For the first time since the end of the 2006 season, the Philadelphia Phillies will head into the offseason looking up at other teams in their own division.
They had their reasons. The Phillies dealt with injuries to some of their top players, but also performed inconsistently all season long.
Leave the excuses where they belong and you're left with a simple fact: The Phillies finished 2012 as a third-place team. Even if they are completely healthy in 2013, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves aren't going anywhere.
If the Phillies want to reclaim the National League East, they'll have their work cut out for them this offseason. The front office needs to fill big holes in center field and at third base, and manager Charlie Manuel has expressed his desire for a top-notch setup man.
So how can the Phillies fill all of those needs and get back to the top of the NL East? Glad you asked. Let's take a look.
I wanted to assemble all of the Phillies' trade targets on one slide and give a brief explanation of the situation because most of them are a little bit out of the realm of possibility for the Phillies given their current situation.
The Phillies have a few dollars to spend this winter, and I think it is much more likely that they pursue several free agents as opposed to make a big trade, but here's a primer just in case.
Chase Headley: The presence of one of San Diego's top prospects, Jedd Gorkyo, seems to make Headley available and the Phillies are probably drooling over the thought of him playing third base, but this is a long shot.
The Padres have made it clear that they're looking for a king's ransom in return for Headley, arguably the best third baseman "available" this winter, and have no problem holding on to him.
Elvis Andrus: While people have speculated on the availability of Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus this winter, thanks in large part to the presence of super-prospect Jurickson Profar, this isn't an ideal match for the Phillies.
Acquiring Andrus would mean that one of he, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley would have to play third base, and that's probably not going to happen.
David Wright: He's not available. Moving on.
Denard Span: Span could be a good fit for the Phillies if the Minnesota Twins aren't asking for a ton in return. The Phils would likely have to dangle either Vance Worley or a top pitching prospect in return, and that may be too much.
Even though he is a left-handed hitter, Span has hit lefties well over the course of his career, and he would give the Phillies a much better option than Rollins in the cleanup spot.
Peter Bourjos: Seems like a fallback plan to me. Bourjos struggled mightily in the crowded Los Angeles Angels outfield last season and could use a change of scenery, but how much are the Halos asking for?
Alex Rodriguez: A long shot at this point, but Rodriguez does make a bit of sense for the Phillies. The New York Yankees would likely have to eat about $100 million of the $114 million left on his deal, and they won't do that without getting something back from the Phillies.
Grady Sizemore is going to be one of the best low-risk, high-reward potential players available this winter, and the Phillies would be wise to do their due diligence.
The last couple of seasons have been plagued by injuries for Sizemore, and the Cleveland Indians finally cut their ties with him following the 2012 season. But when Sizemore is healthy, this guys is an All-Star caliber outfielder.
Whether or not he can play center field and stay healthy for an entire season is obviously an uncertainty, but if the Phillies run out of other options and want to take a low-cost route, Sizemore could be an option in a similar way that Melky Cabrera is.
The obvious downside is that Sizemore is another left-handed bat that struggles against left-handed pitching, but if the Phillies are convinced that he can be healthy, that may not matter.
One out-of-the-box idea for the Phillies would be to make an offer to Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki.
Suzuki joined the New York Yankees at the trade deadline last season as they looked to replace injured outfielder Brett Gardner and had bit of a renaissance in the Yankees lineup.
As a free agent, I don't think anyone is sure of what Ichiro wants to do, though there are rumblings that he would like to rejoin the Yankees next season.
If the price is right, Ichiro could be an interesting option for the Phillies. He is an elite defensive corner outfielder who could stand to gain a bit offensively by coming over to the National League in 2013.
One solid backup plan for the Phillies this winter could be Ryan Ludwick.
Ludwick hit 26 home runs as a member of the Cincinnati Reds last season, and though his numbers were certainly aided by the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ballpark, he still has 20-home run potential in a good year.
The Phillies need some right-handed power inserted into the lineup in the worst way, but the real question is, given the price tag, is Ludwick a significant upgrade over what the Phillies already have in-house, like Darin Ruff and John Mayberry, Jr.?
If the Phillies can get Torii Hunter for relatively cheap, he wouldn't be the worst option available for the Phillies this winter.
Hunter is still a good defensive outfielder, even if he can't play center field on a regular basis anymore, and is the kind of veteran player that the Phillies have taken a liking to in the past.
But don't for a second think that he is going to come anywhere close to replicating his production from 2012. Hunter hit .313 and posted an OPS of .817, but would he hard-pressed to do it again. His 2012 BABip of .389 is incredibly unsustainable compared to his career norm of .307.
