With 23 roster spots filled by players who will make an estimated $138 million, the Phillies enter the final month of the offseason with very little monetary or logistical flexibility. Which means their search to bolster their pitching depth, which we highlighted yesterday, will almost certainly be more Salvation Army and less Nordstrom's. That might not be what you want to hear, but before you rip, be sure to consider a few facts:
1) The Phillies will be paying $1.75 million to Geoff Jenkins and Adam Eaton this season, a reminder that spending for spending's sake carries consequences that outlive the present.
2) The Phillies will enter the 2010 season with a payroll that is at least $5 million more than it was on Opening Day last year.
From where we sit, the club's most pressing concern is the perilous lack of starting pitching depth throughout the organization. But today, we are going to take a look at another area GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said he is hoping to address. It is a familiar one to anybody who has followed this team for the last couple years: a veteran left-handed reliever. If you were to look at the roughly 900 by-lines I have accumulated since beginning my coverage of this team back in February of 2008, you will find that about 600 of them have to do with the Phillies' pursuit of a left-handed reliever. Two years ago, they spent the majority of the offseason and spring training looking for another arm to compliment J.C. Romero, before finally getting Scott Eyre from the Cubs in August. Last year, they shipped Jason Jaramillo to Pittsburgh for Ronny Paulino, then later shipped Paulino to San Francisco for lefty Jack Taschner.
This year, the Phillies once again find themselves looking for that lefty specialist, this time to replace Eyre, who logged a solid year-and-a-half with the club, but who is recovering from elbow surgery and apparently disinclined to accept the non-guaranteed minor league deal that RAJ has offered. While the difference between Eyre and the club is unfortunate -- Eyre could have underwent surgery in September last year and perhaps been in a better position to secure a guaranteed deal at this point, but instead pitched through pain in the postseason -- but it makes sense from both sides. Given the aforementioned roster and budget inflexibility, the Phillies are uncomfortable doling out a guaranteed sum of money without knowing exactly how healthy and effective Eyre will be. As for Eyre, any veteran who has been in the league as long as he has is looking for guaranteed money. I'm sure there is a certain amount of pride involved as well -- after serving as a critcial member of the bullpen the last two seasons, it would have to be tough to show up to spring training as a non-roster invitee.
This, of course, begs the question: What else is out there?
And that, of course, begs the answer: Not much, which is why the Phillies are likely to go the minor league route. After all, to guarantee money to a player, he would have to present a significantly better option than Antonio Bastardo or Sergio Escalona, the two young lefties who figure to get a long look in spring training.
Below, we've broken down the remaining left-handed relievers on the open market. We've placed them into two categories: Potential Fits, and Unlikely Fits. Potential fits are mostly guys who could end up signing minor league deals.
- Ron Mahay, KC Royals: The Phillies have expressed cursory interest in the 39-year-old veteran over the past couple of seasons. And after posting a 4.79 ERA and 1.790 WHIP for the Royals, who released him in August, he might be forced to settle for a minor league deal. Mahay has appeared in the playoffs just once in his 13-year-career -- this year with the Twins, who signed him after his release from KC.
- Will Ohman, LA Dodgers: His name has already appeared in area newspapers more than perhaps any other player who was never close to signing with the Phillies, mostly because last year at this time he was one of the few lefties available and there wasn't much else to write about. He ended up signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers, but appeared in just 12.1 big league innings. He has held lefties to a .204 average in his career.
- Mark Hendrickson, Baltimore Orioles: He is low on this list because he is likely going to get a major league deal with somebody, perhaps even the Orioles, according to a recent report in the Baltimore Sun. But if the Phillies are going to dole out big league dollars to somebody, a guy like Hendrickson (a former Sixers draft pick) might fit. The 36-year-old went 6-5 with 4.37 ERA in 53 APP, 11 starts for Orioles last year. He could be a fallback starting option if either Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick do not work out. And as a reliever, he posted a 3.44 ERA, 1.273 WHIP, 6.1 K/9 in 55 innings. He also lives in York, for what that's worth (and to most people who live in York, it isn't worth much).
- Scott Schoeneweis, Diamondbacks: Dealt with tragedy last season when his wife was found dead in their home in late May. Struggled for the rest of the season, allowing 17 runs in 13.1 innings over the rest of the season. A Lenape High grad, he held lefties to a .178 average, .243 OBP and .520 OPS in 2008 with the Mets. Lefties have hit .227 off of him in his career.
- Ron Villone, Nationals: Ron Villone: Lefties hit .293/.386 against him last year, .176/.311 in 2008, .239/.311 in 2007. He has played for 12 teams in 15 seasons, posting a 4.25 ERA, 1.705 WHIP in 48.2 innings for Nats last season.
- Alan Embree, Rockies: At 39 years old, he struggled for the Rockies last season. Has held lefties to a career .239 average.
- Brian Shouse, Rays - A solid veteran, but he turned down arbitration from the Rays, which leads me to believe that he is pretty confident about his chances of landing a guaranteed contract. A Type B Free Agent, he posted a 4.50 ERA, 1.357 WHIP in 28.0 IP for Rays last year and a 2.81 ERA, 1.169 WHIP in 51.1 IP for Brewers in 08. Lefties hit .224/.246, .620 OPS (Righites .356, 1.065 OPS) in 09, .180/.196, .486 OPS in 08.
- Joe Beimel, Rockies: Solid ERA (3.17) and manageable WHIP (1.361) over last five seasons, so I'd expect somebody to give him a guaranteed deal. But he has never been great against lefties, and just doesn't seem to fit with what the Phillies are looking for.
- Ken Takahashi, Mets: Lefties hit .302/.387 with .859 OPS in 09. Righties hit .156/.278 for .567 OPS. Flip that around and we might be able to talk. Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez combined to go 4-for-7 with a home run and two doubles off him last year, although Ryan Howard did go 0-for-5 with four strikeouts.
- Horacio Ramirez, Royals: 11 ER in 22.2 IP for Royals last season. 5.2 K/9. Lefties hit .245/.288 in 49 ABs last year, .350/.403 in 60 ABs in 2008.
- Jamie Walker, Orioles: 6.44 ERA, 1.649 WHIP, 5.9 SO/9, 50.1 IP in last two seasons with Orioles. LHB hit .458 with four home runs in 24 at-bats in 2009, .304 with 7 HR in 92 AB in 2008.
- Glendon Rusch, Rockies: 6.75 ERA in 18.2 IP for Rockies last season. Lefties 7/19. Lefties .257/.261 in 109 AB in 2008, when he posted 5.16 ERA in 83.2 IP (9 starts) for Padres and Rockies.
- John Bale, Royals: LHB hit .271/.338 last season, .275/.346 in 08. 5.72 ERA in 28.1 IP last year. 4.39 ERA in 26.2 IP in 2008. 36 years old.
So, as you can see, there isn't much out there, certainly not much that warrants a major league deal. The worst thing the Phillies could do at this point is give guaranteed money to the wrong guy, which would diminish the opportunities for their young arms to prove themselves while also impacting their financial flexibility at the trade deadline.