On the whole, it's been overstated that the Philadelphia Phillies had a sub-par 2012 season. The team's record of 81-81 at season's end was due to a number of factors, whether injury or performance-based. Missing Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay for significant portions of the year certainly didn't help the Phillies' cause, and while trading players such as Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino netted the Phillies some help for the future, it did not aid their team now.
Individually, some players shined exponentially, while others fell further down the ladder, if not completely off. Some players who were relied upon in seasons past just didn't bring to the table what they were able to offer before. Seeing players such as Doc Halladay struggle due to injury and diminished velocity was a disappointing sight to behold, whereas Carlos Ruiz's breakout year was all the better to witness until plantar fasciitis derailed his season and Adderall did the same for the first 25 games of 2013.
As is always the case with players from one season to the next, players who have something to prove—whether for on the field or contractual value—are evaluated as having "make-or-break" years. For the Phillies, five players stand out above the rest. Whether it's a last chance with the team for the future or proving that a season ago was not a fluke, a myriad of reasons contribute to why certain players enter these make-or-break seasons.
In the meantime, here are the five Philadelphia Phillies with a ton riding on an upcoming make-or-break season for 2013.
As of now, Antonio Bastardo will enter the 2013 season as the veteran left-hander in the Phillies bullpen. Although that's a favorable position to be in, he's certainly not guaranteed anything else.
Bastardo came into his first full season in 2011 as an unknown commodity. Previously given the opportunity to start by the Phillies, Bastardo eventually settled into the later innings after being given a shot at a long relief role in the past as well. For the first half of 2011, Bastardo was on historic pace, posting a microscopic 0.82 ERA in 36 games with an even smaller 0.76 WHIP. He was one of the best relievers in baseball during that stretch and certainly one of the best southpaws.
However, the second half of 2011 was ugly for Bastardo, as he posted a 5.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP for the latter half of the season. It could have been worse, as Bastardo's season-end ERA was still a respectable 2.64 and his WHIP was an impressive 0.93, but these were no longer the numbers of absolute All-Star potential. It still remained, though to what degree was unclear.
In that regard, 2012 clarified things. Bastardo's horrific second half of 2011 may have been due to fatigue and tipping pitches, so the thought was that these were easily correctable issues.
Unfortunately, 2012 did not make the Phillies any more confident in Bastardo, as he struggled all season with a 4.33 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. The good news is that Bastardo's advanced metrics suggest that he wasn't as bad as those numbers indicate, but the bad news is that what happens on the field is what actually counts.
Once seen as having a bright future as one of baseball's best setup men, Bastardo now has the distinction of being a relative unknown heading into 2013. If he can somehow find the magic that led to his stellar first half of 2011, his future with the Phillies is definitive. But if he falters once again, Bastardo will have lost all reliability and may not find himself wearing Phillies pinstripes by 2014, if not sooner.
Domonic Brown, at least with the Phillies organization, is on his last chance.
Brown, who was (arguably) brought up too quickly through the Phillies' minor league system before making his major league debut on July 28, 2010, is a huge question mark heading into 2013. After Jayson Werth spurned the Phillies to sign with the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $126 million deal, Brown, Baseball America's fourth-best prospect in all of baseball before the season, had earned the right to fight for the starting right fielder's job entering 2011.
Unfortunately for Brown, an 0-for-15 hitless streak to start spring training games ended with a hit on the 16th at-bat, but the hit came off his hand on a swing of the bat. Brown's hamate bone in his hand was broken, and he missed the first month and a half of the 2011 season.
When Brown returned, he failed to live up to expectations, and a midseason trade for the Houston Astros' Hunter Pence saw Brown assigned to Triple-A for left field experience in case he would take over the position for 2012 after impending free agent Raul Ibanez's likely departure.
Brown did not impress the Phillies brass enough at spring training before the 2012 season to warrant starting job considerations, which were consequently handed over to John Mayberry, Jr. Sure enough, though, Mayberry failed to make an impact as well, and after Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino were shipped off at the July 31 trade deadline, Brown got his shot once again, albeit more out of need than want. Despite a lackluster showing, Brown was given the opportunity to play, but he still has yet to capture the immense potential that was seen in him as recently as two offseasons ago.
It's not like Brown has an infinite amount of opportunities with the Phillies, though. The Chicago Cubs came calling earlier in the offseason and proposed a Brown-for-Alfonso Soriano swap. Even though it did not materialize, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reported that the Phillies somewhat warmed up to the idea of it.
Brown is on a short leash in 2013, and if he can't put it together offensively and/or defensively, as he has yet to do, expect to see the Phillies cut ties with their one-time envy of the league.
Roy "Doc" Halladay just wasn't himself in 2012. Coming off yet another stellar season in 2011, which saw him place second in the NL Cy Young Award voting, Doc encountered a long list of problems during 2012.
To start, Halladay seemed off after his first few starts in 2012 spring training, after which it was revealed that his velocity was down. The beginning of the 2012 season seemed to disprove that, however, as Halladay posted a 1.95 ERA and 0.95 WHIP through the end of April.
May and onward was a different story for Doc, though: in May, Halladay's ERA that month skyrocketed to 6.11, and he didn't make it out of the month without hitting the DL. He didn't return until just after the All-Star Break.
