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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sorting Through the Rubble of the Phillies’ Collapse: Now what?

          My effort to sort through the rubble of the Phillies’ collapse yesterday became so long that I decided to break it into two parts. Moving forward is really all they can do, and playing GM is about all sports fans in Philadelphia have left do until playoff hockey and opening day roll around. (Thanks Andy Reid, David Stern, and the NBA players.)

          As I wrote at the end of Part I of this post, I like that Ruben Amaro Jr. has already come out and said that the Phillies need to change their approach at the plate. It wasn’t even a veiled criticism of Ryan Howard as he later said on 97.5 The Fanatic that he was “angry” that the slugger flied out on a 3-0 count late in Game 5 against St. Louis.

          Before Amaro’s comments, rumor were already surfacing that the Phillies and Charlie Manuel are less than thrilled with Howard as a “student of the game,” and my guess was that his Achilles injury would keep him out for the 2012 season anyway. Although Ruben Amaro Jr. refuted that on Tuesday.

          I’m not ready to bury Howard like many others, but he’ll be entering the huge extension he got a while back next season. He’s now completely untradeable, and I don’t think the Phillies go sign another big name to replace him, especially if they think he’s going to be back in June as Amaro said. They’re not going to want to pay two “clean-up hitters” at the same time.

          Hoping Howard can change his approach at the plate is a waste of time. I think what they should try to do is surround him with players who have the right approach and hope Howard can adjust just a little bit without giving up his home run production. Even if he fails, I think the Phillies can be contenders if the hitters around him take the right approach.

          The first step in that process may be the harshest. I would trade Cliff Lee.

          I know I’ll get ripped for such blasphemy. People in Philadelphia were ready to have the World Series parade last December when he was re-acquired, and I was completely onboard. The problem is, we won’t be having the real one this fall.

          I’m not suggesting “getting rid of Lee.” I’m saying he is an asset within an amazing pitching staff that could bring 2 or 3 players who can help the Phillies win now, and you’re pitching staff would still be very, very good. Even if Roy Oswalt retires, they have Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in baseball, and Cole Hamels, one of the best, and a very solid-to-good pitcher in Vance Worley. It’s easily conceivable that Lee brings another decent pitcher in a trade along with other players.

          Hamels is up for his last year of arbitration, and he’s the ace with the long-term future. He’s the “A number 1” guy they need to sign for multiple years.

          The closer role may be the second biggest question after Howard. I don’t think they’re going to be able to do it all (though they certainly have been trying in recent years), and I’m guessing Ryan Madson signs elsewhere. I still would not pick up Brad Lidge’s option, and instead would go after a Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, or Jose Valverde type closer. They won’t all get huge deals, and the Phillies do have Jose Contreras under contract. I’m not suggesting they make him the opening day closer if he’s healthy, but he at least strengthens the bullpen.

          In the name of having the right approach at the plate, I would not bring back Jimmy Rollins (for reasons beyond disliking him). He’s not the prototypical leadoff hitter. He swings for the fences, doesn’t even comprehend the need to take pitches (via Twitter in response to criticism for swinging at the first pitch, he said, “so I guess being 0-1 is better than swinging at that 1st cookie @ 97?!”), and he’s lost a step. He wants five years on his new contract, and I don’t want another potential albatross (Howard?) around the team’s neck.

          I know everybody hates Jose Reyes, but I would consider going after him as a free agent. He’s a potential locker room nightmare, but he’s the perfect replacement on the field for Rollins. He’ll only be 29 in June, batted .337, and stole 39 bases last year. If the Phillies are the big spenders of the NL now, he’s the guy they go get.

          If that fails, they at least have Wilson Valdez to play shortstop, or I have to assume signing Michael Martinez to do the same wouldn’t be difficult. In both cases, I’d let Shane Victorino leadoff. He is signed through next season, and they should look at signing him to an extension after other deals are done.

          Raul Ibanez has gone from 34 home runs batting .272 in 2009, 16 and .275 last year, to 20 and .245 in the regular season this year. In the playoffs this year, he had 1 homer and batted .200. He’ll be 40 years old in June. He’s a free agent, and it’s time to see what Dominic Brown and/or John Mayberry can do every day.

          Placido Polanco batted .277 this season, and dropped to .105 in the playoffs. But he also batted .207 in last year’s playoffs. Of course, he had a hernia this season, and he’s signed anyway. So they have to hope he can stay healthy or get a better option at third if they traded Lee and play him off the bench.

          Hunter Pence has two years of arbitration left. Obviously they will let that play out this year. The pitchers love Carlos Ruiz, and he’s fine for another year. Utley is signed long-term, and he seems ok with his knee issues from earlier this season.

          It will at least be an interesting winter watching what the Phils do – it just started waaaaay too soon. (And, yes Jimmy, I am being critical.)

1 comment:

John Ziff said...

Getting Reyes would be a big mistake. His me-first attitude wouldn't fit with this team.