CD's Connect The Dots... Cost[e] Effective

Few stories in sport are more compelling than the saga of a player who comes "out of left field" to not only make a major league roster, but contribute greatly to the cause. Chris Coste was just such a player for the Phillies in 2006. Who is likely to be this years Chris Coste? Solid bat, low salary, high value. Which player could be this years candidate for the most...Cost[e] Effective?

A gentleman named Canon Liddon once noted that "the life of man is made up of action and endurance; the life is fruitful in the ratio in which it is laid out in noble action or in patient perseverance." Of such "noble action" and patient perseverance" exemplified by the determined efforts of Coste, who came to camp last spring with nary a star on his resume, but with the attitude that he would make the most of his golden opportunity. After having a stellar spring, Coste was sent down to Scranton after having opened up the eyes of Phillie management and coaches with his effort and ability to play multiple positions.

When injuries set in early, and with the team off to its usual lackadaisical start in April, Chris Coste was recalled in May and became a solid and dependable contributor to a team that nearly rebounded from an abysmal first half of the season to qualify for the National League playoffs. Had they achieved this unlikely goal, Coste's efforts would have been lauded even more than they were but when the team faltered during the final week of the season, his efforts might have become minimized somewhat.

Indeed, whenever his name has been mentioned by General Manager Pat Gillick or Manager Charlie Manuel, it tends to come more with a question mark than an exclamation point, and this is probably due to the fact that he did seem to come out of nowhere to perform his heroics in PhillieLand last summer. He was a solid backup catcher, displayed excellent power and clutch hitting skills and was an able and willing pinch-hitter. He also proved a valuable right-handed option at first base on the infrequent days that slugger Ryan Howard needed a day off against a particularly difficult left-handed hurler.

Still, it will be little surprise if Coste must battle and fight to secure a job with the 2007 major league team, recent past heroics notwithstanding. The team has two solid catchers in Carlos Ruiz and Rod Barajas, dependable third basemen in Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez and an outfield that now numbers six or seven players ahead of Coste on the depth chart. At first glance, it would seem incredulous for anyone to suggest that Coste has not earned a spot on the '07 roster with his outstanding hitting and power numbers but when you have been on the fringes all your life, it is very hard to change the perception of mediocrity, even if the performance dictates a change in that perception.

Ah, there is that devilish word again...perception. Truth be told, perception often becomes the reality and it is these preconceived perceptions that all of the Chris Coste-like candidates for a spot on this season's Phillie roster will be battling when they report for spring training in Clearwater next month. All of these players, like Coste before them, come with some clearly marked deficiencies that have derailed their once promising careers. Yet, like Coste, all come with with the opportunity to make the Phillie team should they do well in camp and all would greatly enhance a payroll that might reach 95 millions dollars with their low salaries. Clearly, the Phillies would view them favorably as quite...Cost[e] Effective.

At first glance the names read like a rolodex file of the Who's Who in Obscure Baseball Names...Karim Garcia, Greg Dobbs, Lou Collier, Randall Simon and Greg Jacobs. A few, Garcia and Simon, come with some major league success most interspersed with big league mediocrity. A couple of them, Collier and Dobbs, have tasted the major leagues but never with any sustained or immediate success. One, Greg Jacobs, has never even performed at the big league level and would certainly prove to be the "Story of 2007" should he overcome the tremendous odds and head north with the club at the end of spring training to Philadelphia.

Yet, each in their own small way represents the Chris Coste in all of us, and whenever one of them makes it, we all vicariously live through their successes. It is with this in mind that we take a closer look at each of these five performers, hidden almost beyond notice amongst the high powered Phillie conglomerate of stars like Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. Perhaps with a better understanding of where they have been, we will have a greater understanding of where they hope to go.., and why.

Easily the most recognizable name in the group is outfielder Karim Garcia, a 31 year old former Los Angeles Dodger phenom, who has performed for various parts of 10 big league seasons to this point. Blessed with five-tool talent early on, Garcia has largely been a disappointment at the major league level, except for one amazing stretch of games in 2002 while performing for the Cleveland Indians. While toiling that season with the Indians, Garcia went on a hitting tear that lasted 51 games and saw him hit an amazing 16 home runs and knock in 52 runs while hitting a cool .299 with a slugging percentage of .584.

