But what type of right-handed bat are they getting?
Byrd, 36, hit .291 with 24 home runs, 88 RBIs and an .847 OPS in 147 games last season with the Mets and Pirates. It was the best year of his career, but it also followed the worst year of his career. He hit a combined .210 with one home run, nine RBIs and a .488 OPS in 47 games with the Cubs and Red Sox in 2012 before he served a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug policy.
Byrd, whose deal includes a club/vesting option for 2016, could not find another job in baseball, so he headed to Mexico to play Winter Ball, where he resurrected his career before signing a Minor League deal with the Mets.
“We’re just looking for the best bang for our buck,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We have a lot of holes to fill. Again, we won’t be able to fill them all from outside, but we’re trying to get the best value we possibly can.”
It remains to be seen if Byrd is a good value or not. He had a .353 batting average on balls in play this season, which is 28 points higher than his career average and 56 points higher than the big-league average in 2013. He also struck out a career-high 144 times.
Byrd’s deal raised some eyebrows at the GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla., because of the money and the fact the Phillies moved so aggressively. But Mets general manager Sandy Alderson he wasn’t surprised by the deal.
“Not really,” he said. “Given what we’ve seen so far, I wasn’t surprised. Had you asked me the question three or four months ago, I might have been surprised. But not in light of what’s happened since the end of the season. There haven’t been that many signings, but this one is consistent with the others.”
“We’ve already made offers on several players,” he said from Arizona, where he is watching some of the organization’s top young talent in the Arizona Fall League.
Amaro declined to divulge names, but he can be aggressive. He moved quickly in Nov. 2011, when he signed closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract. Knowing there is a lack of power hitters available, perhaps Amaro is making a push to sign one. They need right-handed hitters in the worst way.
Nelson Cruz, 33, fits the bill. He hits right-handed, although he served a 50-game suspension last season and is not a defensive stalwart. Amaro has stressed the Phillies need to improve its outfield defense.
Carlos Beltran and Mike Morse also are free agents. The Phillies have tried to acquire them in the past. (Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said yesterday on SiriusXM that one team already has made an offer to Beltran.) The two biggest free-agent outfielders are Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, but they are expected to sign elsewhere.
Amaro said in September resigning catcher Carlos Ruiz was a top priority, but he couched that possibility this week.
“Well, we’re fortunate now that it’s kind of opened up,” Amaro said of the free-agent market. “There are several candidates that could be our catcher next year. We’ll see what happens. I mean, we’re in the open season.”
If the Phillies cannot resign Ruiz, there are options like Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski. But McCann hits left-handed and seems destined to join an American League team. Pierzynski also hits left-handed, and Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter that has a career .599 OPS hitting from the right side.
The Phillies could sign a less expensive catcher like Dioner Navarro, which would allow them to spend money elsewhere. But Ruiz seems like the best of the bunch, although he turns 35 in January and is coming off his worst offensive season since 2008.
The Phillies also are trying to upgrade their pitching staff, but if Amaro is trying to be aggressive, improving an anemic offense – the Phillies tied for 26th in baseball with just 610 runs scored – might be the place to start.
UPDATE: Wanted to clarify something about Freedman. He is not a full-time Phillies employee. MLB is paying his salary as part of a partnership with the Phillies, although the Phillies have the opportunity to hire him permanently once his externship concludes before the beginning of the regular season.
They do not.
They have interviewed or contacted at least seven candidates: Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, Pirates special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict, Mariners special assistant to the general manager Pete Vuckovich, Phillies bullpen coach Rod Nichols, Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius, Triple-A Lehigh Valley pitching coach Ray Burris and Triple-A Durham pitching coach Neil Allen.
McDowell had been their top choice once the Reds made Bryan Price manager, but after the Phillies spoke with McDowell late last week the Braves announced Saturday he had agreed to a two-year extension. Benedict could have been offered the job – he impressed in his interview and has a strong track record with Pirates pitchers – but a source said today he recently told the Phillies he will remain with the Pirates.
Oddly, former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone tweeted yesterday to the Phillies’ official Twitter account: “I would be very interested in being your pitching coach. #championshipball.” But one source said his name had not been discussed.
So what’s next?
“We’re still doing our due diligence,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said today.
Asked if he is surprised or frustrated it has taken so long to find somebody to replace former pitching coach Rich Dubee, Amaro said, “We’re just trying to get the right guy. We’re still looking through candidates.”
He said he still likes some of the candidates the Phillies have interviewed, and possible candidates they have not interviewed. But clearly the Phillies have watched some of their favorites fall off the board.
Ruben Amaro Jr.’s search for a pitching coach is heating up.
Pitching coach Roger McDowell’s contract with the Braves expired at midnight Thursday, which allows the Phillies to formally contact him.
It is a near certainty they have.
MLB.com reported as early as Oct. 22 the Phillies and McDowell could get together. The Braves have invited McDowell to return next season, but he still has not signed a contract. (Sources said McDowell is one of the lowest-paid pitching coaches in the game.) Meanwhile, the Phillies have interviewed at least six candidates for the job, but the fact they have not hired anybody indicates they have been waiting to speak to somebody.
