There is a strange fascination with the future in the baseball world. A huge portion of each team's time and resources are dedicated to how good the team can be at a later date—through prospects, through trades, through potential free-agent signings.
2014 is going to be a huge offseason for the Philadelphia Phillies. It could very well be the year that the Phillies dismantle their "core," with both Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz becoming free agents. Roy Halladay could be finished in Philly.
And while the Phillies still have a number of players under contract, there have been few opportunities over the last couple of seasons to improve that roster like there will be in 2014.
In this slideshow, I am going to take a look at some of the "big moves" that the Phillies could make next offseason. Is there a player who can be signed as a big free agent? Is there a big trade to be made? Will certain prospects be ready to make the jump to MLB?
Here are 25 "big moves" the Phillies should consider if they want to contend moving forward.
How much longer can Chase Utley play baseball?
With a pair of chronically degenerating knees, that's a question that will be at the forefront of the mind of anyone who has to make a decision about his future in Philadelphia. Perhaps more precisely, we should be asking how much longer Utley can be one of the best second basemen in the game.
2012 was a step in the right direction. His power returned. His range was solid. Maybe most importantly, his plate discipline and on-base skills were among the best the Phillies have to offer. In my opinion, he is still the best two-way player on this team.
OK, so we've determined that his knees will give him a few more years, at least. How in the world can the Phillies structure his next contract? Where is the precedent for the situation they'll be in with Utley—a man who is among the top five in the game at his position, but hasn't played more than 120 games since 2009?
Do the Phillies feel slighted by the time that Utley has missed? Is he willing to accept a smaller salary to help make the fit work in Philly? This will be an interesting negotiation.
Outside of being left-handed, Robinson Cano is everything the Phillies could use in a player right about now. He averages 24 home runs per season. He hits for average. He has strong on-base skills, can draw a walk, doesn't strike out much and has become one of the best defensive second basemen in the league.
If the Phillies let Chase Utley walk, they could conceivably become players for a guy like Cano, but he figures to feature prominently in the New York Yankees' future plans, and even as they cut back on payroll, they won't let him go without a massive bidding war.
The Phillies may show some interest in Cano (again, if Utley walks), but I can't see them landing him.
Ben Zobrist is the kind of player who could interest the Phillies, regardless of whether or not Chase Utley is re-signed to play second base. The Tampa Bay Rays hold a club option on him for the 2014 season, but if it is declined, the Phillies should jump into the fray.
Over the last few seasons, Zobrist has been one of baseball's more valuable players. He has come a long way offensively and plays a number of defensive positions (including second base, shortstop, third base and right field) well.
As a switch-hitter, he could balance out the Phillies lineup nicely. He has 20-home run power, posts a strong on-base percentage each season, and throughout his career has walked (12.6 percent)—nearly as many times as he has struck out (16.8 percent).
Zobrist would be a welcome addition to this ballclub, even in what would be his age 33 season.
Second base isn't the deepest position around the game, so if the Phillies were looking to replace Chase Utley from outside the organization, they'd likely have to get creative. One name to keep in mind could be current Houston Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie.
The Astros are still years away from contending, and Lowrie is a guy who probably doesn't fit into their plans long term. Any interest the Phillies have in him in the future would likely be as a second baseman.
Lowrie is a solid two-way player with room to grow. He finally tapped into his power in 2012, hitting 16 home runs. He has the potential to add to that solid contact and on-base skills as well as above-average defense, especially from second base.
Of course, the real question here is what the Astros would be asking for in return. The Phillies do not have the deepest of farm systems.
They may not seem like "big moves" on the surface, but turning over the reins to a rookie is, nine times out of 10, a huge gamble for MLB clubs; especially one like the Phillies, with a fanbase that expects to be in contention year in and year out.
In the event that Chase Utley walks, the obvious in-house solution is Freddy Galvis, who replaced Utley during the 2012 season when he missed time with an injury.
Phillies fans know what they're getting out of Galvis. He is an elite defender at second base who is never going to be an average hitter at the MLB level. As a temporary replacement, Galvis worked perfectly for the Phillies. As a long-term solution, however, I'm not so sure.
Another interesting name to keep an eye on is Cesar Hernandez. He too is an above-average defender with a bit more upside offensively. With next to no power, he is going to rely on making solid contact and finding his way on base to be successful.
Neither is an ideal option in replacing Utley.
One of the more interesting storylines already emerging for next offseason will be the decision the Phillies make to fill their catching void. At this point in time, Phillies fans would probably answer with a resounding "re-sign Carlos Ruiz."
