"As I sit here tonight, I know Hamels is going to be better and I know Lidge is going to be better. I can tell you guys that. I know that. So therefore that's going to make us better. But now we can improve, we can improve on our hitting, and we will. We're going to be a better team next year. That's our goal."
- Charlie Manuel, Nov. 4, 2009
A GOOD PLACE to start a plea for Chone Figgins are those words uttered by the Phillies manager after the Yankees eliminated his team on that cold night less than a month ago. Moments earlier Charlie Manuel, emphasizing what had been a seasonlong problem, said, "It seemed like our offense, when we had to really get down and get the big hits or we had to do things to kind of take them out of the game, it seemed like we couldn't do it."
The stats will show that the Phillies scored more runs than anyone in the National League last season, more than all but a few AL teams, too. Those stats mask how uneven that scoring could be however, how their ridiculously prolific power numbers (224 home runs) masked a recurring problem of developing and sustaining rallies, leading to less victories than they should have had, and more blown saves, too.
Some of that had to do with the man in the leadoff spot, who batted .250 and finished last among NL shortstops in on-base percentage. Some had to do with a lack of production from the back of the order. It's fun to watch the faces of casual fans when I tell them what Pedro Feliz hit with runners in scoring position (.336), because it sure seemed like he was ending a whole lot of innings with 5-4-3 doubleplays. (He hit into 12 doubleplays in 2009.)
Although not quite to the extent of Rollins, Feliz ranked low in on-base percentage and OPS among NL third basemen. Still, he was as likable as his name implies, and with 82 runs batted in and a great glove, it's startling to see the indifference accompanying his departure. The guy drove in the winning run of the World Series 2 years ago. He tied Game 4 this year with a clutch, eighth-inning home run, before Lidge blew it into pieces.
So let's say Cole Hamels is better and Brad Lidge is better. That's a second ace and a dependable closer at no additional cost. Since picking up Feliz' option at $5.5 million was not palatable, it's reasonable to assume that Phillies brass agreed with their manager about the offense.
In cutting Feliz loose, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said this: "There were some differences of opinion, but we finally decided that, in the end, if we were going to give ourselves a chance to add or change things up a little bit, this would be the most likely place to do that . . . "
An upgrade right? Three names have been floated: Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre and Placido Polanco. DeRosa is a season removed from a 21 home run, .285 average, but he will turn 35 as he reports to spring training. A Gold Glove second baseman with Detroit, Polanco has played third before, both here and in St. Louis. He is 34. Beltre, 31, hit 48 home runs with the Dodgers in 2004, but who didn't hit 48 home runs in the pre-congressional steroid hearings world of 2004?
Since then, he has hit no more than 26.
I'm just saying . . .
Do any of these guys make you say "good riddance" to Pete Happy? Do any of these guys, in Amaro's own words, "inject a different look or different feel" into the Phillies lineup?
Angels owner Arte Moreno has said he will hold his payroll at $101 million and thus can not afford both Figgins and free-agent ace John Lackey. There will be suitors for both, and Mets GM Omar Minaya has already expressed interest in obtaining Figgins at any price.
That, I'm hoping, is why Amaro is acting like he is not. Because Figgins is clearly the "injection" guy, a true leadoff for a team in desperate need of one.
I really don't care if Rollins gets his nose out of joint on this or not, nor should you or the Phillies. If he really wants to win, he will embrace the idea of a 101-walk, 42-steal guy at the top of the order, who just happens to bat right and left.
Keep Victorino where he is, too, at least when he isn't slumping. He and Rollins could even take turns batting out of the seventh spot, based on who is hitting, but I really like the idea of Rollins there, hacking to his heart's content, keeping rallies going, or starting that secondary offensive threat that good AL teams have.
Think about it: With Rollins behind Ibanez, the Phillies lineup is as insulated as the Yankees lineup was this year. Switchhitter, switchhitter, lefty, lefty, righty, lefty, switchhitter, righty, pitcher.
As Amaro and Manuel have pointed out, the core of this team is intact for at least one more season before free agency makes things uncomfortable around here. That's when the tough payroll decisions should be made, after they win a second championship, and Figgins and Rollins together hoist the World Series MVP trophy.
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