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Blanton’s Trade Value Ben Francisco and Bullpen Matters
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Jan 11 2011 @ 4:39 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | 1 Comment
“You’re always looking for pitching depth,” Amaro said. “And again, you’re also looking for flexibility. We have to weigh one against the other.” Likely trading partners include the Chicago White Sox (Carlos Quentin and perhaps lefty Anthony Carter or Matt Thornton), Texas Rangers (Nelson Cruz & Matt Harrison) or possibly Oakland (Chris Carter or Josh Willingham and a relief pitcher). Amaro is likely not seeking to trade with a National League team, which negates the possibility of another trade with Houston and former Phils GM Ed Wade.
Ruben Amaro Jr. sounds pretty comfortable with the 59 players he has coming to Spring Training next month. This tells us nothing as to whether or not Amaro is playing poker with the rest of the league or how actually sees viable trading partners. He has been shopping and continues shopping Joe Blanton, who will make $17 million over the next two seasons. Amaro did back-pedal saying he does not have to shed payroll - which is funny because of the team’s self-imposed $160 million spending limit heading into the offseason.”I really don’t have to do anything,” he said. “We’ll see whether it makes some sense to increase some flexibility for us for later on. At some point, as I’ve said, we’ve just got to see what we’ve got in Spring Training and move on from there.” The advantage to trading Blanton is payroll flexibility. Should the Phillies need to add payroll during the season or next offseason, they will have more room without Blanton’s contract – although the Phillies might have to eat some of his salary. The advantage to keeping Blanton is obvious. He provides the Phillies remarkable depth. He only would make the Phillies’ rotation stronger.I wonder if the Phillies would keep Blanton to see how things develop the first three months of the season? It is tough to keep pitchers healthy. Cliff Lee missed several starts last season because of injuries, although they were not arm related. Blanton missed time last year (also not arm related). Jamie Moyer missed time, too. Keeping Blanton provides the Phillies incredible insurance with Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley waiting in the wings.
It seems less likely Chad Durbin returns to the bullpen.
“Not necessarily,” said Amaro, asked if Durbin is out of the picture. “Except that right now I think we’re in the mode of kind of giving people opportunities to take jobs. I view three different areas in our club that are not slam dunks as far as personnel is concerned - the bullpen, right field and the bench. I’m looking forward to seeing some competition in all three of those areas.” The Phillies have a lot of less expensive options that could fill out the bullpen including Scot Mathieson, Vance Worley and a slew of young options. They’ve already re-signed J.C. Romero and should have signed Brian Fuentes to compliment Brad Lidge, Ryan Madsen and Jose Contreras. Perhaps bullpen help will be part of a package in exchange for Joe Blanton?
One issue that remains unresolved is Charlie Manuel‘s contract. He is weeks away from beginning Spring Training in the final year of his deal.
“Obviously we want to extend our relationship with him,” Amaro said. “We’ll see. We won’t be discussing any of our negotiations, if we have them with him, publicly. It’s similar to how we handle our free agents and negotiations with our own players. If we get something done with Charlie we’ll let you know.”
Asked if it is important to get something done before the season starts so Manuel doesn’t enter the season as a lame-duck manager of sorts, Amaro said, “I don’t think it matters one way or another.” On Manuel’s staff will be Mackanin, Juan Samuel, Greg Gross and Sam Perlozzo. Managing in AAA Lehigh Valley is Ryne Sandberg, who many tout as the Phillies next manager-in-waiting.
MLB just announced the official starting dates for Spring Training, although we’ve known them for some time: Phillies pitchers and catchers workout for the first time Feb. 14. The Phillies have their first full-squad workout Feb. 19.
Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco will be one of the 59 players working out at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 19, and plenty of eyes will be on him. If Cliff Lee’s return to Philadelphia has been the most popular offseason topic for Phillies fans, right field unquestionably is second. Fans have lit up phone lines, message boards and blogs wondering if some combination of Francisco, Domonic Brown, Ross Gload and John Mayberry Jr. can replace Jayson Werth in right field.
