Philadelphia Phillies: 7 Big Offseason Decisions They'll Face This Winter
With the Philadelphia Phillies locked in a battle with the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s hard to look away from the intriguing NLDS matchup. Knotted at one game apiece, the series is turning into must-see television for fans around the league. Knowing your season could end at any moment makes each passing pitch that much more important for each team as they sprint toward a World Series crown.
For the National league favorite Phillies, they are now two games closer to wrapping up their 2011 campaign. Wherever this run stops, whether the team falters in St. Louis or parades down Broad Street in late October, a very captivating offseason looms in the distance.
After all has been decided on the field to close out the Major League season, the Phillies will enter into a series of decisions that will go a long way toward deciding their direction for next year. However, looking at the bigger picture for a losing franchise turned perennial contender, several calls to be made on personnel could reshape the face of the organization.
With the 2011 product still under construction, it may be difficult to focus on who might not be in the red pinstripes when the 2012 season opens. For several of the players currently being counted on to lead Philadelphia on its journey to the World Series, their jobs will undoubtedly come into question when the final pitch is thrown this October.
If you’re looking for some food for thought while prepping for a crucial Game 3 showdown in St. Louis, here are seven important roster decisions the Philadelphia Phillies will face this winter:
Jeff Fusco/Getty Images
With how often players change teams in modern day free agency, it’s not often fans see a player start and finish his career in one city. Can you imagine Jimmy Rollins starting at shortstop for a team other than the Philadelphia Phillies?
Yeah, neither can any of the Philly faithful.
Still, a huge decision looms for Ruben Amaro, Jr. as he faces the departure of a franchise cornerstone and a fan favorite. Rollins bounced back this year after a three-season hangover following his 2007 NL MVP award, posting a .268 average, 16 home runs, 63 RBI and 30 stolen bases.
What Jimmy Rollins has meant to the team during his eleven-year stint in Philadelphia stretches far beyond what is seen in the morning box scores. The outspoken shortstop has led the modern team through its darkest days and into a streak of five consecutive division titles using his bold words, golden glove, and energetic personality.
Rollins will be 33 when the 2012 season opens and is reportedly seeking a five-year deal before he takes the field. For a player that has long relied on his speed and defense to climb the player rankings throughout the years, a contract that takes him late into his thirties is a tall order for any franchise.
After paying Rollins $8.5 million in 2011, Philadelphia could find a serviceable replacement without breaking the bank in the offseason. The largest hit the front office would have to endure would be from the fans, as they have looked to Rollins to lead the team over the last ten years.
The Verdict: Unless the Phillies are willing to overpay their veteran shortstop out of gratuity for his decade-long service to the team, Rollins could be leaving the City of Brotherly Love. He’s got his World Series ring, the adoration of a hard-to-please city and the ability to earn a new contract, so expect Rollins to take a hard look at playing in a city close to his hometown of Oakland if either the A’s or Giants express interest.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
After two successful seasons in Philadelphia, one of the Phillies best situational hitter has come under a good deal of scrutiny for his dip in production after playing through pain. Ross Gload will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2011 season concludes, leaving a hole on the bench from the left side of the plate.
Though Gload as struggled in the latter half of the season due to a torn labrum in his hip, the left-handed utility man has managed 18 pinch hits this year to go along with a .257 average. Gload also notched a walk-off against the rival Atlanta Braves in early September that reinforced his value to the team.
While a role player is easier to replace than a franchise mainstay like Jimmy Rollins, a lefty of the bench is vital for a championship contender. Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs have each taken their turn in the spotlight in shoes Gload now fills, providing a lift for the Phillies over the years.
The Verdict: Gload is only replaceable if Philadelphia can find another veteran bat to bring stability to the bench. Following an offseason of rehab, the utility fielder could be ready to return to form at a very low price. Expect the team to take a hard look at bringing the nine-year veteran on a short-term deal without much risk.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
The Phillies’ Four Aces have the opportunity have the opportunity to ride together all the way through the 2012 season. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, as Ruben Amaro, Jr. must evaluate the worth and future of fourth starter Roy Oswalt.
Philadelphia’s prized trade deadline acquisition in 2010, Oswalt lived up to his reputation as a dominant starter down the stretch last season and provided a steady lift to the rotation. Unfortunately for the Phillies, the 2011 season has also seen the veteran righty battle injuries, another characteristic that has followed him throughout his career.
When Roy O takes the hill in some of the most crucial games during the Phillies run in October, fans will be forced to wonder whether the team will pick up his $16 million option or exercise the much more manageable $2 million buyout. By any measure, his salary is tough to swallow for a pitcher who missed more than a month with chronic back pain.
With Vance Worley primed for a larger role in the starting rotation and Kyle Kendrick working effectively as a spot starter, Oswalt could be viewed as expendable to a team with a franchise-record payroll. Will Amaro choose to free up salary to address team needs or rely on Oswalt to continue his stay in Philadelphia injury-free?
