Philadelphia Phillies: The Best and Worst Things They Can Do This Offseason
No one knows for sure what the Phillies will do this offseason. Will they be aggressive and make big, splashy moves? Or will they play it conservative and attempt to both better the team now, but also maintain flexibility for the future? After perhaps the most frustrating season in Phillies history, it’s hard to predict.
General manager Ruben Amaro has never been shy about making deals. When he sets his sights on a player—either in free agency or the trade market—he gets him more often than not.
When the Phillies traded Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino at the trading deadline, they did so with the intention to free up payroll space for the 2013 team. While only upper management knows for sure how much the Phillies will budget for next season, any moves that are made need to be the right ones.
This winter, Amaro once again has the opportunity to show whether he’s a confident major league GM or if he’s, as some fans like to call him, “Clueless Rube."
With all due respect to the baseball lifer, here’s some advice: the three best and worst moves the Phillies could make this winter.
1. Best: Play It Conservative
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The Phillies didn’t finish with a .500 record because they were a bad team. They got off to a horrendous start, thanks in large part to a roster decimated by injuries, and were never able to recover.
By the time the Phillies got their most vital players back on the field, it required a miracle to even get back into the playoff conversation. And they did, but couldn’t pull off the upset.
With a healthy roster, full seasons from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and a return to the norm for Roy Halladay, the Phillies—with all their faults—are still one of the better teams in the National League.
Don’t over-think and over-analyze what happened in 2012; a few minor tweaks and they should be right back in the thick of things.
1. Worst: Dramatically Overhaul the Roster
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It’s true that the Phillies core group of players, and the entire roster as a whole, isn’t getting any younger. Utley and Howard will never be the offensive players they were in 2007 again, and Jimmy Rollins is unlikely to repeat his MVP season.
However, it is a veteran, experienced group that knows what it takes to win down the stretch, and with their pitching, they shouldn’t fear anyone in their division. Disrupting the team’s chemistry, no matter how good it seems in the present, may be detrimental in the long run.
2. Best: Spend Their Free-Agent Dollars Wisely
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The free-agent class this winter is headed by some big-time names. Josh Hamilton might have the best resume and BJ Upton the most talent, but the Phillies would be making a mistake to sign either. In a weak free-agent market—which, all-around, it is—players are more likely to be overpaid.
The Phillies should attempt, for once, to stay under-the-radar even after making their deals. Heading into spring training without flexing their muscles and planting another bullseye on their backs might be good for them.
2. Worst: Acting Too Quickly
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Under Ruben Amaro, the Phillies have rarely been a team that reacts to the market, but instead sets it. They did so when they signed Raul Ibanez, Jonathan Papelbon and gave Ryan Howard his extension. If they want a specific player—BJ Upton is my guess as to who they’ll target—it would make more sense to wait for the market to develop rather than to overpay earlier; if they lose him, they lose him.
Papelbon at $50 million may have sounded good initially (especially when Ryan Madson, with one year of closing, was talking in the $44 million range), but after no other reliever signed for much more than half that amount, it looks disastrous. With the bulging payroll, they certainly do not need to overpay for a player like BJ Upton.
3. Best: Light a Fire Under Charlie Manuel
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Yes, Manuel has been the manager for arguably the best run of Phillies baseball in their 100-plus year history. They’ve been to two World Series and captured only their second title in history. But if the players can be called out for their complacency over the years, the manager must be too.
I’m not sure what type of manager Manuel is. In the past, he has claimed he manages by his “gut,” but then goes by-the-book on things like not pitching Papelbon in a tie game on the road. And when he came here, he was hailed as an offensive genius, but has steadily watched the Phillies juggernaut become a team that struggles to score runs.
In any event, Manuel needs to change things up. When things go wrong—which they inevitably do in every season at some point—Manuel needs to do a better job of adapting. The (loose) definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. In this case, Manuel is insane.
3. Worst: Counting Again on the Youngsters in the Bullpen
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I sincerely hope that Justin DeFratus, Phillipe Aumont, Jeremy Horst and Jake Diekman pitch fantastically next year. I hope that they all stay healthy and that there’s a true sense of relief when one is called in instead of a dreaded fear.
And that might be the case. However, the Phillies tried that this year, counting on Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo. Oops.
The Phillies have a lot of talent in their bullpen.
But they absolutely cannot go into the 2013 season, not with World Series aspirations, without a veteran presence behind Papelbon in their bullpen. Despite everything that went wrong in 2012, the failings of the bullpen and the lack of anyone else competent enough to put in a “tie game on the road” was the undoing of this team.
It would probably be better for the Phillies to overspend on a shutdown setup man (Rafael Soriano, back in his eighth-inning role?) than to dramatically enhance their offense. They can live with Shane Victorino back in center field instead of overspending on Josh Hamilton if the Phillies are confident they can hold late-innings leads.