The Crow’s Nest: When History Repeats

 

By Barry Jeffrey Jr.Phillies logo

Another Fall has led to another fall.  A fall that has Phillies fans everywhere trying to recover from broken dreams. For the second year in a row, the best team in baseball failed to live up to the hype and the faith that the Phillies fans put into them. Unlike last year however, this team did not even make it to the National League Championship Series versus Milwaukee.

For a team picked by many to be World Series Champions the results of this season can only be considered an abject failure by any who follow them.  This team was supposed to be built specifically for the playoffs.  Four ace pitchers, playoff savvy position players, and a winning atmosphere in the clubhouse.  The game is not played on paper, as much as the stats people like to think it is, it’s on the field where everything is decided.

When the pitching started to get shaky, an aging and failing offense was not good enough to overcome the adversity the team was faced with.  The St. Louis Cardinals took advantage of this with patient at bats making the Phillies vaunted starters throw numerous pitches during innings.  There was some luck involved with some of the bloop hits but hey like the old adage says, it is good to be lucky.

Luck isn’t all there was to the series though. The Cardinals were a pretty good team in their own right, with the best player in baseball and the comeback player of the year in their lineup.  They also got big series out of their lesser players who stepped up in a huge way. Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot are not thought of in the same breath as Pujols, Berkman, and Matt Holliday (who played injured for the series) but they sure hit like them.

Yadier Molina also was a big factor on both the offensive and defensive sides.  With respects to our beloved Carlos Ruiz, Molina is the best defensive catcher in the National League, if not in all of baseball, and the Phillies found it out as he negated a lot of their running game when they were on base by throwing out several runners trying to steal.  The Cardinals also got some big game pitching out of their bullpen, half of whom were newcomers to the team or their roles. The Cardinals starters did enough to keep their team in the games after Game 1, something which only Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay seemed to be able to do for the Phillies.

Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard seem to be getting most of the blame for the loss. They do have some responsibility but the team as a whole is to blame.  Anyone who disagrees does not know what they are talking about.  The entire team did not show up as a team and got beat by a team that did.  Hitting, base running, defense, pitching, there were costly mistakes made in all facets of the game and it was not just one or two players making them.  This was a team wide self-destruction, not a major one ala the Braves or Red Sox, but enough to make them golfers instead of baseball players.

This team now has some major holes.  The offense is aging and there still are no major replacements at any of the high minor league levels for the position players. The bench was abysmal and the relief corps was hit with injuries and inconsistency from everyone but Ryan Madson at one point or another during the year.

Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Madson, Brian Schneider, and Ross Gload are free agents, Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge will most likely both be bought out, and Ryan Howard’s torn Achilles tendon means his status is up in the air for at least the beginning of next season.  Jose Contreras’ status is up in the air as well after arm surgery.

Jimmy Rollins has been telling everyone he will not give a home town discount and he wants a 5 year deal with a lot of zeros and with some of his comments towards the end of the season and playoffs it sounds like he is not going to return. Several rumors have the Giants being heavily interested once free agency starts.

Other rumors have the Braves, Nationals, Rays, and Mets having an interest.  It is unlikely the Rays will pay anything close to what Rollins is asking for and the Mets will probably be focusing on their own free agent Jose Reyes.  Giants may have an advantage in that they are close to Rollins home town and are probably crazy enough to come close to the years he wants.

For the Phillies they do have Freddy Galvis but he is not major league ready and only last year did he show that he can actually hit, though even at his best I cannot see him coming close to being the offensive player Rollins was.  The Phillies will need a stopgap at short if Rollins leaves. I know some are clamoring for Jose Reyes, but I do not see the Phillies getting him.  You have a better chance of seeing Albert Pujols in a Phillies uniform than Reyes.

I think Astros free agent Clint Barmes might be the type of player we might see because he won’t be too expensive, won’t take a large number of years, and he has some offense and his defense is passable.  He can also play other positions so if Galvis shows he really is ready you can always move Barmes to second or third.  I would have loved JJ Hardy here but the Orioles locked him up before the season was even over.  Another I would love to see Starlin Castro but being young, controllable, cheap, and coming off a 200 hit season there is probably no way the Cubs part with him.  So if Rollins does jump, our problem offense is taking a hit and being downgraded even more.

