By the look of things, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. could be done adding to the roster for a while. The Winter Meetings are on the horizon, but the Phillies have few spots left to fill and will be closely monitoring the shortstop market as their primary focus. Jimmy Rollins is expected to seek a five-year deal, something that should and probably will make the Phillies apprehensive.
How best to round out the roster? Let’s take a look at what a realistic roster, at the present time, would look like.
- C: Carlos Ruiz
- 1B: Ryan Howard (DL), Jim Thome
- 2B: Chase Utley
- 3B: Placido Polanco
- SS: (?)
- Bench: Ty Wigginton, Wilson Valdez, Brian Schneider
Starting Rotation (5):
- CL: Jonathan Papelbon
- SU: Antonio Bastardo
- RP: Jose Contreras, Kyle Kendrick, David Herndon, Michael Stutes, Michael Schwimer
Let’s start with the infield. Obviously, Howard will start the year on the DL. Additionally, Jim Thome isn’t going to be able to play everyday or even semi-regularly as he hasn’t played more than 20 innings in the field since leaving the Phillies after the 2005 season. Thome hits right-handed pitching significantly better, so a platoon is clearly a necessity at first base. Wigginton, recently acquired, does not have much of a platoon split but does hit left-handers slightly better. A third option could be John Mayberry, Jr., who crushed lefties in his first dose of semi-regular playing time last season.
The most logical way to fill the void at first base appears to be giving Thome two or three starts a week (against right-handed pitching only) with the remaining starts going to Wigginton and Mayberry. As the Wigginton signing is a direct response to Howard’s Achilles injury, that is the likely role for the former Baltimore Oriole; however, were it up to me, I would let Mayberry get the majority of at-bats against southpaws at first base. It remains to be seen exactly how Charlie Manuel will split up the playing time, but Wigginton’s bat profiles better with less playing time at first base.
Second base isn’t too hard to figure out; one need only search for the man with the L.A. Looks hair gel. In the past, Manuel promised to give Utley time off during the season, but it did not happen on a regular basis. After returning to the lineup on May 23 last year, Utley started 100 of the final 116 games (86 percent). I’d like to see that change in 2012, especially since Placido Polanco can slide from third to second and Wigginton can take over at the hot corner. This would be particularly useful against a tough lefty.
As mentioned, Polanco will be found at third base. After a great April (.972 OPS), Polanco tanked, posting a depressing .591 OPS the rest of the way. Although he has already more than paid for his three-year, $18 million contract already, he has shown signs of aging and decline. He set career-lows in isolated power (.062), batting average (.277), and wOBA (.304) in 2011. While Wigginton won’t provide much of an upgrade (especially when factoring in defense), it would be helpful to Polanco’s long-term durability if he were to be given a day off every week.
The question on everybody’s mind right now is “Who will be the Phillies’ shortstop in 2012?” Rollins is seeking a five-year deal and it is very hard to see the Phillies doling out such a contract to a 33-year-old with a recent injury history. Outside of Rollins and Jose Reyes, the shortstop market is very thin, so the most likely scenarios involve the Phillies bringing Rollins back, relying on Wilson Valdez, putting all their eggs in the basket of Freddy Galvis (very unlikely), or signing a free agent (such as Rafael Furcal or Alex Gonzalez) to a team-friendly one- or two-year deal.
Let’s say the Phillies are unable to bring back Rollins and Reyes gets his mega-deal somewhere else. I would be content with the Phillies moving on with a player like Gonzalez, who plays above-average defense and hits just well enough to be average at his position (NL average wOBA for shortstops last year was .309; Gonzalez’s career average is .296). Furcal is better all-around, but also riskier as he has spent considerable time on the disabled list during the past two seasons (58 days in 2010; 69 days in 2011). In the past, I’ve pointed out that an elite team like the Phillies should aim to reduce variance as much as possible, so Gonzalez fits ever so slightly better than Furcal, and he will be cheaper as well (most likely). Rumors have Furcal seeking a multi-year deal, and the shortstop market may just be barren enough that a team is desperate enough to agree to such a deal.
