On July 31st, the Phillies traded Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, two former All-Star outfielders, and fan favorites, for an assortment of minor leaguers and some decent but not great big leaguers (Schierholtz and Lindblom). From that point on in the season, we saw a lot of Domonic Brown, a lot of John Mayberry Jr., a lot of Kevin Frandsen, and a lot of Erik Kratz. Vance Worley soon left the team for surgery, and Tyler Cloyd arrived. Phillippe Aumont and the other kids arrived in the bullpen. Essentially the Phillies became the IronPigs of opening night. They played well too after that, pulling close with the Cardinals for the NL's second Wild-Card slot. Even as they played reasonably well though, they lost series against some of the NL's better teams late, including the Braves and Nationals, and were completely killed by a three-of-four loss to the worst team in the game- Houston- late in the year.
The reality is that the 2012 Phillies were not a really good team. They had enough pride to play out the schedule hard, and enough talent to actually win some games, but they were not a great team. In fact, I'm going to go so far as to say there was more than just injuries and trades that pulled them down alone, even though both are the primary reasons why this season went badly. No doubt, some of Charlie's bad decisions, an off-season mistake or two by Ruben, some declines by players, and some attitude issues all contributed to this team's fall from the top spot in the division. With that said though, the reality is that Ryan Howard played 71 games, Chase Utley played less than half a season, Roy Halladay was never right and missed eight weeks, Cliff Lee visited the DL early, Vance Worley was never the same after his bone-chips injury put him on the DL, the loss of the Contreras-Stutes-Herndon right-handed side of the bullpen hurt badly, Polanco's injury woes got worse, Chooch missed a lot of games, Brown battled injury issues, and major injuries hit Brian Schneider, Freddy Galvis, and others on this team. They were never going to survive that many major injuries, nor would have any other team (yes, even some lesser-injury plagued teams who made it). Trading away two starting outfielders and a starting pitcher didn't help them come back either, though I agree with all of those trades.
If you believe that a healthy version of this team wins back the NL East in 2013, think again. They have some pieces, don't get me wrong. Cole Hamels had an outstanding year, and Cliff Lee was much more solid than his won-lost record suggests. In fact the two of them went eighth and ninth in the league in ERA, sixth and seventh in innings pitched, third and fourth in strikeouts, sixth and seventh (in opposite order) in WHIP, first and fourth in K/BB ratio (again in opposite order), and sixth and ninth in K/9. Not bad seasons. Papelbon went 38 for 42 in save opportunities. Jimmy Rollins was fourth in the league in runs scored. Juan Pierre's 37 steals got him fifth in the league, while Jimmy's 30 got him ninth. In other words, they had some good performances this year, it wasn't all bad. That said, they finished way, way back of Washington, and Atlanta for that matter. So a little health won't do it.
A little money will change things though. The Phillies could seek to move Chase Utley to third or the outfield, and seek out Aaron Hill at second base, or could seek out a Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez at third base via trade. They should seek out a B.J. Upton or a Michael Bourn in centerfield. Cody Ross could be an intriguing corner outfielder. Putting a call into Ryan Madson about setting up would be helpful too, or any other top notch potential eighth inning guys. Yes, all of this has the potential to balloon their payroll, however they avoided this year's luxury tax, and the Phillies need serious upgrades in all of these spots. With arbitration available to Bastardo, Schierholtz, Frandsen, Orr, and Herndon, they have internal decisions to make too. The Phillies already have said goodbye to Bench Coach Pete Mackanin, Hitting Coach Greg Gross, and First Base Coach Sam Perlozzo since the end of the last game earlier. Expect Manger-In-Waiting Ryne Sandberg to be filling one of these slots, probably Bench Coach, this coming season. While it's assumed that Dom Brown will be in the 2013 outfield, the Phillies must also decide if Minor League Home Run King Darin Ruf is ready to take the other corner spot. He didn't hurt himself in the bigs. Juan Pierre reaches free agency as well again, and after hitting .307, has to be considered, no matter how odd it seemed to us.
The Phillies have to make some serious decisions this off-season about how to compete with the Nats. I think they will make at least one or two big splashes, but also have balance in the younger kids. They have to balance how much they spend on their several problem spots. Ruben Amaro will earn his money this off-season. 81-81 is simply not good enough.