Coste Feels Secure With Job Insecurity

You have to wonder what Chris Coste has to do to guarantee himself a spot on a major league roster. After hitting .406 last spring, he was the last cut made before opening day. Now, after hitting .328 with the Phillies, they went out and signed Rod Barajas.

Chris Coste has never gone to spring training with the security of having a job on a major league roster.

Next season won't be any different.

It took Coste 12 years, including five in independent leagues, to break into the majors as a 33-year-old rookie catcher last season. And, even after batting .328 (.356 with runners in scoring position) and becoming the Phils' feel-good story of 2006, he wasn't banking on a guaranteed spot in 2007.

But two moves in December left Coste in danger of being a one-year wonder.

The Phillies finalized a one-year deal with free agent catcher Rod Barajas, who will vie for the starting job with rookie Carlos Ruiz, leaving Coste in a tenuous position as a right-handed pinch-hitter and third-string catcher.

Then, even after trading pinch-hitter Jeff Conine to the Reds for two minor-leaguers, general manager Pat Gillick wouldn't commit a bench job to Coste. If the Phillies can find the left-handed hitter they want or decide to carry an extra pitcher, Coste could be edged out.

"On the flight home from Miami (after last season ended), I was thinking I was pretty confident I'd solidified myself for next year," Coste told the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal by telephone from his home in Fargo, N.D. "It took me a week to think, I can hit .600 and throw out 50 percent (of runners), and something else will come up."

"I knew something was on the horizon. Nothing's ever come easy for me. Even though I had a breakthrough year or whatever, I knew someone would find something, whether it was my defense or something else."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel lobbied for Coste and Ruiz to share the job, but others in the organization weren't sold on Coste's defense and fretted over the club's lack of catching depth. Veteran Mike Lieberthal signed a free agent contract with the Dodgers, and prospect Jason Jaramillo has never played above Double-A.

Coste is hoping he'll be valuable to the Phillies in other ways. Last season, he batted .333 (3-for-9) with two RBI as a pinch-hitter. He also hit .345 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 139 at-bats against right-handed pitching, unusually high production for a right-handed hitter. "Would they rather have me, who hit .340 against righties, or would they rather have a lefty who hit .260 against righties? I've never been a typical right-handed hitter. I've never dominated left-handed pitching. I hope they can take that into account."

"Maybe this is good," Coste said. "Maybe it'll give me extra motivation to come into spring training and hopefully hit .460-something and make the team. But I haven't run out and bought any new cars. I'm not going to count on my paycheck until it's in my hand."

PBN News and Notes:

  • Regardless of whether the Phillies acquire another right-handed hitter or not, it doesn't appear that LF Pat Burrell will be the primary middle-of-the-lineup protection for 1B Ryan Howard. GM Pat Gillick said the Phillies would explore "internal adjustments" to the batting order. The most likely scenario would be to move Howard into the No. 3 hole in the lineup and put 2B Chase Utley in the cleanup spot.

    Burrell, who will make $13 million in 2007 and $14 million in 2008, had 29 home runs and 95 RBIs last season. But he batted only .222 with four homers and 53 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

    Utley excelled in such situations, batting .314 with runners on base and .308 with runners in scoring position. Howard was intentionally walked 37 times last season.

  • RHP Geoff Geary will get the first crack at filling the setup role if the Phillies are unable to complete a deal for an eighth-inning reliever before spring training. Geary, 30, had a breakout season in 2006, going 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA and ranking sixth in the National League with 81 appearances. But Geary has never been a setup man, and there are concerns about removing him from his sixth- and seventh-inning role.

    Another internal candidate may be RHP Ryan Madson, who excelled as a seventh-inning reliever in 2004 and the first half of 2005. But Madson struggled to an 11-9 mark and a 5.69 ERA while being shuffled between the rotation and bullpen last season. The Phillies are counting on Madson to be more consistent in 2007, when he'll be used exclusively in relief.

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