B.J. Upton would fill several needs for the Phillies next season.
That led general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. to become a seller for the first time at the July 31 trade deadline. Hunter Pence was traded to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton were dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But a late surge made them a surprise contender in the National League wild-card race. Had Amaro known that was possible, would he have made those midseason deals? Probably, as getting below the $178 million luxury tax threshold and gaining payroll flexibility were priorities for Amaro.
So what will the Phillies do with that wiggle room in their payroll? The team needs at least one outfielder, maybe two. Third base is another hole that needs to be filled. And a bullpen that cost Philadelphia far too many games needs another arm.
Here are five signings or trades that the Phillies should pursue this offseason. Amaro won't make all of these moves, but two or three of them could put his team back into the NL East race next year.
Perhaps the Phillies' greatest offseason need is a center fielder. With the right guy patrolling center, the Phils could arguably get away with Domonic Brown in left field and Nate Schierholtz in right.
Michael Bourn is probably the flashiest name on the free-agent market. He'd certainly fit nicely in center, providing stellar defense while also providing the Phillies batting order with a leadoff hitter it needs.
But with other holes to fill on the roster, Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro might not want to pay top dollar for the best center fielder available. (That's presuming that Josh Hamilton is considered a left fielder by most teams.)
That's not to say B.J. Upton will be cheap. But if he costs $9 million to $10 million per season, that's less than the $12 million to $15 million that Bourn might be seeking.
Upton would also be the right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat that the Phillies need. He wouldn't be the defensive presence that Bourn is. But Upton would likely provide some more pop with his bat, bringing 25 homers and 80 RBI to Citizens Bank Park.
The San Diego Padres will seek a lot in return for Chase Headley. But they are likely looking to trade him, with third-base prospect Jedd Gyorko appearing to be ready for major league action next season.
Ruben Amaro doesn't necessarily want a big bat at third base, preferring to have that offensive production in the outfield. But if he can acquire a good defensive player at the position who can also be a middle-of-the-order threat, such a move could be worth a try.
Chase Headley compiled a slash average of .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 115 RBI for the Padres this season. That would be quite a bat to team up with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.
One problem might be that Headley is a switch-hitter, and so wouldn't necessarily be the right-handed bat that the Phillies would ideally like to stick between their best two batters.
But manager Charlie Manuel could break that up with Carlos Ruiz. Presumably, any outfielder that the team signs would also hit right-handed.
Headley has one more year of arbitration eligibility, so the Phillies will surely want to sign him to a contract extension before trading for him. And that's not even considering the top prospects (Trevor May, Freddy Galvis, Brody Colvin?) Amaro will have to give up to make a deal.
The Phillies bullpen was a major weakness this season.
Philadelphia relievers finished with a combined 3.90 ERA, which doesn't seem so bad. But that number is skewed by the excellent season from Jonathan Papelbon. The Phillies closer posted a 2.44 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 70 innings.
Everyone else in the bullpen, however, didn't pitch to a high standard. Antonio Bastardo averaged 14 strikeouts per nine innings but compiled a 4.33 ERA. Michael Schwimer had a 4.46 mark. Chad Qualls' ERA was 4.60 before he was traded to the New York Yankees.
The Phillies need one right-handed reliever to pair with Bastardo and set up for Papelbon in the later innings.
Prospect Phillippe Aumont pitched well in his late-season stint with the major league club, striking out 14 batters in 14.1 innings. However, he also walked nine batters, showing he's still a work in progress.
Francisco Rodriguez would be a flashy name, and his market value might be lowered coming off a lackluster season.
But Brandon Lyon pitched very well for the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays last year. Lyon appeared in 67 games altogether, accumulating a 3.10 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 61 innings. The question is whether he'll seek a raise from the $5.5 million he was paid this season.
If the Phillies don't want to give up a load of prospects for Chase Headley and sign him to a long-term contract extension to justify the trade, Kevin Youkilis might offer a far cheaper alternative.
Philadelphia presumably had a chance to acquire Youkilis during this past season when the Boston Red Sox had him on the trade block. Youkilis was eventually dealt to the White Sox, but if the Phillies were really interested in him, here's a second chance to bring him in.
Getting out of Boston—and the drama and scrutiny surrounding the Red Sox—apparently was just what Youkilis needed. After being traded, he hit 15 home runs with 46 RBI. However, he still batted only .236 with a .771 OPS.
The Phillies would be willing to put up with that if Youkilis were a good defensive third baseman. But according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, he's below average. Youkilis allowed six runs more than the average third baseman would have.
But perhaps Philadelphia would accept trading that off with 15-20 homers and 80 RBI. Youkilis would also be able to fill in at first base if Ryan Howard needed a day off at that position.
Some team is going to take a chance on Melky Cabrera after his 50-game PED suspension.
Considering that testing positive for excess testosterone will bring his asking price down from what it would have been had he not been suspended, there might be a surprising number of clubs willing to take a chance on Cabrera.
Even if his performance was enhanced, if Cabrera exhibits the base skills that enabled him to hit .346 with 25 doubles, 10 triples, 11 home runs, 60 RBI and a .906 OPS, he could be a bargain for any team that signs him.
Cabrera seems likely to look for a one-year deal that will allow him to show that his 2012 performance was not a testosterone-fueled fluke and then try to cash in again after next season.
In the meantime, the Phillies can benefit from having a .300 hitter with extra-base power who can switch-hit in their lineup.
Additionally, Cabrera can provide adequate defense in the outfield. He'd look even better next to a strong defensive center fielder, however. The Phillies shouldn't center their offseason around Cabrera, but he would be an excellent complementary piece for whatever other moves Ruben Amaro, Jr. makes this winter.
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