I’m writing this on the day after the Philadelphia Phillies ended the most successful regular season in franchise history with one of their most devastating playoff losses. The team of the “Fantastic Four”, the “Four Aces”, lost to the Saint Louis Cardinals last night, at home, by a 1-0 score. Shutout by Chris Carpenter and sent packing for the winter, where do the Fightin’ Phils go from here?
Let’s begin with the basics. Who will be back in 2012, who will not be back, and what are the biggest question marks as far as the current players on the roster. After that we can do a little gazing into a crystal ball to see who, if anyone, GM Ruben Amaro might target in the Hot Stove League.
The list of who will be back begins with Amaro himself, who is signed to a contract through the 2015 season, and whose time with the team must be considered nothing short of a complete success. As the Assistant GM to now MLB Hall of Famer Pat Gillick and former GM Ed Wade, he was highly influential in building the 2008 World Series champions. As the GM, he has made bold moves that have kept the club in strong contention.
Next on the list of those coming back is manager Charlie Manuel, who signed an extension taking him through the 2013 season. Manuel’s steady hand and generally easy-going manner endear him to today’s ballplayer. He is the club’s all-time winningest manager. He led the team to that 2008 World Series. Unless the soon to be 68-year old finds his tenure cut short by health, he will man the helm for at least two more years.
On the field, those returning include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, John Mayberry Jr, Michael Martinez, and Domonic Brown. Every one of those players will be returning and will make up the bulk of the Phillies position players on offense and defense for the 2012 season.
On the mound, returning will be Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Vance Worley, Joe Blanton, Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, David Herndon, Michael Stutes, and Michael Schwimer. Hamels has a club option that the Phillies are certain to pick up, and he will likely be the target of a club attempt at a long-term contract this off-season.
This takes us to the question marks among the current crop of players, and there are a handful of big ones as well as a couple of smaller but possibly important ones as well. These players include Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Brian Schneider, Wilson Valdez, Ben Francisco, and Kyle Kendrick. Let’s take the biggest names one at a time.
Jimmy Rollins has been the heart and soul of this franchise for at least a half dozen years. It’s senior member, ‘JRoll’ has been a Phillie his entire career, which began really with his first full season back in 2001. He was the 2007 NL MVP when his proclamation that the Phillies, not the then-powerhouse New York Mets, were the “team to beat” in the NL East proved prescient.
The arguments to bring back Rollins are emotional. He is the acknowledged leader. There is not a single fan who grew up as or became one in the past decade who can imagine the Phillies without JRoll at shortstop. Thing is, I’ve already been here, done this. I went through the same with Larry Bowa almost 30 years ago. The day will come, and that day may indeed be here.
The rub with Rollins will be the contract. He is a free agent for the first time in his career, and he is well aware that this will be his final shot at big bucks. He can still spark a team as shown by his 16 homeruns and 30 steals, and he was perhaps the team’s best hitter in the 2011 playoffs. But he turns 33 years old next month. How many years, and how much money, do you give the guy? And how much of that is for what he has done, rather than what you believe he will do?
My guess is that Jimmy Rollins will be looking for at least a 3-year contract worth at least $40 million overall. At least that, and he is rumored to be seeking a 5-year deal. Freddy Galvis is the Phillies organization minor league Player of the Year. He turns 22 years old next month. He is already considered Major League-ready with the glove, an exceptional defender. He would probably be an all-glove, little-hit guy for at least a couple seasons. I am guessing that he is the Phillies 2012 starting shortstop, and that we are watching the final weeks of the JRoll era.
Roy Oswalt is another toughie. He just turned 34-years old last month, and the club has a $16 million option for 2012. A couple months ago, it looked like his balky back might lead him to retirement, especially if he could go out on top with a championship. But he got healthy, said he felt great at the end of the season, had his fastball popping again, and is looking to return. It says here that starting pitchers of his experience and pedigree do not grow on trees, and that the Phils should pickup that option and bring back the “Four Aces” intact for one more shot at the brass ring.
Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge have been at the core of the Phillies back-end bullpen for the past four years. The iconic scene of Lidge dropping to his knees after his strikeout and perfect season clinched the 2008 World Series will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of the team and it’s fans. He will get free dinners around this town, justifiably, for decades. But his time is likely up. The club has an $11.5 million option on him for 2012, but with Lidge turning 35 in December, and a bunch of young relievers ready, that money can be spent better elsewhere.
Madson is a far more interesting situation. He is a free agent. His agent is Scott Boras. He will definitely be looking for big money as a closer with some team. He has been a career-long Phillie, and did a strong job for the club in his first full season as the full-time closer this past year. At age 31, he should still have a few strong years in his right arm. My guess is that he is going to look for a 4-5 year deal in the $50 million range. That might be difficult for the club to take on. But if they really believe that he is a shutdown closer, it might also prove to be money well spent. I call it 50-50 on Mad Dog returning.
Brian Schneider is a good, reliable, talented backup catcher. Same on Wilson Valdez as a backup infielder. Both should be back if they don’t price themselves out of town, which is doubtful. Ben Francisco, despite his big NLDS pinch-homer, is likely gone. He is eligible for arbitration, but the club saw enough from Mayberry and thinks highly enough of Brown to make Big Ben disposable. I say they don’t offer arbitration here. The final question then is Kyle Kendrick, also arbitration eligible. Another one that I see as 50-50. He has grown, has some talent, could start for many teams. He may be a trade piece.
So it says here that your 2012 Phillies will have an infield of Howard-Utley-Galvis-Polanco, Chooch behind the plate, the Flyin’ Hawaiian in centerfield, Pence in right, and a platoon of Mayberry/Brown in left. Michael Martinez wilil be the main man off the bench, both Schneider and Valdez back for depth. I also believe the club may look at bringing in a big bopper-type veteran bat to come off the bench, though they may start the season as-is and try to add that in-season.
In 2012, your rotation will be the same as this year: Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt, Worley. You might see Joe Blanton and/or Kyle Kendrick back if the decision is made not to keep Oswalt. You also might see one or both of them dealt away. Hard to imagine the club bringing all 7 back again if healthy. The pen will be Contreras, Bastardo, Stutes, Schwimer and Herndon, and I believe the club either brings back Madson, or signs a proven shutdown free agent closer such as Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell.
You will definitely be saying goodbye for good to Raul Ibanez and the werewolf chants. I wouldn’t expect to see Ross Gload coming back either. I also wouldn’t expect to see Ruben Amaro Jr pull another rabbit out of his hat this winter. His most important work will be signing Hamels to a longterm extension, and making the difficult Rollins, Madson, and Oswalt decisions.
The Philadelphia Phillies won the NL East in 2007, and have now won the division title five straight years. They won the World Series in 2008, and have won more regular season games each year since winning that crown. They have proven to be a great team. But a combination of age and contracts are catching up to them, at least to the point where change will come. They have shown to this point that they can weather the changes and keep on winning and contending, but this will most definitely be the most interesting winter yet.
NOTE: After the writing of this article, it was learned that an injury suffered by Ryan Howard in last night’s Game #5 loss was possibly one that will keep him out for all or a significant portion of the 2012 season. If that is the case, Mayberry is your 1st baseman, Brown gets a full shot in left field, and it may mean new life for Ben Francisco if the Phils want a platoon or depth option. More needs to be learned about Howard’s injury going forward, but this one hurts – literally and figuratively.