Friday, October 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

If the season started today. . .

It is the last week of the year, which is generally a time to look back and reminisce. But I'm a forward thinking kind of guy, so I'll leave the "Best of 2009" post to others. Instead, let's look ahead to the regular season, and how the Phillies' roster would look if 2010 started today:

If the season started today. . .

It is the last week of the year, which is generally a time to look back and reminisce. But I'm a forward thinking kind of guy, so I'll leave the "Best of 2009" post to others. Instead, let's look ahead to the regular season, and how the Phillies' roster would look if 2010 started today:

I. Line-up
1. SH Jimmy Rollins SS
2. RH Placido Polanco 3B
3. LH Chase Utley 2B
4. LH Ryan Howard 1B
5. RH Jayson Werth RF
6. SH Shane Victorino CF
7. LH Raul Ibanez LF
8. RH Carlos Ruiz C

The Big Question: Where will Shane Victorino hit?

The speedy center fielder spent most of 2009 hitting at No. 2, but the Phillies signed Placido Polanco largely to provide themselves with a better situational hitter at the top of the order. Charlie Manuel has remained steadfast in using Jimmy Rollins at the leadoff spot, and of the 1,785 at-bats Placido Polanco has logged over the last three seasons, all but 31 have come at No. 2, where he has hit .312 with a .356 OBP. So Polanco seems destined to start the season hitting No. 2.

Although Raul Ibanez spent most of the season hitting at No. 6, logic suggests that Manuel will slide him down to No. 7 to start 2010. Putting Victorino at No. 7 would diminish his ability to use his speed, since he would be on base with the No. 8 hitter and pitcher hitting behind him. A more logical place to hit him would be No. 6, where he has logged the second-most at-bats of his career (250), and has hit .339 with a .392 OBP and .957 OPS while stealing 12-of-14 bases.

This would essentially make Ibanez the three-hole hitter for the second half of the order, putting him two spots behind Jayson Werth's .376 on base percentage (Phillies career) and one spot behind Victorino. Ibanez has only started 62 games in his career at No. 7, but I don't think that is a huge deal.

There is certainly a valid argument to be made that, against left-handed pitchers, Werth (.962 career OPS vs. LHP) should hit clean-up with Howard (.754 career OPS vs. LHP) hitting fifth (Ibanez has a career .760 OPS vs. LHP). But that is a secondary issue.

II. Bench
RH Ben Francisco (outfield)
LH Greg Dobbs (corner infield/outfied)
LH Ross Gload (first base/outfield)
RH Juan Castro (infield)
LH Brian Schneider (catcher)

The Big Question: How will Manuel get his bench players at-bats?

One of the more under-reported aspects of the Phillies' season was the lack of production they received from their bench. Was the lack of production the result of a lack of playing time? Or was the lack of playing time the result of the lack of production? The answer is a little bit of both. If Manuel could do it all over, he might try to get Dobbs more regular action at third base, like he did in 2008 when Dobbs was one of the top pinch-hitters in the game. This did not happen mostly because Pedro Feliz was hot at the plate for much of the first half of the season, leading Manuel to believe that the drop-off in defense he would see with Dobbs in the line-up was not worth the increase in offensive production against left-handed pitchers. But the unknown was how much long-term pinch-hitting production he sacrificed by not getting Dobbs regular at-bats. I expect that to change this season, mostly because Manuel should have more options with Placido Polanco in the fold. The defensive disparity between Polanco and Dobbs might not be as great as it was with Feliz manning the hot corner (Polanco hasn't played third regularly since 2005). In addition, Polanco could get some starts at second base against right-handed pitchers, giving Utley a chance for a breather with Dobbs getting a start at third base against a righty.

Francisco should get plenty of at-bats in left field, where he can give Ibanez, who battled a sports hernia for the better part of the season, an occasional breather. Francisco can also play center and right.

Gload is an interesting case. In an ideal world, he would be a right-handed hitter, giving Manuel an obvious way to get him into the line-up in place of Howard against lefties. This could still be an option, since Gload plays an excellent defensive first base, and is a career .298 hitter against southpaws. That said, Gload's career OPS against lefties is significantly lower than Howard's (.703 vs. .754). He has started 30 games in his career in right field, so he could give Werth a break against righties. But Werth is a much better defensive right fielder.

How Manuel uses Gload will be one of the trickier and more interesting subplots to follow this season. He started 46 games last year for the Marlins, 113 in 2008 and 88 in 2007. So while he is a career .300 pinch-hitter, he is also used to playing fairly regularly. Forty-six starts is the equivalent of roughly two starts per week, or a start every 4-5 games.

III. Rotation
1. RHP Roy Halladay
2. LHP Cole Hamels
3. RHP Joe Blanton
4. LHP J.A. Happ
5. LHP Jamie Moyer

The Big Question: What will happen at No. 5?

