A Quiet Winter for the Phillies?

amaro in the stands.jpg

If everything is happening like it seems to be happening, the Phillies’ offseason checklist looks like this:

  1. Improve the bullpen.
  2. Resign Jayson Werth (or find his replacement).
  3. Find a replacement on the bench for Greg Dobbs.
  4. Acquire starting pitching depth.

Nowhere on that list are the words, “Shake up the lineup,” or, “Move some pieces around.” No, if everybody is to be believed, the Phillies could be relatively quiet the remainder of the offseason, certainly compared to winters past when they acquired Roy Halladay, Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge, etc.

“Right now, I’m actually pretty pleased with what we have,” Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday. “That doesn’t mean that I’m satisfied with where we’re at. We do need to try to improve our bullpen and give ourselves more depth and such, but if we were to open the season today I would feel very confident with what kind of team we would be fielding. I still think it’s a championship-caliber type of club.”

Based on e-mails, tweets and Facebook messages, some fans think the Phillies need to make a big move. I don’t get the sense they will. It sounds like the only big move they might make is resigning Werth, although nearly nobody in baseball expects that to happen. (Disclaimer: Amaro said before, during and after last year’s Winter Meetings they were not in the hunt for Halladay and a few days later they made one of the biggest trades in franchise history — not only trading for Halladay, but trading away Cliff Lee. In other words, just because the Phillies said it could be quiet doesn’t mean it will be quiet.)

But Amaro said he likes his roster because he expects his lineup to rebound. Ryan Howard had the lowest OPS of his career this year. Chase Utley and Shane Victorino had their lowest OPS’ since they became everyday players. Jimmy Rollins had his lowest OPS since 2002. Ibanez had his lowest OPS since 2005. If most of them rebound, Amaro thinks they will be tough to beat with Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in the rotation.

Of course, what about that gaping hole in the lineup if Werth leaves? Charlie Manuel loves balance in his lineup, and losing Werth means losing his only right-handed power bat. Free-agent possibilities include Jeff Francoeur, Magglio Ordonez and Jermaine Dye. Players potentially available in trades include Josh Willingham, Carlos Quentin and Aaron Rowand. The Braves could non-tender Matt Diaz before Thursday’s deadline, which would make him available.

Not sure about you, but none of those names really excite me other than Ordonez. But I’m not sure if he would play on a one-year contract. (Can’t see the Phillies offering him a lucrative, multiyear deal because they’re already concerned about getting older.)

“I actually feel a lot more confident about what we have in-house compared to what’s out there,” Amaro said. “If Jayson Werth is not a Phillie in the coming years I have the confidence that we have the personnel on our club today that can help us be a productive team. Are we going to try to continue to improve? Yeah. We owe it to ourselves to do that. That said, we have some guys with some track records who are pretty good ballplayers who can produce.”

Ben Francisco hit .284 with six home runs, 18 RBIs and a .901 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers last season. I still think the smart bet is Francisco and Domonic Brown or Ross Gload opening the season platooning in right field. John Mayberry Jr. could get some at-bats in left field or right field, too. It is a terribly small sample size, but Mayberry has a .923 OPS against left-handed pitchers in 44 big-league plate appearances.

“I like Ben,” Amaro said. “He’s a dangerous hitter. He’s a guy that when he’s gotten an opportunity to play for us he’s played very well. He hasn’t been an All-Star caliber player, but we don’t know that he can’t be.

“It’s the same thing as a left-handed reliever. We’re not going to go out there and get a guy to stand on the mound because he’s left-handed. It’s about trying to get somebody we feel is going to be an upgrade, somebody who can support us or give us depth. We’re about getting quality and improving the club. If it’s not somebody we feel is an upgrade over what we have internally we don’t view it as something we need to do. We’re continuing to assess: ‘Who is better than Ben Francisco? Who is better than a combination of Ben and Dominic Brown? Who is better than a combination with (John) Mayberry Jr. being a mix in there as well?’”

Brown is playing Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic, but is hitting just .043 (1-for-23) with two RBIs in his first seven games.

“He’s had over a month off,” Amaro said. “He’s just getting his legs underneath him. He needs to get some at-bats and get rolling. He hasn’t had a great start, but we’ll start evaluating the guy after 30 or 40 or 50 at-bats. It’s unfair to start evaluating somebody after 20 at-bats. The kid is going to be a very good baseball player. Whether he’s going to be starting in Philadelphia next year or he’s going to be in Triple-A remains to be seen, but 23 at-bats does not make a Winter Ball season.”

It certainly would make the Phillies feel better if Brown turned things around in Winter Ball. But even if he doesn’t, I’m not sure how compelled the Phillies will be to bring in somebody like Francoeur. Is he that much better than Francisco/Brown? Wouldn’t they be better served using some of that money to improve the bullpen? I think so.

I’m not sure if I’m in the minority, but I don’t think the Phillies need to shake up things. They won 97 games last year. Sure, losing Werth would be a huge loss, but if Howard, Utley, Rollins, Ibanez and Victorino don’t rebound from down years it really doesn’t matter who’s in right field. Because if those players don’t rebound the Phillies are going to be in trouble anyway.

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Looking for a holiday gift(s)? The 4th annual Philadelphia Sports Book Signing Extravaganza is Friday from 7-10pm at Barnes & Noble, The Court @ Oxford Valley Mall, 210 Commerce Blvd., Fairless Hills, Pa. Ray Didinger, Anthony Gargano, Glen Macnow, Jayson Stark, Randy Miller, Greg Cosell, Reuben Frank, Mark Eckel and myself will be on hand to sign copies of our books and talk sports.

I’m also signing my book from 2-3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Majestic Clubhouse Store at Citizens Bank Park. So if you can’t get to Barnes & Noble on Friday night, try the ballpark on Saturday afternoon. Thanks!

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2 Comments

Expectations were so high for this team to get back to the World Series last year and the Phillies came up short. If the Phils don’t make some sort of splash in the off season I don’t think the interest level going into 2011 is going to be nearly as high as in the past 4-5 years. Management shouldn’t just assume sellouts every night at CBP.

I’m not sure they NEED to make a ” splash” just to keep the interest up. Afterall, there is a waiting list for season tickets. And as along as Halladay, Oswalt, hamels, Howard and Utley are here, the interest level among TRUE fans will remain high. That being said , they need to find a suitable replacement for Werth IF they cannot sign him to a 3 or 4 year contract. They also need to get YOUNGER. The ” Win NOW” mentality of some short sighted fans has to be tempered by the reality that if there are not younger players funneled in here ( LF, RF, Bullpen ) this team will all get old together and all have to be replaced at the same time. If THAT happens, you risk going back to the Vet days of the mid 90s and early 2000s. That would not be a good place to re-visit.

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