Thursday, May 03, 2007

Myers at a crossroad

By Michael Rushton
Phanatic Magazine

At the risk of over exaggerating, the Phillies upcoming series with the San Francisco Giants could very much define -- or redefine -- Brett Myers' major league career.

With Tom Gordon heading back to Philly, and the Phils heading to the bay area without him, Myers will without a doubt get his first real taste of being a closer. That is, providing the Phillies get the chance to hand him the ball in the ninth inning during this four-game set.

With all due respect to Gordon, this was the best-case scenario for Myers to take over. He gets a shot at winning the job without taking it directly from Gordon by way of a demotion. The right-hander also gets to try his luck as the closer on the road, away from the pressure-packed Citizens Bank Park, where the fans would be unable to stand another late-inning setback.

This is where Charlie Manuel envisioned Myers when he moved him into the 'pen. After all, the Braves didn't make John Smoltz a setup guy, they made him a closer.

And while Smoltz is now back in the rotation -- just as Myers will most likely be someday -- let us not forget how dominate Smoltz was when locking down games. The righty did compile 154 saves over four seasons, including 55 alone in 2002.

And then there is Jonathan Papelbon, who burst onto the scene last year with 35 saves and a 0.92 earned run average. Papelbon was slated to return to the rotation this season for Boston, but the club failed to adequately fill the closer's role and sent Papelbon back into the crucial spot.

It now appears as though moving Myers to the bullpen was not as much an act of desperation as originally thought. Giving Manuel and the Phillies the benefit of the doubt, they surely saw this coming.

The club finally revealed yesterday that there has been concern about Gordon's shoulder, contrary to statements earlier in the season.

"He said something about how his shoulder was real sore," Manuel said on the team's Web site of Gordon. "His shoulder was sore in Spring Training when we decided to shut him down. It was a little stiff and sore.

"I've been concerned about it since Spring Training. Yeah. I'm concerned about 'Flash.'"

So much for a routine exam.

The club knew it was going to lose its closer at some point this season and made the tough decision that Myers was the best candidate to fill the void. How would you feel if Ryan Madson and Geoff Geary were closing games this weekend? Thought so.

The next question is how long will Myers be ending games? Until Gordon returns? For the rest of the season? For the next few seasons?

Myers has the stuff and the mentality to close games for the rest of his career. But he can also do it as a starter.

Three-fifths of Philadelphia's rotation is set in stone for next year: Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton. Say the Phillies bring back one of their pending free agents -- Jon Lieber or Freddy Garcia -- that still leaves one starting spot open.

Logic says Myers reclaims that spot in 2008.

But that is way down the road for the Phillies, who need to win this season. So, let's just see how Myers does this weekend.

Michael Rushton closes things out at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lieber For Farnsworth?

At this point, the rumor appears more speculation than actual confirmed talks between the Yankees and Phillies. But plenty of folks see the logic in a Jon Lieber for Kyle Farnsworth swap, including Peter Abraham.

The Yankees find themselves with a rotation of Mussina, Wang, Pettitte, Igawa, and pray for rain. Pavano, Hughes, and Karstens are all hurt. Igawa is in the rotation mainly by necessity. Brian Cashman can hold out, hope for a Roger Clemens rescue. Or he can find some sort of reinforcement now. Is Lieber the answer?

Has the Lieber of old returned? It's only been three starts. Lieber's 6.27 hits per nine isn't sustainable; a 1.7 K/BB is low for him. And let's not forget how different it is to face the Red Sox as compared to the Nationals. I know beggars can't be choosy, but we also can't wishcast the current version of Liebs is the same as '04.

The Yanks' bullpen is pitching OK with a 3.97 ERA so far. Farnsworth has had a rough 9.1 innings in the early going, but I'm not sure he's expendable. Brian Bruney and Mike Myers have been solid, but that's about it. The Yanks owe Farnsworth $10.75MM for 2007-08.

Meanwhile in Philly, Tom Gordon flew back to have his shoulder checked. That increases the need for Brett Myers in the pen, but trading Lieber would further weaken the rotation. I agree with Tom that the Phils should stand pat. Or at least acquire relief help without trading away key parts of the team. Remember, Lieber was expendable back when Myers was starting, Adam Eaton seemed tolerable, and Gordon was somewhat healthy. All of those things have changed.