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Helms For A Lefty?

With two weeks to go in Spring Training, Wes Helms’ fate as a Phillie is about to be determined for good.

Pedro Feliz is the starting third baseman. Greg Dobbs has performed well enough to remain part of the 25-man roster; moreover, his versatility allows the Phils to pop him into the outfield picture if necessary. Even Eric Bruntlett has worth, as his glove makes him valuable, along with his versatility (he could take some outfield innings).

Helms hasn’t had a terrible spring (9/30, 5 R, 5 BB, 5 K), but he’s limited. His only major advantage over his competitors is his experience at first base, which would make him a good once-in-a-while replacement to Ryan Howard. But is Ryan Howard’s replacement a really necessary job for this team? Probably not.

The long and short is Helms — the experiment that failed miserably last season — is expendable. And talk about his departure is growing with each day. There are a few rumors. (By the way, Helms will cost $2.9MM in 2008, which includes a buyout.) I’ll present the rumors reported — and some of my own — for left-handed relief-quality pitching, which is what the Phils are seemingly searching in return:
1. Helms to San Francisco for Steve Kline

Kline will cost $1.85MM this season, which means the Phillies may have to eat $1MM. Not terrible. Kline, 34, is from Sunbury, Pa. (near Bloomsburg University), and carries a career 3.51 ERA. 2007, however, was his worst season since his rookie year. He went 1-2 in 46 innings with a 4.70 ERA and a rough 1.652 WHIP. And lefties hit .318 off him last season — that isn’t promising (career lefty AVG is .238). Kline would probably work in a limited role, like a mirror image of Francisco Rosario. Would Vic Darensbourg be that much worse? I also found this quote from Kline about being booed in Baltimore: “There’s nothing worse than getting booed at home. St. Louis fans are too good for that. They understand the game more than most people.” Sounds like trouble, eh?

2. Helms to Atlanta for Royce Ring

Baseball Prospectus said the Braves have shown interest in Helms, a former player, and I suppose they could use him as Chipper Jones’ backup and a right-handed veteran bat off the bench. The only reasonable deal the Braves may make is for Ring, since Will Ohman looks to be the Braves’ regular LOOGY and Jo-Jo Reyes would be too much for Atlanta to give up. Ring, 27, has been extremely limited in the Majors, and last year for Atlanta and San Diego threw 20 innings for a 2.70 ERA. His 21 K/17 BB ratio isn’t impressive, but he has garnered a lot more strikeouts against lefties. He has the possibility of converting to a starter, so that’s a bonus. But he’s only making $350K in 2008, which means the Phils would likely have to eat more of Helms’ salary.

3. Helms to Florida for Mark Hendrickson

I can’t really see this happening because Hendrickson was signed this year to be the “veteran leader” of a young Marlins staff, but for all intents, I’m proposing this. Hendrickson made $2.9MM with the Dodgers in 2007, and promptly showed he wasn’t worth it (4-8, 5.21 ERA in 122 innings). Lefties hit .261 off him for his career, and from the bullpen he’s markedly better (3.55 ERA as opposed to 5.15 ERA as a starter). Hendrickson will turn 34 this season, and because the Marlins don’t like paying money for anything, the Phils would need to pay Helms’ $1MM+ to get Hendrickson. I wouldn’t mind a deal like this, but I can’t think the Marlins really want to give up Hendrickson. Another lefty option is Renyel Pinto, but the Fish probably wouldn’t part with this youngster.

4. Helms to Los Angeles for Eric Stults

The Dodgers are looking for a better option than Adam LaRoche/Nomar Garciaparra, and sadly, Helms could be the piece they want. While I’d much rather want lefty Joe Beimel (but that isn’t happening), the Dodgers could offer Stults, a 28-year-old with limited Major League experience. He has started and came out of the bullpen, throwing better as a starter. Lefties hit .353 off him last year in just 35 plate appearances. How different he would be from a Fabio Castro or Shane Youman is beyond me.

Of the four proposals, I’d probably go with Hendrickson, as he provides versatility, experience and good relief numbers. But this deal seems the most unlikely. So, yes, the Steve Kline deal seems the most doable and justifiable. But be warned — Kline has steadily declined; he’s not the same pitcher he was in 2001 (when he finished 24th in MVP voting). Maybe the Phils could move Helms for a right-hander, as options there seem more plentiful. This small group of players just doesn’t seem too mouth-watering. Couldn’t Helms be worth just a little more?

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