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Jonathan Papelbon upgrades the closer spot in Philly.
The Phillies may have only made one major move, the signing of Jonathan Papelbon, but they have made a slew of smaller moves to help improve their ball club along with bringing shortstop Jimmy Rollins back. Signing Jim Thome to add insurance in case Ryan Howard misses time could be very important. Bringing in versatile utility player Ty Wigginton could help across the infield if Howard, Chase Utley or Placido Polanco go down again in 2012.
The team let go of starter Roy Oswalt, who would have been an over-priced pitcher after battling injuries in 2011, so declining his option was a necessary move. Ben Francisco was traded to Toronto after a disappointing season, so he will not really be missed. The team still has free agents like Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, although there is a chance that the players other than Madson return in some role.
Even with the loss of Oswalt, the Phillies have a strong rotation. The trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels is the best group of starters in all of baseball. Vance Worley, a huge surprise as a rookie in 2011, will hope to build of his success in 2012. The final spot in the rotation will likely see Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and free agent addition Dontrelle Willis compete for it in the spring.
The bullpen looks pretty good, especially since Papelbon is a slight upgrade over Madson in the closer job. Young arms like Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and David Herndon are all proven to be good pitchers. Veteran reliever Jose Contreras and the guys that fail to earn the final job in the starting rotation between Blanton, Kendrick and Willis will also help, along with a group of prospects ready to break through like Justin De Fratus, Joe Savery and Michael Schwimer. The return of Lidge in some role would also help the club.
The lineup has some major question marks due to health related issues, although there is the potential to be special. Star first baseman Ryan Howard has already started to see his production decline the past two years, and his Achilles injury in the playoffs could cost him some time next year. Second baseman Chase Utley has seen his production drop due to his own injury issues, and Rollins is no longer an MVP candidate.
Still that trio of guys can still produce and outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are All-Stars. That's not all as guys like Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco are solid players and John Mayberry Jr. is coming off of a breakout season. The wild card is obviously former top prospect Domonic Brown, a player that has shown flashes but hasn't received significant time yet.
The Phillies grade of a "B" could easily be a "B+", however I thought that the losses of Ibanez and Lidge could be felt. Overall it's still been a quality winter for the Phillies.