Fans and front office folks alike know that the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies will require some retooling. Whether due to contract expiration, negotiation or simply a desire to move in a different direction, all of Philadelphia can agree that 102 wins and an NLDS defeat is not worth $175 million. When that follows at 2010 NLCS exit and a 2009 World Series defeat, that 2008 World Championship seems like a long time ago.
Only 8 players from the 2008 champion squad finished 2011 with the Phillies. Despite such roster turnover, the nucleus and pitching staff are aging and very few young role players have emerged. Major trading deadline deals have depleted the higher levels of the Phillies farm systems so reinforcements will not be coming from the fountain of youth anytime soon. Change will come most likely from without which means spending money on free agents or pulling the
Ruben Amaro Special (originally perfected by Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick) – which involves salvaging lesser-known players from other organizations for reclamation projects (such as Wilson Valdez, Dane Sardhina, JC Romero, Greg Dobbs, Ross Gload, Matt Stairs, John Mayberry, Ben Franciso, Chan Ho Park as well as Rule 5 draftees Shane Victorino, David Herndon, Michael Martinez). Roster turnover is critical in balancing veterans with young talent – both from a team chemistry standpoint and economic equilibrium as well.
Areas of concern for 2012 would include shortstop, left field, bench and the bullpen – but it would appear third and first base are both becoming issues. At one time the Phillies infield was the crown jewel of their offense and defense. Now due to injuries, age and contract structures, it will require some serious offseason attention. Ryan Howard could miss the first half of 2012, Chase Utley already missed the first half of 2011 and Jimmy Rollins will likely test the free agent market before negotiating with the Phillies. Technically speaking, the Phillies do have the 2011 All-Star starting third baseman on their team and under contract for 2012. Placido Polanco was voted to the team but did not participate due to hernia and back injuries – which nagged the hot corner and Phillies all season. Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez filled in admirably but both have increased value in the role of utility players.
Polanco missed 40 games, Utley missed April and May and Howard will now be shelved until Memorial Day 2012. Jimmy Rollins has said he would be intrigued to test the free agent market despite being a member of the Phillies since age 17. Rollins is 32 and while his 2011 stats (.268 BA, 16 HR, 30 SB, 63 RBI) are much closer to his career average than his MVP season, he is among the premium available shortstops should he choose free agency. Jose Reyes is younger, offers better stats, more steals and has a batting championship on his resume. Wherever Reyes doesn’t go, Rollins would be a solid second choice. Might that be hometown Oakland or San Francisco? Rollins has stated publicly that he will consider all options – but that having a chance to win is just as important as the size of his paycheck (potentially around $13-$15M per season seeking a 4 or 5 year deal).
Years of winning in Philadelphia (2007-2011) have been tempered with witnessing the losing years (2000-2006). Watching former teammates leave (Jayson Werth comes to mind as would Brett Myers, Scott Rolen and Bobby Abreu) for greener (financial) pastures and mixed results has affected Rollins just as much as seeing players join the Phillies (like Hunter Pence, Raul Ibanez and Roy Halladay) teaching the valuable lesson that money isn’t everything - but it does make a difference!
With Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Placido Polanco all limping and very few minor league options available, the Phillies will be forced to scour the open market. The veteran Polanco has flashed elite bat control at times (.398 April) but health and endurance deficiencies have seen him hit just 11 HR in 1,100 plate appearances since he rejoined the club in 2010. His .365 slugging percentage makes him a zero balance option at the plate for expected power at the position. He hit .243 after April for the club with little to no pop, and went 2-for-19 in the NLDS. Chase Utley and John Mayberry might split time at first base until Howard returns but this is a Phillies team desperate for a bona fide number five hitter to bat behind Howard. Naturally until Howard returns in June they will be seeking a cleanup hitter as well – having already moved Hunter Pence from fifth to third in the order which is the right spot for him.
Aramis Ramirez ($16M option with $2M voidable buyout) is probably the only name NOT being considered by the Phillies. Texas’ Michael Young was the name on everyone’s list in Spring Training but his $80M contract runs through 2013 and paying that much for another 35-year-old infielder is not a recipe for success – even if he does hit .338 with 213 hits and 106 RBI in 159 games! More reasonable options would probably include the likes of a platoon at third or second and third or even first and third, depending which players become available (until after the World Series free agency is speculative). Eric Chavez, Casey Blake, Edwin Encarnacion, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mark DeRosa and former Phillies Greg Dobbs or Nick Punto would likely be the pool of available players. Clint Barmes is an appealing if unhearalded option provided his asking price is not too high. These moves will be interdependent with other areas of focus.
Raul Ibanez (.245, 20 HR, 84 RBI) made a very nice resurgence, having struggled in the first half of the season (0-36 and sub .200 BA until late May) and capped it off with a storybook clinching homer to end the season. Expecting another such year out of the soon-to-be 40-year-old veteran would not only be unrealistic but cost prohibitive ($10M per season). Ibanez would be the first to tell you how much he has enjoyed his three years in Philadelphia even if he doesn’t leave with a World Series ring or his name on a championship trophy. Should John Mayberry (.273, 15 HR, 49 RBI in 104 games) and Domonic Brown be tabbed to platoon in left field in place of Ibanez, that would shift the power focus to the corner infield spots. A healthy Howard may offer 40 HR and 140 RBI but Howard, Utley and Polanco may have seen their days as full-time franchise centerpieces begin to fade. Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Carlos Ruiz will assume the mantle of veteran leadership, encouraged by whatever contributions can be made by Utley or Howard. Importing players the likes of Jeff Francoeur or Lance Berkman or Kevin Youklis would provide additional seasoned leadership and reduce the learning curve.
The good news is that Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee will all be returning to dominate on the mound through 2013 or 2014. Hamels will negotiate a fair contract extension and Roy Oswalt will probably be the only loss among the starting rotation. At $16M that contract should afford some leeway but Joe Blanton ($10M) still remains as do Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley. No need to spend more money on the $200 Million Rotation. The bullpen should promise to be in disarray especially if Ryan Madson is allowed to walk. Madson has replaced Brad Lidge as the closer but both could find themselves on the free agent market unless the Phillies decide what they want to do. Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and David Herndon are not ready for prime time while any further help is still languishing on the Northeast Extension between Center City and the Lehigh Valley. This one is pretty simple. Re-signing Madson would likely be equal to or lesser than attracting a marquee free agent like Heath Bell or Francisco Rodriguez but someone like JJ Putz or Brandon League or Joakim Soria could be had with the right deal and possibly for a lot less than the likes of Rafael Soriano.
Free agency doesn’t begin until November and we still have a World Series to go but the offseason will be a busy one. Five NL East championships are all well and good but this fanbase wants a championship and they are not going to get one by standing pat. Obtaining specific pieces (such as Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence) has been Ruben Amaro’s forte but rebuilding a team while contending is a lot more difficult than it looks. Unlike a team in need of complete overhaul, there are many moving parts. While subject to what the free agent market offers, Amaro and staff must be shrewd not to overspend while also finding a mix of veterans and youth that will play well together and be able to redefine this team.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
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 XXXIX...plus 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 firstname.lastname@example.org