Farewell to the Phillies

If he can hit above .253, put him in the lineup!

If you hate big-spending baseball teams you ought to be in Hardball Heaven right now. Numbers one and two, the Yankees and Phillies, are gone and numbers 3 (Red Sox) through 9 never made the postseason. Left standing are the Tigers (10th), the Cardinals (11th), Rangers (13th) and Brewers (17th).

One of my baseball maxims is that the playoffs expose weaknesses of top teams that get overlooked during the season. Nearly every “expert”--except me!--had the Phillies in the World Series. I picked them to finish second and might have been right if the Braves hadn’t choked on the chicken bone. (Why is no one calling for Fredi Gonzalez to get the axe?) The Phillies were overrated from the get-go. Forget their 102 victories; this was inflated by playing in the NL East. If you play bad teams like the Nationals, Marlins, and Mets 58 times and beat them two of three (which you should), you’re 40% of the way to 100 victories. Fixing the Phillies’ dysfunctional roster will be easier than repairing the Yankees, but not much.

The Phillies do, at least, have very good pitching, including MLB’s best: Roy Halladay. I’m not as sold on Cliff Lee, though he seems perfectly suited for the National League, and I find Cole Hamels such a flake that he drives me crazy, but a person would have to be nuts not the want these two guys. The Phils should, however, part ways with Roy Oswalt, who looks done. He was 9-10 and batters hit a robust .280 off him. Vance Worley proved he’s ready and the Phils should move in that direction. Say adios to Brad Lidge too; Ryan Madson is the closer.

The Phillies didn’t win for the same reason the Tampa Rays didn’t get out of the first round--they can’t hit. Their roster consists of guys who once were, but aren’t any more--Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez.... If you think I’m being overly harsh, look at the numbers. The Phils ran away with the NL East, but they were 15th in team batting average, 11th in on-base percentage, and 17th in slugging. Carlos Ruiz led the team with a .283 average. For all the ink he gets, Ryan Howard had a year like that of Mark Teixeira of the Yankees. He hit a lot of homers (33) and drove in 116 runs, but he hit just .253. He had a gaudy .993 fielding percentage, but don’t be fooled--he’s a one-dimensional player who simply doesn’t get to a lot of balls that his competitors sometimes muff. Utley and Rollins have been wonderful players, but Utley only got into 103 games and Rollins fought off injuries all season. They are breaking down and the Phillies need to consider moving on. If it’s my team, I don’t resign Rollins, who is a free agent. The two guys you want to build around are late season pickup Hunter Pence and scrappy throwback Shane Victorino. I also look to move Domonic Brown, a guy who keeps showing up on the future superstar list and proceeds to play like the next coming of Lastings Milledge. In all honesty, I’d also give serious thought to trading Howard for some guys with a higher on-base percentage; his .346 is so-so for a guy making as much as he.

I’ll be shocked if this roster doesn’t look very different in April of 2012. The Phillies got some talent in the minors--including shortstop Kevin Frandsen, pitcher Michael Schwimer, and first base stud Matt Rizzoti--and a youth movement would not be a bad idea. The pitching is so good that the Phillies will be competitive even if the kids make a few mistakes. They should resist the temptation to trade minor league talent (other than Brown) in the search for a quick fix.

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