The Phils are convinced that they must rid themselves of Pat Burrell. And why not? He has two years and twenty-seven million dollars left on his elephantine, misguided contract. As Jerry Crasnick points out, Burrell batted .222 with runners in scoring position. That's fine if you're Karen Valentine (get it? Room 222?), bit not if you're a corner outfielder in the middle of the lineup. Too many Burrell at-bats ended with his expressionless form watching a called third strike go by.
They are equally convinced that they need to sign free agent left fielder Alfonso Soriano to replace Burrell not only in left but in the five spot in the lineup to protect Ryan Howard, another thing the team feels Burrell failed to do this past season. The Phils haven't been this convinced that they had to sign a left fielder since they signed a young Pat Burrell to the contract they now feel the need to divest themselves of.
"Situations change," Phils GM Pat Gillick said. "Your club might be constituted differently from one year to the next, and anything that restricts your flexibility is a problem. If you have a player under contract and you're paying the sums we're paying now, I think clubs ought to have the freedom to trade that player."
Hmmm cagey. It's good not to play one's cards so close to the vest.
Soriano, like Burrell right before he signed his big contract, is coming off of a career year. He set career highs in home runs (46), OBP (.351), slugging (.560), and OPS (.911) and was a 40-40 player. He is seeking big money, amigo money and plenty of years. He'll be 31 next season and will most probably start to decline early on in any long-term contract. As far as the dreaded Burrell backwards K, Soriano outpaced him in strikeouts by almost thirty last year.
Also, keep in mind that Soriano has just one year in left field under his belt, last year, and he balked at playing left when the Nats started the experiment. There is no chance that the Phils will shift him back to his natural position, second base, because of Chase Utley.
As far as Burrell's .222 batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP), of the 27 left fielders with at least 100 plate appearances with RISP, that puts Burrell way down at number 24. But guess who's right ahead of him at #23, you guessed it, Soriano (.231). Also consider that Burrell batted .313 with RISP in 2005 and had a 1.026 OPS, top five among qualifying left fielders. So what, did he forget how to bat with runners on this year? Soriano's .235 batting average with RISP in 2005 would have been the third worst among left fielders.
Not to run Soriano down, but one would have to think that the move to left, and not pending free agency, was the reason for his career year this past season. I had long been theorized that moving him away from his defensive shortcomings and distractions at second base would help him at the plate. Maybe it did.
But to sign Soriano for big bucks to a long-term contract, one would have to believe that a) he will want to play left for the length of that contract (or third maybe though he hasn't played there since 2000), b) the move to left caused his mini renaissance in 2006, and c) he won't be negatively impacted as he gets farther away from thirty. Those are too many question marks for my liking. Not to mention the difficulty they will have in trading Burrell and his no-trade contract to replace him with Soriano.
Besides I wouldn't rate a change in left fielder any higher than fifth among the Phils' offseason problems. In order they would be third base and catcher, where they have no viable starters on the roster (Sorry, Abraham O. Nunez), starting pitching, and relief pitching. I would also throw in lead-off hitter before replacing Burrell.
But the Phils have decided that Burrell must go so go he must. Whether the reason is that Gillick actually thinks it will improve the team or it's a sop to the disgruntled fans, I cannot say. I can't understand half of Gillick's moves, but that's still head and shoulders above Ed Wade. The fans will salivate all over Soriano and cheer Burrell's departure, but these are the same fans who believe that the Phils improvement down the stretch was due to Bobby Abreu's departure.
I do understand why Soriano is a high priority for Phils brass, however. He fulfills two of the Phils main goals. He'll put fannies in seats, and he helps assure that they will again come close to nabbing a playoff spot but would help them actually do ita goal because of all of the messy contract bumps caused by a largely unprofitable postseason run.