Phils Open With A Couple of Roster Surprises

The Phillies made final cuts this week, slimming the squad down to 25 men in preparation for the regular season. Because of a brutal schedule in April, during which they get just three days off, the Phillies knew they needed 12 pitchers. That leaves the 9 regulars and 4 on the bench. There were two significant surprises with the last cuts.

Last cuts go way beyond evaluating baseball talent. There are personal and financial imperatives to consider. Who's got friends in the right places? How much money do they make? Are they out of options or can we stick them somewhere where they won't get away? How do we squeeze value out of every last player? How do we keep the core guys happy?

Last cuts are the dirtiest ones, the closest calls, the hardest to justify. Unclean breaks can leave bitterness that lingers for years. These final roster decisions reveal the inner workings of the Phillies Mob and set the tone for the season to come.

The first roster surprise was the demotion of Marlon Byrd in favor of Jose Offerman.

Phillies new manager Charlie Manuel put his stamp on the team by cutting Byrd in support of his veteran star Kenny Lofton. Admittedly at less than 100%, Lofton will begin the season as the teams unchallenged centerfielder. While Byrd gets a bit of a raw deal, Manuel's loyalty to Lofton is a good thing. Kenny Lofton has earned Manuel's support, having led the attack of Manuel's playoff-bound Indians team in 2001. If anyone knows Lofton, it's Manuel. Perhaps Byrd breathing down Lofton's back was too hot for him to handle. But if Byrd gets too hot to handle in AAA, expect him back to the bigs in hurry.

There was no guarantee that pinch-hitting specialist Jose Offerman would accept a minor league assignment and Manuel wanted to hang on to his services as a bat assassin, saved for situations close and late. Had the Phillies cut Offerman, he would not have reported to AAA as Marlon Byrd did, he would have taken his services elsewhere. If an outfield spot opens up at some point, expect Byrd to be called up, so maybe the Phillies will have their cake and eat it too.

The other roster surprise was taking Pedro Liriano over Amaury Telemaco.

Telemaco had been a Phillie since '99. Telly walked only three batters in 15 innings this spring. He tends to attack the strike zone. Sometimes he gets burned, especially when he leaves the ball up, but he works well as a spot starter or in long relief. It's shocking that the Phillies didn't use him more in that role last year. But somehow it was okay to give Paul Abbott ten starts. Unbelievable.

Charlie Manuel explained his thinking on cutting Telemaco: "Basically what we looked at is we needed a guy who can give us three or four innings in a row. I think of Telly as a guy who is going to give us an inning, maybe four outs, five at the most."

Does Telly run out of gas after five outs, or roughly 30 pitches? Look at the 2004 numbers: Telemaco's ERA up to pitch 30 was 2.43 - an excellent mark. After pitch 30 his ERA ballooned to a freakishly high 19.50.

But before you call Papa Smurf a genius, look at Telly's 2003 stats, which show that Telly's ERA dramatically improved as the game went on. His ERA was 6.97 over the first 30 pitches, and a much sharper 2.68 after pitch 30.

But let's not quibble over details. Bottom line, the Phillies saved a bundle with the cut. About $450,000, if you believe the newspapers.

Perhaps Pedro Liriano can be effective as a righty specialist out of the pen. When Vicente Padilla returns to the rotation, the Phillies must decide between Liriano and phenom Gavin Floyd.

On good teams, good players get cut. Byrd, Telemaco, Ryan Howard. All took the cut hard, as expected. Young Howard is on record as demanding a trade, but he shouldn't hold his breath. One more season mashing in AAA will bring him to the show for good. Byrd will get another chance soon. Telemaco is gone but not forgotten. To the last they must all show patience. The season is as strange as it is long. Some of these Spring cuts may yet be Autumn heroes.

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