On the day the Phillies had to make decisions on their arbitration-eligible players, they traded one of their bench mainstays in what continues to be a complete overhaul of Charlie Manuel's reserves.
Ben Francisco was shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays for minor-league reliever Frank Gailey. Francisco served as the team's top righthanded pinch-hitter for the last two seasons, but this winter's additions of Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and Laynce Nix squeezed Francisco out of the picture.
A baseball source said the Phillies intended to tender contracts to their four remaining arbitration players - Cole Hamels, Hunter Pence, Kyle Kendrick and Wilson Valdez - by Monday's midnight deadline.
Hamels and Pence were obvious decisions; they will combine to make approximately $25 million in salary for 2012. The Phillies have not yet begun extension talks with Hamels, who is a free agent after the 2012 season, but plan on doing so sometime this winter. An extension for Pence is possible, but he is under control through 2013, so there is no rush.
Kendrick and Valdez were not guaranteed decisions, but retaining both of them is hardly a surprise. The Phillies value their starting pitching depth. Kendrick earned $2.45 million in 2011 and will make more than $3 million through arbitration. It's a hefty price to pay for a long man and sixth starter, but even with Four Aces, the Phillies needed Kendrick to make 15 starts in 2011. The team believes Joe Blanton's right elbow will be completely healed by spring training, but Kendrick is a valuable insurance policy - especially for an organization with little starting pitching depth in triple A.
Kendrick's 3.22 ERA last season was the lowest of his career. Unprompted, Manuel said at last week's winter meetings that he's warmed up to Kendrick.
"He's got a lot of moxie," Manuel said, "and he's got a lot of determination."
Valdez, often the subject of praise from both Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr., made $560,000 in 2011. As a first-time arbitration player, he'll likely earn less than $1 million in 2012. Now that Michael Martinez is no longer bound by the Rule 5 requirements, he can be sent to triple A for depth while Valdez is the primary middle infielder on the bench.
The trade of Francisco marks the end of a yearlong precipitous fall from favor. He began 2011 as the team's starting rightfielder, but was on the bench before May was over. His defining moment as a Phillie will be the pinch-hit, three-run home run in Game 3 of the 2011 National League division series against the Cardinals.
Ultimately, the Phillies decided there wasn't space for Francisco, who was used sparingly on Manuel's bench. He made $1.18 million in 2011 and was due for a raise through arbitration. With the acquisitions of Wigginton, Thome and Nix, the re-signing of backup catcher Brian Schneider and eventually Valdez, the bench is full. They will need another position player to start the season while Ryan Howard recovers from left Achilles surgery, but that will not be Francisco.
It's possible Wigginton spends the majority of time at first base in Howard's absence, which could leave Manuel without a righthanded bat off the bench when both Wigginton and John Mayberry Jr. start games.
By most accounts, Michael Cuddyer is no longer an option for the Phillies, and the free agent will soon decide between the Twins and Rockies. The Phillies have not seriously considered Josh Willingham, another righthanded bat on the market. Amaro said he had trade discussions with "20 to 25" teams at the winter meetings and could decide to acquire another righthanded bat through those means. Players not tendered contracts at Monday's deadline could represent more free-agent options. Or the Phillies could simply stick with the current roster.
Gailey, 26, is a Philadelphia native and will provide organizational depth. He attended Archbishop Carroll High School and West Chester University. He has pitched only 30 innings above single A in five minor-league seasons.
The Phillies now have guaranteed 2012 contracts to 18 players. The 19th could be Jimmy Rollins, who remains very likely to re-sign with the only team he has ever known.