- GM Ruben Amaro Jr. announced his top priorities for the offseason: Improve the bullpen and find a right-handed option for right field. Sounds about right, though I would add starting pitching depth, including another high-level starter if available and if they want to intimidate the rest of the league.
- First base coach Davey Lopes and the Phillies could not reach a contract agreement, so Lopes is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lopes has a reputation as one of the best first base coaches in the league, and in his four years with the team, the Phillies have been among the top four teams in the NL in both stolen bases and fewest times caught stealing. However, the Phillies filled his position with former Phillie All-Star Juan Samuel who will become the third base coach, while Sam Perlozzo moves from third to first base.
- The Washington Nationals surprised pretty much everyone by signing Jayson Werth to a 7-year , $126 million dollar deal. People knew that Werth was one of the top free agents on the market, but no one expected a contract of that size. While Ruben Amaro Jr. claimed that they intended to pursue Werth, it seemed evident that they knew resigning him was a longshot. Pat Gillick brought Werth into the franchise in 2007 as a bench player, and over time he became a platoon player with Geoff Jenkins and then a key member of the offense. Now, Werth will be making bank with the Nationals until he's 38. As important as Werth was to the offense, attempting to top that contract would probably not have made much sense. Not surprised to see him go, but he will be missed.
- Both Ben Francisco and Kyle Kendrick had their contracts tendered. Also not surprising, as Francisco seems to be a main reason the team is okay with losing Werth. Kendrick has never become a permanent force in the rotation, but starting pitching depth is always valuable, so while the Phillies can control Kendrick, he's still reasonably young, and he isn't too expensive, they're probably better off keeping him. Kendrick could become a long reliever/backup starter if the Phillies sign another starter for the rotation (as I think they should... more on that later).
- Jose Contreras resigned with the Phillies for two years. Contreras filled every bullpen role last year the Phillies threw at him: long reliever, setup man, and closer. He wound up with a 6-4 record, 4 saves, and a 3.34 ERA in 67 games. Sounds lovely, except that he's 39 years old. But Charlie Manuel seems to like Contreras a lot, and if Ruben Amaro's plan is indeed to make the bullpen younger, presumably using some of the young guys in the system who have made appearances in the past couple years, having an elder statesman like Contreras is probably good.
Players who probably won't be back in 2011: Greg Dobbs, Chad Durbin, Paul Hoover, Jamie Moyer, Nate Robertson, J.C. Romero, Mike Sweeney.
- Dobbs had a lovely stint as a good pinch-hitter and part time third baseman, however once his playing time decreased, so did his effectiveness. Besides, having him and Ross Gload on the same team is a bit silly. Only thing Dobbs does that Gload doesn't is play third base.
- Durbin may actually resign. The Phillies are currently in negotiations with him. Durbin has been an effective member of the bullpen for quite a few years, and hopefully the Phillies can bring him back.
- Moyer is having surgery and may attempt a comeback in 2012, but it may be the end for the 48 year old anomaly. Then again, if he can pitch this long, who's to say that he can't find a way to keep going. If he does retire, the Phillies would be wise to snag him as a pitching coach somewhere in the system before someone else does.
- Once upon a time, Nate Robertson was a regular starting pitcher in the Detroit Tigers' rotation. In 2006, he had an ERA under 4.00. He did have over 100 strikeouts in five straight seasons, but that's about all I can say for him. Philly took a shot on him, it didn't seem to work. Oh well.
- Philly got three great years out of J.C. Romero, but after a season marked by inconsistency and injury, he's gone. Though, he had a 3.68 ERA. One could certainly do worse, and he's only 34. But he may command a larger contract than the Phillies would like to give him and he's been injured during the last two seasons. I wouldn't be surprised if they brought him back to a smaller contract if he goes unsigned, but most likely they'll look elsewhere for a lefty reliever.
- I liked the idea of having Mike Sweeney on the team, but he was basically a left-handed hitter for down the stretch who could spell Ryan Howard while he was recovering. Having him take a bench spot for an entire season makes no sense.
Players already brought in for 2011: Eddie Bonine, Kevin Cash, Erik Kratz, Jeff Larish, Michael Martinez, Dan Meyer, Brandon Moss.
- Martinez was taken from the Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft. Not exactly a fair trade for Werth, but they'll also get a couple draft picks. Martinez is a solid defensive infielder who can play multiple positions. At best, he's another versatile, cheap player on the bench that will take the slot vacated by Dobbs. At worst, he goes back to the Nationals.
- The rest of the players were signed to minor league deals. Cash is a veteran backup catcher who probably becomes the third or fourth option at catcher. Larish looks like a younger version of Dobbs who looked okay with Oakland last year. Meyer was a solid left-handed reliever for Florida in 2009, but struggled and was injured last year. Moss started in right field for Pittsburgh in 2009, but he wasn't much of a factor then, and only played in 17 games for the Pirates last year.
- In other words, these guys are role players at best.
