Shortstops, veteran closers, and the bench, oh my!
Those three positions will dominate the headlines for most of the off-season as far as the Philadelphia Phillies are concerned, each of which will be filled by a player that is anyone's guess in early November. Though many expect the team to re-sign Jimmy Rollins, will they make a play for Jose Reyes? Ryan Madson is the team's first choice as closer, but will they have to dive into a deep free agent pool to find their guy?
That's the beauty of baseball and its off-season—no one does. If someone tells you they have all of the answers in early November, call them out on it, because they don't. Hundreds of players file for free agency each winter and this season is no different. The Phillies, like every other team, have a wish list, but they won't land every player on it.
In a large sense, the off-season is nothing more than a guessing game. The Phillies want a veteran closer, but who will they target? The popular belief is Madson, but who isn't to say that the team doesn't want Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell more?
At this point in the off-season, all we can do is make an educated guess—a prediction. This slide show will attempt to tie together the hundreds of rumors, rumblings, free agent rattlings, trade market indications, and any other "prediction" synonym you can think of and produce 25 predictions towards the path of the Phillies' off-season.
Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies offer Ross Gload a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. With a lack of better options available, he accepts.
Anyone who has followed most of Ross Gload's career knows that 2011 was a poor representation of his offensive capabilities, especially as a pinch hitter. To his credit, he struggled through the same hip injury that sidelined Chase Utley a few seasons ago and wasn't able to drive the ball much, yet still managed to come up with a few clutch hits.
With that being said, the Phillies' were likely to move on and give another lefty pinch hitter a shot at the bench in 2012; one with a little more power than Gload was able to display as a Phillie. He hit just six home runs in total—all in 2010.
However, there are benefits to having a guy like Gload in the organization, and it is highly unlikely that any team offers him a Major League contract coming off of an unproductive, injury-plagued season. What is the harm of offering him a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training as he recovers from surgery, with some kind of opt-out clause attached?
No risk, high reward. He posted an OPS of .813 in 2010 with an wOBA of .348.
Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies offer Jamie Moyer a Minor League contract.
The Phillies have some pretty big concerns at the Major League level, but the worries certainly do not end there. The organization will also watch 31 Minor League free agents hit the market, which is tied for the largest group with the Florida Marlins.
Building depth is going to be important, so it would behoove the Phillies to offer several starting pitchers minor deals, including Moyer, who threw for scouts last week and was impressive. Moyer, who spent four and a half seasons with the Phillies, is attempting an improbable return to the mound after having Tommy John Surgery.
He's a young 49-years-old, after all.
Because he's left handed, an invite to Spring Training would be dual-purposed for the Phillies, who will also need to look into a number of left handed relievers. Not a bad option for a depth move.
Prediction: Jamie Moyer signs a Major League deal with a team other than the Philadelphia Phillies.
When the veteran left hander threw for scouts last week, they raved about just how impressive he looked coming off of Tommy John Surgery—an accomplishment for any pitcher, let alone, a guy who is verging on 50 years of age.
There are plenty of teams out there with a lot less pitching than the Phillies, specifically teams like the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, who would be able to woo Moyer with spacious ballparks and home games on the West Coast, where Moyer has settled down. (The headquarters for his charity, the Moyer Foundation, is also located on the West Coast.)
The Phillies will inquire on Moyer, but he'll sign elsewhere.
Prediction: A Major League club hires Philadelphia Phillies' bench coach, Pete Mackanin, as its manager.
Mackanin has been the Phillies' bench coach and Charlie Manuel's right hand man for the last three seasons, and when you're a coach for a team that makes the postseason in each of those three seasons, including a trip to the World Series, you are bound to get some recognition from other clubs, and Mackanin has.
He has served as the interim manager of both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds, and has drawn interest from the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, among other teams, for their managerial openings. As qualified a candidate as there is available, Mackanin will wind up a manager in 2012, and the Phillies will need to replace him on the roster.
Prediction: Though considered for a managerial job, Ryne Sandberg is not hired away from the Philadelphia Phillies, and instead, replaces Pete Mackanin as the team's bench coach.
