25 Offseason Moves the Philadelphia Phillies Could Make to Reclaim NL Throne

Greg PintoCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2012

25 Offseason Moves the Philadelphia Phillies Could Make to Reclaim NL Throne

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    The Philadelphia Phillies' season could be compared to a dinghy moving through a field of ice in the water.

    When you're forced to hop into a small boat and navigate through a field of ice, you know you're already facing big problems. That's what the Phillies faced this season when they were forced to open up the campaign without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

    Sure, you can navigate around the big chunks of ice, which is what the Phillies did when they brought in guys like Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix and Freddy Galvis to play first and second base in the absence of their All-Stars.

    Those are moves you make to plug holes in the boat. You don't want the water pouring in and threatening to take the whole thing down, but some holes are just too big to fill. So when Roy Halladay went down, it was kind of like hitting the proverbial iceberg.

    The water poured into the boat and the Phillies had no way of stopping it. It rushed in and flushed their postseason hopes away, and now the club is forced to look toward the future.

    That's not necessarily a bad thing.

    The Phillies made a pair of moves at the trade deadline to free up some space under the luxury tax so that they could fix this thing. In the following slideshow, I'll take a look at a few scenarios that could lead the Phillies back to the top of the NL East in 2013.

The Outfield

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    It's funny how some things can change so quickly in this sport.

    Coming into the season, the Phillies thought that they may have too many outfielders. With Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence playing every day, Juan Pierre, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix were battling for time in the outfield.

    Now it's open tryouts out there.

    Pence and Victorino are gone, and Pierre and Nix have been limited to more of a bench role. New addition Nate Schierholtz was playing nearly every day before suffering a broken toe, and Domonic Brown was recalled.

    The Phillies are auditioning outfielders for next season, but truth be told, they're not going to find all three answers in-house. Here are some options for the Phillies to shore up their outfield this winter.

Outfield Option No. 8: B.J. Upton

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    B.J. Upton probably isn't the best fit for the Phillies.

    They don't need to go out and spend money on the free-agent market on a guy who has a ton of potential but just can't find ways to live up to it. They already have one of those guys in John Mayberry Jr., and he's a lot cheaper.

    Upton strikes out a lot, doesn't walk enough and is just an average defensive center fielder. People have also questioned his personality and commitment in the past, and the Phillies have historically shied away from those type of players.

Outfield Option No. 7: Josh Hamilton

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    Josh Hamilton will be a popular name this winter, and the Phillies will be connected to a few rumors without a doubt—but if they had a shred of common sense, this is the kind of deal that they'll avoid this winter.

    Don't get me wrong, Hamilton is an excellent player. The Phillies just can't afford to commit to another huge contract.

    Hamilton is in line for a big payday—probably the biggest of any free agent on the market this winter now that the Phillies have re-signed Cole Hamels.

    Given his off-the-field issues in the past, can the Phillies, who already have a ton of money on the books for 2013, really commit to a guy like Hamilton?

    I would say no. Adding Hamilton wouldn't just be a risk, as he'd also make the Phillies lineup extremely left-handed, which they probably don't want given Chase Utley's and Ryan Howard's struggles against left-handed pitching, not to mention Hamilton's.

    Hamilton is a great player, but there are better fits for the Phillies.

Outfield Option No. 6: Melky Cabrera

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    Melky Cabrera is another popular name on the outfield market this offseason, but he definitely is not a guy I would sign to a long-term contract.

    First and foremost, he's had conditioning problems in the past. That would lead me to question his commitment and make me a bit hesitant to sign him long term.

    More importantly, however, you have to really question whether or not his "transformation" as a hitter is legitimate. Without a doubt, Cabrera has been one of the best hitters in the game over the last couple of seasons—but how much of that is driven by luck?

    Take a look at this table. It compares Cabrera's 2011 and 2012 seasons—regarded to be two of his best—to some of his less lucky seasons, or years in which his BABIP has been closer to the average of .300.

    YEAR   BABIP   AVG OPS HR
                 
    2006   .309   .280 .752 7
    2007   .295   .273 .718 8
    2011   .332   .305 .809 18
    2012   .380   .348 .911 11

    Now, it stands to reason that Cabrera has made some progress as a hitter, thanks to both experience and better conditioning, and you have to give him some credit for that. It also stands to reason, however, that playing his home games in San Francisco has significantly increased his offensive "output."

    My conclusion is that Cabrera is a solid role player for most teams over the course of a long-term deal, but is not a superstar. The Phillies may want to show some caution here.

Outfield Option No. 5: Shane Victorino

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    I wouldn't close the door on a Shane Victorino return just yet.