The questions surrounding Ryan Howard now are also mounting.  How much time will he miss, how much will this Achilles injury take from his seemingly deteriorating bat, and how his already average defense at first will be affected.  No one on this team has drawn the ire of the fans like Howard has either.  I myself am guilty of being dissatisfied with Howard’s production at first base and the albatross contract the Phillies are saddled with.  The injury means what little chance they may have had at moving him is probably non-existent now.

Some rumors going around are that Howard may still try to force the Phillies hand and demand a trade from what he perceives as being a possibly very hostile environment.  If he wants out the Phillies hands are tied in that not many teams can actually afford the contract he has and are willing to deal anything worthwhile for someone whose attributes are noticeably declining and is questionable because of a severe injury. Despite his not being an elite slugging firstbaseman anymore, losing Howard’s offense whether from a trade or the lost time from the injury it will hurt the Phillies.

John Mayberry, his likely replacement, has only had one full season in the majors.  Mayberry was a very nice surprise putting up good numbers between the three outfield positions and backing up at first base.  There are still some questions about Mayberry and how his bat would hold up if he plays every day and if he can adjust as pitchers will be adjusting to him, which has also been one of Howard’s biggest problems.  Mayberry playing first may also affect the production of leftfield where he was being penciled in to possibly be at least the right handed bat at that position.

Ibanez had a roller coaster of a year, one month looking like he belong in a retirement home, the next looking like an All Star. At 39 going on 40 it’s probable that Ibanez is about done as a full time player. Ibanez may disagree but history and Father Time are against him.  Word is the Phillies are actually debating bringing him back to be a part time option in leftfield again, which to me is pretty scary.  His bat speed and range in the outfield are only going to get worse and bringing him back you know he will be getting at bats over Dom Brown.

The former future of the franchise seems to have lost much of his luster to the organization having been forced to the minors after the acquisition of Hunter Pence and his subsequent falling apart at the AAA level.  When he was recalled in September he once again was left to rot on the bench while a handicapped Ross Gload and an awful John Bowker were getting at bats over him.  Many seem to forget Brown suffered the hamate bone injury during the spring and got off to a late start on the season.  Hamate injuries tend to zap the power of a player for about a year after the player gets them so Brown might bounce back this year.

One problem though is Brown is still trying to learn a position he never played before this year in leftfield.  Some around baseball think that the Phillies have really mishandled Brown’s development since his arrival to the big leagues last year.  I tend to agree with them and wonder if the team might try to move him to try and fix the holes as he is one of their more valuable commodities and their souring on him.  For an aging team that may be a very huge mistake.

Josh Willingham is a player the Phillies have had their eye on for awhile and maybe a player they might look at for left.  His offense has been very good with some power that would be a very nice addition to a lineup that at times was void of it and with their biggest power bat out of it might seem anemic next year. His drawback is his defense in leftfield is pretty subpar and he lacks range and ability to move well in the outfield.  Some of that might be because of the larger outfield in Oakland and he had some ankle woes but even before that he was not Garry Maddox in the outfield.

Not many of the other available outfielders really leap out at anyone though Angel Pagan, whom the Mets are said to be letting go, might be an option.  His defense in centerfield took a dive this year but Pagan still covered a lot of ground and he has experience playing both left and right so he has what most teams look for in a 4th outfielder.  His bat isn’t a total loss either, though some injuries helped to reduce his effectiveness in 2011.  He still has good speed and getting out of Citi Field would probably be a good thing for him.  He would be less expensive than Willingham and would give the Phillies a possible leadoff option if Rollins does leave and lets them keep Victorino lower in the line up where his bat would be more valuable.

Another name to look for is Matt Murton, who is most likely returning from Japan where he has had two really good seasons, including one where he broke Ichiro Suzuki’s record for hits.

Finally Michael Cuddyer is the biggest name that you may see mentioned.  Cuddyer makes a lot of sense in that he can step in and play several positions where the Phillies have a possible need.  He has played all 3 outfield spots, first, second, and third base. He has a very good at bat which will make him very much in demand.  He would be much more expensive than Willingham or any of the other options and he really does not want to leave Minnesota so it may be tougher to sway him into joining the Phillies.