But my, how things change. Ruiz, who will open the season with a 25-game suspension following a positive test for an amphetamine (Adderall), will be playing his 2014 season at age 35. Two of the Phillies' most promising positional prospects (Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle) are catchers.
It isn't hard to imagine a situation where both young catchers make significant strides in 2013 (both could see time at Triple-A this year) and are knocking down the door to the MLB by season's end.
Would the Phillies extend Ruiz's contract knowing this?
That's an interesting question. A one-year deal could work for the Phillies. It gives them the opportunity to have one of those prospects intern for a year under Ruiz at the MLB level and then take over the following season.
But would that work for Ruiz, who just had the best offensive season of his career in 2012? Who knows.
One way to stop Brian McCann from destroying Phillies pitching is to sign him to a contract. If Carlos Ruiz walks, McCann is one of the best "catchers" available on the free-agent market. Of course, one of the biggest question marks surrounding McCann is whether or not he can catch long term.
At 30 years old, McCann won't be the best fit for the Phillies. While he would supply some power, he is also a left-handed bat who struggles against left-handed pitching.
Given the market for catchers in recent seasons, McCann will garner plenty of interest, and the Phillies won't get locked into a bidding war with any team, especially with guys like Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle on the way.
The Phillies' catching situation heading into the 2014 season will likely hinge on the readiness of either of their top catching prospects—Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle. If they're not ready, Kurt Suzuki could be an interesting fit.
The Washington Nationals hold a club option on him for the 2014 season and he'd be a popular man if he were to become a free agent.
Suzuki is a solid defender, has good power for a catcher and doesn't strike out a ton. If he were to become a free agent, plenty of teams would be interested, but he could be a good short-term option for the Phillies, assuming the contract demands are not outrageous.
So how about those top catching prospects?
Tommy Joseph is the heir apparent to Carlos Ruiz. He was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the Hunter Pence trade and has all of the tools to be an above-average catcher. He is a good defender and a solid hitter from the right-hand side with above-average power potential.
Sebastian Valle has incredible upside, but I'm beginning to doubt that he'll ever come close to reaching it. He has an excellent frame and is becoming a good defensive backstop, but all areas of his game continue to need improvement, especially the hitting.
His plate discipline was downright embarrassing in 2012, as he struck out at an alarming rate (31.5 percent) and couldn't be paid to take a walk (2.9 percent). Scouts are beginning to sour on his offensive potential, and with good reason; though, there is still room for power. He did hit 17 home runs over two levels this season.
If I had to pick, Joseph is the Phillies' catcher of the future and Valle is a solid trade chip. However, neither is a safe bet, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Phillies wound up re-signing Carlos Ruiz or pursuing a different catcher.
One of the biggest debates of the next offseason may come down to whether or not the club should re-sign ace Roy Halladay. On the surface, this one seems like a no-brainer, but it runs a lot deeper than that.
Halladay, 35, has been every bit as good as advertised since joining the Phillies. He's thrown a perfect game, pitched a postseason no-hitter and won a Cy Young Award. With that list of achievements, you give him the benefit of the doubt, but was 2012 really an aberration?
Even as one of the most well-conditioned athletes around, you can't deny biology.
The chances of a pitcher breaking down with age are strong. That's just a fact of life. So, when people saw Halladay's velocity decline in 2012, red flags went up. Is he at the end of the road?
I'm not so sure. For me personally, that was only part of a larger story. Along with the dip in velocity, Halladay's pitch selection was also strange. He threw more changeups and curveballs than at any other point in recent history. His command was also lacking on nearly every pitch—another question mark.
Halladay, of course, missed time during the season with a strain of the right latissimus dorsi, but I'm not sure that it ever healed properly. I am curious to see how he reacts to a full offseason.
Regardless of what happens, and unless he breaks down completely, I expect the Phillies to re-sign Doc.
But what if Roy Halladay walks? I'd call it a small possibility at this point, but a possibility nonetheless. One name that stands above the rest, as far as free-agent starting pitchers are concerned following the 2013 season, is former Miami Marlins ace Josh Johnson.
Johnson's biggest concern this season will be to prove that he can stay healthy. The Toronto Blue Jays acquired him this winter and he'll be tested against some of the better offenses in the game in the American League East.
A successful season could boost his value quite a bit. But teams know that he can pitch. What he needs to show is that he is capable of staying on the mound for a full season—a facet of the game that eluded him with the Marlins.
If Halladay walks, the Phillies will suddenly have some money to spend and the Phillies have a strange fascination over elite pitching. Johnson could become a primary target.
The Boston Red Sox have a need for starting pitching and a club option on Jon Lester for the 2014 season; so, the only way I could realistically see the Phillies pursuing the left-handed starter is if his option is declined—but that could happen.
