An outline for the 2013 Phillies appears to be in place.
Listen to manager Charlie Manuel, and you can envision a team with Chase Utley at third base, Freddy Galvis at second base, a big-ticket free agent playing center field, and at least one quality free-agent addition to the bullpen.
September plans for the following season are always subject to change, because you never know exactly what the landscape is going to look like until the free-agent market opens and trade discussions begin.
The primary goals of the plan are to improve the team offensively, defensively, and in the bullpen, three areas that contributed to the first-half avalanche of losses from under which the Phillies were forced to climb out.
What makes the rough draft worth debating is the one part of the equation the Phillies absolutely can control. Moving Utley to third base and Galvis to second base sounds risky for two reasons: Utley has not played third since 2002, when he was a member of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, and Galvis had a .254 on-base percentage in 200 plate appearances before a fractured back and 50-game drug suspension shut down his season after 58 games.
If the plan is implemented, an argument could be made that the Phillies got weaker at third base defensively and a lot weaker at second base offensively.
It's a risk worth taking for a lot of reasons. One is because Utley is showing signs of being an elite offensive player again. He is hitting .263 with 14 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 73 games.
If he were a third baseman, his .377 on-base percentage would rank fourth among players with at least 300 plate appearances, and his .832 OPS would rank eighth, a few points ahead of Washington's Ryan Zimmerman.
Utley's work in the field at second base has been respectable, but he is nowhere close to being the defensive wizard Galvis proved to be earlier this season.
Given Utley's drive to succeed at whatever he does, there is reason to believe he can make the transition from second to third, and if he does, it will probably be a good move for his knees, too.
"He probably won't be moving as much, so it will probably be easier," Manuel said.
The manager became enamored with Galvis earlier this year for two reasons: his defense and his fundamentals.
"His defense definitely plays in the game," Manuel said. "His defense saves you runs. I still see the fact that Freddy has to hit better, and I think he will. I think he was progressing. When I watch Freddy and how he is mentally into the game all the time and he's fundamentally sound, he saves you runs."
With Galvis at second and Utley at third, Manuel feels as if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will be able to focus on adding an outfielder who can help the team offensively and defensively. The feeling here is that that player will be someone such as Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton or Atlanta's Michael Bourn, both of whom are outstanding defensive centerfielders who would also help offensively, albeit in different ways.
It's clear, however, that Manuel does not want to just see an improved offensive team and bullpen in 2013. He also believes the Phillies need to be considerably better on defense - and he is correct.
"Our defense definitely didn't save us runs," Manuel said.
No, in fact, it cost them games. It's impossible to say exactly how many, but at least enough to keep them from being the National League's second wild-card team.
Galvis made one error at second base. Utley, Mike Fontenot, and Pete Orr have combined for 12. When Placido Polanco wasn't playing third base this season, it was a black hole. Kevin Frandsen has done a respectable job, but even he has made some game-costing gaffes, and he does not have enough pop in his bat to play the position on a regular basis.
A year ago, the Phillies made 74 errors the entire season and had the best fielding percentage in baseball. In all but one of Manuel's previous seven seasons as manager, the Phillies ranked in the top five in fielding percentage in the National League and the top eight in baseball.
After Saturday's loss to Atlanta, the Phillies were tied for 14th in baseball and tied for seventh in the National League with a .983 fielding percentage. They have 93 errors through 152 games, which is more than every one of Manuel's Phillies teams except the 2006 squad.
"I would say between the defensive problems we've had this year and also where we have trouble misreading balls on the bases and things like that, we have to correct some of our mistakes," Manuel said. "Whether we get new people or not, we have to correct those to be a division-winning team. If we lost 20 games just by letting them slip away or giving them away, if you split that in half, we're in the race."
He didn't mean the wild-card race. He meant the one for the National League East.
"We've got to improve our hitting, and we definitely have to catch the ball better, and we've got to improve our fundamental play of baseball as far as hitting the cutoff guy, the routes we run in the outfield. . . . Our defense this season was just not acceptable," Manuel said.
With Galvis at second, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Carlos Ruiz and Erik Kratz at catcher, and either Upton or Bourn in center field, the middle of the Phillies' defense, which is the most important part, would be solid once again. That's the outline in place. We'll have to wait and see if it becomes the final draft.
Inside the Phillies: Defensive Downturn
The Phillies, under manager Charlie Manuel, have typically been one of baseball's best defensive teams, but this year that part of their game significantly slipped. Heading into the weekend series with Atlanta, the Phillies were tied for 14th in baseball and tied for seventh in the National League with a .983 percentage. Here's a year-by-year look at the Phillies' defensive numbers since Manuel took over as manager in 2005.
Year Errors Field% NL rank Overall rank
2005 90 .985 T-2d T-5th
2006 104 .983 T-7th T-15th
2007 89 .986 T-3d T-6th
2008 90 .985 5th T-8th
2009 76 .987 T-2d T-3d
2010 83 .986 T-4th T-6th
2011 74 .988 1st T-1st
2012* 93 .983 T-7th T-14th
*–Through Friday's games
- Bob Brookover
Contact Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @brookob.