INDIANAPOLIS - It is baseball's version of a rent-to-own program. For $50,000 and a 40-man roster spot, a team can put a player through a 6-week tryout before deciding whether to keep him or toss him back. It's the Rule 5 draft, and the Phillies look at it as a good deal. So yesterday, it came as little surprise when they selected righthander David Herndon with the No. 26 pick in baseball's biggest annual crapshoot.
The Phillies say what they always say this time of year: Theyhave had their eye on Herndon for a while, they like a lot of what he does, and they'd like to get a better look at him in spring training.
The early report on Herndon, courtesy of pro scouting coordinator Mike Ondo, who oversees the Phillies' Rule 5 efforts: He's a big guy (6-5, 240), who throws a heavy sinker and a slider. A fifth-round draft pick of the Angels in 2006 out of Panama City, Fla., Herndon spent his first two professional seasons as a starter, then transitioned into the bullpen midway through the 2008 season.
Last year, he appeared in 50 games at Double A Arkansas and posted a 3.03 ERA and 11 saves in 65 1/3 innings.
In 2008, the Phillies selected another starter-turned-reliever from the Angels system, and eventually sent Bobby Mosebach back to Los Angeles when he failed to win a spot on the Opening Day roster (a Rule 5 draftee must remain on a club's active roster or be offered back to the original club, which then has the option of paying $25,000 to accept him back).
"We really like the sink that he has," Ondo said. "Like Mosebach last year, if he makes the club he could give us two innings [of relief]."
His making the club remains a long shot. Most Rule 5 draftees, all of whom were left off the 40-man rosters of their original clubs, do not go on to become success stories. Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino, a two-time Rule 5 draftee, is an exception, along with Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, Royals closer Joakim Soria, and Mets ace Johan Santana. The only Rule 5 draftee in the Baseball Hall of Fame is Roberto Clemente.
No Phillies draftee since Victorino has gone on to play for the big-league club. The team was impressed with Mosebach last year, but did not feel he was ready to be on the Opening Day roster. Mosebach appeared in three games for the Angels last season, allowing two earned runs in 2 1/3 innings.
Herndon will try to be an exception. He is currently playing winter ball for Los Gigantes in the Dominican Republic, where he is coached by Phillies minor league pitching coach Carlos Arroyo. He does not strike out a lot of batters but also does not walk many, and the Phillies feel his sinker could play well in Citizens Bank Park.
"I think it's always a plus when you find that," Ondo said of the sinker, "but I wouldn't say we have an eye out for it."
In other transactions yesterday, the Phillies lost righthander Carlos Monasterios, acquired in the Bobby Abreu trade in 2006, to the Mets, who then traded him to the Dodgers. The Phillies also picked righthander Angelo Sanchez from the Twins in the Triple A portion of the draft. The 20-year-old went 5-1 with a 5.52 ERA in 12 starts with rookie-league Elizabethton, which is a Twins affiliate.
Former Phillies third baseman Pedro Feliz signed a 1-year, $4.5 million deal with Houston. Factoring in the $500,000 buyout he received from the Phillies, Feliz will make just $500,000 less than he would have made had the club picked up his $5.5 million option. The Astros also agreed to a minor league deal with righthander Gary Majewski, who spent last season pitching for Triple A Lehigh Valley, a Phillies affiliate.
The Phillies have until midnight Saturday to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. Catcher Carlos Ruiz, righthander Joe Blanton and centerfielder Shane Victorino are all sure bets to receive offers. Amaro said earlier this week that righthanders Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin would likely receive offers, but that no final decisions have been made. *