Originally posted on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 11/2/11

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If Ryan Howard is a mountain of a man, then John Bowker is most comparable to a tree. Solid and sturdy at 6’1, 205 lbs., Bowker has put up solid average and power stats in the minors but hasn’t been able to replicate those stats in the Majors. For centuries, trees have been in the middle of the quantum quandary asked by philosophers: If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? In a much shorter period of time, John Bowker has been in the middle of a similarly puzzling question to Philadelphians: If John Bowker is on the roster, does it mean anything?

On October 17, the Phillies quietly outrighted IF Pete Orr and OF Brandon Moss to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Orr, 32, posted an uninspiring .219/.279/.250 in reserve duty with the Phils. Orr stole 15 in 20 attempts in Triple-A while posting below league-average defense at second base in 188 2/3 MLB innings. Moss, 28, showed excellent power with Lehigh Valley from the left, hitting 23 bombs with 31 doubles but posted a strike-out rate as an everyday player in 506 2011 Triple-A at-bats (25.1%) higher than he did over his less-consistent 678 Major League at-bats (22.4%). While both Orr and Moss are nice depth pieces for top flight franchises, the demotions, and possible releases, of both should not surprise many.

In more Major League innings, super utility Rule 5 pick Michael Martinez out-fielded Orr at second base and played above league-average ball at shortstop. Martinez (.196/.258/.282) and Orr had comparably ugly lines, but Martinez is three years younger, is defensively sufficient at all non-catching positions, is a few hundred-thousand dollars cheaper, and under control through at least 2016. The motivation for outrighting Moss is not as clear.

Moss, memorably acquired by the Pirates in the Jason Bay trade, has yet to reach 500 Major League plate appearances in a season.  In 2009, his only in which he reached at least 400 PA, Moss hit .236/.304/.364 with 7 HR while striking out 19.8% of the time.  In his polarizing Major League career, Ryan Howard has only struck out at a fairly stable 27.4% clip in the majors; comparatively, Moss’s 23.1% career minor league K% suggests that he may forever be a 4A player instead of a late-blooming project. The high strike-out rate may have led management to remove Moss from the 40-man roster. The man that benefited the most from this conclusion was similarly-skilled John Bowker.

Bowker’s August 31 addition to the 25-man roster puzzled many Phillies fans.  Those hoping for a new Matt Stairs were quickly disappointed. Obtained for just about nothing, Bowker appeared in 12 games for the Phils, seeing the plate only 13 times. His .489 SLG% in 451 2011 ABs at Triple-A Indianapolis did not translate into the left handed power bat the Phillies hoped they were acquiring; Bowker went 0-13 with 7 strikeouts and did not make the postseason roster. His appearances were so sporadic that pictures of Reggie Jackson in an Orioles uniform or Pete Rose wearing Montreal blue are easier to find than Bowker in red pin-stripes.

Both Bowker and Moss both turned 28 during the 2011 season and, according to Baseball-Reference, will both become arbitration eligible after the 2012 season. Moss (.236/.300/.382) and Bowker (.232/.283/.382) have eerily similar triple-slash lines. Moss’s 22.4% MLB K% isn’t much worse than Bowker’s 21.9%. Their isolated power (SLG-AVG) are almost identical: .146 (Moss) v. .150 (Bowker).  And neither Moss or Bowker were any more of a threat on the basepaths, getting caught more than they stole in the Majors and both stealing at under 75% in the minors.

In small sample sizes, Moss is overall a better outfield, posting a 8.8 UZR/150 in 1464.0 MLB OF innings v. Bowker’s -.6 in 521.2 MLB OF innings. In 612.0 MLB innings at 1B, Bowker has a career -3.9 UZR , worse than Ross Gload (0.1) and Ryan Howard (-2.9). The question that should be answered is not why was Moss demoted to spare Bowker, but what does Moss’s demotion say about Bowker and the Phillies offseason strategy?

The demotion signals that the Phillies will not settle and will explore options to find someone better than Moss as a bench piece to back up some combination of John Mayberry Jr., Shane Victorino, and Hunter Pence in the outfield. This move indirectly leaves the door open for Dom Brown’s inclusion on the 2012 roster. Moss’s demotion does not necessarily have anything to do with Bowker not being initially designated from the 40-man roster with him, but it does help clear-up a fuzzy outfield picture.

With a moment of clarity comes a moment of further complication. Bowker’s primary position is first base.  With the likely departures of Ibanez and Gload from the Phillies’ roster, the math for Bowker to end up on the Phillies’ 25-man, yet alone 40-man roster, starts to add up as, at the very least, the back-up first baseman. Charlie Manuel, however, has indicated that Mayberry will be afforded every opportunity to play every day at first while the Big Man is recovering. The usual suspects of veteran first baseman will be available as stop gap options as well, including Derrek Lee, Juan Rivera, and others. Add these two factors with the fact that 1B Cody Overbeck and 1B Matt Rizzotti are putting up solid numbers in the upper minors for the Phils as detailed by Jay Floyd and Bowker’s prospects of remaining on the 40-man become less optimistic.

As a veteran player, Bowker will likely receive full consideration for a 40-man roster spot, if not a 25-man roster spot. Bowker may face a numbers crunch: top prospects such as Phillippe Aumont and Sebastian Valle among others become Rule 5 eligible for the first time this off-season and will need to be protected by being added to the 40-man roster. Bowker avoiding the designation axe thus far is a positive sign for his standing on the Phillies, however, the shuffling of prospects on the 40-man with the inevitable Phillies’ free agent signings means Bowker may not yet be out of the woods.

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