Offseason Outlook: Philadelphia Phillies

2013 Record: 73-89 (Finished 4th in NL East)

The Philadelphia Phillies had hoped that 2013 would be the year that they returned to their glory. They hoped that the 2013 season would be the year that they regained their crown as NL East champions. However, a year full of injuries and disappointment has forced the Phillies to take a new look at the team.

Guaranteed Contracts

Cole Hamels, SP: $118.5MM through 2018

Ryan Howard, 1B: $85MM through 2016

Chase Utley, 2B: $27MM through 2015

Jimmy Rollins, SS: $11MM through 2014

Jonathan Papelbon, RP: $26MM through 2015

Mike Adams, RP: $7MM through 2014

Cliff Lee, SP: $62.5MM through 2015

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, SP: $12MM through 2016

Arbitration Eligible Players (Probable return or not)

Kyle Kendrick, SP (Likely)

Antonio Bastardo, RP (Likely)

John Mayberry Jr., OF/1B (Likely)

Ben Revere, OF (Likely)

Kevin Frandsen, INF (Likely)

Free Agents

Roy Halladay, SP

Carlos Ruiz, C

 

Having Ryan Howard and Chase Utley back in the beginning of the 2013 season had the Phillies management hopeful for a successful season. They had filled the hole at third base with Michael Young, and had fixed the bullpen issue by signing Mike Adams in the off-season. They even got Ben Revere in a trade, so that they finally had a true lead-off hitter. However, all these plans crumbled when multiple injuries occurred throughout the season to most of these players; Howard missed half the season with a knee injury, Utley was out for a month with an oblique injury, Revere missed half of the season with a broken foot, Delmon Young missed the beginning of the season because of surgery on his ankle, and Mike Adams didn’t play for most of the season due to three tears in his shoulder. The real issue for the Phillies was that they did not have the depth to replace these injured players, and that led to their horrific 73-89 season.

The Phillies have an aging team and their farm system is one of the weakest in the MLB. They will have three players making over $20 million (Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels) and 5 players making over $10 million that are 33 years or older (Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard, and Cliff Lee) Add those contracts to the 7 million that is owed to Mike Adams, that equals $96 million the Phillies are paying players that are over the age of 33. There’s nothing the Phillies can do about those contracts but regret and endure. The real issue with this is the contracts are a restriction for the team this off-season. Having that much guaranteed money on the books makes it hard to improve the roster. Even though Roy Halladay and his $20 million salary are coming off the books after this season, the Phillies still have little room to spend this off-season if they plan on staying under the luxury tax. The team in the past has tried to stay under this tax, and will try this year, but if they really want to succeed then they will have to exceed the tax threshold.

The Phillies have numerous holes to fill, and all eyes are on General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to fix them. The team has a vacancy in right field, third base is potentially open (based on whether Amaro is confident in Cody Asche), the catcher’s position is in question as is the dependability of the bullpen.

The Phillies bullpen had an ERA of 4.19, the fourth worst in the MLB behind the Astros, Rockies, and Mariners. It also had the highest BB/9 rate in the MLB at 4.30. If they plan on becoming contenders, they need to make some free agent signings to make the bullpen situation more stable. Jake Diekman, Mike Adams, and Jonathan Papelbon are all but locks to make the team, and Antonio Bastardo is likely to return after posting a 2.32 ERA in 48 appearances, even after he was suspended for PEDs. One or two spots will be filled by a combination of B.J. Rosenberg, Mike Stutes, Joe Savery, or Justin De Fratus. That leaves about one or two spots left to fill, leaving just enough room for an improvement. There are multiple combinations the Phillies could use to complete their bullpen, so predicting who they are going to sign is almost impossible. Obtaining a player that was successful but suffered injuries like Ryan Madson, Jesse Crain, or Eric O’Flaherty isn’t out of the question. The other option would be to pay more money for a more guaranteed guy like the San Francisco Giant’s reliever Javier Lopez or the Indian’s Matt Albers. The Phillies could try to trade for a reliever like David Robertson, but the price will most likely be too steep in prospects for the Phillies to give up. However, they will have to do something this off-season to fix this bullpen or else their hopes for a playoff team are as good as gone.

The team will have to keep in mind that whatever money they spend on the bullpen will cut into the amount that they have for getting an impact bat and starting pitcher. The top outfield bats on the market are Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Shoo Choo, and Carlos Beltran. Ellsbury and Choo are both left-handed bats, which the Phillies have an abundance of, and are likely to be asking for big bucks considering their agent is Scott Boras. Beltran, however, could be a different case. He plays right field, is a switch hitter, and will not cost the Phillies a long-term contract since he is 37 years old. Yes, I know you’re saying “But they already are overpaying older players on their team.” This case is different, as Beltran would not be signed to the 4+ year contracts the other players were signed to. Beltran would be a perfect fit for the Phillies lineup, since they haven’t had someone to protect Ryan Howard since Jayson Werth left in 2011. If they could sign him to a contract similar to the one Torii Hunter agreed to with the Detroit Tigers, then the Phillies will have solved their right field problem. They could sign the 33-year-old Nelson Cruz, but he may want more years and money than the Phillies would want to give up. Other solutions the Phillies could use is have a platoon in right field between a veteran and a young player in Darin Ruf (and I use the word “young” loosely.) Platooning Ruf and another player like Corey Hart, Mike Morse, or Chris Young could work like wonders for the team. They did it with Geoff Jenkins and Jayson Werth in 2008, and it turned out perfectly. However, there are still many questions surrounding the outfield.

