Phillies Procure Pierre

The Phillies signed Juan Pierre today to a Minor League deal. While the Phillies were wise to take on no risk with the deal, signing Pierre simultaneously makes little sense for the Philes as well as puts another obstacle in the path of Domonic Brown.

In announcing the deal, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. said that Pierre could serve a valuable speed role for the Phils, who didn’t have much speed on their bench last season. What this generally means is that Pierre would serve as a pinch runner. Unfortunately, Pierre, who has long been one of the least efficient basestealers in the game, is ill-equipped to be a late-game weapon.

Last season, Pierre was caught stealing more than any player in the game, and that wasn’t a fluke — over the past three years, Pierre has been caught stealing nine more times than any other player in the game. And while some of that is a function of the fact that he runs so frequently — only Michael Bourn attempted more steals over the same three-year period — it’s not all of it. Of the 160 players who have attempted at least 25 steals over the past three seasons, Pierre’s 72.7% success rate ranks 95th.

That’s not to say that Pierre isn’t a good base runner. While he may be a bit overaggressive in trying to steal bases, he is that way for a reason — he’s fast. Pierre has a positive BsR in every season for which it has been measured, and over the past three seasons, his 14.4 BsR is third-best in the game. That’s all well and good, but it’s also likely a quality that either has little value or is redundant on the current Phillies roster, take your pick. Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino certainly don’t need to be pinch run for. Laynce Nix isn’t a burner, but he has generated neutral or positive BsR scores throughout his career.

Looking at the infield, the story is much the same. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins aren’t going to get taken out of the lineup for a runner, and while Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton or Jim Thome aren’t the fleetest of foot, you would need to get Michael Martinez or John Mayberry into the game afterwards if you bring in Pierre to run for them. Catchers are always easy to run for, but managers are also usually loathe to leave themselves without a catcher on the bench. There will be opportunities to pinch hit for the pitcher, but are you really going to pinch hit Pierre? Jim Thome will be the primary pinch hitter du jour against right-handers, and while Pierre has hit better against lefties the past four years, Wigginton is still probably the better option. Again, Thome and Wigginton aren’t the swiftest duo in the Majors, but pinch hitting one of them and then inserting Pierre as a pinch runner if they reach burns two of the team’s four bench players who aren’t the backup catcher in one move. That doesn’t leave much wiggle room, especially for a National League team.

Adding Pierre also makes little sense because the Phillies roster was already pretty chockfull. Assuming that there are 13 slots for position players, the Phillies lineup looks as such:

Catchers: Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider
Infielders: Ryan Howard (DL), Michael Martinez, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, Chase Utley, Ty Wigginton
Outfielders: John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Hunter Pence, Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino

This is where the Phils get a little extra credit for keeping the deal to a Minor League one. If you were counting, you noticed 14 names. In other words, when Howard returns — which could happen as early as May — someone on the above list will need to go. It seems like a good bet that that person would be Pierre.

Of course, the real crime here is that one of the 14 names you didn’t read on the above list was Brown’s. With Raul Ibanez leaving for … something, it was thought that Brown would get a chance to garner substantially more playing time. In his time in the Majors last year, Brown put up league-average offensive numbers. He put up the same wOBA as did Nix, and bested Pierre by 28 points. Perhaps that’s not much to hang your hat on — after all, it was only 210 plate appearances — but you have to start somewhere. Brown posted his best BB% and K% since A ball, the latter of which was likely a concern after his 2010 cup of coffee. He didn’t go all Brett Lawrie on National League pitchers, but he wasn’t atrocious either. He deserved a shot at more Major League playing time, but now if he hopes to get any, he will have to get hot in March. And that still might not be enough.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Pierre’s signing is that the Phillies may only need him for the first six weeks of the season. Given the choice between keeping Brown on the Major League roster and giving him a chance to work his way into regular playing time while Howard is out or signing someone else, the Phils chose to sign someone else. Even if Pierre stays with the Phils for the duration of the season, his value is limited due to the fact that he is not an efficient base stealer, as well as the fact that the Phillies have few players for whom he can pinch run without Charlie Manuel having to burn a second player after the inning ends. Finally, bringing in Pierrer also throws another road block onto Brown’s already cluttered road to regular playing time. Like many of the Phillies’ moves this offseason, signing Pierre probably doesn’t make the Phillies any worse, but it is also unlikely to make them any better.




