5 Things the Phillies Can Do to Optimize Their Transition Plan in 2013
The Philadelphia Phillies have made a list of moves this offseason, but the chances of any of these transactions single-handedly improving the team next season are slim.
Instead, the additions of Ben Revere, Michael Young, Mike Adams and John Lannan will have the biggest impacts if players such as Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard return healthy next season.
But what about after next season?
Matt Gelb on philly.com recently wrote that this offseason, with its uncharacteristic low-key moves under general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., could signal that 2013 will be a transition year for the Phillies.
Three-fifths of the starting rotation, as well as Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Michael Young and even manager Charlie Manuel, are entering what is (or will likely be) the last or only years of their contracts.
The good news is that the Phillies have a good amount of minor league talent that could be ready just in time to step up and fill in any potential voids left by these players.
The bad news is that these prospects must still have solid 2013 seasons, and even then it is still no guarantee that their success will translate to the major league level.
Nevertheless, the Phillies will be in an interesting situation as they try to return to their 2007-2011 form next season while keeping an eye toward the future.
Here are five things the Phillies can do to optimize their transition plan in 2013.
Keep Cliff Lee
The Phillies have few trade pieces at the major league level and have already traded two more prospects this offseason.
However, Cliff Lee remains a player who could net the Phils either another impact player or payroll relief.
But that does not mean that he should be traded.
Lee went 6-9 with 207 strikeouts and a 3.16 ERA last season. His ERA after the All-Star break was 2.45, including an ERA in September of 1.04. He also had ERAs of less than 3.00 in three different months.
The Los Angeles Dodgers claimed Lee on waivers last season, as Jon Morosi tweeted, while Jim Salisbury on CSNPhilly.com wrote that sources said the Boston Red Sox talked about dealing Jacoby Ellsbury for Lee.
With Lee’s salary about to increase to $25 million for the next three seasons, along with either a $27.5 million option or $12.5 million buyout for 2016, the Phillies could have acquired significant payroll room if they had moved him.
However, there’s also a chance that Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan will become free agents after next season if contract extensions are not signed, leaving the Phils with Lee, Cole Hamels and a bunch of young, unproven starting pitchers in their rotation.
The Phillies could rely on Tyler Cloyd, Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin being ready for 2014 and able to contribute effectively, or they could dive into next offseason’s free-agent market for a starting pitcher.
However, keeping Lee alongside Hamels is the closest guarantee to maintaining consistency in the starting rotation.
Trading Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins showed how quickly an area of depth can turn into an area of weakness.
Trading Lee would make any type of transition much more difficult.
Start Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown
The number of available free-agent outfielders has decreased to essentially Michael Bourn and Scott Hairston, with the latter as seemingly the only option as a cheap addition.
However, Corey Seidman on CSNPhilly.com recently wrote an article in which Amaro is quoted as saying that the Phillies could use a double platoon at the corner outfield spots. In that scenario, Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix, John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown would share starting duties.
The same Nix that batted .246 while making just 26 starts last season, and who has a career .245 average.
If the Phillies are still willing to give Brown an opportunity despite a .236 career average and a .196 average against left-handed pitching last season, they must believe that he can still figure things out at the major league level.
Or there’s just a lack of options.
Regardless, the Phillies must decide where Brown, 25, fits into the team’s transition plan. The only way to get a definitive answer is to allow him to start regularly rather than split time with a player such as Mayberry.
Meanwhile, the Phillies can either platoon Ruf and Nix, or allow the player that hit 38 home runs last season (albeit at the Double-A level) to start regularly.
It’s difficult to imagine Mayberry being a part of the Phils' starting lineup going forward, while Nix is set to become a free agent after 2013.
Ruf and Brown are the only two outfielders, besides Ben Revere, who can cement their spots in the Phillies' transition plan with solid 2013 seasons, but they must start regularly in order for the Phils to know just what they have in each.
