Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Team Areas That Most Need to Be Addressed
This offseason should be an intriguing one for the Philadelphia Phillies. They head into free agency following their first non-playoff season since 2006. With no remarkable free agents thanks to the Cole Hamels extension and Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton trades, the Phillies really have no departures to worry ,but nonetheless have many a hole to fill.
Among the Phillies' biggest weaknesses this past season were the bullpen, outfield, third base, and despite offseason additions to prevent it, the bench.
Acquisitions such as Chad Qualls and Ty Wigginton blew up in the Phillies' faces, and while Jim Thome was a nice clubhouse presence to have back, he really doesn't belong on an NL team at this stage in his career. Laynce Nix was also average when he played, but he spent a good portion of the season on the DL with a calf injury.
Additionally, players such as Placido Polanco and Jose Contreras were signed for one year too many on their contracts, and with both of their options bought out, the two have become free agents. Midseason acquisitions Josh Lindblom and Nate Schierholtz struggled out of the gate as Phillies, the latter even possibly a non-tender candidate. And with Qualls failing to deliver as a veteran presence, the relatively young bullpen, on the whole, was atrocious, save for Jonathan Papelbon and Jeremy Horst.
Keeping that in mind, the Phillies have many positions in need of an upgrade. Here's five that stand out.
All projected Opening Day lineups courtesy MLBDepthCharts.com
Current Projected Opening Day Outfield: LF Domonic Brown, CF John Mayberry, Jr., RF Nate Schierholtz
Take a look at those three names. Domonic Brown. John Mayberry, Jr. and Nate Schierholtz. Does that trio, let alone each individual player, sound promising to be an effective major league starting outfield next year?
The answer is no.
While Brown is likely the only one of the three who has cemented a starting job for next season due to his youth and potential, Ruf is currently. playing winter ball in Venezuela to prove that his defense is good enough to be an everyday starter.
Then there's center field, which is the absolute position of need for the Phillies. Fortunately, there's no shortage of options available via free agency, and the Phillies will have interest in many of them.
Headlining the center field free agent class is former Phillie, 30-year-old Michael Bourn, who is a constant base-stealing threat and one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. However, he strikes out too much, is a left-handed hitter and will cost too much for the Phillies if they plan on bolstering more than one position this offseason.
There's also some possibly cheaper options in Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino if the Phillies want to bring him back. Even corner outfield options such as Nick Swisher, Josh Hamilton, Cody Ross, Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera are available.
But the most likely option? Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton.
He's been linked to the Phillies by CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, who sees the team as the favorite to sign him, and FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, who believes the Phillies' recent hirings of former Rays staff, hitting coach Steve Henderson and special assistant Bart Braun signify the Phillies making a push for Upton.
He does strike out too much but his arm in center field is strong and he hits home runs and steals bases—skills apt for Citizens Bank Park.
Either way, the Phillies will almost certainly make a move to sign a free agent outfielder. Whether or not he's a center fielder—and a top available talent at that—is a different question. But someone new, whether or not it's Upton, will be manning center field in the City of Brotherly Love in 2013.
Current Projected Opening Day Third Baseman: Kevin Frandsen/Freddy Galvis
The hot corner was a position of flux for the Phillies in 2012.
Although Placido Polanco started out the season as the starter, the injury bug predictably struck him throughout the season, resulting in him playing only 90 games. When he was playing, his defense was still stellar, but his bat speed had vanished and his ability to hit a ball to all fields had gone with it.
When Polanco wasn't manning third base, it was either Ty Wigginton or Mike Fontenot, who are both defensive liabilities. Well, at least that was the case for most of the season.
hen came Kevin Frandsen, a career minor leaguer who had not seen major league action since 2010, who was given one more shot. And boy, did he leap at the opportunity.
In 55 games with the Phillies, Frandsen hit .338 with an .834 OPS comprised of a .383 OBP and .451 SLG. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Was his defense shabby? Absolutely. But his offense warranted more playing time, and that's exactly what he'll get in 2013.
