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State of Phillies: Unfinished Business as Winter Meetings Close

State of Phillies: Unfinished Business as Winter Meetings Close

Much has been made of Jayson Werth’s departure from the Philadelphia Phillies. This is understandable given the $126 million involved. However,  this one extremely expensive transaction by the Washington Nationals does not automatically make the Phillies into an also-ran – nor does it make Washington a contender. As presently constituted, the Phillies may be the best team in the National League heading into 2011. They were the best team in baseball during the 2010 regular season when they won 97 games. It is true that in the postseason, they were, like everybody else who played the Giants, unable to score enough runs. Four straight division titles, strong starting pitching and the remaining core of talent  keeps them right around the head of this particular class. Plus Ruben Amaro and company have hinted that they are far from finished tweaking the 2011 roster.

Manager Charlie Manuel said Tuesday in a Winter Meetings media session: “With what we’ve got, we’re  OK.” From another manager who had just lost a valuable player, you might characterize that as whistling past the graveyard or spinning the team’s PR version. Manuel is simply not the type as he always speaks his mind – even if it precludes us from understanding it upon first hearing. Manuel’s opinion of the Phillies’ current state of affairs  is a reasonable summary of what is still a very good situation.  The 2011 Phillies will look decidedly diffewrent from 2010 but the core of players remains the same.

Rollins went from MVP to MIA but is a team leader

Good health from the primary players could help to produce that result. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino are all clearly capable of being better than they were in 2010, not to mention a healthy Placido Polanco and the 2010 MVP, Carlos Ruiz. When it came to the shortstop and leadoff hitter, the manager upped the ante a bit, saying that Jimmy Rollins is a talewnted player and a professional, veteran ballplayer. Mauel admits that the Phillies success is directly related to Rollins’ game. His offense, his basestealing, his defense, his presence as a team leader. The team needs him to have a Jimmy Rollins type of year.

That’s a lot, but the concept of the lead players having bounce-back seasons is not out of line. Plus, the Phillies will have an incomparable trio at the top of their rotation. Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay combined with Cole Hamels – back at the top of his considerable form with a 2.23 ERA after the All-Star break in 2010- and a full season of Roy Oswalt – who had 1.74 ERA after the Phillies obtained him from Houston on July 30. Clearly no decision has been made about Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick who are the leading candidates to round out the starting rotation.

Oswalt looks forward to a full season in Philadelphia

The focus is primarially on the Phillies bullpen, which needs serious help. The back end of the bullpen is locked down, but they are especially deficient in pitchers who could provide some “length” in front of Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge. There is also a dearth of port-sided relievers. JC Romero is now a former Phillie, leaving proven ineffective candidates Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski as incumbents.

Reyes is signed but more help is needed

First up has been an announced agreement with free-agent left-hander Dennys Reyes, pending a physical. A source said late Wednesday night that rotund and very veteran reliever Reyes had agreed to a $1.1 million contract with a option in 2012 for $1.35 million. Reyes went 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 59 appearances last season with the Cardinals, but lefties hit .307 against him. The Phillies believe Reyes, who has held lefties to a .238 average in his career, can bounce back after battling elbow issues since the All-Star break. George Sherrill reportedly agreed to a $1.2 million contract with Atlanta. The Phils had been in discussions with Sherrill before he moved onto Atlanta. The Angels signed veteran left-hander Scott Downs to a three-year deal on Friday. Downs has been primarily a setup man — one of the game’s best — throughout his Major League career, which began in 2000. His 2.36 ERA is the fifth best among American League relievers over the past four seasons and the best among lefties. Downs had 26 holds in 2010 for the Jays with 84 since ’07 – third most in the league.

