Last week, I set out a three-step strategy for the Phils to build their 2007 pitching staff. Today, I do the same with the position side of the roster. Before diving into the specifics, though, three basic premises:
- The Phillies' 2006 offense was very good. But it clearly could have been better, and to argue that the guys on hand are fine and the team should solely concentrate on pitching is to all but guarantee that the hitting will backslide next year.
- It's very unlikely that the team will be better off trading Pat Burrell than they would be by keeping him. jonk made pretty much the exact case for Pat that I was planning to make; I'll just add that when you have a player who has obvious strengths and obvious flaws, there's often value in focusing on what he can do, not what he can't. The big objections to Burrell are that he's paid too much, and he doesn't hit in the clutch. jonk's piece showed why the latter criticism is unfair; the former is valid, but it's also just a fact of life that we should get over, perhaps with a few muttered expletives in Ed Wade's direction.
- Jimmy Rollins will hit about the same wherever you put him, but probably should stay in the leadoff spot until a clearly better alternative appears.
- Sign OF-L Brad Wilkerson: 1 year, $5 million
Why it works: Wilkerson was the centerpiece of the Texas Rangers' return in the Alfonso Soriano deal last winter. Some idiots, including yours truly, thought that Wilkerson in Arlington could out-produce Soriano in RFK Stadium. Not quite: he hurt his shoulder, hit .222, and missed the last two months. But he still notched 32 extra-base hits (including 15 HR) in 320 at-bats, and his career numbers at Citizens Bank Park are scary-good: .349/.394/.663/1.056 in 86 at-bats. Wilkerson probably will be non-tendered by Texas and looking for a one-year make-good deal before hopefully cashing in next winter. Say hello to your new right fielder, or play him in center and shift Victorino and his cannon arm to right.
- Sign 1b/3b-R Wes Helms: 2 years, $3 million
Why it works: Helms seemingly has been around forever, but he's just 30, and has had his best two offensive seasons in the last two years. In 2006, he thrived playing mostly first base for the Marlins at a bargain $800,000 price. I'd be tempted to offer him the exact same contract Gillick gave Nunez last winter, because they'll be splitting time at the hot corner in an offense/defense job-sharing arrangement.
- Sign IF Damian Easley: 1 year, $1 million
Why it works: Easley's old (37), but he's spry; he played every infield position (plus right field) for the Diamondbacks last season, hitting 9 homers and posting a .741 OPS in 189 at-bats. He could see time at third base and will join Jeff Conine to give the Phils a solid pair of veteran pinch-hitters.
This leaves the Phils with the following positional roster and financial obligations:
SS-B Rollins $7m
CF-B Victorino $0.4m
2B-L Utley $4m
1B-L Howard $0.5m
LF-R Burrell $13m
RF-L Wilkerson $5m
3B-R Helms $1.5m
C-B Ruiz $0.35m
Coste C $0.4m
Nunez 3B/SS/2B $2.1m
Easley IF/OF $1m
Conine RF/LF/1B $2m
Bourn OF $0.35m
With $38 million for the positional roster and $41 million for the pitching staff, plus $7.5 million or so to the White Sox for the Thome deal, the Opening Day payroll would be around $87 million. This would leave the Phils with in the neighborhood of $7 million for in-season upgrades, additional signing bonuses for next June's draft, or one dumb-assed move like trading for a veteran catcher or middle reliever.
I don't know if any of this is on the team's radar; my pessimistic suspicion is that they won't trade Aaron Rowand and he becomes the new David Bell (though, to be fair, he's a better hitter). And I have this bad feeling that Johnny Estrada is going to be the Phillies catcher next year, hitting an empty .260 but making Chris Wheeler gush with his veteran intangibiliciousness. Better options, however, are out there.