Friday, December 12, 2008

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.

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