The 2013 season has been a lost cause for the Philadelphia Phillies. Sitting at 68-78, the team is out of division title contention and is just six losses away from elimination from a potential wild card.
There have been many ups and downs for the Phillies in 2013. Charlie Manuel's dismissal definitely comes to mind as a low point, as does the team's lack of a committed stance at the July 31 trade deadline. Some of the high points have been the emergence of Domonic Brown as an All-Star and a better winning percentage under interim manager Ryne Sandberg than under Manuel on the season.
Nevertheless, the year has been painful to watch, and it would have been much more had the team had loftier expectations. At this point, fans and the team alike await the merciful coming of the offseason, giving the players a chance to hit the reset button for 2014 in addition to an opportunity to bolster the roster.
While it's too early to count on Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. making any specific moves, it's not too early to speculate upon what he might do. Here's six early predictions for the Phillies' upcoming offseason.
Prediction: Kyle Kendrick will be tendered a contract but traded before settling on a salary with the Phillies.
Kendrick has been both a known and unknown entity for the Phillies for the majority of his career. Originally brought up as a starter, Kendrick didn't meet expectations, and that gig didn't seem to be the future for him in the majors. He was thus switched to be the Phillies' long reliever and swingman should they need a spot start from anyone.
Upon the change of position roles, Kendrick thrived, but when he got the chance to start 15 games in 2011, he made the most of it. On the season, Kendrick posted a 3.22 ERA, garnering him consideration for the starting rotation. He then started 25 of his 34 games in 2012, pitching to a 3.89 ERA as a starter and 1.24 WHIP.
This improvement along with less depth guaranteed Kendrick a spot in the Phillies' rotation in 2013 during spring training. At the onset of the season, Kendrick looked fantastic, but since the All-Star Break his season-long numbers have escalated to a 4.51 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. His record is 10-12, and unlike Cole Hamels, it's almost fully indicative of how he's pitched this season: inconsistently.
In previous years, Kendrick was viewed as a necessary piece in the event of an injury or emergency. But as he enters his final year of arbitration eligibility before hitting free agency after 2014, will the Phillies look to go with either some major league ready prospects or acquire a veteran from outside the organization?
Regardless of which route they choose, it seems to be more and more evident with every additional bad start Kendrick has—and there have been plenty as of late—that he's not in the Phillies' future plans. It's too risky to non-tender him and potentially let him walk for nothing, so the Phillies will do their best to trade Kendrick in the offseason, for real this time.
Prediction: The Phillies will swing a deal for an above-average player with one of their top pitching prospects as the headliner.
There's good news and bad news for the Phillies in the sense of prospect depth. The good news is that the team's recent draft along with emergence of a few prospects in the minors (a la Maikel Franco) has given the farm system a likely boost in talent.
The bad news is that this could mean a larger-scale trade will come in the offseason, as we've come to know that Amaro is not afraid of making a big splash through player swaps.
Whether the Phillies seek out a veteran starting pitcher, an elite setup man or a decent-hitting outfielder, they will undoubtedly have to trade from the top of their farm system to facilitate a deal. While top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle will be retained at all costs, someone like Adam Morgan could be an ideal candidate to be traded.
Morgan is coming off a down year that was plagued with injury and recovery from it. A partially torn rotator cuff sidelined Morgan for a couple months, and though his rehab went well, he landed back on the DL to end the season. He's still got tremendous upside and is probably the most polished and major league ready of the Phillies' rotation prospects, but with Biddle likely to bust on the scene in mid-2014 and an otherwise lefty-heavy rotation, Morgan could become the odd man out.
Prediction: The Phillies will not renew pitching coach Rich Dubee's contract, also prompting Roy Halladay to leave the team and have a good chance of latching on with whoever Dubee does.
Pitching coach Dubee and Halladay have formed a special relationship of sorts since the latter joined the Phillies before the 2010 season. Dubee has taught Halladay a few things including how to throw his changeup effectively, while Halladay has showered his pitching coach with praise, which is apparent in his defense of Dubee against analyst and former Phillie Mitch Williams' call for his firing back in May (link per MLB.com).
Such a bond between a player and a specific coach isn't something you find too often anymore in this game, at least not publicly. But that's exactly what Dubee and Halladay have. Each one highly respects the other—Halladay for his coach's wisdom and advice and Dubee for his player's abilities and determination, not to mention work ethic.
However, the Phillies' now-longest tenured coaching staff member could be elsewhere come 2014. His contract expires after the season, and though he could be brought back, it wouldn't be surprising to see whoever is the new manager of the Phillies bring in someone of his own style to mentor the pitching staff. In short, Dubee could be the sacrificial lamb in any sort of managerial hiring.
With Halladay's vesting option failing to vest and setting him up to hit free agency for the first time at age 36, he could look at a few options. Maybe the Phillies bring him back on a cheap, incentive-laden deal. Maybe the Blue Jays bring him back out of respect for a season or two. Or maybe Doc waits for Dubee to settle with a team and looks to join the same organization, assuming there's mutual interest.
