Since becoming the Phillies general manager in 2009, Ruben Amaro has built a reputation around baseball on three things: Being aggressive, thinking outside of the box, and getting what he wants. This offseason, the challenge of configuring the Phillies and returning to elite status will be the biggest challenge he has met yet. He must weigh the small payroll flexibility the Phillies will have—already approximately $157.5 million committed to 2013 roster—with a $178 million Luxury Tax threshold they will not look to go over. In other words, if no changes are made the Phillies have approximately $20 million dollars to solve 3rd base, outfield, bullpen, and other miscellaneous roster spots. Amaro must find a way to turn water into wine with that $20 million dollars, and needs to be creative if the Phillies plan on playing this next time next year.
I have heard all kinds of ideas from everyone under the sun on how they would fix the Phillies, and truth be told know no one really has a plan that isn’t at least somewhat of a crapshoot. For every reason that an idea might be logical, there are probably ten reasons it is not. That being said, it is fun to speculate, brainstorm, and think about how our ideas would make the Phillies a better team in 2013. I have taken a lot of time observing the Phillies over the last 3 months especially to see what they had, what they were missing, and what they needed to change going forward. To do this, I had to try as best as I could to take my fandom out of the equation, and base my ideas on strictly how to make the Phillies a better team in 2013. Well, here it goes. This is obviously assuming these deals, signings, and ideas could be executed. Enjoy.
1. Trade Jimmy Rollins
Yes, I know 99% of you just simultaneously rolled your eyes and thought about closing this tab, but hear me out. Yes, Jimmy Rollins is still a top defensive shortstop. Yes, he still has years left in his tank to play good baseball, and yes he means a lot to Phillies’ baseball history. For the record, I love Jimmy Rollins and he in my mind still has the ability to be a very good player for at least a few more years.
Unfortunately, the current model does not work with Rollins. Sure, when Jimmy Rollins is “rolling”, the Phillies have a potent offense. I always hear people say, “When Jimmy Rollins goes, so do the Phillies.” The problem, however, is Jimmy Rollins doesn’t “go” consistently enough anymore for the Phillies to expect him to be the leadoff table-setter for a championship-caliber team. He’d be a good 6th hitter, but he is either here as the leadoff guy or not here because anything else would be too large of a hit to the former MVP’s ego. Even if he did move, is it really necessary to have an $11-million dollar guy filling your sixth spot in the order? No.
The Phillies are confident enough in Freddy Galvis ability to be an every day starter for them. Defensively there would be no drop off, and offensively Galvis would be good enough to bat every day in the 8th spot. For ideas on how to replace his offensive production, keep reading; for now, let’s assume that the Phillies would eat $3 million and thus have $28 million to work with total.
2. Trade For CF Peter Bourjos
Yes, I am bypassing the expensive list of free agent outfielders—Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn. Other options such as Cody Ross or Angel Pagan are more appealing, but they’re also likely to be overpaid. Though all of the above are solid players, all of them are going to be drastically overpaid for their combination of inconsistency, injuries and baggage. With that in mind, I would look to upgrade the outfield via a trade.
My first choice would be Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Peter Bourjos. Bourjos is coming off of a disappointing year where he had injury and health issues (intestine problems) and never could get in a groove. On top of that, the emergence of rookie sensation Mike Trout led to Bourjos being relegated to the bench in much of the second half. That being said, he’s got speed, defense and great upside as a “spark plug” type of hitter. In 2011, he led the AL in triples (11) and was considered one of the 4 or 5 best defensive centerfielders in baseball . He’s still under a $500,000 deal, and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2014. He would give the Phillies a young, under-control solid defensive CF who will only get better.
The price for him in a trade will not be much more than a mid-level prospect, and remember that the Phillies have a surplus of minor league pitchers, catchers, and outfielders they can move. This move leaves the Phillies with approximately $27 million in flexibility.
