We're opening up the mailbag for the first time in 2011. Again, I hope to make this a regular feature of our Phillies coverage this season. And there are plenty of details to come on exciting new ways The Inquirer will cover the Phillies as spring training approaches.
If you have a question you'd like to see answered in this space, e-mail me with your question and hometown.
Let's dive in…
Kyle from Spring City asks: What’s Wilson Valdez status for the season? Is he a free agent?
A lot of questions about Wilson Valdez. No, he is not a free agent. Yes, he is under control. Even though Valdez made his debut in 2004 and is older than Jimmy Rollins, he does not have enough service time to qualify for free agency. In fact, Valdez doesn't have enough service time to qualify for arbitration.
Valdez finished 2010 with 2.096 years of service time. (It's written in years.days.) One year of service time (a full season) constitutes as 172 days. To be arbitration eligible, you must accrue at least three years of time. So Valdez fell 76 days short.
Basically, Valdez's contract status is the same of, say, Domonic Brown. He is under the Phillies' control with a salary to be determined.
I wrote in today's story about Matt Rizzotti that the only locks on the bench are Brian Schneider and Ross Gload, and perhaps Valdez. For suggesting Valdez isn't a stone-cold lock, a reader called me "obtuse."
Do I think Valdez will make the team out of spring training? Yeah, it's likely. Is it possible that with a bad spring, his spot is in danger? Of course.
Valdez was serviceable for the Phillies in 2010. He had a .667 OPS. He played above average defense. Those two qualities are replaceable, and one would argue eminently replaceable in baseball.
If you've noticed, the Phillies stockpiled quite a few middle infield types to the 40-man roster this off-season. If Brian Bocock, Michael Martinez or Carlos Rivero has a breakout spring and Valdez doesn't, who knows what happens.
Mike from Lancaster asks: When Shane Victorino has his yearly muscle strain and hits the DL who plays center field? Even if Charlie just wants to give Shane the day off who fills in?
Mike, I would argue the situation is effectively the same as in 2010. Last year's team didn't have a "true" backup centerfielder. Remember, when Victorino was injured, Jayson Werth shifted from right field to center.
If Victorino is hurt or needs a day off in 2011, I'd expect Ben Francisco to play center (even if he's the starting rightfielder). Francisco is mostly a corner outfielder, but he has started 39 games in center during his career.
Other options include two guys who are bench candidates this spring: John Mayberry Jr. and Michael Martinez. Mayberry is also a corner outfielder by trade, but played 15 games in center for triple-A Lehigh Valley last season. Martinez, a Rule 5 pick from Washington, is normally a middle infielder, but he also appeared in 29 minor-league games as a centerfielder last season.
Bob from Bayville asks: As we all know, the Phils struggled last year with a rash of injuries. A team that consistently plays as hard as the Phillies will see their share, but with the roster aging it is reasonable to ask if improved or modified conditioning methods would help prevent them. I heard that Rollins has said he was looking to address this, perhaps by using some yoga training. Do you know if the Phils have developed a plan to help prevent injuries as the team ages?
Well, if a team can come up with a plan to prevent injuries, I'd say that would be fairly remarkable. But assuming there will be no miracle programs developed, yes, the reality is that as the core ages, injuries become a larger issue. Some of them, like Chase Utley's ill-fated slide into second at Cincinnati, or Ryan Howard turning his ankle in Washington, have nothing to do with conditioning.
But others do. (We may or may not be looking in the general direction of shortstop.) Here's guessing that Jimmy Rollins' leg woes in 2010 were a wake-up call to a few players, not just the one who wears No. 11. Many of the players have long made off-season conditioning a priority. Look what it did for Cole Hamels. Howard, in recent years, has especially taken the initiative.
Mike from Lansdale asks: What's your instincts tell you about the number of pitchers the Phils will break camp with? Seems like 11 would be enough with this staff but Charlie & Ruben have recently talked about a "couple" of bullpen spots still available, and if Durbin doesn't sign, who would complete as the "long guy." Also, any chance somewhere on the website could you list which players have options left & who must make the roster or be cut from the organization?
Mike, I wrote a few weeks back on why it made sense to carry only 11 pitchers out of spring training. It remains to be seen how the Phillies will approach that. Mostly, it depends on what the talent evaluators see in spring training. If there is no clear 12th pitcher who distinguishes himself in camp and there is an extra bench player who is having an especially good spring, will that change things? Certainly.
Should Chad Durbin not sign, and that is becoming more and more of a likelihood, the long man would come from within. One of the younger pitchers -- a David Herndon, Scott Mathieson, Justin De Fratus, Michael Schwimer, or Michael Stutes could fill that role. Herndon showed he could pitch multiple innings last season. Mathieson has done it before. Both De Fratus and Stutes are former starters. Schwimer has averaged 1.25 innings per appearance in each of the last two seasons.
As far as options go, most of the players on the fringe have an option year remaining. That includes Mathieson, Mike Zagurski, Mayberry, Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo. Also, Herndon can now be optioned because his Rule 5 status is gone. The only notable player without options is Valdez, who was designated for assignment in 2010.
Morris from Philadelphia asks: Sam Perlozzo is close friends with Leo Mazzone. They are so close that Mazzone left Atlanta for Baltimore when Perlozzo was named manager of the Orioles. The Phillies seem happy with Dubee, so far be it from me to suggest a pitching-coach controversy. But any chance we might see the Phillies bring in Mazzone for Spring Training as a special instructor, or as a front-office advisor?
Mazzone's name hasn't come up much since he was fired by Baltimore at the end of the 2007 season. He did surface this winter, saying he was interested in the pitching coach jobs for either the Yankees or Mets. But he did not get either position.
The guess here is Mazzone wants a pitching coach job somewhere, but then again, there have been plenty of openings since 2007 and he hasn't been hired. He currently hosts a radio show, too, so maybe he's just content living that life.
If anything, the Phillies probably need fewer pitching instructors given the fact they can hand the ball to four guys who probably require no coaching at all.
(That was a joke, by the way.)