Pat Gillick has loved the Rule 5 draft at least since he snagged George Bell from the Phillies organization while with Toronto 26 years ago tomorrow. Last year, he took a shot at strengthening the back end of the bullpen by selecting Chris Booker, a journeyman with a blazing fastball and great triple-A numbers the year before; Booker got hurt in the spring, eventually was released and has continued to collect stickers for his suitcase, but for $25,000 it was worth a shot.
After landing two reliever selections in today's Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, the Phils again will try to bolster their relief corps on the cheap. Alfredo Simon, a 25 year-old former Phils prospect who went to San Francisco with Ricky Ledee in the 2004 trade for Felix Rodriguez, returned to the organization after he was selected by Baltimore, who then dealt Simon to the Phils for cash and their Rule 5 pick, catcher Adam Donachie. Later, the team added Jim Ed Warden, a 27 year-old former Cleveland 1st round pick who never made it past AA but allowed a sterling 35 hits in 59 innings at that level in 2006.
The two pitchers profile very differently, as described by Mike Arbuckle:
Arbuckle described Warden as a Chad Bradford-type, because of his funky delivery.
"He's an interesting guy," Arbuckle said. "He's a different-look guy, a 6-foot-7 sidearmer. He's got a real good sink on his fastball, throws up to 93 [mph] from the side. He's worth taking a look at, because he is deceptive because of his size and arm slot."
"We're dreaming on both a little bit," Arbuckle said. "Hopefully, we'll strike lightning, because they're good-armed guys with good stuff."
I couldn't be happier about this. As I rant about endlessly here, it's madness to pay big money for non-elite relievers, guys who can be world-beaters one year and batting-practice throwers the next. But the bullpen is also a place where flaws can be hidden: if Alfredo Simon can't locate anything except his heat (and when he was a Phils prospect a few years ago, he was a starter), who cares for one or two innings? If Warden is tough to pick up from the batter's box on first meeting but easy to pound subsequent times through an order, it doesn't matter if you use him in relief. Tricks, gimmicks and one-dimensional guys all play in the bullpen, and you're very likely to get much better value for them than the Joe Borowskis, David Weatherses, or, yes, Rheal Cormiers of the world, who can do a wider range of things, just not particularly well.
The Phils also added a catcher in the Rule 5, Ryan Budde. But based on his anemic numbers at hitter-friendly Salt Lake City last year, I have a lot of trouble seeing how he sticks. Finally, the team took minor-league OF Victor Hall out of the Yankee chain in the minor-league portion of the draft. Hall put up some very nice numbers for New York's Florida State League affiliate in 2006, though as a 25 year-old in high-A ball it's tough to project him as anything more than a fringe major leaguer. Still, he's unlikely to be blocking anyone with more promise in the Phils' comparatively barren system.