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The Phillies recently signed pitchers Aaron Cook and Juan Cruz, and have shown interest in infielder Ryan Theriot according to Jon Heyman. Cook has a 5.54 in 318.2 innings since 2010. Cruz had been an effective reliever with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 and the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, despite a high walk rate. Theriot has been on back-to-back World Series champion teams: the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and the San Francisco Giants last year, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of actual value. The duo of pitchers are the 11th and 12th non-roster invitees to spring training.
The Cook signing and interest in Theriot in particular have drawn the ire of Phillies fans, annoyed that the team’s biggest moves have been trades for a slap-hitting center fielder (Ben Revere) and an over-the-hill third baseman (Michael Young). The signings, though, don’t reveal anything about the team’s intentions; they are simply very low-risk gambles that are commonplace at this time of the off-season. Last spring, the Phillies opened up shop in Clearwater giving tryouts to Scott Elarton, Dave Bush, Joel Pineiro, Scott Podsednik, and Lou Montanez, among others. None of them ended up contributing to the Major League team.
Kevin Frandsen did. Frandsen was one of the many non-roster invitees and he turned out to be a great find, so much so that he was slotted in as the Phillies’ starting third baseman for 2013 until they traded for Michael Young. Jeremy Horst, another non-roster invitee (acquired in the Wilson Valdez trade), ended up being a key contributor to last season’s team as well, finishing with a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 innings.
The odds of a non-roster invitee helping out the way Frandsen and Horst did are very slim, but that’s why teams invite upwards of ten and commit little in terms of money, both guaranteed and non-guaranteed. You never know if a veteran, with the motivation of extending his career in any way possible, might have made some improvements during the winter. Since the risk is almost non-existent, the Phillies’ recent signings of Cook and Cruz, and their interest in Theriot can only be good things.