While the Phillies' primary pursuit is the search for a third baseman, yesterday's removal of Eric Bruntlett from the roster offered a reminder that the front office is also working to retool the bench. Here is a window into their thinking:
--Matt Stairs, who wants to return for one more season with the Phils before retiring, is welcome at spring training on a minor league deal. But the team is looking for a different type of player to fill his roster spot. Stairs is a power/on-base guy who can barely play the outfield and certainly cannot handle the infield at this stage of his career.
“Ideally, you would like to have as many defensive options as you can with guys,” Amaro said today. “Versatility plays. Matt Stairs was a specialty guy.”
--The Phils most pressing bench need is to find a super utility-type, a player who Charlie Manuel can trust to fill in for Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Those talented middle infielders have arrived at baseball middle age, and need more rest than Manuel has provided.
So here is what Amaro needs to find: A guy who can play shortstop, and is willing to accept a bench role, and can handle the bat well convince Manuel to use him.
One problem. That guy probably does not exist.
“If the ideal guy was there, he would be playing every day in the major leagues,” Amaro said. “The likelihood is not great that we’re going to find a guy who can hit enough and field enough. You’re going to have to make a sacrifice.”
So where will Amaro make that sacrifice? On offense, apparently. He is seeking someone who can play the difficult position of shortstop, and has played that position regularly. By cutting ties with Bruntlett, the Phils sacrificed their only player who could sub for Rollins if the shortstop were injured for a significant period of time.
“Shortstop is a specialized position, almost like catcher,” Amaro said. “You would err on getting defense over offense.”
That would seem to eliminate the following names from the super-utility hunt, among others who haven’t played much shortstop lately, if ever: Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard.
In light of Amaro’s comments, Juan Uribe and John McDonald become intriguing options, as does Bobby Crosby. Cairo also fits the description, but it is difficult to imagine Manuel penciling in Cairo over Rollins very often.
Ben Francisco is returning, meaning that the other bench search is for a backup catcher. The Phils value defense at that position—they replaced Chris Coste with Paul Bako this year because the organization considered that a significant defensive upgrade—and would ideally like to find a younger option than the 37-year-old Bako.
But the Phils pitchers loved working with Bako last season, which is why I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see the team begin 2010 with him as Carlos Ruiz’s backup. If the team cannot find an affordable upgrade, they could do worse than Bako. He is certainly not their Plan A, but he remains in the mix.
It is clear that Amaro wants to improve the late inning relief corps by adding a free agent or two. Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney would be perfect fits, because they have been closers and setup men—and it wouldn’t be the worst idea to have an insurance policy in case Brad Lidge’s 2010 performance resembles his 2009.
Without mentioning names, Amaro made it clear that he did not want to rely on the farm system to restock his bullpen for next season.
“I’m trying to get someone who would be a little bit better than our possible candidates,” the GM said.
Scott Eyre was an important part of the late-inning mix last season, and he wants to either retire or return to the Phils for one more year. He had minor elbow surgery after the World Series, and we knew that the team was waiting on that to decide whether they were interested in retaining the lefty. Yesterday, Amaro added money as a factor.
“We think the surgery went well,” Amaro said. “We’re deciding whether the cost of bringing him back will be prohibitive. He may have priced himself out of our range.”