Inside the Phillies: Wrapping up 2012, and looking to 2013

Jimmy Rollins, while struggling as a leadoff hitter, is still one of baseball's best shortstops. JOHN GRIESHOP / Getty
Jimmy Rollins, while struggling as a leadoff hitter, is still one of baseball's best shortstops. JOHN GRIESHOP / Getty
Posted: October 08, 2012

Looking forward is always preferable to looking back after a disappointing season, and the Phillies jumped right into their offseason overhaul with an immediate shuffle of the coaching staff.

"I'm kind of one of those guys who tries to look forward," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before the penultimate game of the season in Washington. "I try not to look back unless I think I can learn something from it. There are moves that we make when they work out well and ones that don't work out well that you can learn from."

There were clearly more of the latter than the former in 2012, which explains why the Phillies are postseason spectators for the first time in six years. Amaro was asked Thursday if he had any personal regrets about the 81-81 team that he constructed.

"Obviously, you can't cover for all the things that happen as far as injuries and stuff are concerned, but I guess we probably could have done a little bit better job in the bullpen," Amaro said. "We were kind of relying on some guys that had some success last year, and after having lost four of those guys during the early part of the year, it was a little tough for us to recover. That was something that I think I regret a little bit."

The Phillies lost relievers Mike Stutes, David Herndon, and Jose Contreras to injuries. It was risky to count on Contreras' 40-year-old arm, especially when he was coming off an injury, and Stutes and Herndon were pretty much as unproven as the parade of relievers who eventually made their way to Philadelphia.

"As far as the rest of this stuff is concerned, you can't really cover for everything," Amaro said. "It is hard to cover for two guys in the middle of the lineup that aren't going to be back for a significant period of time. I wish we could have covered a little bit better from that."

It would be unfair to say that injuries did not play some part in the Phillies' fall from the top of the division. But it is more than fair to note that the Washington Nationals won the National League East and finished with the best record in baseball despite their lengthy list of injuries.

They did not have Mike Morse, who is arguably their best power hitter, until June 2, and they still managed to go 29-21 without him. They went 43-32 during a 75-game stretch without Jayson Werth. They were 53-36 before closer Drew Storen rejoined the team July 19. They went 19-6 without shortstop Ian Desmond, who was probably the team MVP. They were 77-42 after losing starting catcher Wilson Ramos.

The Phillies, by contrast, went 36-40 before Chase Utley's return, 37-46 before Ryan Howard's return, and 14-27 during Roy Halladay's extended stay on the disabled list in the middle of the season. They were also 9-10 with Cliff Lee on the disabled list, which included three losses in the games he would have started.

The Phillies also went 12-18 in Lee's starts and a combined 26-29 when Lee and Halladay were on the mound. If that happens again next season, the Phillies will watch a second straight postseason.

What's done is done, and the Phillies have turned the page to 2013 while the Nationals and the other top teams in baseball strive for a World Series title.

We will close the book on the Phillies' 2012 season by taking a long look back and a quick look ahead. More looks ahead are sure to follow in the coming days and months.

Moves that could have made a difference

Hindsight is always a helpful aid, but general managers are paid to make good personnel decisions, and Amaro passed on some opportunities that could have altered the course of the 2012 season.

The Phillies considered the price tag for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to be too high, especially since they already had Shane Victorino in center field at $9.5 million and Hunter Pence in right field at $10.4 million. Cespedes, however, can now be considered a bargain at four years and $36 million. The 26-year-old outfielder hit .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in Oakland's cavernous ballpark. Compute the conversion rate to cozy Citizens Bank Park and you're probably looking at a guy with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.

An equally worthwhile investment would have been the three years and $21 million the Minnesota Twins paid for the services of Josh Willingham, who slammed 30 doubles and 35 home runs and drove in 110 runs.

One of those two outfielders would have helped compensate for the first-half absences of Utley and Howard.

