Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, October 28, 2011 02:42 PM Comments: 17
This is an argument I’ve been making for close to a year, and while I’ve hinted at it, in both my post on Domonic Brown’s future and in my season review of Antonio Bastardo, but the Phillies have a need that might run counter to the big-splash mentality by which Ruben Amaro has seemed to run this team since taking over. With Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson entering free agency, the Phillies find themselves without a proven closer heading into the offseason. This presents a rather different conundrum for the team than does Jimmy Rollins‘ impending free agency or even Roy Oswalt‘s. This free agent class is unbelievably weak at shortstop and in starting pitching, which are, of course, two areas where many teams with designs on a playoff berth in 2012 have great need.
For shortstops, it’s Jose Reyes, then Rollins, then Marco Scutaro and Alex Gonzalez. That’s it. Almost every other free agent shortstop is either a replacement-level player or close to it, and if you’re going to put a bad player on the field, better to get that lack of production from a cheap source, such as Wilson Valdez , than to pay a premium to get the same production from a bigger name, say, Yuniesky Betancourt. For pitchers, CC Sabathia seems like he’ll opt out of his contract and re-sign with the Yankees, which leaves Oswalt–whose status for 2012 is still not certain–along with C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, and a littany of former stars (Aaron Harang, Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis, and others) to whom time and chance have been so unkind that they resemble their former selves only in appearance. Francis and Webb, who faced off in Game 1 of the 2007 NLCS, are no more ace starters than the sunken wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona is a functioning ship of the line. That message seems to have reached the Phillies’ front office clearly.
However, this free agent class features a surfeit of proven closers. Even if the Phillies don’t re-sign Madson, they have Jose Valverde, Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Frank Francisco…if the Phillies want to splash big money to buy someone who’s racked up impressive save totals in recent years, they certainly won’t lack the opportunity.
But spending big money on a relief pitcher is a sucker’s bet, and the Phillies, who tend to be very hit (Roy Halladay, Chase Utley) or miss (Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, Placido Polanco, depending on who you ask) with their long-term contracts would be extremely foolhardy to sign any relief pitcher to a multi-year deal.