keyboard_arrow_uptop

The Phillies face a series of choices at the bottom of their roster that,
taken together, will determine whether they have the potential to
outperform expectations or whether they definitely will underperform. The
Phillies apparently believe they have to win, and win now, and we’re going
to see this cost them games both this year and next.

Take Mickey Morandini. The Phillies, following long and public
negotiations, purchased the 34-year-old second baseman for cash, because
they’re not satisfied with the defense of 26-year-old Marlon
Anderson
. Anderson, despite his gaffes, wasn’t that bad defensively.
Both Anderson and Morandini are terrible offensively, in a category of bad
with Miguel Cairo and Bret Boone.

What’s weird is what manager Terry Francona said about Anderson: "You
try to balance, with a young player, what he gives you now and what he can
give you in the future.". Anderson is 26. He hasn’t shown any
potential to be a good, or even average, player in the future. So the
Phillies’ latest brainstorm is to bring in a much older, declining second
baseman to replace him. At least with Anderson there was a remote chance he
would have a superficially impressive career year at 27 and they could get
something, anything for him. Morandini doesn’t help the Phillies in 2000,
and bringing him in probably ends any chance they had of turning Anderson
into value.

The rotation without Schilling supposedly has been set out as Andy Ashby
followed by Paul Byrd, Robert Person, Chris Brock, and
Randy Wolf, with Amaury Telemaco taking on relief duties, where
Francona will use him randomly, like last year. Person and Telemaco have been
rocked more or less continuously throughout the spring, posting ERAs of 7.11
and 7.71, respectively, with poor peripheral numbers. Wolf seems to have
overcome random unwarranted complaints about poor mound presence to secure
a spot.

At the end of the bullpen, the choice for last man standing has come down
to Yorkis Perez, a 32-year-old generic substitute part, and Bryan
Ward
, at 28 a home-run-prone cooks-with-gas enigma. I would go with
Ward: he may come through with an good season, and if he doesn’t pitch
well, some lucky fans go home happy with MLB souvenirs. You can’t teach
that kind of generosity.

Also at the bottom of the roster, Tom Prince and Gary Bennett
are going to thumb wrestle to determine who backs up Mike Lieberthal
behind the plate. Prince is a 35-year-old who the Phillies signed for two
years last season and then used in an interesting experiment: they swapped
him out for Folger’s crystals, and the fans could not tell the difference.
Several complimented the chef and nodded knowingly as they were displayed
on the big TV. Bennett, 28, played the part of the Folger’s.

It should worry Phillies fans that there’s hand-wringing going on about
which one gets cut, as Francona says "they both deserve to be here.
They’re both big-league backup catchers." In truth, they both deserve
to be cut. A good backup could help the team, giving them a hundred at-bats
with some pop and their fragile starter some rest. Further, it wouldn’t be
that tough to get one: the Royals are overstocked with good backups, and
they’re going to have to get rid of one at some point. The Phillies could
pick up Gregg Zaun, who when he’s not catching a day game after a
night game or playing while Lieberthal nurses a hangnail, can sit in as the
guest reviewer for Ebert & the Movies. That’s what you want in a backup
catcher: a sense of humor for good quotes or a special ability like
stealing signs.

Alone, each of these decisions isn’t going to determine the course of the
Phillies season. But if they’re going to play experience–as they’ve
started to with Morandini–the Phillies get twenty years older and will have
four positions at which they can expect to decline from 1999. And while the
Phillies have spun their terrible spring training record the same way every
interview–it doesn’t matter, everything’s just fine–the choices they’re
making could indeed matter if things go right and the Phillies compete for
the wild card, because the couple of games this sort of foolishness costs
them could keep them out of the playoffs.