The Philadelphia Phillies haven't played a "meaningless" month of September for a long time.
And while they are still scratching and clawing their way back into the back end of a postseason race, a lot of fans have already shifted their focus to how the Phillies can improve in time for the 2013 campaign.
Well, there's an easy way to figure out which players are going to help you and who isn't going to be very effective—find out how important they are in comparison to each other.
Guys at the top of the list are going to be players that you want to keep. Players at the bottom of the list are going to be guys that could wind up being expendable or replaceable.
That's what this slideshow will do. We'll rank the players currently on the Phillies' roster by their importance to the future and see where they can improve moving into next season.
33. Brian Schneider: It was a surprise that the Phillies brought Schneider back last season, but it would be even more surprising this winter. Erik Kratz is just outplaying him for that backup catcher's gig, and the latter has been able to stay healthy.
32. Ty Wigginton: Can't see a spot for him in 2013.
31. Placido Polanco: He just can't stay healthy and I can't see the Phillies bringing him back next season.
30. Joe Savery: He's a solid lefty-on-lefty option. Nothing more.
29. B.J. Rosenberg: Needs to refine his "stuff." Could be a solid middle innings guy. Needs more time in the minors.
28. Michael Martinez: He's been historically bad this season and there's no legitimate argument for him to be playing at this level.
27. Raul Valdes: Proved to be a solid lefty this season, but he's definitely expendable.
26. Kevin Frandsen: He did a solid job of filling in for the Phillies at third base this season, but won't be more than a bench player in 2013 if he returns.
25. Laynce Nix: He'll probably be the club's top left-handed bat off of the bench next season, especially when Nate Schierholtz is already playing.
*I wasn't comfortable ranking Michael Stutes and David Herndon, who missed nearly the entire regular season following extensive surgery. They'll both factor into the Phillies' plans, but the bullpen is crowded and I don't know where they stand.
Juan Pierre could be a valuable asset for the Phillies next season, but I doubt he's at the top of their wish list.
The speedy left fielder saw his playing time dwindle following the trade deadline as the Phillies opted to try and find out what they have in some of their other, younger options moving forward.
With Domonic Brown, Nate Schierholtz, Laynce Nix, and John Mayberry Jr. all on the roster for next season, there doesn't seem to be much room for Pierre, especially if you think that there is going to be another outfielder entering the mix that currently exists outside the organization—and there likely will be.
The Phillies are drooling over the possibility of having an everyday center fielder again.
Part of me believes that Pierre could be a solid bench option for the Phillies next season, but the other believes that he'll find more playing time elsewhere.
Tyler Cloyd is a valuable commodity.
I'd say that if the 2013 season were to open right now, Tyler Cloyd would start the year in Triple-A. That doesn't make him any less valuable.
We just know that the Phillies are going to open the season with four guys—Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Vance Worley—guaranteed jobs. What has Kyle Kendrick done to be sent back to the bullpen?
It is always important to have that so-called "sixth starter" ready in case of an emergency, and Cloyd has at least shown that he can keep the offense in the game.
Jake Diekman is interesting. Just how valuable you think he is probably depends on how convinced you are that he can show better control at the MLB level.
Obviously, I'm a bit more convinced than others.
Diekman hasn't pitched much since rejoining the Phillies, but so far so good. As long as he can locate his fastball for strikes, Diekman is going to be successful.
He has a funky delivery that left-handed batters just can't find comfortable to settle in against and a pair of secondary offerings (slider and changeup) that can become good pitches.
I actually like his ceiling quite a bit. Right now, I still think he's a future set-up man from the left side.
Michael Schwimer was up and down for the Phillies this season—both in the sense that he was good at times and bad at others and that he spent some time in the minors and with the big club.
Schwimer's future with the club became a bit hazy at the end of the season, when the Phillies wanted to send him to Triple-A, but Schwimer claimed that he was injured.
The parties seem to have agreed to a resolution since then, but the point remains—and with guys like Justin De Fratus, Josh Lindblom, and Phillippe Aumont all likely to be on the roster next season, he has his work cut out for him anyway.
Just how valuable Jeremy Horst is to the future of this club is dependent on how you're going to answer the following question: Was his 2012 season a sign of things to come or more of a fluke?
Of course, Horst has been one of the Phillies' best relievers this season.
He has literally made one bad appearance this season and that was in a game where Charlie Manuel's goal seemed to be an attempt to make Horst throw as many pitches as possible.
And even then, it still didn't make much of a difference. Horst has posted a sub-two ERA for nearly the entire season and doesn't seem to be ready to slow down.
The Phillies do have other options in the bullpen in guys like Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo, but they seem to be quite high on him right now.
Common sense says that the Phillies really want to give Josh Lindblom a chance to succeed.
Lindblom, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the deal that sent Shane Victorino out west, was expected to join the club as the right-handed set-up man.
Well, that never really happened.
Lindblom struggled in his first few appearances with the Phillies and now, the job seems to belong to Phillippe Aumont. So where does Lindblom fit in moving forward?