Interestingly enough, Hunter mashed left-handed pitching last season (.340 AVG, .868 OPS), but hit 12 of his 16 home runs against right-handed pitching.
If the Phillies are going to show interest in Hunter, I imagine it will be in more of a Juan Pierre fashion than a B.J. Upton fashion—a part-time player that could play in more of a regular role if they really, really need him to; not an everyday player.
Just a gut feeling here, but something tells me that the Phillies will either "go big or go home" to fill their eighth inning setup role this winter, which could exclude guys like Jeremy Affeldt.
With that being said, Affeldt would be a nice addition. He doesn't have the closer's pedigree that some of the other arms available have this offseason, but he has been an integral part of the San Francisco Giants bullpen the last couple of years and I hear that it has worked out well for them.
But while the fit is nice on paper, I wonder if the Phillies would be willing to shell out money on another left-handed reliever when they should still be committed to Antonio Bastardo later in games.
The Phillies probably aren't going to be huge players on the international market this winter, but if there is one name that they should keep an eye on, it is Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu, a 6'2" left-handed pitcher, is being posted by his Japanese club, the Hanwha Eagles, this offseason. The bidding could get expensive, but it isn't expected to get crazy, and that's where the Phillies could jump in.
Ryu has an easy delivery, and with four solid pitches that could all become of the "plus" variety eventually, he can handle MLB hitters.
He has a good fastball with some movement, a tight slider, a changeup and a slow curveball. At worst, he is a reliever with back end of the bullpen upside. At most, he'd slide right in to the Phillies' starting rotation.
I don't think that the Phillies will be overly interested in the top tier of starting pitchers available this winter, but Anibal Sanchez is a guy that would both help them out and give them options.
If the Phillies can't find a hitter that suitably addresses their needs on the open market, I would expect them to make a trade rather than stand pat. One of their best bargaining chips is Vance Worley, but they can't move him and rely on both Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd in the rotation.
Bringing Sanchez aboard, assuming that the price is right, both gives them the flexibility to deal Worley and a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter that could help carry the load this season.
Does Marco Scutaro really solve any of the Phillies' problems?
I'm not so sure.
What this club really needs from an infielder is someone who can play an at least average third base and produce some quality offense at the plate. Is that what Scutaro is going to do?
Scutaro is primarily a middle infielder (and more of a second baseman as of late) who played all of 15 games at the hot corner in 2012 as a member of the San Francisco Giants. He's probably looking to do more of the same in the future.
This probably isn't the greatest fit for either party, but if Scutaro is willing to commit to third base and can warrant that defensive switch offensively, it wouldn't be the worst deal in the world.
Cody Ross is another outfielder who is probably more of a solid backup plan than a primary interest to the Phillies at this point.
It stands to reason that the Phillies already have plenty of depth in the corner outfield positions, with Domonic Brown playing one of the corners and the other consisting of a solid platoon from two of four guys: Darin Ruff, Nate Schierholtz, John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix.
What the Phillies really need this offseason is a centerfielder, and Ross is not going to fill that void.
The only way that they make an aggressive pursuit at Ross is if they find that the aforementioned platoon needs to be shifted to center field, which would be a bad thing in and of itself. In that event, Ross gives them a bit more offensive upside in left field while Mayberry and Schierholtz play center.
There was a lot of talk last season that Ryan Dempster was only willing to go to a few teams because of location. If he is willing to expand that list a little this offseason, he could be an interesting fit for the Phillies.
Dempster is another guy that would give the Phillies the flexibility to trade a guy like Vance Worley for offense. He would slot nicely into the starting rotation behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and offers more upside than the "Vanimal."
But as with any deal, the price would be right. Dempster's price may have come down a bit following a poor stint with the Texas Rangers, but he had one of the best stats to the season as the ace of the Chicago Cubs.
It will be interesting to see what teams are willing to pay him this winter, but if he is affordable, this could be a solid deal for the Phillies this winter.
With Scott Boras as his agent, Rafael Soriano is probably going to look to cash in on some team this winter after a very good season as the replacement closer for the New York Yankees and Mariano Rivera.
I don't think he'll take a setup job again, but you never know. Money talks.
Will the Phillies shell out a lot of money on a guy like Soriano? Probably not, though I expect they'll keep tabs on him if he lingers on the market in the same way that Ryan Madson did last season.
Charlie Manuel wants an elite setup man this season, and I do think that it will be in more of the Soriano variety than a guy like Mike Adams or Jeremy Affeldt. Guys like Soriano, Madson, Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, etc. may fit the bill better.
I don't think that it will happen, but Soriano would certainly give the Phillies a great bullpen.
The Phillies went with an inexperienced bullpen last season and paid for it. It's really as simple as that. But that doesn't mean that they'll be bad in 2013. In fact, there's a good chance that this Phillies bullpen can be exceptional.