Freddy Galvis is also an option to play third base. Filling in for Chase Utley for a majority of his injury absence, Galvis became an instant fan favorite for his defensive mastery and clutch hitting, despite a .226 average and .617 OPS.
Then he suffered a pars fracture in his back, and while on the DL it was revealed that he had tested positive for a banned substance in baseball, resulting in a 50-game suspension.
While the current option would be for the Phillies to go with a platoon of Frandsen and Galvis in 2013, it isn't one that's going to be extremely effective. Minor leaguer Cody Asche should become the Phillies' third baseman in a year or two, but for the time being, the Phillies need someone else to play there and handle both sides of the ball.
Enter Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis, though 33 years old, is the best third baseman available in a weak free agent class. He'll likely earn a two-year deal or so worth somewhere between $8-10 million per season, and it wouldn't be terrible if it was the Phillies who made that contract offer. Despite health concerns and declining defense, Youkilis still possesses an adequate glove, a patient bat and decent power.
The trade market also potentially holds San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley.
Headley, one of the better defenders at the position in 2012, had a monster second half of the season and is possibly in line for a contract extension. However, if that falls through and he becomes available for trade, he could become the Phillies' third baseman of the future if a trade could be orchestrated.
Youkilis would be a decent option and signing him to either a one- or two-year deal wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to the Phillies. You know what you're getting with Youkilis, and even if the deal doesn't fully pan out, you have decent backup options to fill the void.
Current Projected Opening Day Bullpen: Raul Valdes, B.J. Rosenberg, Jeremy Horst, Michael Stutes, Josh Lindblom, Antonio Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon
Before I begin, I'd like to point out that I think Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus have a much better chance of making the team out of spring training than B.J. Rosenberg and possibly Raul Valdes. Jake Diekman is also in the mix.
Heading into the 2012 season, the Phillies spent the majority of their offseason funds on closer Jonathan Papelbon, quickly inking him to a four-year, $50 million contract, the most expensive ever for a reliever.
The Phillies also signed Chad Qualls to an affordable one-year, $1 million deal as the offseason winded down. With one of the game's best closers and one of the most durable relievers in baseball as your set-up man, the bullpen looked pretty good.
The good news? Papelbon lived up to the hype and Qualls was certainly durable. The bad news? Papelbon's still expensive and that's all Qualls was. Qualls was eventually designated for assignment and traded to the New York Yankees at the end of June. The other veteran reliever, Jose Contreras, ended up blowing out his arm, tearing his UCL and flexor tendon, likely ending his career.
The rest of the bullpen was comprised of rookies and second-year relievers who, for the most part, failed to make an impact. Mike Stutes and David Herndon quickly got hurt and their seasons were lost. Replacements Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg, Brian Sanches and Joe Savery were all either inconsistent or ineffective, and 2011 relievers Antonio Bastardo and Michael Schwimer were largely erratic, save for a few stretches. Even midseason acquisition Josh Lindblom was so-so at best.
The only effective call-up? Lefty Jeremy Horst, acquired in the offseason for Wilson Valdez.
Most, if not all of these guys will be in contention for bullpen jobs in spring training. But with Qualls cut long ago and Contreras's club option declined, the only true veteran guaranteed a bullpen spot is Papelbon.
The Phillies need a true set-up man, and there's a plethora of options for them. Ryan Madson could be an option if he ends his grudge from last offseason and signs as a set-up man. Mike Adams, who recently had thoracic outlet surgery, is as good as it gets when healthy. And some late bloomers, like Jason Grilli and Koji Uehara, are also potential options.
With the veteran lefty pool relatively shallow and the Phillies' internal southpaw options relatively strong, if a set-up man is to be signed, the team should focus on a right-hander who had proven himself already.
Even if he's coming off injury, a one-year deal with incentives is never a bad thing. But one thing's for sure: the Phillies need a proven veteran to compliment Jonathan Papelbon. Bad.
