For a team that finished 2011 with the best record in baseball (102-60), you would expect a fairly quiet offseason. Sure, an early playoff exit may stir up a few issues, but nothing really major. Such is not the life for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Free agency and injuries have the team facing some major decisions before the 2012 campaign. After signing Cliff Lee a year ago (as well as trading for Hunter Pence during the year) we all know they aren’t going to shy away from making a splash, but will they have the money to make a similar move?
Let’s take a look at the major questions facing the team this year:
Injuries and inability have led this spot to be somewhat of a revolving door for the Phillies over the past few seasons. In 2011 it was Ryan Madson who stepped up, converting 32-of-34 saves, after entering the year third on the depth chart (behind Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras). The team holds a $12.5 million option on Lidge which it will almost certainly buy out and Madson is also a free agent.
They could opt to save money and let both walk, instead turning to Antonio Bastardo who shined in his brief stint as closer in 2011 (8-for-9 in save opportunities and overall had a 2.64 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 70 K over 58 innings). For a team that is looking to win a World Series and has seen a significant number of injuries at the backend of the bullpen throughout the year, it’s hard to imagine them going that route (at least exclusively).
There is a bevy of closing options available via free agency, from the stars (Heath Bell and Jonathan Papelbon) to the risks (Jonathan Broxton) to the flex options (Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch). Even if they do retain Madson, I would expect them to shop in the flex options to give themselves more depth. Given what they’ve seen happen, the more arms that can close the better.
While I wouldn’t rule out a big name, I would think that person would have to come at a heavy discount to get a deal done. The most likely scenario is probably some combination of a Broxton-and-Rauch type of maneuver.
The injury to Ryan Howard (which we will talk about shortly) makes Utley’s status an extremely important question. In 398 AB in 2011 he hit just .259 with 11 HR, 44 RBI, 54 R and 14 SB. The most concerning number was his inability to hit the ball with authority, posting a mere 12.7 percent line-drive rate.
Can he suddenly rediscover his old form? You would like to think that he can take the next step in his recovery and at least improve on his 2011 numbers, though at 33 years old it is quite possible that he is never going to be the same as he once was.
There’s no fix possible, as the Phillies are not going to replace Utley. How could they? All they can do is let him take the field and hope that he can stay healthy and return to his glory days.
You would’ve thought that this would be an easy call, as the Phillies are a team built around the best pitching in the game. At this point, however, it is far from a given.
With the long list of needs they need to fill this offseason, can they really afford to give such a large sum to a pitcher who dealt with a back injury in 2011? When Oswalt was on the mound he appeared to still have it, posting a 3.69 ERA. While the WHIP was a little high (1.34), he also had poor luck (.316 BABIP). It certainly wasn’t his control that was an issue, with a 2.14 BB/9.
The strikeouts are a question, though he looked to be back to normal once he returned in August posted a 6.75 K/9 in that month and following it up with a 6.80 in September.
My guess is that the Phillies decline the option in an effort to save money, but quickly work out a deal to bring him back. Could a two-year, $20 million deal get it done?
This was an awful blow to the team coming on the very last play of their 2011 campaign. The consensus originally had been that John Mayberry would slide into 1B full-time leaving Dominic Brown as a full-time outfielder. However according to Matt Gelb via Twitter:
“Amaro says he’d like Domonic Brown to spend another full season in triple A.”
That leaves a major void either at 1B or OF for the team until Howard can return. Could someone like Michael Cuddyer be an attractive option, giving the team tremendous flexibility? It would make sense, though the price tag may not.
There are plenty of other mid-level outfielders/first basemen on the free-agent market, so it’s hard to predict exactly how the Phillies will go about a replacement. It appears like it may be a short-term replacement, with early projections having Howard out five to six months, though who knows. Even if he does return that quickly, will he be able to produce?
We do know that, despite Howard’s decline in production, no one they bring in will be able to match his presence in the middle of the order if he is forced to miss a significant amount of time.
With little on the free-agent market outside of Rollins and Jose Reyes (Alex Gonzalez is arguably the next best option), it is vital that the team brings Rollins back. At 33 years old they aren’t going to want to give him a four- or five-year contract, especially given his injury history in recent years (he’s played over 142 games once in the past four years).
The problem is that the team really doesn’t have an internal replacement and need his presence at the top of the order. Could Reyes be a viable alternative? It’s hard to imagine, especially with other teams likely willing to break the bank to sign him.
The team needs Rollins, so I would think a deal would be worked out.
There you have my five biggest questions facing the Phillies this offseason. How do you think they are answered? What other issues do you see them facing?
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