J-Mike Should Be First To Audition

Jason Michaels doesn't look like the prototypical center fielder. He's not exactly lean and lanky and doesn't have an overabundance of speed. Still, he has the natural abilities and instincts that make him able to play the position. The fact that he's a solid offensive threat should make him an even bigger factor in considering a replacement for Marlon Byrd.

Phillies manager Larry Bowa officially put Marlon Byrd on notice that open auditions could begin at any time for Byrd's center field job. "I'm going to watch Marlon continue to play and if things don't turn around, we're going to throw some guys out there and maybe go for offense," is how Bowa put it before Thursday's day/night double-header.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Jason Michaels, playing in right field in the first of the two games, went out and had a huge game. Michaels finished the day 3-3 with a homerun and four RBI, which matched a career high. The effort pulled Michaels' average up from .170 to .237 on the season. Make another note of what Jason Michaels did and keep Bowa's quote in mind, because not only did Michaels provide offense, he made two sparkling defensive plays to help lead the Phillies to a 6-2 win. Granted, the plays didn't come as a center fielder, but they showed some of what Michaels is capable of doing.

There are a number of people around baseball who believe Michaels could be starting for a lot of teams in the majors. Those who don't figure he could play everyday, generally mention his importance off the bench as a factor. Those folks are a little narrow sighted. The fact is that Michaels could play everyday and the Phillies just happen to have a spot open.

How about a platoon with Ricky Ledee? Forget it. Don't go half-way when you have a clear shot at finishing the job. Ledee, for all his ability and heroics, is truly a bench dawg. Ledee has had chances in his career to play everyday and failed at them. Even last season, he showed that his strength is not as a long-term kind of player and is instead as a utility guy off the bench. No shame in that, since it's one of the toughest jobs you'll find. It's not out of the question that Ledee could be an everyday player, but Michaels seems to have better credentials for the audition. Another factor in leaving Ledee on the bench is that he is a left-handed bat. Finding someone who can come off the bench and produce is tough. Having that guy be a left-handed hitter is nirvana! The Phillies are better using Ledee in a position where they can pick his spots. After all, it's a statistical fact that most relievers are righties and Ledee can continue to feast upon them.

Jason Michaels has played center field in the past. As a minor leaguer, he played center field and showed that he can be at least adequate defensively. Bowa is absolutely right, the Phillies may need to go for offense and Michaels can give them what they need without having to trade for offensive help. With rumors of the Phillies looking at the likes of Kenny Lofton, Carlos Beltran and Carl Crawford, keep in mind that Michaels costs the Phillies nothing in terms of players that they would have to give up. Notta.

Replacing Michaels bat off the bench won't be easy. Luckily for the Phillies, there are options. AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre is filled with players who are considered just the type to be major league utility men. Lou Collier, Mark Smith and Shawn Wooten are all right-handed hitters waiting in the wings. Any of them could take over on the bench while Marlon Byrd goes back to AAA and tries to rediscover his game. Keeping Byrd in Philly to come off the bench would be a mistake. He's not going to contribute as much in that way as he might if he goes back to Scranton and tries to figure out what he's doing wrong. The kid has ability, but it disappears at times and both he and the Phillies need to figure out why.

Another option off the bench would be free agent Andres Galarraga. The veteran has been given a clean bill of health after a second bout with cancer and is shopping his services. Galarraga has said he would like to play for a contending team and the Phillies seem to fit the bill.

While the addition of Beltran or Crawford are especially attractive, giving up the players that they would demand from their current team is not attractive. Giving J-Mike a chance to play everyday and adding another bat to the Phillies offense is extremely attractive. If the auditions are under way, the Bowa needs to make a quick decision and cancel the rest of the candidates, leaving them in their current supporting roles.

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