For the Philadelphia Phillies, 2011 is an incredibly important year. Not only is it their best shot to win a World Series since 2008, but it may also be one of their few remaining shots to win in the next decade.
The Phillies window of opportunity is beginning to close as the years go by. Not only is the team getting older, but they are also going to be faced with a lot of free agent decisions for the 2012 season. As most of their guys approach or move into their late 30s, with their best years behind them, the Phillies have to start thinking about the future.
In Ruben Amaro's tenure as GM, the team has had a "win now" mentality even it means mortgaging the future, something that may end up costing the Phillies in the long run. If the Phillies want to maintain their NL East dominance, they have to get younger, and without the help of top prospects, this becomes more difficult.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley won't be around forever, and according to some, are already beginning to put their best years behind them, and Jimmy Rollins is a big question mark. Will he stay or will he go?
Regardless of what happens in the next few years with the Phillies core, they need to start considering bringing in younger and less expensive guys.
Here are some of the available free agents for the 2012 season that will help the Phillies get younger at every position.
You might be thinking that the last thing the Phillies need is starting pitching, and you are absolutely correct. They have great depth at that position, and with Vance Worley's sensational rookie season, it can be assumed that the 2012 rotation is already set. That being said, there are still some question marks surrounding Roy Oswalt's free agency/possible retirement, and buzz about who will be the fifth starter.
The market for free agent pitchers doesn't really have a standout like last year's did with Lee. What it does have however is a group of quality starters that could turn pretenders into contenders next year. One of these guys is McCarthy.
The 28 year old McCarthy is someone who could very well be a pitching stud in the years to come. 2011 was his fifth major league season, and by all estimations, a breakout one.
McCarthy adapted a new two seam fastball and cutter going into this season and it has shown. McCarthy gave up only 25 walks to 123 strikeouts in 170.2 innings. He also threw five complete games in 2011 which ranked second of all AL pitchers.
He finished his season at 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA for an Athletics team that finished in the bottom of offensive categories such as runs scored, batting average, on base percentage and slugging.
McCarthy's new pitches have helped him to become more of a ground ball pitcher, which would be beneficial to him in a small ballpark such as Citizen's Bank. He also cut down on his number of home runs given up by drastic numbers. This would also help him in hitter friendly CBP.
If the Phillies do lose Oswalt to free agency or retirement, McCarthy would be a great fourth starter to have on the team. Being only 28, he would join Cole Hamels as a duo of talented Phillies pitchers for the future.
As far as replacement catchers, the free agent market is half filled with proven catching stars like Jorge Posada, Yadier Molina and Ivan Rodriguez.
Rodriguez and Posada are both great players, but they are in the twilight of their careers. Molina would be a great addition to the Phillies, and with the Cardinals doing everything in their power to resign Albert Pujols, chances are the money would not be there for them to resign guys like Molina and Chris Carpenter.
That being said, the Phillies payroll can not afford to take on another high payed talent like Molina. His asking price will probably be way too steep for the Phillies to take on.
Other than these stars, the market is slim, but the Phillies who most likely will part with their own free agent catcher Brian Schneider, will be in the market for a back up to Carlos Ruiz.
Chris Snyder, the 30 year old catcher for the Diamondbacks, could be this guy.
He may be 30, which is in the red flag zone for a catcher, but Schneider is 34 and clearly has his better years behind him. Snyder's numbers for Arizona were also pretty solid for a guy who was a backup catcher, which is what he would be in Philly.
In 34 games played, he had a .271 average, but also had 17 RBI and three HR. These numbers may not stand out, but in only a few games he showed that he has some pop, which would be beneficial for the Phils from a bench perspective.
Personally, I would wait out this market. Ruiz may be aging, but he hasn't shown it. In fact, his last two seasons have been some of the best of his career. The always durable Ruiz only missed 30 games this season, and with 2013 a much better market for young catchers, the Phillies could afford to wait and bring up someone from their minor leagues for backup duties in 2012.
It is almost certain that the Phillies are not going to re-sign 40 year old Right Fielder, Raul Ibanez. They have John Mayberry Jr. 28, ready to take over the role and the Phils have confidence in him becoming their every day right fielder. The outfield team of Mayberry, Shane Victorino 30, and Hunter Pence 28 look to be a formidable threesome coming into 2012. That being said, Ibanez even at his old age still has some power left in his bat and the Phillies are going to miss his power from the left side of the plate.
If Ibanez goes, the Phillies will benefit from having another left handed outfield bat for the bench. Jason Kubel of the Twins would be a good guy to bring in from the bench and to spell Mayberry if necessary.
