02/13/08 5:57 PM ET
Benson agrees to Minor League deal
Veteran right-hander hoping to be ready for Opening Day
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
The former No. 1 overall pick in the June 1996 First-Year Player Draft agreed Wednesday to a Minor League deal, pending a physical on Thursday in Philadelphia. Assuming he passes, Benson should join his new teammates on Friday at Bright House Networks Field."It's a low-risk, high-reward type of situation," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Anytime you can get a pitcher who's had multiple seasons of double-digit wins on a Minor League deal, it's a plus." Benson, 33, underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder 10 1/2 months ago, a procedure that typically requires a 12- to 14-month recovery time. He's hoping to be ready by Opening Day. The Phillies were one of a handful of teams who watched Benson throw at a December workout in Arizona. They were unimpressed, but kept tabs. The team dispatched Chuck LaMar, the team's director of professional scouting, to watch Benson throw twice privately last month near his Atlanta home. LaMar reported that while Benson was at "60-70 percent" of his velocity, his command was a big plus. "Usually, command is the hardest thing to get back and when he showed that, I thought it was worth the gamble to not wait until everybody sees him 100 percent," LaMar said. "He has no pain in his shoulder. He threw free and easy. If he continues to make the progress, he'll pitch in the Major Leagues again." Whether Benson will be healthy enough to battle Adam Eaton, Chad and J.D. Durbin and Travis Blackley for the fifth starter's job remains an issue. Though declining to discuss specifics of the incentive-laden contract, Amaro confirmed that the deal contained an out clause, which could allow Benson to become a free agent if he's not added to the Major League roster by a certain date. Would Benson be open to pitching for Triple-A Lehigh Valley? "That would be up to him, certainly," Amaro said. "There's a possibility of him pitching in the Minor Leagues at some point, but it depends on where we feel his progress is and where he feels his progress is. It will be a mutual agreement when we get to that point. We hope that he'll be competing for a spot by the end of spring."
Added LaMar: "He feels like he's going to be ready Opening Day, but may need more time, because there's a difference between throwing in a gymnasium and getting Major League hitters out. Hopefully, sometime from Opening Day to the first of June, sometime in that time frame. I think he still has a ways to go."Amaro said Benson is the likely final acquisition that saw the team add Geoff Jenkins, So Taguchi, Chris Snelling, Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett this offseason. The team preferred Benson to Matt Clement (who signed with St. Louis) and the still unsigned Bartolo Colon. Benson is familiar with the National League, specifically the National League East, where he spent a year and a half with the Mets in 2004-05, but of course, he can't help the Phillies until his right arm cooperates. "His expectation is to get healthy," LaMar said. "He knows our rotation, knows the competition and knows he's coming to a team that was the defending NL East champs. There are no guarantees of a job. He knows he's coming into a very competitive situation."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.