He seems to have the tools to succeed. Though location has been an issue, Lindlbom has a good fastball and a decent curveball.
The biggest thing working against him is the depth of the Phillies' bullpen. I'm not sure that he'll have to "fight" for a job, but he won't just be handed one either.
The backup catcher's role isn't one that holds much value, especially when you're putting an emphasis on future importance.
But then again, classifying Erik Kratz as nothing more than a "backup catcher" would be doing him an injustice.
Injuries forced the Phillies to shuffle their lineups a bit this season and Kratz found himself playing often. He's already hit nine home runs this season and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Phillies keep him around for more than just his glove.
Kratz swings a power bat from the right side of the plate as well. He's not expensive and has handled the pitching staff well.
He's kind of what general managers dream of when looking for a backup catcher.
Nate Schierholtz hasn't played much since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of September and that can't be considered a good sign for his long-term future, unless of course, that nagging big toe is still a problem.
There is a possibility that the Phillies could non-tender him this winter, but I don't think that's going to happen.
Instead, he'll join a crowded outfield that already contains names like Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., and Laynce Nix with the potential for more entrants.
Schierholtz is a platoon player at best next season.
There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to John Mayberry Jr.
The first is a small group shrinking further by the day that believes that there is some latent potential in Mayberry's bat that has yet to be awaken.
That group would like to see him take another shot at a platoon role against left-handed pitchers next season. That's not a terrible idea. He's hit lefties well.
The second school of thought is that Mayberry is out of chances. The Phillies certainly gave him more than one to win an everyday job. That's not going to happen.
In either scenario it looks like Mayberry will be a part-time player who really only hits left-handed pitchers well. Those kind of bats are replaceable.
Justin De Fratus is currently working his way out of a crowded "middle relief" picture, but that won't take long.
The right-handed reliever has some of the best "stuff" currently existing within the Phillies' bullpen and it is only a matter of time before he weeds his way into the later innings where he can be most effective.
If you're looking at the long-term picture, De Fratus is one of the most valuable guys in the bullpen. I'm ranking him behind just Antonio Bastardo, Phillippe Aumont, and Jonathan Papelbon.
Along with the three aforementioned names, this quartet could end games quickly for the Phillies in the near future.
A lot of how important Freddy Galvis is to this team's future could hinge on what happens with Chase Utley.
If Utley stays at second base, then Galvis probably joins the team in place of Michael Martinez next season—a utility man who (surprisingly) will offer a little more offensively and play above average defense.
Of course, the Phillies have talked about moving Utley to third, in which case Galvis could become the everyday second baseman.
Galvis is obviously a lot more important in that second scenario.
For now, I'll temper the expectations a bit and assume that Utley stays at second.
As far as the Phillies' bullpen hierarchy is concerned, that group is at its best when Antonio Bastardo can be listed at the top.
Jonathan Papelbon is going to be the closer next season. There is little doubt about that.
It's the eight inning and down that the Phillies need to focus on this winter—and that may just entail determining which of their in-house guys are best suited for that role.
With Phillippe Aumont having taken over the eight inning as the right-handed set-up man, the left-handed job is probably Bastardo's to lose.
He is definitely a valuable asset to the future of this bullpen, but with guys like Jake Diekman and Jeremy Horst lurking, I wouldn't say he's overly important to the future.
Say what you will about Kyle Kendrick, but his versatility makes him a valuable asset.
While I'd bet my bottom dollar that he's all but guaranteed a job as the club's fifth starter next season, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise to see him move back into the bullpen as the club's long reliever either, and the fact that this is a role that he's had some success in makes him more valuable in my mind.
He'll earn $4.5 million next season, so the Phillies will probably give him every opportunity they can to ensure that he becomes the fifth starter.
At worst, he's an expensive reliever.
I wouldn't put too much stock into the Phillies' bullpen—in terms of future importance is concerned—because I think it is safe to consider the 2012 season something of an anomaly.
When they're at their best, the Phillies' starting rotation is a corps that is going to chew up some serious innings, and I think you'll see a return to that in 2013.
So guys that are pitching the middle innings and are somewhat replaceable aren't guys I'd put much stock in.
With that being said, I don't think that Phillippe Aumont is one of those guys.
The Phillies have used the hulking right-handed reliever as the set-up man in their most recent string of games and that's something that should bode well for his future.
If Aumont can consistently throw strikes the Phillies will have found themselves a lethal addition to the back end of their bullpen.
The Phillies are probably going to look to trade their closer this winter, but not because Jonathan Papelbon had a bad year. He didn't.
Maybe "look to trade" is a bad description.
What they'll actually try and do is see if anyone is dumb enough to take Papelbon's contract off of their hands, and I'm willing to bet that no one is.
So instead, the focus will shift to building a bullpen around Papelbon and any time that a player is in the center of a building project, you know he's a valuable asset, and Papelbon is certainly valuable to their bullpen.
$50 million valuable? Well, not so much.
Jimmy Rollins is an intriguing name on a list like this.
