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Offseason Outlook: Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are poised to spend big on a closer and must also consider acquiring a left fielder, shortstop, and utility infielder.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)

Free Agents

The Phillies won a franchise-record, MLB-best 102 regular season games in 2011, but didn't make it past the first round of the playoffs.  They made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, winning one World Series and participating in another.  With several key free agents and ten players already under contract, here's a look at how GM Ruben Amaro Jr. might go about trying to sustain his success.

The Phillies' payroll should rise to the $175MM range next year, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.  Including the team's arbitration eligible players they have about $138MM in 2012 commitments before accounting for minimum salary players.  The Phillies could have approximately $35MM to spend on 2012 salaries. 

Howard ruptured his Achilles tendon in the final game of the season, and although he may not be ready for Opening Day, the Phillies will probably fill first base internally until he's ready.  Potential needs remain plentiful: shortstop,  left field, multiple relievers, and perhaps a utility infielder.  Re-signing Oswalt or replacing him in the rotation with an outside veteran is an option, but seemingly not a priority given viable internal candidates and three aces at the front.

It appears to be time to move on from Rollins, if he insists on four or five years at $13MM or so annually.  Whether the Phillies use internal option Freddy Galvis or a lesser free agent, it's a hit they seem prepared to take.  I'm a little surprised signing Jose Reyes isn't being entertained, but I won't rule it out given the team's history of moving quickly and aggressively.  Otherwise, the Phillies should at least invest in Rafael Furcal, Clint Barmes, or Jamey Carroll to minimize the loss of Rollins.  Carroll, in particular, could contribute at other infield positions if Polanco and Utley need days off.

Ibanez provided little value to the Phillies in the last two years of his three-year deal, yet they appear to be headed down the same path with Michael Cuddyer as his replacement.  The Phillies' first-round draft pick would likely be part of the cost.  Cuddyer turns 33 in March and has been inconsistent offensively, plus his defense does not come well-regarded.  His versatility could come in handy in 2012, though, as he could back up the infield corners and second base.  Given that possibility, he wouldn't necessarily block top prospect Domonic Brown in the long-term.  I understand that the Phillies are in win-now mode, but their best moves have been acquiring star-caliber players.  Granting that the Phillies wouldn't be overly concerned about the back-end of either contract, they should pursue Reyes at the expense of Cuddyer.

Whether or not the Phillies lock down Madson at a reported four years and $44MM, Amaro's willingness to make that level of a commitment to a reliever is troubling.  The team just finished paying Lidge $37.5MM for 123 2/3 innings of 4.73 ERA ball.  Madson and Jonathan Papelbon aren't Mariano Rivera, and giving either closer $40MM+ will be a mistake.  Overpaying for relievers is something win-now teams sometimes have to do, but Madson would be looking at half the money without the 32 saves this year.

It feels odd to so easily criticize the moves of a team after an impressive five-year run.  Despite the annual handful of questionable contracts, the Phillies have authored enough shrewd acquisitions and extensions that perhaps Amaro and company deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Much of the Phillies' success over the last five years is owed to four players with uncertain futures: Hamels, Utley, Rollins, and Victorino.  Perhaps Amaro has already begun to acquire the next wave of stars, as the elite Halladay-Lee tandem may be together through 2014 and Pence is under control for two more seasons.  Hamels could remain a cornerstone beyond 2012, but only if the Phillies are willing to commit over $100MM.  The Phillies still won't be immune to criticism if they embark on another five-year playoff run, but at some point we'll have to acknowledge that they get the major decisions right.








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