A name that maybe a trade possibility is Logan Morrison. He officially filed a grievance over his demotion and it is well known he has clashed with both Marlins management and their star player Hanley Ramirez.  Acquiring him would give the Phillies more youth and his popularity among the Phillies fan base might get them a boost in revenue from merchandise sales. While it’s not likely the Marlins have traded within the division as last year’s Dan Uggla trade shows and they also did deal Mike Piazza to the Mets years ago.

Ryan Madson may be the most important of the Phillies free agents.  The former top set up man turned a major page in his career by finally being able to harness his ability and overcome the mental lapses he had being put into the closer role.  He saved 32 of 34 save opportunities and was dominant in almost every outing he appeared in.  With the Phillies going younger in the bullpen, having a veteran at the end anchoring it is probably something that is much needed.

Madson’s agent is Scott Boras so negotiations are probably going to be difficult.  Word is he wants at least 3 years but might be looking for 4.  I don’t see the Phillies going 4 but I can see them doing 3.  The bullpen next year looks like it is going to have Mike Stutes, Justin De Fratus, Mike Schwimer, Antonio Bastardo, and Kyle Kendrick as mainstays.

Another name most likely in the pen will be David Herndon who had a horrible start but after being sent down to AAA and recalled put up very good numbers.  The bullpen is most likely going to be the youngest part of the team as Phillipe Aumont, Austin Hyatt, and JC Ramirez may also get looks during the season.  Jose Contreras returning full strength may also be a major boost but at his age and given the injury it is probably not smart to count on him.

One thing that is definitely needed is a second lefty in the pen so Bastardo does not get worn down again like happened this season.  Joe Savery’s amazing return from bust status to minor league filler hitter to strong lefthanded pitcher may be the answer to the woes caused by JC Romero not being able to get the ball over the plate.  One bonus to carrying Savery is he can back up at first and in the outfield and even pinch hit if needed in games that go extra innings. Brad Lidge wants to return and it is possible that he might, if he takes a very large pay cut.  Lidge was successful using his smoke and mirrors this year but one has to wonder how long that will hold up.

The strongest point of the 2011 team may have a bit of a different look next year.  Roy Oswalt’s contract will likely be bought out after an injury plagued year. Oswalt would like to return but the Phillies do not want to pay $12 million for him to do it, so they will buy him out and he will probably have to take a pay cut to return.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels all return, Hamels getting a big raise through arbitration, and anchor the rotation.

Vance Worley stepped up huge during the season and will be back and Joe Blanton and his $8 million dollar contract is still around the Phillies necks as well.  Injuries destroyed Blanton’s season and that plus his contract will most likely make it impossible to move him as well.  He did throw the ball really well out of the bullpen and in spot start duty during September so maybe he can bounce back.  The jury remains out on that.

Austin Hyatt, JC Ramirez, and Kyle Kendrick might also get some time in the rotation depending upon injury or effectiveness.  A dark horse may be Trevor May, who seemed to take a huge step forward this year.  May is most likely a year and a half away but he thinks he is closer than that and depending upon how he does at Reading, he may be right.

Brody Colvin and the other young pitchers are like May and most likely are more than a year or two away.  CJ Wilson is most likely looking for an east coast team to go to but will command much more than the Phillies can probably spend on adding to their biggest strength with so many other parts needing attention, same with CC Sabathia who is apparently asking out of his deal with the Yankees.  Yu Darvish if he comes over will not be a Phillie. No way do they pay the posting fee then his contract demands.

If Oswalt will take a deal around $12 million for 2 years he may be brought back.  If Sabathia does ask out and with Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and AJ Burnett all free agents the Phillies may be able to peddle Blanton to them, especially if Phil Hughes’ arm is still shaky.  The Red Sox most likely will be looking for rotation help as will Cleveland.

They need to upgrade the bench which once again was abysmal.  Ross Gload led the league in pinch hits but injured his hip, lost all his power, and outright refused to go on the DL.  For a large part of the season he could not run which forced Charlie Manuel to pinch run for him, burning another player. He also could not play the field for stretches which hurt the team depth in that they had to carry a deadweight player. He is a free agent and it’s not known if the Phillies plan on bringing him back. His age of 36 and with the hip surgery being done it might be a good time to look elsewhere.

