Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Jon Leiber Joins The Team

As far as it goes, I am just fine with the Phillies inking Jon Leiber to a $21-million, three-year contract. As a pitcher, Leiber used to be a real big strike out guy, a real thrower- and a few years ago Leiber averaged seven K’s per nine innings. He is 34, but three years is not a ridiculous commitment- and let’s face it, a veteran guy you can pencil in to make 30 starts and win 12 of them commands a $6 million a year tag.

Leiber won 14 last year, and his strike outs were down. But moving to the National League the strike outs will come up a little- if just because he’ll face a pitcher 2-3 times a start. I just don’t think you can go wrong in the National League, particularly in a hitter’s park, consistently running a guy out there who misses the bat.

The other plus is it solidifies addition by subtraction. Dumping Millwood and the overrated Milton saves $20 million; that is real money that can be used to help the club. Hopefully not all of the money will be wasted on players like Lofton. I don’t get that at all- although at $1.5 million it won’t hurt to designate him for assignment in July.

On a quick note, the arrival of Lofton means get ready for another Marlon Byrd audition as your everyday centerfielder. I mean, we cannot seriously be contemplating Lofton making 145 starts out there, could we? I would just as soon see Byrd gone; I do not believe this story anymore. Byrd isn’t an untalented ball player exactly, merely a stupid one. And you can’t have a stupid player hit first or eighth- and Byrd cannot effectively hit anywhere else. He’s going to move runners batting second? Pick up cheap RBIs batting seventh? I’d rather play Schirmer out there every day. At least he’d take a pitch, if just because he’s afraid of a pitched baseball.

Anyway, back to the problem at hand. The Phils have a rotation composed entirely of one time all-stars: Lieber, Wolf, Padilla, Myers, and Lidle. And you know what, I am pretty sure from that group a number two, three, four, etc. starter(s) will emerge. Any of those guys could win 14-15 games, and I would not be shocked- and I think four will win ten.

But none can win 18 either- so unfortunately, the core problem remains. The hurdle the Phillies placed in front of themselves by trading Schilling years ago is that it immediately put a premium on replacing him: the overt top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The Phillies traded away Schilling and he instantly became exactly what they needed. Albeit forced, that move can, and probably has, become a generation hurdle. Great starters are not easy to discover; the Phillies just spent two years and $21 million over two years on Millwood- and we know how that turned out.

Unless one of these guys can win 18, the Phillies cannot win the division. I don’t thin any of them can, so the Phillies, despite their plethora of decent moves, are still chasing the Braves.