That somebody is McDowell.
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman wrote yesterday that McDowell met this week with Braves general manager Frank Wren. Bowman wrote “the meeting did not lead to an immediate resolution.” If the Phillies make McDowell an offer, he certainly can circle back to Wren, get a much-deserved raise and return to Atlanta.
But the Phillies are going to make a run at him anyway.
It would be a nice coup for the Phillies, who are replacing Rich Dubee after nine seasons. McDowell, who pitched for the Phillies from 1989-91, has been Atlanta’s pitching coach the past eight seasons. The Braves had several notable injuries to their pitching staff this season, but still posted a big-league best 3.18 ERA.
Former Phillies prospect Adrian Cardenas wrote a great essay for The New Yorker about why he quit baseball. The Phillies traded him to the A’s in July 2008 as part of the Joe Blanton deal.
While the Red Sox and Cardinals play in the World Series, the Phillies continue their search for a pitching coach to replace Rich Dubee.
Bryan Price had been atop their list, but the Reds recently named him manager. The Phillies have interviewed at least five candidates: Phillies bullpen coach Rod Nichols, Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius, Pirates special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict, Triple-A Lehigh Valley pitching coach Ray Burris and Neil Allen, who is the pitching coach for Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate.
“We’re still talking to people,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”
Amaro said they still could interview others candidates.
Sources earlier this week told MLB.com the Phillies could make contact with Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell. He has been invited to return to Atlanta next season, but he has not signed his contract. It is expected to arrive before the end of the month, but once his agreement for 2013 ends the Phillies can contact him.
Former Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee interviewed today for the Orioles pitching coach vacancy.
Meanwhile, the Phillies continue to search for his replacement.
Two candidates to interview are Rod Nichols, who served as Phillies bullpen coach this season, and Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius, which the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. It also is likely they have interviewed Triple-A pitching coach Ray Burris. But here is an interesting name to watch: Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell. Sources indicated Tuesday the Phillies could approach McDowell about their vacancy.
McDowell has been invited to return to Atlanta next season, but he has not received or signed a contract. It is expected to arrive before his agreement for the 2013 season ends at the end of the month, but that could leave an opening for the Phillies to jump in.
McDowell, who pitched for the Phillies from 1989-91, has been Atlanta’s pitching coach the past eight seasons. The Braves had several notable injuries to their pitching staff this season, but still posted a big-league best 3.18 ERA. Braves pitchers and catchers routinely praise McDowell.
“We’re still working through it,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week about the pitching coach search. “We’re still doing our due diligence. We’ve seen a few we’ve really liked, but we’re continuing the search. We’re still working through candidates.”
McDowell, if approached, would be a big one.
Sabermetrics had not interested the Phillies in the past, but Amaro said they “owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate.”
Amaro said recently they are getting close to hiring somebody.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting more information,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to change the way we do business, necessarily. We still plan to be a scouting and player development organization, but I think it’s important to get all the information and analyze not just what we’re doing but how other clubs are evaluating players when we talk about possible trades and other sorts of things.”
The Phillies have been working with the Commissioner’s Office during their search. Major League Baseball’s Labor Relations Department works closely with teams and has helped make personnel recommendations in the past. The LRD also has developed resources for baseball operations staffs, including former employees like Pirates president Frank Coonelly and a number of assistant general managers.
Asked if he looked back at recent personnel decisions and wondered if analytics would have helped steer him toward or away from particular players, Amaro said, “Not specifically, no. Again, we believe in our scouts and the things that they recommend. We’re not going to be 100 percent right all the time. But we want to be more right than wrong. We just have to do a better job of targeting the right guys.”
How much the Phillies use analytics or value the new hire’s findings remains to be seen. But there will be plenty of information to consider.
As an example, when the Phillies signed Delmon Young to a one-year, $750,000 deal in January, they mentioned he had 74 RBIs in 2012 hitting behind Tigers sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the implication being Young “produced” and would have had more RBIs had Cabrera and Fielder not taken RBI opportunities from him. But if they had examined the numbers more closely they would have discovered Young actually ranked 20th in baseball in 2012 with 415 runners on base when he came to the plate. He knocked in just 13.5 percent of those runners, which ranked 96th out of 135 qualifying players.
In other words, he had a ton of RBI opportunities in 2012, even with Cabrera and Fielder in the lineup, but did a poor job knocking them in.
That is just one small example of how numbers can help. Maybe regardless of those numbers — including Young’s low on-base percentage (21 points lower than the average outfielder from 2006-12) and OPS (29 points lower than the average outfielder from 2006-12) the Phillies sign Young anyway because it was a low-risk deal. Or maybe they say, “Hey, the odds are against Young helping us like we need him to help us,” and they look in a different direction.
