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April 28, 2010

On the Beat

Wednesday Update

by John Perrotto

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Ruben Amaro Jr. has been a general manager for just two years but he has been around the major leagues his entire life as a batboy, player and front office executive. Thus, he understands how difficult his job can be.

However, Amaro also realizes he is in a unique situation with his hometown Phillies. Fans pour through the turnstiles at Citizens Bank Park to see a dynamic team that has won three straight National League East titles and back-to-back NL pennants. Phillies president David Montgomery plows the vast majority of profits back into the club.

Thus, despite the criticism he has taken from statistical analysts, Amaro can do things like sign first baseman Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125-million contract extension.

"We're in a very good situation right now," Amaro said. "Our fans keep coming out and giving us great support. In turn, it provides us with the resources to do the things we need to do to build a championship team. We're not in a situation where we can just spend without limits but, because of the fan support, we've been able to do the types of things we want to do such as signing our core players to long-term deals. Don't think that a day ever goes by that I'm not thankful for that."

However, the question among those fans and people around baseball is whether the Howard contract will enable the Phillies to continue to retain their top players. The Phillies have $55 million committed to just Howard, right-hander Roy Halladay and second baseman Chase Utley for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Phillies also spent freely over the winter as they signed right-hander Joe Blanton, catcher Carlos Ruiz and center fielder Shane Victorino to multi-year contacts.

Right fielder Jayson Werth is eligible for free agency at the end of this season and shortstop Jimmy Rollins' contract expires after the 2011 season. Speculation already persists that Werth will be looking for a contract similar to the four-year, $66-million deal that left fielder Jason Bay signed with the Mets last winter.

It will be interesting to see if clubs will indeed view Werth through the same prism as Bay. Werth clearly outperformed Bay over the past two seasons, compiling 10.6 WARP3 to Bay's 8.0. While time will tell whether the Phillies will be able to keep Werth or Rollins, Amaro certainly sounds like a man willing to re-sign them.

"We tried to design the (Howard) contact in a way where our goal continues to be the same, to keep a championship-caliber club on the field year in and year out," Amaro said. "We feel with the way we structured the contract, it gives us the flexibility to do that, as far as Jayson, Jimmy and other guys who can become free agents in the not-so-distant future. Naturally we'd like to keep all these guys. We'll go by a case-by-case basis and hopefully we can keep this group together."

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White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was adamant throughout the offseason that he and general manager Ken Williams were building a team that would be faster and make things happen on the bases. However, the 2010 White Sox aren't quite those pennant-winning 1959 Go-Go Sox.

While the White Sox are tied for the AL lead in stolen bases with 22, they are still a power-laded outfit as they are second in the league in home runs with 26 behind only the Blue Jays (28). The White Sox used the longball to their advantage to sweep the Mariners last weekend as Andrew Jones and Alex Rios hit walk-offs and Paul Konerko added a game-winner in the eighth inning.

Guillen, though, insists that his team is more about speed than power and that it will be borne out over a 162-game season: "Homers are nice to have, but I'd like to have men on base. The way our offense is, we have to do the little things. We're going to be out of the pennant race quick (if we don't) do these things. We cannot wait and rely on home runs."

Konerko is leading the AL with eight home runs. However, he also agrees with Guillen that the White Sox will ultimately succeed only if they learn how to score runs in different manners, even though U.S. Cellular Field is a hitters' park.

"We have some guys who have hit homers in their careers," Konerko said. "And (U.S. Cellular), even when it's cold, if you hit it toward left or left-center, there aren't too many that get knocked down. But I still think, for this team, let's make sure we manufacture runs because that's how we'll sustain (winning) stretches."

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The Twins have admittedly been the anti-Moneyball team. They have become the model small-market franchise through scouting and player development rather than statistical analysis.

Yet someone with the Twins must have picked up on the idea that drawing walks is good. Suddenly, the Twins are the walking men as they led the AL with 103.

That puts the Twins on a pace for 834 bases on balls for the season. During Ron Gardenhire's eight seasons as manager, the Twins have never drawn more than the 585 walks they had last season. Gardenhire believes his team's improved plate discipline is the result of many of the Twins' hitters beginning to mature.

"We've always talked about how many at-bats you need to start kind of figuring things out," Gardenhire said. "We've got a bunch of guys getting there about the same time. They understand when a guy is getting you out (outside) of the strike zone, if you continue swinging he's going to continue to throw the ball out of the strike zone. I think we've seen a big difference this year where we quit swinging. If he's not in the strike zone, we're taking pitches and ultimately the results are their pitcher has 100 pitches in five innings and he's out of the ballgame."

Center fielder Denard Span has helped set the patient tone as the leadoff batter. His 15 walks are second on the Twins behind first baseman Justin Morneau's 20.

"If they throw it over the plate we're going to swing, but if not we're going to take pitches until we get what we want," Span said.

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings:

Shortstop Yunel Escobar's continued mental errors and refusal to take accountability for them is irking his teammates and manager Bobby Cox but the Braves aren't considering trading him yet … The Giants are considering calling up top prospect Buster Posey from Triple-A Fresno to bolster their offense at both catcher and first base … Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan, last year's NL Rookie of the Year, is struggling so badly that he is on the verge of falling into a platoon with Brett Carroll … Rookie Rhyne Hughes is getting a shot at first base for the Orioles as Garrett Atkins is struggling and there  are also plenty of options at Triple-A Norfolk, including Michael Aubrey, Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder … Right-hander Kyle Kendrick is in danger of losing his rotation spot with the Phillies … Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles will continue to split time at catcher for the Astros until one snatches the starting job or Triple-A Round Rock's Jason Castro is deemed ready for a call-up.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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