As spring training winds down and the Philadelphia Phillies prepare to head north for two final tune-up games at Citizens Bank Park in less than a week, most of the undecided roster spots involve relief pitchers.
However, there’s still at least one roster spot up for grabs that does not involve a reliever.
The Phillies’ starting infield is healthy and, for the first time since 2010, set to be in the Opening Day lineup. However, a decision must still be made regarding which players will be backing up these starters off the bench this season.
Kevin Frandsen, after batting .338 with 14 home runs and 66 hits in 55 games last season, has all but officially been given a reserve infielder spot this season. Considering that he is out of minor league options and has turned in a solid spring training, collecting 14 hits in 18 games, Frandsen should not only make the Opening Day roster but also have significant contributions throughout the season.
But who will join him as a reserve infielder?
Unless the Phillies decide to carry four outfielders until Delmon Young’s return, the team essentially has Freddy Galvis and Yuniesky Betancourt fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Galvis may have been the early favorite for winning a bench job, after proving that he is capable of playing above-average defense during the 2012 season. The biggest question mark surrounding Galvis was whether his offense had improved. A .288 average and 17 hits in 21 games this spring suggests that he can improve on his.226 average in 58 major league games last season.
However, Galvis’ .288 average includes 17 strikeouts to just two walks, and a .311 OBP.
Meanwhile, Betancourt has batted .439 in 18 fewer at-bats than Galvis prior to today’s game, to go with 18 hits and just one strikeout. Betancourt has a .444 OBP.
Betancourt appeared in 57 games last season to Galvis’ 58, and batted .228, also similar to Galvis. However, Betancourt also hit seven home runs and 36 RBI.
Both players have had solid spring trainings, and both have remained in the running for a final roster spot heading into the final days of camp. For Galvis, this means that his offense has improved while, for Betancourt, this means that he has played his way into contention after being a last minute offseason signing.
There is one big difference between the two players, however.
Betancourt’s contract allows him to ask for his release if he is not added to the 25-man roster by Sunday.
And, according to an article by Matt Gelb on Philly.com, Betancourt will do just that if the Phillies do not add him to the roster.
The Phillies are in a good position heading into Opening Day, as either Galvis or Betancourt in addition to Frandsen will give the team a solid bench to start the season.
However, what about as the season progresses?
With teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals and possibly Los Angeles Dodgers looking for infield help following spring training injuries, it’s understandable why Betancourt would ask for his release if the Phillies attempt to send him to the minor leagues. Galvis, meanwhile, can be sent to Triple-A without passing through waivers and start everyday rather than serving a limited role off the bench.
But what about the options after these infielders? The Phillies will have Michael Martinez in their minor league system, as well as Pete Orr and Andres Blanco, who recently re-signed with the team according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America.
Not exactly a grouping that inspires a lot of confidence.
If Frandsen or Galvis were to get injured, the Phillies would be forced to call-up one of these players to add to their bench. With Galvis less than a year removed from suffering a back injury, and a starting infield that has had its share of injuries, having as much depth as possible makes more sense.
The Phillies could still release Betancourt and take their chances with the rest of the roster remaining healthy, or even take a look at free agents. But having Galvis available in Triple-A would not be the worst scenario to start the season.
It’s uncertain whether a team would be willing to make a minor trade offer for Betancourt prior to Sunday when they could make a free agent offer in a few days instead.
The Phillies could also hold onto him until a team is willing to make a trade offer, and then call up Galvis to join the major league roster. Obtaining anything for Betancourt, even a low-level prospect, would be a solid deal considering that he was originally a last minute addition to camp.
The previously mentioned article by Gelb notes that Betancourt’s contract could earn him as much as $1.4 million through incentives. That’s a bigger price than the Phillies likely would want to pay a reserve infielder, especially with Frandsen making $850,000. Additionally, a player would have to be optioned off the 40-man roster, possibly Mauricio Robles, in order to make room for Betancourt.
The Phillies were in a similar situation last season with Juan Pierre, and ended up making a decision that gave the team a .300 hitter for the season.
It’s not a bad position to be in, having three players capable of making the major league roster.
However, with the Phillies’ starting infielders having trouble remaining on the field in recent seasons, lessening the team’s depth and removing a bench option from the equation could be a difficult decision to make.