If the Phillies and Roy Halladay part ways following the 2013 season, they'll suddenly have a big hole in the starting rotation and a few bucks to spend. Lester could be an interesting option.
He would join a starting rotation that also featured Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in what could be one of the most dynamic trios of left-handed starting pitchers in a long while. With that having been said, don't hold your breath on this one.
The Red Sox will probably pick up that option.
I threw James Shields onto this list because I thought it was an interesting conversation. After sending three top-10 prospects (plus a fourth prospect outside of their top 10) to the Tampa Bay Rays for he and Wade Davis, there is no way the Kansas City Royals would decline their club option on him for 2014, right?
Well, the Royals have done crazier things in recent memory, and I didn't want to discuss possible options for the starting rotation and not include one of the best potentially available. The Royals would be insane to decline his option, but if they did, he'd be the best starting pitcher on the market, behind Josh Johnson.
If Shields were to hit the free-agent market, the Phillies would have interest. But he probably won't.
After Josh Johnson (and pitchers with club options, like Jon Lester and James Shields), there are a ton of second-tier starters on the market, and I didn't want to blow a ton of slides on them to go through each one, so we'll discuss some of them here.
One of the more interesting names is R.A. Dickey. Statistically speaking, he has been one of the best starters in the game over the last three seasons, so it probably isn't fair to call him "second tier." However, he'll also be 39 years old after the 2013 season—so who knows what he'll have left in the tank.
Another guy who should be in the top tier, though his statistics may not dictate it, is Tim Lincecum. A dip in velocity and spike in control issues have teams concerned about his future. A few seasons ago, it wasn't hard to picture him becoming the highest-paid starting pitcher of all-time. Now what will he earn?
Matt Garza is another pitcher who is on the fringe of being a top-tier guy, but he took a step backward with the Chicago Cubs in 2012. I could see the Phillies having some interest in him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Other names to consider next offseason include: Scott Feldman, Jason Hammel, Dan Haren, Phil Hughes, Ted Lilly, Ricky Nolasco, Wandy Rodriguez (club option) and Ervin Santana.
The Phillies have some starting pitching prospects coming through the upper levels of their farm system who should be ready to join the rotation in 2014. With Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels the only pitchers under contract (Kyle Kendrick will be eligible for arbitration), they'll likely need some of them.
Tyler Cloyd was the first to get a taste of MLB. It's hard to imagine him keeping his head afloat at the big league level. He has a below-average fastball, a cutter with solid movement and offspeed offerings that you don't write home about.
Jon Pettibone is a prospect who could realistically join the Phillies rotation during the 2013 season and earn a spot moving forward. He has some of the best control/command in their system, which helps him use a solid fastball (that sits in the low 90s with some giddy-up when he needs it) to establish his secondary offerings. If he reaches his potential, he could be a solid No. 3.
Another guy who could be in the rotation by 2014 is Ethan Martin, acquired by the Phillies in the Shane Victorino trade. Control/command has always been his biggest flaw, but he went a long way in correcting that in 2012. Martin has two plus-pitches (fastball and curveball) and is working on what is currently a fringe changeup.
Two guys who may be a little more questionable for 2014 are Jesse Biddle and Adam Morgan. Biddle is the Phillies' top prospect, but hasn't even played in Double-A yet. Morgan made just six starts there last season.
I'm sure the general consensus among Phillies fans is the "wait and see" approach on the future of Michael Young, especially after the way the 2012 season went for him. But a quick glance at the third base market next offseason shows that there aren't many better options.
If Young can step in and play solid defense at third base while giving the Phillies quality at-bats from the top of the order (or the middle of the order, if they can't land that power bat), then they may try to bring him back for another year.
All of that is amplified if Cody Asche tanks or isn't ready for MLB.
So it looks as though the San Diego Padres won't be trading Chase Headley this winter. The Phillies should call back and ask again at a later date.
Their options at third base aren't great moving forward. Michael Young is at the end of his career. Scouts have major questions about Cody Asche, and Maikel Franco is years away. The trade market is going to be their best option, but what is the cost?
With Jedd Gyorko and other prospects pushing through their system, the Padres could be more inclined to move Headley next winter. While it may be too soon to say, my guess is that they start any conversation with Jesse Biddle.
One possible option for the Phillies on the free-agent market next offseason is Martin Prado. Over the last few seasons, he has been one of the Atlanta Braves' most valuable players and would certainly help the Phillies at third base.
Prado isn't going to do anything to address their lack of power, but he does bring a consistently good approach to the plate and very solid defense. Assuming that he won't break the bank, he is the kind of player who the Phillies should make a priority, but I bet that the Braves feel the same way.
