The big questions that need to be answered:
1) Is Ben Revere the starting centerfielder on Opening Day?
2) What is the plan for Domonic Brown?
3) How determined are the Phillies to sign Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo?
4) Who else besides Hamels will be in the rotation?
The answers to the first two questions depend largely on the answer to the third.
There are plenty of indications that the Phillies plan on making a serious play for Castillo. Problem is, the Yankees and Red Sox are also expected to be players. Given the demand for his services, I wouldn't be shocked to see the bidding exceed $12 million per year in guaranteed money for the first 3 years. In fact, I would be surprised if it didn't. Remember, B.J. Upton signed for 5 years and $75 million a couple of years ago. It's a supply-and-demand issue.
If the Phillies were to land Castillo, a reasonable scenario would have them offering arbitration to both Brown and Revere at a combined total of around $5 million. Add Darin Ruf, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and a back-up catcher to the mix at a combined price tag of $2.5 million and you have your bench.
Let's say all of that happens. All of the holes in the offense and the bullpen are filled, and the payroll is at $156.7 million. That would leave somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million to fill out the rotation, which right now features Hamels and a big question mark in Lee.
At this point, the only serious candidates in the system are David Buchanan, who returns to the rotation tonight, and 2014 first-round draft pick Aaron Nola, who makes his Double A debut tonight. Counting on Nola, Buchanan and Lee to all be healthy, effective and capable would be counting against some long odds. It is safe to say the Phillies will be in the market for two starting pitchers.
We've divided the crop of likely free agents into five tiers, with approximate contract values based on the past couple of seasons.
Tier 1 ($20M+ year, 5+ years): Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester.
Tier 2 ($12M+ year, 3+ years): Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano.
Tier 3 ($8 M+ year, 2+ years): Jason Hammel, Brandon McCarthy, Jorge De La Rosa.
Tier 4 ($8M+ year, 1+ year): Jake Peavy, Justin Masterson.
Tier 5 ($5 M+ year, 1 year): Ryan Vogelsong, Edinson Volquez, Kevin Correia, Wandy Rodriguez, Kyle Kendrick.
As you can see, the pickings are slim. The wisest course of action is to target starters who can be had on short-term deals but who offer some degree of upside. Tiers 3 and 4 are the hardest to project because there are some name-brand guys in there. A year ago, Masterson might have been in line for a deal similar to the 4-year, $50 million contract that Matt Garza signed this past offseason. But he has struggled mightily, and while one can envision a scenario in which he signs a 3-year, $24 million deal like the one Phil Hughes landed, one can also see him taking a 1-year deal to re-establish his value. Of course, the Phillies won't be the only team targeting these high upside pitchers. And they will be less attractive to both bounce back candidates (because of the ballpark) and veterans who might prioritize a chance to win. So rule out Peavy and Masterson.
Hammel and De La Rosa could both end up with deals similar to the 3-year, $30 million pact signed by Scott Feldman. McCarthy signed a 2-year, $18 million deal 2 years ago. Let's say they sign De La Rosa, McCarthy and Vogelsong.
Your 2015 Opening Day roster:
1. Rusney Castillo CF ($12M)
2. Jimmy Rollins SS ($11M)
3. Chase Utley 2B ($15M)
4. Marlon Byrd RF ($8M)
5. Ryan Howard 1B ($25M)
6. Domonic Brown/Darin Ruf LF ($1M)
7. Carlos Ruiz C ($8M)
8. Cody Asche 3B ($0.5M)
Total payroll: $80.5 million
The 2015 bench: Ruf/Brown ($0.5M), Revere ($3M), Cesar Hernandez ($0.5M), Freddy Galvis ($0.5M), backup catcher TBD ($1M). Total payroll: $5.5 million.
The 2015 starting pitchers: Hamels ($22.5M), McCarthy ($8M), De La Rosa ($10M), Vogelsong ($5M), Nola ($0.5M), Buchanan ($05.M). DL: Lee ($25M). Total payroll: $71 million.
And your 2015 bullpen: Papelbon ($13M), Bastardo ($3M), Giles ($0.5M), Diekman ($0.5M), Gonzalez ($3.7M), De Fratus ($0.5M), Hollands ($0.5M). Total payroll: $21.7 million.
That's what $179 million might buy you in a best-case scenario, with some fairly conservative free-agent salary projections. The biggest concerns, other than a lineup that looks remarkably similar to this year's, is the presence of four bottom-of-the-rotation starters behind Hamels, and the lack of any significant depth. The 2015 Phillies: The future is 1 year closer!
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy