Throughout the offseason the Philadelphia Phillies have made a plethora of signings and acquisitions that have put the organization in prime position for a significant improvement in 2017. The front office has made all the right moves— signing veterans without committing long-term money, giving the prospects some room to breathe, and even bringing John Kruk on board as an announcer, which is more for the fans, but still exciting. As pitchers and catchers prepare to report to Clearwater to begin Spring Training, the team seems to have made all the moves necessary to call it quits and turn focus on playing baseball.
However, the idea that there is nothing that the Phillies can currently improve upon is false. One hole is yet to be filled on the roster for the upcoming season, and the few candidates that qualify for the spot are quickly moving out of the free agency pool.
Last season, when Tommy Joseph was called up to the major leagues, he was one-half of a first-base platoon between Ryan Howard and himself. The lefty-righty duo took the pressure off Joseph, who was becoming accustomed to the major league game, and was convenient for Howard, who could barely make contact off left-handed pitching. Although Joseph slowly began receiving opportunities to hit against righties as the season progressed and Howard declined, his numbers were, expectedly, far better against southpaw pitching.
As circumstances are shaping up heading into Spring Training, Joseph, only 25-years-old, will begin the season as the Phillies’ starting first baseman. But if the everyday job proves to be too much to handle, a left-handed hitter might need to be brought in to form another platoon. Left-handed-hitting first baseman are difficult to come by this late in the offseason, as many have been scooped up by other teams. There are still a few, however, that Matt Klentak could have his eyes on as the spring session begins in Clearwater.
Justin Morneau, a 4-time all-star, is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He played just 58 games last season as a member of the Chicago White Sox and was a designated hitter for all of his games. Clearly unable to fulfill the role of an everyday first baseman, the 2006 AL MVP would be a fantastic fit in Philadelphia.
As a 35-year-old, Morneau would not be expected to perform more than a backup role to Joseph, who may need the occasional day off against a right-handed pitcher. There is no designated hitter in the National League, so the lefty could be used sparingly in perhaps what would be his final run as an MLB player.
In addition to his fit as a player, the former batting champion would require no commitment beyond the 2017 season. As every person who has been keeping up with the Phillies offseason has realized, the organization has plugged roster holes with short-term deals and aging veterans while the prospects develop in the minor leagues. Morneau would be another name in a lengthy list of veterans bringing experience and mentorship to a young clubhouse.
He wouldn’t be expected to produce much, but Justin Morneau could be a solid pickup for a Phillies team with a need for a backup first baseman.
A utility man best known for having been a member of all four AL East teams throughout his journeyman career, Kelly Johnson could bring more to the Phillies than an option at first base. Johnson, who has played every position besides pitcher, catcher, and center field in his career, split last season between the Braves and the Mets. Although he is primarily a second baseman, Johnson could manage the corner infield spot in relief of Joseph.
He batted .268 throughout his 82 games in New York last season, but the 34-year-old was not resigned by the club after the conclusion of the year.
Unlike Morneau, Johnson has not been rapidly declining. He was never an MVP candidate, but has continued to be a solid player on both offense and defense, where he flashes his versatility. As the Phillies signed Andres Blanco to a one-year deal earlier in the offseason, they would not need Johnson to play multiple positions. In fact, he would most likely be confined to the backup first baseman’s role, barring an injury to Blanco, as has been the case in the past.
Kelly Johnson has not played less than 100 games in a season since his rookie year. If the Phillies are looking for consistency and health in their latest one-year rental, then they should look no further than Johnson.
The youngest of the Phillies’ first base candidates is Alvarez, who comes in at just 30 years of age. The 2013 all-star spent last season with the Baltimore Orioles, where he hit 22 home runs in the dominant O’s lineup.
Pedro Alvarez would bring more than just an occasional spark to the Phillies lineup, but he could become an every-other-day platoon man if the team feels the need to bring one in. And Alvarez might look to ink a one-year contract if he does not receive any other offers that he feels are fair. A year to prove his worth as a platoon player might be attractive, or necessary, to the continuation of his career
The one-year deal that Philadelphia could sign Alvarez to would not be as team-friendly as the one that Morneau or Johnson would sign, but the Phillies have money to burn. A legitimate backup as opposed to an aging one could also light a spark in Joseph, who may feel the need to secure his job.
But, if Alvarez’s age, 20 home-run season, or left-handedness don’t have you sold, his nickname is “El Toro.” Odubel Herrera’s nickname is “El Torito.” “The Bull” and “The Little Bull” would be a match made in heaven for marketers throughout the organization.
If Tommy Joseph struggles to find consistency as Spring Training begins, the Phillies may need to bring in some help as he continues to adjust to make the tweaks necessary to become a productive big league player. However, that decision may need to be made soon, because the options are few and far between.
Photo by Keith Allison (via Wikimedia Commons)