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With Castro Down, Phils Need a Bullpen Lefty

The Phillies optioned reliver Fabio Castro to AA Reading after Sunday's game, likely to be replaced by Ryan Madson when the team opens a three-game set in Florida on Tuesday. Castro's demotion leaves the bullpen without any left-handers for the time being, but given the combined performance of Castro and the previously exiled Matt Smith, this might not be such a bad thing. The two have collectively pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing 8 hits and--for real--16 walks, and 10 runs for an 11.74 ERA.

Charlie Manuel had some nice things to say about Castro late Sunday, comparing him to veteran Ricky Rincon, but it's clear he doesn't think last year's Rule 5 revelation is this year's lefty relief answer. As the search for bullpen help continues, we checked the standings to see who might be available from clubs already out of contention or likely to become so soon. The list reads much like how I imagine Ed Wade's shrink's notepad...

  • Mike Stanton, Reds. This guy, you know. He's second on the all-time appearances list behind only Jesse Orosco, and he turns 40 in a couple weeks. But aside from two really bad games (one against the Phils) in late April/early May, he's still getting it done. The Reds are paying him $2 million, and he's signed through 2008. Maybe we can re-send Cincy Javon Moran?

  • Randy Flores, Cardinals. This 31 year-old lefty is off to a pretty good start in 2007, though his work for the '06 World Champs wasn't so hot (5.62 ERA). But he is a legit LOOGY ("lefty one-out guy") with an opponent OPS 230 points lower for fellow southsiders over the last three seasons, and he's signed to a very reasonable two-year deal. The Cards probably aren't quite ready to fold yet, but if they don't get it going soon, GM Walt Jocketty could find himself, for once, a trade deadline seller. The question then becomes whether the Phils could outbid likely rivals for Flores.

  • Damaso Marte and John Grabow, Pirates. This past winter when the Phillies were frantically peddling Jon Lieber, both these relievers' names came up. But no deal was struck, and with the Pirates fading again after a surprisingly decent start, Pittsburgh seems a likely trade target. Marte probably has boosted his trade value with a hot start: he's sporting an 0.61 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 14.2 innings. He's also got some closing experience, having saved 31 games over four seasons for the White Sox. With a $2.6 million salary for 2007, he's probably the most expensive lefty specialist out there. Grabow is just 28 and struck out nearly a batter per inning in 2006 while pitching to a respectable 4.13 ERA. He's actually got a very small negative split differential over the last three seasons, with lefty hitters batting a composite .282/.338/.440 versus .273/.356/.420 for righties.

  • Ron Mahay, Rangers (currently on the DL).  On the shelf for now with a strained rib muscle, this lefty has at least one thing in common with Castro and Smith: he's walked 15 batters in 16.1 IP this season. Over his 11-year career, though, Mahay hasn't been terribly wild, and he's good enough against both lefties and righties to be usable in more than a one-out role.

  • Scott Downs, Blue Jays. This well traveled 31 year-old saw some action in two games against the Phillies this past weekend, throwing a combined 1.2 scoreless innings to drop his 2007 ERA to 1.72. Downs has a pronounced split advantage: over the last three seasons, lefties have put up a .642 OPS against him, compared to .805 by righty hitters. He's averaging better than 12 strikeouts per 9 innings through the first quarter of '07. If there's one guy to target in this list, it might be Downs.

Of course, this isn't a complete list, and it doesn't consider the real possibility that a contender with excess lefty relief in another division--the A's, maybe--might want to deal. But the next time Ruben Amaro or Pat Gillick complains about the tough market for lefty relief help, these are probably some of the names they have in mind.