Monday, November 15, 2010

3 Questions: Philadelphia Phillies

By The Common Man

This is the third in The Three Offseason Questions series that’s going on here at The Platoon Advantage. Last week’s look at the Giants is up here and Bill's look at the Rangers from earlier today is here. But today, the Phillies have some serious issues to address if they’re going to bounce back from their disappointing NLCS loss.

Question 1: Who will be a Phillie in 2011, Jayson Werth or Raul Ibanez?

The free agent deal that Raul Ibanez signed with Ruben Amaro seems to be a huge obstacle to resigning Jayson Werth. Ibanez is scheduled to make $11.5 million in the final year of his deal in 2011, but at age 39 his bat has slowed and his defense has too. Despite getting almost 70 more plate appearances in 2010, Raul’s homer total dropped from 34 to 16. His OPS dropped by more than 100 points. And he contributed just a single run over replacement to the Phils last year. And, of course, he contributes mightily to Philadelphia’s troubles hitting lefty pitchers.

Werth, on the other hand, is going to be 32, is coming off a remarkable season (one in which he probably overachieved slightly) in which he had a 921 OPS, and is a perfectly capable defender in the outfield corners. He’s also a righty, and can help balance out some of the platoon weaknesses the Phils have. He’s also the second most sought after outfielder on the market.

The Phillies probably don’t have the money to keep both players, and youngster Dominic Brown is basically ready to take over whichever corner spot is available next year. The key question is whether they deal Ibanez to an AL club for pennies on the dollar and use the savings to get Werth (if that’s possible at this point) or they let Werth walk and have a weaker team in 2011. A Phillies phan should hope for the former scenario, but the realist in The Common Man, and Amaro’s statements so far, suggest that the Phillies will go in the other direction. Philadelphians should be afraid.

Question 2: What happens to the back end of the rotation?

There is no question that the Phillies have one of the two most intimidating Top 3s in baseball, with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels locked in to the rotation through the end of 2011. With the presumed departure of Jayson Werth, however, the Phillies will have fewer opportunities to slug their ways out of the holes dug by the back end of the rotation. Joe Blanton contributed a 4.82 ERA last year and Kyle Kendrick sported a 4.73 and should be in line for the #4 and #5 slots. Blanton may have underperformed based on his rate stats (his xFIP was a respectable 4.06), but his K/9 fell off and he suffered through injury problems. Kendrick is what he is, a strike-throwing innings eater who is ill-made to pitch half his games at Citizens Bank Park. For the Phillies to phend off the presumed advances of the Braves, they could use some additional support. That said, they likely will hold serve yet again due to payroll restrictions. Blanton’s $10.5 million salary isn’t going anywhere, and Kendrick is still cheap.

Question 3: When does this team finally need to start rebuilding?

Look, the Phillies are terrific. They have tremendous players in Chase Utley, Halladay, and Oswalt. The much maligned Ryan Howard is still a good player, and Jimmy Rollins figures to bounce back over an injury plagued and ineffective 2010. But there’s no way to avoid the reality that the core of the Phillies is aging, and will eventually need to turn over if the team is going to remain competitive in the long term.

In next year’s starting lineup, only Dominic Brown will be younger than 30. Ibanez will be 39 and is in decline. Placido Polanco, who already suffered from nagging injuries in 2010, will be 35. Chase Utley will only be 32, but that comes with the knowledge that he has had injury problems recently and second basemen tend not to age well. Howard suffered through perhaps the worst offensive season of his career. And Jimmy Rollins has seen his batting average (which is his major offensive contribution) fall every year since he won the MVP in 2007. Meanwhile, Halladay’s 34. Oswalt is 33. Both of them have a lot of mileage on their arms.

The reality is that the Phillies are starting to both look and play like an old team. What’s more, it’s not clear they have much coming up through the minors to be able to help soon. There will come a day, and that day will be soon, when the Phillies will have to look in the mirror and recognize they have work to do to stay competitive in the long run. And given their top-heavy commitment to winning in the near term, it’s going to have to be a complete tear-down.

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