Man, the Philadelphia Phillies' players are getting old.
In fact, the Phillies have the oldest team in the majors, with the average player on the team being 29.9 years old. Last year, nobody in the infield for the team was under the age of 31 and the only everyday starter under the age of 30 was Hunter Pence. The starting rotation also saw three out of its five pitchers over the age of 32.
The team needs to get younger in order to remain a consistent contender. While the deals the Phillies have been creating to acquire All-Star and Cy Young-caliber talent have been great, the Phillies have lost roughly a dozen top prospects in those trades. The Phillies' farm system is thinning, and if current trends continue, it will continue to thin out more and more, and when it's time to bring up in-house players to play at the major league level, little-to-no talent will be there.
The Phillies are a win-now team, that's a given. But in order to remain a contender past 2012, the Phillies will have to look ahead and figure out what will get them younger so they aren't overpaying washed up veterans to man every position for the next 10 years.
Here's ten ways how the Phillies can do just that.
Before the offseason began, there was talk that the Phillies could let Ryan Madson walk because they had two or three pitchers in the organization who could take his place in Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus, and Phillippe Aumont. To the surprise of few, the Phillies went all-out and signed the best closer on the market, Jonathan Papelbon, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, to a four-year, $50 million deal. Not only that, but it's also got a fifth-year vesting option that could bring the deal up to being worth $63 million.
In brief, that ain't cheap. And while it's good to know that the Phillies have one of the most experienced closers in baseball, both in the regular season and playoffs, one could argue that the Phillies gave him a year or two too many. The money is about right, if not a bargain, considering that Papelbon's making only $500,000 more on average than he made last season alone when he collected $12 million in his final year of arbitration.
Now that Papelbon's here, the closer role will be filled for at least four years by a pitcher who's only a couple of months younger than Madson. I don't know about you, but I don't call that much of an improvement age-wise. Although a potentially-risky move, the Phils could have placed any of the aforementioned pitchers into the closer role during spring training and see who works out best. Now that Papelbon holds the position, there won't be any opportunity for that.
Don't get me wrong, I love Papelbon's stuff. It's just his attitude I don't like. He's an egomaniac who cares just about himself. The Phillies can still bring up a reliever or two from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to the 25-man roster if they want. But if the Phils wanted to get younger in the closer role, signing Papelbon alone doesn't do it, but inking him to a four-year deal puts the scummy icing on the burnt cake.
Okay, let's think about something here for a minute, folks. Let's think about what might happen if Jimmy Rollins leaves the Phillies...
Whether your thoughts were unimaginable, devastating, or ecstatic, it's a reality that fan favorite J-Roll may be wearing another team's uniforms next season. The Phillies would like to re-sign Rollins, but his current demands are too high for not only the Phillies, but for most teams. Rollins wants a deal no less than five years, and the least he'll settle for (at least right now) is a four-year deal with a fifth-year player option.
Rollins will likely make an average annual value of more than $10 million as well, and while that's not the Phillies' biggest problem, you can obviously see why they're hesitant to throw out five years to a shortstop who will be 33 years old on Opening Day and whose offense has been on a downward trend each of the last four years.
In the event that Rollins isn't re-signed, there's little else available on the free-agent market. Jose Reyes is arguably the best alternative and by far the best available option to get younger and improve offense, but the only younger shortstop available that could get the job done on defense is Cesar Izturis, who will be 32 on Opening Day. Basically, there's not much better than Rollins around.
The Phillies' best option to get younger would be to promote shortstop Freddy Galvis to the major league roster. Galvis, a 22-year-old switch-hitting shortstop prospect from Venezuela, is the Phils' best available in-house option to replace Rollins. He's as good as, if not better than Rollins on defense, and his hitting continues to improve, though it's not at a major league level just yet. He's also got a bit of injury trouble, having injured his wrist a little while back.
The biggest question about Galvis is whether he's major league ready or not. Regardless of whether Rollins re-signs, expect to hear Galvis' name more and more, and expect to see him make it to spring training in February, but if Rollins does leave, you'll hear Galvis' name even more.
I might be breaking the rules on this one, but then again, one's definition of a "younger team" can vary from person to person.
If we're looking at decreasing the age of left field and/or third base, Cuddyer's your guy. Left field was occupied by 39-year-old Raul Ibanez, and while 27-year-old John Mayberry, Jr. will likely have the starting gig in left field, he'll even more likely start at first base on Opening Day and remain there until Ryan Howard fully recovers from his Achilles injury.
