I have a confession to make: I missed the second half of the Villanova game. I wanted to wake up early today and get some work done on my season preview stories that were due on Wednesday (yes, last Wednesday). So at halftime, I turned off the TV, rolled over and went to bed.
I woke up this morning and I checked my Blackberry and saw that I had two missed calls and two voice mails from two of my friends back in Philadelphia. Both calls came at the exact same time -- 10:23 p.m. I knew right away that I had missed something great. And I knew right away that something happened at 10:23. Sure enough, I turned on the computer, and read all about Scottie Reynolds shot. I still haven't checked the voice mails. It is going to hurt to listen to them. I grew up following two college basketball teams -- Nova and Duke. My first favorite college basketball player of all time was Bobby Hurley. My second was Kerry Kittles. I remember the day they lost to Tony Gonzalez and the Cal Bears. Jay Wright has done a tremendous job doing what Steve Lappas could not -- establishing continuity in the program and getting his players to play big in big games. Not to brag, but my Final Four is still intact: Connecticut, Nova, Louisville and Oklahoma. For the record, I have Oklahoma winning it all.
Anyway, I say all this as a prelude to a question I will ask you all this morning. One of my stories for our preview section, which runs in Friday's paper, is a look at new general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. While working on the story, I came across the Five Keys for the Phillies' offseason that I examined when he was hired on Nov. 3rd.
Take a look at them, and let me know how you think he did accomplishing them.
1 Setting the outfield.
The most obvious situation that needs to be ironed out concerns leftfielder Pat Burrell. Burrell has said he would like to remain in Philadelphia, and the Phillies have said they would like to keep him. But with 10 days before the start of the free-agent signing period, the two sides are not close to a deal. Burrell hit .250 this season, his lowest average since he hit .209 in 2003. His on-base percentage of .367 was his lowest since 2004. But his 33 home runs were the second most of his career (37 in 2002) and he is a known quantity, having hit at least 24 home runs with at least 84 RBI in seven of his last eight seasons.
If Burrell does not return, it will be hard to replace that production with one player. Amaro yesterday indicated that Manny Ramirez, perhaps the only superstar of the free-agent crop, was not a leading option.
The Phillies have some flexibility, since Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino can play all three outfield positions. They also have veteran rightfielders Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs signed through next season.
"If Pat Burrell is not with us, we know we're going to have a void in leftfield," Amaro said. "We might have to deal with that internally with the Geoff Jenkinses of the world and the Matt Stairses of the world."
It's something of a catch-22. To win a World Series, you need several players to have career years. But then you have to pay them for those career years. The Phillies will have 10 players eligible for arbitration. Among those in line for sizable raises are Victorino, Werth, reliever Ryan Madson, starter Cole Hamels and first baseman Ryan Howard. With Burrell's $14.25 million salary off the books and a payroll that will surely increase from $103 million after this year's record attendance and World Series run, the Phillies will have money to spend. But how much of that is spent on free agents will depend largely on how much is spent in the arbitration process.
3 Hamels and Howard.
Howard won a $10 million salary in arbitration last season after he and the Phillies found themselves far apart on a long-term contract. Hamels, meanwhile, was renewed at $500,000 after the two sides failed to agree on a contract. In the past, the Phillies guaranteed themselves some cost certainty by agreeing to extensions with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. It will be interesting to see if they are able to do the same with their two other stars.
4 The rotation.
Amaro said he is happy with the top of his rotation, which right now features Hamels and righthanders Brett Myers and Joe Blanton. If Myers remains the pitcher he was for the majority of the second half of the season, it could be one of the more formidable 1-2-3 combinations in the National League. That said, there is some mystery as to who will inherit the No. 4 and No. 5 spots. Righthander Adam Eaton, who is entering the last year of a 3-year, $24.5 million contract, was absent for the Phillies' postseason run and did not participate in any of the post-World Series festivities. But he is still a member of the team. Righthander Kyle Kendrick, 24, was in the rotation for most of the season but was left off the postseason roster after struggling down the stretch. Lefthander J.A. Happ pitched well when called upon and will surely compete for a spot. Prospect Carlos Carrasco could also be a factor. But the biggest question involves 45-year-old lefthander Jamie Moyer, who led the team with 16 victories. Amaro labeled re-signing Moyer a priority.
5 Fortifying the bullpen.
Amaro said he will try to re-sign veteran lefthander Scott Eyre, who performed well after the Phillies acquired him from the Cubs in August. Madson was a star in the postseason and seems poised to enter the 2009 season as the team's setup man. But the Phillies are always looking to improve the bullpen, and there are plenty of options available in free agency. Ideally, they'd like to add another lefthanded arm to go with Eyre and J.C. Romero.