Rich Hofmann: Offensive threats essential in pivotal season

Ruben Amaro: Looking for a free agent in offseason?
Ruben Amaro: Looking for a free agent in offseason?
Posted: August 03, 2012

WITH THE PASSING of the trade deadline, we come now to the next annual baseball ritual for any underperforming team: the parsing of statements. (To be followed by the promise of better times ahead and the mailing of season-ticket brochures. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

For several years, the Phillies had been a whatever-it-takes organization. They started with a homegrown base of players and added free agents liberally. They spent money in ways that no Phillies team ever had. But then came the most recent offseason, where they settled more and gambled more than ever during this run.

They had a bad offensive team in 2011 and did nothing appreciable to fix it. They gambled on a super-optimistic timetable for Ryan Howard's return from an Achilles' injury. They bet on Jose Contreras, crazily. They figured that the starting pitching would paper over every other flaw, just as it had in 2011. They seemed to measure every move against the possibility that they would have to pay baseball's luxury tax. And, well, here they are, sellers at the trade deadline and seers into an uncertain future.

You wonder if they see it this way: that 2013 really is going to be a climactic season for this franchise and for the dwindling remnants of its world-championship nucleus.

You wonder if they feel that urgency.

With that, two leftover lines from an interview general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did with reporters on Tuesday in Washington. This is where the parsing begins.

First:

"At the very least, it gives us a chance to kind of open our eyes and think about what we want to do in '13 and beyond," Amaro said.

Second:

"I think we have some things to do," he said. "A lot? I think we have a lot to do every year … I think there's always an urgency. Our job is to try to be a contender every year. So we're going to be working hard to try to do that. That's our job."

This is the worry: that there is no more urgency than normal, and that the Phillies are just as worried about the beyond as they are about 2013, even though it could very well be the final year of Roy Halladay, and the final year of Chase Utley, and the final year of Carlos Ruiz.

They must see what a pivotal season 2013 will be. And if they see it, and if they need to restock half of their starting eight — three outfield positions plus third base — doesn't that mean they can really only afford to gamble in one spot (Dom Brown's spot)? Don't they need three new bona-fide, predictable offensive performers to join him? Is that not essential if they are to give this group its best, final chance?

We haven't even brought up the bullpen yet, a semi-shambles of a place. But isn't an offensive injection an absolute imperative, with no hoping on long shots and no fingers crossed?

Like everyone who seeks to lead a moral life, the Phillies' stated intention is to be good forever. It is this ownership's greatest accomplishment of the last decade. Since they built their new ballpark, the Phillies have embraced the culture of expectations. They are the team that spent at the deadline for five consecutive seasons, sometimes spectacularly. They are the team that, despite a detour along the path, found a way to do something that had been hooted down as delusional just months before — that is, sign both Halladay and Cliff Lee.

They paid Howard big money before the marketplace forced them to do it. They reupped Jimmy Rollins for a final go-round and, just the other day, they made Cole Hamels an offer that he was happy not to refuse.

They want to be good. They have backed their desires with cash. The fans have responded by buying tickets and watching on television in record numbers. But here and now is an organizational inflection point. Some years do matter more than others, and sometimes the short term is more important than the long term, and that is what 2013 has to be all about.

At another point in the interview, Amaro said the team would have the wherewithal to acquire a free agent in the offseason, and maybe more than one. And, obviously, what he ends up doing is more important than whatever he said on the last day of July in a dugout in Washington.

With that, the search for urgency begins.

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com or on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at www.philly.com/theidlerich.

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