Therefore, someone will be needed in left field, and in terms of getting younger than Ibanez, Cuddyer does the trick. Cuddyer, currently 32 years old, is one of the most versatile free agents on the market. He can play first base, second base, third base, and the corner outfield positions. And while his forte is playing right field, Hunter Pence isn't moving, and should he sign, Cuddyer would understand. In fact, when he met manager Charlie Manuel last week at Citizens Bank Park, upon being told his potential role in Philadelphia, he said, "Charlie, I'm a baseball player. I'll play anywhere you want me to play, and I'll do a good enough job that it will pass." Not only does that sound like an understanding, but it also sounds like Cuddyer has possible interest of signing in Philadelphia. Only time will tell on that one.
As for third base, Manuel also said that he'd like to upgrade over Placido Polanco at the hot corner. Should the Phillies go through with Manuel's wishes, Cuddyer could be a great option to do that once Howard's healthy at first and Mayberry would presumably move back to left field. Polanco would likely have to settle for being a backup infielder at that point, giving Chase Utley and Cuddyer days off, or the Phillies could make an interesting move and start him at shortstop if Jimmy Rollins walks, though that's highly unlikely.
Cuddyer, being able to hit lefties, is also a great batter, and because he can hit and plays many positions, he could be out of the Phillies' price range. But if the Phillies do sign Cuddyer, they have multiple holes filled by signing him alone.
To start, Grady Sizemore has an awesome name.
In all seriousness, Sizemore, 29, would be a good fit in Philly. Sizemore, who has played in center field for the Cleveland Indians when he isn't on the DL, has shown that he's agile, a good defender, and a great hitter. Again, these all apply when he's healthy, which practically seems like never.
Sizemore has shown that he can do all sorts of things. He has a 30-30 season to his credit, as well as two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and three All-Star nods. He's also played in over 155 games in four seasons, and over 100 games in five. The past two seasons, though, Sizemore's only played in 104 games combined, all due to knee injuries and complications from them, primarily a microfracture in his knee that has required surgery three times. And would you know it, but all of the above accomplishments occurred before his injury history began during the 2009 season.
While Sizemore seems like he's got more cons than he could ever have pros, he is a typical high-risk, high-reward player. Sizemore will likely sign a one-year deal with whoever he does sign with, and there have been many teams interested in him, including the Rockies, Red Sox, and yes, even the Phillies, who also have interest in Minnesota Twins outfielder and DH Jason Kubel, who is the same age as Sizemore.
If Sizemore has much left in the tank, he could be worth the $8-10 million he'll likely sign for this offseason. Although he's a center fielder by trade, he's said that he'll play any outfield positions, and he could be worth even more to a team he signs with if he plays good defense and shows durability by getting in a lot of ABs and playing a lot of games.
For the Phillies, he'll make the team younger, and if Shane Victorino decides to leave the team after next season—the last guaranteed year of his current deal—Sizemore could become his heir in center field.
Clint Barmes could be a nice option for the Phillies.
Barmes, 32, has consistently produced offensively over the last few years. While he's not much a hitter for average anymore, he's still got some pop in his bat and can still hit the ball. He's also a decent defender, which would be vital to a team like the Phillies, who tend to focus on the defensive aspect of players at times.
Barmes, who's spent every year of his career with the Rockies except last season with the Astros, has been a very versatile player in the infield, something which the Phillies have needed in a backup for quite some time. Michael Martinez, the Phillies' Rule 5 pick last season, did that to an extent, but not anywhere close to what the Phillies need in a fill-in. Wilson Valdez has also been good, but his offense plummeted last season and he's not as versatile as Barmes.
Barmes will likely be out of the Phillies' price range, but if a deal can be reached, the Phillies should jump on it. Barmes can play second base, shortstop, and third base, all positions that, assuming J-Roll re-signs, are occupied by players who could use a break every now and then. The guy who could help them achieve that could be Barmes. With a bat that can still hit in the .250 range when it's good and a glove that can field all around the diamond, Barmes would be a key player for the Phillies to sign.
The biggest question remains, though, and that's whether he would consider being a backup. He started in Houston. Would he backup for the Phillies?
Who knows. But the Phillies may as well try to find out, right?
Over the last few seasons, the Phillies bench has helped them move along. With recurring injuries to many players, especially the infielders Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, backups have often had to fill the voids, and they have done so admirably.
Over the course of the last two or three seasons, Ben Francisco has been the primary backup in the outfield and Wilson Valdez has done a good amount in the infield, with Michael Martinez and Pete Orr joining him there this past season. Francisco has hit fairly well as a Phillie, as has Valdez, but last season, both were nothing short of terrible.
