Sometimes, players nearing the end of their careers do funny things. They sign with teams that on the surface, make no sense. It's because at that point in their careers, players can generally pick and choose what's important to them. They've made their big bucks, they're on the downside of their careers and being happy is what it's all about. To be happy, a player wants to be in a situation that's comfortable and makes sense for their unique situation. Those are exactly the reasons why Mike Piazza could find Philadelphia a soft place to land.
Piazza wants to catch, but at some level, he knows that he can't catch everyday. That's why he searched for an American League team that would make him feel comfortable. Staying in New York was appealing, but the Yankees have apparently said "no, thank you" to Piazza. The Blue Jays and Orioles are also reportedly interested in bringing Piazza to their teams. He would make a lot of sense for either of those clubs, as well, although whether or not they would be comfortable spots for Piazza remains to be seen. The West Coast has always had an appeal for Piazza and winding up his career in California might be an option. The only real interest that he's getting at this point is in San Diego. Then, there's the option of coming home. After all, Piazza was born and raised in the Philadelphia area and his family still calls it home. How about finishing his career in the City of Brotherly Love. Sure, his family has often gotten to see him play, but being there for half of the games in the season might be appealing and tempt Piazza. It could add to that comfort level.
But why would the Phillies want Piazza? Well, Mike Lieberthal is in the final year of his contract and doesn't figure to be calling Philadelphia home after 2006. In fact, he should be watching very carefully what Piazza is going through and picture himself in that spot one year from now. Sal Fasano was signed as the backup and he's not a bad option as the backup. If anything happens to Lieberthal, Fasano isn't equipped to be an everyday catcher. Carlos Ruiz is hanging around, but he's unproven in the majors and it doesn't appear that Pat Gillick is putting too much time or energy into considering how he may be able to help the club. Should Lieberthal fall apart, a tandem of either Fasano and Piazza or Ruiz and Piazza would make more sense than the combination of Fasano and Ruiz. Piazza could also act as a teacher to Ruiz and give him another veteran catcher to learn from.
The Phillies also have left-handed hitting Ryan Howard at first base. Howard has struggled against left-handed pitching and the Phillies would like to sit him against some of the tougher lefties in the league. Enter Piazza. He's played first base and could be a legitimate option to spell Howard in those spots. It would also give Piazza added at bats. Of course, more at bats would come in the nine games that the Phillies play on the road against American League teams where they'll need a DH. If you do the math, it works out something like this. Have Piazza play twice a week behind the plate, once or twice a week at first base, DH and pinch-hit. Piazza could get to 300 or 350 at bats without too much difficulty. He could possibly even approach the 398 at bats that he had with the Mets in 2005.
One thing to consider is that if Piazza is going to play in that kind of role, the Phillies have to carry three catchers. That's doable, especially since they would be getting a lot of work from Piazza in his various roles.
Pat Gillick said an interesting thing the other day. When asked about rumors that he had spoken with Piazza's agent, Gillick confirmed that he had, but termed the discussion as "very preliminary." He then went on to say "right now, we don't have room on our roster for someone like Mike Piazza." Emphasize right now. Perhaps coincidentally, the Phillies are in talks to trade their top right-handed pinch-hitter, Jason Michaels to Cleveland. There are also rumors that Tomas Perez, who has played some first base, is on shaky ground with the Phillies and could be dumped at some point. That makes that right now especially interesting.
The truth is that Piazza could fit very nicely on the Phillies team. If Michaels is in fact traded, he steps into the role of top right-handed pinch-hitter, which the Phillies will need. He gives them a viable backup at first base and catcher and a solid leadership kind of player in the clubhouse. He fits on the roster at the expense of Perez, who has been dwindling over the past few seasons. The Phillies could revamp their bench, which is somewhat of a necessity anyway, and likely give themselves a stronger, deeper club than they would have right now. Even if Michaels were to stay, it would give the Phillies two quality bats to bring off the bench in key spots. We may have never imagined it when the free agency period first opened, but hey, bring on Mike Piazza.