FanPost

Phillies Hot Stove: Low-risk, high-reward free agents?

This is too big for a comment but doesn't merit its own story, so I thought I'd toss it up as a FanPost.  Editor's Note: I disagree.  Front page ahoy!  - WC.  Ruben Amaro has made noises about signing some low-risk, high-reward type free agents, which is a great way to maximize available payroll.  So I've gone ahead and done the work for Ruben: here's a list of low-cost free agents that should be of interest to the Phils.

Kelvim Escobar, RHP
Apparently he's in demand, but he shouldn't command much money coming off a lost 2008 and 2009.  But even in very limited action last year, Escobar got his fastball up to 96, and he'd be a good gamble to improve the back of the rotation at the right price.

Chien-Ming Wang, RHP
Wang isn't technically a free agent yet, but the Yankees aren't going to tender him a contract by tomorrow night, so he'll be one very soon.  Note: He was officially non-tendered Saturday night.  Wang got hit around (1-6 with a 9.64 ERA) in limited action this year and underwent shoulder surgery on July 30. I'd prioritize him if I were Amaro -- effective starters with a career 60.1% ground ball rate don't come available very often.

Randy Johnson, LHP
No, you read that right.  The Big Unit may decide to hang 'em up, but if he wants to return to the bigs, I'd be all for him signing with the reigning NL champs.  He's almost certain to break down at some point, but he'd be helpful whenever he pitches, whether it be from the rotation or the bullpen (imagine the Big Unit as a lefty specialist... <shudders>).  He still posted excellent peripherals last year en route to a 3.74 xFIP, and he's got a slider that simply doesn't age.

Brendan Donnelly, RHP
I liked Donnelly going into last year, when he was even more of a reclamation project, and he repaid the Marlins' faith in him by posting a 1.78 ERA over 30 appearances.  He's effective against both lefties and righties, and he's posted good peripherals throughout his career (8.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9).  He apparently wants a major league deal, and with the Phillies' bullpen in flux, I'd be fine with giving it to him.

Joaquin Benoit, RHP
Benoit missed the 2009 season after having rotator cuff surgery in January, so he'd certainly be a roll of the dice.  But he's a guy who misses bats (career 8.2 K/9) whose control had improved in recent years, and his 3-pitch mix, including an effective change up, actually gives him a reverse platoon split for his career.  I'd venture to guess he'd only want an invite to big league camp, and I'd go ahead and give it to him.

Will Ohman, LHP
Ohman was a somewhat coveted free agent last offseason, but he waited around too long and only wound up signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers.  His 2009 campaign wasn't so successful, but his struggles came in a 12.1 inning sample size, and he had been an effective LOOGY the 4 years before that.  He's held lefties to a .204/.293/.355 mark in his career, so he'd be more than worth giving a shot to as a non-roster invitee.

Ron Mahay, LHP
Another potential LOOGY, only this time, the Phils are rumored to have some interest. Mahay isn't all that different form Ohman except he's older and pitched effectively last year; he's held lefties to a .233/.308/.395 mark over the course of his career.  Ohman and Mahay seem pretty fungible to me, so I'd see which would have some interest in a non-guaranteed deal, and then go ahead and invite them to spring training -- with J.C. Romero still something of a question mark, it would be wise to include a veteran among the Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona types who will be competing for a spot in the bullpen.

Russ Springer, RHP
Sure, he'll be 41 last year, but he's still getting his fastball up to 93, and he's coming off a 2009 in which he posted solid peripherals (9.2 K/9, 2.7 BB/9).  His extreme fly ball tendencies last year (only 19.2% grounders) are a worry, but he's the kind of guy you give a shot to in spring training, and if he doesn't have it, no harm, no foul -- and if he does have it, then he's a better option than Chad Durbin, and at a lower price.

I'd use the rest of this space to give a mention to guys like Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston Jr., Ryan Church, and even Fernando Tatis, but the Phillies' bench seems to be all set.  Hairston would be a massive upgrade over Juan Castro (a 34-year old with a .259/.328/.373 career line > a 37-year old with a .230/.270/.332 career line), and Hinske is essentially a better fielding version of Gload with more power and patience (see my rant here), but that ship has -- quite unfortunately -- sailed.

The bottom line, though, is that signing as many of the above guys as is affordable is far more preferable than signing Brandon Lyon to a 3 year, $15 million deal (that "Ed stole him from us" quote from Amaro still scares the bejesus out of me).  So please, Rube: don't offer a similar deal to Fernando Rodney and his career 4.64 BB/9.  Take a gamble on some of the above guys, and you'll be rewarded.

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