Yet, like a passing comet in the night, Garcia's brightness quickly dimmed and after a decent year with the Yankees in 2003 [a .305 average in 52 games] and a poor season in 2004 with the Mets and Red Sox, Karim Garcia chose to resurrect his career in Japan. Although the reviews were mixed, it does appear that his performance was enough to catch the eye of Phillie scouts who saw him perform. Perhaps it was the .307 batting average in 2005 but more likely it was the 6 home runs in 2 consecutive games that convinced them that he was worthy of a look see. By all accounts, his winter skills in Mexico were honed to the point that Gillick & Company decided to offer him a minor league contract and an invite to spring training.

Should Garcia make the club, it won't be as a regular performer in right field despite the team's obvious need for another left-handed hitting outfielder. Rather, it will be to provide aid and comfort to a bench that could use another left-handed power hitter to the arsenal. And, if he should make the club, it will be as much a tribute to his desire to prove that his once abundant skills have not completely left him as it is anything else. It would appear to be a win-win situation for the Phils as he comes with a low based contract and the former skills of a player who once had talent and hopes to rediscover that lost skill.

A name familiar to many Phillie phans is Randall Simon, a tall strapping left-handed power hitter who contributed a few clutch hits for the Phils down the stretch last September. Much like Garcia, Randall Simon was once a highly rated player in the Detroit Tigers organization and even hit 19 home runs with a .301 batting average during the 2002 campaign. Yet, for most of his eight seasons in the major leagues, Simon has been a player with more potential that performance and at 32 years of age, has no preconceived ideas of major league stardom.

Rather, he hopes to become a left-handed pinch-hitting deluxe with the Phils, much like he was last September when he was 5-for-21 in mostly late inning pinch-hitting assignments. He is helped by his power potential but hurt by his inability to play more than one position, first base. On a team with Ryan Howard stationed there, the odds on Simon making the club are slim indeed, so his goals are as much to impress another major league club as they are to stick with the Phillies. On a club that stresses and values versatility, it is Simon's lack of same that will probably prove his undoing when rosters are completed.

Perhaps the most intriguing player on the landscape is infielder Greg Dobbs, a versatile left-handed hitter and particular favorite of Gillick's from his Seattle days. In fact, it was the Phillie GM who signed Dobbs as a free agent back in 2001 because he was enamored with the lithe lefties hitting skills and defensive versatility. Indeed, if any player most threatens Chris Coste for a spot on the Phillie roster this spring it could be Dobbs, due to said hitting and defensive prowess.

Greg Dobbs comes with an impressive minor league resume and some recent major league success in Seattle. In his four years of minor league ball with the Mariners Greg Dobbs has a .307 average with 47 home runs in 450 games played. During a September call-up last season, Dobbs hit a robust .370 [10-for-27] and showed an ability to play third base, first base and the outfield. Certainly the Phils are looking for a combined third base/outfielder who hits left handed so Dobbs is an odds on choice to make the squad out of spring training this April.

Adding to his value, the Phils are aware that should they choose not to keep him on the major league roster, they will be forced to place him on waivers where he is likely to be claimed by another club. Clearly, in terms of Chris Cost[e] like effectiveness, Greg Dobbs is a most appealing player for the Phils. Should he make the team his likely $700,000 salary will benefit the team immensely, especially given his ability to play multiple positions. Phillie phans should pay particular interest to Dobbs come spring training because they are likely to see lots of him come summer.

Baseball lore is full of stories of the "near miss" player, the guy that everyone finds themselves rooting for, but who usually finds himself just on the outside looking in. Of such names can be found one Lou Collier, a 33 year old infielder/outfielder who has played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues without ever having distinguished himself at any one stop along the way.

Collier has often endeared himself to the Phillies organization with his outstanding work ethic and ability to assist youngsters in their climb through the minor leagues. It is with this in mind that the Phils have once again invited Lou Collier to their big league camp this spring. The chances are quite remote that he will stick, but the odds are great that the team will try and coax him to go down to their Triple-A club at Ottawa and help many of the Phils most promising youngsters, players like Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson.

Should Collier accept, watch for the Phils to eventually offer him a minor league coaching position once his playing days are over; that is the esteem the club holds for the soft spoken and very classy career minor leaguer. Still, this is not to say that Lou Collier is reporting to camp with the idea that he will readily accept a minor league assignment. After all, he need look no further than the same clubhouse and another 33 year old named Chris Coste, who beat the odds and made himself into a major league player with startling effectiveness.

