Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Report Card Time: Grading the Offseason

The biggest thing I miss about report cards? The little comment footnotes that teachers could add to your grade:

Report Card Time: Grading the Offseason

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. speaks with the media about the Jose Contreras signing. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. speaks with the media about the Jose Contreras signing. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The biggest thing I miss about report cards? The little comment footnotes that teachers could add to your grade:

1 Works well with others

2 Speaks in clear sentences

3 Eats too much play-dough

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Phillies Zone: A strong bond between Contreras, Baez
That's What He Said: Did the Phillies make the right moves?

An entire marking period worth of homework and tests, summed up in four words pounded out by a secretary on a type-writer. Nothing could mar an A or A- like a little notation that said "Assignments incomplete" or "Talks too much in class." Here at the Daily News, we like to think we pay a little more individual attention. And while any offseason is ultimately judged on a Pass/Fail basis -- the moves a team made either led to a World Series or didn't -- here is a look at how we view the Phillies' '09-'10 thus far:

Rotation - B+

Getting Roy Halladay to agree to a three-year, $60 million was a major coup, and there is no question the Phillies somehow found away to upgrade the top of their rotation. But the move resulted in a net loss of organizational pitching depth, as the Phillies shipped Cliff Lee to Seattle and top prospect Kyle Drabek to Toronto. This leaves the Phillies an injury away from trouble, as the fifth spot in their rotation is already a question mark with injured veteran Jamie Moyer and righthander Kyle Kendrick the top two competitors for the job.

Amaro has said he would like to add more depth to the back of the rotation, and while there aren't a heck of a lot of reliable options out there, the Phillies made it more than two months last season relying on a combination of Antonio Bastardo and Rodrigo Lopez to fill in for the injured Brett Myers.

Yankees righthander Chien Ming Wang is not a likely possibility. Veteran righthander Pedro Martinez is still an option, although the price would have to be right.

The addition of the Halladay move cannot be overstated. And, on paper, the Phillies received more upside in the package of prospects they obtained for Lee than the package of prospects they dealt (in the first Lee deal). As early as last spring training, club President David Montgomery was insisting that the Phillies were not in a position to adopt a business plan in the model of the Yankees, trading prospects for established talent and using free agency to make up for the resulting lack of organizational depth. That was evident this offseason, as the '09 World Champion Yankees swung a trade for Braves righthander Javier Vazquez, who will be paid $11 million and become a free agent after this season, adding to a rotation that already features high-priced (and, in the World Series, highly effective) starters C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. The Phillies, meanwhile, traded Lee away, banking on a rebound season by Cole Hamels and another solid campaign out of lefty J.A. Happ.

Look at it from this perspective: If the Phillies had traded for Halladay after 2008, when Hamels was coming off a dominant postseason, would anybody have been clamoring for them to trade even more prospects and add even more salary for Cliff Lee?

The Phillies still view Hamels as No. 1 starter, and think he and Halladay will provide a 1-2 punch this season that will prove the retention of Lee would have been a luxury, not a necessity.

Only time will tell. In trading both Lee and Drabek, the Phillies put a lot of faith in Hamels and Happ. If both players pitch up to their potential -- Hamels throwing like the World Series MVP he was in 2008 and Happ throwing like he did last season -- the front office will have some serious evidence in support of trading both Lee and Drabek. But if Hamels' struggles from last season continue, or if Happ encounters a sophomore slump, the Phillies could once again find themselves in need of starting pitching at the trade deadline.

Bullpen - B

Almost as important as the moves the Phillies made were the ones they didn't: They didn't overpay for Brandon Lyon or Fernando Rodney, and for little more than the estimated $3.5 million they were willing to pay Chan Ho Park they got both Danys Baez and Jose Contreras. While there are several question marks, the Phillies didn't really have a realistic chance of eliminating them with more than $15 million locked up to Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero. It would have been difficult to convince players like Mike Gonzalez and Jose Valverde to join a bullpen in which they would have entered the season as a distant No. 2 closer option behind Lidge. And, the fact remains, the Phillies owe Lidge more than $22 million over the next two years, and sparking a closer controversy would not have been a good way to get him back on track.

Although Contreras' numbers may not show it, he has the potential to be a huge addition to the bullpen. He has a big arm, with stuff that could play up as a reliever in a similar manner to Park's. And Baez improved throughout last season, his first since elbow surgery.

But the most significant addition might not be an addition at all - rather, it might be the Phillies' decision to keep a spot open for a young prospect like Antonio Bastardo, who has the stuff to be an impact major league reliever, and who has averaged more than 10 K/9 in the Dominican this winter.

Bench - B+

Ross Gload is an upgrade over Matt Stairs and Brian Schneider is an upgrade over Paul Bako. But one of the key weaknesses that was exposed in the World Series last season was bench production from the right side of the plate. And unless you count light-hitting utility man Juan Castro, the Phillies did not address it.

They could have used a player like Jerry Hairston, a right-handed bat who can play third or second or even short, rather than Gload, who is a good pinch-hitter and defensive first baseman and can play outfield, but who hits left-handed (like fellow reserve Greg Dobbs, who can also play first and the OF, and starting first baseman Ryan Howard).

But this is still an area that could be addressed in spring training or during the season. Dobbs, who performed much better as a starter than in a reserve role last season, could be an attractive trade option for a team who can give him a larger number of regular at-bats.

That said, overall, the bench is vastly improved over last season. Back-up catcher Brian Schneider will provide a steady veteran influence and capable bat, while OF Ben Francisco performed well in the second half of the regular season after joining the Phillies in the Lee trade.

Third Base - A-

The Phillies raised some eyebrows by giving a three-year deal to Placido Polanco. But there is no doubt he provides a much-needed contact bat for the top of the order, and his presence could drastically balance the identity of this power-heavy line-up. And all reports from Detroit are that he is a tremendous figure in the clubhouse.

Could the Phillies have waited and tried to get Mark DeRosa at  cheaper rate or Adrian Beltre on a one-year deal? Sure, but I don't think they could have afforded to do so. Amaro found a player that he liked, knew what he was willing to pay for him, and when there was reciprocity, he struck.

Besides, I really think Polanco fits this Phillies line-up better than the other candidates.


Arbitration - A

The club achieved some much-needed cost-certainty for the next three seasons, during which time Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are both scheduled to become free agents. Francisco and Dobbs are the only two players with likely spots on the Opening Day roster who will be arbitration eligible next year. Happ won't reach arbitration until after 2011, while righthander Kyle Kendrick could be eligible for Super Two status after 2010 if he spends the entire year on the roster.

Overall - B+

They've upgraded their rotation, their line-up, and their bench, which by any measure spells success. Depth issues - on the right side of the plate and in the rotation - prevent this from being a perfect offseason. But even the more debatable decisions the Phillies made -- trading Lee, giving a third year to Polanco, signing Gload over other bench options -- came as a result of obvious roster upgrades. 

 

David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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