It's too early to say what will definitely happen, but it wouldn't be a shock to see both Dubee and Halladay go this offseason in this time of flux for the Phillies.
Prediction: Thanks to his recent hot hitting, Carlos Ruiz is brought back by the Phillies on a one-year deal with a club option for a second.
Of the current Phillies roster, only six of its players were on the 2008 World Series-winning team. And aside from Jimmy Rollins, only one player can say that he's been with the organization since the 1990s. That player is the 34-year-old Carlos Ruiz, who's slated to hit free agency for the first time in his career as well.
Ruiz was originally signed out of Panama in 1998 by the Phillies as a stocky second baseman but was moved behind the dish to give him a better shot of making the majors. The plan worked, and Chooch went from borderline bust to elite defender to well-rounded player in the span of five to six years.
Revered for his game-calling with the Phillies' pitchers, Ruiz will enter this year's weak free-agent crop of catchers as arguably the second-best option behind the Atlanta Braves' Brian McCann. Although his age, health concerns and 25-game Adderall suspension will have some bearing on the amount of interest Ruiz will receive, he'll get enough to land a decent contract and starting job somewhere.
Will that team be the Phillies? At this point, they may have no choice. Top prospect Tommy Joseph, who was expected to be ready for 2014, was hit with a debilitating concussion with season-long symptoms and repercussions. Sebastian Valle, once viewed as Ruiz's heir apparent and second-in-line to Joseph, has fallen even farther off the prospect map. That left one option in Cameron Rupp, but he's only been given one game's worth of an opportunity since his September 3 call-up.
Ruiz has himself to thank as well now that he's hitting the cover off the ball over the last month or so. Due to the lack of viable alternatives, Ruiz could be back with the Phillies even if it's only by default, and with the likely competition in free agency, the team may have to go beyond its comfort zone to keep its rotation and fan favorite catcher in Phillies pinstripes.
Prediction: The Phillies' biggest splash of the offseason will be signing a top outfielder in free agency.
The Phillies' reputation—or rather that of GM Amaro—has become one of acquiring the best player available or no one. That reputation was subdued a bit in the 2012 offseason when the largest signing Amaro made was that of setup man Mike Adams' two-year, $12 million contract.
Nevertheless, with some money coming off the books in addition to a looming TV deal, the Phillies will have some cash to spend and will do so to patch up as many holes as possible. Such a hole includes the outfield, where the most depth lies via the free-agent market.
Big names such as center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder-turned-center-fielder Shin-Soo Choo headline the list of outfielders hitting free agency this winter. Other big names include Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson and San Francisco Giant and former Phillie Hunter Pence.
However, the player who best fits the Phillies' needs of a right-handed power hitting outfielder is Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers. Currently suspended for 50 games as part of the Biogenesis scandal, Cruz won't be a new leaf at age 33, but he still has 20-plus homer potential, something which only Domonic Brown has definitively demonstrated in the Phillies lineup.
Cruz's suspension could be used to the Phillies' advantage. His price would likely have been higher thanks to five straight years of at least 20 home runs and a couple All-Star appearances, but with the suspension likely to be the freshest memory of Cruz as he enters free agency, his price could drop considerably. Cruz won't be a bargain altogether as he's still going to be in line for a multi-year deal, but his price range could place himself perfectly in the Phillies' budget.
Prediction: With a top-flight outfielder signed to man a corner outfield spot, Darin Ruf becomes the odd man out and is traded to an AL team to become their new designated hitter.
As was mentioned in the introduction slide, 2013 has been a season with few hopes for the Phillies. However, one of their bright spots has been Darin Ruf, who has been able to hit for considerable power from the right side and enough of an average to warrant everyday playing time. His defense, though still mediocre at best, continues to improve in right field as well.
The only problem is that Ruf is 27 years old and without a clear future path in the Phillies organization. While fans may be clamoring for him to be given the right field job outright in 2014, chances are that Ruf's at least going to have some new faces present some competition in spring training.
That is, if he makes it there as a Phillie.
In the previous slide, Nelson Cruz was mentioned as a possibility for the Phillies to sign. Whether or not it's Cruz who's signed, chances are that the Phillies will spend some big money or make a sizable trade to boost the team's outfield depth, which is its weakest position throughout all levels of the minors and in the majors. The only way to solve that problem is by making a move, and such a move might render Ruf a bench player without a clear role in the Phillies organization.
Whether as a headliner in a minor trade or as a middling piece in a larger one, the only way to get Ruf consistent at-bats and playing time in such a scenario would be to trade him, and it would do both Ruf and the Phillies some good. Although Ruf's defense at both first base and in the outfield is shaky, his bat still has decent potential. And if he played DH for an American League team, his bat would be utilized effectively while keeping him under team control for years.
Ruf's best suited as a DH candidate, and for an up-and-coming AL team, he could be a nice fit should said team lack a good DH. At worst, the Phillies get a prospect or two—or major league player, depending on the scale of the deal—and they can use all the help they can get with their farm system.