A lot of baseball people seem to think that it is only a matter of time before Sandberg lands a job as a Major League manager, but so far, he hasn't had any luck. He led the Phillies' AAA team, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, to their first winning season in 2011, and joined the Phillies' coaching staff in September when the Minor League season was over.
At the time, it seemed like he was bound to become a manager in 2012, but now, those chances are looking a bit more grim.
Despite being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Chicago Cubs, new Cubs' general manager Theo Epstein personally called Sandberg to tell him he was not in the running for the job, citing his lack of managerial experience. The Boston Red Sox are rumored to favor Milwaukee Brewers' hitting coach Dale Sveum as their next manager, and though the St. Louis Cardinals plan to interview him, it is rumored that they'll hire one of Jose Oquendo and Mike Matheny to appease Albert Pujols, whom they'll attempt to sign in free agency.
Sandberg can still become a manager, but his chances are looking less favorable than Mackanin's.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies non-tender Kyle Kendrick.
As hard as it is to believe, Kendrick was very useful to the Phillies in 2011. With the emergence of Vance Worley, he was sent to the bullpen and stayed there even after Joe Blanton suffered an injury, but when Roy Oswalt's back flared up and he missed a significant amount of time, Kendrick was ready to step in. He would bounce back between the bullpen and rotation, filling numerous roles.
With that in mind, however, that 3.32 ERA you may see is very deceptive. Add to that some advanced pitching marks (4.98 tERA, 4.45 SIERA) and it isn't hard to see that Kendrick wasn't very good. He was effective in his role, but mediocre.
For that reason alone, it is hard to see him making nearly $4 million in arbitration, so unless the Phillies can agree to a deal with him before the deadline, it wouldn't be surprising to see him non-tendered, even if they attempt to re-sign him after cutting him loose.
Prediction: Ben Francisco is tendered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies.
As ineffective as he was for the Phillies in 2011, Francisco managed to wash that away from the minds of fans everywhere when he had one of just a few bright spots of the 2011 postseason for the Phils, hitting a huge home run against St. Louis Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia, on the road, as a pinch hitter.
Did that home run save his job?
Well, no, but it does mean that we can expect he'll be back in that role in 2012, with John Mayberry Jr. likely to move into a role as an everyday player, be it at first base while Ryan Howard heals or in left field, replacing Raul Ibanez. If nothing else, Charlie Manuel has shown faith in Francisco, and he did post an OPS of .704 in 2011.
Also, though he is eligible for arbitration, he is due to make much less than Kyle Kendrick, which certainly helps his chances.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies will be on the hunt for an inexpensive left handed specialist this winter.
One can blame Antoino Bastardo's ineffectiveness during the month of September on a number of different variables, but in the long run, it will continually come back to the fact that he was overworked, mainly because he was the only left handed reliever in the Phillies' bullpen. He also served as the set-up man for the majority of the season, and was often unavailable against one, tough left handed hitter.
Obviously, that is where a left handed specialist would be most effective, and there will be a few on the market this winner. Arthur Rhodes, who pitched for both the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, helped the Redbirds to the World Series and will be available, as well as Darren Oliver and a few other familiar names.
The Phils will be burning up the phone lines this winter, calling all over the place to find a left handed specialist.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies won't acquire a single left handed specialist.
Though there are a few left handed specialists available on the free agent market, not many of them are actually "available" as far as the Phillies are concerned. The two most valuable pitchers are 42-year-old former Phillie Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver (pictured,) who is a Type A free agent and may cost whatever team signs him a top draft pick.
Neither of those pitchers are exactly appealing to the Phils, for obvious reasons.
Though other lefties are available, none of them are great fits for the Phillies. George Sherrill will hit the free agent market, but he turned down the Phils for the Atlanta Braves last off-season. Mike Gonzalez and Damaso Marte are coming off of injury riddled seasons, Trevor Miller, John Grabow, and Brian Tallet have all been consistent, and the prospect of JC Romero returning to Philly is, well, nonexistent.