    There is no doubt that Victorino would return to Philadelphia in the right situation. The real question is whether or not they want him back. Should some of their first options go elsewhere, the Phillies could realistically target the "Flyin' Hawaiian."

    But how many years would you commit to Victorino? Five is too long for a player who showed serious signs of decline this season. Would he take a three-year deal?

    Would you offer Victorino the same deal that the Phillies gave Jimmy Rollins? More importantly, would he accept?

    I think that something along the lines of three years and $39 million plus an option could get a deal done for Victorino. That would guarantee him to be with the club through his 34th birthday.

Outfield Option No. 4: Angel Pagan

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    Is Angel Pagan one of this offseason's best-kept secrets?

    While the top-tier outfielders like Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino are getting all of the attention, it is a little bit surprising that so few people are talking about Pagan.

    Over his last three, full seasons, Pagan has managed a slash line of .284/.336/.422 and hit 24 home runs. He's also a solid defensive center fielder with pretty good speed.

    Given the Phillies' monetary constraints, Pagan could realistically be the club's best option on a short-term deal.

Outfield Option No. 3: Nick Swisher

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    I think it is more reasonable to expect the Phillies to focus on finding a center fielder outside of the organization this winter with guys like Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix, Nate Schierholtz and John Mayberry Jr. all in the fold, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to see them linked to a few corner outfielders. 

    Nick Swisher would probably be the best fit in that case.

    He's not necessarily going to come cheap, but the switch-hitting Swisher could give the Phillies the best bang for their buck, offensively.

    Given what he's done for the New York Yankees over the last couple of seasons, I think you can expect Swisher to hit about 25 home runs and OPS around .810. That's not bad for a corner outfielder who won't require an overly long commitment.

Outfield Option No. 2: Cody Ross

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    Phillies fans may not want to hear it, but Cody Ross may be one of their best fits (and biggest targets) come free agency.

    Of course, fans will always remember his outstanding play to help the San Francisco Giants win the World Series in 2010, but I imagine that people will be more willing to let bygones be bygones if Ross is wearing red pinstripes.

    After struggling a bit with the Giants in 2011 and forced to sign a one-year deal last winter, Ross is really helping himself with a great 2012 campaign as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

    I could see him commanding a three-year deal over the winter, but it wouldn't be as expensive to sign Ross over that stretch as it would be to sign a guy like Nick Swisher.

    So what can you expect? It wouldn't surprise me to see Ross average about 20-to-25 home runs and an OPS somewhere around .790-.800 over the duration of his contract.

    Those numbers could be even better if Ross is playing his home games in Citizens Bank Park, where he owns a career slash line of .271/.323/.542 with eight home runs.

Outfield Option No. 1: Michael Bourn

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    At the end of the day, all things considered, Michael Bourn is probably the best fit for all of the Phillies' needs this offseason.

    Most obviously, they need a center fielder. After playing some center field in Triple-A, it looked as though Domonic Brown was going to get a chance to man that position on a part-time basis in MLB, but that hasn't happened.

    Instead, John Mayberry Jr. and Nate Schierholtz have done that job, leading us to believe that the Phillies will be in the market for a center fielder following the season.

    Defensively, Bourn is probably the best available.

    Offensively, the Phillies would be able to slot him in at the top of the order ahead of Jimmy Rollins, who has not done anything to create runs for the Phillies this season.

    Rollins and Bourn have posted wRC+ marks of 94 and 117, respectively. If I were the Phillies, I would take the latter, but I certainly would be careful not to overpay for the latter as well.

    The biggest stumbling block? Bourn is represented by super-agent Scott Boras.

Third Base

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    While finding an outfielder will be this offseason's top priority for the Phillies, finding a reliable third baseman is a close second.

    Placido Polanco, who has been the Phillies' starting third baseman since the 2010 season, is at the end of his rope, and the Phillies are ready to cut ties. They hold a club option on Polanco for the 2013 season that is very likely to be turned down.

    So where do they go from there? The options aren't exactly plentiful.

    Here are a few options for the Phillies this offseason.

Third Base Option No. 5: Maicer Izturis

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    My fellow Bleacher Report columnist, Zachary D. Rymer, recently wrote about Maicer Izturis being a possible fit for the 2013 Phillies.

    Personally, I can't see him being very high on the Phillies' wishlist this offseason.

    The Phillies already tried the light-hitting, defense-first approach at third base with Placido Polanco, and it has turned into a train wreck. Of course, part of the reason for that is Polanco's inability to stay healthy, but the point is the same.

    Over the last three seasons, Izturis has posted an OPS north of .700 once. I think the Phillies will go with a more traditional third baseman this time around. They'll be looking for a bit more offense.

