Crucial Off-season Arrives For Amaro, Phils; Expect Some Major Changes for 2015

September 30th, 2014 by Jim Chesko | Filed under Baseball, General, Phillies.

After a second-straight 73-89 season and the franchise’s first last-place finish since 2000, the Phillies now embark on a crucial off-season – for the future of the team as well as for Ruben Amaro Jr. The general manager, who has one year remaining on his contract, will need to make some drastic moves – and have those moves pay dividends – if he’s to hold onto that job beyond next year.

The good news is that Amaro finally seems to realize that it’s not 2010 or 2011 anymore and that the team’s aging core of veterans isn’t suddenly going to discover the fountain of youth. He admitted the other day that some “significant” changes are warranted, saying “I think we need it. What we have on our roster right now isn’t working.”

Who stays, and who goes? While a lot of fans would probably love to see Amaro channel his inner Sam Hinkie, blow up the roster and start over, that’s unlikely to happen. The guess is that Chase Utley will be the Opening Day second baseman in 2015 and Jimmy Rollins will once again man the fort at shortstop. Both of them will soon turn 36 years old. Utley’s production trailed off significantly in the second half of the 2014 season, but he stayed healthy the entire year and still finished with a .270 batting average. Although Rollins hit just .243, he put up some decent power numbers with 17 home runs and 55 runs batted in, and even managed 28 stolen bases. He’s still one of the top-fielding shortstops in the game. But the rest of starting eight could look quite a bit different next April.

Howard & Co. Look Mystified at the Plate

Howard & Co. Look Mystified at the Plate

The big question for many Phils’ fans: Will Ryan Howard be back at first base? The funny thing is, a lot of fans said last spring they’d be quite happy if Howard could stay healthy and hit about 25 homers with 100 RBIs. Well, he got into 153 games and he belted 23 homers and knocked in 95. Not bad, right? Well, it’s not so good when you also realize he hit just .223, he led the majors in strikeouts with 190, and his .690 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) ranked near the bottom among major-league first basemen. Amaro will try hard to trade Howard, probably to an American League team, but the Phils will have to pay a significant chunk of cash to get a deal done; Howard, who soon turns 35, is owed $50 million in salary over the next two years, along with a $10 buyout clause for 2017. Ouch.

The Phillies will also look to upgrade the outfield. Any or all of the mainstays from 2014 – Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Marlon Byrd – could end up elsewhere next season. A 2013 All-Star, Brown was the Phils’ biggest disappointment in the just-concluded season. He hit just .235 with 10 home runs and frequently looked lost or unsure of himself in left field. Center fielder Revere hit .306 – good for fifth in the National League – and finished tied for the lead in hits with 184, and he swiped 49 bases. But his defense was average at best, and his throwing arm is among the worst in the majors. In right, Byrd was pretty solid, and he put up better numbers than almost anyone could have expected – 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .264 average. He could be attractive for a team looking for some pop from a corner outfielder or designated hitter.

Of course, if any of those outfielders are dealt, Amaro will need to find a replacement. It’s still anybody’s guess how much money the Phillies would be willing to throw at 23-year-old Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas or a free agent like AL home-run champ Nelson Cruz.

Will Papelbon be traded? Two things about Jonathan Papelbon. First of all, the closer had a darn good year, with 39 saves and a 2.04 ERA. Secondly, however, there’s no reason to bring him back in 2015. The feeling here is that Papelbon, who turns 34 in November, is unlikely to repeat that performance in red-and-white pinstripes, and that the Phils will push hard to find a trading partner for him. Plus, it’s time to turn the closer’s job over to 24-year-old Kenny Giles or 27-year-old Jake Diekman.

The effectiveness of the bullpen, especially the performance of the hard-throwing rookie, Giles, was the big surprise of the Phillies’ 2014 season. On the other hand, the struggles of the starting rotation, ranked – along with Brown and Howard – among the big disappointments. Cliff Lee spent most of the season on the disabled list, soon-to-be free agent Kyle Kendrick had epic problems getting through the first inning of many games (yet still somehow led the staff with 10 wins), A.J. Burnett led the majors with 18 losses and 96 walks, and the Phils’ bats all too often went quiet when ace Cole Hamels took the mound. The lefthander finished 9-9 even though he had an ERA of 2.46; he could definitely sue his teammates for lack of (run) support!

Cole_Hamels1-300x277Hamels could be dealt, but don’t count on it. Hamels, who’s in his prime at age 30, is signed through 2019 and, while he could bring the Phillies more quality than anyone else in a trade, the guess here is that he’ll be on the mound for the Phightins when the Red Sox visit Citizens Bank Park to open the 2015 season April 6. As it stands today, with Kendrick expected to sign elsewhere and Burnett probably ready to call it a career, the rest of the rotation will include Lee (assuming he’s healthy) and David Buchanan, and – who knows? Jerome Williams probably earned a shot at a job with his two-month audition. Will Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez get another opportunity? Might Aaron Nola be ready to compete for a spot in the rotation? Will Amaro pursue a free-agent starter?

Amaro has a busy winter ahead of him. How successful he is with the “significant” changes he’s promised will likely impact his own future, and will go a long way to shaping the near-term future of the franchise as well.

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