Posted by Laurie Dougherty
Like everyone else, now that I've had a few days to digest what happened on Friday night, when I and everyone else in Phillies Nation watched the season come to a sickening end, I can look a little more rationally at what happened and what changes the Phillies should consider making as they head into the offseason. They have several players that will become free agents and others on whom they need to decide whether they will pick up options on. I thought I would touch on some of the issues that the Phillies need to take a hard look at this winter.
No more "Home run or bust"
Now that Ryan Howard's injury has been confirmed as a rupture of his Achilles tendon and will require surgery and significant time out of the lineup, Charlie Manuel has a golden opportunity to retool his offensive philosophy of "home run or bust". He doesn't have as many big bats as he had in 2008, when that approach brought the team its the 2nd World Series championship. Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth are gone, Chase Utley is not the same hitter he was back in '08 and now Howard could be out for much of the 2012 season. While I acknowledge that Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and John Mayberry can hit with power at times, that is not their usual MO. Charlie needs to take a page from Tony LaRussa's manager's manual and start utilizing the strengths his players have. Shane and Hunter can run. Charlie needs to start utilizing them in hit-and-run situations, as well as giving them the "green light" to steal bases (Shane supposedly already has that green light; why he doesn't run more is a puzzle to me). The team needs to adopt more of a "small ball" mentality and figure out how to manufacture runs because solely relying on the long ball will not get the job done in 2012. The hitters need more discipline at the plate. Drawing walks is not a bad thing! Making pitchers throw 20-30 pitches in an inning will wear them out more. Other teams do it to us! The top 5 players in baseball in drawing walks all were in the 100s—none of them were Phillies. Ryan Howard led the team in that category with 75.
Tale of the tape
As I've read several articles about the Phillies premature end to their season, as well as reader comments, it has been mentioned several times that Ryan Howard does not study tape. What?!?! He's making how much money and he doesn't take the time to learn from his mistakes??? Yikes! One commenter suggested that he needs to spend this winter studying tape and perhaps hire a hitting coach to help him analyze what he can do better. I'm all for that. It befuddles me that with all the role models around him (most notably Chase and Roy Halladay) that Howard would not follow their lead and study video of himself. He's going to be out for quite a while (possibly up to a year, I heard in one report) so in addition to rehabbing his left leg, he needs to rehab his whole approach to hitting. Even I noticed in the last few games of the regular season as well as the playoffs that he had moved back from the plate. Hard to hit the ball on the outside part of the plate when you're standing on the outside perimeter of the batter's box and have to flail at it and hope you hit it!
"Can you hear me now?"
Although he's been very successful at managing the egos of the Phillies players, over the past year (maybe two) I have to wonder if they've stopped listening to Charlie Manuel. As many articles have noted, he is in some ways a "player's manager" but he is not a good strategist, which has been painfully brought to the forefront the last 2 postseasons. Granted, Tony LaRussa's frequent pitching changes in game 2 drove us nuts but let's face it, he seems to know how to get the matchups that will benefit his team the most. Charlie does not always do that. The other issue is the lineup change he put in place at the end of the season, shortly after the Phillies had that horrible 8 game skid right after winning the division. Charlie moved Chase up to the 2nd spot and Hunter Pence up to the 3rd spot. So now Pence would be in front of Howard instead of behind him. Charlie stuck with this lineup all through the NLDS, instead of changing it up and moving Pence back to the 5th spot, particularly for game 5. Would it have made the difference? Hard to say, but what was in place wasn't working. Charlie showed a willingness to move players around and substituted quite a bit during the regular season, but remained stubborn in the postseason, preferring to value loyalty to his veterans over production. Perhaps Ruben Amaro needs to consider whether the Phillies need a new voice to listen to, because I really think they've tuned Charlie out.
Jimmy Rollins—should he stay or should he go?
While he is the outspoken leader of the team and recently has taken to Twitter to express himself, I have to wonder if Jimmy's "me first" attitude is making him somewhat unpopular in the Phils' clubhouse. Over the years we have seen several instances of him being benched by Charlie for not running out ground balls. On Friday night, in the third inning, I know he thought he hit a foul ball but you have to run it out anyway. It's called fundamental baseball. Can the Phillies afford to move on from Rollins? He has been injury-prone the last 2 seasons. While he's still a force defensively, his bat has been on the decline since he won the NL MVP award in 2007. Granted, he made a great showing in this year's NLDS vs the Cardinals but it wasn't enough because most of his teammates didn't hit. If the Phillies are looking to get younger, perhaps it's time J-Roll moved on.
Other free agents
Besides Rollins, Ryan Madson is also a free agent. I don't think there's much question that the Phillies should try to sign him, but he is asking for a lot of money, perhaps more than the Phils are willing to spend on a top closer. However, in spite of the fact that Scott Boras is his agent, I think the team needs Madson. Unfortunately, I heard rumblings that he may not want to stay in Philadelphia. I hope that is not true but if so, that puts a different spin on things. Performance-wise, Madson has done everything asked of him this season and will be a hot commodity on the free agent market if the Phillies don't bring him back.
Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez will almost certainly not be retained, although Lidge has expressed an interest in remaining here. If he is willing to take a pay cut, I would not rule out keeping him, not necessarily as a closer but as a 7th or 8th inning setup man, which is what he was this year. He has done well enough to merit consideration, as well as being a potential mentor for Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, Michael Schwimer and even Joe Savery and Justin DeFratus (presuming they are invited to come to spring training to compete for a job). My guess is that Ross Gload and Brian Schneider will also not be resigned, although I don't know how much confidence the Phillies have in Dane Sardinha to be Carlos Ruiz's backup. Kyle Kendrick, Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez are arbitration-eligible and may be non-tendered, leaving them free to seek jobs elsewhere. Even though I think they need to move towards getting younger players, I think they should consider keeping Valdez because he can play multiple positions and is solid in the field. His hitting prowess is not spectacular but I view him as a key person as the Phillies make a transition towards a youth movement, particularly on the infield.
A few additional comments on the first section seem warranted. While Greg Gross seems like a nice guy, he doesn't seem to instill much discipline in the hitters. Chase is one of the few patient hitters on the team. Everyone needs to adopt that attitude. Replacing Gross as the hitting coach would not be a terrible move, particularly if they make a managerial change. While many of us are disappointed at the early end to the Phillies postseason run, we will see more of the same if the team doesn't start to change its approach at the plate. It would be a real shame for us to have all these great pitchers and not win another championship. I don't envy Ruben Amaro for the decisions he has to make this offseason—I wish him luck!