I'm not sure I follow the rationale behind the outrage some fans have against the signing of Kris Benson. Worst case scenario, he is a bust in training camp, the team doesn't move him to the active roster, and the right-hander exercises the out-clause in his contract and looks elsewhere for work. Best case scenario, Benson recovers fully from rotator cuff surgery and provides the Phillies with another veteran arm. But more on that later. . .
. . . For now, I'd just like to say this: the life of a sports writer may sound glamorous, but it ain't all sunshine and cookies. Take, for example, today: It was a Saturday, the third day of pitchers and catchers, and the only story in town was Benson's arrival. Most of us had already written about some of the other intriguing situations out there like Brad Lidge, Adam Eaton, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Howard. The Benson signing isn't a huge story yet -- keep in mind, he signed a non-guaranteed minor league deal -- but we were all interested to talk to the guy and find out where, exactly, he felt his body was at (to recap: Benson had surgery on his torn cuff late last March and missed all of the 2007 season. Various Phillies coaches and scouts have placed him at 60-to-70 percent health right now). Problem is, Benson had just arrived in town, and had about a billion other things to worry about before meeting the press (practice, stretching, treatment, various forms to sign, etc. . .typical first day of work stuff). So after watching him throw off the mound, something manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday that he wouldn't be doing, we headed back to the clubhouse to wait.
Various members of the media stood in the vicinity of Benson's locker for about an hour and a half waiting for him to return from the trainer's room. At one point, an unnamed reporter astutely observed, "We're standing here waiting for a player on a minor league contract who has a career losing record and hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2006."
Hey, it's better than digging ditches. And I'm writing this while sitting on a couch in a condo with a huge unspoiled view of the Gulf of Mexico. I'm just saying, there's an hour and a half of my life I'll never have back.
But I digress. . .
My first impression of Benson? Seems like a stand-up guy. Really laid back. I'd guess he's pretty unflappable. That's just my gut. He told us he has "no doubt" that he'll pitch in the big leagues again, and that he has what it takes to crack the Phillies rotation. He wouldn't commit to a timetable, but did say that he'd be willing to make a few rehab starts in the minor leagues if he and the Phillies were on the same page by the end of spring training. After about 10 minutes of baseball and shoulder questions, someone finally broached the subject of Benson's wife Anna, who has drawn nearly as many headlines as him. Do a google image search for "Kris Benson" and the first two photos that pop up are of his wife wearing only underwear (hey, finish reading this entry before you do it). Benson just smiled when the question was asked. It seems like he and his wife get a kick out of all the ruckus they cause (and by ruckus, I mean doing interviews in which she threatens to sleep with all of his teammates if he cheats on her).
Anna will be reporting to Clearwater at some point in the near future, Kris said. So don't be surprised if you catch an Anna Benson interview on High Cheese at some point.
Now, back to my original point. . .
I just don't see the downside in this move. If Benson does end up earning the five to six million he could max out at, it means he's achieved a ton of incentives. And to achieve those incentives, he'll have to have pitched pretty well. And in a rotation littered with questions -- will Eaton bounce back? Is Kendrick for real? Does Moyer still have it? -- the Phillies certainly could use another quality arm.
Sure, Benson has a career losing record. But if you look at his numbers they are remarkably consistent. Ten to 12 wins, an ERA in the low-to-mid 4.00's. With this line-up, that'll win you some ball-games. And keep in mind that Benson has played on some pretty poor teams in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and that he pitched in New York before their recent run of success.
What did he do today? Threw about 70 pitches. I talked to the guy who caught his bullpen session, a kid named Tuffy Gosewich who starred at Arizona State, and he told me that Benson threw three pitches - fastball, change-up slider. Right now, the only thing coaches can tell is that Benson looks loose - "free and easy," Dir. of Pro Scouting Chuck Lamar likes to say. The rest will have to wait.