Houston? We Have Problem?
[This was eaten by Blogger last night.]
I think there's a problem with the Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal. Or at least the Phillies think there is a problem.
So what's the problem? He is a fine defensive catcher with a decent bat. Well, he has missed significant playing time three of the last five seasons. But he was healthy in 2002. Well, sort of. He had surgery in October to repair his right knee, which he injured while getting out of a golf cart. That's one for the Darwin Awards. He is scheduled to be ready by spring training, but I suspect that the Phils are getting antsy.
Ever since Johnny "Don't Call Me Chuck" Estrada was foisted on the Braves in exchange for Kevin Millwood, Lieberthal has been the only catcher on the Phils' 40-man roster.
Todd Pratt, who was the only other man to catch for the Phils in 2002, was signed to a minor-league contract even though he did have arguably his best year ever with the bat (.949 OPS). Pratt is 35 and may be getting too old to be a viable backup or replacement.
Antediluvian Jesse Levis (also 35) was also signed to a minor-league contract, but has been out of the majors for a year. Then today in my email I received the Phillies Inside Pitch newsletter, in which the Phillies non-roster invitees are listed. Two more catchers were invited to camp, both minor-leaguers: Russ Jacobson and Jeremy Salazar.
Next, the Phillies signed Tyler Houston today to a one-year, $1 M contract. Houston is sort of a three-quarter starter who plays catcher, third base, and first base, but the Phils are full up at those positions. Houston had been pursuing starting jobs at third with Colorado and the Mets, but must now play behind free-agent signee David Bell there. Houston also has tiered performance bonuses based on the number of games he plays. He may have just been added for his versatility and to add depth to the Phils' bench. Houston also adds a left-handed bat with some pop. But are the Phils thinking about something more?
I know that Houston has not caught in a couple of years and he wasn't the best defensive catcher when he did catch, but I see nothing that indicates he was horrible. Maybe the Phils are fearful of another Lieberthal breakdown with only a Gary Bennett, a Bobby Estelella, or a Johnny Estrada in the cupboard to replace him as in the past.
Maybe it's a good sign-that the Phillies are trying to plug every potential hole. Also, it keep one more major-league caliber player from playing third at Shea this year. If I just could just get rid of that nagging question of Lieberthal's health. Who knows, if Lieberthal can't go, maybe Pudge Rodriguez will still be available. There now, that's better.