Do Not Give Roy Halladay an AAV of $24 Million
Roy Halladay must throw over 250 innings next season in order for his 2014 option to vest. Otherwise, he will join a free-agent market currently set to include Tim Lincecum, Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright.
Halladay will now make for an interesting extension candidate. Halladay won 40 games in two seasons for the Phils before injuries led to him going 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA last season in his fewest amount of starts since 2005.
His early numbers with the Phillies led to the contract talks that Jayson Stark on ESPN.com wrote about last month. In his article, Stark wrote that:
Before Halladay’s shoulder started acting up in midseason, the Phillies had actually had some preliminary talks with his agent, Greg Landry, about an extension that would keep Halladay in Philadelphia beyond next year -- and bring his salary more in line with the $24 million average annual value of Cliff Lee’s deal. But Halladay’s shoulder -- and the Phillies -- put an end to those talks.
Halladay’s performances prior to last season made an AAV of $24 million seem reasonable for a Cy Young winner and a pitcher who was consistently winning nearly 20 games each season.
However, the Phillies must now proceed with caution with Halladay and monitor his health throughout spring training as they make a decision.
An article by Corey Seidman on CSNPhilly.com contains a quote from Amaro, in which he says that Halladay has been working out this offseason with Kyle Kendrick. While that may be a good thing or a bad thing, what’s more important is how Halladay bounces back, at 35 years old.
If healthy, trying to reach a contract extension would be a solid move, as even a slightly less dominant Halladay would still be a crucial component of the Phillies rotation. It would also put less pressure on pitchers such as Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin, as they could both either take Kendrick and Lannan’s spots in the rotation, or the Phils could sign a free agent and promote whichever pitcher they think is more ready.
Signing Halladay to an extension that gives him an AAV of $24 million, however, could greatly limit the team’s payroll flexibility going forward, as a pitcher who will turn 36 years old during next season would become the fourth player with an AAV of over $20 million.
Call-Up Cody Asche in September
Cody Asche batted .349 in High-A ball last season before posting a .300 batting average at the Double-A level.
These numbers may give him a chance, with a strong 2013 season, to become the Phillies starting third baseman after next season.
Asche is a left-handed batter, but he had an impressive offensive season, hitting 12 home runs and 72 RBI. Combined with his Arizona Fall League performances, Asche had 193 hits in 154 games.
If Asche goes to Triple-A and has a solid season on both sides of the ball, he could be in line to become the starting third baseman in 2014 and take over for Michael Young.
To help with the transition plan, the Phillies could promote Asche in September after he’s played regularly at the minor league level to gain major league experience, hopefully during a pennant race, similar to how teams such as the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles did with top prospects last season.
With Young, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz currently set to become free agents and uncertainty surrounding the corner outfield spots, having internal options would be a huge advantage.
However, with several possible replacements needed, the Phillies could benefit from knowing just what they have in Asche before the offseason and free agency begins.
Allow Ryne Sandberg to Also Handle Bench Coach Duties
Manager Charlie Manuel is entering the last year of his contract, and Hall of Famer and former Triple-A manager Ryne Sandberg has been promoted to become the Phillies third base coach.
Sandberg’s promotion does not guarantee that he will become the next manager, nor does it mean that next season will truly be Manuel’s last as the Phils manager. But if the team is leaning toward making such a change, having Sandberg gain as much experience as possible could help make for a seamless transition the following season.
His playing career already speaks for itself, and his managerial career has also put him on the radar of major league teams. Despite not being offered a manager’s position as of yet, Sandberg has at least interviewed at the major league level, with the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason.
Meanwhile, in six minor league seasons, Sandberg has more than 430 wins.
The Phillies are not planning on having a bench coach next season, although pitching coach Rich Dubee may serve a similar role.
But if Sandberg will be offered the head coaching job after next season, having him do more than simply coach the infield and third base would help the Phillies avoid a learning curve both on the coaching staff and in the field after 2013.