Can The Phillies Afford Lidge and Burrell?

As we bask in the glow of first place in the division, two key components of the team could be seeing green once the free agency period hits. So, can the Phillies afford to keep Brad Lidge and Pat Burrell? Of course, it could also be considered whether they can afford to not re-sign them.

It wasn't that long ago that Pat Burrell could have been had for next to nothing, if only someone could get him to waive his no-trade clause. Luckily for the Phillies, Burrell stood adamant that he did not want to leave Philadelphia and it's lucky for the Phillies that he insisted on staying put in left field. The Astros on the other hand made Lidge available and sent him packing (he didn't have a no-trade clause) and again, the Phillies are glad that they did. Both players though are eligible for free agency at the end of the season and rest assured that they'll be wanted then, probably by numerous teams. The Phillies have a few months of exclusive negotiating with both players before they would hit the open market and they may be well served to take advantage of that time to try to get a deal done with both players.

With Burrell's love for the city, signing him could be a relatively easy proposition. Surely, free agency could test just how much he loves the city and it will be interesting to see how much of a hometown discount he would be willing to offer the Phillies, considering just how ready they were to send him out of town during the low points that he's often hit during his tenure in Philadelphia. While the Phillies could consider an outfield of Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Geoff Jenkins, having Burrell's bat in the lineup makes them much more formidable. There are no real options available in the minors who could equal Burrell's numbers at the plate, especially in the power column. Signing one of the other available free agents or seeking a trade to fill the sizable hole that Burrell's exit would leave would be the most likely option. For all of the maligning and booing that Burrell has faced, when you look at his season numbers, there is little to argue about. There are a couple of definite hiccups, but Burrell does put up pretty solid numbers and on a very consistent level.

Burrell will be 32 when the free agency period begins and it's likely that his next contract will be his final big payday. The question is just how long of a deal he'll be able to get and the number of years that are offered could be the deciding factor between re-signing with the Phillies and winding up elsewhere. It's often difficult to give out big, guaranteed numbers over five seasons to a 32 year old and some teams will even balk at four years. Last off-season, Torii Hunter was 32 and was able to get a five-year, $90 million deal and former Phillie Aaron Rowand - at age 30 - got five years and $60 million from the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, 31 year old Andruw Jones was only able to get a two-year, $36 million deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers, averaging out to the same per season that Hunter received, but not coming close in years. Best guess on Burrell may put him somewhere around four years and in the neighborhood of about the $18 million per year given to Hunter and Jones. His balky feet may keep him from getting the fifth year, but it could also be a bargaining chip for Burrell to use. If the Phillies were to offer Burrell a deal now, something in the neighborhood of four years and $64 million - $16 million per season - and if he balks, either push up the money or put in an optional fifth year that would vest if he were to reach certain numbers either over the life of the deal or in the final season of the contract. They might consider a number right around the $14 million per season that Burrell is guaranteed for this season and see if he's willing to apply that hometown discount, but it's unlikely that he would bite on that.

Then, there's got to be consideration about what to give Brad Lidge. Closers always come at a premium and if the Phillies were so inclined, they could always move the temperamental Brett Myers back to the closer's role making the re-signing of Lidge unnecessary. Like Burrell, Lidge has professed a love for Philadelphia and appears to be very happy in his role with the Phillies and may be willing to offer some sort of hometown discount, especially if the Phillies were to jump into the bidding before Lidge officially hits free agency. Lidge turns 32 in December and again, just how long of a contract that he'll get will be up in the air. During the last off-season, Francisco Cordero was able to get four years and $46 million from the Cincinnati Reds and he was 33 when he hit the free agency market and Mariano Rivera was able to get $15 million per season for three seasons even though he was 38 when the Yankees re-signed him. As things stand now, Lidge would be the second best closer available on the open market right after Francisco Rodriguez, who will be just 27 when free agency begins and figures to reel in big bucks. Lidge's potential standing on the free agent market may imply that the Phillies will need to move especially fast if they are interested in re-signing Lidge. A likely starting point? Something in the range of four years and $48 million may be necessary to keep Lidge in town and the Phillies have to consider whether they will want to go that high in pay or years to keep Lidge. With a slim free agent market, the Phillies would likely turn to Myers to fill the closer's spot rather than look for a deal with another club to bring a closer to town should Lidge exit.

While Lidge's spot may be a little easier to fill thanks to the presence of Myers, the Phillies may not want to take the chance to let him walk. Keep in mind that Myers suffered through some arm woes when he made the transition to the bullpen and while he pitched well as a closer last season, he doesn't exactly have a long, proven track record as a closer and there is a certain risk associated with giving him the closer's job. Granted, you can generally find an outfielder or two on the open market and you can make the argument that the Phillies could afford to lose a little offense thanks to the potent lineup that exists now, so filling Burrell's power numbers wouldn't be a definite area of need, but consider just how important of a role he plays hitting behind Ryan Howard. Burrell has become an on-base machine and teams can't pitch around Howard and feel confident about it and keep in mind too, that Burrell is putting up his numbers without the benefit of a huge bat hitting behind him. When you consider the potential consequences, the Phillies might want to look at re-signing both players, if they are willing to open their wallets as wide as possible.

While the numbers appear huge, keep in mind that Burrell and Lidge are combining for a little over $20 million this season and if they could both be signed at about $28 million per season, the Phillies might be able to eat the increase. Of course, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard will be looking for bigger bucks and the Phillies will have to pony up some money for both of them along with the other young players who figure to get some nice raises.


 


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