Phils Need A New Plan B For Closer

While the Phillies continue to pursue Billy Wagner, they're keeping their eyes on other scenarios. With three other top relievers off the free agent market, there may not be many remaining options for the Phillies if Wagner winds up in New York.

The plan was to go hard after Billy Wagner and if that didn't come together, then turn the attention to B.J. Ryan. Some even argued that Ryan might be the better fit anyway, since he's younger than Wagner and has even been called a young Billy Wagner. As far as the Phillies are concerned, the debate can stop since Ryan appears seems to be looking for a pen to sign a mega-bucks contract with the Blue Jays giving him $47 million over five years.

Since the free agency period started, the Phillies also contacted left-hander Scott Eyre and righty Bobby Howry about coming to Philadelphia. Both wound up signing with the Cubs and got solid money for doing so. Eyre and Howry were Plan C and Plan D in no particular order.

So, with Plan A still a question mark and plans B, C and D all erased, what's Plan E?

Of the remaining free agent relievers, there are some possibilities - although some are remote - that Pat Gillick could look at. Antonio Alfonseca, Octavio Dotel, Kyle Farnsworth, Chad Fox, Tom Gordon, Danny Graves, Roberto Hernandez, Trevor Hoffman, Todd Jones, Braden Looper, Matt Mantei, Ramiro Mendoza, Jose Mesa, Ricardo Rincon, Felix Rodriguez, Scott Sullivan and Bob Wickman are all available. While a lot of them aren't attractive, a few are.

Farnsworth, Hoffman, Wickman and yes, Jose Mesa may be the most attractive. The Phillies are thought to have already contacted Dotel and Gordon as possible bullpen additions who could step into the closer's role should Wagner decide to sign with the Mets or elsewhere.

Jones and Mesa would be almost impossible for returns to Philadelphia. Neither was well received here and Mesa literally left in a huff. Diddo for Roberto Hernandez as well. Now if Ed Wade were still the GM, who knows.

Trades are always possible, but there aren't many teams dangling closers. The Marlins are having a fire sale, but Jones was their closer last season with Alfonseca serving as a backup. They're both free agents, so dealing with Florida isn't likely. There just aren't many teams looking to deal closers at this point and they get rather pricey when trading deadline time comes around.

Inside the organization are a couple of interesting names.

If you look first at the team saves leaders last season at Scranton and Reading, you find the names Franklin Perez and Ryan Cameron. Perez converted 23 of 25 save opportunities for the Red Barons, but posted a 4.96 ERA. Cameron had a 2.55 ERA and converted 19 of 23 opportunities. Both could garner some consideration, but there are other names who could actually get more of a look even though they weren't closers for their respective teams in the minors this past season.

The first is Yoel Hernandez. The Phillies have been waiting for Hernandez to really make his mark and he made some definite strides this past season. Pitching primarily at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Hernandez posted a 3.40 ERA and had three saves in five attempts. The 23 year old right-hander has been somewhat of a fill-in closer in the organization after starting his career with the Phillies as a starter and has been decent in the role. It looks like Hernandez could be ready for a job with the major league club in 2006.

Travis Minix is 28 and like Hernandez, has had stints as a closer in his career. Minix truly established himself in 2005, posting a combined mark of 2-1 with 8 saves in 10 opportunities. He posted an ERA of 1.77 between Reading and Scranton. After an unspectacular career in the Devil Rays organization, Minix found himself in a comfortable situation with the Phillies and responded. Like Hernandez, Minix should get at least a look in spring training auditioning for a bullpen job no matter what happens with the closer's job.

Whether the Phillies would entrust the closer's spot to a young pitcher like Hernandez or Minix isn't clear, but it's certainly unlikely. Odds are that they'll look for at least a little experience in the majors. That brings up names like Ryan Madson, Aaron Fultz and even Vicente Padilla.

Madson is rumored to be headed to the starting rotation, which could open up the move for Padilla. For years, Padilla was considered a potential closer-in-waiting, but his flappable mentality doesn't seem suited to the job. Madson would likely be successful as a starter, but if Wagner were to exit, necessity could keep him in the bullpen and possibly make him the closer. Fultz had his best season with the Phillies in 2005, but whether he could handle the rigors of closing remains to be seen. He certainly wouldn't be looked at as a sure thing if he were to be given the job.

Who winds up where is going to be interesting to watch. With Ryan reportedly signing with Toronto and Wagner hoping to get himself signed somewhere in the next ten days or so, there could be a rush for some of the left over free agents. It's possible that the rush could start even before Wagner signs as teams scramble to get the lower priced relievers with Ryan and Wagner setting the price tag on the top names at a pretty high level.

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