Philadelphia Phillies: GM Ruben Amaro's 5 Savviest Minor Moves of the Offseason
As pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training next week (thank goodness the wait is over), the hot stove simmers down and cools off.
It's been a good, productive offseason for the Philadelphia Phillies. They got the man they wanted to close out the ninth in Jonathan Papelbon for the next four years, brought back fan favorite and left-handed power bat (and occasional first baseman) Jim Thome, and they made many moves to strengthen both the bullpen and the bench.
While it might not have been the most memorable offseason, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and Co. did a nice job of filling empty holes. The only thing they need to do next is extend Cole Hamels—but that's a story for another day.
However, there have been some moves the team has made that have gone relatively under the radar. Some have been moves that make perfect sense, while others are questionable. Nevertheless, for the most part, Amaro knows what he's doing, and the players he's signed and acquired, both major and minor league-caliber, could prove to be invaluable to the club.
We'll examine the five smartest, savviest moves that Amaro has made this offseason, and they will each receive a letter grade based upon how important I think they will be to the club, whether in terms of playing time or just for expanded depth.
I did consider putting Thome on this list, but considering how his signing was the first major move by any team this offseason, I didn't qualify it with the standards for this article, though it was a fantastic move nevertheless.
I'm going to start this off with a move that came with much fanfare, but not for this guy.
On Jan. 25, the Cincinnati Reds announced that they acquired veteran utilityman (and occasional reliever) Wilson Valdez from the Phillies in exchange for 26-year-old left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst.
At first, like many other Phillies fans, I thought the move was absurd. Valdez had grown into being a fan favorite, and defensively he was a more than adequate fill-in. Then I realized that I should remember his offense is terrible and that he's going to be 34 years old in May.
Perhaps the most important parts of this deal, though, are luxury tax room and bullpen depth. Valdez was set to make $930,000 this year in his first arbitration-eligible season, While that's relatively cheap for a ballplayer, the Phillies realized that they had a more versatile bench player in Michael Martinez, and while he's still a huge work in progress, he likely has a higher ceiling than Valdez.
In addition, should the Phils want to pursue a player at the trade deadline, the luxury tax becomes that important again. Paying a guy like Martinez near the major league minimum since he has less service time than Valdez could be instrumental. After all, we've seen in the past that even a few hundred thousand dollars can make a difference, and the Phillies were under the luxury tax threshold of $178 million last year by about that much.
As for Horst, he's supposedly a fire-balling southpaw in the bullpen who has put up decent numbers in the minors (2.81 ERA, 2.5 K/BB, 7.4 K/9 in 51.1 IP) and made his major league debut last season. He's no guarantee to make the roster out of spring training, but he provides supposedly great left-handed bullpen depth in the minors and would be a dependable guy to call up if either Antonio Bastardo or Dontrelle Willis fails to deliver.
Following the Valdez trade, another spot became vacant on the Phillies' 40-man roster, with their count going from 39 down to 38. Juan Pierre could be one of the guys that gets one of the team's final spots.
Pierre, signed to a minor league deal by the team on Jan. 27, is known for his inability to put up his Los Angeles Dodgers-like numbers for the Chicago White Sox, and his speed. Pierre has led the majors in steals twice in his 12-year career and his league once, maxing out at 68 steals as recently as 2010.
While he has absolutely no power, he can get on base and his plus-speed earns him some occasional extra base hits. He also hits for decent average, his career number being .296, though it, like his OBP, has dropped in recent years.
While Pierre is not technically guaranteed a spot on the team's 40-man (or 25-man, for that matter) roster this year, he's in a great position to make it. With little competition aside from Domonic Brown and Scott Podsednik, Pierre's chances of making the roster as a fifth outfielder look great.
He's got the most speed and could act as a pinch runner for the team. He could also be an occasional starter, and with Podsednik's injury woes and the team's belief in leaving Brown in Triple-A for next year, Pierre is the favorite to earn that fifth outfielder spot.
If he makes the major-league roster, Pierre will make a base salary of just $800,000. There are incentives based on plate appearances, but this is a great move for a team with little speed, and for a fifth outfielder, Pierre is a great option to have.
