The art of our necessities is strange,
That can make vile things precious.
Today's tragic preview moves to the bench, where we don't need to look too far into the past to remember what it felt like when the Phillies' reserves torpedoed the season. And it wasn't just the playoffs, either. The bench was bad in 2009. Changes needed to be made, and so Ruben Amaro Jr. waved his wand and did the Total Bench Makeover we expected. So, after we give credit where it's due for changing what needed to be changed, today I ask: Was it enough? (The conceit of my series, of course, answers thusly: Nah.)
As the core glides into its early 30s, the bench takes on greater significance, as stars like Utley, Rollins, Howard and Werth will need more days off in the midst of the season than perhaps we've seen in the past. So depth cannot betray the Phillies in 2010 as it did last year.
You can hear T-Mac now: "And as we move to the seventh, some replacements for the Phillies. Out in left field, Ben Francisco is in for Ibanez. Juan Castro will come in to give Rollins a rest, while (Dobbs/Gload) takes over for Howard at first. And with a big lead before tomorrow's getaway game, Charlie is going to call on big Jose Contreras to nail this one down for the Phils after another strong outing by Halladay."
Made you flinch! More nervous twitching after the jump...
Overall, this bench looks solid and unspectacular. There's neither much power nor speed. Defensively they don't alarm, but the bench will be called upon more this year to sustain innings rather than to hit the Big One. So the biggest worry is another unstable back-ended bullpen (coming up in Act IV). If the defensive-tilted bench has been emptied prior to another blown save, there won't be much resilience.
Bench evaluations are a bit tricky, as dimensions of both small sample size and role are different for each player. Plus, there is the role that assumes the starter contributes as expected, and the role that thrusts a bench player into an extended starting role, for which he may or may not be ready, or fairly positioned for. Along with their expected positions, I've also added their shorthand roles for the 2010 video yearbook.
Ben Francisco - LF/CF/The Enigma Guy - Before we get carried away with BenFran's supposed competence, let's recall that he too was part of the '09 squad's vomitous postseason bench showing, and sported a lusty 0 for 11 with 1 walk. (Matt Stairs was 1 for 12. There's sentiment that, in a full season as a fourth outfielder, he's right where he belongs (Prospectus has his VORP projected at 6.5, tops among the Phillies' bench players). But let that sink in. Right now, using this well-respected projection tool (and others), Ben Francisco is the best Phillie off the bench. Now are you happy with the Total Bench Makeover? Another thing: One small-sample size quirk of Francisco's last half-season with the Phils was his propensity to get caught stealing, which he didn't show at Cleveland so much. If this develops from quirk into trend, there's not good speed on the bench, necessary for those 14-inning games where you finally get a runner on, the only guy the opposition has is a righty, and Howard's at the plate. And chances are Francisco will have already been used in the 10th for Ibanez anyway.
Brian Schneider - Catcher/The Character Guy - Northampton Area High represent! Here's a Roberto Clemente Award candidate Phillies fans should really warm to, although there's been such a parade of sucky catchers that we are numb to it. He'll have knowledge of the division and the staff, has a good defensive reputation, and can join Cole Hamels in lamenting a very odd 50-point swing in BABIP in 2009. The Mets didn't like his game-calling, apparently, so maybe Madson and the other pitchers should take his advice with a grain of salt.
Ross Gload - 1B/3B/OF/The Gritty Guy - Gload's projections have him playing about as down-the-middle, tidy bench player. Last year he and good buddy Wes Helms (known in the Marlins blogosphere as Grits #1 and #2) set pinch hitting club records for the Fish. As replacements for Matt Stairs go, it feels akin to trading in your unreliable American Graffiti-vintage hot rod for a Toyota Corolla. But then recall how much nicer it would have been if Stairs could have hit anywhere north of .250 and not had such a power and RBI drought last season? Why, I bet you felt like you would have paid a lot for a solid role player who would be capable of hitting .270 and knock in 35 runs or so. Last year, Stairs was supposed to Lift and Elevate! every time. This year, the 5 or so HRs Gload will hit will feel like happy surprises. Those of you on the Sunday plan should get to see a lot of Gload, especially if the Phils are facing a slideballing lefty. Keep in mind that he also plays 3B and corner OF positions, so he will likely see a lot of time. Your over/under "canary in a coal mine" Doomsday scenario, however, is about at the 300 PA level. Not that he's so bad, mind you, but that events have conspired against the 2010 Phils for that to happen.
Greg Dobbs - 3B/1B/The Comeback Guy - Dobbs insists all is well. He can run again. There's a new baby in his life too. He's had a good spring. He hit .167 last year, albeit while bothered by injuries. So the Phillies are left hoping for a return to 2008 form, when he set the franchise record for pinch hits. Problem is, he is essentially backing up two 30+ year-old players on the corners and was injured for vast stretches last year. Deservedly or not, he will have to play the Righty Late-Inning Longball Threat. All signs point to a bounceback year, but the Phillies really will need this guy, especially if Ryan Howard plunges into the the lefty breaking ball prolonged slump.
Juan Castro - SS/2B/The Glove Guy/The "Not Him!" Guy - Castro, the replacement for WS-clinching run scorer-turned-whipping boy Eric Bruntlett, now inherits a similar role, backing up Rollins and Utley with his manos de oro. Dajafi posted earlier in the winter that there wasn't much point to this. So he's in many ways the wrong guy to have to spell entire games for Utley and Rollins. Better hope instead for a lot of 5-run leads in the 7th on the night games before day games.
Waiting in the wings:
John Mayberry Jr. - OF/The "Oh! I See Your Friend Came with You!" Guy - I confess to a rooting interest in Mayberry, and believe him to be overlooked for reasons that kind of baffle me, though in the same breath I see where there was no spot on the team for him right now. He has a AAAA label that is kind of deserved, not that he's had so many chances. Yet at the same age, and at similar levels, he's posted stats comparable to Utley's (OPS of .800 vs Utley's .822 through age 25), but just for a franchise at a far different point in its development, so his playing time has been limited. What could go wrong in my mind is that an early Ibanez perma-slump, already off to a riproaring start in Spring Training, would result in too many middling games from Ben Francisco before Mayberry gets a decent chance. And then, if there are too many middling games from Mayberry, another backup plan would be...
Domonic Brown - OF/The Can't Miss Guy - As backup plans go, Brown is a damn good one. Not since the Thome/Howard days have Phillies fans had as much anticipation for the Next Big Thing from the Farm. Certainly I can go along with the Phillies' decision to send him down for more time, even if it's purely business Keeping in mind the point of my 5-Act Opus is not to dwell on the absurd, consider instead what we very well likely face as of the end of March: a slumping and costly left fielder and a guy ready to go. How much patience, how far will things have to go, before the rationalizations begin on making the needed move? I say a 5-game deficit after June 20 will be the panic alarm, which is about when Brown's arbitration clock goes ding. But let's not forget that he's likely not going to rule the major leagues in his first 100 games, no matter when he's brought up.
Dane Sardinha - Catcher/ The "Who'd We Get Him From?" Guy - Any PAs for this guy, independent of the drinking game we'll be forced to play with the "Victorino's got a buddy from his home state!" comments from Wheeler, means the Phils really botched moving d'Arnaud and the World Cup/MLS will be garnering way more of my attention.
Brian Bocock - SS/ The "You are All Hereby Spared of Double-Entendres" Guy - Despite a nice spring from Bocock, he'll be IronPiggin' it. So buy a round of beers for that group of nice young lacrosse players from Lehigh and, as you do, mention the shortstop's last name and that he's from San Francisco. We'll all be glad you did.