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Matt Gelb, Inquirer Staff Writer
The decisions on the Phillies' end were fairly simple Thursday. Offering Ben Francisco a contract for 2011 required no debate. Kyle Kendrick's situation was a little less definite, but in the end, the Phillies decided whatever raise Kendrick receives is worth it because of the value of pitching.
The decisions around baseball weren't as easy.
Near the end of the 2010 season, the players' union and Major League Baseball negotiated a few changes to the basic agreement designed to change the timeline of the off-season. Free agency started sooner, and so too was the date for tendering contracts to free agents and arbitration-eligible players.
It created a flurry of activity -- and the Phillies were definitely paying attention.
The most obvious new name to hit the market is Matt Diaz, whom Bob Brookover wrote about in Friday's Inquirer. Diaz makes a lot of sense for the Phillies (and a lot of other teams too) for all the reasons detailed in that story.
His agent is Larry Reynolds (a Stanford guy like Ruben Amaro Jr.). Reynolds previously represented Ryan Howard, but Howard fired him before the 2007 season began.
There were other decisions Thursday that could have an affect on the Phillies in the coming weeks.
1. The Angels signed lefthander Hisanori Takahashi to a two-year, $5.5 million deal. Takahashi was a pitcher that interested the Phillies for obvious reasons: He's lefthanded. When he hit the market, it was believed Takahashi was seeking a two- or three-year deal, but he ends up with a deal almost identical to the one Jose Contreras signed with the Phillies earlier this off-season.
That's good news for the Phillies. Takahashi's deal could set the market value for the remaining big-name lefthanders -- Pedro Feliciano, Brian Fuentes and Scott Downs. A three-year deal to Takahashi would have made future negotiations more challenging. Downs is less likely to sign with the Phillies because they would have to surrender a pick to Toronto.
2. Two more lefties hit the market Thursday. Boston declined to tender Hideki Okajima. In his first three years with the Red Sox after coming over from Japan, Okajima was a workhorse and one of the team's most reliable arms. He had a 2.72 ERA in 192 IP from 2007-09.
But in 2010, that workload caught up to Okajima, who turns 35 on Christmas Day. His unorthodox pitching motion was less effective and lefthanders hit .284 against Okajima with a .732 OPS. Okajima made $2.8 million in 2010.
George Sherrill was not offered a contract by the Dodgers after a disastrous 2010 season. Sherrill had a 6.69 ERA in 65 games with massive control issues. But that was just one season removed from a spectacular 2009 in which he saved 21 games with a 1.70 ERA. He made $4.5 million in 2010 and will sign for significantly less in 2011.
3. Other interesting names on the fringe became free agents. We're talking about guys like Lastings Milledge, who had a slash line of.277/.332/.380 for Pittsburgh last season. He was surprisingly non-tendered shortly before the deadline. Against lefties for his career, Milledge has a .798 OPS. But the outfielder comes with a lot of perceived baggage for his antics in New York and Washington that got him demoted and traded.
Willy Aybar was non-tendered by Tampa Bay and he could fill the role of the departed Greg Dobbs -- someone to play the corner infield spots off the bench. Well, Aybar is a switch hitter and turns 28 in March. After two decent seasons with the Rays, Aybar was not nearly as good in 2010, posting a .654 OPS. But he's shown a penchant for some power before and is about to enter his peak years.
In addition to Okajima, Boston non-tendered two other pitchers -- lefthander Andrew Miller and righty Taylor Buchholz. The latter name should be familiar. The Springfield native Buchholz was drafted by the Phillies in 2000. But he was on waivers earlier this off-season and the Phillies passed on him. Scouts have long raved about Miller's stuff, but he's never had the control to go along with it. Still, he turns only 26 in May.
Reliever Joel Peralta was an interesting non-tender by Washington. In 49 innings, he had a 2.02 ERA and walked just nine batters. Peralta, a righty, turns 35 in March.
Those are just some names to ponder, that's all. No, we're not talking about big-time acquisitions here, but it appears a lack of flexibility will make this off-season more about fine-tuning for the Phillies.
4. Former Phillie minor-league file: Brandon Duckworth, who spent all of last season at triple-A Lehigh Valley, signed a minor-league pact with Boston. No surprise that Duckworth won't be back. There were indications he was somewhat miffed about not receiving a late-season chance with the Phillies when Nate Robertson did instead.
Also, R.J. Swindle and his floating curveball re-signed a minor-league deal with Tampa Bay.
5. Finally, happy weekend. The space in this blog will pick up steam beginning Monday, when The Inquirer's baseball team heads to beautiful Lake Buena Vista for MLB's annual winter meetings. Ruben Amaro Jr. and his contingent of the front office will be there. So will Charlie Manuel and a cast of characters from around baseball. Maybe -- just maybe -- there will be some actual activity to come out of it.