If the Phillies’ off-season were a chess match, so far we’d have a white pawn to b3 and nothing more. In other words, little of consequence.
That will change in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as this week at baseball’s winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. How significantly the Phillies’ roster is going to change remains the question that only general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. can answer.
At the moment, Amaro is warning not to expect significant alterations.
“I don’t see a whole lot of craziness surrounding the Phillies,” Amaro said last week. “I don’t know if we have to do a whole lot of things to make the club better. We did have a very good club and it was somewhat underachieving as far as the offense was concerned.”
That’s an interesting take on the situation.
Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, the three homegrown cornerstones of the franchise’s rise to baseball’s elite, all are coming off the least productive seasons of their careers.
In fact, the only player to have a career year last season among the Phillies’ eight starting position players was catcher Carlos Ruiz.
“Hopefully, they’ll all come back,” Amaro said. “We’ll have to monitor whether this is a case of guys getting older and less productive or if it’s just a blip on the screen.”
Amaro is siding with the blip-on-the-screen theory, which can be risky business in the world of professional sports. On the other hand, with the payroll already at a record $149 million for only 17 players, it’s possible the checkbook is already closing in on checkmate for the GM.
Asked several times in recent weeks about the payroll, Amaro simply said there is a ceiling without revealing how high it could go.
“My sense is that last season was a blip on the screen for a lot of our guys,” Amaro said. “I still feel like they have their bat speed and, frankly, they’re not old players. They still have their foot speed and a spring in their step.”
Even with all the struggles so many of the Phillies’ offensive players had last season, the team still finished second in the National League in runs scored and fifth in home runs. Add in the return of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels at the top of the starting rotation and there’s no reason to believe that any team in the National League is better than the Phillies.
Jayson Werth, of course, remains the king in the Phillies’ free-agent game. His agent, Scott Boras, has played his typical chess match, trying to lure as many potential suitors into the bidding as possible.
Right now we know that Boston is interested because the Red Sox flew their general manager and manager to Chicago for a meeting with the rightfielder. The Phillies probably cannot afford to wait too long to find a righthanded bat to replace Werth, and if that bat belongs to someone like free agents Matt Diaz or Jeff Francoeur, then they should not have to wait.
Another righthanded-hitting outfielder with the ability to hit lefthanded pitching would be a welcome addition to the Phillies’ roster regardless of what decision Werth makes. Diaz is a career .325 hitter, and Francoeur has a .299 career batting average against lefthanders.
Add in Ben Francisco’s .284 career average against lefthanders and the Phillies’ lineup would not be all that vulnerable against southpaws even if Werth goes elsewhere. That said, the belief here is that the Phillies are better with Werth than without him because of his value defensively.
The one area the Phillies are sure to address between now and February is the bullpen. Amaro said he was quite comfortable with Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge in the back of the bullpen, but this team badly needs an experienced lefthanded reliever.
That list dwindled by one last week when Hisanori Takahashi signed with the Los Angeles Angels. Free agents Brian Fuentes, Pedro Feliciano, Dennys Reyes, and Scott Downs remain possibilities.
The Phillies also could use another righthanded reliever, with Chad Durbin expected to leave. A long list of relievers remain on the open market, including J.J. Putz, who rebounded with the Chicago White Sox last season after a miserable year with the New York Mets.
At some point, Amaro is going to move beyond white pawn to b3 on the chess board and add some pieces for the 2011 roster. Right now, the general manager is indicating that he does not plan to do much because he does not believe all that much needs to be done. It’s possible he means that, but this is the same guy who said last November that there was little chance Roy Halladay would be coming to Philadelphia.
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.