Enjoy it while it lasts


I’ve been thinking for a couple of years now that the Phillies were likely to go into a steep decline due to the aging of their offense. I had the timing wrong – a year ago I reckoned that 2010 was going to be the last year a team based on the current core would make the playoffs. I didn’t see Cliff Lee coming, of course – I think very few people did – and that has made a big difference. But it’s not reasonable to expect that the aging process will permit the team to go on competing at such a high level.

Rany Jazayerli, an analyst whose writing I’ve often enjoyed, has done a good writeup of the Phils’ problems, which you can read at Grantland. Reading it made me start to think about what the Phillies might look like in 2012. I expect that Jazayerli’s piece raised a lot of hackles in Philly, but I basically agree with him.

Here are some predictions. Frankly, most of them are obvious. First the pitching, keeping in mind that Halladay and Lee are under contract beyond 2012:

  • Cole Hamels, who is arbitration-eligible, will be signed to a long term contract. This will be expensive.
  • It’s hard to know what to expect for Roy Oswalt because it depends on how he comes back from his lengthy DL stint this summer. I’m not sold on what I’ve seen so far from him, so I expect his option will be bought out. Still, since Amaro was able to schmooze Cliff Lee into a favorable contract, maybe he’ll figure out a way to bring Oswalt back on a similar basis.
  • Kyle Kendrick will go through arbitration, because he’s younger, cheaper and healthier than Oswalt or Blanton. He will get a raise, but nobody thinks he is an elite pitcher, so it won’t be a big one.
  • Vance Worley will join the rotation for good. And because he’s around, Blanton will be traded if healthy, and probably released if he can’t pitch.
  • Brad Lidge’s 2012 option will be bought out, unless he saves all of the Phils’ victories in the World Series this year.
  • Antonio Bastardo will get a big raise in arbitration, and Ryan Madson will be re-signed. Madson will be the closer.

So the rotation will be Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and some subset of Worley, Kendrick, Blanton, Oswalt and David Herndon (in rough order of probability). I don’t think that rotation will do better than what we’ve seen this year, and a decline is possible. The bullpen will not look different enough to notice unless José Contreras (signed through 2012 with an option for ’13) makes a comeback; however, there are some arms in the minors who could contribute. Call it a wash.

Now for the offense:

  • Raul Ibañez, whose contract is up after 2011, will be gone (duh!). So who will play left field? Domonic Brown is the heir apparent, but it’s not clear to me that he’s ready for The Show, so John Mayberry Jr., who will be 28 next year, hence probably at or near his peak, should get a good look. I think the Phils will trade Mayberry unless another starter goes down. Until then, perhaps he will be platooned with Brown, since they hit from opposite sides. Platoons have gotten awfully rare, but Charlie Manuel is old-school enough to at least consider it. Either player should be an upgrade over Ibañez.
  • Hunter Pence appears to be an obvious keeper – he has played so well since coming to Philly that it is hard to imagine that the Phils won’t try to sign him to a long term deal, probably 3-4 years for around $10M a year. I think he would get that much in arbitration anyway.
  • Jimmy Rollins’ case is the most difficult for me to predict. His contract is up, and his abilities are clearly diminishing, but he is one of the faces of the franchise. Moreover, there is no heir apparent in the Phils’ farm system, and no obvious free agent who could replace him at a reasonable cost (I’m ruling out José Reyes). I think the Phils will try to negotiate a short extension, 1-2 years, with Rollins, at a salary around $8M/year, and let him go if that fails. One intriguing idea (to me, anyway) is that he could sign with his hometown Oakland A’s, where he might qualify as an upgrade. He’d probably have to take a pay cut, though.
  • Bench players: Michael Martinez will be retained because of his ability to play (seemingly) any position. Ben Francisco, who was the other piece of the outfield puzzle this year, will be let go. Utility infielder Wilson Valdez will also be kept on – between a few clutch hits and his star turn as the emergency pitcher, he’s proven his usefulness. Ross Gload will be a free agent and seems likely to be non-tendered.

So the offense for 2012 looks much like the 2011 model, except for a younger left fielder. The offense has been basically average this year – indeed, it has generally declined since 2008. If it is not to degrade significantly, we need Utley to be healthy all year. We need Victorino (who’s having a career year now), Ruiz and Howard to not lose a step. We need the new left fielder(s) to contribute – maybe a lot. That’s a lot of things to count on. I think a serious decline is coming, and it’s just a matter of when. The trading deadline in 2013 could see some major stars leaving town, and perhaps the start of a major rebuilding effort.

Keys: baseball,Phillies

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