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Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


69 Responses to “Phillies Procure Pierre”

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  1. MikeS says:

    So they had a dearth of guys capable of posting a .293 wOBA and stealing bases at a 60% success rate?

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  2. Yirmiyahu says:

    If you ignore his SLG, CS’s, and position, Pierre is still a decent player.

    +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Jim Lahey says:

    And his obp.

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  4. josh cohen says:

    cholly has always shown a willingness to carry an all run/no hit guy in the past–bourn and roberson come to mind.

    you may disagree with the efficacy of using a pinch hitter and then a pinch runner, but that’s very likely how this is going to play out.

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    • AA says:

      Bourn plays an excellent CF and can get on base to use his wheels. He’s had 2 off years, but was very good in his one year in Philly, put up great OBP numbers in the minors and respectable OBPs in 4 of his 5 MLB seasons.

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      • josh cohen says:

        my comment must have been unclear. i was referring to the 105 games bourn played as a phillie in 2007 when he only accrued 105+ ABs. bourn was used in a role very similar to how pierre might project–which, as you correctly note, has value.

        put another way, my point wasn’t that bourn didn’t have promise (he did) or that pierre on the downswing (he is), but rather how they would fit onto a roster and how they would be used for the period when they were on the phillies. if we were to fast forward to october, would a line for pierre of 80 games, 80+ ABs surprise you? probably not, right?

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  5. Jesse says:

    Of course, its quite possible he’s just going to compete for a spot on the team and get left in the minors.

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  6. DavidCEisen says:

    “it was thought that Brown would get a chance to garner substantially more playing time.”

    By whom? The Phillies have explicitly maintained they want Brown in the minors working on his defense.

    Also Mini Mart is no longer a Philly.

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  7. Kyle says:

    He’ll be cut by July. Well, at least I’m hoping so, as a Phillies fan.

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  8. Andrew says:

    It’s really surprising that the Phillies are taking more criticism for signing a player who may or may not make the roster to a non-guaranteed minimum contract than the Red Sox did for trading their starting and backup shortstops. Well, given the teams and the source of the criticism, I guess it’s not surprising, but it should be.

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    • cable fixer says:

      i know, right? cody ross gets paid 3 MM to be a AAAA OF and it’s just a hair shy of brilliant and juan pierre+nix for about half of that is a grave mistake…

      it’s debatable the degree to which its conscious vs unconscious. just read DC’s chat from this week. someone asks him to describe his perfect FO and he pretty much spells out the phillies 2006-2011.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Cody Ross hits for a 102 wRC+, can play anywhere in the OF, makes for a good platoonmate, and fills a need for Boston.

        Juan Pierre hits for a 78 wRC+, can only play LF, is equally bad against LHPs and RHPs, and isn’t a good fit for Philly’s roster.

        Rather than cry bias and make ad hominem attacks, why don’t you spell out why this is actually a smart move for the Phillies?

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Who said it was a good move? It is an insignificant move. Basically Pierre is filling the role Scott Podsednik had last year.

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      • B N says:

        I’d say it’s a smart move for now, as it costs them basically nothing unless they sign him when the season starts. Even if they do, league minimum for a guy who can run and doesn’t strike out much is liveable. And if somebody gets a little bump in the OF and is day-to-day, he’s a replacement who you can live with.