Domonic Brown and Ben Revere should be growing concerns on the Phillies radar this off-season. Ben Revere is recovering from a left foot injury, and his progress needs to be monitored to see if he is able to play next season. If not, the team must have a suitable backup not named John Mayberry Jr. to replace him during the start of the season. Domonic Brown is the bigger concern of the two players. On the grand scheme of things Domonic looks as though he was a dominant force for the Phillies. He actually was for most of the season. He had a .272 batting average with 27 home runs and 83 runs batted in for the entire season. However, looks can be deceiving. Brown during the first half of the season played 94 games and hit .273, with 23 home runs and 67 runs batted in. During the second half Brown played 44 games and hit .271 with only 4 home runs and 16 runs batted in. Brown silently struggled during the second half and that should be a cause for alarm. Could the Phillies possibly use him as a trading chip for a bigger right-handed bat like Mark Trumbo or package him with Cody Asche, Jesse Biddle, and whatever prospects are left in the system to get someone like Giancarlo Stanton or Ryan Braun? It would create an opening for superstar prospect Maikel Franco at third base, but the likelihood of this situation occurring is very small. In any case the Phillies have to keep an open mind to this option if the occasion arises. During this off-season an outfield bat should be the top priority for the Phillies, whose offense was ranked as the fourth worst behind only the Miami Marlins and both Chicago teams.

The starting pitching for this franchise has taken a turn for the worst. It went from the four aces to the two aces and three question marks. The Phillies only have two starting pitchers locked in the rotation and those are Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. They have three spots open, one most likely filled by Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and another potentially filled by Kyle Kendrick, although somebody like Jason Vargas could be a suitable replacement. Roy Halladay is doubtful to come back due to his struggles this season. The Phillies need to find a starter that can sufficiently be a #3 pitcher. Masahiro Tanaka is the main guy to pursue this off-season, however the Phillies have been very hesitant with international free agents and would not want to pay the huge bill just to negotiate with the man. Josh Johnson is an interesting suggestion if he can prove that he is healthy, although the question marks attached to him are abundant. Another option could be to sign Bartolo Colon to a one-year deal, but he has recently stated he wants to stay with Oakland and it is questionable he will keep up his production next year at 41 years of age. The two pitchers that the Phillies should mainly focus on are Ubaldo Jiminez and Ervin Santana. Both had tremendous seasons with Jiminez going 13-9, 3.30 ERA, and having 193 strikeouts and Santana going 9-10, 3.24 ERA, and posting a WHIP of 1.14. Both would be a major upgrade to the rotation, and would make the uncertainties of the #4 and 5 spots less important. They could easily be signed to deals similar to C.J. Wilson and Anibal Sanchez’s contracts. No matter whom the team signs to pitch for them, the question remains on who will be the team’s catcher?

Carlos Ruiz will likely stay with the team he has been with his whole career, and he should. In a previous article we talked about the impact Carlos has had on the Phillies over his career, and will let you have a better idea of what he is worth. He will probably get a two or three-year deal worth around $21 million. If they Phillies were to get real tricky this off-season, they could even trade for a power catcher like Wilin Rosario, who was rumored to be on the trading block if the Rockies decide to pursue Mike Napoli. You could even argue that the Phillies should sign Napoli himself due to his impact bat, and that may very well be the case. However, “Chooch” is the most likely out of all the solutions, as the Phillies won’t want to take the risk with Napoli’s hip injury and their hesitation to trade anymore prospects away.

An interesting fact about this off-season is that the Phillies don’t have to worry about players given qualified offers by their previous teams. Usually when a team signs a player that was given a qualified offer, they have to give up their first-round pick as compensation to the team who lost the player. This makes many teams hesitant to sign players during the off-season, which eventually drops the player’s asking price. An example of this is from last year when Kyle Lohse, who was projected to get a deal near five years with $70-75 million, only got $33 million over three years. Also, that first round pick could end up being a superstar in the next few years, as seen in the case of Michael Wacha being the compensatory pick for the Cardinals when the Angels signed Albert Pujols. The Phillies however, do not have to worry about this. Since they have a top ten pick (they have the seventh overall) then they only have to give up a second round compensatory pick to the other team. It’s still a hurtful price, but it gives the Phillies an edge over other teams to sign a player that is connected to qualifying offers like Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Ubaldo Jiminez.

If the Phillies do make the right amount of moves this off-season, they could be a contender to win the NL East. However, making all of these moves will have its risks, and the Phillies must be able to take these risks if they want to succeed. They must get a legitimate outfield bat, above-average pitcher, and upgrade the bullpen. They have the edge of the protected first-round pick, and should use that advantage to sign a legitimate free agent. Out of all of these options, one thing is for certain Ruben Amaro must act. If Amaro stands pat similarly to the last few years, then the Phillies will not have a chance to compete in 2014.

All things said and done, here are the two projected opening day lineups for the Phillies next season (one is the likely situation and the other is my prediction):

 

Most Likely Lineup:

CFBen Revere
2BChase Utley
RFCarlos Beltran
1BRyan Howard
LFDomonic Brown
CCarlos Ruiz
SSJimmy Rollins
3BCody Asche
PPitcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Lineup:

CFBen Revere
2BChase Utley
RFCarlos Beltran
1BRyan Howard
LFMark Trumbo
CCarlos Ruiz
3BMaikel Franco
SSJimmy Rollins
PPitcher
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John Ruth

Staff Writer at MLB Nation
An avid baseball fan, John has been a Phillies fan ever since he stepped foot in Citizens Bank Ballpark in 2004. His favorite player is Shane Victorino, and has started to follow the Red Sox recently after his move from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. His dream is to become a beat writer or announcer for a professional baseball, hockey, or college basketball team.
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