The Phillies have a problem... a left-handed problem.
The word "sinister" may be the best word to describe the Phillies lineup for next year. No, there's nothing evil about it (definition 1), but I would say that dictionary.com's point three and point four explain the problem: It is rather unfortunate (3) how left-handed (4) the lineup is. This is going to be a problem.
The Phillies 2014 may feature the following left-handed hitters:
- Chase Utley
- Ryan Howard
- Domonic Brown
- Ben Revere
- Cody Asche
The lineup is filled out by switch-hitter Jimmy Rollins and potentially by righty Darin Ruf. The Phillies do not have a clear catching option for 2014. And that's part of the problem.
As we saw this year, the Phillies offense needs a boost. But where do you do it?
The obvious spot is at catcher, where Carlos Ruiz is coming off a sub-par year and is a free agent. Tommy Joseph pretty much lost all of 2013 to concussions that may keep him from ever catching again. Once-prospect Sebastian Valle spent 2013 as a backup catcher in AA who currently sits with a .628 OPS. Valle even played some outfield. Cameron Rupp has a chance to be a MLB backup at some point, but was rushed to AAA and did not show much with the bat.
The free agent market at catcher has plenty of names. But the best one will not help this lineup. Brian McCann is 29 years old and is an offensive force in the lineup. The Phillies know that very well. He would be a good fit if - the big if - he wasn't left-handed. A.J. Pierzynski is a decent bat...but is a left-handed hitter.
The other free-agent options are underwhelming. Kelly Shoppach is hitting .196. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting .265; as a switch-hitter with ten home runs, he could provide the most offense of the free-agent list.
The other free agent catcher names probably can't help the Phillies: Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, John Buck, Jesus Flores, Ramon Hernandez, Gerald Laird, Jose Molina, Dioner Navarro, Wil Nieves, Miguel Olivo, Ronny Paulino, Brayan Pena, , Humberto Quintero, Carlos Ruiz, Chris Snyder, Geovany Soto, and Yorvit Torrealba.
The likely scenario is that the Phillies get Carlos Ruiz back for cheap after a down year on a short-term deal.
So how could the Phillies add something to the lineup? It's hard to say.
The Phillies probably should take one or more of their left-handed bats and not include him in the 2014 plans. It won't be Chase Utley. Ryan Howard isn't going anywhere. Domonic Brown is the brightest spot in the offense, so he cannot go anywhere. That leaves Cody Asche and Ben Revere.
Asche could develop into somewhat of a trade chip if he impresses the rest of this season. The Phillies certainly will need some bullpen help and some bench help going into next year and Asche could help them acquire said pieces. Asche has right-handed power threat third baseman Maikel Franco hot on his tail, so Asche is not likely going to be the long-term solution at third base, anyway.
Cesar Hernandez's transition to center field could be a sign that the Phillies are looking for another option in center other than Ben Revere. If you recall, Hernandez started playing center field even before Ben Revere went down with a broken ankle. Even after Revere's injury Hernandez remained in the minors working on center field. That is a sign they are looking at Hernandez as an option in the future, not as a short-term sub for an ailing player. Hernandez is a switch-hitter who gets on base. Revere could be worth something in a trade, too.
A free agent name a lot of fans like is Shin Soo Choo, who was inserted into center field for the first time in his big league career. His suspect defense in center aside, he bats... you guessed it! Left-handed. Another center field name that people like is Jacoby Ellsbury. Also left-handed.
If you want to do better than Darin Ruf in right field on the free-agent market your options are currently-suspended Nelson Cruz, currently with the Texas Rangers, and former Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence. It would be hard to justify paying either of them any amount of money when the drop off to Ruf may not be so much.
Third base options simply do not exist on the free-agent market. Here are the names: Wilson Betemit, Eric Chavez, Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot, Jerry Hairston Jr., Brandon Inge, Placido Polanco, Mark Reynolds, Juan Uribe, Kevin Youkilis and... Michael Young. Michael Young may be the best option there. Chavez is a lefty batter and the rest are either extra men, old, or have suspect defense.
Try to balance the 2014 Phillies lineup with the pieces they have now. It's hard.
1. Ben Revere CF (L)
2. Jimmy Rollins SS (S)
3. Chase Utley 2B (L)
4. Domonic Brown LF (L)
5. Darin Ruf RF (R)
6. Ryan Howard 1B (L)
7. Carlos Ruiz C (R)
8. Cody Asche 3B (L)
That lineup fails to inspire me. Jimmy Rollins almost has to bat second out of need to somewhat balance the lineup. If the Phillies insist that Ryan Howard will bat fourth, they are almost forced to run this lineup:
1. Ben Revere CF (L)
2. Chase Utley 2B (L)
3. Jimmy Rollins SS (S)
4. Ryan Howard 1B (L)
5. Domonic Brown LF (L)
6. Darin Ruf RF (R)
7. Cody Asche 3B (L)
8. Carlos Ruiz C (R)
This lineup will not get the job done.
The sad part is that the Phillies do not have on their roster or in the free agent marketplace to get a lineup that will work. Either General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will have to pull off some crafty trades, trading some magic beans for what they need, or the Phillies are not looking good for next year, either.