When the Phillies informed Bobby Abreu on Wednesday that he wouldn't be on the opening day roster, they essentially guaranteed that Tony Gwynn Jr. will be the lefty bat off the bench.
That gives the Phils four reserve locks: Gwynn, John Mayberry, backup catcher Wil Nieves and utilityman Cesar Hernandez.
A glaring lack of pop there, brought on mostly by the oblique injury suffered by Darin Ruf.
Competing for the fifth and presumably final bench spot are Reid Brignac and Andres Blanco, two more light-hitting utility infielders.
Freddy Galvis is a few weeks away from returning from the disabled list. Carrying a player like Brignac or Blanco will be important until Galvis returns because the Phillies will need a backup shortstop and will likely lose Jimmy Rollins for a game or two when his child is born. Hernandez plays second base, third base and center field but is not a shortstop. He hasn't played there this spring and has just one game under his belt at the position since 2008.
There are practical reasons for filling out the bench with another light-hitting utility infielder, but might it be wise to carry top power prospect Maikel Franco? He will be with the Phillies for the on-deck series Friday and Saturday at Citizens Bank Park against the Pirates, according to CSNPhilly.com Phillies insider Jim Salisbury.
Because of the need for a backup SS, it seems the only way Franco could make the opening day roster would be if the Phils go with a six-man bench. National League teams do not often carry six reserves, but the Phillies won't be using a fifth starter for the first two weeks of the season. That means they could, for two weeks, go with six bench bats and the standard seven relievers.
There are pros and cons to bringing Franco aboard. An obvious pro is his impressive raw power, which the Phillies don't have much of on the bench. He could also spell Cody Asche, who hasn't had a great spring, at third base against a left-handed pitcher.
The cons? Franco wouldn't be playing every day, which could stunt his development. He also underwhelmed in the games leading up to his demotion to minor-league camp. Ryne Sandberg mentioned that Franco, who hit .184 with zero extra-base hits in Grapefruit League play, needed to work on shortening his swing.
Another factor at play is that if the Phillies open the season with Franco but send him down to the minors at any point during the season, they will burn his first option. Players have three option years during which the team can send the player up and down without placing him on waivers. After all three option years are used up, the player must clear waivers to be assigned to the minor leagues. Mayberry and Brad Lincoln are two Phillies who are out of options.
It's a decision the Phillies will weigh in the coming days. Defensive versatility off the bench is important, but so is the ability to turn to a hitter capable of doubling or homering in the late innings. Brignac and Gwynn own .318 and .311 respective career slugging percentages that would make Juan Pierre laugh. Hernandez has always been a singles hitter, and the backup catcher (Nieves) is rarely used in a pinch-hit role unless absolutely necessary. That leaves Mayberry as the lone power threat.
Such a bench would leave the Phillies susceptible in the late innings and would make matters easier for opposing relievers and managers.
Finding 25 players to fill out a roster isn't typically this challenging.