Luis Castillo Now a Free Agent: Should the Philadelphia Phillies Target Him?

March 18, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

There's been no shortage of drama in Philadelphia Phillies camp, specifically in regards to the health of an aging club. When Brad Lidge and Placido Polanco joined All-Star second baseman Chase Utley on the sidelines this week, the city of Philadelphia went into what some would consider panic mode.

With little middle-infield depth, are the Phils in a bit of a bind?

An interesting possibility arose early Friday morning when another camp riddled with a bit of drama, the New York Mets, finally announced the inevitable—the team had released another former All-Star in second baseman Luis Castillo.

After months of speculation, the two sides finally parted ways, when Castillo, who was scheduled to start for the Mets at second base today, asked for and was granted his release.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, as general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins had reportedly preferred other options at second base, anyway.

Now, by granting the second baseman his release, the Mets are on the hook for the remaining $6 million of his salary as long as he is a free agent, and if another team wants to take a chance on Castillo, it'll cost them just league minimum—around $400,000.

That could be an appealing option for the Phillies, who, as mentioned, are noticeably thin up the middle. The leading candidate to replace Utley at second, should he need to begin the season on the disabled list, is Wilson Valdez, who is also the team's utility infielder.

There are some within the Phillies organization that believe that by starting Valdez at second base, the team is shooting itself in the foot.

His greatest value is his ability to play all over the diamond and spell some of the Phils' veterans when it is quickly becoming apparent that they can no longer play every day. Inserting Valdez into the starting lineup would open up a spot on the bench for less versatile players like Josh Barfield or Delwyn Young.

Obviously, adding another second baseman would allow the Phils to maximize Valdez's value as a utility player, but as always, it isn't that simple. All three of the players mentioned above are having monstrous springs.

In his second spring with the Phillies, Valdez is tearing the cover off of the ball, leading the team in spring hits. He's hitting the ball at a .444 clip and has already slugged, if you can call it that, a home run this spring.

In their first springs with the Phils, both Barfield and Young have impressed the right people. The two are battling for the Phillies' final roster spot and are hitting .407 and .311, respectively, while the latter has belted a home run this spring.

There are concerns about these players, however.

Neither of the final two are starting players and have settled into reserve roles over the last few seasons, and off of the bench, neither provides the versatility that Valdez does off of the bench. In short, Valdez may be too valuable as a utility player to start at second base. In that case, targeting a veteran second baseman may not be such a terrible idea.

In his tenure with the Mets, Castillo has been the picture of inconsistency.

After posting an average of .301 in his first half season with the club, he's posted averages of .245, .302 and .235 every year since. That said, Castillo has never been much of a hitter, as opposed to a pesky player standing in the batter's box trying to find a way on base.

The man is the owner of a career .368 on-base percentage—something that the Phils could desperately use in their lineup.

The greatest obstacle in a Phillies-Castillo union may be the fact that the latter hasn't been considered much of a "clubhouse guy" over the course of his career and has quickly developed into a public-relations nightmare.

Just last season, he was criticized by teammates for not partaking in a trip to a New York area hospital to visit war veterans, though he stated that he didn't want to be "horrified by the experience."

With that in mind, however, maybe what Castillo needs is a fresh start. While the Phillies and Mets were once heated rivals, the teams have gone in different directions in recent seasons, and former Mets like Valdez, Nelson Figueroa and Brian Schneider have found asylum with the Phils.

In the long run, the Phillies would be happy with Wilson Valdez as the starting second baseman with one of Josh Barfield or Delwyn Young filling the final bench spot.

However, for a team that is built to win this season, taking a small chance on a veteran, switch-hitting second baseman looking for a fresh start may not be a terrible idea.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Lidge, Placido Polanco, Mike Stutes & More

March 15, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

With the Grapefruit League in full swing now, there is plenty of news and notes making it's way out of Philadelphia Phillies' camp, and it isn't all bad (though, most of it is, so don't say I didn't warn you.)

Be it injuries or hot starts, spring training always seems to have its fair share of surprises for the Phils.

The first bit of news should be a bit of a concern for the Phillies, though most people who have spoken about it have stated it isn't. Closer Brad Lidge missed his scheduled appearance this week with what the team has been calling "biceps tendinitis."

Of course, the word "tendinitis" has been terrifying Phillies' fans over the past couple of weeks in association with Chase Utley. The good news? Apparently, the two cases are on different ends of the injury spectrum.

"Honestly, it's not really a big thing," said Lidge. The closer expects everything to go his way over the next couple of days, stating that he's had this type of soreness several times before.

"If it doesn't, then obviously it would be cause for concern. But right now we're good. I have plenty of time to be ready for April 1."

Apparently, it really isn't a big deal this time. According to Ryan Lawerence of the Delaware County Times, via Twitter, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on the record saying that, if everything goes well, Lidge will be throwing off of a mound again this week.

The right-hander played catch today, will throw tomorrow and could be on the mound by as early as Thursday.

That's good news for the Phillies, who will need Lidge to be strong this season. Though their rotation is phenomenal, there are no guarantees at the end of ball games, and a healthy Lidge and Ryan Madson combination goes a long way in shoring up the Phils' chances.