Francisco and Valdez were both .250 or below hitters last season, and both hit only a handful of home runs, as well as posting under 35 RBI a piece. Neither were huge contributors to the team last year, and both are taking up some space as well.
Naturally, I'd say to cut Martinez as well, since he wasn't much of anything last year, but since he's under team control, I'd be fine with sending him down to Triple-A or something. As for the other two, I'd cut them both. Francisco is becoming too expensive for the amount he's used, and with the emergence of John Mayberry, Jr. as well as Domonic Brown in the mix, there isn't a place in Philly for Francisco anymore.
As for Valdez, his defense is great and his arm is a cannon. But his offense has been atrocious. Since the Phillies have re-signed Pete Orr and have Martinez available if needed, Valdez, who's 33 years old, may not be in the equation for the Phillies anymore either.
Of the two, I'd cut Valdez over Francisco. Valdez is older and doesn't have pop left in his bat, if there was any to begin with. Francisco is a little too old to be playing as a backup, but the Phillies are shorter on outfielders than infielders in their minor league system, so Francisco may be important to retain for now.
If you haven't heard of Yoenis Cespedes...well, you have now.
Cespedes is a 26-year-old Cuban center fielder who's looking to defect to the MLB and become a free agent. He's got raw talent in every aspect of the sport and is a true five-tool player—he's got power, consistency, speed, a good glove, and a good arm. He's also the record holder for the most home runs in a season in the Cuban league, with 33. Keep in mind that the Cuban league plays only 90 games a season. Imagine what he could do in 162.
Cespedes has drawn interest from at least a dozen teams, yet may have to wait to become an MLB free agent two months due to the long process it takes Cuban players to defect. Some teams are hesitant to sign Cespedes due to the fact that he's never faced major league pitching before, so many have or will hold private workouts with Cespedes to get a closer look.
Among the teams with potential interest is the Phillies. In fact, they sent former GM and current advisor Pat Gillick down to the Dominican Republic to watch Cespedes work out. What his reaction was remains to be seen, but if the video showcase he provided (which has since been taken down) holds true, then he probably impressed Gillick.
Cespedes would be a great right handed bat for the Phillies to sign and would be an excellent option to play in left field this year and center field next year onward, since Shane Victorino will be a free agent after the 2012 season. Assuming all goes well with Cespedes, he will be a hot commodity to sign this year, and will likely eclipse the $30 million fellow Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman received when he signed with the Cincinnati Reds.
If he's out of the Phillies' budget, so be it. But if he can be had, I say go get him.
Jose Reyes' days as a New York Met are likely over.
Reyes, the top shortstop on the free agent market and one of the top free agents overall, will be a nice addition to any team that signs him. He's only 28 years old and can hit well over .300, having won the NL batting title last season by hitting .337. His ending to the season did come with some fanfare, though, as Reyes intentionally benched himself after hitting a bunt single to clinch the title after the first inning of the last game of the season.
In addition to being able to hit, Reyes can steal bases like it's nobody's business. He stole 39 bases this past season, but that was a down year for him. He's led the NL in base stealing twice and the majors once, when he stole 78 bases in 2007. Talk about fast.
There are some downsides to the switch-hitting, four-time All Star Reyes. One is his defense. It's atrocious. One would think that Reyes, being quick on his feet, could field a ball in the infield well, yet the opposite holds true. In addition, Reyes has suffered from hamstring injuries the last season or two, and they've taken a toll on his agility and speed performance. Otherwise, he's a great investment, and can hit triples out the wazoo as well.
The Phillies could be interested in Reyes for a few reasons. He'd be a great way for the team to become younger (at least, for now) and has more pop in his bat than Jimmy Rollins. Whether the Phillies prioritize defense over offense would be the potential buzzkill on a potential Reyes deal, but otherwise they both can steal bases and are both switch-hitters. I wrote an article about my take on Reyes last month, saying that I'd prefer Rollins as a club house kind of guy, but if it boils down to offense and youth, I'd take Reyes.
Before I continue, let me make this clear: I'm not saying that Joe Blanton has value. I'm just saying that if he ever regains any value, this could be a good option.
Blanton gave little to no contributions to the Phillies last season. He managed only one win, and posted a 5.01 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, and pitched only 41.1 innings in 11 games last season, eight of them starts. Blanton's lack of ability was due mainly to nerve damage in his elbow, in addition to shoulder and elbow impingement, and while I'm not angry at him, it didn't really help that the Phillies shelled out $8.5 million to him for sitting on the bench.
