearances he made from July to the end of the season, including a 2-3 inning loss in the regular-season finale against the Braves in a failed bid for the postseason. He finished the season 3-4 with a 5.48 ERA. Erratic control and poor poise kept him away from pitching in the high-leverage situations he was hired to handle.
In 2011, those innings will be secured by Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero, that is, in games where the four aces can't make it past the seventh inning. Listen to the Phillies' brass this winter and you'll hear a team eager to see which young player or veteran reclamation project can step up, knowing the time to groom the bullpen of the future has arrived with Madson set to make a splash in free agency and Lidge looking at a pricey 2012 option.
Baez's spot is the obvious testing ground. As long as Antonio Bastardo doesn't have a meltdown this spring, he'll make the bullpen as the second lefty and fifth body overall, so then, the Phillies are already seking pitchers to handle swing and sponge work. So unless Baez knocks their socks off in Spring Training and proves he belongs among the Phillies' last line of defense, what's the point? Wouldn't the Phillies rather get a good, long look at guys like Justin De Fratus or Michael Schwimer than waste a lot of time seeing what Baez has left? Isn't it finally time to see what Scott Mathieson is made of? And what about the long list of veteran reclamation projects, guys Jason Grilli and Matt Anderson who have been gaining back strength? They'll start in minor league camp, but could move up quickly with impressive showings.
Then there's the matter of Kyle Kendrick. If the Phillies keep Joe Blanton, isn't there greater value in keeping Kendrick stretched out as a sixth starter down in the minor leagues? Nothing in Kendrick's repertoire suggests a solid future in the 'pen, and I'm sure the Phillies would be comfortable having David Herndon carry the pink bullpen bag again. With all these moving parts and possibilities, is it any wonder the Phils won't return Chad Durbin's calls?
Another ex-second baseman gets a gig: With the earlier coaching and managerial signings of Juan Samuel, Mickey Morandini and Ryne Sandberg, one Beerleaguer commenter quipped that it's only a matter of time before Marlon Anderson gets a call. Well the Nationals beat the Phillies to the punch, hiring him as their hitting instructor for Hagerstown. That means he could become the first professional hitting instructor for ballyhooed prospect Bryce Harper.
Correction: Last week, Beerleaguer reported on the independent league status of several former Phillies, including 2006 bullpen bust Julio Santana. Turns out it was another Julio Santana pitching in the independent Golden League. We at Beerleaguer deeply regret the error.