2012 Phillies Offseason Preview

The Philadelphia Phillies recently made a big statement by signing free agent first baseman Jim Thome.  By signing Thome, the Phillies are letting the world know that they are ready to replace Ryan Howard during his time on the disabled list and gear up for a 2012 World Series run with or without Howard.

While the Thome signing was one I foresaw, there are other signings I would like to see the Phillies pursue:  Michael Cuddyer, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, Darren Oliver and John Mayberry.

Michael Cuddyer

If the Phillies sign Cuddyer, it is possible that he may be the starting second baseman and the team may move Chase Utley to first base.  If Utley were moved to first, then Jim Thome would serve as a backup who gets the occasional start and serves as a good power bat on the bench.

If Utley remains at second base, then Cuddyer could perhaps play first base while Ryan Howard remains on the disabled list.  If there are no plans to start Cuddyer at first base, then he could possibly start in left field to replace Raul Ibanez.

Cuddyer is a logical option for the Phillies.  He is a solid right-handed bat – which the Phillies sorely need – who can hit for average and power; more importantly, Cuddyer can hit left-handed pitching.  His versatility will be a useful tool, especially if the Phillies suffer a string of injuries in their lineup.

Dilemma at first base

While Howard is on the disabled list, the Phillies will not miss his strikeouts and poor situational hitting; however, they will miss his power and run production.  I believe Thome will serve well as a power hitter, especially in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Ballpark; however, Thome has a history of back ailments.

The Phillies need to plan to have a replacement for Thome at first base if his back flares up.  If they indeed sign Cuddyer, he could be Thome’s replacement at first base while John Mayberry (if they re-sign him) or Domonic Brown could play in left field.

Why the Phillies need Jimmy Rollins

I believe the Phillies need to re-sign free agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins.  While Rollins does not hit for an extremely high average (.268 AVG in 2011) or sport a high on-base percentage (.338 OBP in 2011), he is vital to the Phillies’ success.  Rollins is a switch-hitter, excellent base runner and a superb shortstop.

Do not underestimate the importance of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to the Phillies' success.

The flaws in Rollins’ offensive game merely call for a change in the batting order.  Rather than batting Rollins in the leadoff spot, I prefer to see him batting sixth or seventh in the 2012 season.

Rollins has some power in his bat and should not be discouraged from using it in the sixth or seventh spot; furthermore, his speed will be a deadly weapon in the bottom third of the order.

When Rollins is on base in the bottom third of the order, a base hit will likely score a run.  Rollins’ speed also presents the hit-and-run as an option in the bottom of the order.  If the pitcher is up to bat, Rollins’ speed will enable him to advance the next base on some less-than-ideal bunts (if he does not already steal second or third base).  If Rollins is on third base, the squeeze play is an option, regardless of who the batter may be.

Although Rollins is not a leadoff hitter in the truest sense of the title, he is a dangerous player whose success plays an important role in any team’s pursuit of victory.  His switch-hitting and his speed would be wonderful tools to have in the bottom of the Phillies’ batting order; furthermore, his superb defense saves them many runs.  It is important that the Phillies re-sign Rollins and let him finish his career with the team.  The only way I would excuse the absence of Rollins is if the Phillies were to sign free agent shortstop Jose Reyes and name him as their new leadoff hitter (I see Babe Ruth coming back before Reyes signs with the Phillies).  Personally, I prefer Rollins for his excellent defense.

If the Phillies re-sign Rollins, I hope to see him moved to the bottom third of the order and Shane Victorino moved up to the leadoff spot.  Victorino is a more consistent hitter than Rollins and is capable of consistently hitting over .280 in a given season.

Shane Victorino AVG by season
2006:  .287
2007:  .281
2008:  .293
2009:  .292
2010:  .259
2011:  .279

Victorino’s .355 OBP in 2011 bests Rollins’ .338 OBP.  While Victorino does tend to strike out at a slightly higher pace than Rollins, he sports a better OBP and AVG.  From this information, one can surmise that Victorino waits for better pitches to hit than Rollins does and that his swings are normally of a higher quality than Rollins’ swings.  For those reasons, Victorino should be the leadoff hitter.

My 2012 Phillies starting lineup

If Ruben Amaro’s thought process is the same as mine, then Rollins will be re-signed and remain a member of the Phillies.  Cuddyer’s skill as a right-handed hitter and his versatility will be brought to the club and become the starting left fielder.

