Without an answer at third base since Scott Rolen departed in 2002, the Phillies appear poised to open yet another chapter in the saga. It’s really kind of a tough book to recommend.

Pending a physical, it seems the Phillies will sign 32-year-old Pedro Feliz to a two-year contract worth $8.5 million with a club option for 2010.

Feliz is a fantastic defensive player and sure to give the Phils a boost with the glove, but the news is disappointing. The fact that Dobbs and Helms are both barely passable defensively at third base was a big problem. But the answer wasn’t a guy with nearly 3,000 career at-bats and a career-high on-base percentage of .305.

Feliz is good for 20 home runs a year, maybe more at Citizens Bank Park. He hasn’t slugged over .430 in the last three seasons, though. In 2007 he slugged .418 — Helms, Nunez and Ruiz were the only three Phils to get 200 at-bats and post a worse slugging percentage.

He’s just a mess as an offensive player. He cut down on his strikeouts last season, posting under 100 whiffs for the first time since 2004. He’s drawn 100 walks in the last three years combined (Burrell and Howard both walked over 100 times in 2007). He hits into a lot of double-plays. Most importantly, though, he just can’t hit left-handed or right-handed hitting. He’s a career 263/305/437 hitter against righties and 248/282/431 against lefties.

His addition would almost surely mean there’s no room on the team for both Dobbs and Helms. The Phils deal Helms for a relief pitcher seems like the best bet, but it’s not exactly going to be an example of selling high. I’d love to see Dobbs continue to get a bunch of starts at third base against righties, bad defense or not. We’ll have to wait and see what the Phillies say and do, but I’d be surprised if they brought in Feliz to do something besides play third base every day.

If Dobbs does go to the bench it does solve the no-lefty on the bench problem. That was a small one, though.

Up till now I thought Eric Bruntlett’s role was going to be primarily as the guy who plays third base in the late innings. Don’t know what he’s going to do now, but he seems sure to hang on to a job as the Phils need someone to back up second and short and their choices are extremely limited.

Using OPS as the measure, the Phils got less offense from their third basemen in 2007 than any other team in the National League. They posted a .688 OPS. Except for five innings played by Russell Branyan, Dobbs, Nunez and Helms got all the time at third base last season. Offensively overall on the year, Nunez was terrible, Helms was terrible and Dobbs was okay. But in the at-bats Dobbs got as a third baseman, he was just wretched. Here’s what Dobbs did in his at-bats last season when he was playing third base and in his at-bats last season when he wasn’t playing third base:

 
AB

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS
Dobbs as 3B 190 .232 .293 .347 .641
Dobbs not as 3B 134 .328 .380 .597 .977

I think you can make the argument that it was simply a fluke that Dobbs was so much worse offensively when he played third base in 2007 than when he played other positions. In the same way, Helms is virtually guaranteed to produce more offense in 2008 than he did in 2007. The Phillies got some miserable production out of third in ’07, but there was a good chance that Dobbs, Helms and Bruntlett of ’08 were going to outplay Dobbs, Helms and Nunez of ’07 by a lot offensively.

The Phillies gave Abraham Nunez 212 at-bats as a third baseman last season in which he hit a miserable 255/342/311. If you’re going to give that kind of an offensive player that many at-bats you can’t be surprised when you wind up the worst in the league at the position. Your third base situation is just terrible if you have to do that — Nunez at third was a weak solution, but apparently it was the best the Phillies could come up with. Charlie Manuel just wasn’t going to regularly let Dobbs or Helms play third late in a close game. Given those options, my guess is that we would have seen a ton of Bruntlett at third in ’08 as a defensive replacement, burning the bat of Dobbs or Helms early. I’m not saying that would have been a good way to handle the situation, but I think it’s what Manuel would have done. If the plan was to give Bruntlett Nunez-like numbers of at-bats at third in an effort to address the problem that Dobbs and Helms are barely passable defensively there, giving those at-bats to Feliz instead would be an improvement.

The addition of Feliz guarantees that the team will be better defensively at third than they have been for a long time. Since Scott Rolen, in fact. Feliz and Rollins are going to do about as good a job as anyone at keeping ground balls from going through the left side of the infield. And the team can and will score runs, whoever the third baseman is. What they need to figure out is how to prevent them.

Sure wish they would have tried getting a pitcher, though.

This from the Phillies web site also says that Chad Durbin is likely the fifth guy in the bullpen behind Lidge, Romero, Gordon and Madson.