The baseball world waits for tonight, when the winning bidder on Japanese wunderkind Yu Darvish is announced. The Phillies? Well, their waiting is over now that Jimmy Rollins agreed to terms on a new contract.
The first workout for pitchers and catchers in Clearwater, Fla., is still 62 days away. But the Phillies, barring an absolute shocker of a move, have quite a good idea how their roster will look.
Ruben Amaro Jr. has spent $88.4 million this winter on six free agents — Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, Dontrelle Willis and Brian Schneider — and acquired Ty Wigginton through a trade.
Sixteen players have signed guaranteed contracts and four others were tendered contracts under the arbitration process. So, what we're saying is it could be somewhat quiet from now until the middle of February.
Of course, every time we insinuate such a period of inactivity, the Phillies surprise. With $135 million already guaranteed to the 2012 payroll and about another $30 million in arbitration, any unexpected move would likely come in a trade.
But there are still some things to be done this winter...
1. Sign Cole Hamels. Amaro said his priority was to take care of his 2012 roster before looking ahead. Now he has some time to consider an extension for Hamels, who will be a free agent after this season. It should be his primary task.
Hamels made $9.5 million in 2011 and is due a significant raise through his fourth and final year of arbitration. He could earn upward of $14 million.
On the open market, he could command an average annual value of $20 million. Hamels turns 28 next week. He's entering the prime of his career with five straight seasons of at least 183 innings pitched. He finished fifth in 2011 Cy Young voting.
There are indications from both sides that a long-term deal can be done this winter. Hamels' agent, John Boggs, has said before he does not prefer his clients to negotiate during the season. He did most of the heavy lifting on an extension for another client, Adrian Gonzalez, during Boston's spring training last year.
Amaro said he had spoken with Boggs earlier this winter to make his stance clear: The Phillies want to re-sign Hamels. There was just other stuff to attend to first.
But now, there is no excuse for not engaging Hamels' party.
2. Who is the fifth outfielder? Any projection of the April bench is difficult because the Phillies have yet to decide how they will fill holes in left field and first base in Ryan Howard's absence. Left field could be a platoon between John Mayberry Jr. or Nix — or it could be Mayberry's job full time. Or perhaps Mayberry mans first base until Howard returns. But Wigginton could play first, too.
So there is a lot of flexibility, but logic suggests there is at least one position player roster spot undecided for the opening day roster sans Howard. The "bench" is Mayberry, Thome, Nix, Wigginton, Schneider and Wilson Valdez. Two of them will have to be in the lineup until Howard returns. That leaves an extra spot, probably for an outfielder. Remember, this is tenuous spot because it could be eliminated upon Howard's eventual return.
That would have been Ben Francisco's spot, but the Phillies dealt him to Toronto. John Bowker remains on the 40-man roster, but there are reports he could be headed for Japan. And he didn't exactly endear himself in September.
If Domonic Brown isn't playing every day, he won't be in the majors. So that eliminates him. Scott Podsednik is a guy to watch in spring training. He's back as a non-roster player after spending a few (mostly injury-riddled) months with triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2011.
Guys like Ryan Spilborghs, Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, Reed Johnson and Mark DeRosa are still free agents. The Phillies have liked Spilborghs and Hairston before. But those players could find more playing time, money and guarantees elsewhere. If one wants to come to Philadelphia on the cheap without a lot of security, then sure.
The Phillies have only invited one non-roster outfielder, Podsednik, to spring training. Expect the next round of invitees to include some more outfielders.
3. Is another veteran bullpen arm required? This question won't really be answered until Jose Contreras begins throwing. That is scheduled to happen sometime in January. If it's earlier in the month and Contreras fails to make progress, that could prompt the Phillies to scour the bargain bin for another trusted reliever.
Then again, the bullpen is teeming with promising young arms. If Papelbon, Contreras, Willis, Antonio Bastardo and Kyle Kendrick are guaranteed spots, that leaves only two open for the group of Mike Stutes, David Herndon, Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont, Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery and Jake Diekman.
Remember, the Phillies invited Brian Sanches to spring training and he could be that veteran backup plan. He has a 2.92 ERA in 181 2/3 major-league innings over the last three years.
4. Where will the old crew land? This doesn't really pertain to the Phillies' plans, but a handful of former players remain free agents with uncertain destinations. Ryan Madson's market has collapsed and the closer could be looking at a one-year deal now. His hope must be for Boston to bypass the luxury tax limit and spend for a closer.
Roy Oswalt is still out there and he'll likely receive at least a two-year deal from someone. His possible destination could be made clearer once the Darvish process ends.
Brad Lidge is looking for a job and Colorado is a logical landing spot because Lidge is from there and still has a house in the area. He'd like to return to Philadelphia, where he's spending the winter for the first time, but there might not be room.
Raul Ibanez probably makes most sense for an American League team that can use him in a LF/DH platoon against righthanders. With some of the top-tier outfielders like Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham and Jason Kubel off the market, Ibanez could find suitors.
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