Phils ink free agent Helms
Infielder signs for two years with option for third season
PHILADELPHIA -- A day after opening discussions for free-agent prize Alfonso Soriano, the Phillies officially announced their new most-of-the-time third baseman.Wes Helms, 31, agreed to a two-year, $5.45 million deal that includes an option for a third year that could bring the total value to about $8 million. "From the first day they talked to me, the Phillies were at the very top of the list," Helms said. A former top prospect with the Braves, Helms batted .329 in 240 at-bats with the Marlins last season, belting 10 homers and collecting 47 RBIs in 140 games. He appeared in 88 games at first base and 24 at third in 2006. He was primarily a third baseman with Milwaukee from 2003 to 2005, compiling a career-high 23 homers and 67 RBIs in 2003. The Phillies targeted Helms last season, when he was coming off an 168-at-bat season with Milwaukee. Feeling he had to re-establish himself, he opted for an $800,000 deal with the Marlins. "The big reason I signed with Florida had nothing to do with the Phillies," he said. "It was a young team down there, and I felt I was going to get to play more. A goal of mine was to get myself back to someone giving me the opportunity to get those 400 at-bats. It worked out for me. Now it's time for me to go out and do what I have to do." General manager Pat Gillick, who said before the GM meetings that he wanted to add depth at third base, made sure he obtained Helms this time. Gillick made a recruiting trip to Helms' home in Alabama and promised him significant playing time. Manager Charlie Manuel also visited Helms this week. With Helms on the team, defensive standout Abraham Nunez returns to a utility role in which he will spell Helms, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley around the infield. Helms can also back up Ryan Howard at first base. "[Manuel] told me I was going to play a lot," said Helms, who will likely hit sixth. "He said, 'You're going to fit in the lineup well and play third base.' He said maybe in [Interleague games] I'll play first base and Howard will DH." A right-handed hitter, Helms will provide power from the lower part of the batting order.
Improving third base was one of Gillick's concerns this offseason, after Nunez batted .211. Aramis Ramirez was never really an option, and former University of Pennsylvania quarterback Mark DeRosa signed a three-year deal with the Cubs earlier this week.Helms batted .385 after the All-Star break. He was especially impressive at Citizens Bank Park, where he went 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles, a home run and five walks. "I've made adjustments," he said of the past two years. "I've always been a guy that expected too much of myself and tried to do too much. I think I got smarter as my career went on." Last year, especially, Helms tried to wait on the ball a little longer, and concentrated on driving the ball to right field. He feels that his improved plate approach and shorter stroke led to a higher batting average. He said his approach won't change in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, where fly balls to left become home runs. "It might have affected me a few years ago," he said. "My thing as a player now is, I don't have an ego. Yeah, I want to do well, but I want to do well for the team. When it comes down to it, I'm not going to try to hit a home run when we need a single to win the game. I've learned that over the years. I know the ball flies out of here -- home runs are going to come by accident. My approach is going to be to get on base." Watching the Phillies from the other dugout last season, Helms remarked to his wife, Meredith, that the Phillies could be an ideal landing spot this time around. David Bell was already gone, and the team would likely be looking to upgrade at the position. He said that he selected the Phillies over the Yankees -- who offered two years and more guaranteed money to play first base -- because he thought his family would be happier in Philadelphia. Also factoring into his decision was his desire to stay in the National League. "From the beginning, I definitely wanted to stay in the National League," he said. "I know all the pitchers. I know all the hitters. I know where to play them in the field. From everyone I know who's ever switched leagues, it's an adjustment period. I feel it's a more comfortable place. I think it's better for my family. I had to take care of them. I just feel they'll be happier [in Philadelphia] than in New York."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.