Predicting What the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies' Starting Lineup Will Look Like
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The Philadelphia Phillies are going to look a little different in 2013.
Their pitching staff will be largely unchanged, mind you, as the Phillies locked up Cole Hamels for the foreseeable future just before the trade deadline and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Lee could have gone somewhere, but Ruben Amaro, Jr. has vowed that Lee is going to stay put.
It's the Phillies' offense that's going to look different. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were both traded before the deadline, putting the club's plans for its outfield in flux. Given Placido Polanco's declining health and skills, it's a good bet that the Phillies will start 2013 with a new starting third baseman.
Sadly, I don't own a crystal ball. I can't gaze into the future and tell you who the Phillies are going to be running out there on a regular basis in 2013.
I do, however, have some educated guesses as to what their everyday lineup is going to look like.
Ryan Howard, 1B
Is Ryan Howard the hitter he once was?
Not even close. He's probably better than a .213 hitter with a .738 OPS, but not by much. He hit .253/.346/.488 in 2011 when he was healthy, and that's where the bar should be set for him from now on.
But is Howard going anywhere?
There's no chance of that happening. The Phillies are on the hook to pay him $20 million in 2013, and $25 million in 2014, 2015 and 2016, according to Baseball-Reference.com. In the realm of players with immovable contracts, Howard is right up there with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and John Lackey.
This is not to suggest that the Phillies actually want to move Howard. They probably know as well as anyone that Howard isn't going to provide good value for the money he's being paid, but the Phillies will be happy if they get 140 games and 30 home runs out of him in 2013.
If Howard doesn't open 2013 as Philly's starting first baseman, it will be because the Mayans were right about the end of the world.
Chase Utley, 2B
It crossed my mind that Chase Utley might decide to hang 'em up after this season. His knees are shot, and the idea of playing a full season on them in 2013 has to make him squirm.
But 2013 is the final year of Utley's contract with the Phillies, and it's doubtful that he's going to want to go out on the bitter disappointment of the 2012 season. I fully expect him to give it one more go.
Utley has been surprisingly good since he was activated off the disabled list in late June. His .475 slugging percentage is his best since the 2009 season, and he could easily end up hitting more home runs in half a season this year than he did in 103 games in 2011.
The Phillies will no doubt have a plan in place to keep Utley's legs fresh in 2013. My best guess is that Freddy Galvis is going to be used to spell Utley on occasion. Galvis is a weak hitter, but he makes up for that by being an above-average defensive player.
Not a bad platoon situation.
Jimmy Rollins, SS
It's not out of the question that Amaro will try to trade Jimmy Rollins this offseason. Rollins was the subject of many trade rumors in the weeks leading up to the deadline, and the $22 million (potentially $33 million if his vesting option for 2015 kicks in) remaining on his contract after this season isn't such a big hurdle.
Or the Phillies could just keep Rollins and hope for the best, which wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.
Rollins is getting up there in years, but he's shown this season that he can still play. According to FanGraphs, he still rates as an above-average defensive shortstop with a UZR of 5.6. Since the start of June, Rollins has upped his OPS from .602 to .721. Of his 13 home runs, 11 have come since June 1.
He can also still steal an occasional base, as he has 17 this season and is on pace to finish with around 25 steals.
Rollins is making $11 million this season, and the verdict from BaseballPlayerSalaries.com is that he's worth it. Expect him to stick around and start at short for the Phillies in 2013.
Carlos Ruiz, C
There haven't been many bright spots for the Phillies in 2012, but Carlos Ruiz has without a doubt been the club's biggest bright spot.
Ruiz is going to be out for a few weeks with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which is just the latest in a series of injuries that he's had to deal with this season. But when he's been healthy, Ruiz has been a monster at the plate.
Per FanGraphs, Ruiz leads all major league catchers in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, weighted on-base average and WAR. He's also shattered his previous career high with 14 home runs.
Ruiz's bat has come alive this season, but he's always been a valuable member of the team because of how he handles the club's pitching staff. It's the most underrated part of his game, and it's what makes him the most under-appreciated of the Phillies' recent run of success.
He has a $5 million team option for 2013. It's safe to say the Phillies will be picking that up.
The Good Bets
Domonic Brown, LF
In a span of a year, Domonic Brown has gone from being one of the top prospects in all of baseball to being a bust in the eyes of some fans.
Such is life when you hit just .236/.314/.382 in your first two stints in the majors.
But it's way too early to give up on Brown, and the bright side of the Phillies' disappointing showing this season is that it's put them in a position to give Brown some on-the-job training in the final few weeks of the regular season.
So far, so good.
Brown has only been an everyday player for the Phillies since the start of August, but what he's shown thus far is encouraging. He's hitting .333/.417/.476 over his last six games, and Charlie Manuel recently told CSNPhilly.com that he's liking what he's seeing.
“He’s been pretty good. I like the way he works the count and swings the bat,” said Manuel of Brown. “… Right now, he’s hitting the ball more to left field, left-center, especially up the middle, and that’s how you learn how to hit. You usually go the other way and work your way around.”
Brown is capable of playing all three outfield spots, but his profile is that of a corner outfielder. Manuel has used Brown exclusively in left field since he returned to the big leagues, and he's looked pretty comfortable out there.
So if the Phillies are finally going to commit to Brown in 2013, expect him to be in left field on Opening Day.
Nate Schierholtz, RF
Nate Schierholtz is not a star player by any stretch of the imagination. He's more like a fourth outfielder, and indeed that's the role he's played for much of his career to this point.
He's better than you probably think, though.
Schierholtz is not an elite hitter, but he has a career OPS of .730 and he's managed an OPS of .761 in his brief time with the Phillies. He got semi-regular playing time in 2011, and posted an OPS of .756.
