Phillies FA Preview: The Bench
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Phillies FA Preview: The Bench
David Murphy, Daily News Staff Writer
Want to know the most amazing stat of this postseason? It wasn't Cole Hamels' or Cliff Lee's ERA, or Carlos Ruiz's batting average, or Ryan Howard's RBIs in the first two rounds or strikeouts in the World Series.
It was this: The six non-regular position players on the Phillies postseason roster combined for 31 at-bats during the playoffs.
They finished with just one hit -- an RBI single by Matt Stairs against A.J. Burnett in the World Series.
Let that sink in.
They were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, 1-for-14 with men on base.
In the World Series, when just one extra base hit might have turned the tide of the series, they combined to go 1-for-16.
While the majority of the focus throughout the regular season and postseason involved Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge's struggles, you could argue that the one area of the team that suffered the most dramatic drop-off from 2008 was the performance of the bench.
In the 2008 postseason, the Phillies' six bench players combined to go 11-for-32 with four extra base hits and three RBI. In the World Series, they went 3-for-9 with two extra base hits.
The postseason is the time when the flaws of the regular season come home to roost. It was true in the case of Hamels. And it was true in the case of the bench.
One year after leading the league with 64 pinch hits and finishing second with a .253 average, Phillies pinch-hitters hit just .186, the second-worst average in the National League and 45 points below the league average. Though they tied for the league lead with nine pinch-hit home runs, they struggled mightily to make contact, striking out an NL-high 71 times.
Which is why today we are going to look at one of the more under-reported yet important aspects of this Phillies offseason.
Already, Ruben Amaro Jr. has bid adieu to Eric Bruntlett. He does not plan on Matt Stairs or Miguel Cairo or Paul Bako being part of his 2010 Opening Day roster.
Of the six bench players who saw action in the playoffs, only Greg Dobbs and Ben Francisco will return.
In those two players, the Phillies feel like they have the makings of a decent bench. Dobbs, who in 2007 and 2008 was one of the top pinch-hitters in the majors, hit just .167 in those situations in 2009. But he was hampered by a calf injury and did not get nearly as much playing time as he did in 2008, thanks in part to Pedro Feliz's early-season offensive performance at third base. The Phillies feel like Dobbs can return to form in 2010. They are looking at several third basemen who can play second base as well -- Mark DeRosa, Placido Polanco and Chone Figgins among them -- which could enable Charlie Manuel to start Dobbs at third base while resting Chase Utley. Dobbs hit .309 with a .340 on base percentage in 28 starts in 2009. The thinking goes that more regular action will help him stay sharp for his pinch-hitting appearances.
And while Francisco went 0-for-11 in the postseason, he hit .278 with five home runs in 37 games after the Phillies acquired him from Cleveland along with Cliff Lee, and was 3-for-13 with two doubles as a pinch-hitter.
Still, the Phillies know they need to use free agency to upgrade the bench. Provided they carry five bench players on Opening Day, they have three spots to fill: A back-up catcher, a back-up infielder who can play short stop, and a third pinch-hitter/occasional fill-in type.
II. Five Potential Targets
1. Fernando Tatis, 35, UTIL, NYM
On paper, there might not be a better fit for the Phillies bench than this veteran utility man. In two seasons with the Mets, he hit .289 with a .352 on base percentage, 19 home runs, 95 RBI and 113 strikeouts in 613 at-bats. This season, he went 14-for-53 with two home runs and 10 RBI as a pinch-hitter. At this point in his career, he plays mostly in the outfield, making him an excellent candidate to spell Raul Ibanez for a game or two per week. But he has spent most of his career as a third basemen, and started 20 games there for the Mets this season, posting a .971 fielding percentage. He also started five games at second base and 32 games at first base. If the Phillies sign a third baseman who can also play second, it wouldn't be hard for them to get Tatis 400+ at-bats. He could provide Ryan Howard an occasional breather against lefties at first base, and could make the occasional appearance at third base against lefties, allowing a guy like DeRosa or Polanco or Figgins to play second on that particular day.