Continuing with minor injury news, third baseman Placido Polanco left today's game against the Toronto Blue Jays early, injuring the same arm he had surgery on over the offseason.

Once again, the Phillies have stated that the injury is no big deal, and according to one team official, "It was the opposite side of the arm."

Polanco's injury is currently being described as a hyper-extended elbow, something Polanco says he has dealt with before in the past.

"It's right where I had the surgery, but it's nothing bad," said the third baseman. "I've had it before. I've had it a million times. But the fact that I had surgery in that elbow, we're being safe. We're playing it very safe. We'll see how it feels tomorrow and the next day, take it a day at a time."

A day at a time is what the Phillies are hoping for, though Polanco said he's not sure when he could return to Grapefruit League action. The injury may not be a bad thing, as long as the third baseman is ready by Opening Day.

Infield hopefuls like Josh Barfield and Delwyn Young could see some increased playing time, which would be beneficial to the Phils' 25-man Opening Day roster.

In non-injury related news, rookie pitcher Michael Stutes has been impressing the right people this spring. A day after the Phillies' made their first roster cuts, the young right-hander was still around and for the right reasons.

Though the Phils' bullpen seems to be stocked to the brim, the team is keeping Stutes in camp long enough to give the young pitcher another look. Appearing in nine innings this spring, Stutes has allowed just one earned run on three base hits. He's walked just one while punching out nine batters.

Though Phillies' manager Charlie Manuel called Stutes making the roster on Opening Day a "long shot," there are obviously some within the organization who think that his chances might be a bit better than that, after an excellent outing against the Minnesota Twins.

"That went better than expected," Stutes said jokingly after three near-perfect innings against the Twins on Sunday. "I thought it was pretty cool to face Justin Morneau and Thome and guys I watched growing up."

At this point, I would consider Stutes making the team a long shot as well, with guys like Danys Baez almost assured a roster spot. In the event of an injury though, which is quickly becoming a problem for an older Phillies team, he could be one of the first guys the Phillies call on, and having that depth isn't a bad thing either.

In other non-injury related news, and almost non-baseball related news, Bill Hall had some interesting comments about Cole Hamels following the Phillies and Astros matchup on Monday.

During the game, an erratic Hamels, who struggled with control for most of the game, threw a pitch up and in at Hall—something he apparently wasn't all to satisfied with.

When the new Astros' second baseman got back to his feet, he had some words for Hamels, none of which were very kind, and according to sources, Hamels jawed right back at him.

After the game, both men had very different views of the way the situation played out.

"I don't know if he was mad he gave up a homer or if he was mad the umpire gave me time, but I'm not going to let him speed-pitch me," said Hall. "He threw a pitch in, and I'm not going to let him disrespect me either. He kind of said something I didn't like too much. It's over with."

It was far from over with, however, as Hall had some more not-so-pleasant comments shortly after that, when he told reporters, "[Hamels] is definitely a marked man for me now, so when I can do some damage off him, I'm going to let him know I did some damage off him. I can guarantee that."

For a guy who is a life-time .136 hitter against Hamels, I don't see much "damage" being done any time soon.

Hamels, on the other hand, didn't take the situation as seriously. He had "no hard feelings" after the game and reiterated to reporters that he was simply trying to speed the game up—something that Hall was admittedly trying not to do.

"I don't know him personally, but I do know he's a good guy," said the Phils' starter.

"That's just something you do to get the game going," said Hamels, who continued trying to explain what happened on the field between he and Hall. "It wasn't anything major. I don't really want to talk about it."

Finally, we'll end with a couple of important Phillies' stories to keep in mind this week. Though it doesn't have the same type of ring to the position battle that recently ended with Domonic Brown's injury, the battle for the final spot on the bench is really starting to heat up in a big way.

While some believe that Michael Martinez has an upper-hand on the job thanks to his Rule 5 status, Delwyn Young (hitting .333 with a home run), Josh Barfield (hitting .476) and John Mayberry Jr. (hitting .350 with four home runs) certainly aren't going down quietly.

Also, in something I'm not sure constitutes as an injury for this Phillies' team, left-handed reliever JC Romero was hit on his pinky finger (glove hand) with a line drive today. He finished his inning of relief, so everything seems to be okay.

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Philadelphia Phillies Close to Extension with Master Assembler Ruben Amaro Jr.

March 11, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

Just a day after the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a contract extension with the manager that has led them to four consecutive National League East pennants, the team has agreed in principle to sign its general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr., to a contract extension.

First reported by Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, the parameters of the extension aren't clear at the moment. At the very least, the deal is expected to have a minimum of two years—the same guaranteed years to Charlie Manuel—and with Amaro just 46 years old, could extend well beyond that.

As with many general managers, Amaro's tenure in Philadelphia has been spotted with good and bad deals. After taking over for Pat Gillick following the Phillies' 2008 championship run, Amaro was faced with the task of introducing young talent to an aging team, while still putting a championship-caliber team on the field. With that in mind, Amaro has made a flurry of trades and signings.

Before the 2009 season, Amaro's first difficult decision revolved around letting declining outfielder and fan favorite Pat Burrell walk via free agency. Not so long after that, Amaro replaced him with former Seattle Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, signing him to a three-year, $31.5 million contract.

As his first free-agent signing, the deal was criticized harshly. Many fans and analysts alike believed that the deal, which guaranteed three years to a 36-year-old outfielder, was an overpay in all aspects of the contract. Though Ibanez quieted the critics for a while with a tremendous first half, he proved them right by slumping through his contract ever since.

In much of the same fashion, he was criticized for offering the oldest pitcher in baseball, Jamie Moyer, a multi-year contract that paid him more than $6 million a season. Though he was a quality pitcher for the Phillies in that span of time, Amaro began showing a troubling trend of offering unnecessary contract years.

Not every deal was a bad one in his first offseason as the Phillies general manager, however. He locked up a couple of integral parts of the Phillies World Series run, agreeing to contract extensions with slugging first baseman Ryan Howard and World Series MVP Cole Hamels. At $54 million and $20.5 million respectively, these deals were received in a much gentler light.

In his first trade as the Phillies general manager, Amaro swapped a pair of five-tool outfielders, when he sent Greg Golson to the Texas Rangers for power-threat John Mayberry Jr. While the latter has yet to reach his potential, the deal was favored in Philadelphia, as many had soured on Golson's ability.

None of those deals really put Amaro's name on the map, however. That would be done during the season. After months of speculation on the Phillies interest in Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, Amaro pulled off a surprise move at the trade deadline, when he sent four talented prospects to the Cleveland Indians for their ace, Cliff Lee, and fourth outfielder Ben Francisco.

Of course, that would just be the beginning of the Lee drama.

He wasn't finished bolstering the Phillies rotation that season, however. After spending the first half of the season out of baseball, Amaro agreed to sign former Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez to a deal that guaranteed him through the end of the 2009 season. Martinez proved to be a lift for the Phillies, and he and Lee helped lead the Phillies back to the World Series, though they couldn't bring the trophy back to Philadelphia.

The offseason that followed would put Amaro on the map in Philadelphia—whether it was good or bad was yet to be determined. After months of pursuit, the Phillies finally landed Halladay, but the cost—Cliff Lee—was almost too much for some fans to bear. Amaro would send top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek and two others to the Blue Jays, and in an effort to restock his own farm system, send Lee to Seattle for three prospects, all of who would underachieve in their first season in the Phillies organization.

He would sign Halladay to a very team-friendly extension, in regards to one of the best pitchers in baseball, inking him to a three-year, $60 million extension with an option. Despite that, trading Lee, a new fan favorite, was a tough decision and Amaro fell out of favor with many Phillies fans.

Though it was the offseason's blockbuster, it was only one of a few moves for Amaro. He continued his disturbing trend of offering too many guaranteed years for veteran free agents, retooling the bench and bullpen by signing Ross Gload, Brian Schnieder and Danys Baez to two-year contracts, and adding utility man Juan Castro and starter-turned-reliever Jose Contreras to major league deals as well. The most productive free-agent signing of the offseason was Placido Polanco, who took his Gold Glove defense at second base and showed that third base was no problem at all.

The most underrated move of that offseason was probably in the form of Wilson Valdez, who Amaro had signed to a minor league deal as depth. When Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley would go down with injuries, Valdez would prove to be an integral part of the team.  

Despite being happy with the structure of his team, come the trade deadline, injuries had set in and Amaro felt the need to make a move to shake the Phillies up a bit. He continued one of his better trends—acquiring aces—by sending J.A. Happ and two prospects to the Houston Astros for Roy Oswalt and $11 million.

With three aces on his staff, the Phillies fans began to rally behind Amaro after a disappointing end to the 2010 season. Entering his third offseason as the Phillies general manager, he had one true task to solve now—who plays right field?

Jayson Werth, who had managed to stay healthy and put together another tremendous season, had become a free agent, and the Phillies needed to figure out who would be playing right field come Opening Day 2011. Was top prospect Domonic Brown ready? Could they give Ben Francisco a shot? As it turns out, the Washington Nationals would make that decision easy by signing Werth to a mega-deal the Phillies couldn't begin to match.

With their right field situation being solved by default, Amaro would go on to stun the baseball world and bring yet another ace, Lee, back to Philadelphia, assembling the kind of rotation that comes around in baseball only once in a while.

And that, of course, is where the Phillies team stands today. Despite having "four aces," Amaro's work is still cut out for him. With mounting injury concerns, will he have to make a move to reinforce the Phillies infield? This offseason holds an even darker outlook, as he'll have to negotiate deals with Ryan Madson, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins, as well as make tough decisions on the likes of Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez.

Fear not though, Philadelphia. The Phillies are in good hands. Or are they?

Though it's hard to argue that Amaro has done a bad job during his tenure in Philadelphia, as the Phillies have done nothing but win, the team is still without a World Series ring under his reign. He's shown that troubling trend of offering too many guaranteed years, and his extension of Ryan Howard is easily one of the most lopsided contracts in baseball.

On the other hand, the Phillies have a lot to look forward to under his reign. He's shown that he is a shrewd negotiator and has drafted well, leading the Phillies to one of the most talented, young farm systems in baseball.

Some of his moves may be difficult to understand, but with an ever-expanding payroll and talented young farm system, the Phillies are more than sure that Ruben Amaro Jr. is the right guy for the job moving forward.

