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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Phillies Shape Their Bullpen and Make a Bad Decision

The Phillies still have 7 relievers on the Major League roster after optioning Scott Mathieson and Mike Zagurski to AAA Lehigh Valley, opting to keep both Danys Baez and David Herndon ahead of Mathieson and Antonio Bastardo as the second lefty ahead of Zagurski.

I'm not going to get into a debate over the Bastardo/Zagurski decision, even if Baseball Prospectus wrote glowing things about Zagurski and his torrid second half in Lehigh Valley.

That same publication wrote even more glowing things about Mathieson, who had a great season last year in AAA, showed a great recovery from arm surgery and just pitched great. He's also had a good spring, but, for some reason -- probably because he has an option left, the Phillies are sending him to Lehigh Valley. It also may be for two other reasons -- a) they'll want him to get regular work on the farm (and regular work won't be guaranteed in Philadelphia) and b) they'll probably want him to close (which he won't do in Philadelphia, at least now). That all sounds good, but the guy is a keeper, and keepers want to be with the big club, and it's my view that Mathieson has more than earned a roster spot.

Why? Because while Herndon has had a decent spring, he pitched mop-up duty exclusively last year and struggled, and he only did so because he was a curious Rule 5 pick that the Phillies didn't want to return to the Angels so he had to stay on the roster. Then there's Baez, who was a terrible free-agent signing (to a guaranteed two-year deal, too) and whose contract for some reason the Phillies don't want to eat. That's in stark contrast to the cash-strapped Mets, who have decided to eat about $18 million in monies they owe to Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, whom they released. Baez is owed about $3 million, which is a small price to sacrifice for a roster whose payroll is among the five highest in baseball. It's hard to believe that the Phillies couldn't find a way to keep Mathieson over one of those two guys, and Mathieson and his agent must be thinking the same thing.

As must be Chad Durbin, who also deserves one of those roster spots, but, instead, is a refugee in Cleveland for a team whose season might be over by August. If you're a Phillies' fan, you'd rather have Durbin and Mathieson over Baez and Herndon.

Then again, this is the Phillies, one of baseball's oldest teams, and a team that used 22 pitchers last season. Which means, of course, that Mathieson will be back up soon, and, when he returns, he'll likely stay for a while.

Still, Mathieson deserves his spot now. In the meantime, stay tuned to what the Phillies' lineup will look like, who will hit third and fifth, and who will play second base. The Phillies are a good team, but their lineup won't scare that many teams, no matter how good the starting rotation is.


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