You can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Well in the 21st century that might be altered from “scorecard” to “Iphone or Mobile Device App” (there’s an app for that) but you get the idea. Modern MLB Free Agency is an annual frenzied flurry of activity and even the most ardent fans may have difficulty keeping up with the fluid roster of their favorite team.
Gone are the days when fans rode the subway home with a handful of their baseball heroes or handed them bags of complimentary groceries as a show of appreciation. Even the days have passed when most of your core team would stay together with the occasional free agent defection. With player salaries skyrocketing once again – now topping the $25 million per season plateau – any self-respecting major league ballplayer would be a fool not to explore free agency. Knowing what the market will bear is of prime importance for the potential MLB free agent. This offseason alone saw Prince Fielder ($214M/9 years), Albert Pujols ($254 M/10 years) and Jose Reyes ($106 M/6 years) all land huge contracts – not to exclude the deals made with Heath Bell, CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish ($60M/6 years), Mark Buerhle and a slew of others. Perhaps most amazing is that 5 of those players (Pujols, Wilson, Bell, Reyes, Buerhle) went to just two teams (Angels and Marlins) who already sported significant payrolls.
However, for every Jayson Werth ($126 M/7 years) story there is one more like that of Jimmy Rollins (seeking 5 year deal on open market @ about $60M but winds up back with the Phillies at $38 M/3 years plus 4th year option). The Phillies are glad to have Rollins back but did not welcome back all of their 2011 squad – in fact this team looks quite different already for 2012 than they did in 2011. This is not just a much-improved team, but a team slated to be the dominant horse in a much-depleted National League field. Pujols and Fielder have migrated to the AL, Ryan Braun will miss 50 games and upstarts like Arizona or the Miami Marlins could pose just as much of a threat as San Francisco, Cincinnati, Atlanta or … Washington?
The exodus has included Raul Ibanez, Roy Oswalt, Ryan Madson, Ross Gload and Brad Lidge, who recently signed a deal to play in Washington with former teammate Jayson Werth. Earlier this week, recently re-signed Wilson Valdez was shipped to Cincinnati in exchange for lefty reliever Jeremy Horst. Valdez will join Ryan Madson who signed a one year deal for $8.5 M to be the new Reds closer. Hunter Pence had been the remaining arbitration-eligible candidate on the Phillies roster but settled for a one-year deal for 2012 @ $10.5M. Meanwhile Jose Contreras, Ryan Howard, Placido Polanco and Chase Utley are all recovering from significant injury.
Last Spring there were rampant questions about the health of Chase Utley, the defection of Jayson Werth, the struggles of Domonic Brown and of course the closer situation (Lidge then Contreras then Madson). Later in the season, Hunter Pence would be brought aboard and contributions from Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo would be welcomed.
Heading into Spring Training the real questions concern “organizational depth” and general remaining talent at higher levels of the minor leagues. Trading deadline and offseason deals (Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Hunter Pence) have depleted the Phillies organization of most of their blue chip prospects but the lower levels are teeming with an exciting crop of raw talent. Much of that talent is just starting to come into their own, honing their craft, participating in their first or second Big League Spring Training and heading for camp in Clearwater hoping to solidify their place in the future of the Phillies organization.
There are two weeks before pitchers and catchers report and another 6 weeks before final cuts will be made but most should be aware that a scant few open roster spots remain for hopeful future Phillies. They will either be auditioning for another major league team in 2012 or will develop patience hoping that the situation will change. In Spring 2011 Vance Worley was a relative unknown. Capable specimen of a pitcher (6’2”, 230 lbs) but stuck behind the vaunted Four Aces (Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt) as well as Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick. By midseason Worley had a mowhawk, a nickname (“Vanimal”) and a regular spot in the Phillies rotation (11-3, 3.01 ERA in 21 starts with 119 K in 131 IP and a 1.23 WHIP). Better numbers than Joe Blanton, who insisted upon appearing at photo shoots with the Four Aces as the Fifth Beatle of the rotation. “Vanimal” even gave Roy Oswalt a run for the fourth starter’s job in postseason play. Worley and fellow former Lehigh Valley teammates Michael Stutes, Antonio Bastardo and John Mayberry, Jr. would prove themselves major leaguers in 2011.
In Spring Training 2012, it will prove even more difficult to win one of the precious few roster spots as a slew of veterans have been brought in to fill bench spaces at the same time that there is a youth movement in the Phillies bullpen. Brian Schneider and Michael Martinez are the only holdovers from Opening Day 2011 bench and both earn their paychecks on defense more than offensively. The rest of the Phillies 2011 bench was truly offensive and didn’t improve much throughout the season. Gone are Ross Gload, Wilson Valdez, Juan Castillo, Erik Kratz, Dane Sardinha, John Bowker, Brandon Moss, Cory Sullivan and Ben Francisco. Replacing them are more familiar names such as Jim Thome, Lance Nix, Ty Wigginton and Juan Pierre.
