Posted by Mike Frohwirth
October 26th, 2010 was a good day. Though the pain of the NLCS defeat was still only days old, and a potential Cliff Lee Return was still inconceivable, the Phillies made a wise move that day. They declined the $4.5 MM option on reliever J.C. Romero's contract, presumably cutting ties with the flammable reliever. Romero's departure seemed prudent, as his performance had been erratic at best, and his potential salary could be spent much more wisely. As a fan, I was thrilled to be rid of Romero. I wanted to see some new blood in the 'pen, and was sick of watching Romero walk opposing batters.
Of course, a little more than two months later, Romero returned to the Phillies. Thankfully, his new contract will pay him $1.35MM, or less than one-third of the value of the the declined option. The reduced salary makes Romero's presence in the bullpen a bit less unpalatable, but only if Manager Charlie Manuel puts Romero in a position to succeed.
In retrospect, my Romero Hate may have been a bit wrong-headed. Romero's 2010 splits against left-handed batters: .217/.323/.277. By way of comparison, Roy Halladay's splits in 2010: .245/.271/.373. Against lefties, Romero is a damn good pitcher! If Manuel employs Romero as a LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy) and/or pitches him mostly against lefties, Romero could be an extremely valuable bullpen piece. But if Manuel continues to use Romero as a "proven veteran late inning option", and allows him to face right-handed batters on a regular basis, there is a good chance that Romero will have performance-related issues.
With relievers Scott Mathieson, Mike Zagurski, and Mike Stutes all having been dispatched to the minor league camp, the bullpen picture has become much clearer. Even with Brad Lidge unavailable due to injury, the Phillies have the makings of a good bullpen, provided that Manuel uses his relievers in their proper roles . The Phillies' Opening Day bullpen appears likely to include the following:
Ryan Madson is good. Very good. Madson's 2010 splits: .212/.308/.582. Madson has done an outstanding job in his role as the primary eighth inning reliever. With Brad Lidge beginning the season on the Disabled List, Madson appears likely to begin the season as the closer. Is that the best place for Madson? I'd argue that, as the best Phillies reliever, Madson should pitch in the eighth or ninth inning, depending on the game situation. With multiple baserunners/middle of the opposing lineup due to bat, Madson should, probably, get the ball. However, it is likely that Madson will be used as a conventional closer, taking the ball in the ninth inning. Given that Madson is a potential free agent, Madson (and agent Scott Boras), undoubtedly, prefer this option. There are two key things to remember about Madson. Many of his "blown saves" in the past occurred in the eighth inning, so his saves/save opportunity stats are a bit deceiving. (In the eighth inning you can "blow" a save, but you can't earn a save. A perfect eighth inning, preceding a Lidge ninth, earns Madson a "hold", but doesn't affect his saves/save opportunity numbers.) The other key thing: Madson is a damn good pitcher, and is likely to have success, whenever he is utilized.
Contreras figures to join Madson in the eighth/ninth inning mix, at least until a Lidge return bumps Contreras back to the seventh inning. The thirty-nine year old right-hander did well as a reliever in 2010, posting a split of .255/.319/.380. As Contreras has a BABIP of .327, it is possible that he could even show improvement, as an average BABIP in the .290-.300 range could deflate those split stats further.
As stated previously, as a LOOGY, Romero could be very effective. But facing right-handed batters, in a game where the result is still undecided, is not a good move.
Bastardo, a twenty-five year old southpaw, has had injury concerns in recent seasons. He needs a full season in MLB, so the Phillies can figure out what they have in Bastardo. He should be used in the sixth/seventh inning.
Herndon spent 2010 with the Phillies, pitching only 52.1 innings. As a Rule V selection, the Phils had to keep him on the MLB roster, or return him to the Angels. He would likely benefit from some time in AAA, a level he skipped in 2010, where he can pitch more frequently/in different situations. Herndon should be used in low leverage situations, and will likely be sent to AAA when Lidge returns.
Baez had a bad, bad year in 2010. His atrocious splits: .301/.382/.481. His BABIP was .322; a kinder, gentle BABIP in '11 could help his stat-line. But Baez should probably be kept in low leverage situations. Baez' guaranteed contract, combined with the fact that the Phillies can't send him to the minor leagues (without, potentially, losing him on waivers, and paying him to play for another team) should guarantee him a roster spot. However, as the season goes on, it becomes cheaper for the Phils to cut ties with Baez. If Baez doesn't improve on his 2010 performance, he probably won't survive the 2011 season. At least, not as a Phillies reliever.
Kendrick was the Phillies' fifth starter in 2010, pitching 180.2 innings, with splits of .283/.329/.477. On December 2nd, Kyle was offered salary arbitration, and later agreed to a $2.45MM contract for 2011. The plan was for Kendrick to be the fifth starter. While a cheaper option, such as RHP Vance Worley, may be able to equal Kendrick's MLB production (at $2MM less), GM Ruben Amaro chose to retain Kendrick. Given that the Phillies expect to contend, the extra $2MM to retain Kendrick was somewhat defensible. But two weeks later Cliff Lee was signed, making Kendrick an expensive sixth starter/reliever. If the Phillies opt to trade one of their five starters, Kendrick may move back into the rotation. But Kendrick will be used in long relief to start the season. Despite his contract, Kendrick's MLB spot isn't safe, as the Phils may decide he has more value to them stretched-out in AAA, in case they need another starting pitcher.
While this seems likely to be the group of relievers chosen to start the season, nothing is written in stone. The Phillies could opt to go with six relievers, in order to carry another position player. (Given the Lidge injury, however, this seems highly unlikely.) As other MLB teams decide on their own Opening Day rosters this week, a bullpen upgrade may become available to the Phillies. Though Mathieson, Zagurski, Stutes, Worley, and Justin De Fratus all appear headed for AAA at present, injuries/ineffectiveness could result in later promotions to MLB. There should be several openings in the 2012 bullpen, and as the veteran core becomes more expensive, the Phillies could look to younger, cheaper options. It might be prudent for the Phillies to find some MLB time in 2011, for these younger, cheaper options.