Below is my 2012 Philadelphia Phillies starting lineup on opening day (provided that Amaro makes the moves I think he should):

[1]  Shane Victorino, CF
[2]  Placido Polanco, 3B
[3]  Chase Utley, 2B
[4]  Hunter Pence, RF
[5]  Jim Thome, 1B
[6]  Michael Cuddyer, LF
[7]  Jimmy Rollins, SS
[8]  Carlos Ruiz, C
[9]  Roy Halladay, SP

With the above batting order, the Phillies have hitters who can hit for average and power and their abilities can complement each other very well.  Pitchers will have difficulty in pitching around this lineup, for the way my batting order is set up, each hitter’s abilities give another hitter lineup protection.

More importantly, my batting order does not have any back-to-back left-handers.  Without having back-to-back left-handers in the lineup, this order forces a cat-and-mouse game for opposing managers who have to carefully decide when to bring in a left-handed pitcher from the bullpen.

The batting order I created above has average, power, speed, discipline, situational hitters and lineup protection.  This order can also create matchup problems that favor the Phillies and force the hand of the opposition’s manager.

Pitching

I have no concerns about the starting pitching.  Regardless of whether or not the Phillies bring back Roy Oswalt, they have four solid starters whose spots may be set in stone:  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.  The Phillies could stick a pitching machine into the fifth slot and they would still have the best pitching rotation in baseball.

The bullpen may be a slight cause for concern, however.  Free agent Brad Lidge has been injury-prone in the past few years and closer Ryan Madson is a free agent.  Young left-hander Antonio Bastardo had a brilliant start to his 2011 season; however, he faded down the stretch.

In the interest of having more than one left-hander in the bullpen, I believe the Phillies should sign veteran Darren Oliver.  Oliver is a reliable left-handed veteran still chasing the dream of winning a World Series; the Phillies are one of the few favorites who make that dream a realistic possibility.

While Jose Contreras could conceivably fill in as the team’s closer, he struggled with injuries in 2011.  Regardless of whether or not Lidge returns, it would be a blow to the Phillies’ bullpen to lose Madson.

While the possibility of Madson leaving would be a big disappointment to the Phillies, it would not be an entirely crushing blow, for the Phillies do not rely heavily on their bullpen.  If Madson does leave, the Phillies could make Contreras or Michael Stutes their closer.

My 2012 Phillies rotation
SP:  Roy Halladay
SP:  Cliff Lee
SP:  Vance Worley
SP:  Cole Hamels
SP:  Joe Blanton (if not Kyle Kendrick or Roy Oswalt)

My 2012 Phillies bullpen
RP:  Ryan Madson (closer)
RP:  Jose Contreras
RP:  Michael Stutes
RP:  Antonio Bastardo
RP:  Kyle Kendrick (if Joe Blanton or Roy Oswalt starts)
RP:  Darren Oliver (reliable left-handed veteran)

My 25-man roster on opening day (assuming everybody but Ryan Howard is healthy) would look like this with Domonic Brown starting the 2012 season in the minors:

Starting lineup
C:  Carlos Ruiz
1B:  Jim Thome
2B:  Chase Utley
3B:  Placido Polanco
SS:  Jimmy Rollins
LF:  Michael Cuddyer
CF:  Shane Victorino
RF:  Hunter Pence

Rotation
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Vance Worley
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton (if not Roy Oswalt or Kyle Kendrick)

Bullpen
Ryan Madson
Michael Stutes
Jose Contreras
Antonio Bastardo
Darren Oliver
Kyle Kendrick (if not replacing Blanton or Oswalt as 5th starter)
David Herndon

Bench
Backup catcher (I do not care who it is)
Michael Martinez, 2B/3B/SS/OF
Wilson Valdez, 2B/3B/SS
John Mayberry, OF/1B
Ben Francisco, OF

If Amaro follows the plans I have in mind, the Phillies would have a talented and versatile batting order full of hitters who complement one another and give one another lineup protection, have a strong pitching rotation, have a strong bullpen and have versatile players on the bench (several of which are right-handers that can hit left-handed pitching).

Will the ideas I have in mind come become reality with the Phillies?  I do not know; however, I would be very excited about the Phillies’ chances of winning the 2012 World Series if these ideas do become reality.

Christopher Wenrich is a senior fantasy baseball contributor for BaseballDigest.com and can be reached at philliesmuse@yahoo.com.  You can follow him on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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