        I mean, while last season all metrics hated him, previously Pierre was at least a slightly plus defender. In aggregate, he’s no worse than Darnell McDonald and nobody was killing the Red Sox for using him as a role player the last couple of seasons. Was Ross a better deal? Sure. But the Phillies don’t need a Ross, they just have a spare roster spot they don’t want to spend anything on.

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      • cable fixer says:

        juan pierre is being paid to show up to spring training. that’s it. given the phillies depth issues last season and the extremely limited committment to pierre, how is this anything but a good move for them? also, it wasn’t *that* long ago that pierre rated as an above average fielder and, of course, he does that one other thing (run fast–as measured by his Bsr) really well. giving pierre 700 PAs is one thing, but asking him to pinch run twice a week and then play the OF is quite another. it seems like the phillies are potentially putting themselves to reap the maximum benefit of what pierre provides.

        additionally, none of these moves–the nix or pierre signings–change the math on brown. the word is they want him demonstrate the changes to his swing in AAA. but if he does it in ST, then the LF job is his. it’s tough for me to fault amaro’s logic here. it’s not like brown is to the point where he has *nothing* to prove in AAA.

        i apologize if this seemed ad hom, as that was not my attempt. i was, however, crying bias (or slow news day)…although i don’t have a dog in this fight. it makes no difference to me whether FG likes or dislikes amaro’s moves or philosophy (even if it is a little amusing that there is some concordance).

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      • cable fixer says:

        also, the roster fit issue is debatable re: pierre. as a below commentator noted, given how many close games the phillies play, i’m not sure it’s a bad thing to have a terrific baserunner on the bench for late inning situations.

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      • Andrew says:

        Defending this deal on the merits:
        1) The Phillies need someone to be a fifth outfielder.
        2) The article does not propose a different solution, other than playing Brown more. While I agree they should play Brown more, that’s completely unrelated to signing a fifth outfielder, as you’d never want Brown to have that role.
        3) He’s free. The team has not even committed a minimum salary deal to Pierre.
        4) In 2009 Pierre was worth 2 WAR. In 2010 he was worth 3 WAR. (around 8 and 12 million in value).
        5) Pierre’s 2011 collapse in value (3 WAR to -.4) was based largely on a 20+-run collapse in his defense; given the amount of UZR data needed for an accurate reading, the collapse is more likely to be a fluke than a similar offensive collapse.
        6) Even if it wasn’t a fluke, the Phillies are playing replacement level rates for a replacement level 26th man (to be replaced whenever Howard is healthy).

        I don’t see how this is anything but eminently reasonable. And, yes, I think certain teams inspire Fangraphs to look for the good in any transaction, while certain teams inspire the opposite reaction. Hence my original post.

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      • Nahder says:

        I actually commented in the chat about how Dave basically spelled out the phillies front office from 2006-2011 but it didnt get posted. Draft Well, lock up young position players early, and have a constantly changing rotation. Seems like the phillies. Sure theyre were some overpays and mistakes but they are definitely following that philosophy

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      • Andrew says:

        I’m pretty sure Dave’s perfect FO doesn’t hand out the Howard or Papelbon contract.

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      • cable fixer says:

        ^Agreed…sort of. Those two deals aside, there is a good bit of overlap with his painted-in-broad-strokes organizational philosophy, which was my point. Given the way the howard deal tends to color all phillies coverage on this site, I admit the comment struck me as surprising. That’s all.

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    • B N says:

      I’m not going to call bias, but the Red Sox trading away both SS does genuinely worry me as a Red Sox fan. I don’t know what is with their recent fetish over collecting RP guys via trades, but I’m beginning to worry if it’s reaching clinical levels (e.g. “I’ll give you Youk for Hanrahan, straight up!”)

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      • ben w says:

        Don’t worry. They’re going to use the money they saved on Scutaro to sign Oswalt. You have to evaluate that trade through that lens. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense, as Scutaro is a 2-3 WAR, reasonably priced SS on a team trying to contend.