Blanton was thought to be a hot commodity on the trade market after the Phillies signed Cliff Lee last offseason. The Phillies were thought to have had a deal in place with the Boston Red Sox for Blanton, but it never happened and the Phils were stuck with him and the Phillies denied ever having a deal in place, with Ruben Amaro stating that he wasn't comfortable trading Blanton. Then it was thought that the Phillies could possibly ship him off in July, but with his injury, he lost all his value.
The likelihood of a Blanton deal happening regardless is slim to none. But if a team needing a starting pitcher calls the Phillies, Blanton could be had for little to nothing. Heck, he might not even be able to fetch one minor league prospect. But if he can be traded, it paves way for Kyle Kendrick to become the Phillies' fifth starter, and Kendrick, who is only 27 years old, would make the rotation younger and in turn the bullpen, since the Phillies would likely call up one of their bullpen prospects at Triple-A to fill Kendrick's void.
Blanton will likely be a Phillie next year. But hey, who knows? If the Phillies volunteer to eat nearly all of his salary and a team has interest in him, Blanton could be on his way out of town.
Placido Polanco is a very good third baseman. Even at age 36, he's still able to get it done, hitting consistently and providing excellent defense at third base.
That is, when he's healthy. In his two years with the Phillies, Polanco has suffered from injury in both of them. In 2010, it was his elbow after Tim Hudson hit him with a pitch. This year, it was a sports hernia. He just hasn't been lucky with the Phillies. It's a shame, too, since he started out really hot in April and steadily declined after that. He did, though, receive a Gold Glove at third base, and he also started the All-Star Game at the hot corner for the NL.
The problem with Polanco is that he is just too injury prone. Despite his potential to hit over .300 and provide stellar defense, nothing is certain about Polanco entering next season. He'll be ready, that's for sure, but if he gets hurt again, what's left?
If the Phillies don't sign a player or two to get the bench younger, Polanco is the only option. But if the Phillies do sign a Wilson Betemit-type or even someone like Michael Cuddyer, Polanco may see himself become a backup. It's weird to think that a player making $6.25 million is a backup, but in Polanco's case, not only may it be necessary if the Phils bring someone else in, but he might not be durable enough to play everyday anymore anyway.
In the event that the Phils sign someone to start at third and Polanco refuses to be a backup, he could be traded. After all, he still has significant value as a second and third baseman, and his defense is well-known throughout baseball. His offensive consistency is also great, with Polanco hitting over .300 when he's at his best. He could be worth a prospect or two, depending on the amount of salary enveloped by a potential suitor, but those prospects could replenish the farm system, although ever so slightly. The point is that Polanco may not have a place on the Phillies anymore, and his best option may be to be traded for the final year of his deal so he can start for another team.
David Wright has been a killer third baseman throughout his career.
Over the course of his career as a New York Met, Wright has just hit the cover off the ball and had fielded with ease. While he was better at Shea Stadium, he's still done fairly well at Citi Field, although his home run total has taken a hit over the last couple of seasons.
Wright, 28, is also a five-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glover and Silver Slugger. His career average is exactly .300, and he's averaged 27 home runs a season and 106 RBI. His career OPS is also high at .887. Additionally, Wright is a very durable player, having played at least 100 games every season of his career, and aside from this year, Wright had played in at least 144 games each season.
Wright's bat took a toll this year when a stress fracture in his back was discovered. It was thought that Wright could be able to return in ten days, but he didn't end up coming back for two months. When he did return, his power was still somewhat present, hitting 14 home runs, but his average took a beating, plummeting to .254 on the season.
All that aside, Wright is a fantastic player. And while the Mets are even more likely to trade him now since Reyes will most likely be on his way out, he could be had at the right price, albeit an expensive one. Wright would likely be happy to get out of New York, too, so if a deal could be made, he could be shipped off.
A team who could use his services is the Phillies. He's a younger third baseman than Placido Polanco and hits with more power and just as much consistency than Polly when he's at his best. In addition, Wright's defense is superb as well, and the void left by Polanco's glove would not be felt as much.
The thing with Wright is that not only is he expensive to acquire, but he's also expensive to pay. For a trade, at least from the Phillies' perspective, he'd likely cost the team Domonic Brown and Vance Worley, just to start. As for the salary, he makes $15 million next year and has a club option for 2013, although he can void that if traded. Not cheap.
The Phillies would have to decide how much youth is important to them at the hot corner. If it is, Wright could be their man. Charlie Manuel wants an upgrade at third base, as we've covered earlier. If Wright could be had in a relatively fair deal, the Phillies should jump on it.