Spring training is quickly approaching with many of the big-name free agents off the market. The Philadelphia Phillies failed to make a major splash this offseason, as they have been known to do in previous offseasons under general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
The Phillies had several holes that they wanted to address this offseason, many of which were successfully done by Christmas. The biggest free-agent signing the Phillies made this year was eighth-inning relief pitcher Mike Adams, to address the major weakness of the bullpen.
The Phillies also acquired a center fielder in Ben Revere and a third baseman in Michael Young, both via trade. The Revere trade required the Phillies to deal starter Vance Worley, so they addressed that hole by signing John Lannan.
The Phillies certainly have addressed the holes they needed to fill except for the corner outfield position, as they are preparing to enter spring training with a number of unproven major league players there.
However, the bulk of the question marks surrounding the Phillies are not with the corner outfielders, but with several of the core players.
The Phillies suffered an extremely disappointing season in 2012. This was largely due to injuries of several players, three of which leave the Phillies questioning their status and ability to return to form with the 2013 season approaching.
Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were injured for a major portion of last season, and if they are not recovered for 2013 we may be in stock for another disappointing year.
Utley missed the beginning of a large chunk of the season due to a knee injury, for the second season in a row (albeit the other knee). Utley batted .256 with 11 home runs and 45 RBI in 83 games played. If Utley is healthy this year, he will be a key cog in a previously stagnant offense.
Utley’s numbers improved as he played through the season, excepting the 0-for-11 he hit in October. He did hit his high point last season in September, hitting .299 with a .405 OBP. If Utley can remain healthy, he should contribute strong numbers to the Phillies offense.
If he is not healthy, will we get an opportunity to see the defensive guru Freddy Galvis, who has yet to completely develop offensively.
Halladay suffered a Grade 2 strain of his labrum last season, causing him to suffer his worst season since 2004. He had a 4.49 ERA through 156.1 innings pitched. Some think that he is on a downward trend, whereas others believe that he suffered through a shoulder injury from spring training that caused his performance to suffer all season.
If Halladay recovers, the pitching staff will be much stronger than in 2012.
Ryan Howard also missed a great deal of time in 2012 due to his torn Achilles tendon. Howard was never expected to return to 100 percent last season, and if he continues to recover, he will be the great offensive power threat the Phillies expect him to be.
In 71 games played, he hit .219 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI. Howard needs to return to being the “big piece.” He is the only one of these three players that is a guaranteed Phillie after 2013.
So, the question becomes, do the Phillies rebound this year, or do they use 2013 as a transition year to rebuild?
The Phillies have five players that they could lose after this season due to free agency. Those players include Utley, Halladay, Laynce Nix, Michael Young and John Lannan.
Halladay is eligible for a $20 million vesting option for the 2014 season, but it is unlikely that he will meet its requirements. To be eligible, Halladay needs to have pitched 415 or more innings between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. With Halladay having only pitched 156.1 innings in 2012, he would have to pitch a career-high 258.2 innings in 2013.
That is not to say that Halladay will not return in 2014, but it will likely not be via the vesting option. Of course, if Halladay really is on the decline or suffers further injuries this year, it may be time to part ways and rebuild after this season anyway.
Utley will have to play the majority of the season in order for the Phillies to tender him a contract. If he does suffer with injuries again this season, it may be time for Galvis to step up into the second baseman role in 2014.
Young will likely only play this season in Philadelphia. The Phillies have Cody Asche, who has been progressing through the minors quickly at third base and could be major league-ready in 2014.
So, with Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Howard at first, Utley or Galvis at second and perhaps Asche at third for the 2014 season, the Phillies infield is set and would be an average of 5.5 years younger, assuming the Phillies have Galvis and not Utley.
Revere will be manning center field for quite some time in Philadelphia, but if the Phillies rebuild after 2013, the corner outfield positions and starting pitchers may be the holes that the Phillies will need to fill to be competitive, especially if they are using internal options for the infield.
Fortunately for the Phillies, if they do need to rebuild after 2013, the free-agent market is currently well-stocked with starting pitchers and outfielders set to hit the market after this season. The Phillies could look at Josh Johnson, James Shields, Phil Hughes, Matt Garza or many other options to fill any hole or holes in the rotation.
In the outfield, the Phillies would have the option to reunite with Hunter Pence, who is due to hit the market after 2013. They could also look at Curtis Granderson or Jacoby Ellsbury and shift the outfield positioning around. There are many more options for the outfield if the Phillies find holes there after this season.
At this point, it is best to hope that the key players the Phillies have rebound to meet their potential. If Utley, Howard and Halladay return to their normal form and Young puts up numbers similar to his 2012 numbers, or even more like his 2011 performance, the Phillies are in for a good season.
However, if after 2013, the Phillies need to rebuild, there will be many options on the free-agent market and many pieces internally to help create a younger and more competitive team.