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Placido Polanco returns to the Phillies, but was it the right choice?


Placido Polanco is back.

The Phillies yesterday inked Polanco to an $18 million, three-year contract  to play third base for the defending NL Champions (I can't begin to tell Placido Polanco returns to the Phillies- photo courtesy of LA Timesyou how much typing that infuriates me!!). Polanco officially replaces Pedro Feliz, whom despite two decent seasons in a Phillies uniform, had his option declined for 2010. Say what you want about Feliz, but it will be very disappointing if he isn't given a standing ovation when he returns to Citizens Bank Park next year. After all, you have that parade last Halloween because Feliz knocked in Eric Bruntlett in the seventh inning of Game 5 against the Rays.

Let's return however, to the present (if only for a minute). With his return to Philadelphia, it seems that things have come full circle for Polanco as well as the Phillies. Here's how it all began seven years ago:

In his first at-bat as a Philadelphia Phillie, Placido Polanco was greeted to a standing ovation.

In his final Opening Day as a Phillie, Polanco was greeted with a series of boos.

Allow me to explain.

Polanco was one of several players acquired from the Cardinals for Scott Rolen in late July of 2002. That applause more than anything may have been out to spite Rolen, the disgruntled former Rookie Of The Year who had been traded to "Baseball Heaven." However, in the next two and a half years, Polanco grew to become a fan favorite and put together several solid seasons for the Phils. In a clubhouse full of underachievers and malcontents, Polanco remained the consummate team player that he is today. Jim Thome even once referred to him as the most important player on the Phillies.

By early 2005, it was obvious that some guy named Chase Utley had become Polanco's heir apparent. So when Polanco made Charlie Manuel's Opening Day lineup over Utley in 2005, fans really weren't booing Polanco, they were booing Manuel's decision more than anything. Manuel desperately tried to play Polanco wherever he could find a spot for him: third base, shortstop, second base, even left field. But the writing was on the wall, and when my dad called me as I was driving home from Disneyland to tell me that Polanco had been traded to the Tigers for future convict and alleged machete wielder Ugueth Urbina, I was disappointed, but happy for one of the few Phillies players I actually didn't want to see leave the team at that time.

We all know what the Phillies went on to accomplish over the next four years. But in Detroit, Polanco really came into his own. Winning the 2006 ALCS MVP as the Tigers advanced to the World Series against (oddly enough) Rolen's Cardinals. However, Polanco wore an 0 for 19 collar in the Tigers' five game series loss. Despite his horrid World Series, Polanco went on to hit .341 in 2007 while becoming a first time All-Star. He also won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award that year while playing second base. Polanco hit .307 in 2008 and won his second Gold Glove in 2009.

Now to the present:

His credentials speak for itself, but Polanco has played just one game at third base since his departure from the Phillies in 2005 and he is the same age as Feliz (34). Unlike Feliz however, Polanco is a tremendously smart hitter. You won't see many first pitch swings that are out of the strike zone, and Polanco is one of the best at moving runners over. Like Feliz, he doesn't walk much, but will constantly put the ball in play. Moreover, from 2006 to 2008, Polanco was the toughest batter to strike out in the majors (he finished 2nd in 2009). This will benefit the Phils greatly in their strikeout-laden lineup. The three year deal is not surprising because the Phillies have NOBODY in their minor league system who is ready to play the hot corner anytime soon. Ironically, Raul Ibanez, the Phils free agent jewel last off-season, reportedly recruited Polanco  (his neighbor in Florida) to join the Phillies.

With Thursday's signing (which was largely overshadowed by Allen Iverson's  press conference), Polanco beat out several other candidates the Phillies were expressing interest in. Did the Phils make the right decision by bringing Polanco back?  Let's look at the alternatives.

1. Chone Figgins (32 on Opening Day)-Estimated Market Demand: $8 million to $10 million annually- If Ruben Amaro says one more time Chone Figgins- www.forbes.comthat the Phillies didn't have room in their budget to afford Figgins, I'm going to cancel my season tickets strictly based on principal. Everyone knows that the Phillies have printed more money the last two years than any time in their history. This tells me that 1) The Phils are going back to "being cheap." I don't even need to explain this because we have ALL lived it. 2) They are saving room to lock up one of their big stars (Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard), or 3) Amaro is getting ready to put money aside and pull of a blockbuster deal (Roy Halladay?) and sign him to a long-term deal as SOON as the plane lands. Probably wishful thinking on number three considering the Phillies want their payroll to stay in the $135-140 million range, and Lee will almost certainly be gone after 2010. When you see what Figgins is demanding on the market, the Phillies did get Polanco for a considerable lesser amount. At first, I drooled at the possibility of Figgins as our lead-off hitter. He stole 41 bases in 2009 and walked 101 times. You can do without his strikeouts in 2009 (114) and his career .146 average in the ALCS. His 14 errors are no surprise for that position, considering that Mike Schmidt ranged from 26 errors in 1984, but only 6 in 1986 (and he won Gold Gloves BOTH years!!). At this time, the Mariners are expected to be in the front runner for Figgins' services.

Mark DeRosa- photo from www.view.picapp.com2. Mark DeRosa (35 on Opening Day)- DeRosa will most likely not command a big salary. However, he had wrist surgery in November and is viewed by more teams as either a bench player or an alternative to a team if they fail to land a more desired player. DeRosa would look great on the Phillies bench, but chances are a team will sign him later on in the Winter who need a player for a starting position.

3. Miguel Tejada (? on Opening Day) Estimated Market Demand: $7 Million Annually- One year, Miguel Tejada was two years older than me. The next year, he was four years older than me. Tejada himself might not know how old he actually is! Tejada has never played a game at third base in his career. And at age (take a guess and win $50,000!!!)*, it is a tough transition. According to Buster Olney, Tejada may command $7 million over a two year period. Tejada was the toughest batter to strikeout in the National League this year, yet he barely walked. Oh yeah, he also allegedly lied to Congress about steroid use. To make a long story short, the Phillies would never take a gamble on this guy.    *Figured you all knew it was a joke, but I wasn't going to take any chances.

4. Adrian Beltre (30 on Opening Day)- In 2004, Adrian Beltre  duplicated Schmidt's EXACT home run and RBI totals from 1980 (48 HR, 121 RBI's) and also hit .334 for good measure. So naturally, Beltre scored a big free agent contract with the Mariners- and NEVER came close to duplicating those numbers. There is talk that steroids may have taken a part in Beltre's farewell campaign for the Dodgers in '04. But to be fair, Safeco Field in Seattle may be friendly to a hitter like Ichiro, but not always to a slugger like Beltre. Beltre was injured every time you turned around in 2009, which may have also scared the Phillies off. And as most power hitters do, strikes out over one hundred times a year. One thing they would not be scared of is Beltre's defense: he is a two time Gold Glove Winner. The Phils don't exactly have a shortage of power hitters in their lineup. So maybe their thinking was that their lineup needs to cut down on strikeouts and acquire more of a contact hitter like Polanco as opposed to Beltre.

So there you have it. Whether you think Figgins or maybe Beltre would be a better fit for the Phils right now, neither one of them will be the starting third baseman for the Phils in 2010. One way or another, it seems like the Phils played it safe more than anything.

But anytime you can play it safe with Placido Polanco, it's not such a bad thing.


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