3. Trade for Troy Tulowitzki (A 3rd Baseman Who’s Technically a SS)
Rarely in baseball a team is willing to trade an elite player, a player who when healthy is a top 10 player in baseball. The Rockies have seemed to at least leave open the door to hear out other teams’ offers regarding Troy Tulowitzki, and the Phillies would be one of few teams that could financially make it happen. It would probably take a steep price to pry Tulowitzki away from the Rockies (Biddle, Valle, and more), but it’s a trade Phillies can do without completely exhausting their supply of minor league talent.
A big part of trading Pence and Victorino last season was to give the Phillies more assets to move going forward, which gives them the flexibility to make this kind of move. Yes, Tulowitzki is signed long-term on a lucrative deal, but the number for next season is only $10 million. Tulowitzki had injury problems this season (groin), but should be 100% for next season. To those of you worried about a commitment to a guy with injuries concerns, most of his injuries have been nagging, not major. A change of scenery would also do him good, and he would give the Phillies that elite right-handed bat they have been searching for since Jayson Werth.
For those of you saying Tulowitzki is not a third baseman, even if he stays with the Rockies they have internally discussed moving him there. His instincts, arm strength, and footwork would make his transition to 3rd easily doable. Once his contract goes up 2 seasons from now to $20 million, names like Utley and Halladay will be off of their current deals, making the situation financially manageable. This would leave the Phillies with $10 million dollars of flexibility for next season.
4. Take Advantage of the Weak Starting Pitching Market, Trade Kyle Kendrick
I know this may be another one many of you will scratch your heads on, but is Kyle Kendrick’s value ever going to be any higher? I doubt it. The reality is that with the rotation as is, Kendrick would be the number 4 or 5 starter on this team. The return for Kendrick in a weak free agent pitching market would be solid, and the Phillies can fill Kendrick’s role with Tyler Cloyd, B.J. Rosenberg, or a cheap, minimum contract pitcher like Aaron Cook.
Most importantly, the Phillies can use the $4.5 million owed to Kendrick next season to help sure up the pen. This would leave the Phillies with about $14 million dollars in flexibility for next season.
5. Bring Back Ryan Madson
This all depends obviously on the progress of Ryan Madson, who had elbow surgery during spring training of this past year. If Madson is healthy or at least available by early May I would consider signing him on an incentive-based one-year deal. Madson would be a great fit because of familiarity and could be really good bargain for an 8th-inning guy.
If he is not healthy, someone like Jason Grilli may be a name the Phillies think about. If we say the Madson deal is worth somewhere around $4 million next season, this leaves the Phillies with $10 million of flexibility under the luxury tax.
6. Fill out the roster: Sign Scott Hairston
Scott Hairston may be the most under the radar name on the free agent market this offseason. In 2012, Hairston had 20 home runs, and he is a super utility guy with the ability to play second and the outfield regularly. He could be a good platoon player with either Domonic Brown or more likely with Darin Ruf. He would likely cost about a $3 million on a one-year deal, leaving the Phillies with about $7 million in flexibility.
With these moves, here is the projected roster:
SP: Hamels, Lee, Halladay, Worley, Cloyd/Rosenberg
RP: Papelbon, Madson, Bastardo, Lindblom, De Fratus, Aumont, Stutes
C: Ruiz, Kratz
INF: Howard, Utley, Galvis, Tulowitzki, Frandsen
OF: Brown, Ruf, Bourjos, Hairston, Scheirholtz, Nix
Opening Day Lineup:
1. Utley (2B)
2. Bourjos (CF)
3. Tulowitzki (3B)
4. Howard (1B)
5. Ruiz (C)
6. Hairston/Ruf (LF)
7. Brown (RF)
8. Galvis (SS)
9. Hamels (P)
Yes, there are a lot of young players being counted on with this plan, but look to the teams still playing in October and realize it’s not that outlandish. Obviously it’s unlikely that this plan happens, but it gives you an idea of the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that will be needed to approach this offseason for the Phillies. This plan leaves the Phillies with about $7 million dollars to possibly tinker with the team at the deadline and see how this lineup/rotation/bullpen looks.
2012 should be a fun offseason, especially with Ruben Amaro Jr, because you never know what can happen.