        From the Scutaro article last month discussing the Lowrie trade:
        “With Marco Scutaro in tow, the Red Sox feel they have shortstop well covered for 2012. The team is trying to win now, and Scutaro at shorstop gives them the best chance in 2012.”

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      • B N says:

        I actually do see it through that lens, but to me it seems like a huge risk to let a solid SS go because you want to scratch a lottery ticket on a pitcher with a history of back issues. I think Oswalt could be a solid bargain this year, but it’s no bargain if you have to give up an existing bargain to get him…

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  9. Jordan says:

    I’m no Phils fan, but I have to say I think you’re way off base here Paul. The PH/PR combo takes up 2 roster spots, but it’s also incredibly useful in high leverage situations. How many PH AB’s will the Phils have this year in a 1 run game in the 9th? A fair few I’d bet, and a high-OBP PH plus a speedy PR gives you a great chance to manufacture a run.

    Pierre isn’t the most obvious choice to fill the PR part of that combo due to his base-stealing inefficiency. But as you note, he’s quite fast, and the Phils may want to take a closer look at him to see if their coaches can turn him into a better thief. Add on the fact that he plays good D across the outfield, and that all he costs them is a minor league deal, and it’s hard not to like this move. It’s not like the FA market is overflowing with cheap base-stealing demons.

    The only issue you bring up here that may be legitimate is Dom Brown. I agree that based on his prospect status and what he’s shown in his brief time in the majors he deserves a chance at MLB playing time. But (1) giving Dom the 4th OF / PR role might be worse for his development than giving him everyday AB’s in AAA, and (2) neither you nor I know whether he has legitimate defensive issues to work on. If he does, maybe a few months in the minors would be a good thing. If he satisfies the Phils brass that he can handle OF defense and hits well in AAA, I’d be shocked if Pierre gets in the way of giving Dom MLB playing time.

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    • James says:

      Along the lines of “How many PH AB’s will the Phils have this year in a 1 run game in the 9th?” – I think that in addition to the points raised above, part of the thought process might be that they have a lot of starters who are expected to go deep into the game (7+ innings), and without double switches, they are looking at only pinch hitting for the pitcher once most games (i.e., Halladay/Lee/Hamels starts). Thome will likely be the first guy off the bench to pinch hit in those situations, and when he gets on, they’ll need a pinch runner. As noted in the article, this burns bench spots, but they can probably afford it and don’t need to carry as many relievers as most other teams.

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  10. Colin says:

    Somebody gave Juan Pierre a major league deal???? Nice.

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  11. Not Dave says:

    Seriously, this is a minor league contract with a ST invite. Why is there like a 3000 word essay criticizing the move?

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Because its fangraphs. There have been dozens of in-depth articles analyzing minor league signings this winter.

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    • B N says:

      Too much free time, too little of it spent on meaningful analysis? I mean… couldn’t you sum up every minor league signing in one of three ways?

      1. Team signs guy who is washed up and kind of sucks to minor league contract.
      2. Team signs guy who may not have recovered enough from injury to play this year to minor league contract.
      3. Team signs busted prospect who never even got a chance to suck to minor league contract.

      In this case, it is option #1. If Pierre was worth anything, someone would have signed him to a major league deal. Instead, maybe he gets to be a pinch runner/contact guy on a team which will have a spare spot for a couple months.

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  12. Patrick says:

    I think the Phillies regret letting Davey Lopes go.

    Their team SB totals fell below 100 for the first time since the season before Davey Lopes got there.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      2011: 96 SB
      2010: 108
      2009: 116
      2008: 136

      I don’t think the trend has anything to do with Davey Lopes leaving and more to do with the age of Utley, Victorino, Rollins, ect and loss of Werth.

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      • LTG says:

        If you want to have this discussion you should look at rates before, during and after Lopes tenure. The raw totals are meaningless for evaluating the effectiveness of Lopes coaching without the context in which they arose.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Are you responding to me? Because I was responding to the original post about team stolen bases dropping below 100 for the first time since before Lopes was hired.