The 29 year old Kubel hit .273 with 12 HRS, 58 RBI and 21 2B in 99 games played this season. He has 104 HR and over 400 RBI in his six year MLB career. He mostly plays in RF which is exactly where the Phillies would play him but he can also play left. He has shown that he can hit for power and has pretty good numbers as well. Kubel also was only owed about five million in 2011 and will not command a very high salary. By dumping Ibanez's contract, the Phillies could easily make room to sign Kubel who would be a perfect fit for the Phillies.
Getting Placido Polanco back in a Phillies uniform was a great move by the organization. He has been, and still is, one of the best ML third basemen when it comes to manning the hot corner, and his bat, although seemingly slowing down, still has something left in it. He still makes good contact and has low strikeout numbers, but being 35, his body is beginning to betray him, and he has had some nasty injuries in the past year.
Although Polanco is still the Phillies best choice at third base, Wilson Betemit of the Tigers is not a bad choice to target this offseason.
The 29 year old Betemit suffered a few injuries this year himself, and was only able to log 87 games. That being said, his numbers were still pretty good on offense, and his fielding was also solid in 2011. Betemit hit .285 with eight HR and 46 RBI. He also only made 11 errors at third for a pretty solid 94 percent fielding percentage.
Betemit is also a switch hitter who would would fit perfectly into the Phillies lineup which is overloaded with lefties. He would make a good addition to the team, and could be a pretty good replacement if the Phillies need to part with Polanco.
No Phillies fan wants to admit this, but Chase Utley isn't getting any younger. The 32 year old second baseman, who has torn up the National League with his incredible athletic ability and baseball knowledge, is starting to hit the peak of his career. Unfortunately for Utley and the Phillies, recent hip and knee injuries may mean that it is all downhill from here.
The Phillies aren't ready to replace Utley just yet though because he means so much to the team. It would however be smart for them to try to pick up a guy who can hang out on the bench and be prepared to come in if Utley goes down to another injury. That guy could be Aaron Hill for the Diamondbacks.
In 137 games played this season, the 29 year old Hill had 27 doubles, eight HR and 61 RBI. He also had 21 stolen bases for both the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks this year.
Hill may be a righty, but it would be a good idea for the Phillies to figure out an insurance policy for Utley, considering that his chances to re-aggravate the non-surgically repaired knee are high, and that the Phillies really do not have an adequate replacement for him in their farm system.
It isn't probable, and it probably isn't possible, but after the Phillies managed to steal Cliff Lee away from Texas and New York, I am done putting anything past Ruben Amaro.
The chances of the Phillies snagging Fielder are slim to none, but if they could manage to pull off the impossible, he would make the Phillies a much better team, even if it meant having to part with beloved super star Ryan Howard.
In my opinion, he is the biggest name in this year's free-agent market, even bigger than coveted prize Albert Pujols. Not only will Fielder's asking price be way too high for the Phillies to manage, but the fact that Howard was just signed to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, the Phillies are not in need for a first baseman at this time.
But hey, they team can dream, can't they?
There is absolutely nothing in the cards that makes me think the Phillies will sign Reyes, but considering all of the factors that would prevent bringing one of baseball's best stars to Philly, I'm going to put it at a 50/50 shot.
The past has taught me never to put anything past the Phillies brass when it comes to mega signings such as this.The Mets need him, and for that reason alone, the Phillies are going to want him. Couple that with his offensive numbers and incredible speed, and the Phillies would have an excellent leadoff man.
Unlike Fielder, Reyes coming to Philadelphia is actually something that the team could make happen. It would require them to move a lot of money, which could be easier to do than one might think.
Contracts such as Joe Blanton's, Kyle Kendrick's and even Brad Lidge's could be moved to free up some cap space. Signing Reyes would also mean getting rid of Jimmy Rollins to free agency. That would also free up space to use to sign the Mets superstar. As far as money goes, the Phillies could swing it.
Reyes would be a fantastic addition to the Phils and their yearly World Series aspirations. He is essentially the Jimmy Rollins of pre-2007, before he began to lose time regularly due to injuries.
Reyes would bring back speed at the top of the lineup and also would bring a solid .290 average. As a switch hitter, he gives the Phillies options, and he would also be a catalyst for a different kind of offense.
The Phillies are already not hitting as many home runs as they did in the past. Bringing Reyes and his get on, get over, get in style of play would ultimately influence the Phillies offense and could mean more small ball, which is something the Phillies are criticized for not using, and it has also been attributed to lack of success in the playoffs in recent years.
Jose Reyes to the Phillies? Maybe. It would certainly be the free agent signing of a century. Just managing to make it happen would be a minor miracle in it of itself.