The 10 Biggest Questions the Philadelphia Phillies Must Answer This Offseason
After the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies went 81-81, the 2013 season had three and only three possible outcomes.
And to borrow from Woody Hayes' infamous dismissal of the forward pass, two of those outcomes would be bad.
From .500, the 2013 Phillies could only go over .500 (good), .500 again (not so good) or under .500 (bad).
In winning only 73 games, the 2013 Phillies overachieved in the worst sense—they were a good deal worse than anyone thought possible.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. thus enters the most difficult offseason of his tenure.
How he answers the following 10 questions will probably determine whether he retains his job after the 2014 season.
1. What Will the Phillies Do with Ryan Howard?
Ryan Howard is guaranteed $25 million from the Phillies in each of the next three seasons.
The $10 million buyout the Phillies will almost certainly exercise after 2016 brings the money he is certain to receive to a cool $85 million.
Howard's last 151 games were not awful. He hit 25 home runs, drove in 99 runs, hit 31 doubles and slugged in the mid-.700's.
Unfortunately, those 151 games and those numbers were compiled over two seasons.
Can the Phillies really platoon Ryan Howard in 2014?
As awful as he is against left-handed pitching, can they afford not to?
2. Can the Phillies Find a Taker for Jonathan Papelbon?
Signing Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract after the 2011 season was probably a mistake when the Phillies did it.
Two years later, through no fault of Papelbon's, the Phillies need to get rid of him.
The 2014 Phillies do not figure to generate enough save chances to maximize Papelbon's value. The Phillies should trade him (eating some of his money, probably) to a needy contender or a team with very deep pockets.
3. Do the Phillies Care If Jimmy Rollins Plays His Whole Career in Philadelphia?
Jimmy Rollins is entering the final year of his latest three-year contract extension after putting up some of the most anemic offensive numbers of his career.
To put Rollins' 2013 into proper context:
- His six home runs were the fewest he has hit in a season since he became the team's starting shortstop in 2001
- Unsurprisingly, his slugging percentage (.348) was also the lowest of his career
- He drove in fewer runs (39) in 160 games in 2013 than he did (41) in 88 games in 2010
- His 65 runs scored was the lowest number he has ever posted in a full season
Ordinarily you would project a contract year bounceback from Rollins, but his contract extension has a vesting option that he looks nearly certain to trigger. He only needs 434 plate appearances in 2014 to get there; he had 666 plate appearances in 2013.
So the Phillies need to decide whether to trade Rollins now for whatever they can get and live with a cheaper option like Freddy Galvis at shortstop, or whether it really matters to them to see Rollins retire having only played as a Phillie.
For his part, Rollins seems content to stay and mark up the franchise's record books.
Is that really what the Phillies need to be worrying about right now?
4. Where Should the Free-Agent Dollars Go?
It is sad to say it, but the Phillies have to be mighty relieved that Roy Halladay's $20 million contract is off their books going forward.
Carlos Ruiz made $5 million last season, and the Phillies paid about $5 million to Michael Young before offloading him to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That $30 million may not be worth what it used to be, but it is still a healthy chunk of change.
Will the Phillies make another splashy veteran signing like Nelson Cruz? Will they make a run at a risky pitcher like Matt Garza?
One thing seems certain: The Phillies cannot afford not to spend some money in free agency this offseason.
5. Is Cody Asche a Credible Major League Starter at Third Base?
The Phillies began 2013 understanding that Michael Young was a temporary solution at third base.
Young's reputation was that of a shaky fielder with a good bat. He proved that reputation to be half-right; he did not catch the ball too well and he did not hit it too far, either.
By the end of the season Young was gone and Cody Asche was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take over at third base.
Asche did not play poorly, but his .235 average with five home runs in a bit less than two months of action did not exactly announce him as a franchise cornerstone.
And as you can see from the action shot above, he's as lefthanded as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere are.
Would the Phillies consider sending Asche back to the minors for more work, signing a one-dimensional right-handed slugger like Mark Reynolds to play third base?
6. After Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, Who Will Be in the Starting Rotation?
The Phillies still boast one of the best one-two pitching combinations in all of baseball with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Beyond them, though, the Phillies have a whole lot of nothing in their rotation.
Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, John Lannan, Tyler Cloyd and others at the back end of the rotation often gave the 2013 Phillies little chance to win.
The Phillies certainly hope that Miguel Angel Gonzalez can step into the rotation. But the comparatively inexpensive contract he accepted suggests that he is either not ready or just not that good.
Which probably means that about 60 percent of the Phillies' 2014 starts are still unclaimed.
7. Is There Any Value in Re-Signing Roy Halladay?
As I have written before, in my opinion the Phillies got full value for every dollar they paid Roy Halladay over the past four seasons.
He won 40 games in the first two years of the deal. He won one Cy Young Award and was runner-up for a second. He pitched a perfect game in the regular season and a no-hitter in the playoffs. He was money.
Halladay was worse in 2012 and significantly worse in 2013. If his name was Jose DeJesus, this probably would not even be a discussion.
But this is Roy Halladay. He was clearly not healthy in 2013. If he can get healthy, would it be worth taking a now much more inexpensive chance on his determination and professionalism?
Or is he just done?
8. How Can This Awful Bullpen Be Fixed?
The Phillies signed Mike Adams last season with the hope that he would deliver dozens of late leads to Jonathan Papelbon's waiting arms. It made sense at the time.
After Adams got hurt, though, the Phillies once again had to resort to a sort of reliever Russian roulette. Can Jake Diekman get three outs? What about B.J. Rosenberg? Does Joe Savery have anything tonight?
A look at this free-agent list sets forth handfuls of potential signings who might shore up the Phillies bullpen.
Whomever they choose to sign in the offseason, suffice it to say that the Phillies cannot leave Clearwater in March 2014 with the same bullpen that repeatedly let them down in 2013.
9. Who Is Going to Catch?
There is no way to know right now who will be catching for the Phillies in 2014.
Carlos Ruiz's contract is up. He wants to stay, more than a little bit it seems. The Phillies have to decide whether re-signing a catcher who will turn 35 in January makes any sense at all.
Even if they re-sign Ruiz, though, the Phillies will need to find a decent second catcher, particularly since Cameron Rupp could use more time in the minors and former can't-miss catching prospects Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle are now enormous question marks.
Ruiz has missed more than 30 games due to injury in each of the last two seasons. That does not count the 25 games he missed due to a banned substance-based suspension at the start of 2013.
The Phillies are not a good enough team to overcome a huge hole behind the plate.
10. How Can the Phillies Keep You Coming Back to Watch This Team?
The Phillies are sadly stuck between the prudent course of a full rebuild and the exigent need to win right now.
Citizens Bank Park was a rocking joint for the playoff runs of 2007-2011. Phillies fans stuck with the team in 2013, too. The Phillies tiptoed past three million in attendance in 2013.
The 2014 Philadelphia Phillies will feature the following players prominently: Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.
Your heart will want you to believe that they are all still the outright studs of the Phillies' playoff dynasty.
But your head will know that all of them are headed downhill if they are not nearing the bottom already.
Do you have one more season of watching this nucleus in you? The Phillies are counting on it.