We knew for a while now the Phillies were working on getting Chase Utley under contract and prevent him from hitting the free agent market for 2014. Utley is now reported to be under contract through 2015 after agreeing to a two-year contract extension worth between $25 and $30 million according to multiple reports, which secures the infield core of Jimmy Rollins, Utley and Ryan Howard for 2014 and perhaps 2015. Now that Utley's contract is taken care of, what's next for Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro? Will other free agents to be receive a contract extension before the free agent market opens up? If so, which players are coming back to try and make one more run under this core? Or is it time for the franchise to begin looking to the future?
Here are some questions Amaro and the Phillies need to address between now and the end of the regular season, before free agency opens.
1. Is Charlie Manuel still the manager?
Many believe Charlie Manuel is on his last ride as Phillies skipper. Manuel, who managed the Phillies to their second World Series in franchise history and is all-time leader in manager wins for the franchise still most known for losing (Phillies are 147 games over .500 with Manuel as manager), was signed to a two-year contract prior to the 2012 season. Ryne Sandberg was added to the team's coaching staff this season as a third base coach after managing the triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs and it has the appearance the team is grooming Sandberg to take over as manager if and when it comes time to move on from Manuel.
With the Phillies far from removed from the postseason discussion, a change of manager could be a realistic possibility before the end of the regular season. Manuel will forever be honored his role in the glorious 2008 season and one of the top eras in franchise history for years to come, but if a change in leadership is deemed necessary then ties should be severed before 2014.
What I would do: I am in favor of a change of manager, although I see no reason to cut Manuel loose before the end of the year. Perhaps there is something to be gained by evaluating Sandberg as a potential manager in September but ultimately I am not sure it would make a difference in the eventual outcome. I would allow Manuel to finish out the season and then have a long, hard discussion on whether or not he is the right manager for the future.
2. Do you bring back Roy Halladay?
Roy Halladay's effectiveness has been on a downward slope the past couple of seasons and his being on the disabled list for the majority of this year may show why. Halladay is working hard on coming back and there is no counting out a potential major league return before the end of this lost season. The Doc will fall well short of a guaranteed option for 2014 with the Phillies (needed to pitch 225 innings this season, sitting on 34.1 IP), so he will be looking to prove something. How much does he have to give though?
If the Phillies were to bring back Halladay, then it would keep a starting rotation likely to be fronted by Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Halladay. This assumes, of course, the Phillies avoid trading Lee away (again) in the off-season. Keep in mind Halladay is 36 years old. This has not scared the team away from signing an injury-waiting-to-happen player at that age (Utley will be 35 next season, close enough), but pitchers can be different.
What I would do: Let Halladay pitch in September if everybody says he is ready to give it a try. See what he can do and how he feels. Take a flyer on him. If everything looks good, understanding he will never be 2010 Halladay again, consider the possibility of a short term deal at a low price tag. I am not sure what the market will be for a pitcher like Halladay given his health concerns and diminishing production, but he's going to be pitching somewhere in 2014. If he can be effective and obtained at the right price, I'm not sure what the Phillies have to lose at this point. A starting rotation of Hamels, Lee and Halladay supported by Cuban import Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and John Lannan or an IronPig still sounds good to the ear.
3. What happens with Carlos Ruiz?
We all love Chooch but the sad reality seems to suggest when he is not on Aderol his production is slipping and reverting. Watching Carlos Ruiz this season has left an empty feeling and the time to find a new catcher may be now for the Phillies. However, I would not be shocked at all if the Phillies worked out an extension for Ruiz for 2014, perhaps even offering a two-year deal. The Phillies have already shown a penchant for keeping the 2008 core together, and Ruiz certainly fits that mold. Bringing him back certainly seems to be a realistic possibility for the Phillies.
What I would do: Unless a deal could be worked out in which Ruiz signs a relatively small contract and accepts the possibility of a reduced role behind home, I strongly consider letting him test the free agent market. In the mean time I focus on possibly signing Phillies-killer and potential free agent to be Brian McCann. It appears the Atlanta Braves are making what could be a serious mistake, as Peter Gammons suggests, in allowing McCann to reach free agency. This could be an instance where the Braves may not have the funding available to offer McCann what he might be worth. McCann is five years younger than Ruiz and would be a quality power bat to add to a line-up playing 81 games in Citizens Bank Park (career .292, 12 home runs in 68 games in CBP). If the Phillies had a backstop of McCann and Erik Kratz in 2014, I would be OK with that.
