Blueprint For Success: Off-Season Preview

As successful as the Phillies were last season in signing marquee free-agents, the crown jewel being Jim Thome, the team failed to do enough to put this team over the top and into post-season play in 2003. Much like last season, Philadelphia figures to be major players in the off-season signing period and there are several players available who would help the team take the next step.

Clearly the top priority of Ed Wade and company needs to be rebuilding the bullpen and adding a legitimate ace pitcher to this staff. Of course, after witnessing the offensive inconsistency of this ball club all season long, anyone will realize that the franchise must also add another bat to this lineup. Jim Thome cannot do it all, and should another slugger be added to compliment his power, this team will be a force to be reckoned with all year long. Just whom will the Phillies add you might ask? That is yet to be seen, but what is known is whom Philadelphia should target. With that being said, lets take a look at who's available and whom fans may be able to see at Citizens Bank Park beginning next April.

Starting Pitchers: Javier Vazquez, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez and Bartolo Colon

These four are the top starters to be available on the open market, and of them Schilling just may be the leading candidate to become the ace pitcher of the Phillies staff next season. Although it would take a trade to pry him from the Arizona Diamondbacks, his leadership and on field talent make him worth the price. Schilling has openly discussed his desire to finish his career as a Phillie, should the Diamondbacks opt to trade him. One more factor making this transaction more likely is the fact that Arizona is looking to dump salary this off-season. Many sources in baseball believe that it would take just Chase Utley, Brandon Duckworth and possibly Ryan Madsen to give Schilling a return trip to Philadelphia. If these are indeed the players Arizona is interested in, it would be a crime for Wade not to pull the trigger on a deal.

Consider this, Placido Polanco will be the everyday second baseman on this team for the next few years. Duckworth has proved to be very inconsistent at best, and Philadelphia's farm system is loaded with young pitchers, so losing Madsen may not hurt the future as much as some believe. The Phillies brass has been hesitant to mortgage the future to win now, but they could be tempted to give one of the Phillies all time greatest pitchers, a return trip to the city of Brotherly Love.

Should the front office shy away from making a trade to land Schill, they should still be major players to sign an ace. Another trade target could be Montreal's Javier Vazquez, who is younger than Schilling. Although his record was just 13-12 in 2003, one must remember that he was playing for the lowly Expos. The 27 year old from Puerto Rico would be an imposing force on the mound for Philadelphia, and one who could potentially be signed long-term. With 241 strikeouts this season and an ERA of 3.24, he would be the prototypical ace for this young pitching staff.

Both Colon and Martinez have experience, but there are questions about both going into this off-season. It is well known that Colon will be a free agent, and will have many suitors this off-season, but many are skeptical about his weight, and some mechanical issues that nagged him down the stretch. The Phillies were interested in him when he was a member of the Expos, and could make a run at him again now that he is a free agent.

Pedro Martinez has been injury prone throughout his tenure in Boston, and his age is a factor that could limit the number of bids he receives this off-season. Expect him to return to Boston and finish his career there as well.

Closers: Keith Foulke and Flash Gordon,

Larry Bowa has already openly expressed his wishes to add a new closer to replace Jose Mesa, namely either Keith Foulke or Flash Gordon. The ironic twist to all of this is, that the Phillies could land both, and each could play an active role in the soon to be revamped Phillies bullpen.

Keith Foulke, the longtime closer for the Chicago White Sox and current stopper for the Oakland A's, could find a new home in the Citizens Bank Park bullpen. This season, Foulke notched a 9-1 record, complete with 43 saves. He may just be the most reliable closer in the majors, behind Eric Gagne of Los Angeles. However, it may be tough to bring Foulke to Philadelphia so there has to be a backup plan for this position.

Flash Gordon may be the player the Phillies choose to sign this off-season to replace Mesa. The Phillies are notorious for signing aging relievers in the off-season so this move makes sense for the team. As a member of the White Sox this season, Gordon, 35, recorded 12 saves and compiled a 7-6 record mostly coming from a middle relief role.

Should the Phillies opt to sign Foulke, they would have one of the best closers in baseball, followed by Rheal Cormier who would take over the setup role and Gordon would provide middle relief. Suddenly, that bullpen that basically cost the team a playoff appearance in 2003 may become the strong point of the team in 2004.

Outfield: Vladimir Guererro

There is only one outfielder who will be available this off-season that the Phillies should even show interest in. Yes, Bobby Abreu is the current right fielder on the team, but after a season worth of lackadaisical performances in the field, and mental lapses at the plate and on the base paths, it is time for a change in the Phillies lineup. Guererro would add the perfect compliment to Jim Thome in the Phils batting order and would give the team one of the strongest arms in the league from his right field position. Signing this guy just makes sense. With 25 home runs and 79 RBI in just 122 games Guererro is known to be the top all around outfielder by most baseball experts.

Should Philadelphia sign Guererro, Abreu would be perfect trade bait for acquiring a solid number two, or three starter to add to the rotation. The Phillies have a new ballpark opening this season, and Guererro would be the wisest investment for some of the revenue coming to the team in the very near future.

Infield: Miguel Tejada.

The Phillies lineup is basically set from one to eight going into next season, but there is speculation that Oakland's Miguel Tejada is interested in the Phillies, and the Phillies are interested in him. Jimmy Rollins is coming off of perhaps his worst offensive year, as a pro, and bringing Tejada in would add even more pop to this lineup. Tejada is one season removed from winning the AL MVP in 2002, and yes, he struggled a bit in 2003, but maybe a change of scenery is all he needs to rejuvenate his offensive game.

Yes, the Phillies would lose Rollins' speed on the bases, but lets face it, the team didn't even utilize it this season when he was on base. Rollins' lack of fundamentals has turned him into a weakness on this team and if Tejada were in the lineup, the team would have one of the strongest middle infields in baseball.

If the Phillies choose to add any of the players listed above, they will be a much better ball club because of it. This off-season is crucial for this team because with Atlanta getting older and the Mets continuing in a tailspin, the National League East could very well be there for the Phillies to take in 2004.

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