With Mayberry starting somewhere in all likelihood the bench loses its best hitter weakening it even more.  Ben Francisco, who went from starter to forgotten to playoff hero, steps in as the best bench bat.  This should tell you how bad the bench really is right now.  While Francisco put up some decent walk and on base numbers, his overall hitting and slugging took a major drop. He can play all 3 outfield positions but none of them well which takes away his value if he is used as a 4th outfielder.

Wilson Valdez returns as the utility infielder, a role for which he is pretty well suited.  He started out slowly but did have a good second half filling in for Polanco and Rollins when they were injured and somehow had amazing numbers with RISP.  His glove is above average and he has possibly the best infield arm on the team.  If he is the starting shortstop for the year the team is in trouble but as a bench player he is fine. Rule 5 pick Michael Martinez had very good versatility and some big moments but in the end may have been one of the worst hitters in the majors.  More than likely he is going to be the Iron Pigs starting secondbaseman.  Most Phillies fans hope so.

The bench might see Placido Polanco as the 2nd utility infielder on it next year.  After 2 injury plagued years and an absolutely horrid 2011 playoffs from Polanco the Phillies might be looking for a major upgrade at 3rd, which in turn would then make Polanco a very expensive back up.  He still made decent contact but had little extra base power (his sports hernia may have had some to do with it but age most likely had more say in the matter) so a contact pinch hitter/defensive replacement role may be what is best for him.

Other than either Aramis Ramirez (if he is available) or an out of the box (and out of leftfield) signing of Albert Pujols for 3rd base there is very little value at the position via free agency.  Kevin Kouzmanoff who has good power and a good glove, but doesn’t hit for average and has a very poor walk rate is probably the best of the group.

Casey Blake might have been someone to look at, but he is coming off a neck injury that has been said could be career threatening and he is even older than Polanco.  Chances are the Phillies would have to work out a trade if they deem Ramirez too expensive (Pujols is definitely going to cost a ton).  Problem is there is not a lot of value in the 3rd basemen who may be made available.

Scrap heap reclamation projects like Mark Teahen or Garret Atkins, and expensive busts like Chone Figgins or Juan Uribe most likely would not improve the team.  Trading for a David Wright or Chase Headley would, but both would cost a king’s ransom in prospects.  Lesser names that might be on the market are Josh Bell in Baltimore and Chris Johnson in Houston, both of who are intriguing but also not without questions. Casey Mcgehee possibly could be had as well but his regression this year is very troubling.

Two more names that you might see for the bench are Jim Thome, who might replace Gload and the ineffective Bowker as the big lefthanded bat and Aaron Rowand.  Both would love to play for Charlie Manuel again and Charlie would love to have both back.  Rowand will come very cheap due to San Fran still paying his salary this year and he had some major success as a pinch hitter before the Giants designated him for assignment.  You may also see Pete Orr return on a minor league deal, the Phillies loved his versatility and he fit well in the clubhouse. Cody Overbeck is another name that might see some time on the Phillies bench next season.

Brian Schneider had great numbers in pitching wins for starters he caught and he cut down on the passed balls allowed from the previous year and called good games behind the plate.  It was at the plate where he had his troubles, putting in his worst season ever offensively.  The Phillies may bring him back however just because of how well he worked with the pitchers, if not Eric Kratz might get a look as the backup catcher.

He has been a AAA all star the last 2 years due to his hitting.  He isn’t in Schneider or Ruiz’s league defensively but he wouldn’t be the worst backup catcher in the league.  The Phillies may go this route because Kratz would most likely make the Major League minimum salary wise.  Dane Sardinha is most likely gone.  Most Phillies fans deem that a positive.  Scott Proefrock will have to find someone else to call a great defensive catcher next year.

The Phillies have a lot of work cut out for them this offseason and may have to do a lot of juggling to fill all of the holes.  That includes their respective coaching staffs, which has already lost their AA manager Mark Parent and might also lose AAA manager Ryan Sandberg.  Bench coach Pete Mackanin is in the running for the Red Sox coaching vacancy and is rumored to be unhappy with his role on the Phillies and might leave as well.

The front office has lost Chuck Lamar and many think Ed Wade will be returning to take that role once he is fired in Houston.  Top to bottom, we might have a bit of a different Phillies team next year.  One thing we all are hoping for is that the results at the end of the season are much different.

One positive is, the last time the Phillies were beaten in the divisional series they won the World Series the following year.

Click here to comment and discuss on the PSC Phillies message board forum

Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.

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