”I just go with what the team told me,” Francisco said in a telephone interview late last week. “They told me to be ready to compete to win the job. They feel like I can go out there and do great things. I want to go out there and show I can as well.”
Werth last month signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals. He led the Phillies with a .921 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2010. The popular consensus is Francisco and Brown will platoon in right field, which would make sense. Francisco had a .901 OPS against left-handed pitchers last season, while Brown is a rising star and a left-handed bat presumably capable of hitting right-handed pitching. Francisco also has been told he could win the job outright.
”You can name about 3 or 4 players who are basically in the same boat,” Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “Ben has done it before. I think he is a maturing player.”
Francisco played nearly every day in Cleveland in 2008 and half of ’09 — hitting a combined .260 with 25 home runs, 87 RBIs, a .334 on-base percentage and a .432 slugging percentage in 755 at-bats — before the Indians traded him and Lee to the Phillies prior to the July Trade Deadline. He felt he had just started to scratch the surface of his potential before the move to Philadelphia, where he has rarely played.
“It was only my second full year in the big leagues,” Francisco said about the 2009 season. “So I felt like there was a lot of room to grow and improve. It’s been on pause for a while, but now is a great opportunity to go out there and prove it. … I watched great players and a great team and how everybody goes about their business since I got traded. Obviously Jayson, Raul [Ibanez], Shane [Victorino] — the outfielders giving me tips. I tried to learn everything I could, because I knew there would be a chance in the future to go out there and play again. I wanted to be ready.”
Parallels could be made with Francisco and Victorino and Werth. Victorino seized his opportunity to play every day in 2006, when the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu to the New York Yankees. Werth seized his opportunity in ’08, when he wrestled playing time away from Geoff Jenkins. Before that, nobody truly knew what Victorino and Werth would do with regular playing time. Nobody truly knows about Francisco, either but only time will tell. The Phillies do still have the option of using Ross Gload as potential trade bait to sweeten a trade of Blanton with 25-year-old Matt Rizzotti headed to Spring Training (Rizzotti is a left-handed power-hitting prospect who played at all three minor league levels in 2010 and is blocked at 1B by Ryan Howard).
 ”Jayson is a great friend,” Francisco said. “He told me about his situation coming up. He said how guys always told him to be patient and everything will work out. I think you can look at his career and see a lot of similarities.” Told that Werth will be difficult to replace because of how productive he was, Amaro said production is subjective.
“We just need to have guys have their typical seasons,” Amaro said. “We think Ben Francisco or some combination of that will be plenty.” Amaro and manager Charlie Manuel have spoken with Francisco since the end of last season. They have expressed their confidence he can assert himself in the lineup, possibly hitting fifth behind Ryan Howard.
It is a small sample size, but Francisco finished 2010 strongly. He had an .889 OPS following the All-Star break, which ranked second on the team behind only Werth (.966). Of course, Francisco had just 85 at-bats after the break, and 47 came against left-handed pitchers. His recent production against left-handed pitching is why Amaro has hinted at a platoon, which is far more likely.
Francisco is confident he can hit right-handed pitching if given the opportunity. In his career, he has hit .267 with a .347 on-base percentage and a .460 slugging percentage against left-handers, and .262 with a .323 on-base percentage and a .440 slugging percentage against right-handers. Put those numbers together and Francisco has a career .775 OPS, which would have ranked 36th out of 69 qualifying outfielders in baseball last season.
”The more you see pitchers, the more success you can have,” Francisco said. “I’m confident in my ability to hit right-handers, definitely. I feel like I’ve hit them my whole career, from the Minor Leagues to the big leagues.” The Phillies are counting on a combined platoon of Francisco, Gload, John Mayberry, Jr., Raul Ibanez and premier prospect Domonic Brown. Those five will cover left and right field with Victorino anchoring centerfield.
”We don’t need him to be Jayson Werth,” Amaro said. “We just need him to be Francisco. That’ll be plenty good enough.”
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