What they really need is one more, "veteran" arm who can dominate the eighth inning, and Mike Adams is as good an option as there is.
The right-handed reliever spent the last season and a half pitching for the Texas Rangers and, despite recovering from surgery to treat his thoracic outlet symptoms, will be one of the best relievers available.
He won't come cheap, but having Adams and Jonathan Papelbon to pitch the last two innings would be a good thing for the Phillies.
Kevin Youkilis would help the Phillies out quite a bit.
He is far from a sensational defender, but the Phillies don't need sensational defense right now—something they could get out of their resident defensive prodigy, Freddy Galvis.
What the Phillies need is a third baseman that could help them out at the plate, especially in the power department, and Youkilis is a worthwhile gamble in that regard.
His numbers took a nosedive in recent seasons, but I'd be interested to see what Youkilis can do putting the Boston Red Sox drama behind him.
Michael Bourn would help the Phillies, but not as much as some of the other free agents available this winter.
The attraction is that Bourn is an elite defensive centerfielder with speed to burn that can hit at the top of an order—all things that the Phillies need.
The problem is that Bourn is left-handed, a Scott Boras client and a speed demon whose fastest days are in the past.
With Bourn, it all comes down to price. Multiple outlets have speculated that the centerfielder could ask for an upwards of $100 million this winter, and that would surprise no one with Boras as his agent. The Phillies won't even be interested at that price.
Bourn would help the Phillies, but he isn't the best fit for them by any means.
The Phillies need a centerfielder. Shane Victorino needs a job. There appears to be some common ground here.
While Victorino isn't expected to be at the very top of the Phillies' wish list this offseason, he'll certainly be on it somewhere.
One of the things that the Phillies want to do is "get younger," and that can't be accomplished by reuniting with Victorino. However, if some of the Phillies' top targets like B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn dry up, getting Victorino on a team-friendly deal could be a good thing.
The guy is still a top-notch defender and a quality switch-hitter, especially as a right-handed batter, which is something that the Phillies need.
If the Phillies are serious about pursuing a starting pitcher this season so that they can explore the market for Vance Worley, Dan Haren is probably the best guy for them.
Haren is coming off of a down year for the Los Angeles Angels thanks to an injury. They declined his club option after failing to trade him last week, allowing him to become a free agent.
The thought is that Haren will now look for an incentive laden one-year deal to build his value and go back onto the free-agent market next offseason as one of the best starting pitchers available. The Phillies are a team that can afford to give him this kind of deal.
If the Phillies can land a good third baseman or center fielder under team control using Worley as a trade chip, they'll need a replacement starting pitcher lined up to pull the trigger, and Haren can be a great one-year option with starting pitching prospects on the way.
Realistically speaking, it could be the return of the "Four Aces."
If Nick Swisher is still looking for "Jayson Werth-type" money, then you can just skip this slide all together because the Phillies will have no interest. Now, if that price is negotiable, we may be on to something here.
Swisher has been with the New York Yankees since 2009, and in that time, has become a dependable corner outfielder with 25-home run potential—something the Phillies could desperately use.
He is a switch-hitter who is better left-handed than right, but can handle pitchers of either handedness well. Swisher, who has been known to be a solid contact hitter over the years, saw a small spike in his strikeout rate in 2012, which could be something to keep an eye on.
I don't think the Phillies will break the bank on Swisher because he is not the answer to all of their problems. He's not even the answer to their biggest problems. But if he stays within their price range and they have addressed all of their needs, they could make a run at him. He would help.
This could be one of the most interesting debates of the offseason from a Phillies perspective on a number of fronts.
The elephant in the room is that Melky Cabrera is coming off a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance and that the suspension just happens to correlate with two of the best seasons of his career.
So you have to ask yourself this: Just what kind of effect did this banned substance have on Cabrera's performance? Can he still be looked as an All-Star caliber outfielder?
Determining whether or not he is worth the gamble comes down to what he is asking for on the open market. The speculation is that he'll be looking for a one-year deal to reestablish his value.
If the base salary is around $5 million or less, the Phillies will probably want to jump all over that. They need outfield help in the worst way, and bargain shopping could be the best way to fill the void.
But Cabrera is going to want incentives built into his deal to maximize his value as well. At some point, you have to do a bit of risk assessment even if he performs well.
The bottom line, however, is this: If Cabrera can repeat his last couple of seasons without the banned substance for cheap, it is a move the Phillies would make a million times over.
As long as his price tag doesn't skyrocket following a solid World Series that gave him plenty of exposure, Angel Pagan could be a solid fit for the Phillies.