Schierholtz is perfectly capable of posting an OPS in the mid-.700s if he were to start every day for the Phillies in right field. Seeing as how Pence posted a mere .784 OPS in his time with the Phillies in 2012, going from him to Schierholtz in right field wouldn't be a massive downgrade.
One thing that's for sure is that going from Pence to Schierholtz would be an upgrade defensively. He posted a negative UZR and a negative DRS in 2011, according to FanGraphs, but he can generally be counted on for above-average defense. Pence, on the other hand, has rated as a below-average defensive player each of the last two years.
But you know what the best thing about Schierholtz is?
He's cheap. Pence could make as much as $15 million in arbitration this winter, whereas the Phillies could probably get away with signing Schierholtz for around $2 million in arbitration. Possibly less.
This will free them up to spend money elsewhere.
And that leads us to the most complicated part of this discussion...
If you add up the 2013 salaries of Howard, Utley, Rollins and Ruiz, you get a total of $51 million.
Let's assume that Brown is going to make about $500,000 in 2013 (the equivalent of what John Mayberry is making in 2012), and that Schierholtz is going to sign for at most $2 million.
This will mean the Phillies are going to have six starters locked up for less than $55 million. That's an average of less than $10 million per starter, which isn't bad at all.
But they're still not going to have a lot of money to play with in free agency, and they have their high-priced pitchers to thank for that. Lee, Halladay, Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon will combine to make about $78 million in 2013.
In all, Baseball-Reference.com calculates that the Phillies have about $132 million invested in just nine different players in 2013. Once things like options and salary arbitration figures are mixed in, they could be tied up for as much as $150 million.
Per USA Today, the Phillies are operating with a payroll of about $175 million this season. That's where the bar will be set in 2013.
This puts their free-agency budget at probably somewhere between $20-25 million. That kind of money can buy some pretty good players.
As far as their lineup is concerned, the Phillies' two most pressing needs will be in center field and at third base. To fill those needs, they'll hit the free-agent market.
Safe, Low-Budget Option: Cody Ross
Phillies fans well remember what Cody Ross did to the club in the 2010 NLCS. They should also realize that his left field power stroke is absolutely perfect for Citizens Bank Park.
Granted, Ross is not the kind of guy the Phillies or any other team should want playing in center field every day. He's not a bad center fielder, but he projects better as a corner outfielder. If the Phillies were to sign him, some sort of rotation involving Ross, Brown, Schierholtz and Mayberry would be necessary.
But that would be worth it because Ross could be had fairly cheaply. He's only being paid $3 million by the Red Sox this season. His .879 OPS and 17 home runs put him in line for a raise, and he'll undoubtedly be looking for a multi-year deal.
A three-year offer worth $7-8 million annually could get the job done.
Bold, Expensive Option: Michael Bourn
Michael Bourn is going to be the top center fielder on the market this offseason, and the word from ESPN's Buster Olney is that the Phillies are very much interested in signing him.
He won't come cheap. Bourn is having the best season of his career, hitting .289/.347/.424 with nine home runs and 29 stolen bases, all while playing excellent defense.
The Phillies would love to have Bourn's defense in center field, and Bourn is also appealing because he could hit leadoff, thus allowing Rollins to hit elsewhere in the order.
Olney says that Bourn is going to get a multi-year deal worth between $16 and $22 million annually. My best guess is that Bourn will be signed for a figure towards the lower end of that estimate. Something right around $16 or $17 million per year.
A deal like that would stretch the Phillies' free-agent budget to the limit, but it's a deal they can afford to make.
And knowing Amaro, he won't shy away from making such a deal.
Prediction: Bourn signs
Safe, Low-Budget Option: Maicer Izturis
If the Phillies sign Bourn, they'll have no choice but to go after the cheapest third baseman they can find.
This is, of course, assuming they don't pick up Polanco's $5.5 million option. If the Phillies do choose to let him go (and they should), they'll likely look to land a player with a similar skill set: a contact hitter who can hold his own in the field.
The free-agent market won't be rich with options this offseason, but Maicer Izturis comes to mind. He's very much an NL-style player, as he's a switch hitter who specializes in doing all the little things. He'd be a perfect No. 8 hitter in an NL lineup.
He's also a solid defensive player at the hot corner, and he has the ability to play all over the infield if need be.
He's making just under $4 million this season. My guess is that he could be signed for right around $5 million per year, at most.
Bold, Expensive Option: Mark Reynolds
Mark Reynolds has been one of the least valuable players in baseball this season. Per FanGraphs, Reynolds' -0.4 WAR rates as the 10th-lowest figure in MLB among players with at least 300 plate appearances.
This is what happens when one's power disappears, yet the strikeouts remain. Reynolds has made matters worse by struggling defensively at both third base and first base.
If Reynolds was having a typical Reynolds season, the Orioles wouldn't be calling up Manny Machado right now to play third base down the stretch. Since they are doing just that, it doesn't seem at all likely that they'll pick up Reynolds' $11 million option for 2013.
If they don't, Reynolds will hit the open market. He won't be in line to make a killing in free agency, but it will likely take a one-year deal worth $7 or $8 million to sign him.
Prediction: Izturis signs
So the Phillies' 2013 Lineup Could End Up Looking Like...
I'll spare you any further chatter and just get to the point. Here's my prediction for Philly's everyday lineup in 2013:
1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Jimmy Rollins, SS
3. Chase Utley, 2B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C
6. Domonic Brown, LF
7. Nate Schierholtz, RF
8. Maicer Izturis, 3B
Combined with the pitching the Phillies are going to have, I'd say they'd have a shot at getting back on top in 2013.
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