4. Say good bye to Michael Young
The writing always seemed to be on the wall when it came to third baseman Michael Young. Acquired via trade with the Texas Rangers in a deal that saw his longtime former club paying the bulk of his salary for 2013, Young was always going to be a one-year-and-done player for the Phillies to plug in at third base. With Cody Asche getting some playing time at third base now that he has been called up the evaluation for the prospect is underway. Whether or not Asche impresses enough to be given a starting job in 2014 remains to be seen, but the free agent pool for third basemen is not exactly great. With the infield pretty much locked in with aging veterans, getting younger at third base may be a requirement for the Phillies and Asche may be the best solution for 2014.
What I would do: Move Young this month. If any player should have been moved at the trade deadline, it should have been Young. Who knows what the asking price was that was too low for the Phillies last month and who knows what it might be before the waiver trade deadline (August 31, 11:59 p.m. ET). Young is not coming back in 2014 so why not move him for whatever pieces can be found and see what you can do with them in the farm system?
5. Anybody want Jonathan Papelbon?
Closer Jonathan Papelbon is anything but a fan favorite in Philadelphia. I'm no real fan of him either but the Phillies have him signed through 2015 and an option for 2016 and nobody around the league appears to be real interested in acquiring him. With Ruben Amaro calling the shots, I would expect nothing less than for the Phillies to move forward and hope for the best with Papelbon as the closer for 2014. Papelbon may be annoying, but if the Phillies improve enough in 2014 then his role will take on a new mentality and perhaps focus a little more (not suggesting his attitude is not there, but closers have a knack for kicking things up a notch when more is on the line). This season has been a disaster and Papelbon is not clear of any blame.
Amaro would not be doing his job if he didn't listen to any offers in exchange for Papelbon, but I don't believe any moves will be made with the closer.
What I would do: This may be an unpopular opinion, but I settle in and hope for the best with Papelbon. Unless somebody out there is crazy enough to take his contract off your hands, there is almost nothing that can be done. If the Phillies can get stronger or better production out of the line-up and pitching staff before Papelbon has a chance to throw a pitch, then perhaps something changes.
Kyle Kendrick or John Lannan? Both pitchers will be eligible for free agency at the end of the year. Both have had their ups and downs this season but the Phillies need to decide if either (or both) are worth bringing back in 2014. Though I'm hesitant on bringing Kendrick back, it may be a move to make if you think he can improve on his command more consistently. I am also OK bringing Lannan back. Both are the same age and can be quality starters at the back-end of a starting rotation.
Ben Revere should be back. He may have started off slowly and he may lack power in his bat, but I don't even hesitate to bring Ben Revere back in 2014. That is, of course, unless the Phillies can make a move to sign Jacoby Ellsbury away from Boston. Hey, they have Shane Victorino, right?
John Mayberry Jr. should not be back. The Phillies may be forced to bring Mayberry back in 2014 thanks to a lack of outfield options, but I would be fine not bringing him back. How many times does a guy have to be picked off before coming to that decision? He can be a decent reserve player but I am beyond waiting for him to reach what was once thought to be his full potential.
What to do with the bullpen? The Phillies tried beefing up the bullpen with veteran Mike Adams and Chad Durbin this season but that was a bit of a disaster. Adams is back in 2014 and will have to prove worthy of eighth inning duty. If healthy, that job should remain his, but the Phillies need to decide if adding more veteran arms will be the move or if continuing to develop and work with younger arms from the farm system will eventually pay off. There is not one young pitcher out of the bullpen I have much confidence in this season, but there could be something said for allowing these pitchers to go through their growing pains now if the potential is there to provide dependable relief. One thing is probably certain; Antonio Bastardo should probably be gone.
What moves are you looking to see the Phillies make between now and the end of the regular season, or early in the off-season? Let me know in the comments section.