Pagan is a switch-hitting centerfielder with good speed and could conceivably slot in at the top of the Phillies batting order, be it in the first or second spot.
After winning a World Series with them in 2012, it isn't hard to envision Pagan's preference being to re-sign with the San Francisco Giants, but they have a bit of a crowded outfield that could allow him to slip away in free agency.
When you look at the entire package, from talent and potential to price, Pagan may just be the best fit for the Phillies in center field. He is certainly at the top of the list.
Some team is likely going to get a bargain on Joakim Soria this winter, and the Phillies should be doing their due diligence.
Soria's contract with the Kansas City Royals had a couple of club options that gave them the opportunity to bail out if something went wrong, and after Soria missed the entire 2012 season following Tommy John surgery, they did.
The right-handed reliever had his second such surgery on April 2 of this past year, and the Royals were not comfortable giving him a raise, and understandably so.
Soria will likely be looking for a one-year deal to show that he is healthy, and when he is, this guy can be one of the most electric relievers around. This would be a solid move for most contenders, the Phillies included.
That is one of the first words that comes to mind when talking about Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who will be a free agent and eligible to sign with an MLB club this offseason.
Fujikawa has often been compared to Mariano Rivera, insofar as that he is the best closer to Japan has to offer in the same way that Rivera has been the best closer in the MLB for a very long time.
He has a very good fastball that he controls very well. As has aged, however, he has turned more to the use of his secondary offerings to complement the decline of his fastball. Fujikawa throws a solid cutter and a good slider, but his two best pitches are a forkball and a curveball that can be baffling.
This could be a solid gamble for the Phillies that results in the discovery of their new setup man. With all of the Phillies' young relievers pitching in front of him and Jonathan Papelbon behind him, there would be not shortage of power arms in this theoretical bullpen.
There are a couple of familiar faces on the free agent market this winter that may be willing to come back to the Phillies and would certainly help them back to the top.
One of those guys is former closer Ryan Madson, who signed a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, but never threw a pitch for them after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Represented by super agent Scott Boras, Madson will likely be looking for a one-year deal (in a closer's role if possible) that will help him to show off his health and prove that he is worthy of a longer commitment next winter.
But what teams are going to be most interested in is Madson showing that he is completely healthy and can dominate games one inning at a time.
The Phillies would love to give him that opportunity as their setup man in front of Jonathan Papelbon.
The Phillies and B.J. Upton are going to be linked by speculation until the day that he signs with them or with someone else.
The Phillies are in desperate need of a centerfielder following the trade of Shane Victorino last season, and Upton is a good defensive outfielder. He is a right-handed bat that would slot somewhere into the top of their order and has some power to boot.
Upton, who has gained the reputation of being somewhat hard to work with, already has some ties to the Phillies as Steve Henderson, who was just named the Phillies' hitting coach, was Upton's hitting coach with Tampa Bay during his best offensive season in 2008.
With a number of veteran players already on board, I seriously doubt that Upton would get away with much in this clubhouse, which could be a benefit to his on-field results.
As a team that is trying to "get younger" as well, the Phillies will also have taken note that Upton is only 28 years old and moving into the prime of his career. He would certainly make the Phillies better, and this is a deal that has a good chance of getting done.
Josh Hamilton would obviously make the Phillies a better club offensively, but how much better would he make them? I don't think that the answer is as clear-cut, especially when you consider Hamilton's asking price, via the Dallas Morning News:
"Josh Hamilton is hoping to find a team to pay him $175 million over seven years, a source told Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto this week."
That's not going to happen.
The Phillies certainly are not going to pay Hamilton anything close to $175 million over seven years, but no other team is going to either. There are just too many risks and variables both on and off the field in regards to Hamilton.
If the price comes down, the Phillies should be marginally interested because Hamilton can change the dynamic of the lineup.
His presence would create a bit of concern for the Phils as well, however. He is another left-handed bat that struggles against left-handed pitching. Certain bullpens would have a field day on the middle of an order that featured Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Hamilton.
I really want to say that this just isn't going to happen, but I said that about Cliff Lee returning to the Phillies before the 2011 season and learned my lesson.
Zack Greinke is arguably the best free agent available this winter, and there is no doubt that whoever signs him is going to be a better team because of it. With three pitchers already earning more than $20 million a year, you would think that the Phillies could be ruled out.
But Ruben Amaro, Jr. loves pitching and making a big splash, and he could do so by signing Greinke. Do I think that he will? Of course not. Greinke is probably going to cost his new team an upwards of $20 million a year over at least five seasons.
The Phillies, who just signed Cole Hamels to a new mega-deal, probably can't afford to do the same with Greinke, especially since they have so many other holes to fill.
But I won't rule it out yet. I just can't.