The National League Championship Series begins Sunday and for the first time since 2007 the Phillies will not be in it.
While the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals battle for the right to go to the World Series, Phillies management will turn its attention to 2012. With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels all returning to the starting rotation, the Phils should have the starting pitching to contend for a sixth straight NL East title.
But there are issues and questions heading into this off-season.
As we continue to decompress from a season that ended sooner than anyone believed it would, lets take a look at a few of them.
The Phils have several notable free agents, including major contributors in closer Ryan Madson and shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
At 31, Madson is at the top of his game. Hes always had the stuff to close and this year proved he had the nerve. He just finished a three-year, 12 million contract and people close to him say he is eager to see what hes worth on the open market and may be ready to move on. Agent Scott Boras is ready to take Madsons 32-save season and shop it on the closer market. The Phillies will attempt to re-sign Madson but it remains to be seen if they will pull out all the stops because they believe they have three relievers (Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont) who could close in the near future.
The Phils would like to re-sign Rollins, but they wont give him the five years hes looking for. Hell play at 33 next season and hes been on the disabled list three times in the last two seasons with leg injuries. The Phillies would prefer a shorter-term deal. Rollins great value is the defense he provides behind a pitching-based team. The Phils have some negotiating strength because minor-league shortstop prospect Freddy Galvis is an excellent defender and could survive in the majors. But Galvis is a ways away with the bat. A two- or three-year deal would be more to the Phillies liking for Rollins, but, like Madson, hell get interest elsewhere.
Other free agents include Raul Ibanez, Brian Schneider, Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt. Ibanez (20 homers, 84 RBIs) showed he can still produce, but its likely hell do it somewhere else next season as the Phils look to get younger with John Mayberry Jr. deserving more at-bats. Schneiders work with Vance Worley probably earned him a return as backup catcher. Lidge, whose option will be declined, would like to return. The Phils will likely decline Oswalts 16 million option. Just a hunch: He pitches in St. Louis or Atlanta next season.
The Phillies have always shown a strong desire to keep young, core players off the free-agent market. Thats why Cole Hamels is someone to pay much attention to this off-season. He is under control for 2012 and eligible for salary arbitration, but the Phils are expected to make a push to sign him to a long-term deal to keep him off the free-agent market when hes eligible next off-season. Hamels will get a significant raise from the 9.5 million he made in 2011. Jered Weavers recent five-year deal carries an average annual value of 17 million. Hamels will probably be looking for something in that neighborhood.
Hunter Pence, Wilson Valdez, Ben Francisco and Kyle Kendrick are also arbitration eligible.
Despite winning a majors-best 102 games, there were times, especially late in the season, when the Phils looked old, banged-up and tired. In other words, they looked as if they could use an infusion of youth and new life. Pence gave them some, but they might need more. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and Pat Gillick before him, are both big believers in shuffling the deck and constantly bringing in fresh, hungry talent, especially in successful times. It wont be easy doing that this winter. Ryan Howard begins a five-year, 125 million contract extension in 2012. He is untradeable. Chase Utley is owed 30 million the next two seasons and, probably for health reasons, appears to be on a serious decline. Hed be difficult to trade. Placido Polanco will be 36 next season, hes been beat up and hes owed 7.25 million. Hed be difficult to trade. Shane Victorino, affordable at 9.5 million and productive at age 31 (in November), would have value, but can the Phils afford to part with him? He was, after all, the most consistent offensive player on a team that had great offensive inconsistency.
This is a very inflexible roster. Amaro needs to get some new blood. It will be fascinating to see how he does it.
This is a major off-season issue. Howard has torn left Achilles' tendonthat will require surgery and a lengthy rehab that could force him to miss a good chunk of next season. Hamels will have two surgeries, one to remove loose fragments in his elbow, the other for a hernia. Neither should impact his 2012 season. Pitcher Joe Blanton, who figures to join Worley at the back of the rotation in 2012, still might need off-season surgery to repair a nerve problem in his elbow. Polanco will likely have surgery for the second straight off-season, this time for a groin injury that sapped him of much of his offensive effectiveness.
On top of all this, the front office needs to hire a new farm director to replace Chuck LaMar, who left the organization last month amid rumblings of personality conflicts that neither he nor club officials will talk about. Amaro said hes already begun interviewing candidates from outside the organization for the position.
Amaro is scheduled to chat with reporters about the off-season early in the work week. He did not speak with reporters after the Phils were eliminated from the postseason in a 1-0 Game 5 loss to St. Louis on Friday night. He was probably too sick to his stomach after watching a series that saw Lee blow a 4-0 lead in Game 2 and the bats fail to support Halladay in Game 5.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com