The Verdict: As appetizing as the idea of having four aces return for a second season of dominance, the price tag may prove to be too much. $16 million is massive salary for a fourth starter and the Phillies do have a very good rotation without Oswalt taking the mound. Look for Worley to step up in 2012 and the front office to use the $14 million it saves to make minor improvements to the bench and bullpen.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Over the course of a long 162-game season, the wear and tear takes its toll on the bodies of each of the position players, but none more so than on the catcher. Carlos Ruiz was kept fresh throughout the season with an occasional break, allowing second-string catcher Brian Schneider to start 36 games behind the plate in 2011.
The catching position is crucial up and down the depth chart because of the rapport built with the pitchers throughout the season and the ability to call a game tailored to each starter. So why is the discussion for a Phillies backup who struggled to a .176 average with many more strikeouts than hits?
For a team relying heavily on starting pitching, the Phillies were 28-8 when Schneider got the starting nod even after a few meaningless losses to conclude the season. The record can be chalked up to coincidence when a team wins 102 games in a season, but the Phillies’ dominance on the mound can be attributed in part to their catchers knowing how to call a game.
The Verdict: Their exceptional record in his starts may not be enough to save Brian Schneider when he hits the market this winter. His manageable $1.5 million salary from 2011 could keep him in the running to make a return, but look for Philadelphia to bring in another veteran for a better presence at the plate.
Harry How/Getty Images
For the past three seasons, chants of ‘Rauuuuuuul’ have echoed through the corridors of Citizens Bank Park. And while Raul Ibanez has heard a similar sound with a much less positive meaning during his tenure of Philadelphia, he has remained the starting left fielder for the Phillies’ most important games.
Ever since Ibanez cooled following a torrid start to his first season in the red pinstripes, many fans have been waiting for decision day when it came to renew the veteran’s contract. The 39 year-old late-blooming outfield finished 2011 with a .245 average, 20 home runs and an impressive 84 RBI, but has been much maligned for his long slumps.
After three seasons, it seems that the Phillies overpaid for Ibanez’s services at $11.5 million per season. Approaching 40 years of age, the aging outfielder will no longer command the financial commitment, forcing the front office to examine his possible replacements in developing talents John Mayberry Jr. and Domonic Brown.
The Verdict: After a rollercoaster stay with the Phillies, it would appear Ibanez’s time with the team has reached its end unless he is willing to take a massive pay cut and reduced role. Though many Phillies fans would love to see him go, having an experienced lefty bat off of the bench could greatly help the team. If Philadelphia lets go of Ross Gload and Ibanez can’t find a starting gig elsewhere, it’s possible Raul could end up back on the Phillies’ bench.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
In 2008, Brad Lidge was perfect in save opportunities and exactly the back-of-the-bullpen arm the Phillies needed to close out a dream season with a World Series title. Ever since his magical run, Philadelphia’s former closer has seen his fair share of difficulties while injuries have plagued his attempts to regain form.
Set to hit the market that will be abnormally flooded with viable closing options if the team does not pick up his option, Lidge will have the chance to search for another ninth-inning job elsewhere. For now, ‘Lights Out’ has been relegated to middle relief and the occasional set-up appearance.
The biggest obstacle preventing a return for the 2008 hero is the success that the Phillies enjoyed while he was out of the lineup due to injury. The emergence or Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo as late-inning options have made Lidge’s $11.5 million salary relatively expendable.
The Verdict: With an undefined role on the team, Lidge will most likely see the Phillies decline his club option for 2012 and use that money to retain other members of the bullpen. If Lidge is willing to return on a drastically restructured contract, he may get a look. Expect the former closer to be in another team’s bullpen come Opening Day 2012.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
When Brad Lidge went down before the 2011 season started, the Phillies needed a savior when it came to nailing down ballgames in the ninth. Despite his past struggles as the closer in past years, Ryan Madson was there to answer the call with a solid season.
Saving 32 games in 34 opportunities, Madson was extremely effective and provided stability that Philadelphia has lacked since Brad Lidge's perfect season in 2008. For just $4.5 million, Madson was a bargain in 2011, but is set to free agency this winter and will command top dollar for his services.
In light of Lidge's inconsistency over the past two years, the Phillies are in need of a reliable closer. If they were to let Lidge and his $11.5 million option walk and sign elsewhere, the financial commitment to Madson should not add much stress to the payroll.
The Verdict - Of all the Phillies potential free agents, Madson should be at the top of list for a well-deserved payday. Ruben Amaro, Jr. should be active in trying to lock up the closer before he hits the populated market, but it could be made difficult by agent Scott Boras. When all is said and done, Madson should be ready to close out a Phillies Opening Day win in 2012.