We're back with another edition of the winter mailbag. There are less than two weeks to spring training, and even though nothing is happening in Phillies Land, there is a clear desire for baseball now that the Super Bowl is over and done with. (And how bad were those commercials? Don Draper fired everyone this morning.)
To the queries...
How do you see the last couple of roster spots in the bullpen shaking out?
Kyle from Gilbertsville
Expect to hear a lot about Jose Contreras in spring training because his health will greatly affect the construction of the bullpen. Contreras has yet to throw off a mound in his recovery from elbow surgery last September. The Phillies plan to limit Contreras in spring training; think six appearances instead of 10. Most likely, they will find out how healthy Contreras is sometime in April or May — if he makes it to that point. Publicly, the team has expressed optimism in the 40-year-old's recovery, but the signing of Chad Qualls tells you enough about how they really feel.
The big arms of Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus will be tossed around a lot in spring training, but don't forget about David Herndon. This is a guy who finished with a lower ERA (3.22 to 3.63) than Mike Stutes in almost the same number of innings. He had a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings after the All-Star break. Yes, he was prone to blowups like those consecutive nights in Florida, but he's demonstrated effectiveness.
Also, remember that Dontrelle Willis' spot is not guaranteed. The Phillies can pay only a small portion of his $850,000 contract if they cut him at the end of spring training. Willis' numbers against lefties were great in 2011, but he's never been a full-time reliever. And if someone else like Jake Diekman, Joe Savery, Raul Valdes, Jeremy Horst or David Purcey has a dynamite spring, they could win the job. Again, it should speak volumes to the quantity of competition the Phillies have invited to spring training.
Who do you think the fifth starter will be?
D.J. from Bowling Green, Ind.
Well, on paper, Joe Blanton is the guy. Phillies officials maintain he's in good health and ready to pitch more than 41 innings after a mystery elbow injury derailed much of 2011.
But as Jayson Stark of ESPN.com posited last week, Blanton could be trade bait for the second consecutive spring. Why? Well the Phillies are almost certainly above the luxury tax limit as it currently stands. Major League Baseball does not do its final tabulations until after the World Series, so there is time for flexibility.
Ruben Amaro Jr. has claimed the luxury tax threshold of $178 million is a limit for his payroll. So if the team is already over, does that limit them at the July 31 trade deadline?
Moving some of Blanton's salary would be the most logical way to clear headroom. He'll make $8.5 million in 2012, so even if the Phillies only pick up half, they could squeeze under the tax limit (for now). Of course, there are problems with this idea: 1. Blanton must prove he has value in the spring by demonstrating his health. 2. The Phillies must feel comfortable with either Kyle Kendrick, Joel Pineiro, Dave Bush, Austin Hyatt or Pat Misch combining to make 30-odd starts in 2012.
What happens to Freddy Galvis now that Jimmy Rollins is locked up?
Josh from North Wales
Well, firstly, he can spend a full season in Triple-A. Galvis is still only 22 and played just 33 games for the IronPigs in 2011. There is still development with the bat that must happen.
For now, Galvis projects as a utility middle infielder for the Phillies. If Rollins is out for an extended period of time, Galvis (not Michael Martinez) would probably be the one to replace him. A bigger question is how the Phillies would replace Chase Utley if he were to be sidelined again. Galvis has played only shortstop in the minors, but would theoretically be able to switch to second if needed. Still, that's a lot to ask a 22-year-old while making his first trip to the majors. I'll be curious to see if the Phillies give Galvis any time at second during Grapefruit League play or at the minor-league level.
And there's always the possibility that Galvis becomes a trade chip.
I've never been to Clearwater, but everyone keeps telling me Lenny's is the real deal. True?
Bill from Mount Ephraim
Yes. Never question the danish basket. Never.
Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.