It’s been four years and a day since one of the more memorable sports days in the life of many Philadelphians: the world championship parade down Broad Street, celebrating the city’s first title in a quarter century.
The Phillies have gone backward in each season since and to use words like “stagnant” and “complacent” to describe the team and their core players isn’t exactly uncharted territory.
And that’s probably why any thoughts of reconstructing the Phillies roster for the 2013 season with players from the 2008 team who have since departed might sound counterproductive or a tad crazy.
An influx of new blood – young players on the rise who haven’t won before – is often the more acceptable way to improve a roster.
But three former Phillies who became free agents this week wouldn’t look that terrible in red pinstripes again if the price is right.
At least in the case of Shane Victorino, it’s not just if the price is right but also if other, possibly more intriguing options turn out to be bad fits (read: asking for more money than they are worth).
For the first time in his career, Victorino, who turns 32 at the end of the month, is a free agent.
Victorino’s maddening approach at the plate makes him a somewhat unlikely fit for a Phillies offense that is trying to change its ways. After getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline, Victorino hit .245 with a .316 on-base percentage in the final 53 games of the 2012 season.
On a whole, it was Victorino’s worst season since becoming a major league regular. His batting average (.255), on-base percentage (.321), slugging percentage (.383) and OPS (.704) were all career lows.
With that said, Victorino is also just one year removed from his best season, when he hit .279 with an .847 OPS, 16 triples, 17 home runs and 95 runs.
Angel Pagan might be the hotter name right now. Michael Bourn is clearly a sexier name. And Josh Hamilton is the best name.
But in getting-your-bang-for-your-buck department, Victorino, a plus defender, wouldn’t be the worst thing to end up with in center field for 2013 if he would accept a one or two-year deal.
Brett Myers became a free agent for the second time in four years when the Chicago White Six wisely rejected a $10 million club option on his contract this week. Myers got a pretty nice parting gift on the way out: a $3 million buyout.
Although it seems like he’s been around forever, Myers is just 32 years-old: younger than Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Carlos Ruiz.
After converting 19 of 21 save chances for the Houston Astros before being traded to Chicago, Myers might look for a closer’s role on the open market. If there’s a team willing to give him closer’s money, then by all means he should sign on the dotted line.
But that’s not likely to happen.
As last winter showed, fewer teams are willing to overspend for closers. Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell are the only relievers who got guaranteed, multi-year deals to be closers. (And Bell, who has been traded since, was an unmitigated disaster.)
The team with the best record in baseball in 2012, the Washington Nationals, turned to Tyler Clippard when Drew Storen was injured and they got an effective season out of Clippard, who had never been a closer before. Three of final four teams left standing also ended the season without the closer they began with (San Francisco, New York Yankees, Detroit).
With that said, perhaps Myers’ best move is to forgo a one-year tryout as a closer somewhere for the security of a multi-year deal in another role. After joining the White Sox in the middle of the summer, Myers was effective as a setup man in front of closer Addison Reed.
Perhaps Myers could be outfitted for a similar role with the Phillies, a team in need of a veteran eighth-inning arm. An aside: would there be a bullpen with more personality at the backend than a possible Jacksonville duo of Papelbon and Myers?
It also might not be the worst thing in the world to have a pitcher on the roster who could potentially be thrown back into a starter’s role if injuries arise.
Of course a more intriguing free agent reliever is Myers’ old buddy, Ryan Madson. The 32-year-old Madson hasn’t thrown a pitch in a major league game in 13 months, since he threw the final 14 pitches for the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals two Octobers ago.
After being a victim of the aforementioned tough closer’s market last winter, settling for a one-year deal with Cincinnati, Madson blew out his elbow in spring training and missed the entire 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Earlier this week, Madson declined his $11 million mutual option with the Reds, taking a $2.5 million buyout and a chance to test the free agent waters for a second straight offseason.
According to Jon Heyman of cbssports.com, Madson and his agent, Scott Boras, are seeking a closer’s job. But as both found out last year, the perfect deal might not be out there.
With Madson coming off a major injury, and factoring in that most teams will almost certainly continue to be reluctant to overpay for a closer, it’s difficult to see how Madson gets anything better than the one-year deal he received from the Reds last January. Perhaps returning to a comfort zone in Philly for a year, setting up for Papelbon, would help re-establish his value as a major league reliever and help him finally score the long-term, closer contract he wants this time next winter.
Reconstructing the roster of the 2008 Phillies is not the way to win again. But considering one or all three of the names above isn’t crazy talk, either.
In the end, Madson makes the most sense – if he’s willing to take a setup job. He’s also the name the Phillies are most likely to pursue.
But the fact that he declined to return to Cincinnati for that role likely means Madson and Boras will once again wait out the market for as long as possible to find a closer’s job.
Free agents can start signing with new teams on Saturday.