The Phillies have possibly the best lineup in all of major league baseball. It can be said, and has, that the Phillies current infield is the best the franchise has ever produced. With a first basemen (Ryan Howard) who is always among the league leaders in HR and RBI and a second basemen (Chase Utley) who is as good with his glove as his bat. A former MVP and current Gold Glove SS in Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco at third sporting a career .303 BA.
Their outfield is just as good featuring three men who were All Stars in 2009. Jayson Werth had a career year in right field, as did Raul Ibanez in left. Shane Victorino once again proved to be a somewhat of a five tool player manning center field. Their outfield will certainly not be the problem this season.
Neither will their starting rotation. Out goes Cliff Lee but in steps possibly the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay. Cole Hamels will look to have a bounce back year and all indications out of Clearwater is that he has come into camp motivated after a humbling 2009 season. Runner up to the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year JA Happ will look to evade the sophomore slump that hits so many players. Joe Blanton looked really good after a slow start to the 2009 season. After signing a new three year deal he too will look to prove he was worth the money in 2010. Rounding out the rotation is ageless wonder Jamie Moyer who sported a spring ERA of under 1. If he falters third year starter Kyle Kendrick will be transitioned from the bullpen and given Moyers spot in the rotation. All of these pitchers will be receiving signs from a catcher we have all come to know and love, Chooch.
While on paper everything about the Phillies looks good, if not great. But there is an elephant in the room. Like person you just met with a lazy eye, you don’t want too but you can’t quite ignore it. The thing I am referring to is the Phillies bullpen.
In 2008 the Phillies had a magical year that resulted in the Phillies reaching the mountain top and winning the World Series. While the offense was a big part the catalyst in my mind was the effectiveness of the bullpen. Throwaways like JC Romero, Scott Eyre, and Chad Durbin solidified the best bullpen in all of MLB capped off by the best closer in the National League, Brad Lidge. Two years later however a lot has changed.
Last season the Phillies had signed former Dodger Chan Ho Park with the thought of using him out of the bullpen. I truly believe that to get Park to sign they promised him a chance to earn a rotation spot, with the thought that he would fall short. Well Chan Ho defied the odds and ended up beating incumbent Kyle Kendrick, and rookies Carlos Carrasco, and JA Happ. Park pitched awful as a starter posting a 7.29 ERA. After just seven starts Park was placed in the bullpen and Happ was given his spot in the rotation
Park went on to be the best pitcher for the Phillies out of the bullpen. In 38 games out of the bullpen Park went on to have a 2.52 ERA while not surrendering any HR, after giving up five long balls as a starter. Park's dominance out of the pen was especially important in 2009 as Brad Lidge has an awful year, Chad Drubin went from an ERA in the two's to an ERA in the fours, and JC Romero missed much of the season due to injury. Even mainstay Ryan Madson saw his ERA climb ever so slightly in 2009.
In 2009 the Phillies best pitchers were Chan Ho Park (2.52 ERA) Clay Condrey (3.00 ERA) and Scott Eyre (1.50 ERA) but all three of those are gone. In their wake steps in former starter Antonio Bastardo, Danys Baez, and Jose Contreras. Bastardo will look to fill the void left when lefty specialist Scott Eyre retired. Baez will look to fill the void left by Clay Condrey who will be putting his talents on display in Minnesota this season. And finally Contreras will look to go from starter, to effective reliever, just like Park did last season.
My problem is none of those guys I mentioned for this season seem like they will be able to come close to those who left. While I’m a big fan of Bastardo I’m just not sure he can come close to the production Scott Eyre gave the Phillies. He has electric stuff but also can be wild at times and that isn’t something you want from a guy coming out of the pen. Baez, in my mind, is just awful and will be another Chad Durbin. While there is nothing wrong with Durbin I can’t see having two righties in the pen who will post a mid to high four ERA a good thing. And finally Contreras, well who knows what you’re getting from him. Yea in his brief stint last season as a reliever with Colorado he pitched really well but that was in only 17 IP and in a pitcher friendly park, not a hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park.
Chan Ho Park went on to sign a deal with the Yankees and when the Phillies played the Yankees this season in spring training Park was quoted as telling a Phillies beat writer "tell Charlie he was the best manager I ever had." And remember this is a guy who wanted to start, and was sent to the bullpen after not performing up to standards. It seems like Park wanted to stay but Park's problem was that when free agency hit this past winter Park started this whole "I want to be a starter" crap again.
The Phillies had some talk with his agent but nothing ever came of it and when they signed Contreras it was a foregone conclusion that they would not pursue Park any further. For an offseason that was almost perfect I do have to criticize Ruben Amaro Jr. for this one.
The Phillies should have overpaid for Park. I wouldn’t have given him starter money but I would have given him more money then you pay most sixth or seventh inning guys. Say the average middle reliever is going to get three million a season I would have given Park 4.5 to pitch out of the pen. The production he would have given you would have been worth it.
The Phillies play in a ballpark which is known for being hitter friendly. Finding a reliever who can pitch, and pitch effectively in the cozy confines of CBP. I could be dead wrong about Baez and he could end up having a great year. A career 4.04 ERA however just doesn’t give me much hope. Bastardo could in fact continue the success he had in the Dominican Winter League this season and fill Scott Eyre’s shoes with ease, I just don’t think he’s going to be as effective as Eyre was. I think Contreras is going to be awful, I hope I’m wrong on this prediction but I will truly wonder this season while watching him pitch, who is the oldest Phillie? Jamie Moyer or Jose?
Pitchers Brad Lidge, and JC Romero will start the season on the DL. This is the third straight year the Lidge will start the season out on the DL. This will thrust set up man Ryan Madson into the closers role, something he’s never been good at.
If the Phillies falter this season there is a strong chance the reason will be a weak bullpen. Everything about this team screams "winner" except the pen which is injured, and just all around not that great. So if Contreras falters the way I think he will just ask yourself "why didn’t Ruben bite the bullet and sign Park"