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Philadelphia Phillies: 10 Notable Prospect Performances So Far This Spring

March 10, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

Spring training is officially in full swing.

Full swing brings a different meaning to different players, however. While grizzled veterans like Roy Halladay are working on simply getting their work in and a feel for their pitches, young players are doing battle in order to solidify their spots on the organizational depth chart. Halladay's job isn't in any jeopardy, but for some of the young talent in the Philadelphia Phillies' system, it's now or never.

So with that in mind, there has been no shortage of "notable" prospect performances this spring, but what exactly do I mean by that? While "notable" brings the connotation that a player has had a good spring, the word notable simply means that, in this sense, the player's performance is worthy of noting.

So be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly as you take a look at 10 notable prospect performances this spring. There will be no shortage of any of the above.

Begin Slideshow

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Philadelphia Phillies Notes: Trade Rumors, Fixing Utley, Danys Baez and More

March 9, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

It has been a busy week for the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Florida, and for some, more than others.

While the drama in Phillies' camp has momentarily moved away from the starting rotation, the buzz surrounding star second baseman Chase Utley has been unbelievable, as fans and personnel alike question whether he'll begin the season on time, or whether he'll even play at all. So what is Utley's status?

General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., head trainer Scott Sheridan and Utley each addressed the media today, and each echoed the same sentiment—they want to get this cleared up as soon as possible.

The evolution of Utley's injury has been astonishing. He missed the first few games of the Grapefruit League schedule with what was described as "general soreness." Following that, his injury was called "patellar tendinitis," and finally today, Sheridan told the media that along with some tendinits, Utley was suffering from chondromalacia.

Understanding Utley's injuries give us some insight to the actual gravity of the situation. While patellar tendinitis is obviously tendinitis of the knee, chondromalacia is a bit more difficult to understand. Also called "runner's knee," chondromalacia, in essence, is knee pain.

The injury is actually quite common among professional athletes, but doctors question whether or not Utley's condition is a severe case. While the Phillies were traditionally tight-lipped about the future of Utley's treatment when addressing the media, David Hale of the Courier Post recently conducted an interview with Dr. David Rubenstein, who is the head of sports medicine at Lankaneau Hospital, where he treats athletes from the Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Soul.

Dr. Rubenstein's take on the situation is much more relieving than Amaro and Sheridan first made it out to be. In an interview where he basically calls Detroit Tigers' third baseman Brandon Inge a sissy, Rubenstein tells Hale that surgery is rarely used to treat chondromalacia, if ever.

When asked about the treatment of chondromalacia, Rubenstein said that there are two common types of injections to treat runner's knee—steroids and artificial lubricants. I'm not a doctor, but my opinion is that Utley will be having one of, or both, of these injections within the next few days. If that doesn't work, Utley will go under the knife.

Well, actually, he won't. The surgery, according to Rubenstein, is an arthroscopic procedure that takes all of 15 minutes. He also says that the "four to six" week time-line we've been hearing about is bogus. Though everyone recovers at different speeds, Utley would be on crutches for a few days and ready to start working out again in about two weeks.

In my opinion, the sky is not falling, Chicken Little. Utley will play this season, and if I may offer a bold prediction—by Opening Day.

The prospect of Utley sitting on the shelf for a while has kicked up a flurry of trade rumors, however. Today on MLBTradeRumors, Tim Dierkes took a look at possible replacements for Utley, should the Phillies need  to explore their trade avenues.

Heading his list of possible candidates, Dierkes lists Chone Figgins, Jeff Keppinger, David Eckstein, Michael Young, Felipe Lopez, Luis Castillo and Ramon Santiago as possible replacements for Utley, and only a few of those seem like actual possibilities.

With the Phillies' payroll having come into question in the past few days, most notably by Ken Rosenthal of FOXsports.com, players with big contracts seem to be out of the equation, removing Figgins and Young from the list, though Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated is reporting that the Phillies have scouts following Young.

The most likely possibility is Eckstein, who is currently a free agent. Signing him to a minor league contract wouldn't hurt the Phillies any. He's a scrappy player who fits right in to the Phillies style, and at the very least, he provides competition for Wilson Valdez in that super-utility role.

On to some good news! I will now be taking full responsibility for fixing Danys Baez! (End sarcasm)

Last week, I wrote a story on Phillies' non-roster invitee Matt Anderson, and how one of the major roadblocks on his path to the major leagues was Baez. Needless to say, ever since I started discrediting Baez, he's figured something out with his mechanics. At the time the article was published, he had just received a shellacking from a squad composed of Toronto Blue Jays' minor leaguers.

Since the article has been posted, he's thrown 4 1/3 scoreless innings for the Phillies. "I feel like I have a better angle on the ball right now," said Baez, who is entering a contract year with the Phillies. "I feel I'm in control of the pitch and the ball. My first outing against Toronto was tough. I realized I needed to try something else." Whatever he's doing, it's working.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's about time I begin working my magic on Utley's knee!

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Philadephia Phillies Rookie Domonic Brown Dealt a Bad Hand: What’s Next?

March 6, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

For those of us who we're hoping for a healthy spring for the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., we may be in for a rough month.

Future left handed specialist Antonio Bastardo has been moving slowly and gingerly through the month of March and Chase Utley is nursing patellar tendinitis in his right knee, which was recently treated with a cortisone injection.

