The high-powered offense the Phillies put on the field last season has some holes going into 2007. Headed into the off-season it looked as if the Phillies were going to have to find a way to replace the offense they lost in Dellucci and Abreu as well as Bell and Lieberthal. It looked as if they had three places where they could do it -- right field, third base and catcher. Now they have two.
The Phillies rolled the dice, agreeing to a deal with free agent Wes Helms under which they will pay Helms about $6 million over two years. It has been widely reported that Helms was promised significant playing time at third as part of the deal. Helms smoked the ball last year but has been a part-time player for most of his career and is not exactly slick with the glove.
As of this morning, the Phillies had not confirmed the deal.
Here's a look at what Wes Helms did last season and has done over the course of his career compared to the two guys the Phils used there primarily in '06:
There's no question about
it, Helms flat crushed the ball last season, hitting ten home runs in 240
at-bats. His .575 slugging percentage was higher than any player who batted
for the Phillies except Ryan Howard. Howard slugged .659. Dellucci was
next at .530.
Helms has gotten more than 275 at-bats in a season just once, with the Brewers in 2003. He clubbed 23 home runs and posted a 261/330/450 line in 476 at-bats but hit a less impressive 249/307/421 against righties. He was eighth in the NL that year in strikeouts. The good news about Helms is that he has hit well in both of the last two seasons in limited action, going 129-for-408 (.316) with 32 doubles and 14 home runs. Also impressively, last season the right-handed Helms hit righties hard, posting a 323/368/632 line against righties.
That's the good news. And there's no question at all that if Helms can continue to hit 329/390/575 he's an absolutely awesome offensive player that the Phillies or any other team would be lucky to have. Here ends the good news.
The bad news is that last year was the best of his career and before 2006 Helms has been mostly miserable against righties. He and Abraham Nunez are virtually the same age. Helms was born on May 12, 1976 and Nunez was born on April 16, 1976. Yes, Nunez brings some things to the table that Helms doesn't with his ability to play the middle infield positions, but it's telling that Nunez has 630 more career at-bats. Here's a look at what the pair has done against right-handed pitching over their careers:
Helms is clearly the
better hitter against righties, that's not the point. The point is that
they've both struggled against righties. And
there's a lot of room between being better than Nunez and being a good
offensive third baseman. Having said over and over that the Phillies
problem is not their offense but their pitching, it's important to remember
that the Phillies offense is going to be down next season with the loss of
Abreu. They certainly aren't going to be able to make up for all they lost
when he went to the Yankees, but they need to make up for some of it. Third
base is one of the places they can improve over last year, and if they don't
do it at third base they need to do it somewhere else. It's not that Helms
isn't an upgrade, it's a question of whether it is enough.
Abraham Nunez is given a lot of credit for what he does with the glove. Too much, I think, but he is surely better than what we're going to see out of Helms next season. Phillies fans should also remember that down the stretch last season Manuel several times chose to play Nunez over Jose Hernandez, even against a lefty. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Phillies will be
Helms' fourth team, having spent time with the Braves, Brewers and Marlins.
Three of them, the only three he's ever played a game with, decided he's
wasn't a full-time player. We'll see if the Phillies see it differently.
If the Phillies see it differently you have to think it's because of what he
did in his last 240 at-bats and not the 1,602 over his career.
And I hope they're right. Helms was just awesome last season with the bat. He doesn't have to come anywhere near those numbers to be a huge upgrade for the Phillies at third and a big contributor to an offense that could use another passable right-handed bat. It's a big gamble, though, because they have absolutely no backup plan other than Nunez who was one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball last year. The Phillies have now tried twice to replace the much-maligned David Bell. The first time they clearly got worse when they replaced him with Nunez. The second take is still up in the air, but it's not exactly a slam dunk.
You can still hold out hope that the Phillies' plan is to get a little better at third, right and catcher and a lot better at pitcher this off-season. And if that's the plan this is a step in the right direction.
Grand Canyon Rafters 10,
Big Catci 3 in the Arizona Fall League. Chris Key went two innings,
allowing a run on two hits and lowering his ERA to 6.75. Jason Jaramillo
was 1-for-3 with a home run and two RBI. It was his second home run and
he's hitting .379. The Saguaros drop to 14-17.
The Marlins' love for Shane Victorino apparently takes on super-human proportions. Apparently the Fish have tried to land him for several years in a row and yearn for him still.
Gillick says in this article that the Phillies will address their catching situation in the coming weeks, which will likely involve bringing in someone with more than 198 career at-bats who can catch.
The Diamondbacks apparently have interest in Randy Wolf, adding their name to a list of teams that may include the Phils, Blue Jays, Yankees, Rangers and Twins. The 5.56 ERA apparently hasn't got many people fazed. This article suggests Arizona may be willing to offer $21 million over three years and that Wolf may be their top priority.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have won the rights to negotiate with Yakult Swallows third baseman Akinori Iwamura. I am surprised the Phillies did not go after Iwamura given the problems they've had at third in recent years.