Tatis earned $1.7 million last season, and his versatility and offensive performance over the last two years should put him in high demand. But the Phillies can offer him a good chance to play regularly and a good chance to reach the World Series.
2. Jerry Hairston Jr., 34, UTIL, NYY
On paper, another perfect fit for the Phillies. He started 27 games at short stop for the Reds and the Yankees this season, making two errors. He has a .981 fielding percentage in 542 career games at second base. He can play the out field. He is right-handed. He hit .251 with a .301 on base percentage and 10 home runs in 383 at-bats in 2009. If he ever had to fill in long-term for Rollins, he might not bring the type of defense to the table that the Phillies desire. And he might get a better chance at playing time elsewhere. And he already has a World Series ring. But keep an eye on him.
3. Omar Vizquel, 43, SS, TEX
Vizquel's agent has been quoted as saying the veteran defensive whiz wants to play somewhere where he can win. And Charlie Manuel and Vizquel have a long relationship going back to their days with the Indians. The bench slot that Vizquel would inhabit is a defense-first position, and Vizquel is one of the best defensive short stops in history. He also started nine games at third base and 14 games at second base, all without an error.
But Vizquel can still handle the bat. He hit .266 with a .316 on base percentage in 177 at-bats last year for the Rangers.
4. Henry Blanco, C, 38, SDP
The Phillies are looking defense first for their back-up catcher, and Blanco is regarded as a solid defensive backstop. He's played for seven different teams in his 12 years in the majors, almost all of them as a back-up. While his overall offensive numbers might not be impressive -- He hit .235/.320 for the Padres last year with six home runs in 204 at-bats -- Blanco kills left-handed pitching. Last year, he hit .322 with a .429 on base percentage and four home runs in 59 at-bats against lefties. In 2008, he hit .316 with a .350 on base percentage and one home run in 57 at-bats against them.
5. Gregg Zaun, C, 39, TBR
Another strong defensive catcher who could fit perfectly with the Phillies. In addition to his veteran presence behind the plate, he is a switch-hitter who has posted an OBP of at least .340 in each of his last six seasons in the majors. He has some power, and has plenty of pinch-hitting experience, although the Phillies rarely use their back-up catcher in such situations. But Zaun might head somewhere where he can get more playing time: He started 74 games last season for the Rays and Orioles. Carlos Ruiz started 100 for the Phillies.
III. Five to watch
1. Ryan Freel, UTIL, 34, KCR: In the Tatis/Hairston Jr. mold, Freel has played mostly outfield lately but has also seen significant action at second and third. A right-handed hitter, he hit .272/.357 with 22 home runs and 114 RBI in his first six years in Cincinatti, but endured a frustrating 2009 in which he hit just .193 while bouncing between Baltimore, Chicago and Kansas City.
2. Ronnie Belliard, 35, INF, LAD: Not a short stop option, but plays second base and third base and in his last three seasons has hit.286/.342, 32 HR, 143 RBI, 186 SO in 1071 AB. He fluorished after joining the Dodgers last season.
3. John McDonald, 35, UTIL, TOR: A right-handed hitter, would be an option to back up Rollins. Hit .258/.271 for the Blue Jays last year.
4. Juan Uribe, 30, UTIL, SFG: At just 30 years old and coming off a season in which he hit .289 with a .329 on base percentage and 16 home runs while playing home games in a pitcher's park, Uribe would seem to be headed somewhere for bigger dollars and more playing time. But if nobody is interesting in giving him an everyday job, he could fit with the Phillies. He has extensive experience at short stop, second base and third base and is 10-for-31 in his career as a pinch-hitter.
5. Bobby Crosby, 30, UTIL, OAK: An option to back-up Rollins, but would his weak bat provide much of an upgrade over Bruntlett?