With free agency upon us, rumors have begun circulating everywhere, speculation about which player ended up where have been rampant. Phillies fans know what their club needs: an outfielder (maybe two), a third baseman and dependable relief help.
Every one of those needs can be found and addressed on the free-agent market. Theoretically, at least the Phillies can go out and sign Josh Hamilton, Kevin Youkilis and Jeremy Affeldt. They should have the money (whether they want to spend it and cross the tax threshold remains to be seen) if that is their desire.
And yet doing so might not solve all of the Phillies problems, nor return them to playoff contention. That’s because most of what plagued the Phillies in 2012 (and in a way, both in 2010 and 2011 playoffs) were internal problems.
Going forward, if the Phillies are going to reclaim their level of prominence atop the National League, they are going to have to deal with these issues first. No matter which free agents they sign or players they bring in through trades, the Phillies will not be legitimate World Series contenders until they solve these five issues.
Regardless of how much Chase Utley has regressed—and he has, his performance is nowhere near his peak performance from 2005-2009—he’s still the Phillies' best all-around player. He’s not the prolific power hitter he was once, but is still a dynamic offensive force.
That is, when he’s on the field. Utley has missed significant portions of the last three seasons, and if he is unable to begin the season on the active roster—again—that could spell major trouble for the Phillies. They are a veteran, capable team, but cannot get buried early again.
And most importantly, Utley needs to be honest. If he’s unable to play he needs to inform the team right away—and not wait until the last minute like he has the previous two seasons.
A few seasons ago, Ryan Howard arrived early in spring training and attempted to become a better all-around hitter. Unfortunately, he failed, and the only result was a significant drop in power. Gone were the days of him launching 45 or more home runs a season, and suddenly, reaching 30 had become a stretch.
It’s doubtful that Howard will ever be the 50 home-run hitter he was early in his career, but a return to 35 or 40 long balls per year would certainly help the Phillies. It won’t matter if he bats under .250, strikes out close to 200 times and plays horrible defense at first base; if he’s the force and home run threat he once was, the Phillies offense will be all the better for it.
This one is either the easiest issue to fix or the hardest. Was 2012 an aberration in the great Roy Halladay’s career, or was it the beginning of the end? Halladay is known for his intense workout routines, and if anyone can rebound from the miserable 2012 season, it’s Doc.
The Phillies still have two great starters in their rotation without Halladay, but he’s their leader, and they need him to be—if not great—than at least good.
If Halladay is as good as he was in 2010 or 2011, and neither Cliff Lee nor Cole Hamels experience a setback, the Phillies will run away with their division. If Halladay once again struggles, both to stay on the field and pitch well, then the Phillies will need their offense to step up big time just to keep them in the playoff hunt.
Ever since he reached the major leagues, Jimmy Rollins has seemed to want to play larger than his stature. Instead of embracing the talents he has, Rollins has tried to be the hero and hit home runs, often resulting in negative results.
Even though Rollins grew up idolizing Rickey Henderson, someone forgot to mention to him that a leadoff batter’s most important job is getting on base. When that happens, as Henderson can attest, good things happen.
2012 was arguably the worst full season of Rollins’ career. While many of his numbers across the board remained stagnant along his career levels, his strikeouts were the highest they were in a decade and the amount of infield pop-up outs were staggering.
Rollins seemingly has two choices. He can play the game the way his body and talents say he should—and become more of a prototypical leadoff hitter—or he can continue trying to be the power hitter he’s always wanted to become and finally accept that he needs to be moved down in the order.
For as much as Charlie Manuel sometimes appears to make decisions based on a gut feeling and sometimes is as by-the-book a manager as there is in baseball. His outright refusal to pitch closer Jonathan Papelbon in a tie game on the road–a prototypical no-no—may have been the single biggest reason why the Phillies missed the playoffs in 2012.
Manuel needs to decide what he is: a manager who will read over statistic sheets and make all decisions accordingly, or someone who adjusts according to the game, its flow and how his players are performing.
Manuel needs to start managing to WIN games instead not to lose them, especially in the playoffs. Arguably, they have had baseball’s best team, and the one that should have won the World Series in both 2010 and 2011, if they had been properly managed. When the Phillies have an opportunity—either to win a game or finish off a playoff series—they need to go for the jugular.
If that means pitching Papelbon in a game without the opportunity to earn a save or starting Hamels on short rest in October, something has to change. The status quo has not been working.