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Phillies have spent wisely

Seven acquisitions at a reasonable price have brought a big payoff to the Bank — a first-place start.

Obtaining Brad Lidge has "killed two birds with one stone," assistant manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says.
Obtaining Brad Lidge has "killed two birds with one stone," assistant manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says.Read more

MIAMI - Flash sells tickets in the cold winter months, but doesn't ensure a championship in October.

The Phillies have had flashier off-seasons than the one they had before they opened the 2008 season. They thrilled fans before 2003 when they acquired Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood and David Bell.

They created similar excitement before 2004 when they got Billy Wagner, Eric Milton and Tim Worrell.

And, yes, fans were pumped up when the Phillies added Freddy Garcia before the 2007 season.

The first-place Phillies, who open a three-game series tonight against the second-place Florida Marlins at Dolphin Stadium, made little noise this off-season, certainly compared to the New York Mets, who acquired lefthander Johan Santana.

But most of their moves have worked out surprisingly well so far.

"It seems like we made the right decisions," lefthander J.C. Romero said. "We added the right pieces."

The Phillies have seven players on their roster who weren't on the team last year. They have added, at a relative bargain of $17.29 million in payroll, the following players and their salaries: Eric Bruntlett, $600,000; Chad Durbin, $900,000; Pedro Feliz, $3 million; Geoff Jenkins, $5 million; Brad Lidge, $6.35 million; Rudy Seanez, $390,000; and So Taguchi, $1.05 million, which includes a $250,000 buyout for 2009.

Compare them to the seven players the Phillies added before the 2007 season for $24.86 million: Antonio Alfonseca, $700,000; Rod Barajas, $2.5 million; Adam Eaton, $7.875 million; Greg Dobbs, $385,000; Freddy Garcia, $10 million; Wes Helms, $2.55 million; and Jayson Werth, $850,000.

"We had a pretty strong core" before this season, assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Really, what we were trying to do was tweak. We did need a starter. We knew it was important to get a starter.

"We ended up moving Brett [Myers] into the rotation, and that ended up being our acquisition. Getting Lidge kind of killed two birds with one stone. But they've been tweaks. We tried to create some depth on our club. We know that's important. And a lot of ways you get lucky.

"When you make moves, you bank on what people have done in the past. We got Garcia last year, and he was arguably one of the best starting pitchers in baseball the last month and a half of the [2006] season. You have to base your information off what you see, what you're scouts are saying, and how people have performed.

"That's the only reason why we acquired guys like Feliz and Jenkins. They had a certain track record, and we thought they could help us."

Lidge proved to be the biggest addition in the off-season when the Phillies acquired him and Bruntlett in a November trade with the Houston Astros. But even then, Phillies fans weren't sure what to expect. Lidge struggled terribly in 2006 and lost his closer's job early in 2007. He also had a bad knee.

But he seems like a lock for the National League all-star team. He is 1-0, with a 0.96 ERA and 17 saves.

"The core group of guys on this team sets the table, and we're kind of following by example," Lidge said.

Durbin, signed as a free agent in December, is 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in 25 appearances. Seanez, signed as a free agent in April after the Los Angeles Dodgers released him, is 3-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 19 appearances. Lidge, Durbin and Seanez have helped turn the Phillies' bullpen into the leading one in the National League.

Then there are Jenkins, Feliz, Bruntlett and Taguchi.

Jenkins is hitting .281, with six homers and 18 RBIs, playing almost exclusively against righthanded pitchers in a platoon in right field. He is hitting .293, with six homers and 18 RBIs, against righthanders. Werth is hitting .305, with six homers and 17 RBIs, against lefthanders.

Put those platoon numbers together and they have combined to hit .296, with 12 homers and 35 RBIs. That has offset the production lost when centerfielder Aaron Rowand signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. Rowand was hitting .330 for the Giants, with eight homers and 37 RBIs, entering last night's games.

Rowand is making $12 million this season. Jenkins and Werth combined are making $6.7 million.

"We felt we had replacements for Aaron," Amaro said. "Obviously, what he brought for us off the field was very, very big. He was a huge piece of what we were about last year, but we felt like we had the kind of makeup on our club already that would carry us.

"We had a good group of guys in the clubhouse, and Aaron wasn't the only guy that we felt was part of that."

Feliz is hitting .248, with eight homers and 30 RBIs, but has brought solid defense to third base. Bruntlett is hitting .242, with two homers and 12 RBIs, but he held the fort at shortstop while Jimmy Rollins spent a month on the disabled list.

Taguchi has been the only disappointment. He is hitting just .203, with four RBIs, in limited action. Taguchi led the majors last season hitting .406 as a pinch-hitter, collecting 13 hits in 32 at-bats. But he is hitless in 10 at-bats as a pinch-hitter this season.

"Feliz has been outstanding defensively," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's had some big hits for us, too. I think he can hit 25 to 30 homers and hit .275 or .280. But defensively, I didn't realize he was that good. . . . He's been everything I've been told he was."

The seven newcomers have combined with the talented core to have the Phillies off to their best start since 1995, when they also opened the season 39-26. The Phillies are on pace to win 97 games. They haven't won that many since 1993, when they went to the World Series.

Of course, it's early. Everybody thought the Mets were certain to win the division title at this point last season. But if the veteran core and newcomers continue to produce and stay healthy, the Phillies see no reason why they can't continue to play well and push toward their second straight division title.

Extra bases. Righthander Kris Benson, who had been sidelined with soreness in his right biceps, is throwing again and might pitch in a minor-league game later this week.

Read Todd Zolecki's Phillies' blog, The Phillies Zone, every day at


Phillies (Myers, 3-7) at Marlins (Nolasco, 5-4), 7:10 (CSN)