Professional sports are one of the few jobs in which a person’s career is nearly over by the time they reach their mid-30’s.
For the Philadelphia Phillies, this means that the progression of the next batch of stars must be well underway.
Although the average age of the team’s 40-man roster is 28.5, nearly every one of the Phils’ current starts will be 33 years or older by the start of next season. These players still have the chance to have several more productive seasons, but are “aging” stars rather than “bright young prospects.”
A number of these aging stars have spent considerable time on the disabled list while battling injuries, making it even more important for the Phils to be grooming potential replacements to take over during the next few seasons.
Some of these potential replacements have already made their major league debuts, while others have yet to play above High-A ball. Regardless of the level they’ve reached so far, each of these players are seemingly in line to be the team’s internal option for one day taking over for a current star.
Here is a potential replacement for every aging Phillies’ star.
Rollins just completed the first year of a three-year, $33 million deal that also has a 2015 option. He will be 36 years old by the time the option comes into play.
If not for a September resurgence, Rollins was on pace to have one of, if not the lowest, batting averages of his career.
Fortunately for the Phils, Rollins was able to bat .287 in the month of September with eight home runs and 17 RBI, bringing his batting average on the season o .250. He also finished with 23 home runs, the third highest total of his career.
But which Rollins will show up next season? The one that batted .303 and .287 in June and September, respectively, or the one that batted .211 combined in July and August?
To make matters interesting, his potential replacement could be standing to his right on the infield next season.
Freddy Galvis finished with a 3.5 UZR according to fangraphs.com after playing in 55 games at second base.
However, an article by Jim Salisbury on CSNPhilly.com mentions that general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. said that Galvis could be an option to take over at third base next season, after the Phillies seemingly decided against moving Chase Utley over from second base.
Even if Galvis plays third base next season, chances remain that he will move back to shortstop, the position he played 523 minor league games at, once Rollins’ contract either runs out or is traded.
Galvis’ offense still needs much improvement, but his defense has already allowed him to play multiple positions regularly between the minors and majors.
If his offense comes around, Galvis could stick at third base and a prospect such as Roman Quinn may be ready to take over at shortstop after Rollins.
As of now, however, Galvis is Rollins’ potential replacement, and the move could simply involve him shifting over one position on the infield.
Pettibone is not a potential replacement for Halladay in terms of stepping in to be the new No. 1, or another ace, in the Phillies’ starting rotation.
However, he is a potential replacement for Halladay’s spot in the rotation if the career 199-game winner becomes a free agent after next season.
Halladay’s DL stint this season not only cost him 42 games, but also a $20 million 2014 option that is no longer in reach unless he pitches 258.9 innings next season, which would be a career high in innings pitched for him at the age of 36.
That’s not to say that Halladay and the Phils can’t agree to a new deal eventually, but at this point, all signs point to Halladay joining the 2013 free agent class.
Among the Phillies’ minor league options, Pettibone is the most major league ready after responding well in his first taste of Triple-A action.
After being promoted to Triple-A in July following 19 starts and a 3.30 ERA at Double-A, Pettibone went 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 42.1 innings.
The right-hander managed to hold opponents to a .204 batting average despite allowing 22 walks, bringing his combined total on the season to 49, the highest of his minor league career.
However, Pettibone’s name was still mentioned by Amaro during a press conference following the team’s regular season conclusion, as an article by Jake Kaplan on the Phillies’ website points out.
No prospect could step in and match what Halladay has done with the Phils but, with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still in the fold, none would be asked to perform such a task.
If Halladay has another season like this past one, where he battled injuries and soreness to go 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 156.1 innings, it will be interesting to see what decision the Phillies make.
In the meantime, Pettibone, who may even compete for a rotation spot next season, appears to have just Ethan Martin and Tyler Cloyd to compete with for 2014 to be a potential replacement for Halladay’s spot.
The Phillies will pick up Ruiz’s $5 million option following the World Series, as an article by Jim Salisbury on CSNPhilly.com explains.
But what happens after that?
Ruiz was not only the Phillies’ best offensive player this season, but also one of the best offensive players in the National League at times.
In 114 games, Ruiz batted .325 with 16 home runs and 68 RBI, all career highs.
However, Chooch will also be 34 years old at the start of next season and had to deal with plantar fasciitis in his foot at the end of this season.
Ruiz’s DL stint helped catcher Erik Kratz see playing time and likely earn the backup catcher’s role next season. But Kratz, at 32, doesn’t appear to be a potential replacement for Ruiz.
Instead, that role could fall to Tommy Joseph, one of the players acquired from the San Francisco Giants for Hunter Pence.
Joseph batted .257 in Double-A this season, with 11 home runs and 48 RBI. He is also set to play in the Arizona Fall League.
But, more importantly, he performed well behind the plate. In an article by Marc Narducci on philly.com, Phillies’ Double-A manager Dusty Wathan and pitching prospect Trevor May both complimented him on his defense.
Joseph will have competition from fellow catching prospect Sebastian Valle, who batted a combined .253 with 17 home runs and 58 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A this season. However, Joseph’s defense may give him the upper-hand.
Ruiz’s 2013 season will determine the Phillies’ decision in terms of a contract extension. Another season of batting over .300 could keep Joseph in the minors. If Ruiz’s average dips, however, the Phillies could decide to move him to another position and call-up Joseph, or have Joseph spend a season learning under Ruiz at the major league level.
Utley’s health at the start of next season will go a long way in determining whether or not the Phillies can bounce back in 2013.