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      • hk says:

        It is probably a combination of losing Lopes, the aging of the players – although interestingly, Utley was 14 for 14 last year – and the loss of Werth that have impacted the base-stealing statistics. While the number of successful SB’s has dropped, so has the number of attempts. However, the attempts have declined at a slower pace than the successes, which is shown by the fact that the SB% was the lowest in the last 4 years.

        2011: 96 for 120 (80.0%)
        2010: 108 for 129 (83.7%)
        2009: 119 for 147 (81.0%)
        2008: 136 for 161 (84.4%)

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  13. byosti says:

    I actually like the move for the sake of the very low risk and in my eyes, they weren’t going to give Brown a shot either way. I didn’t like the Nix deal though.

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  14. CDI says:

    Isn’t the bigger news that they signed Hunter Pence to just a 1-year deal…

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  15. Robbie G. says:

    First of all, like it or not, the plan is for Domonic Brown to spend the entire 2012 season in AAA. I think that it is a fair assumption that, given the Phillies’ increasingly large payroll and Shane Victorino’s age, Victorino is allowed to walk at the end of the season and is replaced in the lineup in 2013 by Brown. I never hear/read this discussed but this is my assumption, anyway.

    In any event, Juan Pierre may wind up being Philly’s fourth outfielder for a big chunk of the season. Why is that? Well, my guess is that Philly does not want to play Jim Thome in the field at all, as he hasn’t played in the field in a number of years. This means that the everyday 1B until Ryan Howard returns is either Laynce Nix or Ty Wigginton. Also, consider that this is an old roster and that a number of the every day players–Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley–have spent a fair amount of time on the DL over the past 2-3 years. Polanco, in particular, may be a real dud this season, as his back is pretty close to being shot. If/when either Polanco or Utley is on the DL, then Wigginton is the replacement every day player at either 2B or 3B. If/when Polanco AND Utley are on the DL simultaneously, then Wigginton and Michael Martinez are your starting 2B and 3B. In other words, Wigginton figures to spend a fair amount of time this season at either 2B or 3B, rather than 1B. Again, I am guessing that Nix gets a significant number of the starts at 1B while Howard is out. I’m not sure what the time table is for Howard’s return but my guess is that Philly isn’t so sure, either, and will not want to rush him back.

    My guess is that Pierre is the team’s fourth OF while Howard is out and, again, since Victorino is fairly injury-prone, Pierre will likely get a fair number of starts in the OF this season. I have to say that Pierre is a perfectly adequate fourth OF, especially at this price.

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    • Not Dave says:

      Brown isnt completely out of the picture. Amaro has said recently that he can win the starting job with a good ST.

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      • jim says:

        yeah, just like brandon belt could win the 1B job for sabean, right?

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      • Robbie G. says:

        What’s Amaro supposed to say when asked this question? “No matter how well Domonic Brown plays in spring training, he will be spending the entire season in AAA”? The roster construction gives it away; very hard to imagine Brown in Philly this season.

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      • LTG says:

        Amaro did say that Brown would spend the year in AAA earlier. This entails that no matter how well Brown plays in ST he won’t win the starting job. Perhaps one shouldn’t say that out loud in public, but, then again, one is committed to what is entailed by what one says.

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  16. hk says:

    Pierre isn’t an obstacle in the way of Dom Brown. While Howard is on the DL, Pierre’s the 4th OF, which is a role that makes no sense for Dom Brown. If Dom Brown has an incredible Spring Training or a great start in AAA and is worthy of being called up, Juan Pierre (nor Laynce Nix for that matter) won’t keep him out of the lineup.

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  17. adohaj says:

    .290/.347/.358 with 48 SB

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  18. mother says:

    As a Phils fan, I am happy to see Reuben make this kind of move, not just for getting a player who one year ago was hitting lead-off for the White Sox, but for getting him at the no-risk, ultra-cheap price they did. This is the type of buy-low move that AA or BB get loads of kudos for all the time.

