The Phillies are focusing on two needs as they approach spring training. With the suspension of J.C. Romero, the Phillies are interested in signing a left-hander to pitch in relief and since their bench is heavily left-handed, they would like to find a right-handed bat to use in key situations. One potential move being thrown out there is trading Geoff Jenkins for a right-handed bat, but they haven't found any takers so far. Two free agents that they had some interest in - Kevin Millar and Gabe Kapler - have signed elsewhere, so their search now centers around four right-handed hitters:
Moises Alou - Alou has had injuries bad enough to curtail his playing time by a good amount in each of the past three seasons. On the upside, he's hit .323 (233-for-722) in those years, but he hasn't done much pinch-hitting, going 6-for-9 (.667) since 2006. In his career, Alou is a .333 pinch-hitter (19-for-57). The problem is not just Alou's health, but at this point in his career, he's primarily just a left fielder and the Phillies wouldn't be filling a positional need by signing him.
Rich Aurilia - This would be one way to fill more of a positional need, since Aurilia can play at third base to provide some offense should Pedro Feliz not put up his pre-Phillies type numbers again in 2009. Aurilia could also spell Ryan Howard at first base and in a pinch, could play some second base, although he hasn't played there very often in the past few seasons. The Giants are known to be interested in bringing Aurilia back, and it's generally a good sign when a team is interested in bringing back a player they had just the previous season, since it shows that they believe he's still capable. The Twins are also interested and word is now filtering out that the Mets could get in on pursuing Aurilia.
Nomar Garciaparra - If the Phillies had their way, they would probably pick Garciaparra from the remaining free agents. Problem here is that Garciaparra isn't sure that he can physically handle another season, which obviously sends up flares about his health. If he can play another season - and more importantly - if he wants to play another season, Garciaparra would provide the Phillies with a clubhouse presence much like they lost when Aaron Rowand signed with San Francisco. Garciaparra can play short, first and third, although defensively, he's only really average or above at first base.
Mark Grudzielanek - Grudzielanek has always been a nice hitter, but now that he's 38 and his everyday years are over, how will he transition into being a role player? He's only had 27 at bats as a pinch-hitter in his 14 year career and has hit just .185 in those situations. Defensively, he's limited to second base and could be a worst case scenario to slide over to short if the Phillies really needed him to move over. He would bring good experience and a winning attitude to the club and if he's ready to accept a role as a utility guy, he would be a nice addition.
For the bullpen, the Phillies are kicking the tires on a couple of the remaining southpaws still on the free agent market. If they can't come up with someone via free agency, perhaps J.A. Happ would be pulled into the bullpen to fill the need temporarily. Here are the targets that the Phillies are aiming at for a left-handed reliever:
Joe Beimel - It's pretty interesting that Beimel is still sitting out there unsigned. Over the past three seasons with the Dodgers, Beimel pitched in a total of 216 games and has thrown 186 1/3 innings, while posting a 3.04 ERA. Since messing around as a starter early in his career, Beimel has pitched exclusively in relief since 2003, Beimel is 16-9 with three saves and a 3.75 ERA as a reliever. Over the past three seasons, left-handed hitters have averaged just .223 against him. The most impressive stat for the Phillies is that he has a current streak of 73 1/3 innings without allowing a home run, which dates back to July of 2007.
Randy Flores - There are no guarantees about Randy Flores. He missed all of last August with peroneal tendinitis in his left ankle and then had left shoulder surgery after the season. Reports are that he should be healthy for 2009, but for now, you have to be leery about how effective he will be this season.
Will Ohman - Like Beimel, it's surprising that Ohman is still sitting out there. He had a nice season (4-1, 3.68) with Atlanta in 2008 with a 1.24 WHIP. Left-handers hit just .200 (21-for-105) against him last season, which is actually just above their .197 average against him over his six year career. The Phillies were thought to have been focusing primarily on Ohman in the past couple of weeks, but haven't made much progress. Latest word now has the Mets interested in signing him as part of their bullpen realignment.
One thing to consider is cost. The Phillies likely don't want to spend much over one-million dollars for any additions to the roster, unless they can clear a little space. The best options to clear a little room would be to deal Jenkins or possibly, find a taker for Adam Eaton and at least a little of his contract. The Phillies seem resigned to eating much of Eaton's remaining deal, but if they can find someone to take him and just a bit of his guaranteed money, they would have a little more room to maneuver. While the remaining hitters are likely to accept a very reasonable deal, at least Beimel and Ohman are still searching for the Holy Grail of last minute contracts and would like to land a multi-year deal somewhere.
If all else fails, the Phillies could find what they need from within. As mentioned, Happ could conceivably handle some relief work, although that's not a perfect solution since they still idolize him as a starter. And for their bench spot, there's John Mayberry Jr. to consider and one other scenario that's been floated this off-season; Chris Coste could become more of an all around utility guy, with Ronny Paulino serving as the backup catcher. Coste hasn't been overly impressive as a pinch-hitter in his career, hitting just .255 (12-for-47) in his three year career. As for Mayberry, ideally, he'll be playing everyday at Triple-A Lehigh Valley rather than sitting on the major league bench waiting for a chance to hit.