by Jason Martinez
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PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES OFFSEASON PREVIEW
The season was going so bad that the Phillies decided they'd be 'sellers' instead of 'buyers' at the trade deadline and traded away two key pieces of their lineup, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, on July 31st. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley had returned from injury just weeks earlier but the team was in last place, 12 games under .500, and 13 games out of a Wild Card spot. The bullpen had been awful up until that point. Roy Halladay was not his dominant self. Catcher Carlos Ruiz, one of the team's few bright spots early in the season, was questionable to return from plantar fascitis. It's hard to blame GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. for throwing in the towel at that point. No one could've guessed that the Phillies, with a patchwork lineup, resurgent bullpen, and rotation that included Kyle Kendrick, would go 46-34 the rest of the way and work their way back into the the mix for a playoff spot late in the season.
After a strong finish to the season, which direction does Amaro go now? The core of the team, albeit still talented and productive, continues to move further away from its prime and prospects such as Domonic Brown and Phillippe Aumont have yet to live up to expectations. Regardless, with Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels leading the rotation, there's always a great chance to be competitive so I'd expect the team to be aggressive in filling holes in the lineup and bullpen.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
Unlike last season, the Phillies will expect Howard and Utley to be in their lineup on Opening Day. Howard, who had been recovering from a ruptured Achilles' tendon, returned on July 6th and struggled upon his return (.181 BA, 4 HR, 7 BB, 30 K in 94 AB's). He'll be 33 in November and is guaranteed $105 million through the 2016 season. Utley, on the other hand, was one of the team's most productive hitters after returning to the lineup on June 27th (.838 OPS, 5 SB in 97 AB's). He'll be 34 in December but is only under contract for one more season at $15 million so there is less worry about his age and knee problems.
The team briefly contemplated moving Utley to third base next season, which would likely open up second base for defensive whiz Freddy Galvis, but have apparently scrapped the idea. Journeyman Kevin Frandsen was a big part of the team's turnaround, solidifying third base with Placido Polanco dealing with a back injury that kept him out of action for most of the second half. The 30 year-old Frandsen hit .338 with an .834 OPS in 55 games, which should at least keep the idea open of giving him a shot to win the job next season. There could be limited options on the free agent and trade markets.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is nowhere close to the player he was when he won the NL MVP in 2007 and his .316 OBP is well below average for a leadoff hitter, but he still hit 23 HR and stole 30 bases in year one of a contract that keeps him in Philly through 2014 (and possibly 2015). He'll be 34 in November.
Ruiz, who will also turn 34 this offseason, is expected to have his $5 million club option exercised for 2013. Coming off of a career season, 'Chooch' hit .325 with 16 HR and 32 doubles in 114 games. His backup will likely be Erik Kratz, a 32 year-old career minor leaguer who hit 9 HR and 9 doubles in just 50 games.
It appears that a top priority this offseason will be the outfield, although Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Jr., and Nate Schierholtz will all likely be in the mix for starting jobs. Juan Pierre (.307 BA, .351 OBP, 37 SB), believe it or not, ended up being one of the better minor league free agent signings in baseball. A return is not out of the question, although Amaro might want to go after some of the bigger names available on the free agent market.
Tyson Gillies, a once highly-touted center field prospect, has battled injuries and off-the-field issues but had a promising finish to the 2012 season. The 23 year-old had an .822 OPS in 68 Double-A games and is off to a fast start in the Venezuelan Winter League. If the Phillies can't address their center field situation this offseason, Gillies could make his way to the big leagues late in 2013.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Joining Halladay, Lee, and Hamels in the rotation will be Vance Worley, who should be ready for Spring Training after arthroscopic elbow surgery in early September. Kendrick goes into the offseason as the fifth starter, which is good because he makes too much money ($4.5 million) to be a long reliever but bad because he's really a better fit as a long reliever/spot starter. The 28 year-old finished the season by winning 7 of his last 10 decisions and posting a 2.43 ERA with 11 BB and 48 K over his last 63 innings. It's nice to know that he's capable of that type of streak, but they'll likely cover themselves by adding another back-of-the-rotation starter this offseason.
Tyler Cloyd, who was 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA between Triple-A and Double-A, will be in the mix for the last rotation spot but he's similar to Kendrick in that he has a limited ceiling. Prospects Jonathan Pettibone and Trevor May, as well as mid-season acquisition Ethan Martin, are inching closer to the majors. In year's past, they'd be considered trade candidates as the Phillies were active in going after big name players in trades. If Amaro cannot upgrade his offense in free agency, he could continue that trend.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
Jonathan Papelbon's terrific debut season with the Phillies mostly went unnoticed because the Phillies were such an afterthought as contenders for a majority of the season. It also didn't help that the team could not get any consistency out of the setup men and middle relievers, thus limiting Papelbon's value as the team's closer. Early-season injuries to Jose Contreras and Mike Stutes didn't help and lefty Antonio Bastardo was mostly ineffective until the last month of the season. Jeremy Horst, who debuted with the team in late June, was one of the lone bright spots from the group of relievers not named Papelbon.
A group of hard-throwing relief prospects, including Aumont, Justin De Fratus, and B.J. Rosenberg, got some much-needed experience late in the season and each showed promise. Josh Lindblom, acquired from the Dodgers with Martin in the Victorino deal, struggled upon his arrival but finished strong. Spending some money on a free agent setup man, such as Mike Adams, Jason Grilli, or Koji Uehara could make sense.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
3 Setup Man
4 LF or RF
5 Starting Pitcher
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS