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Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 2010 Phillies Roster

So far, here's what we know:

SP -- Cliff Lee
SP -- Cole Hamels
SP -- Joe Blanton
SP -- J.A. Happ
SP -- Jamie Moyer
RP -- Brad Lidge
RP -- Ryan Madson
RP -- J.C. Romero

C -- Carlos Ruiz (due for a big raise in arbitration)
C -- Brian Schneider

1B -- Ryan Howard
2B -- Chase Utley
3B -- Placido Polanco
SS -- Jimmy Rollins
Reserve -- Greg Dobbs
Reserve -- Juan Cruz
Reserve -- Ross Gload

OF -- Raul Ibanez
OF -- Shane Victorino (also due for a big raise in arbitration)
OF -- Jayson Werth
OF -- Ben Francisco.

I heard Jayson Stark on ESPN Radio the other day, and he offered that the Phillies upgraded their position-player portion of the roster significantly making the moves that they did. The big question among the upgrades is whether Polanco can play a decent third base.

The bigger questions involve pitching. The Phillies have lost out on at least one big-name reliever (Brandon Lyon) because Ed Wade's Astros gave him $15 million over 3 years (this signing suggests that good relievers are especially at a premium). The Phillies already had told Brett Myers that he was done in Philadelphia, but there is speculation that while the Astros might be interested the Phillies still might have some level of interest. The biggest questions for the Phillies involve Clay Condrey (who had trouble staying healthy last season), Scott Eyre (ditto, and he had indicated that he was going to retire) and Chan Ho Park (who is arbitration eligible, represented by Scott Boras and perhaps still interested in being a starting pitcher). Right now, there are four new names on the roster -- could there be as many as 8? And, if there are eight, four of them will be pitchers, and given how relievers are considered risky propositions, how good will they be? Interesting times in a bad economy that somehow makes relievers a hot item for the Phillies.

Rumors abound about Roy Halladay and how the Phillies might pay for him if they a) trade for him and b) opt to sign him to a long-term deal. The presumption is that while the Phillies gave up four prospects for 1.5 years (and 2 pennant races) of Cliff Lee, that they won't give up better prospects to rent Halladay for a season. They might do so if they can ink the possibly future Hall of Famer to a five-year deal. One rumor is that they'll include J.A. Happ in a deal. Another is that they'll trade Happ and trade Joe Blanton (thereby making the rotation Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Moyer and Kyle Kendrick -- a super-strong front end, a comeback story in the middle, and weak at the back). Finally, there's a rumor that they'll trade Lee to get Halladay if they can ink Halladay to the long-term deal. Note: Lee has said all along that he wants to test the free-agent market after the 2010 season. Stark also said that he spoke with a friend of Halladay's -- someone who's been friendly with the Jays' ace since he was a rookie. That friend said that he had asked Halladay that if he had the choice of any team to play for, what would team would that be, and that Halladay had said, without hesitation, "the Phillies."

So, where does this leave everyone? In limbo so far. I think that if Halladay is aggressive in allowing trades and negotiating for a long-term deal, he can be the winner ahead of John Lackey, Cliff Lee and the other players who will become free agents after the 2010 season. I don't recall precisely the roster of who those players are, but there might be as many as 6-8 top-drawer free agents (Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer) on the market. If that's the case, Halladay will achieve certainty, get an excellent deal, and then not subject himself a) to risking have a bad year or getting hurt before he signs the long-term deal and b) to having the economy stay flat or worsen, thereby putting the number of potential free-agent suitors at risk.

Look, it will be tough enough for the roster of 6-8 top-drawer free agents if that's the number because how many teams realistically can bid for them -- the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, White Sox (perhaps), Mets (although if they spend big this year, perhaps not in 2010), Phillies (perhaps), Cardinals (if they were to lose Pujols) and Dodgers (perhaps). It's hard to see at least half the teams in the majors bidding for elite free agents. So, if Halladay gets a deal done with the Phillies, he'll get an excellent contract and get to play for a contending team. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, might end up getting traded to a team like the Cubs in a multi-team deal, and team that usually finds a way not to win a division. Further, the roster of elite free agents also could find bidding not to be aggressive, meaning that they won't realize the huge dollars that they might have during a boom time. Joe Mauer and Pujols would be exceptions because the former is a rare item and the latter is the best hitter in the game, but others might not get the Santana-, Sabathia-like contracts, or even a Teixeira-like one for a position player. Bottom line -- get the big deal done now.

Back to the Phillies -- the best move would be to get Halladay, sign him to a long-term deal, and then sign a bunch of relievers, perhaps stretching their spend just a little bit. They're built to win now, and they have a bunch of players in the 29-32-year range. They won't be able to keep all of them, but they have a window to go far in the next 2-4 years. If Lee were to leave after this season, Kyle Drabek should be ready. But they shouldn't go into the season with a) an iffy, patchwork bullpen and b) a starting pitching staff that has Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick in it.

Building a major-league team isn't easy. Ruben Amaro did a nice job with the Phillies for 2009, and I suspect that he will do so again in 2010. Still, he has a lot of work to do to build the 2010 Phillies -- and to build a team that can win the World Series.

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