They could choose to explore the trade market, but few teams are going to be willing to trade a left handed specialist early in the off-season, if at all. They may just be out of luck.
Prediction: Joe Savery makes the team out of Spring Training.
Savery made his Major League debut with the Philadelphia Phillies last September, and at least personally, I thought that he was impressive. After finally settling in the bullpen as a left handed reliever, Savery displayed some of the tools you would like to see out of a left handed specialist, including a good fastball and a slider that breaks away from lefties.
He may be a work in progress, but sometimes, you have to just roll the dice and take your chances. Savery could spend an entire season in AAA, but at 26-years-old, there isn't much more developing to be done.
Instead, he could be an effective left handed specialist for the Phillies, who are in desperate need of a second lefty.
Prediction: After spending the entire 2011 season with the Philadelphia Phillies, neither is on the Opening Day roster in 2012.
This slide was going to be completely dedicated to the Phillies' pursuit of Jim Thome, so when he signed earlier than anyone expected last Friday, I was left scrambling to fill this slide with a different position, and since we are focused on the bench, lets stick to that area of the club.
It's no secret that the Phillies would like to upgrade the bench. John Mayberry Jr.'s .854 OPS was the best of last season's reserve players, and he'll likely be a starter in 2012. Ben Francisco was next at .704, and though they received a lot of playing time, Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez rounded out the list at .634 and .540, respectively.
The Phils need to add a little offense to the bench, and the first way to do so is to cut the extra baggage. Valdez is eligible for arbitration, and shouldn't earn close to the $1 million he is scheduled to make. He'll be non-tendered. As for Martinez, the former Rule 5 pick is now official contractual property of the Phillies. That means he has Minor League options, and now would be a good time to use one.
Prediction: Assuming that the team will carry a five-man bench, at least three of the five players will come from outside of the organization.
When I say that the Phillies will completely overhaul the bench, I'm thinking more "extreme makeover" than "simple patchwork." The bench had serious holes last season and it cost the Phils. They'll be more conscious of that moving forward, proven by the signing of Jim Thome. He is just the first of several new faces that will compose the bench next season.
Thome replacing Ross Gload is certainly a start, but there is still work to be done. If Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez are truly on their way out, the Phillies will need to employ a couple of utility men or role players, some of the leading candidates being Jerry Hairston Jr., Reed Johnson, and Nick Punto.
Brian Schneider is also a free agent, and the team will need to find a back-up catcher as well. All in all, with Ben Francisco being the only remnant of last season's bench, it wouldn't be surprising to see three new faces (including Thome) moving forward.
Prediction: Brad Lidge re-signs with the Philadelphia Phillies for a small base salary, but is given the chance to earn more through incentives.
Some people are ready to close the book on Lidge's career with the Phillies, but these kinds of deals need to be taken one step at a time. With a slew of closers on the market this season, Lidge has made it clear that in order for him to sign elsewhere, he is going to need the opportunity to close games, but there is a problem with that.
It's just not happening.
Lidge's stock has fallen mightily over the last few seasons as he's battled with injuries and inconsistency, and any team willing to give him anything more than a few million guaranteed dollars in 2012 should go through a psychological evaluation. Lidge has made it clear that he wants to come back to Philadelphia, and they could use him.
The Phillies' bullpen has battled numerous injuries over the last few seasons, including to Lidge himself, and with Jose Contreras' uncertain status moving forward, signing Lidge for little guaranteed money and offering him incentive dollars for triggers like games / games finished could be a good deal, assuming he is used in a manner more suited for his fragile elbow.
Prediction: Placido Polanco's injury history and lack of offensive production force the Philadelphia Phillies to find a new third baseman.
It's no secret that a three-year contract was at least one year too long for Polanco. The only general manager crazy enough to give him that extra year (as well as a mutual option for 2013) was Ruben Amaro Jr., and he was heading into an off-season in which his team just lost the World Series with Pedro Feliz at third base. Acquiring a slick defender with offensive potential was a no-brainer.
