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With nearly $144 million already on the books for the 2011 season, the Phillies’ off-season figures to be boring. 17 players are under contract with two others headed to their first years in arbitration (Kyle Kendrick and Ben Francisco).
A look at the “definites” currently on the 2011 roster:
Starting Rotation (4):
The Phillies need a bench player capable of playing the middle infield. With Greg Dobbs headed to free agency, the Phillies will also need someone who can handle third base. The fifth spot in the starting rotation is open for competition. Meanwhile, the Phillies figure to have heavy turnover in the bullpen.
Who are the likely candidates to fill the open slots?
Wilson Valdez seems like an obvious candidate to be brought back since he displayed maturity and understanding of his role on the team. It certainly helps his case that the fans grew to like him as well. Of the free agents who could fill the back-up middle infielder role, Willie Bloomquist, Adam Kennedy, and Akinori Iwamura seem like the only ones that would be willing to accept a paltry 150 AB’s. Cristian Guzman is also available but his precipitous decline since 2007 is concerning.
Among free agent third basemen who could accept a bench role with the Phillies, Melvin Mora is an intriguing option. He has been linked to the Phillies in the past in both trade and free agency rumors. His right-handedness is an appealing option since the Phillies are extremely lefty-heavy in the absence of Jayson Werth and Mike Sweeney. Garrett Atkins is a buy-low candidate but his rapidly vanishing offense is a strong deterrent along with his below-average defense at the hot corner. Atkins, though, is another name whose name has floated around in Phillies-related rumors through the years. Overall, though, the market for third baseman is thin with Adrian Beltre being the only impact player out there.
The Phillies are likely to fill their fifth spot in the rotation internally with Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley. The organization showed depleted patience with Kendrick when he was sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley earlier in the season. Begrudgingly, he was quickly recalled in a hectic week that included Andrew Carpenter‘s ineffectiveness and the arrival of Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia. It is possible that the Phillies fill the #5 spot with a cheap free agent, but unlikely.
Likewise, the Phillies are probably going to round out most of the remaining bullpen spots with internal options. The team would like to have two left-handed relievers going into the season, which opens up a big opportunity for Mike Zagurski. However, there will be quite a few left-handed relief options available via free agency. Scott Downs seems to always be linked to the Phillies, but his Type A status is a huge deterrent as it means the Phillies would have to relinquish a draft pick to the Toronto Blue Jays. GM Ruben Amaro will probably sign at least one veteran left-handed arm to a Minor League contract with an invitation to spring training, simply as depth in case Zagurski has a disappointing showing in March.
Elsewhere, Scott Mathieson — who has successfully battled back from two Tommy John surgeries — finally has a legitimate shot at sticking around in the bullpen. Other candidates for bullpen jobs include David Herndon and the loser of the Kendrick/Worley battle in the starting rotation. Among the relievers from the 2010 team heading into free agency, Chad Durbin seems to be the only one with a decent chance of hanging around. However, this figures to be his last opportunity for a substantial contract, one which will not come from the Phillies.
This off-season will take the cake for the most boring in a long time. Do not expect the Phillies to make any big waves whether it’s with a signing or a trade. If placing bets, take the field for Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee. Going into spring training, the Phillies will be taking a long, hard look at their talent at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. As a result, 2011 figures to be a big year for the lower levels of the organization’s Minor League system as well, with plenty of opportunity for advancement.