At first glance, you would think that a guy under contract for the next couple of seasons who functions both as your leadoff hitter and plays a premium position is quite valuable. I wouldn't disagree. But I also think that you have to break Rollins down a bit.
Defensively, you're not going to find many shortstops more capable than Rollins. He has excellent range to both sides of his body and a strong, accurate arm. This was a huge part of the reason the Phillies wanted him back.
Offensively? Well, Rollins has been declining over the last couple of seasons and it's not going to get any better.
At this point in his career, Rollins is a guy who should be hitting in the lower half of the batting order. He's a free-swinger with the chance to pop an occasional home run—not someone who should be leading off.
Long story short—Rollins is valuable, but I'm cautious about putting him too high because of the offensive woes.
From a logistical standpoint, Vance Worley is probably the most important starting pitcher to this club moving forward not named Cole Hamels.
He's the youngest member of the starting rotation. He's had some success at the MLB level. He's not even eligible for arbitration yet.
So any time that a team can lay claim to a young, affordable starting pitcher that has a chance to succeed—that's a valuable arm.
I don't want to pigeonhole myself or the Phillies by saying that the future of this club's offense "hinges" on the development of Domonic Brown—but it's pretty darn close.
Brown, who was the best prospect in the game for a short while, had stalled at Triple-A before the Phillies finally recalled him following the trade deadline.
While the numbers may tell a different story, I like what I've seen from Brown. I like his approach.
Brown has spent most of his time in the MLB this season trying to be a good hitter. He takes the ball the other way when it is pitched to the outside part of the plate and if you can do that, the hits will come.
But he did something that people have been waiting to see him do all year long in the first game of the last series with the Miami Marlins—turn on an inside pitch and destroy it for a home run.
It isn't going to be an easy road for Brown, but from a personal perspective, I still love the potential.
There's no doubt that the Phillies are a different team structurally when Ryan Howard is in the lineup.
Even though he's declined quite a bit over the last couple of seasons, Howard still swings a powerful bat and hitting him fourth allows Charlie Manuel to slot the rest of his hitters into more suiting positions.
But I'll play devil's advocate. Would the Phillies be better off with another cleanup hitter?
If a powerful left-handed bat in the middle of the order is what the Phillies really need, how about Josh Hamilton—this offseason's top position player on the free agent market.
The point here is that while I do think Howard is an important part of this club, if he's really the glue that holds the lineup together, you can upgrade there.
It wouldn't be easy and you wouldn't be able to move Howard, but I definitely think that there are other bats more important to this club's future.
When you're looking at the entire package, Carlos Ruiz is probably the Phillies' most valuable position player.
He's the field general. Ruiz is one of the best defensive catchers in the game and handles one of the game's top pitching staffs with ease.
From an offensive perspective he's been the club's top bat this season. Moving forward, the goal to determining his value is going to be deciphering whether or not there is credence in his 2012 season or if it was a fluke aided by a .352 BABip.
Regardless, at least in the near future, Ruiz is going to be one of the Phillies most important players.
A healthy Chase Utley changes the entire dynamic of this club.
The Phillies' longtime second baseman has been dealing with chronic knee issues over the last couple of seasons and it has been clear that when he is not on the field the Phillies look like a different team.
Utley brings a certain energy to the club that few can rival. He's one of the best base-runners in the game and fundamentally speaking, as good as it gets.
Now that he's heating up at the plate and willing to try out a new position to help the club in the future, Utley is only going to become more valuable.
The Phillies showed just how valuable they think Cliff Lee is when they had an opportunity to dump his entire salary on the Los Angeles Dodgers and refused to do so.
Despite his ugly win / loss record (which is a terrible measuring stick for pitching performance anyway), Lee has been one of the best pitchers in the National League this season.
For a crude measure of his success, Lee shares the same amount of Wins Above Replacement (3.9) with teammate Cole Hamels, who's name has been bandied about in conversation for the Cy Young Award this season.
If the Phillies are contenders next season, their "big three" starting pitchers will be a huge part of the reason why.
This season made it painfully clear to the Phillies just how valuable Roy Halladay is to the club.
Halladay hasn't been the same pitcher from the last couple of seasons all year long. He left spring training shrouded in questions of whether or not he was dealing with an injury and hit the disabled list a few weeks later.
The most notable difference has been the lack in velocity on his fastball, especially his cutter.
Outside of a fluke start in Atlanta where he was dealing with a stomach illness, Halladay has been pitching much better as of late.
Can it really be a coincidence that the Phillies, as a whole, have also played much better during that time? I think not.
The Phillies have a pair of veteran starting pitchers on their roster in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee that are going to be incredibly important over the next couple of seasons, but it's their young ace that could make the difference.
Cole Hamels inked a mega-deal to remain with the Phillies during the 2012 season and now the focus will gradually shift from apprenticing under great mentors like Halladay and Lee to eventually becoming their successor.
But that's a simple point turned into a long story. The fact of the matter is that any time you have one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game just entering the prime of his career on your club, he's incredibly important.