Out of Left Field: Resigned

Another fall, another fall from the playoff picture. I am trying to work up the energy to be disappointed. Resigned is a more apt description. That's a terrible state to find oneself in, and it begs for analysis. So, here goes: What went right, and what went wrong, position-by-position:

Catcher: The Phillies came out of spring training with as many as four catchers on the major league roster: Mike Lieberthal, Todd Pratt, Shawn Wooten, and Tomas Perez. None of those four combined to make one decent catcher until after the playoffs were out of reach. Sure, Lieberthal will finish the season with respectable numbers (roughly .275, 20 HR, 60 RBI), but they hardly justify the $7.5 mil that he's being paid. This is especially true when you consider that Lieberthal spent the first half of the season with anemic numbers, especially with men on base, and it has taken an unconscious September to pull his overall stats up to "respectability." The Phillies are in desperate need of a change at the catcher position, but they have absolutely nothing in their player development system. The only hope for change is that the Dodgers make an offer for Lieberthal, which isn't likely as long as "Moneyball" disciple John DePodesta is GM in Los Angeles.

First Base: Who doesn't love Jim Thome? Over 90 homeruns and 200 RBI in two years with the Fightins. He plays hurt, he doesn't complain, and he's a genuine "salt of the earth" type of guy. It's almost enough to make you overlook his .200 average and 46 K's with runners in scoring position. The good news is that you can rest assured that Jim Thome is anxious for February 2005 already.

Now, what to do with Ryan Howard? Howard is a power prodigy, and with Thome now in his mid-30's the Phillies need to tread very lightly when it comes to trade discussions involving Howard. The Phils have announced that Howard will work some in the outfield during the upcoming Arizona Fall League, but I seriously doubt that is the answer. Even if Howard can play one of the corner outfield spots, just exactly how do you fill out a lineup card with Abreu, Thome, and Howard - all left-handed hitters? The danger is trading Howard and ending up watching another Ryne Sandberg situation. I just wish that I trusted Ed Wade with this decision.

Second Base: Chase Utley, Placido Polanco. We still don't know who the starting second baseman will be next season. It defies logic that Polanco has continued to start, with Utley still firmly implanted on the bench even after the success of Ryan Howard as a power left-handed pinch hitter, and the Phillies eliminated from playoff contention. The Phillies have implied that they may try to re-sign Polanco as a super-sub replacement for Tomas Perez, but since Polanco made $4 million this season it seems like a steep price to pay. Don't get me wrong, Polanco is a great defender who has played lights-out over the last two months of the season, but Utley has deserved better than he's gotten from the Phillies.

Third Base: I'm really torn over who should be the Phillies MVP. Jimmy Rollins has been fantastic, and there's always Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, but I'm hard pressed to find someone who has been more "clutch" than David Bell has. All spring he had to listen to the rumors about how he was "done," and the hip injury was more serious than the Phillies were letting on. Everyone overreacted to the fact that Bowa refused to send him on long bus rides during the spring. He responded with his best year ever, and never complained about his role, even though he's had a plate appearance at all nine slots in the batting order this year. Good for you, David Bell.

Shortstop: This year, Jimmy Rollins has been everything that he wasn't in 2003. A .285 average, .343 OBP, 180 hits, 111 runs scored, 30 SB, 54 walks to go with 72 strikeouts. He's hit above .280 from both the left and right side. He's laid off the high fastball (for the most part), and he's done his usual terrific job in the field. This is the Jimmy Rollins that everyone said the Phillies needed in order to win. He held up his end of the bargain.

Leftfield: I like that Pat Burrell returned. It shows great character, and gives me hope for his future. But, he is still uncomfortable to watch at the plate. With all of his potential, he still has just one season of plus 30 homeruns and plus 100 RBI. His contract is about to become a burden. Look, Phillies fans should never expect Burrell to be Albert Pujols, but for the hype and the money, they should expect more than Luis Pujols.

Centerfield: Marlon Byrd? Nope. Doug Glanville? Please. Ricky Ledee? Traded. Jason Michaels? Nice offense, but an adventure on defense. Quite frankly, I have no idea what the answer is here, unless it's…

Rightfield: What do you want from Bobby Abreu? Another plus.290 average, another plus 100 RBI and runs scored season, his sixth straight plus 100 walk season, and a career high in stolen bases (40 and counting). You can't even complain that he refused to leadoff, because Jimmy Rollins made that argument moot. So, Howard Eskin's ridiculous rants aside, who would you trade Abreu for? I thought so.

Pitching: I'm not going to bother to break this down between starters and relievers; the reason is that it doesn't matter. When you stack them all up - Millwood, Padilla, Wolf, Myers, Wagner, Worrell, Cormier, Hernandez - they all had worst seasons in 2004 than 2003. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that (cough…Bowa/Kerrigan…cough.) I think it's safe to say that only Ryan Madson, Eric Milton, and the late season pitching of Gavin Floyd and Cory Lidle were bright spots with this pitching staff - and we overpaid for Lidle.

There are plenty of questions going into October for the Philadelphia Phillies, and it will be interesting to see what transpires in the next few months. I can feel the heat from the Hot Stove already.

DN Curry comes to you Out of Left Field every Thursday at PhillyBaseballNews.com. You can email him at dncurry@comcast.net.

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