Phils lock up closer Lidge with three-year, $37.5M extension
PHILADELPHIA -- Brad Lidge has spent his first three months in Philadelphia proving that a change of scenery can, indeed, be a wonderful thing. And now comes the payoff: He'll be sticking around through at least 2011.
Lidge, borderline flawless since his arrival from Houston, got his reward Sunday, signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension with the Phillies. The deal includes a signing bonus, an awards package, assorted escalators and a fourth-year club option that could bring the overall value of the contract to $49 million.
When the Phillies acquired Lidge from the Astros in a five-player trade in November, some observers suggested he might have trouble coping with the demanding fan base in Philadelphia. Lidge's overall numbers in Houston were impressive, but he had his ups and downs after allowing a memorable three-run homer to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series.
Any fears of culture shock were unfounded. Lidge suffered a brief setback in spring training when he tore the meniscus in his right knee and needed arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem. But he's been dominant since his return in early April, going 2-0 with a 0.77 ERA, 19 saves in 19 opportunities, and 47 strikeouts in 35 innings. He didn't allow a run in his first 17 appearances with the Phillies.
"I think if you're closing and you're going through a rough time, it's difficult no matter where you're at," Lidge said in a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. "I was really excited for this challenge. For whatever reason, coming in here, I felt like this was where I needed to be.
"I enjoy the fact that the fans here are so passionate about the game. That gives me a lot of energy. I love it here."
With Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero and Tom Gordon doing some heavy lifting in front of him, Lidge has helped make the bullpen a major strength for the Phillies. Philadelphia's relievers carried an aggregate ERA of 2.74 ERA -- second best in the majors to the Chicago White Sox -- into Sunday's game against the New York Mets.
Lidge would have been eligible for free agency this winter. Given the recent contracts signed by Cincinnati's Francisco Cordero (four years and $46 million) and Minnesota's Joe Nathan (four years and $47 million), he probably would have been able to fetch a longer guaranteed deal on the open market.
But the Phillies approached him about an extension in May, and once Lidge determined that his family was happy in Philadelphia, he gave his agents, Rex Gary and Jim Turner, the go-ahead to begin negotiations with assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
"Right out of the chute, when we made the trade, we knew this wasn't going to be a one-and-done type of guy," Amaro said. "We view Brad as somebody who can help us contend for many years. We all know how important it is to close out games you should win. This is an important piece to our organization's future."
With Lidge in the fold for three more years, outfielder Pat Burrell is the lone high-profile Phillie still on the cusp of free agency. Burrell, in the final year of a six-year, $50 million deal, has 21 homers and 53 RBIs and leads all National League outfielders with a combined on base-slugging percentage of .995.
"We've stated that we want to keep Pat here," said David Montgomery, Phillies president and CEO. "It's just a question of having a meeting of the minds. I think he likes it here, and we want him here. We'll see."
The Phillies' commitment to Lidge also raises questions about the future of Brett Myers, who is having a rough year after being displaced as closer and moving into the starting rotation. After Myers went 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA and 24 homers allowed, the Phillies sent him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to work on his mechanics.
Myers allowed three runs in five innings in his first Triple A start, while relying primarily on his breaking ball. One scout who saw the game said Myers' fastball clocked in at 88-91 mph.
"He was very hittable," the scout said. "If he's going to turn it around, he's either going to have to show better fastball command or figure out a way to add some velocity."
Myers, who is already under contract for $12 million in 2009, has expressed his fondness for closing in recent years. But that avenue is now shut with Lidge signed for the next three years.
"We think that Brett could start and we don't see a reason he can't start," GM Pat Gillick said. "If he gets his mechanical issues worked out down there, I don't see any reason he can't start.
"There are a lot of things in life that a lot of people don't want to do. But you're getting paid and you've got to show up for work, and you've got to do the best job you can. He's a gamer and I think he'll go out there and give 100 percent no matter if he's in a closer situation."
Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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