The problem is that Polanco hasn't been all that productive in his second stint with the Phillies. Even in 2010, when he managed to hit .298, he posted a wRC+ of just 97—or just below league average. Those numbers plummeted in 2011, when he hit .277 and posted a wRC+ of 88 after a scorching April. He did win a Gold Glove, which really just costs the Phillies $50,000 because of a clause in his contract.
Amaro, who is normally tight-lipped about his off-season pursuits, has been surprisingly vocal about upgrading at third base, and with a few free agent third basemen on the market that can pack a punch, the Phillies will be serious in their support of some pop at the hot corner.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies make Michael Cuddyer a top target in free agency.
It's no secret that Cuddyer would be a good fit with the Phillies, who are concerned with the durability of Placido Polanco moving forward. The recent recipient of the Gold Glove has battled numerous injuries, including a double sports hernia and elbow troubles. With just a year remaining on his contract, it appears as though the Phillies will look into a third base upgrade, and Cuddyer fits the bill.
Cuddyer's versatility would allow him to play several positions, and with a great deal of uncertainty surrounding third base, second base, left field, and first base at least heading into the season, signing someone who can play all of those positions would be a great deal. Cuddyer can, and the presence of Polanco would allow the Phils to move those two around regularly.
Cuddyer, who is rumored to favor the Minnesota Twins, will have no shortage of suitors. Including the Phillies, the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies have already expressed some interest in signing him.
Prediction: With numerous offers on the table, Michael Cuddyer excepts a generous offer from the Philadelphia Phillies, citing his friendship with Jim Thome.
As we'll observe later in this slide show, you never want to be caught in a bidding war for a top free agent thanks to an obvious need on the roster. There is no feeling worse in a negotiation then knowing that you have zero leverage, and the other side holds all of the cards.
It's a good spot to be in if you're Cuddyer.
Every team in baseball needs a player like him, with the ability to play multiple positions and be a legitimate threat in the plate, hence the reason you'll see numerous teams tied to him this winter. However, no team in baseball needs him more than the Phillies. They're going to offer him a contract that is more than fair, but they'll need an ace in the hole to land this free agent, and they have one.
That man is Thome, who is a good friend of Cuddyer and played with him for a year and a half in Minnesota. As Todd Zolecki of MLB.com pointed out over the weekend, Thome will be playing the role of recruiter to help sway his friend. "We've talked," said Thome. "All I can say about Michael [Cuddyer] is that he's a great player. He's a winner...Any team that gets him is going to gain."
Thome, who like so many other current Phillies joined the club in the pursuit of that elusive World Series ring, is undoubtedly going to contact Cuddyer—another ring-less player—in hopes of reaching that goal. "I'm sure we'll talk going forward."
So while the Phillies have a great need for Cuddyer and will offer him a fair contract, the variable of Thome will be the decisive factor in these negotiations.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies re-sign Jimmy Rollins without ever seriously pursuing the market's other top shortstop: Jose Reyes.
For the last 12 seasons, Rollins has been the vocal leader of the Phillies, so it would almost be strange to see him wearing a different uniform in 2012. I think the Phils feel the same way and would like to get him re-signed as quickly as possible. Though he has been vocal about receiving a five-year deal, it shouldn't be long before the sides agree on a proper length.
Money can be a different story. This is where you'll see the Phillies linked to a guy like Reyes, as the team tries to drive Rollins' price down. The Phillies have never considered guys with questionable reputations in the clubhouse, and Reyes just isn't their type of player, no matter how good he is on the field.
In the long run, they'll settle on a new deal with Rollins, and it will be more than fair.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies, who have refused to trade Domonic Brown in the past, will dangle him in trade talks over the winter.
The Phillies have managed to make trades for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence, all without moving top prospect Brown. However, baseball continues to be a funny sport, and if things don't pan out according to plan over the winter, the Phils could dangle Brown as trade bait to fill a more obvious need.
