In 2012, the Philadelphia Phillies are a known commodity.
Sans a few bullpen arms and the possible emergence of Domonic Brown in the outfield, you've seen the type of play to expect from the core players of this Phillies squad.
The offense is going to be inconsistent, but sufficient enough to win a lot of ballgames.
The defense is going to be rock solid, as always.
And with the considerable age of this roster, the injury bug is going to be hard at work all season long.
Ruben Amaro has constructed a group of guys that gel together perfectly, and balance each others strengths and weaknesses excellently. So, what happens if one of those guys, for whatever reason, is pulled from the mix? Certainly the bevy of bench depth helps this problem, but you can't expect Michael Martinez to fill in for Chase Utley as if he had never left.
There are a few players on this Phillies team that truly carry them to the degree of success that they have achieved in recent seasons. They are the most valuable pieces to the puzzle of success in Philadelphia.
This list will view who is most valuable based on how easily they could be filled in for if need be, and how capably their contributions could be replaced by another player on the roster.
The question then arises—who is going to be the most valuable player to the Phillies in 2012?
The Phillies were incredibly efficient out of the closers role in 2011.
Five pitchers—Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, David Herndon and Brad Lidge—combined to save 47 games while blowing only four combined saves.
This effort was, of course, headed my Ryan Madson and his 32 saves, but Madson has shipped up to Cincinnati, and Jonathan Papelbon has shipped down from Boston (a weak attempt at a Dropkick Murphys pun).
Papelbon now steps into a closer's paradise. The starting pitching will go deep into most games, and will generally preserve leads. The offense, however, isn't quite enough to blow out the opponent each and every game. Papelbon's role is to maintain that lead in the ninth inning, and he will undoubtedly be very successful in that role in Philadelphia.
The reason I rank him so low is due to the fact that he pitches only one inning, and that several guys were able to fully handle this role for the Phillies last season.
Papelbon will be a worthy addition to the Phillies' bullpen (though not necessarily worth his massive contact), but as far as him being so valuable a member to this team that he could not be replaced capably, I find to be unlikely.
Carlos Ruiz is one of the most underrated catchers in all of baseball, and has been for his entire career.
Ruiz is an elite defensive catcher, has a solid arm and has improved his offense significantly over the past two seasons, hitting .302 and .283 in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
And don't forget, he calls pitches for the best starting staff in the game.
He's exactly what the Phillies need as a catcher. His value is based more so in his defense and pitch calling ability, but his offense has been a spectacular addition at the bottom of the Phillies order, and he has proven that he can be counted on to get the clutch hit.
Ruiz could easily be higher on this list, but the reason I have him ranked where I do it the fact that the Phillies also have Brian Schneider. Don't get me wrong, Ruiz is an immensely better player, and Schneider isn't nearly as good a hitter as Ruiz.
However, over the last few years, Ruiz has spent some time on the injured reserve with Schneider filling in, and the Phillies haven't fallen apart because of it.
It's really difficult to rank Chase Utley this low on the list.
Go back only two or three years ago and Utley is one of the top three guys in a list like this.
Now, his game is being questioned. Last season was severely disappointing for Utley, hitting only .259 with only 11 home runs and 44 RBIs. As Phillies fans, we would love to attribute this decline to nagging injuries with Utley, but coming into 2012, we just cannot know what to expect from Chase Utley.
This is the sole reason that he is ranked this low. He has never been a great defensive second baseman, but is more than serviceable. His offense, though, has been elite in the past.
When Utley was hitting for 30 homers and close to 100 RBI, he was one of the most valuable players on the team, and in the MLB in general, but if he comes into 2012 and prolongs his struggles from 2011, he is much more easily replaceable.
A guy like Ty Wigginton could provide equal if not more offense than Utley did in 2011. If Utley hits like he did last season, his value is fitting to his No. 8 ranking on this last.
However, more than anyone else on the team, Utley could move right to the top of the list of valuable Phillies with a rebound season in 2012.
Cole Hamels falls to No. 7 on the list of the most valuable Phillies in 2012, but this is by default.
He is preceded in the rotation by two of the best pitchers in all of baseball in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, but Hamels is no chump himself.
The youngest of the three-headed monster, the former World Series MVP is sure to be a contender for the Cy Young award in 2012 as he continues to master his cutter among his other arsenal of pitches.
Hamels has been a victim of poor run support in the past, and if he can get that in 2012, he has a great chance to win somewhere near 18 games with a sub-2.75 ERA, further establishing himself as one of the best in the game.
Let us all pray that Ruben Amaro extends Cole Hamels before the 2012 season is over.
The Phillies resident Hollywood star (after his appearance in Hawaii Five-O), Shane Victorino is a serious spark plug for the team. His non-stop hustle and infectious disposition make him one of the real fan favorites, and one of the most respected players in the league.
