It has been an interesting couple of weeks for the Phillies, who at times have projected a quiet confidence in the way the offseason has progressed, and at others have seemed to be scrambling to adjust to a free agent market in which dollars flowed like chocolate water in Wonkaville.
As I wrote yesterday, my sense is that the Phillies' reported offer to Josh Hamilton is little more than a formality, with the Rangers remaining the slugger's likely destination. One further sign that Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co. do not view Hamilton as a strong possibility is a report that David Waldstein of the New York Times issued on Twitter last night, saying the Phillies "were making a big push" for Ichiro Suzuki, who he suggests is likely headed back to the Yankees.
Signing the left-handed hitting Suzuki would not make much sense if the Phillies had Hamilton penciled in as their right fielder. You could argue that it would not make much sense in any situation, given the fact that Suzuki will be 39 years old in 2013 and is coming off two seasons in which he combined to hit .277/.308/.361 in 323 games for the Mariners and Yankees. Ichiro was slightly better against right-handed pitching last year, posting a .283/.316/.408 line. Still, you would think that the Phillies would aim for more production than that out of a platoon guy. And, again, he is going to be 39 years old.
The confusing thing is that the Phillies would arguably be better off with Nate Schierholtz, who signed a deal worth a reported $2.25 million after the Phillies non-tendered him. He is younger and was better against righties last season, hitting .287/.360/.466 with six home runs in 201 plate appearances. In fact, he has posted an OPS of at least .801 against righties in each of the last two seasons. He might not be the defender that Ichiro is, but he capable enough.
The mystery might involve Nick Swisher. I wouldn't be surprised if the Phillies surprise people and land him. While national reports have only casually mentioned the Phillies as having interest in Swisher, Amaro tends to keep his true intentions guarded. Perhaps reports like the latest offering from Jim Bowden, which suggests that the Indians are "in aggressive pursuit" of Swisher, is merely an attempt to drive up the price for a team that has targeted him but continues to balk at the asking price. While these things usually come down to dollars, it would be a mighty leap for Swisher to move from New York City to Cleveland, where it is hard to envision the Indians competing despite their solid start to last season. In that situation, it would make sense for Amaro to keep his interest in Swisher on the extreme down low in order to avoid a bidding war.
Really, Swisher is the perfect player for the Phillies right now. It would be awfully hard for them to get away with platoons in both left field and right field, because it would leave them thin on left-handed options on the bench when facing a right-handed starter. Swisher is a switch-hitter who is adept against both righties and lefties. He can play first base or right field. And he would slot perfectly into the three-hole, breaking up Chase Utley (two-hole) and Ryan Howard (clean-up), both of whom have struggled against lefties.
Adding Swisher would also put the Phillies in far better position to weather a situation like they encountered last year, when Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both ended up on the disabled list for the first three months of the season. Michael Young started 14 games at second base for the Rangers last season, so he could give the Phillies a better offensive option behind Utley than they had last year in Freddy Galvis. And, as mentioned before, Swisher could play first base, leaving Galvis and Kevin Frandsen to handle third. It wouldn't be an optimal defensive alignment by any stretch of the imagination, but it would give them options, which is what they sorely lacked last season. Most importantly, though, it would give them a right fielder who can both hit a home run and draw a walk, and who can balance out a lineup without the logistical problems that a platoon can create.