Commentary

Phillies think Lidge can still be a premier closer

Updated: November 8, 2007, 2:10 AM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Philadelphia Phillies executives made two important phone calls in conjunction with the team's acquisition of closer Brad Lidge from the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.

One call went to Lidge, who was upbeat and excited about his new destination -- even though he'll be pitching in a hitter's paradise at Citizens Bank Park, before fans who will never be known for their patient, nurturing approach toward players with fragile psyches.

Myers
Myers

The other call went to Brett Myers, who initially seemed resistant to relinquishing his job as Phillies closer to return to the starting rotation. But after listening to general manager Pat Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel explain the reasoning behind the trade, Myers is apparently on board.

"I've always been real close to Brett," Manuel said. "I've always trusted him, and I've always felt like he trusted me. At first I think it kind of surprised him. But Pat and I both talked to him, and we smoothed things out pretty good. He understood where we're going and why we did this."

So why did the Phillies do this? Cole Hamels needed help at the top of the rotation, and the Phillies weren't going to get it by diving head-first into a weak free-agent market. Their new closer will be eligible for free agency after the 2008 season. But one year of Brad Lidge at $6 million sure seems preferable to four years and $40 million of Carlos Silva.

Of course, there are questions about Lidge's ability to weather the inevitable rough spots. During the 2004-2005 seasons, Lidge converted 71-of-79 save opportunities and posted a 2.07 ERA. In the two years since giving up that crushing National League Championship Series home run to the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, Lidge is 51-of-65 with a 4.37 ERA.

But the underlying numbers are still pretty darned impressive. Lidge averaged 11.82 strikeouts per nine innings last season -- more than Takashi Saito, Billy Wagner and J.J. Putz, among others. Even in September, when he posted a 5.23 ERA, Philadelphia's talent evaluators were sold on his stuff.

"At the end of the year, our scouts saw him throwing the ball as well as he's ever thrown it," said Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. "Based on his pedigree and his history, that's good enough for us. He's still what we would consider a premier closer."

It will be up to Manuel to coax Lidge through the inevitable rough patches. In the meantime, it's hard to see the Phillies missing any of the components they surrendered in the deal.

Geoff Geary is strictly a back end of the bullpen guy. Third baseman Mike Costanzo, a former No. 1 draft pick, has good power, a suspect glove, and struck out 157 times for Reading in the Eastern League last season. "He looks like a better player than he is," said a National League scout, when asked for his take on Costanzo.

And while the Astros love the speed component that outfielder Michael Bourn brings to the table, it's hard to predict what type of player he'll eventually be. Is Bourn a left-handed Willy Taveras, or a Joey Gathright clone?

The Phillies didn't do Bourn any favors developmentally last season, when he amassed a mere 119 at-bats as a designated pinch runner and late-inning defensive replacement for Pat Burrell. If Bourn had 550 at-bats in Triple-A, the Astros might have a better read on precisely what they're getting.

In the hotel lobby at the general managers meetings, the initial take on this trade was generally pro-Phillies. Gillick still wants to upgrade the rotation of Hamels, Myers, Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton, and the Phils would like to re-sign free agent reliever J.C. Romero. But they know a closer of Lidge's caliber simply wouldn't have been available if not for those blots on his resume.

The Phillies certainly got a positive vibe in their introductory phone conversation with Lidge.

"He sounded like he was ready to go -- ready for a new challenge," Amaro said.

After two years of fits, starts, rumors and speculation, Brad Lidge has a fresh start in Philadelphia. He's about to discover if that old theory about the power of a change of scenery rings true.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer

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