Despite the fact that John Mayberry Jr. is just a season removed from looking like a lost cause at the plate, both Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel have been relatively vocal about the vacant left field job being his to lose. With Pence entrenched in right field, where does that leave Brown?
If Amaro had his way, Brown would spend a full season playing left field for the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. That would allow the Phillies to have a solid plan B in the event that Mayberry can't shake it as a starter, or as has proven accurate over the last couple of seasons, there is an injury.
However, the Phillies have pressing needs heading into the season. There are huge holes at shortstop and closer, and if the Phillies are unable to require an upgrade for Placido Polanco on the free agent market, they may have to talk to other clubs about third basemen.
Brown seems to have lost some of his clout with the club, and in the right deal, the Phillies would move him to avoid dealing several prospects.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies refuse to trade Trevor May in any deal.
If the Phillies are forced to make another big trade this winter, Ruben Amaro Jr. has shown in the past that he will not hesitate to pull the trigger. In acquiring three aces and an All Star right fielder, the general manager has moved several top prospects leaving the farm system arguably thin on certain levels. For that reason alone, May will be untouchable.
The Phillies entered the 2011 season with four legitimate pitching prospects, and after moving Jarred Cosart to the Houston Astros, among other top prospects, the Phils will want to hold on to May. A big right hander, he was absolutely dominant in 2011. Though his control / command still needs work, the strikeouts are absolutely there. He punched out more than 200 hitters in 2011, posting a K/9 rate of 12.10.
Though they made dangle Domonic Brown in trades, and perhaps another starter, Brody Colvin, the Phillies seem unlikely to entertain the idea of moving May or fellow starter Jesse Biddle.
Prediction: Without an everyday job, Placido Polanco requests a trade.
The Philadelphia Phillies are so interested in Michael Cuddyer because he is so versatile. Signing him as a free agent would allow the Phillies to filter both he and Polanco in and out of the lineup while keeping both satisfied with regular at-bats. That wouldn't be the case should the Phillies acquire David Wright, who is a third baseman and nothing else.
Acquiring Wright would send Polanco to the bench full time, a move that isn't going to rub off kindly on a 14-year veteran who still believes that he can play every day, regardless of the last couple of seasons. Polanco doesn't come off as the type of guy who will spend time in the media being a disgruntled, clubhouse nightmare, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him take the Michael Young trade request route.
The Phillies would have no choice but to oblige.
Prediction: Though the Philadelphia Phillies entertain the idea of trading Placido Polanco, the club is unable to find a suitable deal.
Trading Polanco wouldn't be an easy task, even with just a single season remaining on his contract. He is due to make $6.25 million in 2012, and a mutual option exists on his contract for the 2013 season for $5.5 million with a $1 million buyout—which seems more likely?
The market for middle infielders is relatively weak, and Polanco is a Gold Glove caliber second baseman, but the teams that are most in need of a guy like Polanco to play second base are mid-to-small market teams unwilling to absorb his salary. No one is going to trade anything of substance for him, aware of the Phillies' position.
Thus, we have a rebirth of the Michael Young / Texas Rangers dilemma and to an extent, the trouble the Phillies had in dealing Joe Blanton last off-season.
In the long run, Polanco remains a Phillie.
Prediction: Placido Polanco unhappily settles into his new utility role with the Philadelphia Phillies, but winds up playing a vital role in the success of the 2012 club.
Polanco isn't going to be happy not playing every day, but the Phillies aren't going to be happy with any of the offers they receive for his services, and ultimately, they pull the strings controlling the Gold Glove third baseman. With the team's new third baseman settling into his new environment, Polanco makes a home for himself on the bench, becoming the utility man / pinch hitter.
He will do it well.
When Michael Young settled into the same role with the Texas Rangers last season, many pundits believed that he wouldn't receive enough at-bats to stay sharp. He proved them wrong, posting an OPS of .854 for the season and forcing manager Ron Washington's hand, who eventually wound up playing him every day.
Baseball is a funny sport. Players get hurt. New players need to step up and be productive. That's the kind of role that Polanco will need to play in 2012, regardless of whether the Phillies' new third baseman is Michael Cuddyer, David Wright, or someone else.