    Encouraging as well that it seems within MLB player community, Philadelphia is one of the more desirable destinations–an unheard of thought during the Bill Giles days. Similar to Cliff Lee taking less money, if Juan Pierre was willing to take a minor league deal, he could have chosen any team he wanted, and he chose the Phils. Again, as a Phillies fan, that makes you feel pretty good.

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  19. Tim says:

    I don’t think this affects Dom Brown in any way. It’s a minor-league deal…does anyone really think a good ST from Brown will be ignored because they’d rather keep Pierre as a 5th OF? I do think he needs to play himself into the starting spot but this doesn’t change anything.

    And what is with people acting like Amaro saying he wants Brown in AAA is gospel? Amaro always says things he doesn’t really mean. Every year he says he doesn’t see himself making a big deal at the deadline right before he does. He said he was happy with the bench right before he traded Valdez. In reality he’s just lowering expectations to take pressure off him. I’m sure he’s hoping he plays himself into a starting role on opening day.

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  20. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    You guys need to tell your guy on Clubhouse Confidential to blink every once in a while, he’s coming off as really creepy……

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  21. West says:

    If Brown is a good enough, they’ll find a spot for him. If Juan Pierre is keeping you off a roster, you aren’t good enough to play Pro Baseball.

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  22. Chone Figgins MVP says:

    Rumor has it that Juan Pierre was signed for his outrageous moustache.

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  23. BoSoxFan says:

    why do they want Pierre? They’ll probably want Ibanez too

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  24. NEPP says:

    Anyone who has watched Dom Brown play defense in the OF would realize he needs more time in AAA. Also, its a minor-league depth signing…zero way for it to be bad. Either he performs and gets the league minimum or he doesnt and he’s cut.

    Brown is never going to be a 5th OF on the bench as that makes ZERO sense if they ever want him to develop as a player.

    But yeah…you knew all that.

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  25. bstar says:

    55 comments on this article, and not once has the name of John Mayberry been mentioned. Somehow this is amusing to me. Is he really that inconsequential?

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    • cecilcoop says:

      I don’t think the Phillies view him as inconsequential. I suspect these signings are more a reflection of the Phillies improving on their laughably terrible bench last year. As for Mayberry’s PT, I’d wager he sees significant time at OF/1B early. Depending on how he performs through Memorial Day will probably impact whether he gets 300 ABs (as he did last year) or 500 A/Bs.

      O/U 400 ABs?

      I’d probably take the over…others?

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    • Robbie G. says:

      John Mayberry was awfully good down the stretch last season and I am guessing that he is the every day LF. I don’t think the Phillies view him as a platoon player anymore. Dude had a better year at the plate than Ryan Howard last year. If Charlie Manuel had the guts to move Shane Victorino up to the leadoff spot and bump Jimmy Rollins down to where he belongs (#6 spot) then Mayberry could move up into the #5 or even the #3 spot (so as to sandwich two right-handed batters, Mayberry and Hunter Pence, in between Ryan Howard).

      1 Shane Victorino
      2 Chase Utley
      3 John Mayberry
      4 Ryan Howard
      5 Hunter Pence
      6 Jimmy Rollins
      7 Carlos Ruiz
      8 Placido Polanco

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    • Francois says:

      That’s amusing to you? Talk about easily amused — have you been turned on to the comedy stylings of one Jerry Lewis? C’est magnifique!!

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  26. Matty Brown says:

    He’ll probably fill in at 1st for Howard

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  27. DD says:

    Don’t the Phils have a mediocre defending LF, middle 30′s speed guy with no power in the minors already in Podsednik? This is a redundant, though admittedly insignificant, deal.

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    • cable fixer says:

      given the phillies woeful bench, they should be looking to bring in as much redundancy to ST as possible. pierre’s BsR is still elite and represents a potential improvement on posednick.

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