Ruben Amaro Jr. has reminded us plenty of times this season that there is no giant pit of loose bills at Citizens Bank Park where he can do the Scrooge McDuck backstroke during his lunch hour. He operates in the real world, where there are payroll budgets and spending limits, kind of like you and your beer money, only with a lot more zeros. Which brings us to an old adage that will be very much in play once spring training starts: at some point, the guys getting paid will have to earn their money.
We bring this up in relation to the Phillies' bullpen, which sometime this week -- perhaps today -- will receive what might be its lone addition of the 2009-10 offseason in the form of veteran righthander Danys Baez. Even if the Phillies do add another arm - and I'd be surprised if they don't - it is pretty clear that any drastic improvement over a mediocre 2009 campaign will have to come internally. Baez could prove to be a solid addition - in fact, as we'll detail later, RAJ and Co. seem to have made the best out of a bad situation - but you'd have to be Anthony Robbins to expect the 32-year-old Cuban to equal the 2.52 ERA and 9.4 K/9 posted by Chan Ho Park1, whom he is effectively replacing and who was the Phillies' top target to fill the role that Baez now inherits. The Phillies had hoped to ease some pressure on the back end of the bullpen by signing one of the bigger names on the market. But two of those "names" - the Braves' Rafael Soriano and the Rockies' Rafael Betancourt - accepted arbitration, and two others signed contracts with more generous clubs (again, more on that below). Park, meanwhile, will apparently look for either more money or a better opportunity to start from somebody else. Which leaves the Phillies with Baez and whatever January bargain that I suspect they will be able to land closer to spring training.
In other words, it leaves them needing to receive production out of Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson that is more commesurate with the combined $20 million in salary that they will be making. In an ideal world, the Phillies would have been able to land somebody like Soriano or lefty Mike Gonzalez, a dynamic arm with top-shelf stuff that could replaceany one of their top three relievers should they falter. But any team operating under a hard budget number will find it difficult to fit four back-of-the-bullpen salaries into a $140 million payroll. Which means two things: 1) Settling for a low-risk, decent-reward guy like Baez, who last year posted a 4.02 ERA in his first year back from elbow surgery but once-upon-a-time was a solid closer who saved 71 games in 2004-05; and 2) Counting on your incumbents to improve.
Counting on a closer who posted a 7.21 ERA and blew 11 saves and a lefty set-up man who is coming off of elbow surgery might not be an ideal situation for a team that ranked in the middle of the pack in bullpen ERA last season, but given the contracts doled out to relievers this offseason, it was the smartest. Signing Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $11 million deal or Brandon Lyon to a three-year, $15 million deal not only carried the risk of backfiring this season, but of limiting their ability to add another arm at the trade deadline or next offseason.
1. Now is probably a good time to pause and honor the year that was the Chan Ho Park era. Favorite Chan Ho Park moment? It came in spring training, near the end of a heated battle between the Park, the Pride of South Korea, and J.A. Happ, the Pride of Spring Valley, Ill., J.A. Happ. Since signing with the Phillies in the offseason, Park had made little secret of his desire to start, even making the competition a matter of national pride, saying all of his fans in Korea could follow him easier when they knew when, exactly, he would be pitching. But toward the end of spring training, it looked like J.A. Happ was going to win the fifth spot in the rotation. So, one afternoon, a reporter asked Park how he would react if the Phillies chose to go with Happ. Park turned serious.
"I don't know, let's see," he said, his tone of voice eerily reminiscent to the way John Hinkley's would have sounded had a reporter asked him how he would react if Jodie Foster spurned his advances. "Wait, wait, wait. . .Sometimes, I'm crazy."
So when Charlie Manuel named Park the starter a short time later, you couldn't help but think he did so partly out of concerns for his personal safety. Turns out, Park just has a dry - or, depending on your perspective, odd - sense of humor that occasionally gets Lost in Translation. And when he lost his job in the rotation in mid-May, he proceded to become an integral part of the bullpen.
So, who is Danys Baez? And why might he have been better option than Lyon or Rodney?
First, throw Lyon out of the equation. The Phillies had interest in him, but the righthander's three-year deal with the Astros has been universally panned. Regardless of how well he might have fit in Philly, his eventual pricetag was a whopper that any team would have been wise to reject.
Now, let's take a look at Baez's overall numbers from last season compared with Rodney's:
Rodney: 1.467 WHIP, 4.40 ERA, 1.0 HR/9, 4.9 BB/9, 7.3 SO/9, 75.2 IP, 73 APP
Baez: 1.130 WHIP, 4.02 ERA, 1.0 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 5.0 SO/9, 71.2 IP, 59 APP
Now, let's take a look at their numbers in save situations:
Rodney: 39 G, .221 BAA, .308 OBP, .658 OPS, 2.79 ERA
Baez: 17G, .185 BAA, .254 OBP, .588 OPS, 3.45 ERA
So Rodney brings with him a bigger arm and more closing experience. Baez, meanwhile, allowed far fewer walks, hits and - overall - earned runs. Both have excellent groundball rates. Rodney has a better recent track record, having thrown at least 40 innings in each of the last five seasons, while Baez struggled mightily in 2007 (6.44 ERA) and then missed all of 2008 with elbow surgery.
Baez has plenty of caveats. He pitched on back-to-back days just five times last season, allowing two runs in 5.1 innings in those appearances (Park pitched on back-to-back days five times in 37 apeparances). Lefties have a career .272 AVG, .352 OBP and .766 OPS against him (.248 AVG, .707 OPS in 2009), compared with .213/.300/.641 from righties. He allowed at least one run in 20 of his 59 appearances (Rodney allowed at least one run in 22 of 79 appearances; Park allowed at least one run in 10 of 37 appearances)
His home/away splits in 2009 were drastic:
Home: 1.73 ERA, .196 avg, .236 OBP, .268 SLG, .504 OPS
Away: 7.20 ERA, .257 avg, .358 OBP, .442 SLG, .801 OPS
And in his one appearance at Citizens Bank Park last season, he allowed a three-run home run to Ryan Howard and finished being charged with one earned run in two thirds of an inning.
Some other things to consider that are open for interpretation: