Who Will Emerge as the Philadelphia Phillies' Key Outfielders in 2013?
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Upgrading the outfield has been the main objective for Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. this offseason. However, that project hasn't been entirely completed yet.
But the Phillies still have question marks in their corner outfield spots.
Will 2013 be the year that Domonic Brown finally emerges as a productive major league outfielder? He hit .235 with a .712 OPS in 56 games with Philadelphia last season, and at 25 years old, this could be the proverbial make-or-break season for him.
According to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, the Phillies want to give Darin Ruf a shot at winning the job in left field.
Ruf had a tremendous 2012 season with Double-A Reading, hitting .317 with a 1.028 OPS, 38 home runs and 104 RBI. In 37 plate appearances in the majors, he batted .333 with a 1.079 OPS, three homers and 10 RBI.
Yet is it too much to expect a player to make the jump from Double-A to the majors in one season? Despite Ruf's success in Reading, would he ultimately benefit from more plate appearances in Triple-A Lehigh Valley to begin the year?
Amaro likely can't afford to bring in new players at all three outfield positions, so someone from within the organization will have to provide some production—at least early in the season. Based on Salisbury's report, it appears that Ruf will be that player.
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Obviously, that still leaves right field to be filled.
Even if Brown gets an opportunity there, will the Phillies add a right-handed hitter to platoon with him? For that matter, could Brown platoon with Ruf in left field?
As MLB.com's Todd Zolecki writes in a mailbag column, the best candidate if Amaro were decide to go the free agent route would be Scott Hairston
Hairston hit 20 home runs with 87 RBI in 398 plate appearances for the New York Mets last season. More importantly for the Phillies' purposes, he batted .286 with an .867 OPS against left-handed pitching.
However, Hairston is surely seeking a significant raise over the $1.1 million that he made last season after his success with the Mets. That might put him out of the Phillies' range.
The remaining right-handed bats on the free agent market are the likes of Juan Rivera, Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young. In that case, Amaro is better off just pairing John Mayberry, Jr. with Brown in right field.
Regardless, it seems to be apparent that the Phillies will have to bring in outside help for that position. Unfortunately, the Josh Hamiltons and Nick Swishers of the world have signed elsewhere. So in order to get the "difference-maker" that Amaro seeks, he'll need to make a trade.
The first name that will surely be mentioned is Justin Upton, whom the Arizona Diamondbacks are reportedly putting back on the trade block, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi.
Upton would be an impact player in right field for the Phillies, capable of 30 home runs, 85 RBI and 20 stolen bases. In other words, he could provide Philadelphia with MVP-caliber production—exactly what Amaro is looking for from his outfield.
But what would the Phillies have to trade to get Upton from the D-Backs?
Could Amaro come up with a package of starting pitching and perhaps even include one of the organization's young catchers, such as Sebastian Valle, that would interest Arizona GM Kevin Towers? Third-base prospect Cody Asche might be a player Towers would like as well.
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Another potential trade target could be Andre Ethier, though he wouldn't be the right-handed bat that the Phillies likely prefer. Ethier would also be expensive, as he is beginning a five-year, $85 million contract this season and Amaro has concerns about staying under the $178 million luxury tax threshold for this year.
However, the Los Angeles Dodgers are presumably more interested in dumping Ethier's contract—perhaps to clear room for signing Michael Bourn—than receiving top prospects in return. That might help Amaro in terms of putting together a potential trade package.
The Cubs would probably want more for Soriano, since he hit 32 homers with 108 RBI last season. If they have to eat a big chunk of the $36 million remaining on Soriano's contract, the Cubs will surely ask for better prospects in return.
For the Angels, Wells would be a straight salary dump. He's still owed $42 million, but he isn't coming off a productive season like Soriano is. However, the Phillies would likely have to either trade top prospects to get the Angels to cover most of that money or they would have to add that ridiculous salary to their payroll.
The guess here is that Amaro will make a play for Upton if he feels the Phillies still need to add an impact outfielder.
Upton is the best player available with the most upside. He is also the most affordable in terms of salary, slotted to make $38.5 million over the next three years. Though Amaro would have to pay a heavy price in a trade for him, the Phillies would get far more from Upton than the other veteran outfielders that are available.
Philadelphia could go into the upcoming season with an outfield of Ruf, Revere and Brown, but that would be a tough sell to fans, and it's difficult to believe that trio would help the Phillies compete in the NL East with the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves.
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