My apologies for not having written more frequently this week. I’ve just started a new job (my first-ever 9-to-5 adult job) at an information technology magazine. And another apology, because between sifting through several metric tons of technobabble all day, every day, and reading How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen, an absolutely captivating compilation of essays and columns by (in my opinion) the best American crafter of prose since Heinlein, or even Eliot, my writing style is going to be a confused mix of c|net product review, postmodern literature and Bill Simmons.
So Eric Bruntlett and Carlos Ruiz need to go. That much I agree with. Ruiz I can live with because he’s a good defensive player, is pretty decent at calling games and it’s entertaining to watch him run around on those stubby little legs. But the fact of the matter is that I’d rather have Marson’s bat in the lineup and when you’ve got a starting rotation that includes the reigning World Series MVP, two of the four winningest active pitchers, an easy-to-catch righty like Blanton, and a guy who went to Northwestern, you don’t need a babysitter behind the plate. So the things that Ruiz does better than Marson, the Phillies don’t really need anyway. But you all knew that.
Bruntlett, on the other hand, I can’t live with. He’s not a defensive upgrade over anyone he backs up. Not Utley, not Rollins, not Feliz. And the Phillies have, for their outfield, two excellent defensive players (Victorino and Werth), one reasonably athletic dude with a monster arm (Mayberry) and a Lou Piniella type: a guy without much in the way of speed or arm, but who catches everything he gets to (Ibanez). Plus Dobbs and Stairs can both play left in a pinch.
Oh, and Bruntlett’s OPS right now: .416. His career OPS? .635. His career OPS+? 65. I don’t care who you are–if you hit .130 with no power, only “above-average” speed,and three more strikeouts than total bases at the All-Star break, there’s no place for you on my team.
The problem is, there isn’t an obvious answer for a replacement for Bruntlett, a Marson for his Ruiz, if you will. Yeah, there’s Jason Donald, but, frankly, I anticipate him to be gone pretty soon in a trade of some sort. With Rollins and Utley still in their primes, they need Donald about as much as they need a fifth baseman. Trade him while his value is high.
What they really need is the second coming of Gil McDougald, the uber-utility man who allowed Casey Stengel to win seven World Series in his 12 years with the Yankees while he, to paraphrase Bill James, rewrote his lineup every day. McDougald played second, short and third about as well as anyone in the game and was a career .276/.356./.410 for a 111 OPS+ in a 10-year career.
The problem is, he retired in 1960. So whom do we get to replace Bruntlett? Well, McDougald’s natural heir is Mark DeRosa, who is overpriced, overrated and, sadly, hurt. So he’s out. So let’s look at it this way: what’s the bare minimum the Phillies need? A warm body in the middle infield, someone who’s not going to kill you at second and/or short during the 15 innings for the rest of the season that Utley and Rollins don’t play. And on offense, I’d be okay with someone who OBP’d, maybe, .310. Anyone who’s not an automatic out. And I’d like someone with a fair turn of speed to use as a late-inning pinch runner if the situation requires it. Apart from Bruntlett, there’s no one on the Phillies’ bench that I can’t beat in a footrace.
So let’s look inside the organization first.
Well, we’ve got three players right now between Reading and Lehigh Valley who have played both shortstop and second base this season: Carlos Leon, Patrick “Neil” Sellers and Miguel Cairo. Leon is 29 years old, has never played in the major leagues and is, as of now, putting up a .218/.351/.290 against double-A pitching. Pass.
Sellers, like Leon, is one of those guys that EA wouldn’t even bother getting a head shot of when they were filling out the minor league rosters in MVP Baseball. Anonymity aside, he’s putting up a more dignified .313/.393/.460 at Reading and, while I can’t make heads or tails of fielding statistics, the fact that he has once been paid to play both second base and shortstop is good enough for me. We’re not looking for the next A-Rod, just a better option than Bruntlett, which, come to think of it, ain’t too hard. Downside: at 27, he’s never played a game in the majors, and is a career 28-for-55 stealing, not exactly the wheels I was looking for. So Sellers, at this point, is probably better than Bruntlett. But I think we can do better.
I know you’re all groaning at Cairo, he of the two base hits in 17 plate appearances earlier this season. But he has played in the majors before (think about it–if, God forbid, Utley breaks his leg in the seventh inning of Game 6 of the NLCS in Dodger Stadium, would you rather have a guy with a 14 years’ major league experience–Cairo–or someone who, before August, had never faced a live major league pitcher?) and has played all four infield positions for the Pigs this season. And he’s putting up a .784 OPS at Lehigh…well, that’s barely the major league average at triple-A…and he has a career OPS+ of 75…yeah, let’s pass on him, too.
So the leader right now is Neil “I don’t know him from Adam” Sellers. Who else is out there? Free agents? This is about the time of year some team always signed Mark McLemore. Also, sadly, retired. So, too, is Tony Womack. But what if we could talk Ray Durham out of retirement? Good power-speed, playoff vet, had a solid stretch for Milwaukee last year. Might be talked out of retirement for one last go at a ring. But he’s never played shortstop before. And if the above situation happened to Utley, I’d rather have someone who had. Next.
How about a trade? For one of the Cubs’ Cajun Middle Infielders? Theriot, while a better player, would probably expect to start, which the Phillies really couldn’t allow, though it might light a fire under J-Roll’s ass to hit. Which, in all fairness, he has of late. But Theriot is exactly the kind of small, scrappy, gritty (read: white) player that teams have been overvaluing since Josh Devore played for the Giants. Look it up, that was a long time ago. It’d take too much to get him.
Fontenot, on the other hand, has the .310 (well, .307, but who’s counting) OBP I was looking for, can play second, third and short, and, while he’s having a dreadful year with the bat, can’t get any worse than Bruntlett. But you’d have to trade something to get him, and while I’d gladly replace Bruntlett with Fontenot straight-up, the Cubs would 1) want something back and 2) want something significant, since they have aspirations of winning a World Series within the next 3 years as well. So maybe not Fontenot either.
Does an Izturis brother strike your fancy? Macier has the requisite defensive and playoff experience, is putting up .305/.353/.420 with Anaheim, and is already riding the bench there, so essentially he’d be playing about the same (maybe a little less) with a better team. And he’s good enough that I’d give up a decent minor leaguer to get him. Maybe not someone like Donald, but what about a Dobbs-for-Izturis trade? Then DFA Bruntlett and promote Mike Cervenak? I like that plan. Cesar, his brother (they were born 7 months apart? That’s bizarre), only has a .617 OPS with Baltimore this season. And that’s only .008 worse than his career mark. So I think we’ll stick with Macier.
So that’s the best answer I can come up with: Either trade Dobbs for Macier Izturis or take a chance on Sellers. But Rube, please, do something, because no matter who you get to replace Bruntlett, he can’t be any worse than the genuine article.