Phillies Should Shake Up Bench

With the offense slumping, many Phillies fans are begging for changes to be made. Demote Raul Ibanez, call up Domonic Brown; designate Greg Dobbs for assignment; give Ben Francisco more playing time; trade for Mike Lowell. Some of the suggestions are quite large in magnitude; others are nit-pick alterations.

As we found out at the end of May, the culprits for the Phillies’ offensive slump are Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth. Aside from trading Werth — something that won’t happen unless the Phillies fall completely out of the playoff picture — there isn’t much that can be done to reduce the impact the three hitters have besides changing their position in the lineup. So any major changes that are made, such as demoting Ibanez and promoting Brown, are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the offense and there is the chance that any such moves could backfire both in terms of performance and in terms of money.

However, the Phillies can make a change, just for show, and it doesn’t have to have any real impact.

Charlie Manuel relies very heavily on his starting eight and as such, bench players are less meaningful to the Phillies. This is something free agents take into mind when deciding if they should sign with the Phillies — Ross Gload did so in the off-season when he decided to leave the Florida Marlins. He realized he would have less at-bats with the Phillies despite having the same exact role as he had in Florida, but he valued the opportunity to win a championship highly.

Since bench players are nearly invisible in Philadelphia, GM Ruben Amaro can kick Greg Dobbs, Juan Castro, and even Ross Gload to the curb and replace them with similarly cheap bench bats. Dobbs is owed $1.35 in 2010 before hitting his third year of arbitration. Gload earns $1 million this year and $1.6 million in ’11. Castro will make $750,000 and the Phillies can buy out the last year of his deal for $50,000 in ’11. These are not expensive players and the Phillies have a history of paying players to simply go away, see: Geoff Jenkins and Adam Eaton. The Phillies are paying $1.25 million and $500,000 respectively to keep them away.

After eliminating three players, we need some replacements. Who could they be?

  • Andy Tracy, 1B/3B (AAA): 36-year-old career Minor Leaguer who never got a real opportunity at the Major League level despite compiling good numbers in the Minors. Currently hitting for an .834 OPS for Lehigh Valley with a good walk rate. Has played first base exclusively while in the Phillies’ system, but has had experience at third base. Could easily replace Greg Dobbs.
  • John Mayberry, OF (AAA): Decent hitter with some power, but poor strike zone judgment has been his downfall. Had some Major League experience last year with the Phillies, but did not drop any jaws. OPS’ing just over .800 for Lehigh Valley. After Ben Francisco, the Phillies don’t have a reliable right-handed bat off the bench as Juan Castro is impotent offensively.
  • Cody Ransom, 3B/SS (AAA): Minor League numbers have been in decline since 2007 but he has consistently shown decent power with slugging percentages in the high .400’s from 2006-08. Has played mostly on the left side of the infield throughout his Minor League career but has played at third base almost exclusively for the Phillies this year, where he plays above-average defense according to Baseball Reference’s Total Zone fielding metric. Since Juan Castro has been poor with his glove as well as his bat, Ransom would likely out-produce him if given an opportunity.
  • Tagg Bozied, 1B (AA): Has bounced around in the farm systems of five teams before landing with the Phillies. Bozied has compiled some impressive power numbers, mostly in AAA. In AA Reading, he has a .909 OPS including a .535 SLG with 9 HR. Over 91 percent of his defensive innings have come at first base. As a right-hander he could spell Ryan Howard against a tough left-handed starting pitcher and otherwise replace Ross Gload. Bozied has a .933 OPS against southpaws over his Minor League career. The soon-to-be 31-year-old has never gotten the call to the Majors despite the prodigious power numbers.

Besides the obvious benefit of potentially striking lightning in a bottle with one of these replacements, the Phillies also send a positive message to fans — “Hey, we are just as frustrated about the offense as you are, and we’re doing something about it” — without making too much of an impact on the team. And if you believe in the “sending messages” theory in the clubhouse (I don’t), kicking Dobbs, Castro, and Gload to the curb could tell the rest of the squad that no one’s job is guaranteed.

The Major League minimum salary is $400,000 so calling on three of the above four players would cost roughly $1.2 million prorated over the remaining 105 games (about $1 million). That would put them a hairline over the $140 million payroll mark the organization set in the off-season. Essentially, swapping bench bats is a low-risk, medium-reward move with ancillary P.R. benefits. And personally, I would rather pay six guys (three of whom become unemployed) $4 million to OPS .700-ish than three guys $3 million to OPS .400-ish.