The return of Rollins will significantly affect how the Phillies fill out the rest of the roster. If they are not on the hook paying him eight figures in 2012, they will have more payroll space to patch up other areas and even sign Hamels to a contract extension. For instance, the Phillies could sign Michael Cuddyer (assuming he will be available at that point), or go after a left-handed outfielder such as Johnny Damon or David DeJesus. Perhaps the extra payroll flexibility allows Amaro to bring in another reliever as well.
The outfield is more or less set. Victorino and Pence will be found in center and right field, respectively. Left field can be filled a number of ways in the absence of Raul Ibanez. The Phillies have three immediate candidates for the position in Mayberry, Francisco, and Brown. Previously, however, Amaro stated that he wanted Brown to get another full season in Triple-A, so that leaves the Phillies with two right-handers. As mentioned, depending on exactly where the Phillies stand with respect to their payroll, a lefty could be brought in, and there are a swath of lefty outfielders available: the previously mentioned Damon and DeJesus, as well as Ibanez, Laynce Nix, Jason Kubel, and Kosuke Fukudome, among others.
Personally, I would immediately rule out Ibanez, Nix, and Fukudome. Damon seems like a great fit. Corey Seidman went over the pros and cons at Phillies Nation recently, writing:
Damon would also bring some speed, which can’t be said of any of the other impact leftfielders on the Phils’ radar. Damon is the only one of the bunch who could be penciled into the two-hole just as well as the six-hole.
If Damon can be had on a one-year, $4.25-4.5 million deal, he’s pretty much a no-brainer. Signing Damon would give the Phils three solid depth bats – Damon, Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome – for less than the cost of one year of Michael Cuddyer.
DeJesus is the best of the bunch when it comes to defense. Like Damon, he is coming off of a career-worst season offensively (his first season outside of Kansas City). In a typical year, DeJesus hits close to .300 with above-average on-base skills, so he would be an asset hitting at the top of the lineup behind Victorino. Kubel is your typical mediocre left fielder with occasional power. Although the Phillies ranked seventh in the league in slugging percentage last year, they were nearly as unimpressive in the on-base department, and given the lack of diversity in the lineup, Damon and DeJesus seem like much better fits.
Moving on… the pitching is, of course, the easiest part of this equation. The starting rotation is more or less set in stone with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Worley, and Blanton. In the last year of his three-year contract, Blanton (earning $8.5 million) could be used as trade fodder during the summer if he shows improvement and good health in the first three or four months. Other than that, there is nothing exciting going on with the rotation, aside from the inevitability of a Hamels contract extension.
The bullpen may see one more outsider brought in, but any remaining gaps will be filled internally and shouldn’t be the cause of heated debate. Kendrick is an interesting case as he is arbitration-eligible for the second year. The Phillies paid him $2.45 million to avoid arbitration last year. MLB Trade Rumors projects Kendrick at $3.2 million this year, so the Phillies have the option of simply releasing him. Although he posted unexpectedly good results last year (3.22 ERA), his performance leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t project to be anything better than a replacement-level pitcher. Such an arm, of course, would not be worth upwards of $3 million.
To recap, these are the important story lines between now and spring training:
- First base sans Howard (Thome, Wigginton, Mayberry)
- Shortstop with or without Rollins
- Left field, whether it is filled from within or externally
- Extending Cole Hamels
At the moment, the Phillies have roughly $125 million committed to 13 players. There are five potential arbitration cases (Hamels, Pence, Kendrick, Valdez, Francisco) and a handful of players earning at or slightly more than the Major League minimum (Mayberry, Herndon, Bastardo, Worley, Stutes, Schwimer). MLB Trade Rumors projects the five arbitration-eligibles to earn a combined $31 million. Taken all together, the Phillies are at about $160 million, just barely under last year’s $166 million Opening Day payroll. The luxury tax has been set at $178 million, which gives the Phillies under $20 million of wiggle room. Amaro will certainly have to perform some financial gymnastics to address the final questions, which makes the next three months all the more intriguing.