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The Phillies broke one of their own unwritten rules with a mid-season contract signing, locking up closer Brad Lidge to the tune of $37.5 million over three years. “Lights Out Lidge” has returned in a big way with 19 saves in 19 opportunities, 47 strikeouts in 35 innings and a 0.77 ERA.
I love this signing for a number of reasons. First, truly dominant closers are a rare breed and every championship team has one. Second, this is a “safe” Pat Gillick contract… high dollars, but a relatively short-term commitment, similar to the contract offered to Aaron Rowand. Chase Utley’s seven-year deal is a rare exception and the $12 million per year average is already a bargain for the annual MVP contender.
Finally, this officially closes the door on Brett Myers returning to the closer role in Philadelphia, regardless of how much he craves it. While Myers was brilliant down the stretch last season, he just doesn’t compare to Lidge. Myers had a 2.87 ERA as a reliever. Very solid, but hardly dominant for a top tier closer. Myers doesn’t throw as hard as Lidge, whose slider also happens to be one of the nastiest pitches in major league baseball.
While the struggles of Myers this season have been well-documented and his contract may scare away some teams ($8.5 million this season, $12 million next season), he could be included in a package for a top flight starter. Just 27 years old with a rubber arm, Myers is a relatively low risk, high reward player. He has a few solid big league seasons under his belt and could easily return to form with a change of scenery, much like Brad Lidge. He has the tools to be a solid number two or three starter, but would likely perform better as a closer, if only because of his attitude and temperament.
The Phillies don’t have the prospects to land C.C Sabathia or Rich Harden, or the desire to meet what will surely be Johan-esque contract demands by Sabathia. However, they could get creative by involving a third team and may have other starters on their radar. Think Erik Bedard or A.J. Burnett, although both would come with health concerns. Roy Oswalt could be an outside possibility, but Houston GM Ed Wade is still licking his wounds from the Lidge trade and owner Drayton McLane says the team won’t be broken up. With Oswalt's $15 million-per-year price tag through 2011, that could always change.
I honestly hope Myers regains his footing at Triple A and returns to the rotation because he has so much natural ability and he’s a homegrown Phillie. But now that Lidge will be closing games until 2011, if the Phillies can use Myers to acquire a top flight starter, I’ll be first in line to cut the cord.