Countdown To Opening Day 2012: 6 Days

March 30th, 2012 by Mike H. | Filed under Baseball, Phillies.

One of the major flaws facing this Phillies roster is their age. 60% of the 25-man roster is on the wrong side of 30. This also leads into a bigger problem, the length in which their tenure lasts. Instead of looking at it with doom and gloom on the horizon, let’s take a different approach to this. Let’s take a look at what may come to pass as we have less than a week for the marathon to begin.

The national media, hell even the local media, likes to say that the window for this core of Phillies players is closing. If and when Cole Hamels is locked up, I’d look at it as a beginning. This isn’t the beginning of a rebuild, it’s the beginning of a reload. As of time of post, Baseball Prospectus has the 2012 Phillies payroll sitting at roughly $166.3 M. The 2013 payroll sits at $112.6 M, a difference of roughly $53.7 M. Now, that number only covers eight players and will go up between 35-45 M if and when Cole Hamels and Hunter Pence re-up. If the Phillies decide to resign Shane Victorino, the 2013 payroll will most likely blow way over the luxury tax threshold. Which makes staying under in 2012, that much more important.

So where can the Phillies cut costs? Right off the top of my head, the pitching staff is the easiest target. The Phillies look to shed roughly $11 M between Joe Blanton, Chad Qualls, and Jose Contreras at the end of the season. The Phillies have a couple of internal options they could pursue to replace them. Top pitching prospect, Trevor May, is heading to AA Reading. Depending on his level of success, he could be an option to replace Blanton, as could Austin Hyatt, who will spend 2012 in AAA Lehigh Valley. If they don’t feel confident with their minor league options, they could always re-insert Kyle Kendrick, who is under contract and won’t affect the payroll.

That means that at least two bullpen arms will be needed to fill the voids that Qualls, Contreras, and potentially Kendrick leave. The Phillies have a plethora of internal options to consider. Justin De Fratus, Phillipe Aumont, Michael Schwimer, Michael Stutes, Joe Savery, and Jake Diekman all will be battling for a roster spot and all would only make the league minimum. Even if Stutes sticks with the big team, keep an eye on the Iron Pigs in 2012 to have a magical bullpen similar to that 2008 Phillies pen down to the defined roles.

Using internal options to fill the three roster spots in 2013 could save the Phillies $9.5 M, but what about the position players? This is the most interesting area to me. The key to the 2013 payroll is third base. I would have to imagine that unless Polanco, a.) stays healthy all season long, and b.) plays like a mad man offensively, that he will be bought out and the Phillies will pursue other options. This also directly affects the outfield. Can the Phillies afford to get a third baseman, extend Shane Victorino, and pay Hunter Pence?

As much as I like Shane Victorino, he will probably command more than his worth in free agency. The Phillies could look to extend Hunter Pence with the money Victorino would cost and save cap space. Pence is two-and-a-half years younger than Victorino and has proven he can hit for average and power. Who would play center then? Well John Mayberry has experience playing center field. Tyson Gillies is starting the season at AA Reading and needs to prove health more than anything else.

I also am a strong believer that Domonic Brown’s career as a Phillie has yet to take off. At some point this season, he will be up and it may be for good. Offensively, Brown is the type of player this Phillies team needs. After a month-long slump last June, Brown was hitting his stride until the acquisition of Pence demoted him to AAA. The problem with Brown is his defense. Now in left field, give him time to get acclimated and have someone come in and work on his routes. Even at his current defensive level, Brown’s offense balances out his defense when compared to the likes of Raul Ibanez and Pat Burrell.

By not re-signing Shane Victorio, the Phillies could have the available funds to pursue a third baseman. Unfortunately, the Phillies are very thin as far as major league ready third baseman go. The free agent class next off-season is just as thin as far as long-term options go. Most likely a long-term solution would have to be acquired via trade. The biggest potentially available name is Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres. Still under team control, Headley would probably cost a pretty penny in return.

The Phillies are pulling into a cross-road. Stay all in and keep acquiring veterans, or start putting your farm hands to work. With the structuring of the Luxury Tax, they may be forced into the second option. Hopefully these kids see their opportunity and do everything it takes to make the decision easy for the Phillies.

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