After finishing the 2012 season with a disappointing 81-81 record, the Phillies enter perhaps their most chaotic offseason in recent memory.
Are wholesale changes in order? Should they blow up the team and start over? Would pursing trades for Cliff Lee or any of their other high-priced veterans make sense?
Or should they write 2012 off as an aberration, a season lost to injuries and inconsistencies from those same high-priced veterans.
Logic tells us that blowing up the roster and starting over is impossible.
With a roster filled with nearly untradable contracts—Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon—there’s no reasonable way the Phillies can completely alter the course they’re on. The only thing they can do is try to tweak the roster, to make subtle changes that result in enough improvements to offset any failings of its older stars.
Unlike last winter, heading into this offseason the Phillies are fairly certain of what they are. With the exception of Roy Halladay and Domonic Brown, there aren’t many questions regarding what to expect from most players on the roster.
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, cornerstones of the franchise, are unlikely to either play a full season or produce like they have in the past—ever again.
The Phillies need outfield help in a big way, and could use a miracle to solve the issue at third base.
Their starting rotation will continue to be a strength of the team. Catcher Carlos Ruiz is the one of the best in the business, and the team’s young bullpen got a lot of experience down the stretch last season.
All that being said, this is how I realistically envision the 2013 Phillies team panning out.
Possibly the easiest part of the team to evaluate.
Roy Halladay will be a question mark until he shows what he can do—and with everything that’s ever been reported about his work ethic and determination, I’d be surprised if he didn’t come back and pitch like the ace he’s always been.
It would not surprise me in the least if Halladay returned and (even with lesser quality stuff, he’s not going to throw 95 miles per hour anymore) dominated the National League in route to his third Cy Young Award.
Behind Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are two of the best pitchers in the game, and probably will help fill out the remaining spots on the preseason Cy Young ballot.
While it’s possible the Phillies could trade one or both of their projected fourth and fifth starters (Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley), both are likely to be back and fill out the bottom half of the rotation.
This staff, when healthy, is the strength of the team and should have enough bullets left to carry the Phillies to their sixth postseason in seven years.
Before making any moves this offseason, the Phillies have four players (counting Ruiz behind the plate) locked in for five spots.
The only position up for grabs is third base, and unfortunately the options to fill it aren’t plentiful.
The free-agent market boasts players like Kevin Youkilis and Mark Reynolds, neither who is worth the effort. And unless they decide to completely bankrupt their minor league system, the Phillies are not signing Chase Headley.
In all likelihood the Phillies are going to find their 2013 third basemen in-house, and probably with a combination of players getting a chance to play.
It’s easy to envision a group consisting of Kevin Frandsen, Freddy Galvis, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley all splitting time and moving around the diamond.
This is arguably the hardest part of the team to determine.
GM Ruben Amaro has money to spend this winter, and if history shows anything, it’s that he will exhaust his budget even if not necessary.
During an offseason where the Phillies should play it conservatively, they will most likely do the opposite and go all-in on BJ Upton to play center field.
Angel Pagan or Shane Victorino would be a better, less expensive option, but Amaro likes to make headlines.
With Upton in center field and Domonic Brown all but guaranteed to get a full season’s look, there’s only one spot in the outfield up for grabs.
Darin Ruf put on a power display in the minor leagues and didn’t disappoint in his brief September tryout, but no one knows for sure if he can play the outfield or if his bat’s for real. If the answer is yes to both, then the Phillies may be on their way back to being an offensive juggernaut.
If Ruf doesn’t pan out, the Phillies have a number of players under contract or team control for the 2013 season—John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, Nate Schierholtz and Michael Martinez among them.
Only closer Jonathan Papelbon actually has a contract for next season, which in a way is a good thing.
Papelbon is making far too much money, comparatively speaking, but at least the Phillies aren’t tied down with expensive contracts for under-performing veterans in the bullpen.
With the available cash, Amaro is likely to target bullpen help along with Upton, and hopefully he uses it well.
The Phillies do not need reclamation projects or cheap veterans (like Chad Qualls, who pitched horribly outside of spacious Petco Park in 2011), they need proven, durable relievers who won’t get rattled when placed in a pennant race.
The bullpen was the Achilles' heel in 2012, but did show much improvement down the stretch.
Without the lack of solid options on the market—the best relievers are those coming off injury, Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria or recently reported to be injured, Mike Adams—the Phillies best option for a quality eighth inning guy could be an in-house solution.
There are a lot of talented pitchers on the Phillies roster—Justin De Fratus, Phillipe Aumont, Jake Diekman to name a few—and if one or two of them step up, the Phillies Achilles' heel of 2012 could become its primary strength in 2013.
Last winter, the Phillies brought back fan favorite Jim Thome to provide power off the bench. The hope was that he could play first base (perhaps once a week) to keep his bat fresh and in the lineup.
That idea failed miserably, and so did the Phillies bench.
At one time Ty Wiggington was the perfect player for the Phillies. He was a versatile player who could hit well enough to make up for his poor defense.
That is no longer the case.
The Phillies need more production off their bench but it’s likely to come from players rotating in and out of the starting lineup.
Chase Utley will play when he’s healthy enough, and it’s likely that Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis will split time at third (leaving one on the bench). The odd man out in the outfield will also occupy a role, and Erik Kratz is probably penciled in as Ruiz’s backup.
With that construction—and if the Phillies carry eight relievers like they’ve been known to do—there would be only one roster spot left.
While the Phillies would like some versatility, someone who could play the infield or outfield in a pinch, hopefully they do not bring back Michael Martinez. He might be the least skilled player I have ever seen play in a Phillies uniform. It’s also doubtful that there’s room for Juan Pierre, who’s likely to find better play time and a more lucrative offer elsewhere.
In any event, if the Phillies bench is counted on in 2013 as much as it was in 2012, not much else about the team is going to matter, as they’re going to be in serious trouble.
The team that begins 2013 will look a lot like the one that ended 2012, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The talent to win the division and World Series is still there, and perhaps the down season in 2012 will take away the complacency that many fans felt has developed.
There are very few players left from the 2008 World Championship club—Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Kyle Kendrick—and not many others on the roster actually own a World Series ring.
The Phillies will not come into 2013 with as dominant a team as they started off with in 2011, but they have enough pieces to make another run and should return Philadelphia to the top of the National League standings.