Victorino is a true five-tool player for the Phillies, providing a great bat, surprising power, great defensive skills and instincts, a cannon of an arm and speed to boot.
The Flyin' Hawaiian is also valuable for his versatility. Victorino can hit just about anywhere in the order and do it well.
He too could be placed higher on the list, but the Phillies have good outfield depth, and for example, John Mayberry filled in well for Victorino when he went down with a thumb sprain and had to go the the DL in 2011.
This is a contract year for Victorino, and he is poised to be a huge part of the Phillies offense in 2012.
The Phillies go as Jimmy Rollins goes.
This has been a trend over recent years, where the Phillies offense kicks it into overdrive when J-Roll gets J-Rolling (A second poor joke, I know).
His value to this squad is evidenced by the three-year, $38 million contract he received this offseason, as the Phillies look to keep their electrifying shortstop locked up for a few more years.
Rollins' game isn't all about offense. While he is getting up there in age, he still plays superb defense and has a rocket for an arm.
His biggest problem has been his health, but this has only further bolstered his importance to this team. While the Phillies have trotted out decent defensive replacements when Rollins has been injured, nobody has been able to replicate his offensive production.
Rollins showed just how valuable of a player he can be in 2007, when he garnered NL MVP honors.
While Jimmy Rollins is but a shell of the player he once was, he still is fully capable of carrying this Phillies team at times, and will be an incredibly valuable piece in 2012.
Welcome back, Cliff Lee, welcome back.
Cliff Lee made his triumphant return to Philadelphia in 2011, and man was he spectacular.
Lee lead all of baseball with six complete game shutouts. Six.
And he hit two homers in 2011 with seven RBI—baseball's true Renaissance man.
He had a month of June that will go down in Phillies lore as the best a pitcher has been in a month, pitching to a 5-0 record and a 0.21 ERA. Oh, and he had a 0.45 ERA in August as well. Yeah.
There are two things holding Lee back at a still impressive No. 4 spot in these rankings.
One is his relative inconsistency in 2011. He was roughed up a bit in April and, and again in July, with over a 4.00 ERA in each month. He also struggled in a huge start in the NLDS, where he was unable to maintain a four-run lead—a key component in their series loss to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The second is a certain "Doctor" that will be touched upon later on.
Ryan Howard has earned his nickname of "The Big Piece."
The much-maligned slugger has often been criticized for his playoff shortcomings and his propensity to strike out in big situations.
Despite these problems, Howard is in fact a big piece for the Phillies. He provides mammoth power and is an elite run producer. His defense, too, has become much better as of late.
Everyone loves to hate on Ryan Howard, but the fact of the matter is that he is an enormous part of this team. It would be impossible to replace his offensive production. He is always among the league leaders in RBI, and in a team that so often struggles to score runs, his importance cannot be overemphasized.
The Phillies will need to do their best to replace Howard in the early goings of 2012 due to injury, and his value to the team will truly be tested in this period.
It's probably the biggest question coming into the 2012 season for the Phillies. Can anyone replace the production of Ryan Howard?
The fact that this is such a big topic is proof enough that Ryan Howard is one the the Phillies most valuable players.
Hunter Pence is going to need to be huge for the Phillies in 2012.
Pence was magnificent in his short time in Philadelphia in 2011, providing energy and charisma in the clubhouse, and the consistent bat that the Phillies needed on the field.
He is a likely candidate to bat cleanup in the absence of Ryan Howard to begin the 2012 campaign, and he will be counted upon to be a major run producer for the Phillies.
Pence will be the Phillies best power bat early in 2012, and perhaps for the entire season depending on how well Ryan Howard can recover.
Hunter Pence can do everything well on a baseball field. He has above average speed, hits for a high average, hits for legitimate power, has an arm like a laser beam and is a solid outfielder (though a little clumsy at times).
Pence is the surest thing the Phillies offense has, and will be the most valuable piece in the offense in 2012.
It would be sacrilege to not put Roy Halladay at the top of these rankings.
Say what you may about Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw, but Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Like Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay has earned his nickname "Doc" for his surgical precision on the mound. It really is scary to watch him dominate hitters, but boy is it fun.
Every year Halladay finds something else to improve in his game. At the age of 34, Halladay significantly upped his strikeout rate while lowering his ERA to 2.35—the lowest in his 14-year career.
His value is immense on the field, but his perpetual hard work and determination serve as constant motivation for his teammates as well.
The Phillies would be a whole different team without Halladay. His presence guarantees at the very least a puncher's chance every five days when the Doc's turn in the rotation rolls around.
The best in the game year in and year out, Roy Halladay has, and will continue to be the most important player in the Phillies organization, and one of the most dominant baseball players in the game today.