Philadelphia Phillies fans should expect big changes this offseason, because the National League East's overall mediocrity demands them.
The Atlanta Braves are going to win the NL East with well over 90 wins—they have an outside shot at 100—but the Braves have a few of the disconcerting hallmarks of past "good teams" that have crashed and burned in the playoffs.
Above all, the Braves' terrible propensity to strike out portends trouble in the postseason. Right now the Braves are second in the National League in team batting strikeouts, behind only the lowly New York Mets.
So when the Nationals could only scratch out 10 runs in the first four games of their 2012 NLDS with the St. Louis Cardinals, they left the door ajar. Every Phillies fan knows what the Cardinals do when that happens.
Maybe the Braves will win the World Series, but with the Phillies already eliminated from playoff contention, their focus has to be on 2014 and beyond.
Neither the Mets nor the Miami Marlins project to be in positions to contend for the NL East crown in 2014. Though the Nationals are making a nice run to the finish line in 2013, it is very likely going to be too little too late for them.
This season should prove conclusively that the Nationals made a mistake in sitting Stephen Strasburg for the 2012 playoffs.
No playoff berth is ever a given, and despite their forward-thinking choice to sit their best starter for the playoffs, the Nationals are still often hostages of Strasburg's elbow and Bryce Harper's hip.
Even if you want to concede the 2014 NL East to the Braves, then, there should be opportunities for the Phillies to accumulate enough wins to make the race close and in so doing get into the annual wild-card derby.
As presently constructed, the Phillies cannot possibly believe they will make a playoff run in 2014. The 2013 Phillies have been irrelevant since mid-August.
But after the 2013 season, the contracts of Roy Halladay and Carlos Ruiz will have concluded, freeing up $25 million in salary.
Assuming third baseman Cody Asche returns, the Phillies will be paying their third baseman something near the league minimum rather than the $5 million they paid for five months of Michael Young.
The Phillies can reasonably expect to fill at least two of the gaping holes in their roster—maybe even three—with that sort of cash on hand.
They are also unlikely to cry poor and refuse to spend this offseason, given the television-rights windfall they are about to fall into.
Chase Utley's recent contract extension means that the Phillies are out of the Robinson Cano bidding, but there are other worthy players likely heading to free agency this winter.
Right-hander Ervin Santana has rediscovered his form after a spotty 2012. Santana's 9-9 record with the suddenly contending Kansas City Royals is misleading; his 3.23 earned run average and 1.14 WHIP are not.
Santana would slot in nicely between the Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the Phillies rotation.
And while Darin Ruf has acquitted himself nicely in the outfield, the Phillies may consider an upgrade there with players like Shin-Soo Choo, Hunter Pence and Nelson Cruz on the market.
Besides, the Phillies might need Ruf to play first base against left-handers while $25 million platoon player Ryan Howard sits.
Ultimately, Phillies fans should expect big changes this offseason, because the .500 finish of the 2012 Phillies concealed the major flaws in the team that 2013 exposed.
An unproductive offseason would threaten the Phillies in the standings, but it would do worse things to them where it hurts more.
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