Every season, regardless of where the Phillies are in the standings, I find myself – as sell as many others – wondering how they can improve themselves when the off-season comes 'round. Usually, these are fleeting thoughts that amount to nothing, but it’s an interesting process nonetheless, and I like to see how close I can come to guessing next season’s roster.
Free Agency Wish List
And now that November is here, it's open season on free agents and that means that maybe some of those thoughts can come to fruition, as the team re-arms for another run in 2012.
Ruben Amaro and his staff have already begun to put the framework of next season’s team in place, starting with former Phillie Jim Thome, who will serve as first baseman/pinch hitter from the left side of the plate. All the while, rumors persist that the Phillies are in pursuit of Thome's Minnesota Twins teammate, Michael Cuddyer, who can play both corner outfield spots, as well as first.
That said, there is a long way to go until Opening Day, and with the Winter Meetings still a few weeks away, we can assume that we aren’t close to anything really serious going down. And until the 25-man roster is decided, all we can do is speculate. And that is exactly what I’ve done, as I’ve cobbled together my free agent wish list of the players that I’d like to see the Phillies go after in the coming weeks and months…
Jimmy Rollins, SS: The longest tenured Phillie is also the one free agent that they can least afford to lose. Jose Reyes, who is younger and more dynamic, would give the team a shot of youth and energy, but he is going to come with a hefty cost and a sketchy injury history, which leaves the veteran and 2007 MVP Rollins as the smart buy.
Despite his own injury concerns over the last few seasons, the 32-year-old is among the best defensive shortstops in the game and is more than capable with the lumber. He isn't likely to hit 30 home runs or have an on-base percentage north of .350, but when you consider cost and overall production, he is their best bet to fill the shortstop position in 2012.
Joe Nathan, CP: My thoughts on closing pitchers, if you are not already familiar, go like this: They're practically useless unless their name is Mariano Rivera. That's not to say that they aren't good or effective, but all told, they are overpriced and overvalued because of implication of the “closing” part. And with Ryan Madson garnering a ton of attention from a number of teams who are willing to pony up for the cost of saves, it's quite likely that the Phillies are going to fill the ninth inning role elsewhere, especially in light of Amaro publicly stating that he has little confidence in their internal options.
That puts the Phillies in a very dangerous spot, given that free agent closers are a very, very risky endeavor for any club. With the likes of Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell on the market, it could result in another contract like the one that was given to Brad Lidge in 2008, when he signed a three-year extension worth 36 million dollars that turned out to be a sunk cost.
With Nathan, the Phillies would be taking on a player who would come at a fairly low cost, as he is just over a year removed from Tommy John Surgery, and as such, very low risk, as his contract – in dollars and years - would be team-friendly. At the same time, they'd be getting a player who was, pre-surgery, one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2004, Nathan has a 2.27 ERA and a 10.7 K/9 rate in 542 innings. Despite struggling a bit in 2011, a not terribly surprising turn of events considering his injury, he can be expected to rebound for 2012, assuming he is completely healthy.
This would put the Phillies in a position where their bullpen is constructed with young arms and cost-effective veterans, while not sacrificing production in the late innings.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B: Even though Placido Polanco is on the hook for another season at the hot corner, his injuries in both 2010 and 2011 have brought into question his durability in the batter's box, and whether or not he can be a viable offensive player over the course of an entire season. While Polly was very effective while healthy, his production suffered tremendously while he played through injuries, which all but stripped him of his power and ability to drive the ball.
Under most circumstances, having a slick fielding third baseman who hits only for average wouldn't be a tragedy, as he could be hidden in the back end of the lineup. However, the Phillies don't have that luxury, thanks to a lack of power due to Ryan Howard's injury and the question mark that is Chase Utley's knee, leaving only Hunter Pence and (maybe) Shane Victorino as the long ball threats in the lineup. With the addition of Ramirez, the Phillies would be adding a bat to the lineup that's averaged over 20 homers per season and a line of .292/.357/.510 since 2007, while not sacrificing defense at third.
The move would also serve as a method to preserve Chase Utley, as he could play first base, when needed, while Polanco moves back to second base, a position that he has played for most of his career. When Howard comes back, Polanco could serve to be a super-sub at second and third, while serving as a pinch-hitter. It makes the team deeper and more suited for the long haul, as the veteran players can get a much needed rest when necessary.
Of course, there are a myriad of other moves that the Phillies need to make and roster holes that need to be filled, like a second lefty in the ‘pen, and a suitable back-up catcher, but these three moves would address the biggest moves that the club would need to make in the early part of the off-season.