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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Two Roster Moves That the Phillies Should Make

Okay, well, at least one.

The Phillies did a great job with their payroll in the off-season. They gave good contracts to Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels and inked Raul Ibanez as a free agent. The latter signing looks to be a brilliant move. They increased their payroll almost 30% during the worst recession anyone can remember, and they made a decision to eat the remaining $9 million on Adam Eaton's contract and roughly $7 million on Geoff Jenkins'. So, as a fan, you have to be pleased as to everything that they did.

Except, okay, this is a small point, but their bench is no stronger than last year, and if they were going to spend that extra $25 or $30 million, couldn't they have spent a few million more. Why, you ask? Because while I'll take Chris Coste as the back-up catcher (look, I love the guy, but he's on the wane offensively and defensively), it's hard to defend having Miguel Cairo on the roster. The Phillies already have a utility infielder in Eric Bruntlett, so why do you need two banjo hitters on your bench? (And Coste is approaching Mario Mendoza territory with every month he ages). Why not have a fourth outfielder, a righty with some power, on your bench?

The Phillies need one. They had hoped that John Mayberry, Jr. would show enough in spring training to win the position, but while he hit some homers, they didn't believe he was ready. So he's toiling with the AAA Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, and it doesn't seem that he's quite ready yet after being down on the farm for a few months. Meanwhile, Miguel Cairo is killing them. He's something like 1-15 on the season, and at 34 his best days are behind him. He adds no value to the roster -- one that desperately needs a righthanded power-hitting threat off the bench. True, the Phillies did make a pass at Gary Sheffield, but there have to be others out there for the taking who would fit in nicely instead of Miguel Cairo. It's hard to imagine he'll be here come June 15.

That said, it's also hard to watch Jack Taschner pitch. Taschner didn't set the world on fire for so-so Giants teams, and then all of a sudden at the season's outset the guy wins the baseball lottery by getting traded to the defending world champions. Now, the circumstances that necessitated Taschner's arrival were unique. Lead lefty reliever J.C. Romero decided that he knew enough of amateur pharmacology to purchase something at GNC to help him, only to learn that whatever he took was on the banned substance list. (Even more bizarre, MLB held a hearing on the matter in between games of the World Series, and Romero didn't tell his team about it and pitched great). So, the Phillies elevated #2 lefty reliever Scott Eyre (who pitched great for the team last season after coming over from the Cubs) to the lead lefty set-up role, and put Taschner in Eyre's old spot. Apparently, the team believed that J.A. Happ, who pitched well last season and battled Chan Ho Park nobly for the #5 position in the starting rotation, only to lose on a split decision, wasn't ready for this type of set-up work (Happ is excelling in the long man role). So, enter Taschner.

And he's been a launchmaster, with a WHIP well over 1.50 and blowing (another) lead today. To make matters a bit more unsettling, it was curious that, at the time the Phillies acquired Taschner, they didn't pursue either Joe Beimel or Will Ohman, the two top lefty relievers available. Either could have been had, even if one or both had to yield on their dreams to get a J.C. Romero-like contract (i.e., a multi-year deal, even if Ohman especially deserved one). Now, it could have been that both balked because they couldn't tell what their futures would have been in Philadelphia after Romero returned (a status made all the more precarious if they had signed a one-year deal coming off the good seasons both had), but the Phillies ending up going for the cheapest option in Taschner. And the results are showing.

Ruben Amaro has done some fine work as General Manager for the Phillies since Pat Gillick retired and he took over the reigns. What he now has to do is do what Gillick did best. And that was not making the big, splashy signing, but rather making the small moves that yielded the likes of Scott Eyre and Matt Stairs. GM Amaro, if you have two such moves in you, figure out who's going to replace Miguel Cairo and Jack Taschner and make the moves as quickly as you can.