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By Mike Angelina
It’s pretty reasonable to expect the 2012 Phillies will be in a lot of close games–especially early. Such was the case last season when they were without Chase Utley for the start of the season. In 2011, Utley missed the season’s first 46 games. In those 46 games, the score was determined by two runs or less 22 times, with 13 of those being one run games. 12 of the 13 games before Utley returned were two run games.
Utley will miss the first portion of this season, joining Ryan Howard on the DL.
“I don’t think [his knee issue is] behind him,” Amaro said of Utley at the end of last season.
Whether the general manager’s medical opinion is right or wrong, he still clearly identified offense as a possible scarce resource for winning ball games. He did this when he spoke at his end of season press conference, also speaking about how to put a team together that can score runs.
Winning close games is like putting together a puzzle, with many pieces to put together. The team’s best indication that they expect these types of games perhaps was when they signed Jonathan Papelbon to the largest contract for a relief pitcher in MLB history. Why else pay a guy who specializes in keeping the lead in late, close games?
“[There are] a lot of different pieces of the puzzle to scoring runs,” he said.
One of the puzzle pieces is the bench, which is even more important this year because of the injuries to Utley and Howard. Close games often call for situational baseball. Double switches and pinch hitters are all are among those puzzle pieces.
I’m not sure the Phillies have prepared themselves as much as they need to for these close game puzzles with the right pieces.
Let’s say the Phillies are at the bottom of the order with a man in scoring position and two outs in the inning, trailing by one. They are facing Atlanta’s starting pitcher, and the Braves have either Eric O’Flaherty or Johnny Venters warming in the ‘pen, two tough left-handers.
With the pitchers’ spot due up, the Phillies call Laynce Nix off the bench. Venters is summoned in to the game by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. As for the Phillies move…
Do they let Nix, a career .181 hitter against LHPs, face Venters with the game on the line?
The way the roster likely shakes up, baring another move, Nix is joined on the bench by Jim Thome and Brian Schneider, likely as well as either Scott Podesdnik or Juan Pierre and maybe Pete Orr. Including Nix, they’re all left handed. They really do not have a real move to make in this in-game scenario.
Why is this? They traded Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez, and for all intents and purposes, in exchange for nothing. It just so happens that the two holes in the Phillies roster puzzle are for a utility infielder, preferably able to bat right-handed, and an outfielder, who also can bat right-handed.
Their haul for Francisco, Frank Gailey, is unlikely to make the majors. Valdez was traded for a pitcher who has less career wins than the journeyman infielder has earned, Jeremy Horst.
Francisco was exposed as a very poor starting right fielder last season, but he is by no means useless. When he was demoted to a part-time, extra outfielder role, he went back to his usual contributions, hitting .300 in the second half. Valdez was named the team’s MVP by Amaro for the 2010 season. Both were labeled as “salary dumps.”
Moving Bobby Abreu with around $35 million left on his deal for three no name players and a failed prospect is a salary dump. Trading a utility infielder who was signed on a minor league deal originally, now set to make $900,000 is not. To further consider, Francisco will make only about $1.5 million. You have to imagine at least one was affordable. The $2.5 million or so will not be what keeps Shane Victorino or Cole Hamels in town after their contracts expire following the World Series.
Do they really want something like a weak bench and poor depth be something that prevents them from winning? Amaro did this last year when he looked past Ross Gload’s injured hip, in addition to letting Greg Dobbs, an excellent pinch hitter, walk in free agency, only to see him hit .370 off the bench.
Michael Martinez will eventually comeback from his broken foot, but he is not the savior. There are reports that the Phillies are looking for help via a trade, with the name Paul Janish being linked to the Phillies. But the Phillies could very well be trading a piece that represents more value than the ones they received from either Toronto or Cincinnati.
The last type of move they made that would be similar to this–a Spring Training deal with a team that had a surplus of capable bodies–was in 2006 when they acquired David Dellucci. The outfielder didn’t come too cheap, having cost Robinson Tejeda plus another minor leaguer. Tejeda was nothing special, but he was a major league player (and still is), making 13 starts for the 2005 club.
Because of the timing of such a deal occurring again, the Phillies acquiring a major league player while a team is finalizing its roster, the Phillies could be giving up some more quality. The point is that in this hypothetical deal, they would be giving up more than a Frank Gailey/Jeremy Horst-nobody type of player. It also would eliminate that extra money they saved by trading away Valdez and Francisco’s small, one-year deals.
So this deal would be to fill a hole they created themselves, filling it with a player that will likely cost the team another player, as well as the chance as maybe some extra money. So this would all take place just for the chance of saving maybe $500,000? Seems like too much tinkering to a 102 win team.
And if there are a lot of different pieces of the puzzle to scoring runs, like Amaro said, why trade two of them, not replace them, and get two non-major league players whose roll is not one in need?
Do they make a move, and essentially eat crow for trading the two? Or do they let Laynce Nix face the lefthander?
They may have made a mistake or two here, but they could be in line to compound it if they make a bad trade in the next week.
Mike Angelina is a Producer at 94 WIP-FM / 610 WIP-AM and contributes to CBS Philly on both local and national sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeAngelina