February 7, 2012

Remembering the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies: Who's out.

Looking back is not usually the best way to move forward, but sports fans are pretty much obligated to compare what they're seeing now to what has come before. So as yet another Major League Baseball season approaches and the Philadelphia Phillies have (probably) finalized who will be attending the team's spring training in Clearwater, join me to say goodbye to those who are dearly departed and welcome those who will be joining our beloved squad for 2012 and, perhaps, beyond.

Dom Brown. For whatever reason, the Phillies are probably going to bury former top prospect Domonic Brown in AAA for 2012. My guess is that if he performs anything like the superstar-in-the-making he was considered to be only a year ago, he'll be shipped out of town in a trade deadline deal for another arm or a more established outfielder. The 24-year-old who put up a .725 OPS in 210 plate appearances with the big league club last year (only a few points behind the recently resigned Jimmy Rollins) has become almost an afterthought in Philadelphia these days; most fans think he's a bust, and John Mayberry Jr. has assumed the role of "up-and-coming outfielder" that many had earmarked for Brown.

I'd trade him for Logan Morrison (and I would've traded him for Hunter Pence) but I think the Phillies are silly for jerking Brown around these past two seasons and even sillier if they move him for anything less than top value. Barring injury, I don't expect to see him ever contribute in a Phillies uniform again, but I do expect him to become at least a starting outfielder somewhere out there. Those don't grow on trees, especially when you're a veteran team with a very high payroll that could use an influx of cheap, young talent. Unfortunately, I suspect that most of the Brown-related speculation in 2012 will be wondering which out-of-it team will spring for him first. You like Oakland, Dom?

Raul Ibanez. A tweet from yesterday: "I'd never boo Raul Ibanez or anything, but he only had half a good season over three years in Philly. He's the Tom Gordon of left fielders." Few people in Philadelphia will ever forget how scorching hot Ibanez was for the first few months of 2009; it wasn't quite comparable to Manny Ramirez in the 2008 playoffs (an otherworldly .533/.682/1.067) but it's as close as I've ever seen (.359/.433/.718 in March/April and a still-wonderful .312/.366/.661 in May).

Of course, he was never the same again. His OPS dropped from .899 in 2009 to .793 in 2010, and he was one of the worst outfielders in baseball last year. But he was a stand-up guy who tried his best to live up to a big contract that shouldn't have been offered to a guy his age, and he could've (and probably should've) been part of a championship team in 2009 if not for major regression from guys like Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels. He even helped the team out by declining arbitration on his way out the door! I won't miss Raul, but I won't sully his good name either. Unless he comes back in the World Series as a Yankee, of course.

Ben Francisco. For the life of me, I can't muster the enthusiasm to put together two paragraphs on Ben Francisco's time in Philadelphia. They brought him over with Cliff Lee. He hit a big homer. They traded him for someone named Frank Gailey. He'll never be more than a fourth outfielder. The end. There's not much residual hunger in Philly for the Ben Francisco Treat.

Wilson Valdez. While the versatile Valdez was certainly a fan favorite, jettisoning his .634 OPS won't hurt the team at the plate. Unless, of course, it leads to increased playing time for Michael Martinez and his .540 OPS. That could make dumping Valdez for a nobody look like nothing short of a disaster.

The 29-year-old Martinez has shown no signs -- repeat, no signs -- of being able to hit big-league pitching. If the Phillies kept him around as a Rule 5 pick last year to serve as the last man off the bench or, more appropriately, AAA infield insurance, fine. But if Martinez makes the team out of spring training as the utility infielder, it won't be long until we're all begging for the days of Abraham "No Hit" Nunez.

Roy Oswalt. Roy Story 2 remains unsigned at the moment, spurning the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier today in his continued quest to pitch for a contender in 2012. His time in Philadelphia was sort of a mixed bag, at least as far as aces are concerned -- 16-11 and 2.96 ERA in red pinstripes, but only 23 starts in 2011 and a meltdown against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS -- and the team has what seems like very little interest in bringing him back for one more go-around.

He might make a contender like the Boston Red Sox or the aforementioned Cardinals very happy on a one-year deal, or his back might act up again and cause an abrupt end to his storied career. Either way, Oswalt wasn't quite the dominant pitcher everyone envisioned when the Phillies traded for him in July of 2010. Of the Four Aces, he'll be the one most easily forgotten.

Brad Lidge. Like Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge could never again reach the heights of his first season in Philadelphia. But unlike Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge helped the Phillies win a championship. In fact, you could argue he was the most valuable player on the 2008 team. That earns you a lot of goodwill, even if you absolutely stink your way through a subsequent three-year extension (which Bradford absolutely did).

No one will look back on Lidge's final three seasons in a Phillies uniform very fondly (7.21 ERA in 2009, including the backbreaking three-run inning in the World Series, and only 65 innings, albeit successful ones, in 2010-2011 combined) but I doubt anyone will boo him when he comes to the mound as a member of the Washington Nationals in 2012. Like Ibanez, Lidge is a class act who gave whatever he had left for the Phillies' cause. That wasn't much comfort over the past few years, when the team desperately needed a healthy Lidge on the field, but it means something to me now.

Ryan Madson. Finally, here's the one guy Phillies fans might actually miss. I think Jonathan Papelbon could end up being an upgrade, at least for 2012 and probably 2013, but Madson's one-year, $8.25 million contract with Cincinnati is leaps and bounds more reasonable than Papelbon's four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies. I don't blame Ruben Amaro Jr. for being aggressive and bringing in the guy he wanted for a price that the Phillies have apparently allotted for the closer position, but I do blame Amaro for misreading the market big time and giving four expensive years to 31-year-old, fastball-oriented pitcher.

I wish Ryan Madson good luck in Cincinnati -- minus the time he stupidly kicked a chair, he ended up being maybe the best homegrown reliever the Phillies have ever developed -- and I suspect that he won't need it; last year's 2.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 32 saves and 9.2 K/9 were no fluke. I'm already dreading the week-by-week Madson/Papelbon comparisons that'll pop up on Phillies blogs all damn season.

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