Third Base Option No. 4: Mark Reynolds

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    The polar opposite of Maicer Izturis may just be Mark Reynolds, another "third baseman" who will probably be more of a back-up plan than anything for the Phillies.

    The 2012 season hasn't been kind to Reynolds. He's been a butcher at third base, and Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter has struggled to get him into the lineup.

    The Phillies like having a capable defender at third, so I wouldn't count on them signing Reynolds—but if all of the other options are dried up, they could buy low on his power and hope for a miracle in his plate discipline improving.

Third Base Option No. 3: Placido Polanco

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    Don't count out Placido Polanco just yet.

    Third base may be a huge need for the Phillies, but it is also one of the weakest positions in this year's free-agent market. There isn't a top-tier guy available, and the Phillies are going to have to sacrifice something if they want to bring in a third baseman.

    So while it would surprise me if they pick up his option, it certainly wouldn't be surprising to see the Phillies turn down Polanco's option and bring him back at a (much) lower rate.

    Ideally, Polanco is a guy you wouldn't mind having on your bench as a part-time player. He's an excellent defender, and his approach at the plate is still good.

    Of course, playing him every day at the age of 37 is going to leave him exposed, so my gut tells me the Phillies will move on here.

Third Base Option No. 2: Chase Headley

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    Pound for pound, Chase Headley is (probably, assuming that the San Diego Padres are still listening to offers) going to be the best third baseman available this winter. Several teams discussed deals with the Padres for him at the deadline, but Headley ultimately remained put.

    The Phillies made a couple of trades at the deadline that may have given them the flexibility, in terms of prospects, to make a move for a guy like Headley. They have two of the game's top catching prospects and plenty of pitching upside.

    Would the Padres listen to a deal for Headley? That remains to be seen. They wanted a king's ransom at the trade deadline, and the price isn't going to go down in a weak market this winter.

    Realistically, the Phillies probably don't have the prospects to make a move for Headley without gutting their farm system. I'd hold on to any talent they have in the upper levels.

Third Base Option No. 1: Kevin Youkilis

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    So, if you're looking for the most bang for your buck out of a third baseman this winter, both in terms of dollars and prospects, the safest bet for the Phillies is probably Kevin Youkilis, and that's assuming that the Chicago White Sox turn down his $13 million club option.

    Why Youkilis? As I said a couple of slides ago, you're going to have to make some sacrifices.

    Perhaps most importantly for the Phillies, Youkilis wouldn't cost them anything in terms of prospects. If they're going to compete with young teams like the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves in the near future, they'll need the talented guys in the upper levels of their system.

    Youkilis also won't be too expensive in terms of money, and probably won't get a long commitment. Two years and somewhere in the price range of $16-20 million seems about right for a guy like Youkilis. 

    That may seem like quite a bit for Youkilis, but it would save the Phillies from emptying out their farm system on a guy like Chase Headley and gives them the offense that they're looking for from the position, albeit, in exchange for some of the defense that they've enjoyed out of Placido Polanco.

    Can the Phillies afford to pursue a guy like Youkilis and a top-tier outfielder? That remains to be seen.

The Bullpen

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    The bullpen has been another area of concern for the Phillies this season, but shouldn't be overly high on their list of offseason priorities, and I'll explain why in a moment.

    Injuries, inexperience and outright poor performances have hurt the Phillies bullpen this season, but if there is any one area of the club that is due for a major increase in value over the next couple of years, this is it.

    Here's why.

Don't Splurge on Veteran Middle Relief, Because...

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    It's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction after watching the Phillies bullpen this season.

    They came into the year expecting to have quite a few guys with experience in the back end of the bullpen, and right now it looks as though Jonathan Papelbon is the only man left standing.

    Jose Contreras will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Antonio Bastardo is a shell of his former self right now.

    That could force the Phillies into spending money on an expensive set-up man, but it shouldn't.

    Sure, guys like Jonathan Broxton, Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon League and even Ryan Madson could help the Phillies bullpen, but at what expense?

    The Phillies have the talent to stay "in-house" in the bullpen, so if there's one area that they're going to save, this should be it.

Bullpen Option No. 4: Mike Stutes

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    Injuries have been a big part of the Phillies' bullpen struggles this season. They'll be fortunate to get a pair of arms—ones that made big contributions for the club in the past—back for the 2013 season. One of those guys is Mike Stutes.

    Stutes never got off the ground this season, reporting soreness in his shoulder during spring training that never went away. He eventually had exploratory surgery and was sidelined for the season.