The Phillies are looking for at least one and possibly two outfielders in free agency this offseason, and it's hard to imagine they'll find one as good or as inexpensive as Cespedes and Willingham.

In fairness to Amaro, he was restricted by a budget, so unless he moved Victorino or Pence beforehand, it would have been difficult to add either Cespedes or Willingham to the payroll.

However, he could have signed Cody Ross for one year and $3 million, and that would have been better than the combined $3.15 million the Phillies paid for Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix this season.

For considerably less than that, the Phillies could have retained lefthanded hitting outfielder Brandon Moss, who slugged 21 home runs in 265 at-bats with Oakland.

Raul Ibanez, at $1.1 million with the New York Yankees, was also more productive than Nix.

For $2 million, which was $850,000 more than the Phillies paid Chad Qualls, Amaro could have had Fernando Rodney, who was arguably the best closer in baseball this season with Tampa Bay.

Moves that worked

You could argue that Jonathan Papelbon's four-year, $50 million was too much to pay for a closer and damaged payroll flexibility, but you cannot argue about the overall job the high-strung righthander did in his first season with the Phillies. His 38 saves were tied for seventh in baseball and tied for third in the National League. His 90.5 save percentage ranked seventh among closers with at least 25 saves.

Manager Charlie Manuel was grilled about Jimmy Rollins' role as a leadoff hitter during Thursday's 2012 exit interview with the media, but it's difficult to criticize Amaro for re-signing his shortstop. Rollins' .746 OPS ranked sixth among the 16 major-league shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances. His 23 home runs were second only to Washington's Desmond, who had 25, and his 33 doubles were second only to Miami's Jose Reyes, who had 37. His .978 fielding percentage was the best in the National League.

Rollins is not and never has been the perfect leadoff hitter and he was too inconsistent this season. But if you look around baseball, you can't find many shortstops better than the guy who has been playing the position in Philadelphia for more than a decade.

For $800,000, Juan Pierre hit .307, scored 59 runs, stole 37 bases, and provided a positive clubhouse attitude. He was the Phillies' best bargain, but Amaro said it's possible he may not be back because the Phillies need righthanded bats more than lefthanded ones.

Retaining veterans Kevin Frandsen and Erik Kratz as minor-league insurance proved wise, and those two figure to be back with the big-league club in 2013.

Moves that didn't work

The Phillies signed Qualls for $1.15 million in the hope he could be the eighth-inning setup man in front of Papelbon. They agreed it did not work when they traded him to the New York Yankees on July 1.

Nix and Wigginton were brought in to improve the bench and to help keep things afloat during the prolonged absences of Utley and Howard. A calf injury sidelined Nix for more than two months and he was never much of a factor. Wigginton, because of injuries to Placido Polanco, was overexposed and didn't hit nearly enough to make up for his mistakes in the field. Nix signed a two-year contract and will be back. Wigginton will not.

Relying on Polanco to stay healthy and John Mayberry Jr. to become a significant contributor proved to be a mistake.

Jim Thome had his moments in May, but the fact he could no longer play first base made him too much of a burden on a National League bench.

Looking ahead

Spring training is a little more than four months away, and Amaro is still going to have the biggest bank account in the National League to work with. The general manager conceded Thursday that upgrading center field is a priority, which was a nice way of saying no more chances for Mayberry.

By his own admission, Amaro did not do enough to help the bullpen in 2012, so you know that, too, will be a focus.

The improved health of Howard, Utley, and Halladay is more vital than anything.

The clock is ticking for the general manager who knows another .500 season with a payroll that exceeds $170 million will not go over well with the fans or his bosses.

Inside the Phillies:


Phillies roster analysis, E13.

Tigers hold off Athletics, 3-1, in Game 1 of ALDS. E11.

Bill Lyon on Mike Trout. E11.

The Nationals' Gio Gonzalez: A Phils arm that got away. E12.

Contact Bob Brookover


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