While I believe David Montgomery and Ruben Amaro Jr. when they say that they could have fit both Halladay and Cliff Lee into the payroll, I still think the presence of Jamie Moyer and his $8 million salary played into the decision to deal Lee to the Mariners. Maybe it wasn't the over-riding factor - I do believe the Phillies felt like they needed to re-plenish their farm system - but you can't conficne me it didn't play a role. Had the Phillies kept Lee and righthander Joe Blanton, they would have had to give long consideration to releasing Moyer, since he would have entered spring training without a role. That would have meant two things: First, eating his salary. Second, bidding an uncermonious adieu to a well-respected veteran.

So either Blanton or Lee had to go. The Phillies gauged interest in Blanton. But, as might have been expected, no teams were in a position to give up a decent package of prospects for a pitcher due to make at least $7 million in his last year before free agency. Which is why Lee was dealt. The Phillies could have non-tendered Blanton or traded him for next to nothing, but that would have meant both players becoming free agents without the Phillies getting anything to re-stock their farm system. And, it seems to me, the front office felt that the return they could get for Lee from Seattle outweighed the benefit of keeping both while depleting their farm system AND having to eat Moyer's $8 million salary.

But that means the Phillies are likely to enter the season with plenty of uncertainty at the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

The Phillies have said they would like to add some rotation depth. But the pool of players who would provide such depth is dwindling to the point where it is difficult to find a player who might have a fighting chance to fend off either Moyer or righthander Kyle Kendrick in spring training.

Pedro Martinez, Erik Bedard, Joel Piniero, Ben Sheets and Jarrod Washburn are all likely out of their price range (although if the Phillies' plan was to trade Lee for prospects and then use his $9 million salary to sign someone like Bedard or Sheets to a respectable-base, incentive-laden deal, it would make some sense to me).

Jon Garland is likely both out of their price and desireability range.

I personally think hell would freeze over before Vicente Padilla made a return to Philly.

Which leaves the following group of players: Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Tim Redding, Mark Mulder, Eric Milton, Livan Hernandez, Braden Looper, Jose Contreras, D.J. Carrasco and Miguel Batista).

Carrasco, Contreras, Looper, Batista and Smoltz could be feasible additions using the Chan Ho Park starter/reliever plan.

In the end, the Phillies look to be headed to a scenario in which they give Moyer the first crack, followed by Kendrick, at which point they will know if they need to make a Pedro Martinez-type move, or whether they can make it through the end of the season with the cards in their hand.

The bottom of the rotation has been a revolving door of sorts over the last several years. The Phillies made the playoffs in 2007 despite relying on a struggling Adam Eaton. They made the playoffs in 2008 despite relying on a struggling Kendrick. And they made the playoffs last season despite relying on a struggling Moyer.

Once the playoffs start, the No. 5 spot is irrelevant. But depending on how they fill out the rest of their roster and minor league system, an injury or subpar season by any of the Top 4 guys could leave them perilously thin.

Right now, the only two sure things in the rotation are Halladay and Blanton. Like the Phillies, I think Hamels' 2009 struggles will prove to be a blip on a mighty fine career. And I also believe J.A. Happ will prove to be more than a one-year wonder. But until both players prove it in 2010, there will be some uncertainty.


IV. Bullpen
RHP Brad Lidge (closer)
RHP Ryan Madson (set-up)
RHP Chad Durbin (multi innings)
RHP Free agent (7th-8th)
LHP Antonio Bastardo
LHP Sergio Escalona
RHP Kyle Kendrick

The Big Question: Can the unit improve internally?

Before the front office broke for the holiday, they were close to a deal with a veteran reliever that would represent their first bullpen signing of the offseason. I haven't been able to confirm who, exactly, that reliever is. Danys Baez would make a lot of sense. He has closed before and has a decent amount of upside entering his second full season after elbow surgery. Whatever happens, I expect them to be relying on at least one young arm from their farm system. Bastardo has huge upside, and could be the type of epiphany that can turn this bullpen into a formidable unit. Scott Mathieson is another possibility, and I expect the Phillies to take the kid gloves off in spring training and let him prove that he is all the way back from two elbow surgeries and capable of handling a regular workload.

Beyond that, the Phillies will need to count on Lidge on cutting his ERA in half, Durbin being the pitcher they saw in September and October, J.C. Romero getting healthy, and Madson continuing to pitch the way he has the past couple of seasons. If all of that happens, their pursuit of a big-name reliever this offseason will prove to have been unnecesarry.

If Kendrick fails to beat out Moyer for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, I wouldn't be surprised to see him enter the season as a Clay Condrey-esque long man, with Bastardo and Escalona competing to see who remains with the club once J.C. Romero returns from his elbow surgery sometime in the first month of the season. Another free agent addition would turn that into a three-way battle involving Kendrick.

For now, though, this is how the roster sets up.

V. Disabled List
LHP J.C. Romero

It sounds more and more like the Phillies are not expecting Romero to be ready for the start of the regular season, although the club is optimistic that he will not miss more than a month of action.
 

David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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