Friday, December 12, 2008

So Long Pat

When Pat Burrell stepped to the plate in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, with the game tied 3-3, he had yet to register a single hit in the series. In fact, he was on the verge of setting a record for World Series futility, and at 0 for 14 would have had the most World Series at-bats without a hit.

But when the Phillies needed him most, Pat the Bat was there. Burrell crushed a pitch from J.P. Howell to deep center field and it came oh-so-close to leaving the ballpark. Burrell thought it was out and lackadaisically ran the bases, but instead it hit high off the wall and evaded center fielder B.J. Upton. Burrell strolled into second for a double.

Any Phillies fan could tell you what happened next. Eric Bruntlett came in to pinch run and, one out later, Pedro Feliz singled up the middle, driving in the decisive run in the game that clinched the second World Championship in Phillies history.

One would think Burrell's late-inning heroics would have been touted as soon as the dust settled and he stood on second base. But no, instead the talk was of what Burrell's hit wasn't. Had Burrell run hard out of the batter's box, it could've been a triple. Or if it was hit just a little further, it could've been a home run. That double pretty much sums up Burrell's career with the Phillies. It was never about what he did. It was about what he didn't do, or what he could've done.

After Burrell burst onto the scene in 2002 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI, Phillies fans expected him to become the next great power hitter. He was supposed to hit 40-50 home runs a year and drive in 120 RBI. That never happened, in fact, Burrell's 2002 season would be the best of his career (to date).

While Burrell never became an MVP-caliber player, he was in many ways the backbone of this Phillies team. Or better yet, the foundation. Burrell was the longest-tenured Phillie, having come up in the 2000 season. (That distinction now belongs to Jimmy Rollins.) While he was never a superstar, or even an All-Star, he consistently got on base and hit for power.

In 2000, Burrell's rookie year, the Phillies finished dead last in the NL East. But things got better from there. The team finished 2nd in 2001 and placed no worse than 3rd every year from 2001 on. Was Burrell fully responsible for turning the team's fortunes around? No, but he was certainly a big part of it.

He never made the flashy plays; in fact what he was most known for involved little to no movement: drawing walks and called third strikes. But that was what made Burrell so valuable. He took pitch after pitch and, just when you thought he was asleep standing up in the batter's box, he would lash a double down the line, or a home run to deep left.

And that's why that Game 5 double epitomizes him. Burrell didn't drive in the winning run, or even score it. Instead he set it up; he laid the foundation for the game-winning hit, just as he helped lay the foundation for the success of the Phillies franchise.

Now, with the signing of Raul Ibanez, Burrell's Phillies days are over. Hopefully the Phillies can replace his offensive production, but it won't be easy. So long Pat, you will be missed.

Phils Add Ibanez; Kiss Burrell Goodbye

If anyone out there thought that Pat Burrell's postseason heroics would earn him a contract extension, they were wrong. The Phillies ended any pursuit of Pat the Bat today, as it's been announced that they will sign Raul Ibanez.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable deal. Ibanez was not terribly expensive (3 years/$30 million) and has been one of the most consistent outfielders in baseball over the last few seasons. As ESPN's article mentions, he is one of only five outfielders who has had 100+ RBI in each of the last three seasons. He's also stayed healthy for the bulk of his career. He has had just one stint on the DL, which came in 2004. Ibanez should be expected to improve on last year's .293/23/110 by virtue of playing in a better hiter's park with better hitters around him.

The thing is...Ibanez will be 37 in June. He hasn't shown any signs of slowing down in the last few years (if anything he's improved), but then again, did Geoff Jenkins? Perhaps it's unfair to compare Ibanez to Jenkins before he even steps into the batter's box at CBP, but his age has to be a concern. Even if he doesn't struggle this year, how long can he be expected to produce at a high level? He'll be 40 in the last year of his contract.

One also has to wonder how Ibanez fits into the Phillies lineup. They were already overloaded from the left side of the plate and now, instead of adding a right-handed bat to make up for the loss of Burrell, they bring in the left-handed Ibanez, who has fared considerably worse against left-handed pitching. Maybe that won't matter that much (after all, the two closers the Mets just added are both right-handed), but the Phillies will have to hope that Ibanez and Jayson Werth can make up for Burrell's lost production.

(I'll have more to say on Burrell later. He's had a long tenure with the franchise and one that deserves more than a closing paragraph in an article about his replacement.)

Recently, the Phillies also added a backup catcher in Ronny Paulino. All they gave up for him was Jason Jaramillo, so it's hard to find too much fault with the deal, but one has to wonder just what the point was. Paulino was an atrocious hitter last year, with a .212 batting average and a .277 OBP, but that may have been due, in part, to a lack of playing time. He only appeared in 40 games in 2008. In 2006 and 2007, he hit .310 and .263 respectively and showed a little bit of pop, hitting a combined 17 home runs.

Paulino will compete for playing time with the now-fortified Carlos Ruiz. (Ironic that while Burrell's postseason performance earned him a one-way ticket out of town, Ruiz and his .219 batting average of 2008 now has the catcher position locked down. Then again, he was AMAZING in the World Series. Well, amazing for Carlos Ruiz anyway.) Ruiz has the clear edge thanks to his game-calling ability and his surprising display of offense in the World Series, and he and Paulino will likely split time behind the plate.

There are two problems with this. First, isn't this the exact same situation in which Paulino struggled last year? It would seem that he needs to play regularly to be effective. Then again, 2 1/2 years isn't much of a sample size. Second, what happens to Lou Marson? He seemed ready and willing to take over the catcher position after an outstanding season in AA, capped off by his first major league home run in the regular season finale. I guess one more year in the minors can't hurt him, but it can hurt the Phillies chances at a repeat.