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The Tuesday 10: 10 Minutes to Midnight

Ruben Amaro was a polarizing general manager before he was even officially offered the job. The baseball world was made well aware that Pat Gillick would not be reprising his role at the helm after the 2008 season concluded – and winning a World Series probably helped with that transition out of the captain’s chair – and that the Phillies would need a new GM. It seemed then that there were only two candidates, both internal: the current assistant GM in Amaro, or the fellow AGM and scouting head in Mike Arbuckle.

It’s a story you’re all familiar with by now and isn’t worth rambling on about ad nauseum. That time will probably come next month.

Instead, I think this week’s post is about acceptance or, at least, assumed acceptance. GM firings and replacements are far more infrequent occurrences than with managers, so it just seems the smart play to assume Amaro gets at least another year to work through the rough water he himself is partially responsible for stirring up. And with that assumption in mind, Amaro is the most important piece involved in this transitional period for the Phils. That may scare you a little, as it does me, but it seems the apparent truth.

Removing Amaro from play upon that assumption, then, today’s 10 will focus on the 10 most important “factors” (for lack of a better word) for the Phillies as they move forward through this season and beyond.

10. Freddy Galvis

The kid’s got a superlative glove, ad has shown to be exceptional at second base, very good at shortstop (in less time there) and above average at third base, according to my own eye test. Defensive metrics probably haven’t stabilized enough at the latter two positions to give a solid feel one way or another, but that’s beside the point.

There’s a very real chance neither Jimmy Rollins nor Chase Utley will be members of the Phillies after this season. Galvis will be The Replacement for whoever leaves first, and will eventually fill in long-term (or however long he can) at shortstop. The guy has to hit at least a little bit, or he’ll either become most useful as a bench/utility player or be a zero sum shortstop whose lack of bat cancels out his leather. A happy medium would be somewhere between those two.

9. Ryne Sandberg

His impact this season will be tangibly minimal, but the Hall of Famer is the heir apparent to Charlie Manuel’s managerial seat. How will his tactics differ from Manuel’s? Will he have more of a roster to work with than Manuel has the last two years (unlikely), and will he know how to keep his players’ heads in the game and their respect on his side? Only one way to find out.

8. Antonio Bastardo

Bastardo is a microcosm of a bigger issue, but he’s its most prominent figure. Left-handed relief has been spotty and inconsistent, at best, for the Phillies since Scott Eyre wrapped up his 2008 campaign. Since, LHP to log any significant relief time for the Phillies have been, by and large, control-deficient (J.C. Romero, Juan Perez, Jake Diekman) or kept around for their ability to log multiple innings (Raul Valdes, Jeremy Horst) while being marginally effective. Bastardo was supposed to overwhelm his control problems with wicked stuff, striking out enough to offset a 4.5 or so BB/9.

That would have to be a big number, and it was for two seasons. Then the first half of 2013 has happened, and all of a sudden, the Phillies are without a surefire lefty reliever again. His impact may only be 50 or so innings per year, but somebody has to get the LHBs out from the left side of the mound, lest we try to watch the likes of Chad Durbin get it done again.

7. Roy Halladay

Doc will not be paid $20 million in 2014, or ever again, for pitching baseballs. But his health and whatever remains of his effectiveness could be important for the Phillies in 2014 even still.

If the Phillies believe they can assemble some sort of a contender for ’14, a cheap Doc could be worth the retention cost. Hell, even if they don’t think they’ll be competitive, persuading Halladay to stick around and continue to educate the likes of Jonathan Pettibone or (gulp) Tyler Cloyd or maybe even Adam Morgan could prove valuable in incalculable ways. Assuming, of course, Doc would forego the chance at winning, which certainly seems unlikely.

6. Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon is an excellent reliever making $13M annually now through 2015 (plus a ’16 option) who has no place on this Phillies team. With a team like the Tigers and their open-pocket owner Mike Ilitch seeking top-notch relief help, the Phillies may not only find themselves lighter on the salary ledger, but may actually net a useful young player in return. No, not Nick Castellanos, but maybe someone of positive value.

If it sounds like that’s shooting low, it’s because it is. Setting your sights low can sometimes make things look extra good in the end. So that’s the hope here.

5. Ryan Howard

There is no hope of trading Howard’s contract, no possibility of getting useful young players in return for unloading his myriad millions. What matters is Howard getting back to full strength – whatever percentage that would be of his former self – and being a player whose skills at the plate are respected once more.

Hey, he’s signed for the next three seasons and will make $10M when his 2017 option is bought out (sad how forgone a conclusion that feels this far out), so I’d rather he make that money being a positive contributor on this club, instead of being a net negative or, far more embarrassingly, eventually released.

4. Domonic Brown

Is his breakout for real? Can he reliably be an .850 OPS guy through his mid-20s? He’s currently the team’s best hitter by a fair margin, but with uncertainty about whether he can maintain this production yet, that’s pretty shaky ground for the club. If Brown proves to be a mid-order bat, he can be built around. This is no longer a “can he be a complementary bat in a decently strong 2011 offense” situation, but a “can he be a building block for 2014-17” situation. Slight difference.

3. Maikel Franco

You could make the argument for Jesse Biddle as perhaps the organization’s best overall prospect, but a breakout season thus far in 2013 has pushed Franco to the forefront, leapfrogging fellow third base prospect Cody Asche. He’s the club’s best position prospect, in my eyes, given Roman Quinn’s lesser performance at a lower level at almost the same age (Franco is nine months older). Michael Young is only under contract through this year, and reliance on Kevin Frandsen to fill that role upon his departure will only take you so far for so long.

Besides, aren’t you as tired of the reliance on older players as I am?

2. Cliff Lee

He should be traded. No, he has to be traded. And more than that, he will be traded.

Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball, signed for what free agency would deem a reasonable amount of money for the remainder of his current deal. At least, it would be reasonable if the Phillies were a playoff-caliber team as currently constructed. They are not.

Lee is performing like a top-tier pitcher, one whose price tag would be manageable, in full, for any contending team looking to take him on. Of course, since the Phillies are not contending (and don’t appear as though they will next year, either), the leverage shifts to the buyers, who can hold prime returns in abeyance until the Phillies cave on eating some of the money. And so it may have to be, but if it means getting such a return, the money should be eaten. With the right acquisitions, that sunk money will be paid for in only a few years.

1. Cole Hamels

Hamels should not be traded, and he won’t be traded. Instead, Hamels is the key piece that will linger on past the 2013 trade deadline and the ’13-14 offseason. He will be the team’s opening day starter next season, if healthy, and he’s a strong bet to play out that entire year in red pinstripes, as well. And this is the most important thing to the club moving forward because Hamels is still a cornerstone piece, just not for too much longer.

Hamels turns 30 this December. Three Phillies pitchers since 1987 have accumulated 10+ rWAR for the club after turning 30: Curt Schilling, Lee and Halladay. His recent string of starts shows just how effective he still is and, presumably, will be for a couple more years yet. But, like all Major Leaguers, Hamels’s clock is running out faster than he, or any of us, likely realize. At least, probability says so. Sure, the hope is that Cole will go on to pitch 30 times a year until he’s 40, when he’ll then convert into the next Darren Oliver and keep getting outs until he needs to ride a Jazzy to the mound.

But that’s not the reasonable hope. The reasonable hope is that Amaro and Co. can reshape this team around Hamels, their homegrown ace, so that his peak talents can help land the club another World Series before his time is up. He is the sun around which this club must orbit, lest it all go supernova.