Placido Polanco is not going to be happy in Philadelphia.
When Polanco reported to camp, he left no doubts about his interest in being a utility player. He tempered his comments by saying that he would do whatever he was asked and he threw in the obligatory comments about loving Philadelphia and having respect for the organization. That was two weeks ago, just about the time that David Bell went down with a sore back.
After being examined by two back specialists, Bell has been diagnosed with a lower back strain and won't play for three weeks. It's likely that he'll start the season on the DL and will miss at least a week or two of the season as he goes through his own spring training. That might not be the worst thing, since a bad back and cold, damp weather like the Phillies are likely to face early on, don't mix well. Plus, it give Polanco a starting job at least for a little while, giving him the chance to fit in with the club and perhaps feel a little better about his $4.6 million lot in life.
"I don't even know why I'm here," is the latest comment coming from Polanco. It was made after the Phillies were drubbed by Detroit 9-1 in the spring opener. It was also made after Polanco talked about being unhappy hitting eighth in the order. "I don't know if I can be effective batting eighth. I'm too aggressive. I'll swing at a lot of bad pitches," lamented Polanco. Apparently, just finding a starting job - albeit temporary - isn't enough for Polanco. He wants things back to how they were before Chase Utley arrived on the scene. That's not going to happen. Even if Utley, God forbid, were to go down with an injury, having Polanco replace Kenny Lofton in the number two spot isn't a likely scenario.
Does anyone else here get the feeling that we're going to see some beat writer quote an anonymous source saying that Polanco is "a cancer in the clubhouse"?
The fact is that the Phillies can't afford to let it get to that point. If that happens, you have an infected clubhouse and you have a player that every team knows you have to trade. His value drops like an anchor and next thing you know, we're getting Todd Jones or Roberto Hernandez as the "best possible deal" for Polanco by mid-season. Yuck! The problem is that the Phillies may be in a bind unless they can make a bold move now.
There are a few factors to consider. First, is the health of David Bell. Let's face it, he's a disabled list entry waiting to happen and he will be for the rest of his career, no matter how long that is. This isn't a situation where the Phillies can have him come back from this latest injury and figure that he's going to be fine for the rest of the season. They have to consider this a worst case scenario sort of situation and look for help at third base. Polanco could have been that help, but it's becoming more obvious that he has issues with all that transpired over the offseason. Sure, being a part of a winning club might help that situation, but there are no guarantees. If Placido Polanco isn't a part of this club, then they have to ask who will play third base if - and when - David Bell can't.
As for "in house" replacements, the pickings are slim. In a pinch, Chase Utley might be able to move to third, but that's not a great option, plus, who would play second. Tomas Perez is here, but he's not an everyday player. He's a nice player to bring off the bench, but bring off the bench are the operative words there. Of the minor league players, Juan Richardson is the closest to being ready at third base, but he hasn't played past AA. There's Buzz Hannahan, who played at AAA last season, but he's not really figured on as an everyday player in the majors. He could fill a utility spot, but likely not handle an everyday job. Then, there's the non-roster invitees. Jose Offerman is the biggest name among the infielders, but he has never played third base. Chris Coste can play second and third, plus catch, but he's never played in the majors. He does have plenty of AAA experience, having played over 330 games at the AAA level, where he has hit .294 in the Cleveland, Boston and Milwaukee organizations. Not a great choice, but most likely the best of the "in house" candidates.
Before you ask - and it's been asked on message boards on the internet - no, Ryan Howard couldn't be moved to third base. Also, moving Pat Burrell back to third, where he played in college, isn't an option either. No, Marlon Byrd, Jason Michaels or Todd Pratt are also not going to be moving to third base.
The real option would be a trade. Perhaps, the Phillies could move Polanco elsewhere for a player who could come in and take over Polanco's job, including playing at third base on an everyday basis, if needed. This is the time for GM Ed Wade to be inventive and proactive. Two things that he hasn't shown a propensity for being in his tenure with the Phillies. It may require more than one move to get it done. Send Polanco elsewhere in a deal separate from another move that brings his replacement. Maybe, a three-team deal, which is something that Wade has been especially uninterested in doing in his tenure, might be another move that the Phillies would need to make.
If Wade allows this situation to become a distraction to the team, it will be nobody's fault but his own. Offering Polanco arbitration was the right move, but the Phillies had to consider the possibility that he would accept and would then have to plan their next move. They had to keep in mind that this could turn out badly. Kevin Millwood gave them a primer on how that can be. Polanco isn't happy and the Phillies simply can't afford that. Move him elsewhere. Surely, Polanco and his agent know of teams that were interested. There are teams out there that would like to have a player like Placido Polanco, all the Phillies have to do is find them and put together a proper deal.
Placido Polanco Career Stats