Upon his return, Doc registered a 5.82 ERA in July, though in August, it was much more tolerable at 3.32. Sadly, Halladay didn't end his 2012 season on a positive note, as he had a 6.84 ERA in the final month of 2012, and considerations were given to shut him down for his last start or two in mid-September.
The Halladay of old was evidently gone. After placing in the top two of NL Cy Young Award voting in each of the last two seasons, Doc seemed to have lost almost everything. At the end of 2012, Doc's ERA stood at 4.49 despite a misleading 12-8 record. Perhaps six straight seasons of 200.0 or more innings pitched was beginning to take its toll on Doc's shoulder, something that had not been thought of in years prior just because of his work ethic and lack of significant injury history.
Once considered to be a given to vest, Doc's 2012 DL stint will likely prevent his 2014 option from being exercised and may very well leave him without a contract after the 2013 season. Would Doc take a discount to return to Philadelphia, or would his lack of a World Series ring—which was the initial reason he chose to come to Philly—turn him away from the City of Brotherly Love? Or will a contract extension at a discounted rate from $20 million a season come to fruition during the 2013 season?
It all depends on how Doc performs in 2013. If he's healthy hand effective, chances are, he'll be retained. If he struggles, it's not a foregone conclusion that he'd return in 2014, but it would absolutely be for much less money than he is currently receiving.
Carlos Ruiz, in some ways, went from zero to hero and back to zero in 2012.
In a roller-coaster of a year, Chooch provided the light when all was dark, the sun when there was rain. He was the constant in a year of flux, and his breakout could not have come at a better time.
In Philadelphia, Chooch has long been heralded as an underrated catcher throughout baseball. His game-calling skills are among the best in the majors, and his defense had not been noticed until 2012 came along. Ruiz's offensive spike in performance turned otherwise ignorant heads, and it netted Chooch his long-awaited first All-Star appearance.
Sadly, Chooch saw his 2012 season go down the gutter when he was stricken by plantar fasciitis. While the injury resulted in Ruiz playing in only 114 games, the fewest for him since 2009, it did allow Erik Kratz to emerge as a reliable option for the Phillies as a backup catcher.
Chooch ended his 2012 with a .325 batting average, .394 OBP, .540 SLG and .953 OPS. He also slugged a career-high 16 home runs, 32 doubles and 68 RBI. His 2013 club option at $5.5 million was a bargain and a no-brainer to exercise. That is, until word of his suspension came out. Due to a second positive test of Adderall, Chooch will be suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season.
Chooch's suspension came as a huge blow to both the Phillies organization and its fans. Their 2012 hero, their lone offensive All-Star, had essentially betrayed them not once, but twice. It's a step below performance-enhancing drugs, but if Ruiz used Adderall for increased focus, it's certainly not out of the question to consider it cheating.
Chooch signing a contract extension during the 2013 season, if not before it, had been a practical given. Now, his future beyond 2013 with the Phillies is in jeopardy. Will Tommy Joseph or Sebastian Valle take over as the Phillies' full-time catcher in 2014, or will Ruiz be brought back on a cheap deal? Would Ruiz even start if he returned after 2013?
It all depends on his play in 2013. Chooch has much to prove—that he can produce offensively without Adderall and that his 2012 was no fluke. He has to prove that he can put up All-Star numbers again. It's a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but anything less from Chooch in 2013 will be viewed as a disappointment.
Chase Utley is still the man, at least for now.
One of the Phillies' major veteran clubhouse leaders, Utley has been one of the constants for the Phillies for many years. Now just one of four Phillies remaining from the 2008 World Series Champions, Utley has been a Phillie for as many years as he has in no small part due to Pat Gillick's signing him to a record-breaking seven-year, $85 million contract extension before the 2007 season. That record still stands for a second baseman as of now, but will likely be broken when Robinson Cano signs a new contract either during or following the 2013 season.
Utley has never been a superb defender, but he has always given it his all on every play in the field. Offensively, Utley was a force to be reckoned with from 2005 through 2009, batting .301 with a .922 OPS and averaging 29 home runs and 101 RBI through that stretch. He's a five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award recipient. Had John Lannan not broken his hand in 2007, Utley also very well may have been NL MVP that year.
However, 2013 will be a different season for Utley, as it's his final year under contract. Unless the Phillies extend Utley once again before the end of the 2013 season, Utley will get his first taste of free agency following the conclusion of the 2013 World Series. The biggest issue with Utley's worth is that he's had difficulty staying on the field in recent years due to knee problems. In 2010, Utley played in 115 games, in 2011, just 103 and in 2012, a measly 83 games.
Utley did show some flashes of brilliance in 2012 after his return from injury, but it will take a season of consistency for Utley to earn a contract extension. If he doesn't get extended, he's in the same boat as Halladay, but is more likely to be retained due to his ties with the Phillies, even if it's only in a bench role. Whether or not Utley would opt for that kind of demotion is uncertain, but if he doesn't take the field often enough in 2013, he may not have a choice if he wants to continue his baseball career.
Utley's been a great player over the course of his Phillies, career and it would be a shame to see him go on a sour note. Hopefully, he can bring it back in 2013 and produce like his days of old. It's a lofty thing to expect, but if Utley can even regain some of the pop he once had in that sweet swing of his, maybe he can hit at least .280 with 15 home runs. Regardless, 2013 will play a vital role in Utley's Phillies and, ultimately, remaining career.