Current Projected Opening Day Starting Rotation: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, Kyle Kendrick
Does the starting rotation necessarily need to be improved upon? No. But would it hurt? Definitely not.
The ace-studded rotation of Roy "Doc" Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole "Hollywood" Hamels wasn't as spectacular last year as it's been in years past.
Halladay came out of spring training with decreased velocity and landed on the DL for a chunk of the season. Lee pitched well but received little to no run support and, consequently, wins. Hamels was fantastic and was signed to a six-year, $144 million contract extension in July, keeping him off the free agent market and in Phillies pinstripes through 2018.
Vance Worley was great in April, but bone chips discovered in May derailed his season and led to his being shut down by the end of August to correct the problem. Joe Blanton was traded through waivers to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the beginning of August, allowing Kyle Kendrick to step into the fifth starter's role, where he pitched rather well down the stretch. Even International League MVP Tyler Cloyd got his chance and wasn't half bad.
But Halladay will likely be a free agent after the 2013 season and Kendrick is under team control through 2014. Soon enough, the Phillies will have to be creative and find ways to fill the holes left empty due to concluding contracts that will probably see at least one of the two end their Phillies tenure.
That's a problem for another time, though. One that doesn't yet exist. But if the Phillies decide to use Worley, Kendrick or even Cliff Lee as trade bait, they'll need to find someone to take the departed's place.
Since it's not a pressing issue for the Phillies and is more of a hypothetical situation than anything, no real options have been mentioned. However, former Phillie Brett Myers has been speculated upon as being a player who might consider coming back to the City of Brotherly Love.
If the Phillies want a better guarantee at rotation success in 2013 than 2012, they should at least consider the thought of pursuing a veteran starting pitcher, even if it's only signing someone to a one- or two-year deal. But with the lack of a true backup in the event of an injury a bit of an issue, it wouldn't hurt to push Kendrick back to the bullpen and sign someone to be the fifth starter, or vice versa.
Current Projected Opening Day Bench: C Erik Kratz, 1B/OF Laynce Nix, 1B/OF Darin Ruf, IF Kevin Frandsen/Freddy Galvis (whoever isn't starting at third), IF/OF Michael Martinez
The bench was certainly a weak spot for the Phillies last year. Backup catcher Brian Schneider either failed to hit well or wasn't playing due to injury of some sort. John Mayberry, Jr. was relatively ineffective at the plate and made some significant defensive miscues. Laynce Nix, as previously mentioned, was useful to a degree, but was also hurt. And Ty Wigginton ultimately was unsuccessful at the plate and with the glove.
There was an obvious need for change despite an offseason attempt at bolstering the Phillies' positional depth. Erik Kratz did an extremely admirable job as the backup catcher and there is no reason to think he won't win that job in spring training. Nix isn't a huge issue in 2013, since he's cheap at $1.35 million. Ruf hit well and is a terrific bench option if he doesn't start. And while the Frandsen/Galvis tandem is a good one for the bench, Michael Martinez surely is not.
Simply put, the bench was pretty terrible last year and failed to live up to expectations. In order to make sure that doesn't happen again, the Phillies should pursue some more proven bench players.
Jeff Keppinger would be a great option for more infield depth. He can play all the infield positions if needed and isn't a total liability on defense. He also hits for a decent average and has some pop in his bat from time to time.
Another guy who would be good for backup infield depth would be Eric Chavez. Yes, he's a third baseman, but his defense is still above average and he's a great option to put at first base when Ryan Howard needs time off.
Outfield-wise, Torii Hunter could be intriguing if he was willing to play in a backup role. He'd also be a fantastic mentor to the younger players, such as Domonic Brown. Just see how Juan Pierre was for the Phillies' up-and-coming players.
One of the worst parts of losing Howard and Chase Utley to injury was that there were no adequate players to back them up. And when there were, they got hurt, too. The Phillies need to ensure that this dilemma does not occur again.
In order to do so, they need to allocate their funds this offseason wisely and sign the right guys to back up the everyday starters. They certainly aren't getting any younger.