70% of the Phillies’ 2009 plate appearances were taken by the starting eight; only 14% were taken by bench players. With Matt Stairs and Eric Bruntlett gone, the Phillies now need to look for adequate bench players either from within or on the free agent market.
I’ve perused the list of free agents at MLB Trade Rumors, and I picked out a few I’d like to highlight as potential bench players for the Phillies in 2010. Join me, won’t you?
Gregg Zaun, C
He’ll be 39 in mid-April. Why would the Phillies sign a 39-year-old to squat behind home plate for 600 innings and take 250 plate appearances?
Because he’s productive, that’s why. According to FanGraphs, Zaun has been worth between 1.2 and 2.5 WAR since 2004. In terms of free agent dollars, he’s been worth $43 million over those six years yet was paid under $12 million. Last season alone, he was worth $8.2 million next to his $1.5 million salary.
Similar to Jamie Moyer in 2008, Zaun is still a reliable player even in his old age. He’s a switch hitter who has had a walk rate of at least 10% since he started getting regular at-bats in ’04, and he has some power as shown by his .156 ISO last season. Add a decent throwing arm into the equation as well: he has thrown out 24% of runners attempting to steal throughout his career.
Zaun is no Brian McCann, but for around $1.5 million, the Phillies can add some much-needed catching depth to their bench. This, of course, is not an indictment of Carlos Ruiz — he simply is not going to catch every single game.
By the way, Zaun has one of the best websites ever. “Bring Your Z-Game”? Will do.
Hank Blalock, 1B/3B
The two-time All-Star has had to deal with a lot of adversity throughout his career, mostly due to injuries. From 2003-05, he hit at least 25 HR and drove in at least 90 runs, but in 2007-08 only logged 513 plate appearances combined. He bounced back last season, sort of: he hit 25 HR but put up only a SLG-heavy .736 OPS.
Blalock has made over $20 million since ’06, but will surely see a pay cut in free agency. For the Phillies, he would fill the role vacated by Matt Stairs — power lefty off the bench. If Ryan Howard or the future third baseman need a day off, Blalock could get a spot start every now and then.
With all of the attention being paid to Adrian Beltre, Chone Figgins, Mark DeRosa, and Placido Polanco, Blalock could pass through unnoticed. If the Phillies can get him to accept a bench role for an incentive-laden contract, they would be considerably more versatile.
Troy Glaus, 3B
Thanks to shoulder surgery that sidelined him for just about all of the 2009 season, Glaus will be seeing a significant pay cut after earning $12 million. He’s had several injury-shortened seasons now, and that certainly will play a factor in what may be a long off-season for him.
Should the Phillies be lucky enough to add Glaus to their bench, they would be getting a power right-handed bat that hit at least 27 HR per season from 2005-08. When he’s playing the hot corner, he isn’t too shabby either — he posted a 5.0 UZR/150 for the Cardinals in ’08, the culmination of three years of defensive improvement.
As with Blalock, an incentive-laden contract with Glaus is a must and the total salary must not hamstring the Phillies from addressing other needs, such as adding another arm to the bullpen or re-signing Cliff Lee to a multi-year deal. At any rate, signing Glaus (or Blalock) would also allow the Phillies to better utilize Ben Francisco as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
Fixing the bench is not as pressing a need as finding a starting third baseman, but a year after having one of the best benches in the National League (.724 OPS), the Phillies had the 12th-best (.630 OPS) in 2009.