On the brink of free agency, it is time to discuss what the Phillies need to do to address their current team needs this offseason. As the Phillies have won the National League the last two years there really isn't much to address especially when considering that only a few players will be departing. The Phillies will look to improve a few positions but not in any drastic manner as they will not want to add too much to their payroll. For Phillies fans this will not be an unfamiliar offseason approach.
First off, let's go over what has occurred thus far in the Phillies offseason. The Phillies exercised Cliff Lee's $9 million option for 2010. That quite possibly was the easiest decision Ruben Amaro Jr. has made since deciding that potty training was a good long-term decision. Brett Myers is officially gone which can't be too much of a surprise because he will be searching for a team that will allow him to start, where the Phillies were only interested in him as a reliever. It was interesting how things materialized though, it makes you think that something else happened between the two parties during his career in Philadelphia. I understand the idea of Brett Myers having an altercation with anybody is a difficult concept to wrap your mind around. The Phillies also declined the $5 million 2010 option on Pedro Feliz. The thirdbase position will, in all reality, be addressed with the highest priority followed by bullpen help. With that being said, the Phillies have not ruled out the idea of bringing back Feliz, but with a lower price tag. As the thirdbase position is garnering the most attention, I will devote my next post to analyzing those options. Scott Eyre, Chan Ho Park, Eric Bruntlett, and Pedro Martinez are the only significant roster players filing for free agency.
Scott Eyre is currently contemplating retirement and if he decides to return to baseball the Phillies will sign him. The Phillies are very interested in resigning Park as a reliever as he was extremely successful pitching in the 7th and 8th inning for the Phillies, but Park has publicly stated that he would like the chance to start again. The Phillies will not give Park an opportunity to start again as we all know that experiment failed miserably. It is more than probable that Park will fail to find a suitor who will provide him an opportunity to become a starter and then resign with the Phillies as a reliever. It is clear to many teams that Park is better suited to pitch as a reliever at this point in his career and it will be difficult for Park to find a team that will give him an opportunity. Now on to Eric Bruntlett, utility player extraordinaire, triple play maestro, and the only current baseball player to have his jersey retired to the hall of fame. Bruntlett, sadly will no longer be donning the Phillies pinstripes. The player who trailed 20 other Phillies in batting avg in 2009, within those 20 players, 3 were pitchers. I also feel obligated to remind you that Chan Ho Park hit more homeruns than Bruntlett in 2009. I also feel obligated to remind you that Chan Ho Park hit more homeruns than Bruntlett in 2009. No, that was not a typo, I just felt that repeating it was necessary as I wanted to make sure you grasped that. Pedro Martinez was definitely a pleasant surprise for the Phillies in 2009, mainly because Charlie Manuel did an excellent job monitoring his innings. Pedro has stated that he plans on pitching the entire 2010 season and will weigh his free agent options. I personally would be surprised to see Pedro back with the Phillies in 2010 due to management's lack of confidence in his durability.
It really is fortunate that the Phillies only have a few holes to fill on their roster because this free agent class is undeniably the worst class I have ever seen. Based on the players leaving and the severely limited news coming from the Phillies' management team, they will be pursuing a starting thirdbaseman, a utility infielder, and additional relief pitchers. As I said previously, I will address the thirdbase options in my next post, please control the anticipation.
The utility infield position is an interesting one because there are a few options. The players I expect to be pursued by the Phillies are Jamie Carroll, John McDonald, and Miguel Cairo. This becomes an interesting decision because these three players are completely different. Jamie Carroll probably has the best overall abilities as he can play all infield positions along with the outfield very successfully, he also is a good hitter for a bench player as he hit .276 last year with a .355 OBP. McDonald is a bit more specialized as he primarily plays SS and is an exceptional fielder but is below average at best in terms of batting as he has 13 career homeruns and posts a career .238 batting average. Cairo is the most familiar to Phillies fans as he played for the Phillies this year in a very limited role but did seem to hit well at the end of the season. He is probably the worst within this group defensively speaking but is still serviceable at each infield position. He is a much better hitter than McDonald but still falls short of Carroll in that category. I expect the Phillies to go hard after Carroll as he is clearly the best option as a bench player but if they fail to acquire him I wouldn't be devastated if they settled on Cairo as I believe he is a solid bat off the bench and is good enough defensively.
As for bolstering up the bullpen, how the Phillies approach this depends on two main factors. This includes how much the Phillies invest in a thirdbaseman and how confident they are in the abilities of Brad Lidge to return to his 2008 form. The popular choice within the free agent pool is Jose Valverde, closer for the Houston Astros. Valverde is an elite closer in this league with a career 3.1 ERA but the chances of Philadelphia landing him are not high. First off, Valverde will only sign to a team where he will be the primary closer and Philadelphia does not fit that bill. As we all know, Brad Lidge will be given a chance to close coming out of spring training. As is always a factor with the Phillies pursuing free agents, Valverde will probably be out of the Phillies price range as he will be the most highly touted relief pitcher this year. Two more realistic options are Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney. These two pitchers are ideal for the Phillies as they are both very capable relievers in the back end of the bullpen, both have closed and setup in their careers but are not necessarily looking to close, and both will be reasonably priced. As both pitchers will be priced about evenly, Lyon would be my choice as he is more reliable and durable than Rodney. Rodney by definition is a power pitcher as he can easily throw 100 mph but is extremely erratic and allows too many baserunners in comparison to Lyon.
My last thought on the offseason is that it is very likely that the Phillies will not be returning Matt Stairs. Granted he is now in his 40's and did not hit very well last year, but it's Matt Stairs. He still has a good OBP and you are crazy if you think that relief pitchers are not intimidated by him and his monster swing. If anything he is worth having around just to continue production on the, "In case of emergency use Matt Stairs" t-shirts. The other thing is, who are the Phillies going to replace Matt Stairs with? Outside of Russell Branyon there is almost nobody avaliable this year that can provide lefthanded power off the bench and even Branyon will not be likely to accept a pinch-hitting role. If Matt Stairs is not hitting 9th inning homeruns for the Phillies next year, let me be the first to say he will be missed and Philadelphia will never forget the pounding he gave to Broxton in the 2008 NLCS.