Pitchers and Catchers report to Phillies Spring Training in Clearwater in 5 weeks but spring seems intolerably far away. While the Phillies once made a grand splash early into Hot Stove season with Jonathan Papelbon (4 years @ $50 million) they have lulled their fans into a soporific glaze of late. Ryan Howard has been seen at the complex on crutches and the news of Placido Polanco and Hunter Pence (both recovering from sports hernia surgeries) has been encouraging if not spectacular.
Jimmy Rollins returned to the fold after testing free agency, resigned to the fact that his value in Philadelphia was significantly higher than anywhere else. Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton and Dontrelle Willis have joined the fold much to the chagrin of those fans drooling over David Wright, Grady Sizemore or Michael Cuddyer.
Recent news has involved Phillies players who are signing elsewhere (Ryan Madson to Cincinnati Reds) or have yet to sign anywhere (Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge, Jose Contreras, Raul Ibanez) who could return at a reduced rate and a reduced role. Speculation that the Phillies are seeking an additional starting pitcher to compete with Joe Blanton, Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick has been largely refuted.
Left-hander Cole Hamels and INF Wilson Valdez have both agreed to one-year contracts with the Phillies. Both players had been eligible for salary arbitration at very different earning levels. Hamels will earn $15 million in 2012 and Valdez $930,000. Both contracts include award bonuses based on performance. The glaring omission would be the fact that Hamels had been expected to ink a long term deal, which now will be put off one more season.
It is encouraging that Hamels $15 million salary puts him more on par with fellow aces Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, who have long term deals through 2014 and 2015. Any long term deal for Hamels would be around that annual rate but perhaps the longtime Phillies lefthander wants to test the 2013 free agent market. This does not bode well for the Phillies who cite luxury tax concerns with Papelbon’s contract added to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Halladay, Lee, Utley, Victorino and potential Hunter Pence contract.
Cole Hamels, 28, went 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA in 32 games (31 starts) for the Phillies last year. He was selected to his second career All-Star Game and finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award voting. Additionally, his 14 wins gave him at least 10 wins in five straight seasons making him the first Phillies pitcher to do so since Hall of Famer Steve Carlton’s 13-year streak from 1972-84. In the postseason, Hamels pitched 6.0 scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals to earn the win in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. That win gave him the Phillies’ all-time lead in postseason victories with seven.
Supersub Wilson Valdez appeared in 99 games for the Phillies last season, batting .249 with 14 doubles, four triples, one home run and 30 RBI. With runners in scoring position, the 33-year-old batted .370. Defensively, Valdez made 33 starts at second base, 21 at third base and 20 at shortstop, while also earning the win in his first career relief appearance on May 25 against the Cincinnati Reds.
Right-hander Joel Piñeiro has signed a minor league contract with the Phillies which includes an invitation to major league spring training. Piñeiro, 33, went 7-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 27 games (24 starts) for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last year. In 20 of those starts, he was 7-4 with a 3.84 ERA. Piñeiro tied for the ninth-most ground-ball double-plays (23) among American League starting pitchers and could be insurance against injured veteran relievers Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge. Contreras has been battling career-threatening shoulder and elbow injuries since May 2011 while Lidge returned from rotator cuff work to record his 100th Phillies save. Neither would be likely to see significant action in 2012 and signing Piñeiro proves that the Phillies feel this is an area of need.
In 335 career major league games (263 starts), Joel Piñeiro has gone 104-93 with a 4.41 ERA and 15 complete games for the Seattle Mariners (2000-06), Boston Red Sox (2007), St. Louis Cardinals (2007-09) and the Angels (2010-11). Kerry Wood had been rumored to be under consideration but is likely to sign a $4 million deal with the Cubs. The bullpen behind Jonathan Papelbon consists of likely setup men Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes each of whom spent time closing games during their first full major league season. Dontrelle Willis, David Herndon, Contreras, Michael Schwimmer, Kyle Kendrick, Phillipe Aumont, Dave Bush and Justin DeFratus are all bullpen candidates heading into Spring Training 2012.
Kyle Kendrick has agreed to a one-year, $3.585 million contract with the Phillies. Kendrick had been eligible for salary arbitration. Kendrick, 27, went 8-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 34 games (15 starts) for the Phillies last year. He shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen all season while reaching career bests in ERA and games. In 18 games against NL East, he went 5-2 with a 2.14 ERA. He will compete for the 5th starter’s spot but is likely to be the bullpen swingman.
Piñeiro is the 16th non-roster invitee to major league spring training for the Phillies. The Phillies have released OF/1B John Bowker to allow him to pursue an opportunity with a professional team in Japan, the club announced today. In a combined 31 major league games between the Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates last season, Bowker, 28, batted .133 with two RBI. He spent the majority of the 2011 season at AAA Indianapolis in the Pirates minor league system, where he hit .306 with 15 HR and 76 RBI in 106 games. Bowker has hit .232 with 17 HR and 73 RBI in 240 games between the San Francisco Giants (2008-10), Pirates (2010-11) and Phillies (2011). Bowker was originally a third round selection of the Giants in the June 2004 draft.
Right fielder Hunter Pence is the Phillies’ lone remaining player eligible for salary arbitration. It is unlikely that additional marquee free agent signings will be announced. More likely would be the Phillies bargain basement shopping from amongst MLB free agents. Possibilities include the option of salvaging another OF or possibly an additional infielder who could lend more flexibility off the bench. Currently that bench consists of Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, Jr, Wilson Valdez and backup catcher Brian Schneider.
Former Rule 5 signee Michael Martinez remains an option for the additional spot as he can play infield and outfield. Domonic Brown remains poised to see a lot of playing time during Spring Training 2012 as will non-roster invitees Scott Podsednik, Hector Luna, Pete Orr, Kevin Fransden and Tyson Gillies but it would behoove the Phillies to consider some additional invitees. Names on the free agent market could include the likes of Brad Hawpe, Miguel Tejada, Carlos Guillen, Xavier Nady, Connor Jackson, Kosuke Fukudome or Eric Chavez. One name removed from the list of potential pursuits is Ryan Ludwick who signed with Cincinnati.
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About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org