Clock ticking on Pierre's fate with Phillies
Club has until Friday to let outfielder know if he'll play in the bigs
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Juan Pierre is a man without answers as Friday fast approaches.
He said he is fine with that.
"The decision has already been made," he said before Tuesday's 5-4 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field. "That's how I look at it. I'm prepared either way. I've got faith in Christ."
Pierre signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies in January. It is worth $800,000, if he makes the big league club, but the Phillies need to tell him no later than Friday if he is going to make the 25-man roster. If they tell him he is not going to make the team, he can ask for his release. If he does not ask for his release, he will receive a $100,000 bonus to start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Pierre said he has not decided if he would accept an assignment in the Minor Leagues. But the fact he has that clause in his contract strongly suggests he would not accept a trip to Allentown and would seek a big league job elsewhere.
So what are Pierre's chances of making the Opening Day roster?
He is hitting .289 (13-for-45) with one double, two RBIs, five walks and two stolen bases, although he has been caught stealing three times.
His top competitor for the fifth outfielder's job is Scott Podsednik, who signed a Minor League contract with the team but cannot ask for his release until June 1. Podsednik is hitting .362 (17-for-47) with five doubles, one home run -- the game-winning solo shot to right field in the ninth inning Tuesday -- two RBIs, four walks and five stolen bases. He has not been caught stealing.
Luis Montanez is another outfielder in camp, and he has been a pleasant surprise for Phillies coaches and front office officials. He is hitting .318 (14-for-44) with three doubles, one triple, six RBIs, three walks and one stolen base. He also cannot ask for his release until June 1.
"I have no feel," said Pierre, asked what he thinks might happen. "None. Absolutely zero."
Podsednik and Montanez are more than likely to accept assignments to Lehigh Valley, if the Phillies decide to send them there. It would not be crazy to speculate the Phillies could open the season with Pierre. If he plays well, great. If he struggles, they could release him and still have Podsednik or Montanez as replacement options. But if the Phillies release Pierre and he signs elsewhere, they have one fewer outfielder to choose from if something should happen to Podsednik or Montanez.
In that regard, Pierre could win the numbers game.
But that might not be the deciding factor. Pierre has been an everyday player his entire career. He has never been a bench player, so there might be some question whether or not he can handle the role. Podsednik also has more pop in his bat, which gives him the edge over Pierre.
Earlier this spring Phillies manager Charlie Manuel spoke about Pierre as though he already had a spot on the team, but Podsednik seems to have closed ground.
"Podsednik hits the ball a little bit harder," Manuel said. "He gives you more juice. Pierre is on base more. He has a high on-base percentage. Both of them hit lefties OK."
If the Phillies think Pierre might play a little more than originally expected, he could be a better fit. That could be the case with Ryan Howard opening the season on the disabled list. John Mayberry Jr. could play more games at first base, possibly opening up playing time in left field, with Laynce Nix the only other left fielder guaranteed a job.
It also is worth noting if there is a game when both Mayberry and Ty Wigginton are in the starting lineup, the Phillies have no right-handed bats on the bench. In that situation, it would be Jim Thome, Nix, Brian Schneider, Pete Orr and Pierre or Podsednik. If the Phillies carry 11 pitchers to start the season, Montanez -- who hits right-handed -- has a chance to make the team as a sixth outfielder.
The Phillies said they have not made a decision on Pierre, but the clock is ticking.
"I can just go out there and play hard every day," Pierre said. "That's what I've been doing. Numbers are numbers. All I can control is playing hard. If my name is called I'll be ready to go. I feel I've done that this Spring Training."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.