Another reason to give Collier at least a more than casual glance at big league candidacy is the fact that he can play multiple positions...third base, shortstop, left field and center field. In an organization that favors flexibility and versatility due to their propensity to keep 12 pitchers on a 25 man roster, Collier's ability to play multiple positions is a positive. Still, that positive is likely canceled out by the fact that he hits right-handed and plays positions where right-handed hitters abound...Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez [albeit a switch-hitter], Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand. His greatest chance to make the squad would appear as a late season call-up or as a replacement for one of the aforementioned players should they sustain injury or be moved in a mid-season deal.

Perseverance, thy name is Greg Jacobs, the odds on favorite to establish a large contingent of Phillie phan clubs this year should he even take a whiff of big league life with the club. Jacob's Journey has the sound of a best seller novel and his quest to make it to the major leagues as a 30 year old outfielder could eventually become the "feel good" story of the 2007...should he become Cost[e] Effective.

Greg Jacobs began his career as a pitcher in the California Angels system from 1998-2001, whereupon he was released after less than scintillating success in the minor leagues. Still, Jacobs decided it would be better to switch rather than ditch and signed with the Seattle Mariners as an outfielder in 2003. Once again, much like with Greg Dobbs, the connection to Pat Gillick, then the GM of the Mariners, is quite obvious as it was Gillick who signed him.

Amazingly, Jacobs proved a minor league hitting terror, to the tune of a California League All-Star berth in '03 followed by plus .300 hitting numbers in Double and Triple-A during the 2004 campaign in San Antonio and Tacoma. Included in these numbers was an astounding .818 [9-for-11] opening season performance in the Texas League which lead to his call up to Triple-A and an eventual .320 batting average in Tacoma.

At nearly 28 years of age, Jacobs still seemed a long shot for big league fame and fortune and when Gillick left the organization, so did the chances of Jacob's Ladder ascending northward. He was released in 2005, another seeming casualty of the professional baseball philosophy of "what have you done for me lately" inquiry. Yet, he would not give up the dream and decided to cast his lot with the Independent League Kansas City T-Bones for one last shot at baseball fame and fortune.

If fame and fortune begin with the letter f, then so does the word finally, and that may be what it feels like for Jacobs should he ever set foot on the fields of Citizens Bank Park after more than his share of years of futility and frustration. Perhaps it was all that pent up frustration which lead to his incredible hitting prowess with the T-Bones, numbers that include a .348 batting average in 49 games in '05 and an even more impressive .333 average and 15 home runs and 64 RBI in less than 100 games with the T-Bones in 2006.

Equally impressive was his status as the Best Defensive Outfielder as voted by the coaches and managers of the league. Blessed with a powerful pitcher's arm, Jacobs can play right field and has the left-handed power stroke that the Phillies desire and covet. It certainly does not hurt that he has endeared himself to the organization with his visibility, even showing up to represent the team at a Philadelphia 76'ers basketball game recently. Of this are Philadelphia legends born, and should Jacobs someday take his place among the Rocky like legends of Philly Lore, he will undoubtedly have fond memories of Chris Coste and his battle to beat the odds after 18 years of obscurity, scorn and ridicule.

Yes, every day in baseball there is a story to be told, and they are not always of a Ryan Howard home run or a Chase Utley contract extension. More often than not, they are of the struggles of a Lou Collier or the perseverance of a Greg Jacobs. As often as they talk about the exploits of Cole Hamels or the likely destination of Jon Lieber they occasionally give equal time to the reclamation projects like Karim Garcia and Randall Simon or the unfinished dreams of Greg Dobbs.

For when all is said and done, there is much to like about these stories and the heart and desire that they all have displayed that has allowed them to achieve this much in their professional lives. For most of the names mentioned above, as well as for players like Ryan Cameron, Tim Gradoville, Dusty Wathan and Brent Abernathy, spring training will be perhaps the final stop on a one-way road to baseball oblivion. However, for perhaps one of them, the road will lead not to oblivion but to Philadelphia and a one-way ticket to the major leagues.

For that fortunate player as well as for the Philadelphia Phillies, the price paid will have been well worth the value received for both team and athlete, and yet another way that baseball's ever spiraling salary structure can occasionally be shown to be...Cost[e] Effective.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will attempt to respond. Also check out PhilliesTalk for the latest in Phillie conversation! Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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