Will Chase Utley stay at second in 2013 or move over to third?
The 2012 Phillies haven't lived up to their recent lofty standards.
At four games back with just twelve remaining, the Phils must leapfrog three teams to secure a wild-card spot and a sixth straight trip to the postseason.
The odds are stacked against them.
So let's take a look ahead at the game plan for 2013. What needs to change? And, more importantly, can the Phillies change?
It's easy to say the Phillies must get younger, that they must add a power bat or two, and that they must add reliable late-inning relievers.
But this offseason will be anything but easy for Amaro.
For one, some of the pieces on his team simply can't be moved. Ryan Howard will return at first base next year. Chase Utley will play second base, or potentially third, if he proves he can handle the hot corner.
Jimmy Rollins, who has enjoyed a renaissance of late, just signed a contract extension this past offseason and will be back at shortstop. Carlos Ruiz will catch, and Domonic Brown will be given the opportunity to start in one of the outfield corners.
That leaves three everyday spots up for grabs—third base, center field and either left or right field.
If Utley successfully converts to third base—and I have my doubts that will happen—Freddy Galvis would presumably take over at second, filling out the infield.
Who should Ruben Amaro's Top Free Agent Target Be?
The rotation is set, as long as Amaro decides to hang on to Cliff Lee, though the potential for a trade that would free up additional money remains.
Expect Lee to stay, particularly after the left-hander has returned to dominant form of late. Ace starting pitchers don't grow on trees.
Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick should also start every five days.
The Phillies boast considerable depth in their untested bullpen, though that's a story for another day.
For better or worse, the Phillies 2012 core will remain the same in 2013. So, how do they add punch with limited flexibility?
Amaro has moves to make and they have to be the right moves. He can't afford to make a big mistake this offseason.
A free agent outfield group that includes Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and B.J. Upton will be the general manager's focus.
If the Phillies swing and miss on those big names, look for them to pursue players like Cody Ross, Angel Pagan or Melky Cabrera—who could come at a steep discount after his breakout year was interrupted by a failed drug test.
Current Phillies John Mayberry, Nate Schierholtz, Juan Pierre and Laynce Nix aren't everyday outfielders. Each one has their limitations, and while a platoon of Mayberry and one of the three left-handed bats could work, the Phillies must add an impact outfielder.
Mayberry has done a serviceable job in center field, but the Phillies could use an upgrade, which leaves Bourn and Upton as the prime candidates.
An interesting under-the-radar move could be to bring Shane Victorino back in the mix, but this would necessitate adding a big bat like Hamilton or Swisher.
The third base market is extremely weak, and Amaro has said as much. If the Utley Experiment doesn't come to fruition, a trade may be the only way to bring in a third baseman.
Expect the Phillies to ask about Mike Olt and Chase Headley, though both players would cost the Phillies valuable prospects from a shallow farm system.
Kevin Youkilis could be a cheap boom-or-bust option, but his rapid decline and consistent injury concerns will give the Phillies reason to pause.
With over $133 million locked in for next season's roster, Amaro must carefully balance how he uses the team's money.
It won't be easy, and Amaro won't have the means to overhaul his roster, but a few carefully calculated moves, the Phillies should be back in contention in 2013.