Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Where’s the relief?

At the beginning of the off season Pat Gillick knew the Phils could use another starter, protection for Ryan Howard, and a reliable eighth inning set-up man with closing experience. That final piece remains elusive for Gillick and essential for the Phillies success.

The Phillies do have a few solid bullpen pieces with Tom Gordon, Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary, and Matt Smith who will all be back next year. The main weakness of the pen was exposed when Gordon went on the DL last year leaving the Phillies without a closer. The Phillies have had trouble finding a reliable set-up man in recent years. Ranging from the enigmatic Tim Worrell, to the troubled Ugueth Urbina, to the ineffective Arthur Rhodes, the Phillies have not found any good solutions.

The free agent market is not full of good options for Gillick. Justin Speier and Danys Baez got crazy big contracts setting the stage for teams to overpay for relief pitching this off-season. The Phillies had shown interest Joe Borowski but backed out of contract talks after a recommendation from a team doctor. The Phillies have also sought in free agents David Weathers and Eddie Guardado. While both have closing experience both are closer to the twilight than the prime of their careers. Gillick might try to test the trade waters like he did last year when he acquired Arthur Rhodes for Jason Michaels. Whatever he does it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of relief coming next year for the Phillies.

Phillies back out of deal with Borowski after physical
by Jerry Crasnick /

The prodigal son returns

The Phillies have reached a agreement with free agent pitcher Adam Eaton. The three-year deal worth $24.5 million includes a club option that could bring the value of the deal to $33 million dollars. The Phils originally drafted Eaton with the eleventh pick in the 1996 draft. Eaton never made it to the majors with the Phillies due to a four-player trade with the San Diego Padres. Assuming the Phillies don’t trade Jon Lieber, Eaton completes the Phillies rotation that also includes Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, and Jamie Moyer.

After this signing I feel rather under whelmed. I understand that the Phillies were never realistically going to attempt to sign big ticket pitchers like Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito, but Adam Eaton, seriously.

Eaton is considered to have a lot of “potential”. He has spent time on the DL with a finger injury, but when healthy has the ability to be a strong contributor to the Phillies pitching staff. His up side is a player who will have a sub 4.30 ERA while striking out about a batter an inning. His down side is that he is an injury risk that could be $24 million dollar bench warmer.

This signing could be a feather in Pat Gillick’s cap or a complete disaster. To me Eaton’s current situation is comparable to the St. Louis Cardinals signing of Chris Carpenter before the 2004 season. Carpenter was recovering from an injury and had previously displayed a lot of “potential” with the Blue Jays. That signing worked out great for the Cards who got a legitimate ace for a reasonable price. As for whether Eaton will follow in the steps of Carpenter or take another trip to the trainer’s room keep your fingers crossed.

Phillies make it official, sign Eaton
by Ken Mandel /

New man in the hot corner

Wes Helms will be the Phillies new starting third baseman in 2007. Helms signed a two-year $5.45 million dollar contract with an option for a third year that could bring the value of the contract to $8 million.

My first reaction to this news was that the Phillies were overpaying a player whose numbers were motivated by wanting to perform well in the last year of his contract. Last year Helms hit .329 with 10 HRs, and 47 RBIs, in 240 at bats. Factoring in Citizens Bank Park and increased playing time Helms up side is 20 HRs with 90 RBIs. That type of offense would be a huge upgrade over the poor offensive numbers put up by Abraham Nunez. In addition Helms a right-handed hitter could be one option for Charlie Manuel to protect Ryan Howard.

Helms says he has changed his approach at the plate trying to stay back on more balls and then drive them to right field. His numbers back up his talk. Over the past three seasons his average is .294 well over his career average of .268. Helms never really had an opportunity to get a lot of playing time. He was a top prospect at third base but mostly played first because he played with superstars Chipper Jones in Atlanta and Miguel Cabrera in Florida. A return to his roots at the hot corner and ample playing time could prove to aid his production at the plate. His glove isn’t golden but it’s not wooden either. In late inning situations the Phillies could bring Nunez for a defensive boost.

Lastly the contract isn’t a burden to the Phillies pay role. If he puts up Nunez like offensive numbers or worse the Phillies could swallow the contract, which is worth a maximum of 8 million dollars. Helms isn’t without some risk but for his price he provides good value.

Phils ink free agent Helms
by Ken Mandel /