Will they delve deeply into Roy Halladay‘s numbers this offseason? Doc’s 5.15 ERA the past two seasons ranks 161st out of 169 qualifying pitchers in baseball. Fangraphs.com found pitchers over 35 — Halladay turns 37 in May — who went on the DL for any sort of shoulder injury only averaged 59 innings the rest of their career. Halladay pitched 27 2/3 innings following right shoulder surgery in May. Do the Phillies consider those numbers and pass? Or do they believe Halladay’s reputation as a “gamer” and hard worker is enough to beat the odds?
It will be interesting to find out.
Random things from the past week:
- I’ve plenty on Twitter today about Domonic Brown wearing a Cowboys jersey at yesterday’s game at the Linc. (Gasp!) I think what’s funny is absolutely nobody noticed Mike Adams standing over his right shoulder.
- Everybody has seen the photo of Bryan Cranston wearing a Phillies jersey during an outtake of Breaking Bad. Once the photo hit Twitter word quickly spread (with plenty of Philly-based news organizations picking it up) that Cranston wore the jersey because he is a Phillies fan. Of course, a simple Google search showed Cranston is a diehard Dodgers fan. I contacted AMC publicity about the photo. Its response: “The shot was taken during the World Series of 2009 (Yankees vs. Phillies). Bryan is definitely a Dodgers fan, but I believe he was rooting for the Phillies in that series. As a gag, (while shooting ep #307 “One Minute”) he did a take with the jersey on.”
- A report the Phillies resigned Michael Martinez is not true.
- Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported the Phillies will interview bullpen coach Reid Cornelius for their pitching coach vacancy. Former Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee interviews tomorrow with the Orioles.
It was not a surprise.
Lannan signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Phillies last offseason, but suffered a left knee injury that led to season-ending surgery. He said last month he hopes to be 100 percent healthy by the beginning of Spring Training, but the Phillies had no plans to tender him a contract as a salary arbitration-eligible player.
Lannan understood that.
“I pretty much have an idea of what’s going to go down,” he said. “I’m not an idiot. I’m ready for the challenge, whatever comes up. I just want to make sure (the knee) is right. That’s the only thing I can control. The other stuff I can’t control.”
The Phillies still could resign Lannan with a shot to win a job in the spring. They have holes in their rotation, and a lack of quality depth crippled them this season.
Asked if he would be up for competing for a job in camp, Lannan said, “I think it’d be good. I’ve never come into camp thinking I’ve locked up a spot. I’ve always enjoyed the competition. It pushes you a little harder. I’m looking forward to proving to myself, and whoever I sign with or if I stay here, that I can help a team win.”
Remember when the Phillies announced Wally Joyner declined to return as assistant hitting coach?
He apparently changed his mind.
The Phillies announced today that Joyner will return in 2014, working alongside hitting coach Steve Henderson. Joyner received high marks this season from players, particularly leftfielder Domonic Brown, who enjoyed a breakout season.
They also announced Juan Samuel will return as first base coach.
The Phillies are still looking for a pitching coach and bullpen coach. Rod Nichols, who was the bullpen coach in 2013, remains in play for one of those jobs. If Nichols returns, it means former pitching coach Rich Dubee and former catching coach Mick Billmeyer will be the only casualties from last season’s coaching staff.
The Phillies also outrighted four players from the 40-man roster: right-hander J.C. Ramirez, left-hander Cesar Jimenez and outfielders Roger Bernadina and Casper Wells. Bernadina and Wells are eligible for salary arbitration, but the Phillies had no plans to tender them a contract.
Billmeyer might not have been the most high-profile coach on the big-league staff, but his presence loomed large in the clubhouse. Earlier this week, the Phillies announced pitching coach Rich Dubee will not return. It could lead to bullpen coach Rod Nichols being promoted to pitching coach, or the Phillies could go outside the organization to fill the spot.
Billmeyer joined the organization in 2000 as the Minor League catching coordinator before he joined former manager Larry Bowa’s staff as catching instructor in 2004. He served that role five seasons before he became bullpen coach in 2009. He held that position four seasons before the Phillies moved him into the dugout as catching coach this year.
Billmeyer, 49, was one of the most well-liked people in the clubhouse and organization because of his high-energy personality, positivity and sense of humor. It actually is why the Phillies moved him into the dugout this season.
Besides his regular duties, he simply had a knack for knowing when to keep things loose in the clubhouse. The Astros swept the Phillies in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park in Aug. 2010 to drop them three games out of first place in the National League East. The Phillies then flew to San Diego to open a seven-game road trip. Billmeyer, sensing the team was down and tight, had players rolling on the ground before the series opener at PETCO Park, impersonating pitchers’ mannerisms on the mound.
The Phillies swept the series and finished the season 27-8.
Sure, it might have been coincidental, but he frequently brought levity to the clubhouse when it needed it.
Manager Ryne Sandberg must fill the coaching spots vacated by Dubee, Billmeyer and himself. He had been third base coach before the Phillies fired Charlie Manuel in August.