Prediction: Roy Oswalt signs a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
When the Phillies' declined their end of Oswalt's mutual option for next season, many people started believing that his days with the Phillies were done after just a season and a half, but not so fast. Oswalt made it clear as a member of the Houston Astros that he wanted to pitch for a contender and he preferred to stay in the National League. Heading into free agency, those requests may not have changed much.
For a long time, Oswalt's preference was to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, but their rotation is full. While his agent has made it clear that he would pitch for the New York Yankees, the Bombers are worried about his health, and maybe more secretly, whether or not he can pitch in the AL East. The only other "contender" having made public their interest in his services are the Washington Nationals—an unlikely fit.
The Phillies, on the other hand, have not rule out the possibility of bringing Oswalt back, and for good reason—he was pretty darn good with the Phils. His SIERA and tERA climbed to 4.04 and 3.73, respectively, in 2011, but he is just a season removed from posting marks of 3.32 and 2.770 in the same categories in 12 starts in 2010.
A healthy Oswalt is still a legitimate top of the rotation starter. The million dollar question remains, however, what will it take to sign him? Chris Carpenter recently inked a two year, $21 million extension for the next couple of seasons, and Oswalt can be in line for a similar deal.
The Phillies may not be willing to guarantee two years to Oswalt, but a guaranteed one year deal with a vesting option that automatically triggers based on starts or innings pitched seems like a fair offer, and if Oswalt truly is only willing to play for a contender, which makes sense, it could be the best offer he receives.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies agree to re-sign free agent closer, Ryan Madson.
The Phillies have made no bones about their desire to bring Madson back aboard, which is similar to throwing fresh blood in the water for the shark that is Madson's agent, Scott Boras. The notorious agent will get his contract a lot of money from some team, and the Phillies seem willing to pay those dues. Once again, that is with good reason.
Over the last three seasons, few relievers have been more successful than Madson, who has posted SIERA marks of 2.94, 2.21, and 2.63, from 2009-11. Over that same span of time, he has posted tERA marks from 3.79, 2.31, and 2.41. In short, he has been dominant out of the Phillies' bullpen, and his mental progression from chair-kicking set-up man to full blown closer makes him all the more valuable.
The Phillies clearly value Madson more than any closer available, and in the long run, it's hard to imagine they can't agree to a new contract, however expensive he may be.
Prediction: The Philadelphia Phillies and Cole Hamels agree to a contract extension, avoiding arbitration.
With all of this free agent mayhem over the last week or so, the idea of extending Hamels' contract has taken a back seat to the drama of who is going to play shortstop, who is going to be the closer, and what the bench is going to look like next season. All of those are important facets of this winter's off-season, but the best idea may be looking forward to next year's.
If Hamels, who is about to enter his last year of arbitration, were to hit the free agent market, he would undoubtedly be one of the most appealing players on the market, and you don't want to find yourself in a bidding war for one of the market's top free agents.
Instead, extending Hamels' contract this off-season would be a wise decision. From rookie phenom, to World Series hero, to legitimate ace, Hamels' transformation with the Phillies has been remarkable. Over each of the last three seasons, his SIERA has dropped from 3.66, to 3.26, to 3.03. His tERA followed a similar progression, from 4.07, to 3.65, to 2.99. He led all of baseball in WHIP in 2008, and his 2011 mark of 0.986 was bested only by Cy Young probable, Clayton Kershaw.
As always, however, the ultimate question is what it will take to sign him. Baseball Reference's similarity score compares him favorably to Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension just last season. Through age 27, few good comparable players emerge, though Josh Beckett is listed sixth, and he signed a three year, $30 million extension with the Boston Red Sox in 2007, and later, a four year, $68 million extension in 2010.
So what will it take to sign Hamels long term? Some pundits believe that the deal he is most likely to sign will be structured like Justin Verlander's deal, which is for $80 million over five seasons. All in all, both Verlander and Weaver provide similar comparisons, and Hamels is more than likely in line for the same type of extension.