The Phillies may have received their biggest blow of the spring on Saturday, however, when rookie right fielder Domonic Brown learned his hand was broken.

It's been a rough spring for Brown, and at a glance on Saturday, things seemed to be improving. After going 0-for-15 during the first few weeks of spring training, Brown finally broke loose of that goose egg, hitting a solid single up the middle.

Once he got to first base however, it wasn't hard to tell he was in a good deal of pain.

During the previous at bat, Brown fouled off a pitch by Pittsburgh Pirates' starter Paul Maholm and the ball caught him square on his hand. He shook it off, not thinking much of it at the time and stepped back in, finishing the at bat and collecting his first base hit of the spring.

For that reason alone, it was surprising to see Brown out of the game for the next half inning, when John Mayberry Jr. took his place. A few moments later, Brown was seen jogging toward the clubhouse with Phillies head trainer Scott Sheridan right behind him.

After the game, x-rays revealed Brown had a pretty nasty break. He had fractured the hook of the hamate bone in his right hand. Believe it or not, the injury is quite common in sports—especially those that required the hands gripping something, like a baseball bat or a golf club. It is also called the "wrist bone" and is located below the palm and before the arm begins.

Though he'll likely need surgery, Brown is in good hands—no pun intended.

He'll fly to Philadelphia to see hand specialist Randall Culp—the same man who corrected Utley's torn thumb ligament last season. The recovery for the hand surgery is likely going to be four to six weeks, which answers the first "what's next" question for Brown.

With just 16 at-bats and a base hit to his name this spring, he certainly will not be the Phillies' right fielder when Opening Day rolls around on April 1.

Charlie Manuel made good on his word when he said Brown would see plenty of playing time and the young outfielder was quite the disappointment.

On the other hand, his main competition, Ben Francisco, has impressed this spring, making his claim to be the permanent right fielder by posting an early slash line of .421/.476/.947, with two home runs.

The way the two have been hitting, it's hard to imagine Brown was going to beat out Francisco to win the job anyway. His injury just makes the decision that much easier on the likes of Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr.

When asked about that right field job, Amaro told the media, "Nobody has won our right field job, but Ben has done very, very well for us."

With Brown out of the picture, things are beginning to fall into place. Unless something unfortunate happens, Francisco will be the everyday right fielder and John Mayberry Jr. or another outfielder will take his place on the bench.

Where does that leave Brown?

"He wasn't in a rhythm," Amaro said. To be frank, he hasn't been in a rhythm for a long while—since his call-up at the end of July last season. Amaro would then go on to lay the groundwork for the outfielder's future, confirming everyone's suspicion that Brown would return to AAA once healthy. Where does he go after that?

At first glance, two scenarios are developing for Brown and one depends on the success of Francisco as an everyday player.

As a right-handed hitter, Francisco brings a certain level of balance to the Phillies lineup. If he can play at an acceptable level throughout the season, there is no reason to make him split time with Brown. It doesn't do either of them any good, developmentally. However, that situation is indeed present.

If Francisco begins to struggle and Brown finds his stride in AAA, the Phillies could make a move to promote Brown and insert him into the everyday lineup, with Francisco returning to his role on the bench. The two could platoon in right field as well, which was the plan before spring training began.

On the other hand, maybe developing Brown for another full season isn't the worst idea. After the season, the Phillies are going to need another corner outfielder when Raul Ibanez's contract expires. Of course, this scenario would see Francisco develop into an everyday right fielder, giving the Phillies depth on the corners moving forward.

Francisco, who could play both right and left field, would slide over to claim Ibanez's spot and Brown would take over the right field job. In a perfect world, the Phillies would have successfully developed two major league-capable corner outfielders in this scenario.

Without having to spend money on the outfield, the team could address other areas of concern, namely shortstop, the bullpen and the starting rotation.

So when we question what's next for Domonic Brown, the answer is pretty simple. He'll play for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for at the very least a couple of months this year, and re-join the Phillies full-time by 2012.

Let's face the facts for a moment—this is an aging team that will need Brown for some life in the next couple of years.

Now may not be his time, but it's too soon to write him off.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Just How Much Will a Cole Hamels Extension Cost?

March 4, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

When Opening Day rolls around for the Philadelphia Phillies on April 1, one of the most anticipated teams in the lengthy history of Philadelphia sports will begin its 162-game crusade for postseason greatness, anchored by a starting rotation for the history books, including left-handed starter Cole Hamels.

However, when the regular season has ended and whatever it is that October has to offer baseball has faded, the Phillies and their fans will have to face the music. With a payroll already north of $160 million, the front office may have to make some roster decisions not favored by all. Two players likely to get the ax are Raul Ibanez, whose contract is expiring, and Brad Lidge, who has a hefty option for the 2012 season.

On the other hand, with the way that pitching has equated to titles the last few seasons, the Phillies would likely make decisions to retain players like Roy Oswalt and Ryan Madson, who have a club option and expiring contract, respectively. All of those decisions will likely hinge on what the Phillies do with their youngest ace, Hamels.

After agreeing to a three year, $20.5 million deal after a monster 2008 season, both the Phillies and Hamels knew that this day was coming. The deal bought out a couple of arbitration years, but not all of them. Hyped as one of the Phillies' "four aces," Hamels could make a pretty penny in his final year of arbitration, which may be the simple route for the Phillies.