Downs signs with Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

This leaves the door open for either Brian Fuentes or Pedro Feliciano to sign with Philadelphia. Fuentes, 35,  has drawn interest from the Yankees, Tigers, White Sox, Red Sox and Nationals but each of those teams have already been active in free agency and may prove problematic financially. Fuentes has 187 saves in 10 major league seasons and has made it clear that he would prefer to be a closer for whatever team signs him. Feliciano, one year younger, has spent the past 8 season with the New York Mets and is more of a left-handed setup man. Both pitchers are very effective and would be an upgrade over departed JC Romero. The Phillies are making progress with Chad Durbin, who signed with the Phillies in December 2007. In fact, Durbin stopped into the hotel to personally meet with the Phillies brass.

“The Durbinator?” Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said when asked about the team’s efforts to re-enlist Durbin’s services. “We’re keeping our options open on the Durbinator.”

Greinke has flown under the radar in KC but could be huge for his new team

Lee is entertaining 7-year offers for ludicrous amounts of money - but is he worth it?

The Phils are not in the running for Cliff Lee who spent the second half of 2009 helping the Phils make a run at the Yankees – which fell short in the World Series. Several teams have been talking to the Kansas City Royals about unheralded but talented Zack Greinke. reported five teams are seriously pursuing Greinke with three additional teams on the periphery. said the Phillies have talked to the Royals about the star pitcher who suffers from bouts with social anxiety.  A big name like Greinke might be a long shot — although Amaro said similar things about Roy Halladay at last year’s Winter Meetings before landing him a few days later. Amaro admits the Phillies bullpen needs are more pressing.

Maine is among a group of lesser-known free agents

Kendrick is the #5 starter by default...but for how long?

It is more likely that with Blanton and Kendrick already signed, the Phillies would take a flyer on a handful of less expensive veteran free agent starting pitchers. Right-hander Vance Worley is expected to compete for that job, and the Phils are looking to add someone from the discount rack on the free agent market. Fausto Carmona is one of a cavalcade of names that are possible. While the Phillies are not likely to go after Jake Peavy, both Jon Garland and Javier Vasquez are of the table. John Maine leads a group of available starters including Erik Bedard, Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, Justin Duchsherer, Jeff Francis, Dana Eveland, Rich Harden, Carl Pavano and Ben Sheets – not to mention former Phils Kris Benson, Kevin Milwood and Rodrigo Lopez. Kendrick made $480,000 in 2010 while Blanton is signed for$8,000,000. If the Phillies were to sign starting pitching depth, they would likely be looking to trade Blanton’s contract to keep payroll reasonable.

Fuentes would be an excellent lefty compliment to Brad Lidge in the Phls bullpen

The Phillies have committed nearly $150 million to 17 players next season, and they have indicated they have little money to spend unless it is a special circumstance, like Greinke. They were prepared to pay Jayson Werth $16 million next season, but Amaro said earlier this week they do not have that same $16 million to spend on other players since Werth signed with the Nationals.  

Francisco is no Jayson Werth - or is he?

Werth’s replacement in right field is a priority. They might settle for an in-house solution, which could be a platoon of Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown or Ross Gload. John Mayberry may platoon with veteran Raul Ibanez in left field. Brown’s brief look with the club in the second half of last season resulted in slight production and relatively little playing time, but the Phillies remain sold on his potential – which is boundless. The Phillies have not been mired in a state of shock over Werth’s departure. They may have been surprised at the size of Werth’s improved wages, but they were not particularly surprised that he signed elsewhere.

With Werth breaking the bank in Washington, who will play RF and bat fifth?

“Jayson in his time with us, worked, improved, he was a big part of our offense and he was a good player,” Manuel said. “When a guy becomes a free agent, he’s earned the right. More than likely when guys have success, they like to go out on the open market and see what their worth is,” Manuel added with a smile. “He can always drop me a loan or something, or send me some of that money. That’s a lot of money for one guy. I knew Jayson was going to get pretty good money, but I didn’t know he was going to get that kind of money. It kind of surprised me.”

