The greatest need for the 2010 Phillies is the bullpen. The rotation, while not spectacular, is solid. The lineup is close to spectacular regardless of who plays third base. The can get anyone to backup Ruiz. The bullpen, however, needs a touch-up.
Brad Lidge is facing surgery after an absolutely horrid season. He has a ability to bounce back to 2008 form but he could also repeat the (injury plagued?) disaster of 2009. No one knows how Lidge will perform in the coming year so I l think a reasonable back-up plan needs to be in order. Is Ryan Madson an exceptable Plan B? No. He proved last season he cannot be counted on to close more than a handful of games. So, the Phils need to sign a relief arm that could close if Lidge isn't capable of getting the job done.
I want to see the Phils do what the Mets did last offseason when they signed K-Rod and JJ Putz. I want the back end of the bullpen to go from a liability, or at least a concern, to a strength. Granted, it didn’t work out well for the Mets but that doesn’t mean the strategy is flawed. A strong bullpen is a necessity, not a luxury.
There is a plethora of free agent closer arms. Many will not be good fits for the Phils because of salary, role demand, etc. Also, many of the arms are Type A free agents but that shouldn’t necessarily scare the Phils. They can only lose one first round draft pick and if they are considering a Type A third baseman (Beltre, DeRosa), they might as well grab a Type A pitcher too.
Here are some bullpen arms broken down into categories based on compensation.
Type A Free Agents I Don’t Think Can Be Signed:
Billy Wagner – Can you imagine the Rat back in Philadelphia? I can’t either.
Jose Valverde – Probably the best closer on the market, which means he’ll command a ton of money. He’d be great but unlikely the Phils have the cash or the save opportunities to satisfy Valverde.
Mike Gonzalez – Probably back with Atlanta next year.
Rafael Soriano – Similar situation to Valverde. He’s looking at a big pay day and should want to close.
Type A Free Agents That Could Be Signed:
Latroy Hawkins – I would love to have Valverde or Soriano or Gonalez but that isn’t happening, so my next choice would be Latroy Hawkins. Hawkins has been an on/off closer for year with many teams, so I don’t think he will be looking to be given the ninth inning like some of the established closers will be. He’s coming off of a great year (2.13 ERA), has post season experience, and hasn’t made over $4 million since 2006 so they may not have to break the bank.
Kevin Gregg – Don’t be fooled by the Type A status, Gregg was pretty brutal last year. 4.72 ERA and multiple blown saves. I don’t think many teams will be lining up to make him their closer, but that is the good news. He “only” made $4 million last season and given that his performance and Type A status, the Phils may be able to sneak in and grab him on the cheap.
Type B Free Agent:
Fernando Rodney – He may have converted 37 saves last season, but his other numbers don’t support Rodney being a dominant closer. He’s never had more than 13 saves in any other season. His ERA hasn’t been under 4 in the last three years. He averages a walk every other inning. He’s only pitched more than 50 innings in a season twice. That means he won’t (or shouldn’t) get paid like a closer. It’s unknown whether he would accept a non-closers job, however. If he would, he could be a great addition to the Phils staff.
Kiko Calero - This guy made $500k with the Marlins last year and posted a 1.93 ERA over 60 innings. He doesn't have much save experience but he may be a great bargain for the 7th inning.
No Compensation Required:
JJ Putz - The Mets paid Putz Eaton-like money and got an Eaton-like season. Injuries played a large part and I don't know if he could bounce back, but it would be nice to see a NY failure succeed in Philly. It would be a big gamble but depending on the price tag, one that could be worth it.
Brandon Lyon, Octavio Dotel, Rafael Betancourt, Takashi Saito - Closer pasts...are in the past for these guys. Like Calero, nice additions to the pen but certainly not closer insurance.
Chad Cordero - Teams have tried taking fomer closers off the injury pile before with limited success (see: Eric Gagne, Danys Baez, etc.). Cordero has had two years off so he should be well rested. And he could be signed real cheap, possibly even on a minor league deal. He's worth that.
Brett Myers - I know. I know.