The Phillies will have a pretty good idea of what Hamels can earn in arbitration, depending on the results of his 2011 season. If they feel as though they can offer him arbitration for the final time and build other parts of the roster, this is the route they'll go, but it isn't likely. Already earning $9.5 million in 2011, Hamels will surely eclipse an eight-digit salary for the 2012 season.

So with that in mind, avoiding that final year of arbitration with Hamels seems like a good idea. In order to do that, however, the sides would need to agree to an extension. Where do they even begin? Looking around baseball, there are not many pitchers in situations that compare to Hamels. I took the liberty of gathering a few samples, but as I'll explain below, there may not be a single one that is a good structure for a Cole Hamels extension with the Phillies.

NAME AGE WON LOST ERA FIP SO BB AAV YEARS
Cole Hamels 27 60 45 3.53 3.77 897 248 TBD TBD
Jon Lester 27 61 25 3.55 3.60 712 287 $6MM 5
Justin Verlander 28 83 52 3.81 3.61 965 353 $16MM 5
Josh Johnson 27 45 22 3.10 3.20 611 223 $9.75MM 4
Wandy Rodriguez 31 62 64 4.18 4.05 838 353 $11.3MM 3

As you can see in the table above, I listed a few pitchers with comparable numbers to Hamels who have signed extensions over the course of the last few seasons. As I stated above, however, some of those extensions do little in the way of structuring a blueprint for an extension between Hamels and the Phillies.

Though they have similar career numbers, Hamels and the Boston Red Sox's Jon Lester are hardly comparable. Despite having similar win totals and ERAs, Hamels has nearly 200 more innings pitched than Lester. That's roughly a full season of results that Hamels has to his advantage (or disadvantage, depending on which stance you're taking). Aside from that, the five-year, $30 million deal Lester signed with the Red Sox is widely regarded as one of the most team-friendly in baseball.

Josh Johnson, who shares a division with Hamels, has been on the fast track to super-stardom. He and Hamels also share a wide gap in innings pitched and some people argue that Johnson is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball and is on the cusp of being a truly "elite" pitcher. I, of course, am within those ranks. The Phillies would be doing themselves justice by modeling a deal after the one Johnson signed with Florida, which bought out several arbitration seasons.

The Houston Astros signed one of their more successful starters, Wandy Rodriguez, to a contract extension this offseason. The deal, which buys out his final arbitration years, will pay him a cap of $13 million in what would have been a free-agent season. In terms of innings pitched, Rodriguez (985 IP) is Hamels' closest comparison (945.1 IP). The only problem is that the rest of Hamels' statistics pretty much blow Rodriguez out of the water. With that in mind, Hamels' camp will look to surpass the $13 million a year that Rodriguez is making, and should do so with ease.

Perhaps the best comparison to Cole Hamels is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. In fact, the two are similar in many ways, including their pitch repertoire. They have a similar amount of innings pitched but Verlander has a better career record, which could hurt Hamels' chances of earning an equal amount as him. That said, as they've shown with Ryan Howard's contract extension, the Phillies aren't too worried about overpaying for their homegrown talent.

Looking around baseball, Verlander's deal, which also bought out his final arbitration seasons, makes probably the best comparison for both the Phillies and Hamels. The deal, which eventually pays Verlander $20 million per season, should be a good frame for what the Phillies are able to do with Hamels.

The first thing that we'll break down is the length of a possible extension. In the past, the Phillies have shown that they're unwilling to give pitchers lengthy deals. They only offered Roy Halladay three guaranteed years, and if they didn't have such fierce competition for Cliff Lee, they surely wouldn't have gone five years with his deal either.

Hamels, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He'll be just 28 next season as the team begins discussing an extension, and over the last few seasons we've heard nothing but positive feedback on Hamels' health and conditioning. In a nutshell, if the Phillies' were okay with offering Howard a five-year deal, you can imagine they'll do the same for Hamels—the youngest of the "four aces."

When you begin discussing dollar amounts, you enter a bit of a grey area. Using the above contracts as a comparison, we know that Hamels will look to at least surpass Rodriguez's $13 million annual salary, but probably won't eclipse the $20 million that Verlander is set to make at the peak of his contract. If we split the difference, it seems more than likely that Hamels will earn somewhere in the $16-18 million range per season. This season could make all the difference.

With those two elements agreed upon, the Phillies will structure a contract. First, they'd have to agree to a 2012 salary, which would have been Hamels' final arbitration season. For argument's sake, we'll say that $12.5 million is fair for Hamels' final arbitration season. Over the course of the final four seasons, the Phillies will have to pay Hamels accordingly. In my personal opinion, I believe they'll go with an escalating salary. For example, they could agree to a contract that pays Hamels $16 million in 2013, $17 million in 2014 and $18 million in each of 2015-16.

For those of you keeping count, that would see the Phillies and Hamels agreeing to a five year, $81.5 million deal, which at first seems a bit excessive. While Hamels' camp will argue that he deserves to be paid the $20 million per season that Verlander is making, the Phillies' camp will bid hard to lower that number by adding years. If he shows that he can be an elite starter this season, the Phillies will happily sign that contract.