Who could be that right-handed bat the Phils need? Giants general manager Brian Sabean squelched rumors of a trade that would return outfielder Aaron Rowand to his previous club, the Philadelphia Phillies. In fact, Sabean added that Rowand will compete with Mark DeRosa, Pat Burrell and rookie Brandon Belt for San Francisco’s left-field job. But the Phillies have had discussions about it. Rowand is owed $24 million over the next two seasons and the Giants would need to eat much of his salary for the Phils to take him. Rowand played with Philadelphia in 2006-07, and they believe he could bounce back offensively moving from cavernous AT&T Park to cozy Citizens Bank Park.

Is Domonic Brown ready for the Majors?

Free agent Magglio Ordonez worked out Wednesday for the Tigers. He would be a nice fit in right field, but he could be out of the Phillies’ price range. Amaro, like most other free agents still available, wouldn’t rule out Ordonez as a possibility. Amaro was asked if they leave Florida without making any moves? Have these Meetings been worthwhile at all?  Amaro believes the Phillies have “one of those guys internally who could probably hit fifth.” Amaro said he is working on some things, but would not be surprised if the club opens the season with Francisco/Gload in right field and Domonic Brown either in AAA or on the bench.

“I think it’s been productive for us because we’ve had some decent discussions with some other clubs and some of the free agents,” Amaro said. “We’ve laid some pretty good groundwork, and I think we’ve crystallized at least where we want to go. We’ve pinpointed some things we want to do, and we’ve kind of narrowed our focus a bit as far as the free agents are concerned. We’ve been able to do that.” So far they have been unable to fill the holes they need to fill. But Amaro insists they have been shooting big.

Four straight division titles, 3 NLCS, two World Series appearances and one World Championship

Moving forward, these issues become more pronounced for the Phillies. The question becomes: Can their primary players bounce back? This team won 97 games last year, and more than anything else that reflected some world-class starting pitching. There was underachievement in the everyday lineup. Some of that can be explained by injuries, but this team on its best days was a combination of talent and will. Can they put the tangible and intangible factors back together and get back to the top of the game?

The Winter Meetings have ended and the official scorecard indicates that the Phillies barely have a pulse on the MLB scene. Werth is in Washington, Lee and Grienke are on the move and names like Carl Crawford, Jon Garland, George Sherril, Javier Vasquez and Carlos Pena are off the market – not to mention Derek Jeter, who wasn’t really ever on the open market. Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy and a slew of “B-level” names have swapped teams and the winner so far seems to be the Baltimore Orioles. The Phillies have told us they are not done dealing and it is very likely they will continue to be active regarding Rule 5 acquisitions and reclamation projects. Don’t let me decide for you, see for yourself:

Deals done: Agreed to terms with left-hander Reyes.

Rule 5 activity: The Phillies selected INF Michael Martinez from Triple-A Syracuse in the Major League portion of the Draft. They selected outfielder Chris Frey and RHP Justin Friend in the Minor League portion.  None are truly notable in their service thus far.

Goals accomplished: The Phils made upgrading their bullpen their top priority. Reyes agreed to a $1.1 million contract, pending a successful physical. The deal includes a $1.35 million option for 2012. Left-handers hit .307 against Reyes last season, but Philadelphia feels it got somebody to help replace veteran left-hander J.C. Romero, whose club option it declined.  They need a LOT more help!

Unfinished business: The Phillies continue searching for another bullpen arm if not two. Durbin is a good possibility as would be Brian Fuentes or Pedro Feliciano. Another huge need is a right-handed-hitting outfielder to replace Werth. It won’t be Aaron Rowand and other names mentioned have been Matt Diaz, Jeff Franceour, Magglio Ordonez or Melky Cabrera.

GM’s bottom line: “A lot of the big moves that we made were moves we made in July. [Roy] Oswalt is a big move, because we have control over him in 2011 and perhaps beyond that. A lot of the things we’ve done prior [to the Winter Meetings].” – Amaro

“Next question,” he said.

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Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me

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