Spring Training games may actually hold the interest of the more casual Phillies fan because even in split squad Grapefruit League, there is good depth of talent on the 40-man roster. This bodes well for the defending division champion Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Reading Phillies who will make use of all the “leftover” talent such as Justin DeFratus, Freddy Galvis, Kevin Fransden, Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, Michael Schwimmer, JC Ramirez, Joe Savery and future franchise catcher Sebastian Valle. Domonic Brown and Freddy Galvis may be most intriguing as trade bait for other teams in potential Trading Deadline deals. Most have tasted their cup of coffee in the majors but all could have bright future as both Galvis and Brown appear on Top 50 Prospect lists. What would the Phillies trade for? Bullpen help? Their depth and aging core of veteran are concerns and Charlie Manuel may have to alter his style of management to help his players reach the postseason intact.
When the Phillies do finally head north in 60 days, their final 25-man roster might look very much the way it does today. That roster would include 2 catchers (Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider), 5 INF (Polanco, Rollins, Utley, Thome & Michael Martinez/Pete Orr/Kevin Franzden – not including Ryan Howard who starts season on DL) plus 5 OF (Hunter Pence, Victorino, Pierre, Lance Nix, John Mayberry, Jr) and Ty Wigginton who can play both INF and OF. Platooning Pierre and Mayberry or Nix and Mayberry would leave the other player to meld playing time with Victorino or Pence. As for the infield, Pete Orr, Kevin Fransden and 2011 Rule 5 draftee Michael Martinez would battle for the role of utility infielder (replacing Valdez) while Wigginton and Thome would be available to spell Placido Polanco, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (Wigginton can play all four INF spots plus corner OF).
That leaves the pitching staff, which should be reduced from 12 to 11 this year. Naturally the remaining Three Aces have their spots secure. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will be joined in the starting rotation by Joe Blanton and Vance Worley. Kyle Kendrick and Dontrelle Willis could be considered as potential spot starters but have more value in the bullpen right now. That leaves space for the new premiere Closer Extraordinaire Jonathan Papelbon, which closes the book on Lidge and Madsen. Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo locked down their jobs based on 2011 performance… meaning the remaining bullpen spot would be a dogfight from among several candidates. Jose Contreras (arm and shoulder injuries) is nearing 40 years of age and has not been active since his August personal season finale. Failing Contreras the job might go to Phillippe Aumont (he of the Cliff Lee to Seattle trade following 2009 season) or more likely David Herndon (2010 Rule 5 rescue project).
Non-roster invitees to 2012 Spring Training will include Dave Bush, Scott Elarton, Jeremy Horst, Joel Piniero, David Purcey, Kevin Fransden, Hector Luna, Pete Orr, Tuffy Gosewich and Scott Podsednik in addition to Juan Pierre. If the Phillies are to make any more moves it would be in this category, using bargain basement pricing and lack of limelight to bring in talent under the radar. Pete Orr, Joel Piniero, Kevin Fransden and Dave Bush have all seen significant MLB experience in recent years but will have to work hard to earn a roster spot.
YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN
A final note to welcome the winds of change in the Phillies front office. While Chuck LaMarr moved on after spending years as a scout and assistant GM, the organization is quietly welcoming back former Phillies and Astros General Manager Ed Wade. Wade may be best remembered for engineering deals to send Brad Lidge, Eric Bruntlett and Hunter Pence to Philadelphia while winding up with Michael Bourn, Jason Michael, Brett Myers, Geoff Geary and JA Happ, but it was Wade (prior to Pat Gillick) who drafted the likes of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Randy Wolf, Pat Burrell, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels – and who obtained the likes of Bobby Abreu, Placido Polanco and Jim Thome. Wade also was eager to name Ruben Amaro his assistant GM long before Pat Gillick came along to craft the eventual 2008 Championship team.
Look for continued Phillies coverage throughout Spring Training and we will bring you a full 2012 season preview by late March.
Phillies Future Tense http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/28/phillies-future-tense/
Phillies Fans Stages of Grief http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/15/phillies-fans-stages-of-grief/
MLB: NL Preview 2011 http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/03/19/mlb-2011-national-league-preview/
MLB Predictions 2011 http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/03/26/mlb-predictions-standings-2011/
Front Office Flux Free Agency Flummox Phillies http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/11/05/front-office-flux-plus-free-agency-flummox-phillies/
Something Old, Something New http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/11/05/something-old-something-new-2/
Phillies Future Tense http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/28/phillies-future-tense/
Papelbon Jigs for Phillies http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/11/12/papelbon-jigs-for-phillies/
Phillies Seek New Faces http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/17/phillies-2012-seek-new-faces/
Utley’s Heart at Wounded Knee http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/03/09/utleys-heart-at-wounded-knee/
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