So, what do you think? Let's see some contract predictions for Cole Hamels in the comments section!

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Philadelphia Phillies: Matt Anderson’s Road to Redemption Faces Potholes

March 1, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

For Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher Matt Anderson, being in Clearwater, Florida is a blessing.

A former flamethrower on the hill, arm injuries derailed Anderson's career before it even began. The former first overall draft pick was limited to far fewer appearances with the Detroit Tigers and Colorado Rockies than many would have expected when he was still a top prospect—long before he was considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time.

After hearing positive news regarding his health, the Phillies took a flier on the right hander this winter as he attempts his comeback.

The road to redemption for Anderson began on Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

A few innings after Roy Halladay made a near-perfect spring debut against his former teammates, Anderson took to a professional mound for the first time since 2008.

As a non-roster invitee, it's now or never for the once highly-touted prospect.

So with few fans filling the Blue Jays' spring complex, Anderson took the hill to square off with a few well-regarded prospects—all while not a single Jays' fan with a clue of who this guy was.

Unlike a few other Phillies' relievers to take the mound this spring, Anderson did just what the team wanted to see—retired the side in order, including a strikeout.

In fact, he did so in a rather impressive fashion.

Early reports that stated that his arm didn't have much gas left in it were proven wrong as he hurled a few fastballs that touched 95mph on the radar gun past a couple of young Blue Jays.

At the very least, he impressed the right guy. After the game, Charlie Manuel had nothing but positive feedback for the right-hander.

"I think we've got to see more of him this spring," Manuel said.

"Yeah, he could pitch some more. Hell, he got three outs."

In the most general of terms, that's all that matters in baseball as a pitcher—getting outs.

Pitching more in the spring isn't going to satisfy Anderson, however. As a minor league invitee to spring camp, he'll have to compete just to make another appearance. He's setting the bar high though.

"It was totally awesome. You can't really put into words what I'm feeling right now, but it's something I've been thinking about for the past two years," Anderson said after his perfect inning on what it's been like sitting at home these past two seasons and wondering if he'll ever get a chance to pitch again.

"My expectation, my goal is to make this team out of Spring Training. That's the only thing that's on my mind. That's my goal. I plan on doing everything I can to do that."

In a jam-packed bullpen, Anderson is going to have to throw up a few more perfect innings to crack the major league club.

With Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, JC Romero and Jose Contreras as locks, he'll have to out-duel a couple of guys on the inside track to break camp and head to Philadelphia. As left-handed relievers, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski could get a few more looks than Anderson.

Kyle Kendrick seems to have a job waiting as the long reliever and that could mean that Anderson has to outperform a single man to make the team—Danys Baez.

Baez has a good chance of making the team based on his salary alone. The right-handed reliever is set to earn $2.75 million this season in what was easily one of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s worst free-agent signings during his tenure in Philadelphia.

A reliever making a nice chunk of change like that just has to pitch well over the course of the spring to wind up in the bullpen, right? Not such a simple task for Baez.

A good friend of Contreras made his spring debut in a B-game on Saturday, getting roughed up by a different Blue Jays' squad.

After dealing with sporadic back pain last season that some believe caused a lot of his problems, he showed that he was still struggling just as badly, allowing five runs on five hits to a lineup composed of minor league players and not even making it out of the inning.

Though he began his own road to redemption on Tuesday by throwing a scoreless inning against the Blue Jays, some believe his time in the Phillies' bullpen may be dwindling.

Though cutting Baez before the season begins would cost the Phillies a nice chunk of change, paying him to release him is starting to seem like a necessary evil.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Anderson is going to be given a job should that happen. The Phillies are also showcasing a number of young relief prospects this spring, headlined by Justin De Fratus and Michael Schwimer, both of whom could be integral parts of the bullpen.

Much of Matt Anderson's future relies on the impending success or failure of Danys Baez.

If the Phillies do decide to cut Baez, turning to a fire-baller like Anderson could be an easy choice.

Giving relievers like De Fratus and Schwimer seasoning in the minor leagues is not a bad idea either, as the Phillies are going to need them when the likes of Madson and Lidge hit the open market following this season.

Turning to a guy like Anderson could be a good idea if he continues to impress by lighting up the radar gun.

For a guy who was coaching his kids' Little League team this time last season, it's not a bad position to be in.

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MLB Rumors: Jimmy Rollins and 20 Infielders Who Could Leave After 2011

February 28, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

With both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues underway, Spring Training has officially begun. As pitchers fine-tune their command and overall "stuff" and hitters try to refine their swing, the rest of us can only look on in awe, now waiting for the games that actually count in eager anticipation. However, there are a select few who are looking forward.

Heading that group of select few are General Managers who will be looking to upgrade their teams next off-season. It seems ridiculous to think that, but as they send scouts to watch potential free agents, we must realize that is indeed the case.

So, as teams prepare for the long haul of the regular season, general managers and players in contract years alike will look to strut their stuff, hoping to land the big contract.

From power-hitting first basemen to slick fielding shortstops, these players will not be flying under anyone's radar. If you're looking to add power to your lineup, look no further.

If you need an anchor in your middle infield to handle sharply hit ground balls, we've got what you're looking for. Of course, who will call your game without a catcher? They're here too.

