Phillies Bullpen Will Likely Be Different in 2004

The Phillies biggest offseason project may be the overhaul of the bullpen. Sure, signing Kevin Millwood or replacing him in the rotation is a priority, but the job gets tougher as the Phillies figure out what to do with their bullpen. Free agents and trades may play a big part in the reshaping of the pen, but you better figure on buying a program on opening day because you may not know all the faces when it comes to the relievers.

First, it's the easy part. Jose Mesa is a goner. No way, no how, does Mesa return to Philadelphia. He may not even be able to get into Citizens Bank Park if he buys a ticket. Hey, the guy may not even get into Philadelphia, let alone the ballpark and he certainly won't be anywhere near the Phillies bullpen.

Another goner is Mike Williams. The Phillies will have given up young lefty Frank Brooks and have nothing to show for it. Williams will not return and will likely look for a shot – one last shot – at being a closer somewhere. This all-star that the Phillies bragged about having acquired before the trade deadline was a bust and the Phillies won't invite him back.

Terry Adams and Turk Wendell are also free agents, but both stand more of a chance of returning. That doesn't mean that they'll be back, it's just that the chances are better. With Adams season ending injury, the Phillies will be somewhat cautious, but they also figure that Adams should be 100% by spring training. This is a guy screaming for incentive clauses and a one-year deal. The Phillies may even offer him an option that vests if he pitches a certain amount of innings or pitches in a certain amount of games. That almost backfired with Mesa, but the stakes would be lower with Adams.

Wendell will likely be looking for a new address. He has a history of arm problems and showed definite signs of wearing down in the second half of the season. Bringing Wendell back would be a major risk and the Phillies likely can't and won't attempt to keep him around.

Another free agent reliever is Rheal Cormier. The Phillies must bring back Cormier. He proved himself this season and as long as Joe Kerrigan is the Phillies pitching coach, Cormier should be strong, He will be back and will either team with Adams to work as a set-up tandem or will take over the role himself. Cormier could also be used to get the Phillies out of jams earlier in the game. Cormier showed that he could get both lefties and righties out and that he can easily give the Phillies more than one inning.

Dan Plesac is an interesting case. He is a free agent – a 41 year old free agent – who is considering retirement. Then again, he was considering that after last season, so it's not a definite that he won't return to the Phillies. If Plesac does not retire, it's likely that he will be back with the Phillies, rather than heading elsewhere. He was comfortable in Philadelphia, the fans received him well and the Phillies have a shot at getting Plesac to the post-season. Of course, Plesac has a shot at getting the Phillies to the bullpen as well.

If Plesac does retire, that opens a door. Valerio De los Santos is looking to stay with the Phillies, but he's also looking to get more work with the Phillies than he did after he came over from Milwaukee in a trade with the Phillies. De los Santos pitched just four innings in six games with the Phillies. He could become the left-handed specialist if Plesac exits.

The Phillies love Carlos Silva, but he has to start producing. There are a lot of scouts that talk about Silva's arm, but for some reason, he hasn't been able to put it all together. It's likely that Silva will return, but he needs to show something in spring training. The Phillies have toyed with converting Silva to a starter, but just how would they do that? It's unlikely that they'll want him to have on the job training in the majors and he's out of options, so letting him make the conversion in the minors really isn't much of a choice.

Some of the guys who had some bullpen stints in 2003 could become mainstays in 2004. Brandon Duckworth might take over as a long reliever if – and when – the Phillies officially replace him in the starting rotation. Eric Junge shuttled back and forth between Philadelphia and Scranton and only pitched in six games for the Phillies. He will be given some consideration in spring training. Josh Hancock pitched in just two games in September, but the Phillies like what Hancock throws. They will give him a good, long look in spring training. The fact that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League shows that the Phillies are serious about the potential of Hancock. Hector Mercado is completely forgotten and may not even be a part of the organization, let alone the major league bullpen.

It's likely that the Phillies will put some fresh faces in the pen. Geoff Geary is a solid prospect and pitched in five games for the Phillies in September. The introduction to the majors will likely help Geary and he should have a solid shot at getting a job in spring training. The door that could open if Plesac exits will likely be approached by 27 year old Greg Kubes. Actually, when spring gets here, Kubes will have turned 28 and the Phillies figure he's ready for the majors. He won't have a job handed to him, but like Hancock, the Phillies sent Kubes to Arizona and like what they have in him as a prospect.

Here are some interesting names. If the Phillies keep Amaury Telemaco around, they might give him a shot at the fifth spot in the rotation come spring training. If he comes up short, but pitches well, they might fit him into the bullpen. What will the Phillies do with Wayne Gomes. Technically, Gomesie can be a minor league free agent and could head elsewhere. The Phillies may try to keep him around and it's not out of the question that he could win a spot in the bullpen, which might make it enticing for Gomes to come back to the Phillies, even if it's on a minor league contract.

Perhaps the biggest question is David Coggin. After battling injuries and making a couple appearances here and there, the Phillies once again are concerned about Coggin's arm. If he is okay when spring training comes around, they will take a look at what he's got. The Phillies are concerned though that the injuries may have ruined Coggin's chances of pitching in relief because he may not be able to pitch effectively – or remain healthy – with the rigors of what a reliever sometimes goes through.

The Phillies are already focusing on Tom "Flash" Gordon, who is a student of Joe Kerrigan. Gordon made a successful comeback in 2003, and returning to work with Kerrigan as his mentor could mean even more success down the road for Gordon. Problem is that with his history of arm problems and the fact that he converted just 12 of 17 saves in 2003, there may not be enough there for Kerrigan to work with. One possibility is that the Phillies could bring in Gordon as a pseudo-closer and get as much out of him as they can as they groom Geary to take over the job. Gordon may look for more than a one-year deal and it would be interesting to see what the Phillies do if he does want more than one year.

Keith Foulke is also a free agent, but doesn't seem to be extremely high on the Phillies list. The Astros will reportedly shop Billy Wagner and the Phillies may be interested and will talk to the Astros. There may be a few other names that pop up as free agents or in potential trades and the Phillies will surely explore all of their options.

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