So where do the Phillies stand in accomplishing their goals:
The only player the Phillies did come out of the Winter Meetings with was left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes. Well... sort of. They agreed to terms with him: 1.1 million with an option for 1.35 million in 2012. Once he passes a physical, the deal will be completed. He wasn't much better last year than Romero, and lefties hit him really well, so I'm not exactly sure what the appeal is. Apparently, they were in the running for George Sherrill, but Atlanta outbid them.
At the moment, they have Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Contreras, Danys Baez, and David Herndon, so there will be either two or three spots open. Most likely, one spot will be a lefty reliever (which Reyes would cover), and another will be a long reliever/spot starter. If the Phillies do want to make the bullpen younger, they'll probably start committing to guys like Sergio Escalona, Antonio Bastardo, Drew Carpenter, Vance Worley, and Mike Zagurski. They may also bring Durbin back. There are quite a number of intriguing relievers on the market, including Miguel Batista, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Bobby Jenks, Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Arthur Rhodes, and Kerry Wood just to name a few. I'm not saying all of these guys would be great fits, but there's a lot of available talent, so they should have no problem shoring up the bullpen with top notch talent.
Amaro keeps saying that he would be comfortable with the platoon of Francisco and Brown/Gload taking over for Werth, but he has also been exploring other options. He's said he would only make a move if it would truly upgrade what they already have. The Phillies liked Matt Diaz and Jeff Franceour, but they signed with Pittsburgh and Kansas City respectfully. Personally, I don't think they missed much losing out on either of them. There has also been talk of Scott Hairston, who I think has more upside than Diaz or Franceour.
There was also talk of trading with the Giants for Aaron Rowand. Rowand was a great fit while he was in Philly, and while he wouldn't supply the power that Werth had, he would be a welcome re-addition to the lineup. His ethic and clubhouse manner would be worth it. Giants GM Brian Sabean squashed rumors about a Rowand deal, but the Giants have a bunch of outfielders and Rowand didn't have a great year for them last year. Sabean claims Rowand is part of their plan next year, but I would imagine he could be had in a deal.
Other outfielders on the market that could be worth pursuing if they don't cost too much: Bill Hall (more as a utility bench player than a starter in right field), Brad Hawpe, Gary Matthews (would be great for the bench if Francisco becomes a starter), Xavier Nady. I might even suggest Magglio Ordonez, if he could be had for a short contract, and maybe, just maybe, Manny Ramirez would be worth it. He does have a history with Charlie Manuel, and it doesn't appear that many teams are interested in signing him. If he could be had for cheap, it could be a low-risk, high-reward situation.
While there hasn't been an enormous amount of talk regarding getting another starter, there should be. If this is a team that expects to dominate the league, Joe Blanton and (most likely) Kyle Kendrick just isn't going to cut it for the bottom of the rotation. There is no reason the Phillies can't go out and find an excellent player for the fourth slot in the rotation. The Boston Red Sox (who after acquiring Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez may be the team to beat in the majors) have Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholtz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, with Tim Wakefield waiting in the wings. There is a major drop-off after the Phillies' top three pitchers and that is something that should be addressed.
The one name I have read about is Kansas City ace Zack Greinke. Greinke won the Cy Young in 2009, but is coming off an off year in 2010 where he went 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. Greinke is 27, has two years left on his contract, and he and the Royals management both know that the team is probably a couple years away from competing, which is what makes him attractive to a contender now, while he's entering his prime. However, since he's under contract, the management feels no need to hastily trade him away, so they will require a lot of talent in return for him. I'm not sure whether or not the Phillies do in fact have the kind of talent the Royals are looking for, since they depleted the top levels of their minor league system in trading for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. I have never been completely sold on Greinke, but then again I wasn't completely sold on Lee when they acquired him. Amaro seems to be interested in acquiring long term options, so for that reason Greinke might be a great move. If they have the talent to land him. If the Rangers lose Cliff Lee to the Yankees or another team, they might swoop in to get Greinke. The Marlins are another potential destination, and their farm system is typically stocked with talent.
Other than Greinke, there are some extremely intriguing free agents that the Phillies could pursue. First of all, Brandon Webb. Yes, he was injured last year, but has everyone really forgotten how good this guy used to be? The highest ERA he has ever had in a full season is 3.59. The lowest number of strikeouts he has ever had in a full season was 164. Both of those lows came in the 2004 season. If Webb can pass a physical and be signed to an incentive heavy deal, he could make the Phillies rotation one of the scariest in baseball. Most of the more intriguing names on the market have some kind of injury history attached, but this is for the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. Why not take a chance on a guy like Webb, Jeff Francis, Rich Harden, Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, or Chris Young? Worse comes to worse, they get injured, no one will be surprised, and they'll be left with the same rotation they would have had anyway. Best case scenario, they add yet another ace-caliber pitcher to the rotation. Who knows - maybe the Roy Halladay conditioning method will wear off and the Phillies can revive someone's career.
With the first set of Winter Meetings over, it still remains to be seen how the Phillies will spend this offseason improving. This is a team that is built to win in the present. If they do nothing to improve on what they already have, the cracks will show and their pseudo-dynasty will begin its downfall. But there's still plenty of time to make a few moves and create another monster team going into 2011.