So with that in mind, we'll take a look at Jimmy Rollins and other potential free agents at season's end. At the end of each slide, I'll list some teams that could have interest in the player.

Begin Slideshow

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies: Young Pitchers Look To Hurl Their Way Past NY Yankees

February 25, 2011 by Gregory Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

When the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees square off in the Grapefruit League opener tomorrow afternoon, and again on Sunday afternoon, we'll see a bunch of familiar, big league names.

Cole Hamels, who has been ticketed as one of the Phillies' "four aces," will get the start on Saturday, while Joe Blanton will lead the charge on Sunday. Also scheduled to appear this weekend are a couple of bullpen staples in JC Romero, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge.

For those five pitchers, spring training is nothing more than a tune-up—a means of reestablishing their "stuff" while they set themselves up to face major league competition over the course of a 162-game regular season and, as every team dreams, the postseason.

However, for other guys that are slated to pitch this weekend, having successful outings against the Yankees and other Grapefruit League competition is more than a tune-up—it's a way of proving their mettle as they fight for a spot on the major league roster. 

One man that will throw after Hamels on Saturday afternoon is right-handed starter, Vance Worley. After spending much of the offseason in contention for the fifth starter's job before the Phillies inked Cliff Lee, Worley found himself in a peculiar situation. Talent-wise, he seems like an easy pick to make the team as a long reliever, but there's more to the decision than that.

The Phillies, who already have two other long relievers in David Herndon and Kyle Kendrick, may have to make a financial decision as to who gets the spot in the bullpen. Talent-wise, Herndon is the weakest link and Kendrick isn't too far behind him.

However, after avoiding arbitration with the Phillies for one year and $2.45 million, the team may be hard-pressed to pay him guaranteed money to pitch in AAA.

For that reason alone, it seems like Worley has his work cut out for him as he begins his campaign to make the roster on Saturday. According to pitching coach Rich Dubee, both he and Kendrick will be stretched out as starters during the spring, but they will compete for the same spot in the bullpen.

Last season with the big league club, Worley logged 13 innings and posted an ERA of 1.38, striking out more than eight batters per nine innings while showing good control.

In the long run, however, Worley's best bet may be to go back down to AAA and pitch regularly as a starter. The long reliever will see very few innings behind this starting rotation and having depth in the minor league system could be a necessary cog in the machine for the Phillies.

If Worley doesn't win the job out of spring training, he could also be called on to start a game before Kendrick.

Another interesting name to watch on Saturday is left-handed reliever, Mike Zagurski. With Romero and Antonio Bastardo the most likely left-handed relievers to crack the Phillies bullpen this spring, Zagurski has his work cut out for him.

With little left-handed depth, the Phillies may need to call on Zagurski should one of the oft-injured Romero and Bastardo go down with an injury. The major aspect they'll be keeping an eye on is control.

After yet another call-up this past season, Zagurski disappointed all the same. He posted decent numbers in AAA, highlighted by big strikeout rates and shaky control, and when he got to the big leagues, practically fell apart.

The Phillies will be looking for some consistency out of Zagurski, who could be on his last leg with the team.

Also appearing in the game on Saturday are a couple of interesting right-handed pitchers. The first is waiver claim Brian Schlitter. The Phillies, who were the team to originally draft him, picked up Schlitter off of waivers from the Yankees earlier in the offseason. 

Though he'll likely join new AAA manager Ryne Sandberg in the minor leagues, where he spent most of 2010 as Sandberg's closer in the Cubs system, he could show that he'd be a nice call-up in the event of an injury.

Looking to join the hunt for that long reliever's spot as a long shot is former Seattle Mariner, Ryan Feierabend. Showing versatility as both a starter and a reliever, the Phillies will look at him as the latter, but could stretch him out over several innings. He features a standard repertoire of fastball, changeup, curveball and slider, and won't blow anyone away with his "stuff," so like Zagurski, he'll need to show control in his inning or two.

The Phillies will throw two of their more interesting relief prospects on Sunday, however, when right-handed hurlers Michael Schwimer and Justin De Fratus take the mound.

Schwimer, who stands at a towering 6'8", 240lbs, brings quite the presence to the mound. He features a live fastball and though his off-speed pitches are still a work in progress, he could earn a middle relief role on his fastball alone.

Over the course of his minor league career, he's shown average control and big strikeout numbers. In 20 innings with the Phillies' AAA affiliate, he posted an ERA of just 1.80.

If one relief prospect made strides toward making a name for himself in 2010, however, it was right-hander Justin De Fratus. In my personal opinion, I find it hard to believe that De Fratus hasn't cracked the Phillies top 10.

After making his debut in 2007, De Fratus hasn't posted a FIP (fielding independent pitching) above 2.59. At the highest level last season (AA), he posted a record of 1-0 with an ERA of 2.19 in 24.2 innings and later that year in the Arizona Fall League, completely blew away the competition, all the while, developing a slider.

He features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, along with a new slider and changeup, could be a part of the Phillies bullpen as early as 2011. With Danys Baez on a short leash and De Fratus ready to bust on to the show, it may not be long before De Fratus, or any of the other listed relievers, are wearing red pinstripes.

Of course, it all begins this weekend.

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