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Safe Approach Might Just Work

While a herd of players remains unsigned league-wide, the Phillies have already inked a few players during this offseason. The three notable signings, of course, are Raul Ibanez (3Y/$31.5M), Jamie Moyer (2Y/$13M), Chan Ho Park (1Y/$2.5M) and Scott Eyre (1Y/$2M). They’ve committed $17.5 million in 2009 money to these four players. Considering I anticipated the Phillies having about $20 million in free agent money to spend, there’s room for probably another low-level signing.

Compare this group of four to the group I outlined in my offseason blueprint (Milton Bradley, Moyer, Odalis Perez, Eyre) and it’s not too far off, but a bit safer.

No-Risk Raul

A glance at Ibanez’s numbers show he’s the safety school of MLB free agents. He has amassed 480 at bats every season since 2002, holding a very consistent average around .290 with an even more consistent on-base percentage of .350 and slugging percentage of around .475. Twenty home runs? Ninety runs batted in? I’m all in. Compare those numbers to Pat Burrell’s somewhat-as-consistent numbers of .260, .370, .490, 30 and 90, and the Phils basically did what they wanted to do: Acquire a left fielder who can hit better, but with less power, for about the same price. That last part, of course, is still undetermined. If Burrell signs for less than $10M per season, will the Phillies look stupid? Slightly, yes, but only to sacrifice risk.

The risk, of course, was losing out on their priority (higher average, consistency). As much as I wanted Bradley, nobody could be even remotely certain he’d remain healthy and obedient. Juan Rivera’s flash-in-pan potential is very high. Rocco Baldelli, as well. Forget the Corey Pattersons of the world — it was evident Ruben Amaro Jr. wanted an everyday force in the outfield, considering Geoff Jenkins didn’t quite work out the way they expected, and you can never be safe with the broken history of Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino.

With that in mind, Ibanez wasn’t a bad pickup. On the surface, it’s a lateral move for a team that just won the world championship. That’s a good thing. But again, it is a safe move.

Pitching Plays

Moyer and Park are also safe moves. Instead of putting loads of money on Derek Lowe or loads of risk on Brad Penny, the Phils took the stable Moyer and well-defined Park. Amaro knows they can plug Moyer into the middle of the rotation, and for a while at least, he’ll perform amicably. And Amaro knows Park could be the No. 5 starter, or the No. 7 guy in the bullpen, and it might work. Or it might not. But it’s not the end of the world. Safe, safe, safe.

Lowe, of course, is like Ibanez in his recent consistency, but the money he demands is nowhere near the chump change they’re turning for left field. Lowe rejected a Mets offer of $12M per season, and there’s rumblings the Phils might make another offer. (Yes, the Phils have always been interested. Don’t think they haven’t.) But will the Phils offer Lowe his desired $16M per season? Phillie history says no, and judging by the safe moves the Phils have made so far this offseason, it doesn’t look as if the Phils will extend that sort of offer to Lowe.

What will Lowe get? I’m thinking $15 million per season, very possibly from the Mets, or maybe from the Red Sox. If the Mets acquire Lowe, he’ll be added to an offseason stockpile that includes Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz, necessary acquisitons for New York. The Phils, meanwhile, had no necessary acquisitions, but they had goals, they met those goals, and will very probably work with what they have.

Safe Is Good?

Is the safe approach wrong? Hard to say. But the safe approach will likely open more windows for the current Phils awaiting bonuses or extensions, which to me, is much higher of a priority. I’d rather secure Cole Hamels for five seasons and gamble with Carlos Carrasco and Kyle Drabek, than gamble with Lowe for three or four years. What about having both? Okay, but that makes securing Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth more difficult. And we’re back to square one.

We know the Phils don’t have bottomless pockets. Heck, the Yankees don’t even have bottomless pockets. What New York is doing, however, is risking their farm system and their ability to make moves during the season. And the farm system and midseason deals are the things that usually count most. Sure, the Phils won by acquiring Brad Lidge, but they couldn’t do that without Michael Bourn and Mike Costanzo. And they couldn’t get Joe Blanton and Matt Stairs without Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman, Matt Spencer and Fabio Castro. And they couldn’t win the whole thing without their homegrown talent — maybe the best collection of homegrown talent in baseball.

So while the Phils are playing it safe on the free agent level, they haven’t been afraid to throw in their chips on their homegrown talent. They’ve drafted for talent, and while most times the talent doesn’t work, they also got Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell by focusing on the farm. Last time I checked, that philosophy worked.

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