An interesting move, to say the least.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim starter Joel Piniero was courted by the Phillies and signed to a minor-league deal on Jan. 17. He's very inconsistent and has some struggles with his command, but when he's on, he can be fantastic.
Last season, Piniero put up a 5.13 ERA, 62 strikeouts, a 1.51 WHIP, and a 7-7 record in 27 games (24 starts) comprised of 145.2 IP. Those are pretty terrible numbers for the amount of time he pitched during the season, and he was replaced by unexpected-surprise Jerome Williams at the back of the Angels' rotation last year as a result.
This move signals one of depth for the Phillies. Also not guaranteed a roster spot, Piniero will have to show that he can pitch to a sub-5.00 or even sub-4.00 ERA as a starter. He'll likely start out, if not spend considerable time in the minors next season, but should one of the team's starters get hurt (most likely Blanton or Hamels based on track record), he could get the call if manager Charlie Manuel opts for a righty other than Kyle Kendrick to spot start.
Either way, Piniero is a good depth move for the Phils, and while I didn't think it was necessary before, depth is always a plus. Even if the team doesn't want him to start, he's pitched out of the bullpen before, a position he's more likely to earn on the major league roster out of spring training. He could make a great long man. Overall good signing by Amaro—low-risk, potentially high-reward.
The D-Train is rolling into Philadelphia.
The Phillies inked Dontrelle Willis to a major league deal worth roughly $1 million on Dec. 15. Formerly a starter who struggled mightily after being a breakout star with the then-Florida Marlins, Willis will serve as a left-handed reliever should he make the squad out of spring training.
This move served as both one for bullpen depth and possibly a recruiting call. Willis, who will likely (or at least should) pitch exclusively to left-handers (his numbers against righties are so bad they aren't worth mentioning), could prove to be a vital piece of the bullpen, serving as the lone lefty to complement the team's other southpaw reliever, Antonio Bastardo.
However, I say recruitment call because he and Jimmy Rollins have been friends since childhood. Having said that, at the time Willis signed, he predicted that J-Roll would return to Philly and that he would be teammates with his longtime friend. Sure enough, Rollins came back just four days later.
The other thing about Willis is that for a pitcher, he's an exceptional hitter and could pinch hit as well. For a move that brings in left-handed relief work, hitting potential, and possibly recruitment along with it, this was an outstanding signing. He won't be making too much money should he make the big league roster, and he can be cut with minimal losses should the team decide not to keep him after spring training.
In my opinion, the team's best move of the offseason.
Last year, the team's infield bench consisted of Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez, Ross Gload and Pete Orr. This year, it has Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, and one or two of Martinez, Orr and Freddy Galvis. That second set looks awesome.
Wiggy was acquired by the Phillies from the Colorado Rockies on Nov. 19 for either a player to be named later or cash considerations. The teams decided to split the dividends for next year, with each team paying $2 million of his $4 million salary. In addition, if the Phils exercise his option for 2013, the Rockies either get another player or $100,000.
Offensively, Wigginton has good power numbers. He's hit 184 career home runs and has a career slugging percentage of .443. His career OPS is also .768, and his career average is a solid .265.
Defensively, Wigginton can play a multitude of positions. He has played first, second and third bases in his career, along with a few games at short, and he's also played at the corner outfield positions.
While the Phillies will presumably use him as their primary fill-in at first base until Ryan Howard returns from his Achilles injury, Wigginton could also see some playing time at the hot corner in order to rest the oft-injured Placido Polanco, and he could play in either left or right field to give the Mayberry/Nix (who I also considered for this list) platoon a break or to give Hunter Pence the day off.
There's just so many options for this guy. Is he great defensively at any position? No, but he's not a huge liability, either.
With the fact that he can hit for both decent average and power, play multiple positions, and that he came at a relatively cheap cost, Wigginton is the team's best value this offseason and Amaro's best move by far. He's able to be under team control for two seasons, and the Phillies got the man they have coveted for so very long.