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The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Offseason Predictions

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Phillies Offseason Predictions

Around this time for the last several years, we’ve done a segment on RCN Sports Talk  with all of our panelists making predictions on what moves the Phillies would make during the offseason. I can happily boast that most of my September suggested acquisitions (including Raul Ibanez, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, and Jim Thome) have come true during the following winter. (Full-disclosure: Most of those ‘correct predictions’ haven’t always worked out too well—like Adams and Thome). Nevertheless, with Ryne Sandberg now officially the Phillies’ Manager for 2014, I’d like to give my annual “Six-Step Offseason Game Plan” for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and company to consider for the upcoming months.

The Phillies desperately need a solid, right-handed #3 starter to begin the 2014 season. Sandberg has said in multiple publications that the team’s number one goal for next year is to improve the starting pitching. As the prize starting pitcher in this year’s free agent market, Garza will not be cheap. However, the Phillies’ starters not named Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee sported a collective ERA well north of 4.50 this year. Also, with Lee turning 35-years old during the next season, the Phillies need another quality, reliable starting arm for any kind of playoff run. Ricky Nolasco or James Shields might be the only other free agent pitchers that I would “settle” for, but all three names are going to command big bucks and a long-term deal. So for my money (and it’s not), I would spend the lion-share of my available budget by going after Garza.

Not since Jayson Werth migrated to Washington  have the Phillies had a reliable, middle-of-the-order bat to compliment Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (more on the latter in a moment). I saw Darin Ruf play quite a bit in Triple-A and with the Phils and saw the same issue. He needs to gain consistency in laying off low-and-away breaking pitches. I think it’s very possible he improves in this area, but believe it would be a mistake at this time to pencil him in as an everyday outfielder. With Dom Brown and a weak-throwing Ben Revere in the other spots, you need a better defensive outfield option to play every day. The problem is: How do you acquire a Giancarlo Stanton-type of player without having to sell the farm? I DON’T think they should give up on their extra depth by going after Stanton. That’s why I believe Philadelphia will try to sign Mike Morse—a player they’ve coveted in the past coming off a down year. Ruf could be insurance should Howard or Brown go down with an injury (both have spent time on the DL the last two years) and also in case Morse continues his slide.

ALTERNATE ‘STEP #2’ (DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH OR A DIE-HARD FAN OF A SPECIFIC PHILLIES PLAYER): There is another possibility how the Phillies could add another bat for the lineup, but it would probably involve trading away a “core player.” I know the Phillies are high on both free agent outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, but signing either presents a problem. Ellsbury is another left-handed bat on a team already top-heavy from that side of the plate. Choo is right-handed but not the “power bat” the team needs to add. In an offseason where the team needs to get creative to improve the club (and their outfield defense as well), don’t be surprised if one of these players are added. However, the signing of Ellsbury or Choo would require a higher-end player (either in salary or prospect status) to be dealt to free up either cap or roster space, while still addressing the team’s other needs.

Even if you DON’T like the idea of “Chooch” returning, consider the following – the Phillies’ 2014 starting catcher must:
1) Be right-handed
2) Handle pitchers well
3) Not be over the age of 36
Looking at all available free agents, those three requirements eliminate just about every free agent but Ruiz. I doubt Boston  will let Jarrod Saltalamacchia go and don’t think you can sign Brian McCann away from Atlanta. Even if you could sign the latter, you’d have way too many left-handed hitters. A.J. Pierzynski is too old to count on to catch 140 games. Dioner Navarro, although he rakes left-handed pitching, is not a steady defensive-minded backstop and will finish with a lower batting average than Ruiz. This might be the area the Phillies look long and hard to find a partner via the trade market, and would consider jettisoning away some of their young prospects. Unless they can find a quality backstop elsewhere, look for Ruiz to re-sign a one- or two-year deal.

Despite the improved bullpen during the last two months of this season, I would not go into next season without a proven—and injury-free—reliever to help out in the back end of the bullpen. The Phillies have been fooled for two years now in thinking the younger players will fill-in all the available holes. Although I would now count on BJ Rosenberg, Jake Diekman and Justin DeFratus for roster spots in 2014, I would not assume they, nor any player coming off an injury, should be counted on for the eighth inning role. Again, it might be pricey. I would target a guy like Joe Smith from Cleveland, who boasts a career 2.98 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP (as of 9/18). I would estimate a three-year, $15- to $18-million deal to get this done.

This might be the most emotionally-draining move of the off-season. With Miguel Gonzalez already signed for next year (and without anyone seeing him throw a pitch in the last several months), I don’t know how anyone could target him any higher than a #4 pitcher. It leaves room for just one of these two right-handers. Halladay is a Hall of Famer and was one of the premiere pitchers in the game for the last decade. However, his velocity actually decreased in his last outing at home and he didn’t show signs of making a strong adjustment with his new arm slot. Coming off a major injury, it will be hard for the Phillies to commit big dollars to him, unless Doc gives a big-time hometown discount and agrees to a heavily incentive-filled deal. Kendrick has been frustratingly inconsistent through his Phillies career and, until the last 15 games of this season, has been amazingly resilient health-wise. He was injury-free during his Phillies-tenure before having shoulder problems in September. He might cost $8 million to occupy the #5 spot in your rotation. But with young starters Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan also coming off injury issues, you need to have another arm ready to be available to go for spring training.

This was one of former Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick’s strengths: try to find someone who other people have given up on, give him an incentive-laden deal, and hope he performs for you. That’s where Amaro’s scouts will have to dig deep to find a low-risk, high-reward type of player who could either help out in the rotation or as a long-man out of the bullpen. If there’s one thing the Phillies painfully learned this year it was that just because you have a quality starting rotation heading into spring training, doesn’t mean it will STAY quality all season long. A little extra pitching depth is a requirement and could go a long way in helping the 2014 Phillies.

As hinted at with “Step #2”, it may not be possible to make all these moves without unloading salary, which brings us to the possibility of the Phillies trading Howard or Papelbon. Although it may not be probable, I would bet that Amaro will explore trade possibilities involving both of these players. If they do, following the above advice would help cover the team’s weakness should one or both players get moved.

What do you think of my offseason Phillies agenda? Which players do you think Philadelphia will—or should—add? Post a comment here and let us know in what direction the Phillies should go.