Long after the Phillies select a new general manager, Ed Wade’s John Hancock will remain etched in stone.
Thanks to Wade, the Phillies have $77.75 million locked in with 11 players next season, a figure many of us have committed to memory. Several of those players, namely the older veterans, have no-trade clauses, and the highest-paid pitcher, Randy Wolf, could miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The new GM inherits a pretty good Phillies team on the verge of being a great one, but also takes over tough issues regarding Jim Thome and Billy Wagner, along with an unpopular manager entering the second year of his contract.
But the most pressing issue is the same as it was a day ago: they need better starting pitching. It’s the easiest fix to get them closer to the postseason. That’s the primary goal, and it will take serious baseball smarts to make a maneuver to get some.
Drastic change, organization-wide, could be years away, but know this: the Phillies played good baseball down the stretch and outperformed expectations under first-year manager Charlie Manuel. They got younger and more dynamic at second base and first base, and got some unexpected production from replacement-level pitchers in the starting rotation.
Wade assembled a squad that was good, but not good enough. Better pitching to consistently guide them through seven innings or more - arms to keep the bullpen fresh - was the biggest deficiency this season. Address that area, and they’ll be division favorites, regardless of manager.
Is it necessary to change managers?
I don’t fully understand why beginning the season with Manuel is out of the question. Ideally, you want to start hot, and the team played confident, clutch baseball down the stretch. A new manager means yet another spring adjustment period. I don't want another April like the last one. The team that ended 2005 is one that I trust, at least on offense. I liked the way they played in September, and enjoyed watching players like Utley, Howard and Rollins carry the team on their young backs. They’ll all be back, and so should Manuel – provided he takes a winter course in tactical managing.
Who shouldn’t return?
Jim Thome, but it’s clear that a corner outfielder must be shopped to land some additional pitching. I see two gaping holes in the starting rotation next season: one from the absence of Wolf, and the other from the potential non-tender of Vicente Padilla. That leaves Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle, Brett Myers, and a handful of unproven candidates.
The balance between position players and pitchers is too skewed toward the bats, and both Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu have reached an age when their production has probably topped off. Even Abreu, who has been steady throughout his career, will begin to drop next season. That's not unexpected for a player with speed turning 32. His lack of power down the stretch was also a disturbing trend.
I’ve gone back and forth on which corner outfielder would be better to trade, and after his production disappeared after the all-star break, Abreu is probably the best candidate to change settings. He’ll fetch a better price than Burrell and should be easier to move, and if the Phils are going full-scale PR overhaul, why not put another unpopular body on the chopping block?
Still, shop them both. Out with old thinking, and in with the new. No more untouchables. No more "championship caliber."