The Cliff Lee sweepstakes continue to heat up just the way Jack Zduriencik would like it to, with speculation now swirling about who the Mets, Twins, and just about anyone else with a winning record would give up to acquire a guy looking like the best pitcher in baseball at the moment.
There was some talk last night that the Phillies, who still have Class AAA outfielder Domonic Brown in the fold after not parting with him in last winter’s blockbuster Lee-Halladay swap, might try to get in on the Lee bidding. Re-acquiring Lee would make GM Ruben Amaro Jr. an early candidate for sainthood in Philly, where fans revere the lefty pitcher and are still upset the team did not hold on to him for a 1-2 punch with Halladay.
Interest piqued yesterday when the Phils dispatched top scout Charlie Kerfeld to Yankee Stadium to watch the M’s game. Kerfeld is a special assistant to Amaro and the guy they send to check out players ahead of potential deals.
So, some people naturally assume he was checking out Lee.
Now, let’s all take a deep breath and think for a second. What the heck would Kerfeld have to check out Lee for? I mean, Lee pitched for the Phillies a year ago, won two games in the World Series and has gotten even better since. The Phils know all they have to about Lee. What would Kerfeld write in his report?
Yeah, uh, same guy. Has five pitches he can throw any time. Keeps the walks down. Strikes guys out. Not showing any lingering effects from that ab injury.
I mean, come on. Do the Phils really need Kerfeld to tell them that? They could dispatch one of the clubbies to handle those duties. I’m guessing the Phils have more pressing needs for Kerfeld to be racking up hotel points on.
In fact, they do. It’s called second and third base.
Both Chase Utley and Placido Polanco just went on the DL for the Phils and that, right now, is a more serious problem than their starting rotation or blocking the Mets from acquiring Lee. Philadelphia should be running away with the NL East and the reason they aren’t has everything to do with their offense. It’s been horrific at times, which is mystifying given that it, more than any other in the NL, has looked like an AL lineup the past two years.
Utley could be out for a long time. He has a sprained UCL ligament in his right thumb, suffered two nights ago, that is preventing him from gripping the bat properly. It might require surgery and if that happens, he could miss months, not just weeks.
Polanco also might need surgery for a bone spur in his left elbow, but could play through it once the swelling goes down in a couple of weeks.
So, who do you think Kerfeld was watching from the M’s last night?
My guess would be third baseman Jose Lopez.
After all, there are several people in the Phillies organization, or close to it, who know Lopez very well. They could ask Greg Dobbs, one of the guys called up from the minors in the wake of the Utley-Polanco injuries. Or, Raul Ibanez, the starting left fielder, who remembers Lopez from back when he was still considered a future all-star caliber player (not just an all-star rep from a bad team). Yeah, that Jamie Moyer guy, too.
Most importantly, there’s Benny Looper, a former front office vice-president in Seattle who is now an assistant GM to Amaro. My guess is Lopez would have been the first name whispered in Amaro’s ear.
Why would that be?
Because Lopez has shown he can play two positions. That would give the Phillies flexibility in what they decide to do. It would enable them to avoid rushing out to acquire two new players right away. Bring Lopez in and you could have him play second or third base. Then, depending on the severity of Polanco’s injury — we’re assuming Utley is done for a while — you could adjust going forward.
If Polanco comes back, you could slide Lopez back over to second base. Or, you could move Polanco — a natural second baseman — back over there and keep Lopez right where he is at third.
Did I mention the ballpark? I’m guessing that Citizens Bank Park in Philly, with its homer-friendly left field porch, would be a gift to Lopez and cause his power numbers to soar. Don’t forget, Lopez is a dead pull hitter to left field. He’d love the place.
Put him there and his OBP would probably go higher than .300.
That OBP, not to mention a $5 million option for next year, is the reason Lopez will never be a long-term fit for the Zduriencik-led Mariners. They are keen on OBP and Lopez has flirted around .300 (the OBP Mendoza-line) for far too long. His 25-homer power has vanished this year as well, though there has been flashes of it the past month.
The folks in Philly remember more than just the flashes. They remember Lopez as an above-average middle infield power threat. That’s what they just lost in Utley and Polanco and what they need to replace ASAP.
Believe it or not, one of the reasons Lopez was moved to third, besides the M’s trying to mitigate infield defense damage in pursuit of a playoff spot that isn’t coming, was to potentially increase the trade market for him. Well, there’s a market for him right now. Let’s see what happens. Who replaces Lopez in Seattle? Well, for now, you’d call up Matt Tuiasosopo and team him with Josh Wilson at the hot corner. Either way, your offensive production is bound to improve. Or, you move Chone Figgins back to third and use Wilson and Tui at second.
What would it take? Probably not a front-line prospect. If you’re the Mariners, who tried to trade Lopez last year, you’d probably take a lot less to be done with him, assuming you won’t want to pick up that 2011 option in any event. Lopez’s cheap availability would be one of his most attractive features, along with the prospect of his offense improving dramatically in a new home ballpark. Well, dramatically from a sub-.600 OPS at least. So, let the speculation begin. But this makes a lot more sense to me than wasting Kerfeld’s time looking at Lee. After all, if you’re the Phillies, you’d want to see and grade how Lopez looks playing third base. That’s something they don’t already know.