Through the haze, is Phillies' plan starting to show?

Through the haze, is Phillies' plan starting to show?

August 21, 2014, 10:45 am
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The upcoming offseason could be the most important one in Ruben Amaro Jr.'s reign as general manager. (USA Today Images)

As this disastrous Phillies season slogs toward its final month, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been loath to discuss his plan for pulling the team from the depths of the National League.

But through the late-summer haze of losses — the Phillies are on pace for their first 90-loss season since 2000 — and men left on base, hints of a plan are beginning to show.

A rather large one was dropped Tuesday when club president David Montgomery told a group of fans at a team event that Amaro was not on the hot seat, an indication that Amaro will survive a third straight season of not making the playoffs and remain in charge for this hugely important winter. Amaro is headed into the final year of his contract, and if the Phillies don’t make serious progress someone else will likely be overseeing the next hugely important Phillies winter.

Amaro has a plan, just like he did when he went out and acquired top starting pitchers the way a little kid collects autographs. Whether that plan will work remains to be seen, and what that plan is … well, he doesn’t talk about it much and is purposely vague when he does.

But, again, if you look closely, hints are beginning to emerge.

At the trade deadline, Amaro promised personnel changes. Shortly before the trade deadline, he said he was looking for hitters. Lo and behold, the team dispatched a handful of scouts to look at Cuban defector Rusney Castillo in public and private workouts. The Phillies are not pulling out all the stops to sign the 27-year-old Castillo, but there are indications they will be aggressive players for the next highly touted Cuban slugger, Yasmani Tomas. The 23-year-old power-hitting corner outfielder — just what the club needs — is expected to hit the open market this winter.

If the Phillies were able to land Tomas, he would project as the team’s next leftfielder, a middle of the order piece that would either replace or complement Ryan Howard.

Replace Howard? The Phillies have floated his name to potential trade partners for a year now and will do so again this winter. That’s probably why those plans to platoon Howard were short-lived. He ranks fourth in the NL with 77 RBIs. Keeping him on the field gives him a chance to approach 100. Maybe Amaro can shop that number to an American League team and move Howard this winter. Of course, the Phils would have to eat a large sum of the $60 million that Howard will be owed after this season, but they appear willing to do that to change the mix of this stale club.

Moving Howard would allow the Phillies to get younger at second base because someone like Cesar Hernandez or Freddy Galvis could slide in at that position with Chase Utley moving to first. Or Utley could stay at second and Maikel Franco, who may or may not get a look in September, and his promising bat could move in at first base. Darin Ruf could also be a candidate to play first base. Or he could become the right-handed-hitting bench bat capable of playing first base and outfield, the one the Phillies always hoped John Mayberry Jr. would be.

The Phillies seem to view Ruf as a platoon player, which is consistent with what scouts from other organizations thought of the player when he was racking up big home run and RBI totals at Double A. The Phils’ view of Ruf has become clear lately as he has split time in left field with Domonic Brown in a right-left platoon. Clearly, the Phils are in full evaluation mode on Ruf and Brown and that, along with Ben Revere’s molten bat in centerfield, has cost Grady Sizemore at-bats to the point where you have to wonder why he's still here.

The Phillies know Brown well but continue to evaluate him as they deliberate whether he should stay around or be used in a trade. Heck, Ruf could be traded. And don’t forget about Cody Asche’s place in the future. Team officials have talked about moving him to left field since he was at Single A Clearwater. He could also be used in a trade with Franco moving in at third to complement a bat like Tomas. Again, these are just possibilities, but they’re all worth investigating.

The Phillies have other trade options, led by Cole Hamels. His name will be a hot one all winter, and the Phillies will listen to offers for the ace lefty. Come at them with three or four game-breaking talents and you might get him. But the feel here is the Phils will keep Hamels, hope that Cliff Lee comes back healthy in 2015 and that Aaron Nola might be able to help, add a big bat and a starting pitcher, hope that Ken Giles and this bullpen is for real and try to see where things go until summer sets in. If 2015 is shaping up as a repeat of 2014, Hamels and Lee could both go -- and Amaro with them.

Through the haze, this appears to be the Phillies’ plan.

Do you believe they can pull it off?

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