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Free Agency may not repair flawed Phillies


The drama of the trade deadline has passed, and the Phillies did much more subtracting than adding.
There were the subtractions of veteran players who logged a lot of at-bats and innings pitched in Phillies uniforms.

Also gone are the millions of dollars owed to those players through the end of the year, replaced by the promise of improvements between now and the spring of 2013.Michael Bourn photo: Boston Herald

Ruben Amaro Jr. has made it very clear that his aging ball club is still capable of winning a title once its roster is revamped this offseason. With his payroll now safely beneath the luxury tax threshold for 2012, everyone’s expectation is that Amaro can go above the $178 million mark in 2013 in order to fix a team that couldn’t possibly look more distant from a 102-win season.  

The Phillies run of success in the standings and at the ticket office has afforded Amaro the luxury to spend his way out of trouble for a number of years now.  So, when November rolls around, he will surely be aggressive in spending his way back into postseason contention.

But, as the Phillies’ general manager begins planning his free agency strategy, he will quickly be confronted by two big problems.

First, the Phillies roster is riddled with holes.

Second, the 2012 free agent class is woefully short on quality players to patch those holes.  

Looking ahead to next season, the Phillies will be in need of two starters in the outfield (assuming Domonic Brown is successful enough to claim the other full-time position), a third baseman, and three relief pitchers.  The money committed to the other 19 players on the roster has been estimated to be in the range of $146 million.    

As previously mentioned, Phillies’ management seems to be prepared to go above $178 million to build next season’s roster. That would mean that there is at least $32 million dollars available for those remaining six players.

That’s not a bad dollar amount, and would seem to be enough to turn around a team that is likely to lose 90 games.  

But is there anything worse than having plenty of money for a shopping spree with few quality products to buy? Going shopping at this year’s free agent market is kind of like getting a $10,000 gift card to the Spencer’s in your local mall.  

Now, before you envision that pile of fake dog excrement, understand that there are difference-making players to be had this winter. It’s just that, despite needing some difference-makers, the Phillies are not going to be throwing $15-million dollar deals at Josh Hamilton or Michael Bourne, who are about as big-name as it gets in this year’s class.

So, what does that leave for those six positions that Ruben Amaro needs to fill?  
Let’s start with third base, where the top free agent available appears to be 33 year-old Kevin Youkilis.  
 Kevin Youkilis photo: NBC Sports
Move to the centerfield, where we can assume that the Phillies will not sign the soon-to-be-massively-overpaid Bourn or Shane Victorino.  The other top available free agents at the position are Melky Cabrera, Cody Ross and B.J. Upton.  

In left field, the best available option after Josh Hamilton appears to be Scott Hairston.

And just in case you were wondering, if Domonic Brown moved to a different outfield position, it could enable the Phillies to make their improvement by targeting the top free agent right fielder available. That would be Nick Swisher.

The options are slightly better in the bullpen, if for no other reason than bullpen success is largely a product of finding the right player in the right year. There are veterans like Mike Adams and Brandon Lyon who would like like All-Stars compared to some of the meatballers that typified this summer’s Phillies’ bullpen.

So, let’s review what could be the best-case scenario for the Phillies free agency class of 2013. Begin with a new third basemen who, at best, provides the production of Youkilis. Then, move to a new outfield, in which Domonic Brown is joined by Cabrera/Ross, and Hairston/Swisher. 

Are those additions significantly better than Victorino, Hunter Pence, and Placido Polanco?  Are they enough to make you believe that the Phillies will go from being a 90-loss team to a 90-win team?  

Or, are you starting to get the feeling that the Phillies’ championship window is slamming shut right before our eyes?

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

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Bourn: Boston Herald
Youkilis: NBC Sports