With some of their top prospects still years away and few other options, I could see the Phillies getting a little desperate over a guy like Prado.
Alberto Callaspo is another third baseman who will be a free agent next winter, but he isn't going to address many of the Phillies' concerns, especially offensively.
Over the last few seasons, Callaspo has become a solid big league regular by doing a little bit of everything. He hits for some average and some power. He plays a solid defense, but isn't spectacular. He has also been a little inconsistent with his year-to-year production.
But one Callaspo's big selling points for the Phillies would be his approach at the plate. He doesn't strike out much, knows how to take a walk and looks at a lot of pitches. That doesn't sound like a lot, but plate discipline is something that the Phillies haven't done well in recent seasons.
The list of viable third base prospects who could be ready for the start of the 2014 season begins and ends with Cody Asche—and a lot of things have to go right for that to happen.
Asche is the kind of guy who divides scouts. On the surface, he isn't the kind of guy who projects to be a big league regular. He doesn't have a powerful frame. None of his tools stand out above the rest. He is the kind of guy who could fade into obscurity quickly.
On the other hand, Asche is the kind of guy who some scouts love. He is a hard worker who has done nothing but make progress in each of his professional seasons. He has turned himself into a solid defender at third base and is making some noise at the plate after tweaking his swing a bit.
Personally, I'm not very high on him. I think he could be a solid bench player with some upside, but pegging him as the heir apparent at third base may be adding some lofty pressure that he can't live up to.
We're now more than two months into the 2013 offseason and the Phillies have yet to resolve their outfield situation. What does that say moving forward? Unless they make a multi-year commitment to someone like Nick Swisher or Cody Ross, expect them to be in the market for a corner outfielder next offseason as well.
One guy that will be a free agent, but probably isn't the best fit, is Washington Nationals left fielder Mike Morse.
Morse is a powerful, right-handed bat who is a bit of a late bloomer. With that having been said, Morse has struggled with injuries throughout his career and as a result, has played one full season at the MLB level.
He is a bit of a butcher defensively and without a track record to argue his case, I don't see the Phillies making a strong offer for a guy like Morse.
When talking about Corey Hart, one of the first comparisons that comes to mind is Jayson Werth, and the Phillies could certainly use some of the production that Werth gave them as a Phillie right about now.
Assuming his foot injury is a thing of the past, Hart is an average defensive right fielder (though the Milwaukee Brewers plan to play him as a first baseman in 2013) who would provide some right-handed power in the middle of the order—both things that the Phillies could use.
With few other options available on the free-agent market, Hart is a guy who stands to be pretty popular. If he were to reach the open market and the Phillies' outfield situation is unchanged, I have little doubt that the Phillies would be very interested.
Well, the Phillies wouldn't be getting any younger by offering Carlos Beltran a contract next winter, but the former center fielder seems to have rejuvenated himself with the move to right field and is defying age with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Beltran, who would be 37 in 2014, has been everything the Cardinals thought he could be in right field. At the very least, he is an average defender. He is a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate and a well-rounded player.
Injuries have been a big concern for Beltran in recent seasons and the last thing the Phillies need is a position player they'd be counting on big time with questionable knees. But if Beltran can continue being an All-Star caliber player, I could see them making an offer.
If history tells us anything, the Phillies and Scott Boras don't really like each other, but business is business, right? If they can't find a corner outfielder this winter, you have to assume that the Phillies will be interested in Shin-Soo Choo next offseason.
Choo has been the center of attention in recent days after he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Cincinnati Reds as part of a three-team deal. The Reds plan to use him as a center fielder, but he'll likely hit the free-agent market next winter billed as a right fielder.
So, would the Phillies pursue a left-handed hitter who has struggled against lefties in recent seasons? Choo has his selling points. He has hit lefties well in the past and can be an above-average defender. If the price is right (and that never seems to be the case with Boras), he could be a fit.
On the surface, Nelson Cruz seems like a great fit for the Phillies. Even as a bit of a late bloomer, he has become a solid defensive right fielder with massive power from the right side of the plate. When he becomes a free agent, the challenge will be determining how much of that power comes from playing his home games in Texas.
With that in mind, his splits from 2012 should be a concern for any team. He hit 18 home runs at home last season and just six on the road. When you look at his entire career, those splits are less drastic, but still concerning—79 home runs at home, 51 on the road.
With that being said, his presence in the middle of the lineup alone would be a boost for the Phillies. If he can be had at the right price—and again, that is the big concern—he could be a welcome addition for a club desperately seeking right-handed pop.