The Phillies may yet be the class of the National League, but it’s no thanks to GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s moves so far this winter.
Already Amaro has committed $50 million to a closer and now at least $7 million and three roster spots to two on-base challenged role players and a future Hall of Famer who hasn’t played an inning in the field in five years.
Now, Jonathan Papelbon should be pretty great in 2012. But Ryan Madson was pretty great in 2011, finishing with a 2.37 ERA and 32 saves in 34 chances. How much better can Papelbon really be?
The new position players are Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome. Nix and Wigginton may be just good enough to start on bad teams, but it’s questionable whether either has anything to offer a contender. The left-handed-hitting Nix is 31 with a career .288 OBP. He’s barely any better against righties at .296 lifetime. He has legitimate 25-homer power, but he’s also struck out twice for every one run he’s driven in as a major leaguer.
Wigginton has always gotten points for versatility, but he’s dreadful at second base and well below average at third base these days. At least he is consistent: he’s finished with OBPs from .312-.315 and slugging percentages from .400-.416 the last three years. Wigginton will probably end up logging the bulk of the time at first base while Ryan Howard’s torn Achilles’ mends. He won’t embarrass himself, but he won’t be a real asset either.
And then there’s Thome, who is hoping to go out a winner. Everyone is rooting for him, and it’s likely that he’ll produce when he’s able to play. Still, even if the Phillies only ask him to take the field once or twice a week, it’s far from guaranteed that he’ll stay healthy.
The Phillies’ rivals should be smiling about the way the winter has gone to date. Amaro has thrown away a great deal of his budget room without doing much to improve his team’s chances. An old team is getting older, and now it’s pretty much guaranteed that Dominic Brown will start in Triple-A. John Mayberry Jr., who looks like a potential breakthrough candidate, should still have a chance to win a starting job in left field or at first base, but a poor spring may find him buried behind one of the newcomers. These Phillies are the definite favorites to win the NL East anyway, but the team looked stronger a year ago than it does now.
The Nationals lost a heartbreaker on Tuesday night, as the Indians overcame a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Nationals 7-6. Closer Jonathan Papelbon faced five batters but was unable to record an out, yielding a leadoff walk, a double, a bunt that ended up very successful due to a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error, an intentional walk, and a single. Oliver Perez came in and eventually allowed one of his inherited runners to score, saddling Papelbon with the loss.
Papelbon also served up four runs in the outing before Tuesday’s, on Saturday against the Padres. The two clubs entered the top of the ninth tied 6-6, but a walk followed by three two-out singles and a bases-clearing double off of Papelbon allowed the Padres to take a 10-6 lead.
On the season, Papelbon is 19-for-22 in save chances with a 4.18 ERA and a 30/12 K/BB ratio in 32 1/3 innings. If the season were to end today, the right-hander’s 21.4 percent strikeout rate would be the lowest mark of his career and his 8.6 percent walk rate would be his highest mark since 2010.
Manager Dusty Baker didn’t indicate that he’s going to make a change at closer, but he sounded dissatisfied with Papelbon’s performance thus far. Via Mark Zuckerberg of MASN, Baker said, “He doesn’t have his command, which is evident when you walk the leadoff hitter. But it’s like, what do you say? How does he look? Right now he doesn’t look like Pap. He doesn’t look very good. Usually he doesn’t walk people like that.”
The non-waiver trade deadline is on Monday, August 1. The Nationals, at 58-42, still have a four-game lead over the Marlins and a 4.5-game lead over the Mets. Tuesday’s loss has motivated the club to attempt to upgrade the bullpen, Jon Morosi reports. The Nationals were in the mix for Aroldis Chapman before the Yankees sent him to the Cubs. Perhaps Andrew Miller could be next on the Nats’ wish list.
The Blue Jays announced on Tuesday night that the club traded reliever Drew Storen and some cash to the Mariners in exchange for reliever Joaquin Benoit.
Storen, 28, was designated for assignment by the Jays on Sunday after posting a 6.21 ERA with a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. The Jays acquired him during the offseason from the Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere and a player to be named later.
Benoit, 38, struggled as well, putting up a 5.18 ERA with a 28/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings with the Mariners.