4 Philadelphia Phillies Can overpriced free agents improve a bullpen that has nowhere to go but up?

March 26, 2001

At Philadelphia's famous Reading Terminal Market, home to some
of the city's best seafood, the going rate for three slabs of
fish is about $17. This is a pretty good deal. At Philadelphia's
famous Veterans Stadium, home of late to some of the major
leagues' worst baseball, the going rate for three slabs of
reliever is about $17 million. This is not a good deal.

Is it fair to compare new signees Ricky Bottalico (one year, $1.5
million), Rheal Cormier (three years, $8.75 million) and Jose
Mesa (two years, $6.8 million) to the catch of the day? Sure it
is--if any three pitchers are on intimate terms with the word
flounder, it's these guys.

"It is very, very difficult to find good bullpen help,
especially closers," says G.M. Ed Wade, who failed in his
efforts to reel in free agents John Franco and Jeff Nelson. "Did
we overpay? Yes. But the people who criticize the moves didn't
see our bullpen last year."

Point taken. In 2000 Philadelphia's pen pieced together one of
the most memorable, most remarkable, most...horrific seasons
since Enrique Romo's heyday. The Phillies' relievers led the
majors in losses (37) and highest ERA (5.72). They ranked second
with 20 blown saves, but don't lose heart--first place is in
sight. The Royals (thanks largely to Bottalico's seven blown
saves) paced baseball with 26. Ya gotta believe!

New manager Larry Bowa has heard the carping about his new
relievers, and he thinks it's garbage. Sure, as a Mariner last
season Mesa allowed 20 of 36 inherited runners to score. And
sure, the lefthanded Cormier had a 6.75 ERA with Boston last
August and September. And, well, O.K., so Bottalico did give up
runs in eight of his first 18 appearances last season. But Mesa
still throws 95 mph, Cormier is a steady situational lefty and
Bottalico had his best days as a Phillie, converting 34 of 41
save opportunities four years ago. "The guys in this bullpen have
been through the wars," says Bowa. "If things go bad, they've
seen it before. They're not gonna get down and pack it in."

The poster child for such resiliency is Mesa, the oft-criticized
but usually bubbly 34-year-old righty. Ever since he blew a
one-run lead in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series while pitching
for Cleveland against Florida, Mesa has been a disappointment.
In 1999 Seattle signed him to be its closer, then watched as he
pitched to a 4.98 ERA and blew five saves. Last year Mesa lost
his job in spring training to Kazuhiro Sasaki, the eventual AL
Rookie of the Year. "The way the game works, you always have to
bounce back," Mesa says. "I had the bad World Series, I was
still happy. They took my job in Seattle, I was still happy. In
the bullpen you can never, ever get too down. The next day they
need you again." Translation: Mesa expects to get booed by
Philly's raucous fans, and he doesn't care.

If there is hope for the Phillies these days, it comes courtesy
of Bowa. Last July, when first baseman Travis Lee arrived from
Arizona as part of the Curt Schilling trade, he was shocked to
enter a clubhouse devoid of laughter and music and bonding.
Simply put, the team was 17 games behind first-place Atlanta, and
it had given up. "It was gloomy," Lee recalls. "We've all dreamed
about reaching the majors, but nobody wanted to be here. It was
very awkward."

Although the rotation has a certain--what's the
word?--mediocrity to it, there is a bright spot in lefty Bruce
Chen, who arrived from Atlanta for Andy Ashby in July. Chen is
just 23, with an 88-mph fastball that moves, a tricky curve and
a changeup he uses 10 to 15 times per game. When he mixes all
three pitches, Chen has the look of a No. 1 starter. When he
doesn't, bad, bad things happen. And when bad things happen to
good starters, it means that the bullpen--egads!--will be on the
hook.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON In his first stint with the Phillies, Bottalico twice saved 34 games in a season; that's what the team needs on his second time through. COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT JORDAN LEVY BURRELL

[ENEMY LINES]
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Phillies

"The Phillies' pitching is the worst I've seen in years. They
have no ace. Randy Wolf is probably the best of the bunch. Bruce
Chen could be a better-than-average pitcher. He has a good curve
and he locates well. Robert Person has never learned how to
pitch. He has solid velocity, but his fastball is pretty damn
straight, and it gets whacked. To me, he's not a starter with
15-win potential....Their bullpen is laughable. Jose Mesa still
has the 95-mph fastball, but it's straight, and he doesn't have
good command of his other pitches. I hate to say this about
someone, but Ricky Bottalico is terrible. He gets hit hard every
time I see him. The best arm on their staff belongs to Vicente
Padilla. He has a plus fastball that he can sink and a sweet
slider. If I'm Larry Bowa, he's my closer now....Doug Glanville
just doesn't hit enough to justify playing every day. Reggie
Taylor should be their centerfielder. He's a hell of an
outfielder with good speed....Jimmy Rollins is a future
All-Star. He'll hit 15 homers, he can steal bases and he has a
hell of an arm....Marlon Anderson is a terrible defensive second
baseman. He has bad hands and slow feet and gets a terrible read
off the bat. If I was pitching for the Phillies, I'd shoot
him....Travis Lee doesn't get his bat head in front fast enough,
and lefties eat him up....Pat Burrell has one of the best power
swings I've ever seen--40, 45 homers a year for a long
time....Scott Rolen runs better than any third baseman I've ever
seen and makes the play on a slow-hit ball as good as anybody.
If he stays healthy, he can live up to the Mike Schmidt
comparisons."

[THE LINEUP]
projected roster with 2000 statistics

2000 record: 65-97 (fifth in NL East)
Manager: Larry Bowa (first season with Philadelphia)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Doug Glanville R 105 .275 8 52 31
SS Jimmy Rollins* (R) S-R 208 .274 12 69 24
RF Bobby Abreu L-R 55 .316 25 79 28
3B Scott Rolen R 39 .298 26 89 8
LF Pat Burrell R 109 .260 18 79 0
C Mike Lieberthal R 114 .278 15 71 2
1B Travis Lee L 180 .235 9 54 8
2B Marlon Anderson L-R 277 .228 1 15 2

BENCH

OF Brian L. Hunter[1] R 311 .267 1 14 20
IF Kevin Jordan R 365 .220 5 36 0
C Gary Bennett R 372 .243 2 5 0
OF Rob Ducey[2] L-R 381 .194 6 26 1
IF Tomas Perez S-R 400 .221 1 13 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Omar Daal 108 4 19 6.0 1.68 6.14
RH Robert Person 93 9 7 6.2 1.38 3.63
LH Bruce Chen 87 7 4 6.3 1.21 3.29
LH Randy Wolf 158 11 9 6.4 1.42 4.36
RH Cliff Politte 277 4 3 6.3 1.39 3.66

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Jose Mesa[1] 96 4 6 1 1.62 5.36
RH Ricky Bottalico[1] 101 9 6 16 1.46 4.83
RH Vicente Padilla 212 4 7 2 1.54 3.72
LH Rheal Cormier[1] 224 3 3 0 1.33 4.61
RH Chris Brock 249 7 8 1 1.35 4.34
RH Wayne Gomes 287 4 6 7 1.46 4.40
RH Amaury Telemaco 336 1 3 0 1.60 6.66

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats

"The best arm on their staff belongs to Padilla. If I'm Bowa,
he's my closer now."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)