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October 5 2006

Mike Lieberthal had surgery yesterday to repair a torn abdominal muscle.  Lieby suffered the injury last Saturday, September 30, against the Marlins and may be sidelined for six to ten weeks.  The free-agent Lieberthal is unlikely to be back with the Phillies in 2007 after an '06 campaign in which he made over $7 million while getting just 209 at-bats.

The likely loss of Lieberthal, who holds the Phillies record for games caught with 1,139, puts the Phillies in something of a bind.  Over the last 11 seasons the list of catchers other than Lieberthal who have gotten more than 200 at-bats for the Phillies in a season is short.  Johnny Estrada got 298 at-bats, and bad at-bats at that, in 2001 while Lieberthal was recovering from an injury.  Benito Santiago, who took over for Darren Daulton for a one-year stint, led the Phillies with 30 home runs in 1996 on their way to a 67-win year.

The Phillies have had some prospects along the way.  They traded Johnny Estrada to the Braves in December, 2002, for Kevin Millwood.  Three years before that they traded Bobby Estalella to the Giants for Chris Brock.  Estalella hit three home runs in a game for the Phillies in 1997, but retired before the 2006 season as a .216 career hitter.  We may not yet be done with Estrada, who turned 30 in June.  Estrada was an All-Star with the Braves in 2004 but wasn't always happy in Arizona this season as he hit 302/328/444 in 414 at-bats for the Snakes.  Don't know where he'll wind up, but it probably won't be Arizona after his recent comments.  Estrada made just $2 million this season with the Diamondbacks but is arbitration eligible for 2007 and likely to see a significant raise.

Here's a look at what the Phillies catchers did this season:

 
Player AB AVG OBP SLG RC/27
Lieberthal 209 273 316 469 4.99
Coste 198 328 376 505 6.76
Fasano 140 243 284 386 3.30
Ruiz 69 261 316 435 4.24

 
Player G Inn RF PB+E SB CS % caught
Lieberthal 60 484.0 8.57 8 29 18 38.3
Coste 54 434.1 7.05 8 25 6 19.4
Fasano 50 365.2 7.16 5 29 8 21.6
Ruiz 24 176.1 8.06 4 11 3 21.4

The biggest question about the Phillies catchers for 2007 is whether or not the Phillies can get it done with a combination of Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz.

Coste was absolutely awesome at the plate this season, he hit and hit, even in the clutch, and his offensive performance was as good as his numbers.  He's a great story and I think he'll be part of the Phillies catching picture for next year.  He was terrible defensively for the Phillies, though, and struggled especially throwing runners out.  Lieberthal threw out more base stealers than all of the other Phillies catchers combined, despite playing just about a third of the innings behind the plate.  Coste hit 177/236/272 in 147 miserable at-bats at Triple-A this season and that has to cause some concern, even in so few at-bats.  He'll be 34 when the 2007 season starts.

Carlos Ruiz is better defensively, but it's important to remember that he's not young.  He'll be 28 when the 2007 season starts.  The good news is that he absolutely killed Triple-A pitching, hitting 307/389/505 with 16 home runs in 368 at-bats, leading the Red Barons in home runs and RBI.  At his age, though, he's got a lot of work to do in a very short time if he's going to be more than a backup catcher.

Jason Jaramillo will turn 24 next week, but he didn't exactly tear things up in moving up to Double-A this season.  He hit 248/320/388 with six home runs and 39 RBI in 93 games, coming off a season where he did exactly tear things up at Lakewood.  In 2005 he hit 304/368/438 with the Blue Claws.  You have to believe he's a ways away from helping the Phillies.

I don't think there's a lot of people that are going to feel all warm and fuzzy about a Coste/Ruiz tandem at catcher for the Phillies in 2007.  Coste pretty clearly has trouble fielding the position.  He smoked the ball this year, though, and if can hit like that over a season rather than 65 games he would obviously help the Phillies.  Ruiz had a monster year with the bat at Triple-A and is good with the glove, but there's certainly no guarantee his success will translate for the Phils. 

It may be that what the Phillies do at catcher depends most on what they do elsewhere.  Their offense is good already, and there are some big spots that are still question marks at this point in the outfield and at third base.  If the Phillies can add a bat in the outfield and/or at third base, they may be willing to give Ruiz significant time with Coste filling in frequently.  Or they may see catcher as a place where they can improve themselves offensively.  Either way, I think Coste and Ruiz are likely to be around for '07, Ruiz as at least a backup catcher and Coste as a backup or third catcher and guy who can fill in around the infield.

The good news for the Phillies is that at the very worst, their catching situation may be Coste and Ruiz.  And that's a lot better than their current options at say right field or third base.  It also means they don't need to go out and pick up a warm body to fill the position.

In playoff action yesterday the A's won 5-2 to take a 2-0 lead over the Minnesota Twins.  The key play of the game came in the top of the seventh.  With Jason Kendall at first and two outs Mark Kotsay hit a ball into center that Torii Hunter dove for but did not catch.  Kotsay wound up with an inside the park home run that put the A's up 4-2.  Esteban Loaiza held the Twins to two runs over five innings and the Oakland pen came up with four scoreless innings.  Oakland lost second baseman Mark Ellis for at least the series with a broken finger, likely paving the way for D'Angelo Jimenez and his .183 average during the regular season.

The Mets kicked off their series with the Dodgers with Phillie-killer John Maine on the hill and got a 6-5 win.  Carlos Delgado and David Wright combined to go 6-for-9 with five RBI for New York.  Maine was 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA this year -- against the Phillies he went 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA.

The Yankees and the Tigers were rained out last night and will play game two this afternoon.  Cards and Padres and Mets and Dodgers also play game two today.

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