    Coming into the year, the Phillies were hoping that he could take step forward from his rookie campaign in 2011. Now he'll have to prove himself all over again in 2013.

Bullpen Option No. 3: David Herndon

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    David Herndon was never the most beloved Phillies reliever, but to say that he played an important role for the club would be an understatement.

    The Phillies often used the former Rule 5 pick as the club's long-man—a role that Kyle Kendrick has filled this season. However, Charlie Manuel also used Herndon in middle relief, and he was effective at times.

    He only threw five games for the Phillies this season before undergoing Tommy John surgery, but seemed to be making legitimate strides. He won't be counted on in late innings anytime soon, but there is no reason to believe that he cannot fill the same kind of role that Chad Durbin did a couple of seasons ago.

Bullpen Option No. 2: "The Young Guns"

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    Getting Mike Stutes and David Herndon back would certainly help the Phillies bullpen next season, but without a doubt, the upside for that bullpen lies within these arms—the "young guns."

    The Phillies relied heavily on their young relievers this season, and their inexperience was obvious—but a full season under most of their belts and a taste of MLB for some others should do them wonders heading into 2013, giving the Phillies a solid 'pen.

    Some of the most obvious names that have been with the Phillies for most of this season are Michael Schwimer, Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman and Joe Savery.

    Schwimer emerged as the club's best right-handed reliever not named Jonathan Papelbon at one point during the year, and Horst has realistically been the bullpen's best lefty. Diekman has incredible upside, and Savery has shown that he can contribute.

    And those aren't even the best arms in the system, with Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont— both members of the Phillies' top 10 prospects—on the way.

    There is just no need to splurge on a free-agent reliever for next season.

Bullpen Option No. 1: Kyle Kendrick?

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    Kyle Kendrick is one of the most interesting prospective relievers for the 2013 season, however could be one of the fans' favorite whipping boys.

    While pitching in the starting rotation hasn't done Kendrick any favors this season, he's been pretty solid as a reliever.

    In 12 games out of the bullpen, Kendrick has posted an ERA of 3.95, with opponents hitting just .231 against him.

    While he'll be the odd man out if the Phillies decide to upgrade their starting rotation, he could realistically be that veteran presence that they're looking for out of the bullpen.

The Starting Rotation

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    So the Phillies' starting rotation is probably going to be pretty good next season with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the forefront. Of course, it also comes with question marks.

    Are Halladay and Vance Worley healthy?

    Is Lee in decline or just having a bad season?

    A lot of rotations have big questions heading into the offseason, but the Phillies are in a peculiar situation this winter with their own. Are Halladay and Lee aging rapidly or just having bad seasons? That's the real question.

    Given the club's distrust of Kendrick in the rotation for an extended period of time, it wouldn't surprise me to see them pursue a fifth starter this winter. Here are some options.

Starting Pitching Option No. 4: What's in-House?

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    First and foremost, the Phillies are eventually going to have to find out what they have in-house.

    Of course, Triple-A starter Tyler Cloyd, who has dominated the opposition this season despite being more of a finesse pitcher than anything, has been the talk of the town. Cloyd is 15-1 with an ERA of 2.16 on the season in 24 combined starts between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

    Another possibility is Jonathan Pettibone, who has quietly been one of the most consistent starters in the Phillies system. He also split the season between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley and has posted a record of 11-7 with a 3.19 ERA.

    Of the two, Pettibone has a much higher ceiling, and there is a possibility that both could be in MLB as September call-ups this season.

Starting Pitching Option No. 3: Trade Cliff Lee...

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    The Phillies have the potential to make the biggest splash of the offseason by dangling starting pitcher Cliff Lee, but their willingness to do so has been questionable over the last few months.

    Leading up to the trade deadline, Lee was one of the best starting pitchers deemed "available," but he ultimately stayed put. Then the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed him on waivers in August, and he stayed put again.

    The Phillies, who could have dumped Lee's entire salary on the Dodgers, couldn't pull the trigger. That leads me to believe that they won't move Lee unless they could land a couple of top prospects and get quite a bit of salary relief, and I'm not sure that will happen.

    Of course, there will still be plenty of interest over the offseason. After Zack Greinke, the free-agent market for starting pitchers lacks top-tier talent.

Starting Pitching Option No. 2: ...Or, Don't Trade Cliff Lee

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    The Phillies could also keep Cliff Lee and be just as well off as they would be trading him.

    Sure, it's easy to jump all over him for his down season. You don't pay a man what the Phillies are paying Lee and feel comfortable when he posts a record of 2-7. Hell, Roy Halladay spent two months on the disabled list and has three-times as many wins and one fewer loss.

