The start of the free agent signing period is tomorrow, when the flame of the hot stove turns blue. The Phillies are unlikely to be major players with any of the blue-chippers out there -- Lefty C.C. Sabathia, first baseman Mark Texeira, left fielder Manny Ramirez, etc -- but they will have some opportunities to improve.
Throughout today and into tomorrow morning, we'll evaluate the Phillies' needs and the possibilities that exist at each position. We'll go position-by-position, so check back throughout the day.
Our first position is catcher.
In terms of need, it isn't at the top of the Phillies list (That would be pitching and corner outfield). In fact, it would be a mild surprise if they bring in anyone above the inventory level. Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste are both under club control, and top prospect Lou Marson is on his way. It isn't clear what the Phillies' plans are for Marson, who joined the team in September and travelled with the Phillies throughout their playoff run. Marson had a breakout season at Class AA Reading this year, hitting .314 with a .433 OBP while hitting five home runs and 46 RBI. He seems to improve with each level he climbs -- he hit .243/.343 at Lakewood in 2006 and .288/.373 at Clearwater in 2007. But as much as fans have clamored for him, he is still just 22 years old, and he could be another year away.
Ruiz was a playoff star, going 11-for-32 with four RBI in the NLCS and World Series. But he hit just .219 during the regular season, albeit with a .320 on base percentage. He'll be 30 next season, his third full-time in the majors. Coste, meanwhile, played sparingly in the latter part of the season, but he still hit a respectable .263.
The presence of Coste and Ruiz seem to make it unlikely that they would look to bring in a veteran catcher via free agency. That said, late last season they did express interest in signing Reds catcher David Ross, who ultimately landed in Boston. So catching was on the radar at some point.
Regardless, he is a look at what is out there:
David Ross - The Phillies had some interest in this 31-year-old seven-year veteran back during the summer when he was released by the Cincinnati Reds. Ross wound up signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox. He was on Boston's playoff roster, but is now a free agent. He hit .225 with a .381 on base percentage last year. For his career, his numbers are .222/.309/.435, 60 home runs in 1,124 ABs. Ross hit 38 home runs in 2006 and 2007, but played sparingly last season.
Johnny Estrada - You remember him. He came up through the Phillies system but was dealt to the Braves in the Kevin Millwood deal back in 2002. He went on to have a couple of solid seasons with Atlanta, but has played for three different teams in the last three seasons. He missed most of last season recovering from an elbow injury and was ultimately released by the Nationals late in the year. In 2007, he hit .278 with 10 home runs for the Brewers. In 2006, he hit .278 with 11 home runs for the Diamondbacks (but is a low OBP guy -- .277/.317 for his career). Estrada is 32 years old and is entering his ninth big league season.
Josh Bard - Hit .202 and got just 178 at-bats for San Diego last season, but is a career .265 hitter who hit .333/.404 in 2006 for the Red Sox and Padres and .285/.365 for the Padres in 2007. He also came up through the Indians system and played in Cleveland from 2002-2005.
Javier Valentin - Hit .256/.326 with four home runs and 14 RBI in 129 ABs with the Reds last season. The 32-year-old has hit .251/.310 in 10 seasons. His best year came in 2005 when he hit .281/.362 with 14 home runs and 50 RBI for the Reds.
Gregg Zaun - 15-year veteran is on his way out of Toronto and would like to play for a contender. Career numbers: .251/.344,78 HR, 405 RBI. 2008 numbers .237//.340, six HRs, 30 RBI, 245 AB.
Sal Fasano - Has played just 31 games in the last two seasons after leaving the Phillies.
Toby Hall - Hit .260/.304 in 127 ABs as a back-up for the White Sox.
Other names: Jason Varitek (Red Sox), Ivan Rodriguez (Yankees), Brad Ausmus (Astros)
Around lunch time we'll take a look at some of the pitchers who are out there.