It will also determine how much the Phillies, or another team, will be willing to pay him when he hits free agency after next season at the age of 34.
Utley had a great finish to this season, batting .260 in August and .299 in September to finish with a .256 average, 11 home runs and 45 RBI. His home run and RBI totals either matched or exceeded his totals from last season, even though he played in 20 fewer games this year.
Utley was willing to try and move to third base for next season to help the Phils but, as previously mentioned, will likely stick at second base. If Utley can be ready for Opening Day and stay healthy for a majority of next season, the Phillies in all likelihood will try to re-sign him. His home run, RBI and stolen base totals still ranked in the top-10 in the NL among second basemen with at least 350 plate appearances.
However, as it currently stands, Utley is set to become a free agent after next season. Who is the Phils’ potential replacement at second base at that point?
Galvis could step in if the Phillies found someone else to play third base. Potential free agents at that time might include Omar Infante and Ben Zobrist, but both will be approaching their mid-30’s, so a long-term deal may not be favored by the Phils. Or, the team could promote Triple-A second baseman Cesar Hernandez.
Hernandez, a switch-hitter, batted .248 in 30 games at Triple-A. However, he managed a .304 average with 26 doubles, 11 triples and 51 RBI in 103 games at Double-A.
Hernandez currently lacks power and must perform better at Triple-A, but his .291 combined average was his highest in any minor league season in which he played in over 65 games.
If Hernandez hits for a higher average and displays more power at Triple-A next season, the Phillies will have options in their infield going forward.
Year one of Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract, which has come under much criticism, got off to a rocky start.
Although he missed much of the first half of the season, Howard still only managed to bat .219 in 71 games. He also struck out 99 times during that span.
However, Howard was still able to hit 14 home runs and 56 RBI in limited action. With another offseason to fully recover from his Achilles injury, Howard should post power numbers similar to his career averages next season, when he will be 33 years old.
Which is good news for the Phillies, because they may need to use the duration of his contract to groom a potential replacement at first base.
Howard’s contract runs through 2016, and has an option for 2017. This means that a player such as Darin Ruf, who will turn 27 next season, would have to either win the starting left field spot or become the backup first baseman for four to five seasons before eventually taking over for Howard.
Joseph, the Phils’ Double-A catcher, can play first base, but he will likely be ready for the major leagues before 2016-2017.
The Phillies’ potential replacement for Howard may have been playing in the outfield for the team’s New York-Penn League squad last season.
Larry Greene, the team’s first pick in the 2011 draft, has the potential to switch from the outfield to first base at some point, and could be ready for the major leagues by the end of Howard’s contract.
Greene batted .271 in his first professional season, and had 26 RBI and a .373 OBP in 70 games.
The left-handed batter hit just two home runs, but should hit well over that number as he continues his progression.
The Phillies have had Jonathan Singleton and Darin Ruf switch positions from first base in recent seasons, but Greene may eventually switch to first base if his offense continues to develop.
Besides Chris Duffy, who posted an outstanding .384 batting average in the South Atlantic League before batting just .236 after being promoted to High-A ball, the Phillies do not have a great deal more talented first basemen in waiting. Greene may be the best potential replacement.
Lee won just six games this season, yet managed a 3.16 ERA and 207 strikeouts to just 28 walks.
Some of the reasons for this were due to poor pitching performances, such as his 6.12 ERA in June, but other times, such as his 2.45 ERA following the All-Star break, make it seem like he could have had closer to 12-14 wins with more run support.
Regardless, a 3.16 ERA and 207 strikeouts for a pitcher who will turn 35 years old next season can still be considered good news for the Phils.
Lee’s yearly salary will increase to $25 million each of the next three seasons, leading to a $27.5 million option for 2016.
Right about the time as the final year of this deal, if the Phils decline his option, left-hander Jesse Biddle should be just about ready for major league action.
Biddle increased his win and strikeout totals for the third consecutive season when he went 10-6 with 151 strikeouts and a 3.22 ERA in High-A ball this season.
Biddle finished with the third best ERA in the Florida State League, just ahead of another potential major league replacement in Adam Morgan, and No. 1 in the league in strikeouts.
Biddle and Trevor May are two of the Phils’ best pitching prospects, and both could be pitching in the team’s Double-A rotation next season. If Biddle performs the same way he did this year, he could edge out May to be placed into the Phils’ long-term plan for their starting rotation.
Biddle will have to prove himself at Double-A and Triple-A still, but he has a chance to become a replacement for one of the Phillies’ aces.
Yes, Polanco’s time with the Phillies will be over once the team declines their end of his $5.5 million option.
But chances remain that whoever plays third base next season, whether it be Galvis, Kevin Frandsen or a free agent signing, will ideally be used to bridge the gap to minor league third baseman Cody Asche.
Asche had a breakout season this year after batting just .192 the previous season, his first in the minor leagues. However, Asche managed to advance all the way to Double-A this season. An article by John Finger on CSNPhilly.com questioned how quickly Asche can make it to the major leagues with his hitting ability.
The left-handed hitting Asche batted .349 with 89 hits and 25 RBI in High-A ball before batting .300 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI at Double-A.
He is also set to play in the Arizona Fall League.
The Phillies may have to have a player already on their roster switch positions, or go with a one- or two-year free agent signing at third base next season if they can't acquire someone via trade. If that’s the case, Asche will have a good chance to put himself in the running to take over at third base after next season.
He won’t directly be replacing Polanco at third base, but Asche could potentially become the Phillies’ next mainstay at the position.