The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies rolled through the regular season, winning 102 games —more than any other team in baseball by a full five wins — and spending every single day in first place in the NL East.
Then came a quick playoff exit, as the Phillies lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, seeing their World Series aspirations end prematurely.
A long offseason is ahead and GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. should have the following six priorities on his list of offseason goals:
This year, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins combined to miss 79 games due to injuries. Factor in Placido Polanco at third base, and that numbers rises to 119 games.
To fill in for these guys, the Phillies had a slew of Triple-A caliber middle infielders in Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez and Pete Orr. Valdez is probably the best of these guys, as he’s your dime a dozen utility infielder with a good glove and no bat (.634 OPS). Martinez (.540 OPS) had absolutely no business being on a major league roster, although Charlie Manuel fell in love with the 28-year-old rookie. Orr was a Triple-A call-up who played like a Triple-A call-up (.529 OPS).
Regardless of whether the Phillies bring back Rollins, a middle infielder who can play a little would be nice, especially given the injury history of Utley and Polanco (who is a corner infielder, but most second baseman and shortstops can also play third base).
The free-agent market doesn’t have a great list of players, but all the ones available could probably be obtained at a cheap enough price. Omar Infante would be the ideal guy, but he just signed a two-year deal to stay in Florida with the soon to be Miami Marlins. Possible candidates who could fit with the 2012 Phillies include Adam Kennedy (.632 OPS in 2011), Willie Bloomquist (.657 OPS) and Clint Barmes (.698 OPS).
Then again, the Phillies could always call up Triple-A prospect Freddy Galvis and see what he’s got.
Raul Ibanez finished his three-year, $31.5 million deal with a miserable season, posting an on-base percentage under .300 while rating as the worst defensive player in the National League. The Phillies were hoping that by this point, Domonic Brown would be ready to take over as a full-time starter, but GM Ruben Amaro has announced Brown will spend 2012 in Triple-A.
John Mayberry would be an intriguing option as a full-time starter—after all, the Phillies rookie hit 15 home runs with a .513 slugging percentage in just 296 plate appearances—but with Ryan Howard’s injury, Mayberry may be needed to fill in at first base until Howard is fully healthy.
The free-agent market does include some solid candidates. Bobby Abreu would be a nice addition if the former Phillie signed a one-year deal to be a starter; Abreu’s batting average dropped to .253 last year, his lowest mark since 1997, but he still walked enough to post a .355 on-base percentage. He has solid power and speed (20 steals for 14 straight seasons and counting), and he’s a lefty bat, so when Howard returns, Abreu and Mayberry could make a nice platoon in left field.
Other options include Josh Willingham (.246/.332/.477 with 29 HR and 98 RBI in 2011) or Johnny Damon (.261/.326/.418, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 19 SB), each of whom could probably be obtained at a one-year deal.
With the success Ryan Madson had as a closer in his contract year, he probably won’t be back in Philly, especially since his agent is Scott Boras.
The Phillies made a push to get Heath Bell at the trade deadline this past July, and although it didn’t work, Bell would be a great addition as the team’s closer. He has made three straight NL All-Star teams and posted a 2.44 ERA with 43 saves. Bell could probably be obtained at a three-year deal worth around $30-35 million.
With Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes pitching the seventh and eighth inning, this would keep the core of the Phillies bullpen intact.
Michael Cuddyer was another name the Phillies were linked to around July. Cuddyer stayed in Minnesota, finishing the year with a .284 batting average, 20 home runs, 70 RBI, a career-high 11 stolen bases and his first-ever All-Star appearance.
Cuddyer can play a multitude of positions —he is primarily a right fielder who can also pitch in at first base, third base, second base and both left and center field. Oh, he also pitched an inning last year. Cuddyer would be a terrific addition in that his services could be used at first base while Howard is recovering, in left field as a platoon should the Phillies acquire a left-handed bat like Abreu or Damon and at second or third base if Utley or Polanco is hurt.
Cuddyer is 32 years old and coming off a four-year, $33.75 million deal. A two-year deal worth about $16 million seems reasonable.
I can’t imagine the Phillies without Jimmy Rollins. Rollins has been arguably the face of the franchise over the past decade, and he’s still a top 10 shortstop in the league, a multidimensional player with a Gold Glove quality glove.
The five-year deal Rollins is asking for seems steep for a player who will be 33 in a month, but a four-year deal with an option for a fifth year (and if Amaro could somehow pull off a three-year deal, that would be terrific) is realistic. Freddy Galvis was just promoted to Triple-A late this past season, but expecting him to take over for a player who made three All-Star teams on a World Series contender is asking a lot. Signing a guy like Rafael Furcal for two years is a plausible scenario, but I would rather not have Rollins walk.
If Rollins can play 145-150 games with a .270 batting average, 15 home runs, 30 stolen bases and his typically phenomenal glove work, I will be happy. That production is hard to find from shortstops in this league.
Cole Hamels is set to become a free agent after next season, and the bidding price for a soon to be 28-year-old lefty ace with a pair of All-Star appearances, a World Series MVP award and a 3.39 ERA and 3.74 K/BB ratio in over 1,000 innings pitched will be high.
If Jered Weaver could get five years, $85 million, what can Hamels get? The two have very similar career numbers:
Hamels: 74-54, 3.39 ERA, 180 GS, 3.74 K/BB, 1.141 WHIP
Weaver: 82-47, 3.31 ERA, 177 GS, 3.17 K/BB, 1.165 WHIP
Hamels also has the aforementioned World Series ring (and MVP award), plus a higher strikeout to walk rate. Hamels will probably need about six years, $100 million, but he’s worth every penny of it, and the Phillies need to lock him up before he hits the free-agent market next winter.