Three questions to ponder on this off day
1. What does the Willy Taveras signing mean?
The Phillies signed the outfielder, formerly of the Rockies, Reds and Nationals, today to a minor league contract.
First and foremost, it means Dewayne Wise exercised an out clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent. It was a smart move on Wise's part, since right fielder John Mayberry Jr. has established himself as the top outfielder on the minor league depth chart, hitting .284 with an .849 OPS and nine home runs at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. And with Domonic Brown making it very hard for the Phillies not to promote him later this season, Wise likely saw the handwriting on the wall.
But while signing Taveras is an inventory move at this point, don't be surprised if you see him in a Phillies uniform this September. This is a guy who hit .293 and converted 100 of his 129 stolen base attempts while averaging 498 at-bats in his first three years in the big leagues. He struggled at the plate for Cincinnati last season, hitting just .240 with a .275 on base percentage, but he still stole 25 bases and was caught just six times.
The Phillies have looked for a speed-first guy to serve as a pinch-runner the last two Septembers, but they simply did not have anyone with much experience in that role in the minors. Greg Golson had a try-out two Septembers ago, but was used infrequently and was not a serious contender to make the postseason roster.
2. What's up with Figgy?
Nelson Figueroa cleared waivers today and accepted an assignment to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, a huge positive for the Phillies' organizational depth in the rotation. Three months ago, everybody who watched this team closely -- GM Ruben Amaro Jr. included -- thought that pitching depth was the one glaring weakness coming out of spring training. Now, Kyle Kendrick has thus far showed that he can be a capable No. 5 starter, Jamie Moyer is pitching his best baseball since he has been in Philadelphia and Figueroa is available to be recalled as either a starter or long reliever. The bullpen could use another arm, but all-in-all, the Phillies have done an about-face in the pitching department. If J.A. Happ can overcome his arm trouble, it will only add to the pot.
3. When will the Phillies start to hit?
I might be in the minority here, but I think they are already starting to break out of their offensive slump. The box score hasn't showed it over the past two days, but the contact that they made in the last two games against the Braves was more solid than at any other point in this slump. That's my observation, of course. I don't know much of anything about Mat Latos, who will be on the mound for the Padres Friday night, other than the fact that he throws with his right hand and has had decent success thus far this season. But I do know that the Phillies have destroyed Jon Garland in the past. Placido Polanco, who is hoping to return this weekend, is 14-for-37 off of him. Raul Ibanez is 22-for-64. Jayson Werth hit a home run off of him last season, as did Carlos Ruiz.
I think Manuel goes back to his regular line-up this weekend, and I think the Phillies snap out of this epic slump. Of course, the schedule makers didn't do them any favors with a second series against the Red Sox and one against the Yankees on the next road swing.