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December 21 2006

One of the somebodies done for today was the server.  Better, now.  Fixed, even, one might say.  We'll see.

Returning to the biggest decisions of 2006, we're up to number four.

#4:  Abraham Nunez gets the call after the Phillies deal away Bell.

After a 10-14 start the Phillies had battled back to seven games over .500 by mid-May.  They beat the Reds 2-1 in Cincy on May 14 to improve to 22-15 and weren't looking much at all like a team that needed to be rebuilt.  It fell apart pretty quickly, however, as the Phils dropped eight of nine between June 8 and June 17 and followed that up by losing nine times in ten games between June 20 and July 1. 

Sal Fasano got hurt in early July, leaving the game with the Blue Jays on July 2 in the fourth inning with a knee problem.  The Phillies went on to win 11-6 to improve to 37-44.  He would go on the DL, creating a big opportunity for Chis Coste.  Coste thrived, hitting 372/426/651 in 43 July at-bats, and by the time Fasano was ready to come back he didn't have a job to come back to.  The first deal of the season that involved Phillies who had made an impact on the field went down as the Phillies shipped Fasano to the Yankees for Hector Made.  If we weren't used to seeing deals we would quickly -- within 14 days Gillick would trade Bell, Abreu, Lidle, Franklin and Cormier. 

The first of that group to go was Bell.

On July 28 the Marlins were in Philly.  Ricky Nolasco was on the hill and held the Phils to one hit in 7 1/3 innings as the Fish won the game 4-1, dropping the Phillies record on the season to 46-54.  David Bell played third and Abraham Nunez, subbing for a banged up Jimmy Rollins, started at shortstop.  Nunez went 1-for-2 with a walk and ended the day hitting a hide-your-eyes 157/198/226, and it wasn't even a strong 157/198/226.  After the game David Bell would be traded to the Brewers for pitcher Wilfrido Laureano.

And Nunez became the Phillies everyday third baseman, .198 on-base percentage and all.

It didn't look like it was going to matter.  The Abreu trade winds were swirling hard, and there appeared to be no way the 46-54 Phillies were going to turn it around in '06.  Especially not without Abreu.  Especially not with Madson in the rotation, who had seen his ERA drop to 6.18 on July 25 when he allowed five hits and five walks but just two runs in four innings against the Snakes.

It did matter, though.  The Phillies turned it around and fell just short, but they fell just short playing one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball at third base virtually every day.

Nunez did pick it up some.  From July 29 to the end of the year he hit 242/355/300 in 207 at-bats, which was enough to get his line for the year up to a still-wretched 211/303/273.  For the season he had 14 extra-base hits in 322 at-bats.  The .273 slugging percentage is absolutely horrible.  Among all players in either league who got 325 or more plate appearances it was dead last.  Only two other hitters that got that many plate appearances slugged .300 or below, Brad Ausmus and Joey Gathright, and both out-slugged Nunez.  And yes, the .355 on-base percentage Nunez managed over the last two months and two games is impressive -- but not nearly enough to offset the terrible power production numbers at what is traditionally a hitter's position.

The Phillies managed to fall short by just a handful of games last season.  As it turned out, they couldn't afford to play one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball at third base every day for a third of the season.  Every failing became critical down the stretch and the inability to find a more productive player than Nunez was one of the worst.  Even more curious, Gillick seemed to give Manuel a better option, against lefties at least, in Jose Hernandez, but Manuel was content to go with Nunez.

There's a review of Phillies in action in the winter leagues on the team web site.

Phillies sign Barajas to a one-year contract for $2.5 million. 

After another day's reflection on the Barajas addition, here's my current thinking:  If the Phillies really don't have confidence in Coste's ability behind the plate defensively, it seems unlikely they would trade Ruiz because they need to protect against an injury to Barajas that would leave them without a passable defensive catcher.  You have to conclude from last season that the Phillies won't play Coste at third -- if he's not a catcher and not a third baseman that would mean he's a backup first baseman.  I don't think the Phillies would give him a roster spot in that role.  My guess is that most of the time Coste sees this year will be behind the plate, defensive problems or not, and that the Phillies keep Ruiz around.

The Phillies made yet another move today, trading Jeff Conine to the Reds for two minor leaguers.  Coming to the Phils are 23-year-old right-handed third baseman Bradley Key and 24-year-old right-handed outfielder Javon Moran.  Neither are likely to make much of a splash with the Phils anytime soon, if ever. 

Moran is yet another speedster.  He walked 11 times in 250 at-bats at Double-A this season, hitting 320/355/400 with one home run and 16 stolen bases.  He hit .226 in 58 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League.

Key made stops with two different Single-A teams, hitting a combined 220/299/309.  It's going to take a significant effort from a glass half-fuller to shed some positive light on the .309 slugging percentage at Single-A at age 23.

Conine's departure seemingly paves the way for the Phillies to trade for a left-handed outfielder.  I think you also have to interpret it as a strong vote of confidence that Werth is healthy, or will be by the time the season starts.

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