Though no team would choose to run the gauntlet of 33 games in 31 days, running through the end of the season, that the Phillies will begin Monday in Cincinnati, in one sense the timing is decent: rosters expand on Thursday, meaning that Charlie Manuel will have more players to carry the work of playing all those games.
Facing both the need to keep a veteran team fresh for the playoffs and an opportunity to see players whose performance will impact roster decisions for next season, and with a very comfortable lead for a playoff spot—15 games over the wild-card runners-up—the Phils could rely more on minor-league call-ups than often has been the case in past years. Let’s quickly run through who might show up in Philadelphia over the next week or two, as the minor-league season comes to an end.
Catchers: Veteran minor-leaguer Erik Kratz isn’t on the 40-man roster—a problem we’ll look at below—but did get a cup of coffee with the Pirates in 2010 and is wrapping up a superb season (.291/.375/.474, 15 HR in 344 AB) at AAA Lehigh Valley. With Brian Schneider seeing his offensive production drop off, Kratz is a real possibility to back up Carlos Ruiz next season.
Infielders: In his third season at AA Reading, shortstop Freddy Galvis seemed at last to have figured out how to hit. Since his promotion to Lehigh Valley, he’s been just as good, and has a .280/.327/.395 line between the two levels. Still only 21, Galvis has played himself into the mix for a major-league job in 2012, perhaps even as the starting shortstop if the Phils and free-agent-to-be Jimmy Rollins can't come to terms on a contract. Utilityman Pete Orr will come back as well, assuming he's re-demoted between now and then. Three other far more remote possibilities are third baseman Carlos Rivero, a castoff from the Indians organization who’s had a very strong year at Reading and is on the 40-man, and minor league sluggers Cody Overbeck, now at Lehigh Valley, and Matt Rizzotti, still at Reading for some mysterious reason. Neither Overbeck nor Rizzotti is on the 40-man.
Outfielders: When Domonic Brown was demoted last month after the Hunter Pence trade, a September recall seemed all but certain. But Brown’s struggles in his third stint at Lehigh Valley, both at the plate and in his new left field position, and the noises emanating from the Phillies organization that after the season Brown should "get away from the game" for awhile throw this somewhat into doubt. Another likely recall is former big-leaguer Brandon Moss—who potentially could land a job on the postseason roster as a power option from the left side. Speedsters Rich Thompson, a career minor leaguer, and former all-star Scott Podsednik, now recovering from an injury in Florida, face longer odds but could be in the mix. Somewhat problematically for the Phillies, all three would have to be added to the 40-man; that Brown is already on certainly helps his chances.
Pitchers: Considering doubleheaders and the absence of off-days, the Phillies seem likely to go to a modified six-man rotation to minimize additional wear on the Aces, with Kyle Kendrick taking semi-regular turns along with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley. Presumably--hopefully--their workload will be limited, meaning that familiar faces like Scott Mathieson, Mike Zagurski, Drew Carpenter and Juan Perez, all on the 40-man, could resurface in the bullpen and see some opportunities. Another, perhaps more intriguing option who's already on the 40-man is Justin De Fratus, who’s shaken off a rough start to his triple-A career to post an ERA right around three since the start of July and rack up 39 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. In the long-shot category are Phillippe Aumont and Joe Savery, both of whom also have struck out over a batter per inning; their absence from the 40-man might keep them from the majors in 2011.
So what's the big deal with the 40-man roster? To put it simply, there's no room at the inn, and the Phils probably can't add anyone else without losing someone they like. Right now, the Phils can clear one spot by shifting Jose Contreras from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day, from which a player doesn’t count against the 40-man limit. But Joe Blanton’s on the 60-day DL right now, so if he returns for September relief work, that cancels out shifting Contreras there. The Phils have two minor-leaguers on the 40-man who are injured long-term: second baseman Harold Garcia and pitcher Drew Naylor. But because minor-league players can’t go on the major-league DL, their spots can’t be opened up. (What I don’t know is if the Phillies can, or would, simply outright Garcia and/or Naylor; maybe they're not allowed, by the union contract, or maybe it's just considered bad form. If you know, please opine in the comments.)
This means that the Phillies would have to add Kratz and Moss, the two most likely recalls not on the current 40-man, by designating other players for assignment. Who will go? It’s unlikely the team is ready to give up on hard-throwing J.C. Ramirez even though the Cliff Lee trade pickup has struggled through a second straight disappointing season in the Phillies organization at AA Reading; and while fans might wish to see a struggling big-leaguer like Ross Gload cut loose, that seems pretty unlikely given what we know about Charlie Manuel and loyalty. Thus, if the Phils wish to clear space, they’d probably have to do so by designating one or more of Carpenter, Mathieson, Zagurski or Perez—all themselves possibilities for a recall.
My guess is that Perez gets released, and that we see Kratz, Galvis, Moss, Brown, Mathieson, Carpenter, Zagurski and DeFratus, with one or two of the pitchers coming first and the rest following as the Iron Pigs complete their season, including a hopeful playoff run. Yours?