    But wins and losses are frivolous. Lee is still one of the best pitchers in the game, and here's a table showing why the Phillies are hesitant to move their prized lefty.

        K/9 BB/9 HR/9   ERA FIP xFIP
    Player A   8.34 1.54 1.22   3.85 3.52 3.22
    Player B   8.69 2.25 1.04   2.91 3.46 3.31

    Now take a moment to try and figure out who these players are. Here's a hint: They're both left-handed and signed mega-deals with the Phillies.

    Player A is Cliff Lee. Player B? Well, that's Cole Hamels.

    The former is being ridiculed for a down year, while the latter just signed one of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history for a pitcher and is a legitimate Cy Young candidate.

    Now you see why wins are arbitrary and the Phillies may want to hang onto Lee?

Starting Pitching Option No. 1: A Free-Agent Starter? No Need. Save Your Cash.

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    Of course, the Phillies could also add a fifth starter through free agency, but I think that they'll be hesitant to do so.

    First and foremost, the chances of the Phillies opening the season without Cliff Lee are slim. Health permitting, Roy Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley will all have spots in the starting rotation.

    That leaves one spot up for grabs, and I'm convinced that the Phillies will give it to one of Kyle Kendrick, Tyler Cloyd or Jon Pettibone.

    But there are guys on the free-agent market who could be interesting fifth starters, particularly in the National League. Francisco Liriano is a guy who comes to mind. Erik Bedard is another.

    However, I think the safer bet for the Phillies would be to save some money and go with the upside. Pettibone would be my early pick.

Odds and Ends: Build Depth

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    One of the things that Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to do last season was build depth for his club, and in a lot of ways he succeeded. He recreated his bench, which would have been beneficial if his starters were healthy.

    Laynce Nix was a solid addition. So was a half-price Ty Wigginton. Even Jim Thome had some upside as a pinch-hitter, though that experiment went south in a hurry.

    Amaro is going to have to build some more depth this winter, and it may not be as easy. He'll have some tough decisions to make. For starters, is it time to part ways with John Mayberry Jr., or does he serve as the club's fourth outfielder?

    Do you bring back Juan Pierre? Can a guy like Placido Polanco play as a utility man, and will he do it for cheap? What role does Freddy Galvis have in the club next season?

    The Phillies will have options to build a solid bench, and similarly, organization depth in the offseason. It is up to Amaro to make it work.

Time for a New Leader?

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    Is the Charlie Manuel era coming to a close in Philadelphia?

    The Phillies will forever be noncommittal about the future of their manager, but I don't think it is unreasonable to assume that Manuel could be on the hot seat this winter.

    Even in a season marred with injuries, the Phillies have been a lot worse than they should have been. You can blame a lot of that on Manuel, whose inability to create capable matchups, both in the lineup and through his bullpen, have put the Phillies in tough situations.

    Perhaps the perfect example of that inability is the continued use of Jimmy Rollins as the club's leadoff man—or "spark plug," as Manuel likes to call him. The leadoff man is supposed to help create runs. In spite of that, Manuel continues to bat Rollins and his below-league-average wRC+ first.

    Sure, there are few options in this club, but Juan Pierre (111 wRC+) is a good one against right-handed pitching. I'd even throw Domonic Brown (106 wRC+) in that position and see what he can do. He's had one of the best approaches in the club since being recalled from Triple-A.

    But that won't happen as long as Manuel has a veteran player for that spot.

    As far as a replacement goes, I don't think that it's a secret at this point. The Phillies are grooming Ryne Sandberg to be their next manager, and truth be told, the time is now.

Rotting from the Top?

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    Is it too soon to question how much trust the ownership group has in general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.?

    Has he really put the Phillies in a position to succeed? If you ask me, the answer is no. Amaro has infamously traded away top prospects for aging rental players and signed older veterans to multi-year contracts, leaving the payroll crippled.

    His unfathomable love for pitching gave the Phillies Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and even Kyle Kendrick. The Phillies owe those five pitchers $381.5 million. Yes, really.

    And that goes without mentioning a single position player, but Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins in particular are making quite a bit of money thanks to their generous GM.

    In a way, the Phillies are rotting from the top. It may be time for the organization to cut ties with Amaro before things get out of control, and if you want to ask why, take a look at some of the better general managers in the game and the success of their organizations.

    Andrew Friedman has less money to work with per season than Cliff Lee will earn in the entirety of his contract. How are those Tampa Bay Rays faring in baseball's toughest division?

    It may be time for the Phillies to give an underrated executive a shot. Maybe an executive like Kim Ng, who wouldn't saddle the Phillies with payroll just to "win now."

    That's just a thought.