The Phillies are entering the free agent market place and for a team that won more games than any team in baseball and set a franchise record along the way, the Phils have a pretty extensive and expensive shopping list.
So, in the next few weeks Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will take out his list and get to work. In fact, he’s already crossed off one item on that list – a left-handed bat with power that can come off the bench and even play a little first base while Ryan Howard is on the mend after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Jim Thome, the once and future Phillie, will fill that role.
But there is still plenty to do. So, here, in descending order of importance, are the three things the Phillies should do this offseason as they try to keep that window of opportunity propped open a little longer.
And don’t forget, pitchers and catchers report in just a little more than two months.
3. Re-sign Ryan Madson. As good as the starting pitching has been and should be, it won’t mean much unless the Phillies have a door-slamming relief pitcher. The Phillies had more complete games than any pitching staff in the majors, but those terrific starters still only finished what they started 18 times out of 162 games.
Even if they land another reliever to close, Madson was one of the best seventh- and eighth-inning pitchers in the game and you need a couple of those guys, too. Last year, he was given a chance to be the closer and he did a solid job. Plus he’s only 31 and he’s always been durable, so he could have four or five good years left him.
The Phillies need to make sure he’s in their uniform for those four or five years. And he won’t come cheaply. Good closers are at a premium and there are plenty of teams that will be eager to throw lots of money at him.
2. Don’t re-sign Jimmy Rollins. He’s had a terrific career here – how many players have an MVP trophy and a World Series ring? – but now it’s time for Rollins to move on and for the Phillies to find a young replacement.
Rollins has been just an average player since his MVP season of 2007. He’s still a terrific fielding shortstop, but his batting average and on-base percentage have slipped considerably and he keeps getting hurt and there’s no reason to think any of that will improve with age.
Worse, it seems as if manager Charley Manuel has it locked in his mind that Rollings is his lead-off hitter. Rollins, of course, has never been the prototype lead-off hitter who works the count and waits out walks, but he made up for that with his extra-base pop. Well, he doesn’t have that pop anymore and he still doesn’t work his way onto base.
And don’t let sentiment get in the way. This is a fact in life in sports. With the Eagles, it happened to Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook, three of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. With the Sixers, it happened with Allen Iverson. With the Flyers, it happened to Eric Lindros. And with the Phillies, it happened to Bobby Abreu, not to mention Steve Carlton and Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski.
Now it’s happening, or at least should happen, to Jimmy Rollins. And they don’t need a dynamic offensive player to replace him. The Phillies should have plenty of offense, so they don’t need a big bat at shortstop. Instead, they should find some slick-fielding youngster, stick him in the No. 8 hole and use all the money they save to …
1. …Acquire a left-fielder. And not just any left-fielder. They need a professional hitter, somebody on whom they can count to hit .300 and drive in some runs. The Phillies offense can be potent, but it’s not consistent and they need somebody in the middle of their order who can supply that.
That will be especially important if Howard misses the beginning of the season recovering from his torn Achilles tendon and John Mayberry has to play first base. Some people believe Mayberry could be the answer in left field, but I don’t see it. He’s got good power and maybe he can be a .300 hitter (Mayberry hit .273 this season and struck out 55 times in 267 at-bats), but the Phillies can’t afford to do in left field what they did in right field in the first half of last season, when they played Ben Francisco (he hit .244) and Domonic Brown (.245). Then, when the Phillies found out neither was the answer, they traded for Hunter Pence.
So, the Phils should get next year’s Pence in the beginning of the season instead of waiting till the end. Who that player is, well, that’s why Amaro makes the big bucks – let him figure it out.