The Phillies will make some major decisions during the offseason, which will be a little longer for them than expected. The decisions on how to shape the 2012 Phillies begins immediately and there are some decisions that will be much easier than others. To start, let's look at the roster and some of the easy decisions that can perhaps be made pretty quickly.
Figure on Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to be locks to return for 2012, as will fifth starter Vance Worley. The biggest question is with Roy Oswalt, who battled through injuries and has a balky back that will likely affect him for the rest of his career. Oswalt pitched better late in the season and backed off of his comments from earlier in the year that made it sound like 2011 would be his final season in baseball. There's no question that Oswalt is still a good pitcher and if the Phillies want him back, all they have to do is pick up his option for 2012, but that's where the questions begin.
Picking up that option would cost the Phillies $16 million and for a guy with a bad back, that's a lot of money. No player comes with an injury-free guarantee, but Oswalt certainly seems much more likely to miss at least part of the season due to his recurring back problem and to give him $16 million would seem to have a lot of risk associated with it. It's a fairly easy call that the Phillies will give Oswalt $2 million to buyout his option and then look to renegotiate with him to get him re-signed at a lower rate, possibly with an incentive-laden deal that would guarantee him the full $16 million if he can stay healthy and reach certain goals. There is always the possibility that another club will top that kind of offer and see him as a worthy gamble and will give him something much closer to his current guarantee.
If Oswalt were to leave, the Phillies would still have three aces bona fide bottom of the rotation starters in Vance Worley and Joe Blanton, leaving them in much better shape than a lot of clubs are right now. Kyle Kendrick seemed to have a turnaround season in 2011 and could potentially fill a spot in the rotation if there were injuries to deal with or could possibly be used in a deal to add another player.
Like Oswalt, the Phillies technically have Brad Lidge signed for 2012, but it would be at $11.5 million, which is not going to happen. Instead, the Phillies will pay the $1.5 million to get out of the 2012 deal and might be willing to re-sign Lidge, if he would be willing to work for much less. Again, perhaps an incentive-laden deal based on his health and what role he winds up playing with the Phillies might be the way to go. With his late season performance, there might be a club out there though that will outbid the Phillies and see Lidge as a potential closer who will earn more than the Phillies would be willing to give him.
In what could be a risky move, the Phillies could let Ryan Madson, who is also a free agent, walk and consider Lidge as an alternative to at least be a part-time closer for the club. Lidge could possibly team with and mentor Antonio Bastardo to close for the club. Besides, with Scott Boras as his agent, re-signing Madson doesn't figure to be easy, but it certainly figures to be expensive. Lidge will conservatively cost the Phillies $12 million for 2012 and well beyond, unless he cuts them a hometown discount, which Boras would have to investigate to find out what that is and how it would work, since he knows nothing of that concept. Of course, dropping Lidge and giving that money to Madson quickly pays for at least the first season of a new deal for Madson. Now, if Lidge were to accept Madson's salary of $4.5 million, there might be room to bargain.
While most of the Phillies potential free agents were mum about their plans following their recent exit from the postseason, Madson admits he's at least been thinking about free agency. "Yeah, I thought about it, but I don't know," Madson said. "Who knows what's going to happen. All I can say is if it's back with this team, we'll be back here again and look to go a lot further than we did this year."
The rest of the bullpen is relatively cheap, with just Jose Contreras ($2.5 million) guaranteed anything more than $1 million. Plus, there are young relief arms coming along - Justin De Fratus, Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery, etc. - who figure to be able to help at the major league level before too long, There would certainly be room for an inexpensive veteran signing or two, depending on how the contracts for Madson and/or Lidge work out.
Oh, boy. Here's where it gets fun.
Ryan Howard will likely miss some time at the start of the 2012 season because of his imminent surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles' tendon. If it's just going to be a short time, John Mayberry Jr. would qualify as a candidate to play first base until Howard returns, but Mayberry could figure into the left field spot that figures to open. Chase Utley will be back and is actually signed through the 2013 season. Having solid back-ups is important though because of Utley's frequent injuries and the growing need to keep him out of the lineup here and there to help keep him healthy over the final two years of his deal.
The left side of the infield presents some question marks.
Jimmy Rollins is a free agent and is talking loud and proud about wanting a five-year, $70 million deal, which should scare the hell out of the Phillies, not because of the average per season, but for the years that Rollins wants. At 32, Rollins is certainly not at the peak of his career and there is no telling how many truly productive seasons he has left. He has lost a step in the field and his hustle has lost a lot more than a step. It almost seems too perfect for Rollins to sign with San Francisco, which would put him closer to his Bay Area home and would also fill a gaping hole for the Giants. If Rollins does leave, is Freddy Galvis ready to take over at short? The answer is likely 'no', but with some work and mentorship from a veteran player, Galvis may be able to make it through the 2012 season in pretty good shape. Signing a veteran to help Galvis both on and off the field would be a definite need for the Phillies. Ideally, they would be able to find someone who would take a one-year deal and could play everyday in case Galvis does struggle too much and needs to get more fine tuning at the Triple-A level.
Placido Polanco, 36, is signed for one more season, but is certainly slowing down. Polanco battled through a sports hernia in 2011 and will have offseason surgery to correct the problem, which may help him rebound in 2012. Certainly though, there is a need for Polanco to also have a strong back-up.
Center field and right field are set with Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Victorino is signed through 2012 and Pence is eligible for arbitration, figuring to get a decent raise over the $6.9 million he earned in 2011. Left field is the question, with Raul Ibanez gone, unless he would be willing to sign for less money and accept a much lesser role with the club. Mayberry, along with Domonic Brown and possibly, Ben Francisco would battle for left field in camp, but the battle could go to Brown, especially if Mayberry is needed to play first base until Howard returns.
Carlos Ruiz isn't getting any younger, but he's still one of the better defensive catchers around, pitchers love working with him and his offense is at least enough to get by on considering all of the positives that he brings.
As stated, there is certainly a need to have strong infield utility players because of the aging Polanco and the injury prone Utley, not to mention the possible fluid situation at shortstop if Galvis is penciled in for the starting job. Pete Orr and Wilson Valdez are both credible utility infielders and there's some question as to whether the Phillies can find much better. Michael Martinez was on the roster out of necessity and did a decent job defensively and can play a number of positions, but doesn't provide much offensively.
Brian Schneider is a free agent and can be re-signed cheaply, if the Phillies decide to go that route. Like Ruiz, Schneider works well with pitchers, but his offense is not truly enough to warrant keeping him around. Even though he's a local guy, it might be time to cut Schneider loose.
In the outfield, Francisco proved himself to probably be more valuable as a back-up than as an everyday player. Mayberry seemed to have a breakthrough season and could possibly handle left field on an everyday basis, especially if the Phillies were able to come up with a bit left-handed bat to use when they want to sit Mayberry against certain right-handers in the league. Even though he's not far removed from being the team's best prospect, Domonic Brown remains a question mark.
Ross Gload has come in handy and battled through a bad hip all season long, which will send him to the O.R. this offseason for surgery. Even with the bad hip, Gload is one of the better pinch-hitters around and is worth trying to bring back. John Bowker was an experiment, but he likely won't return to the Phillies next season, except possibly on a minor league deal.
Much was made of Brandon Moss and the season he had at Lehigh Valley (23-80-.275/.368/.509), but keep in mind that Moss is a career .236 hitter in the majors and he will need to show something next spring if he is to make the club.