The Philadelphia Phillies have approached the last two seasons trying to win a championship with a lopsided team.
Particularly in 2011, when "the Four Aces" were projected by many to win 80 games by themselves, the Phillies figured that if their pitchers held opponents down routinely, the diminished offensive output coming from Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and the Phillies' other aging core starters could be covered over.
It worked until 2012, and then it did not work at all. It turns out there are only so many days you can play Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry Jr. and Kevin Frandsen (and bat them near the middle of the order) without seeing the offense shrivel up and blow away.
So the Phillies enter this offseason with as many offensive positions in question as they have offensive positions solidly filled. Third base is a need, as is the entire outfield. Going into the 2013 season with Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown penciled in as starters would be inviting disaster.
In past seasons, the Phillies were able to patch the holes in the lineup through free agency. Unfortunately, the more you look at the free-agent landscape this offseason, the less there is to like.
The headliners on offense are all outfielders. Josh Hamilton is probably the biggest name. His production is not in question. But can you remember an established superstar hitting free agency with more questions surrounding him than Hamilton? Put aside (if you can) his troubled past with drug use.
In the past four seasons with the Texas Rangers, Hamilton has missed an astonishing 157 games. Couple that with his underwhelming postseason numbers (.227 batting average, .414 slugging percentage) and the thought of guaranteeing Hamilton generational money looks as dubious as some of his life choices.
B.J. Upton will be available. He piles up three things: home runs, stolen bases and strikeouts (1,020 of them in 3,568 at-bats). His .256 career batting average compiled over seven seasons suggests that that is what he is. No question he has value; power/speed combo players like Upton are not plentiful. Is he worth five years and $80 million, though?
Former Phillie Michael Bourn is out there, too. He is a two-time All-Star (most recently this season with the Atlanta Braves). But a lot of his value is tied up in his speed. He stole 42 bases this season; he was also caught a league-leading 13 times.
And the ongoing disaster that is Carl Crawford since he signed for seven years and $142 million is the cautionary tale that might make Bourn less attractive as a target for a long-term, long money deal.
So if the Phillies cannot just go shopping to fill their positions of need, they might need to part with assets in trades. As the team's 2012 offensive performance exhibited, the Phillies do not have bats to deal.
They still have arms, though.
Cole Hamels is not going anywhere, not after signing a six-year, $144 million contract extension this summer. Understandably, the Phillies identified Hamels as a home-grown talent who the fans have an attachment to. He was the Most Valuable Player of the only World Series win this generation of Phillies fans has seen.
After Hamels, though, the Phillies do have some pieces. As tempting as it may be to have a rotation of Hamels/Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay/Vance Worley with Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd holding down the fifth spot, it might be impractical given the team's offensive needs.
This is not to suggest that any one of Lee, Halladay or Worley alone could bring back a young, inexpensive talent.
Lee is the best pitcher of the three; he is also owed the most money over the longest term ($75 million over the next three seasons). Halladay is in the last year of his current contract, but he will get $20 million this season, and he is coming off an indifferent season where he missed time with injury. Worley also had an iffy season and was also hurt. But he is only 25, and not even arbitration-eligible until 2014.
For that matter, the Phillies might want to dangle Cloyd and see if anyone has interest.
Until the World Series is over and teams are free to start signing players all the scenarios posited by baseball scribes are idle speculation. Will the Arizona Diamondbacks trade Justin Upton? Will the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim alleviate their logjam in the outfield and part with Peter Bourjos? That depends on what those teams are offered, obviously.
The point here is that the Phillies must be willing to break from their "pitching first" agenda to rebuild their everyday eight. Moving a big-name pitcher like Lee or Halladay, or an inexpensive option like Worley or even Cloyd, may be the best way to get where they need to go.
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