Few openings remain on 25-man roster
Park, Happ, Paulino, Coste among those battling for spots
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It is hard to believe, but the Phillies open the 2009 season in exactly two weeks.
It looks like Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz will be in the lineup Opening Night on April 5 against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Both seem to be recovering nicely from offseason surgeries. But it also looks like Cole Hamels will not be pitching that night. Hamels, who received an anti-inflammatory injection into his left elbow last Tuesday, is scheduled to throw a Minor League Spring Training game Tuesday at the Carpenter Complex. He said Sunday he felt great after throwing a bullpen session Saturday.
But besides wondering who will start Opening Night if Hamels isn't ready, the Phillies still have questions about how their 25-man roster is going to look. Here's how it might shape up come April 5:
Pitchers: There are 10 locks on the staff -- Hamels, Joe Blanton, Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers and Chan Ho Park.
Park is battling left-hander J.A. Happ and right-handers Kyle Kendrick and Carlos Carrasco for a spot in the rotation, but Park and Happ are the front-runners. Should Happ make the rotation, Park slides into the bullpen. This seems to be the preferred scenario, because Happ (0-0, 3.60 ERA in five appearances) has pitched well enough to earn the job and the Phillies pursued Park in the offseason because they liked him last year as a reliever with the Dodgers. It also leaves just one bullpen job open while J.C. Romero serves his 50-game suspension.
But Park (1-0, 1.54 ERA in three appearances) has pitched very well this spring. If he makes the rotation, Happ or Kendrick might be better served starting for Triple-A Lehigh Valley because both have little experience pitching out of the bullpen. And if that is the case, the Phillies would need to fill two relief roles. Right-handers Gary Majewski, Bobby Mosebach and Mike Koplove are the top candidates for a bullpen job.
Majewski (0-0, 2.00 ERA in nine innings) and Koplove (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 5 1/3 innings) have outpitched Mosebach (0-0, 9.64 ERA in four innings) in the Grapefruit League, but Majewski and Koplove both signed Minor League contracts, so the Phillies could keep start them in Lehigh Valley. Mosebach, however, is a Rule 5 Draft pick, so they risk losing him if he doesn't open the season on the 25-man roster. If Mosebach can pitch more consistently over the next two weeks, he could open the season with Philadelphia. If he pitches well, he remains. If he doesn't, the club has Majewski or Koplove waiting in the wings.
Of course, this is assuming Philadelphia opens the season with 12 pitchers. There is a chance they could open with 11, but manager Charlie Manuel said recently he prefers 12.
The best guess: Happ makes the rotation, and Park and Majewski make the bullpen.
Catchers: Carlos Ruiz is a lock, but Chris Coste and Ronny Paulino are competing for the backup job. Manuel said the other day this is Coste's job to lose. In other words, Paulino must prove he is worthy to replace him.
Paulino is hitting just .182 (4-for-22) with one double, one home run and one RBI. Coste is hitting .071 (1-for-14), but he is behind offensively partly because he missed the first couple weeks of Grapefruit League games with a hamstring injury. Coste certainly would like to be hitting better, but he probably can afford to struggle a little bit compared to Paulino because the Phils know Coste. They know he can hit. They know his strengths and weaknesses behind the plate. They know he works hard. Paulino fell out of favor in Pittsburgh because of weight issues and questions about his work ethic. So, based off of what Manuel said, it appears Paulino hasn't done enough to wrestle the job from Coste.
The best guess: Coste keeps his job.
Infielders: Utley, Feliz, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Greg Dobbs and Eric Bruntlett are locks. Because Utley and Feliz should be ready by Opening Night, the futures for infielders Miguel Cairo, Marcus Giles and Pablo Ozuna are even murkier. So the only intrigue is whether or not the Phillies carry an extra utility infielder. And that question can better be answered once the Phils figure out how badly they feel they need another right-handed bat for the bench.
Outfielders: Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth are locks, while Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs have less certain futures. If the Phillies decide they absolutely must have another right-handed bat, Cairo (.325 with two homers and four RBIs in 38 at-bats) is the leading candidate for a few reasons: he has proven he can play more positions than Ozuna (.367 with one homer and four RBIs in 30 at-bats), he has outperformed Giles (.156 with two RBIs in 32 at-bats), and he must be released if he is not on the roster Opening Night. Giles and Ozuna, however, can start the season in the Minor Leagues.
ESPN.com first reported that the Phillies are actively trying to trade Jenkins, offering to eat most of his salary ($6.75 million, plus a $1.25 million buyout for a 2010 club option) in the process. It seems they would prefer to keep Stairs.
The best guess: The Phils can't trade Jenkins and open the season with both Jenkins and Stairs on the roster.
But don't bet against Philadelphia making a move outside the organization before Opening Night, either. In recent seasons, the club acquired outfielder David Dellucci and right-hander Rudy Seanez early in the season by making a trade or combing the waiver wire.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.