First and foremost, it is easy to place the blame of the latest defeat on the heads of the offense. And you would be correct to do so. Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz were an effective blackhole at the bottom of the order, going a combined 3-36 in the series. Ryan Howard was hitless in his final 15 at bats. In the final 20 innings of the series, the Phils mustered only 3 runs. For all the pitching this team possesses, the met the same fate as a year ago. An aging, lackluster offense made the best pitching staff in baseball look inadequate.
That is not to say the pitching staff performed up to expectations in this series. If Cliff Lee hangs on to a four run lead in game 2, this article does not get written. If Roy Oswalt performs like he was a few years younger in game 4 and holds onto the early lead, this article does not get written. However the pitching staff wasn’t perfect, but that will never excuse the offense.
However, that could be made up with stronger offensive output at third and in left. Polanco’s body clearly cannot handle the stress of a full season anymore. After an eye-popping April, his numbers tanked. He’ll need off-season surgery for his sports hernia that he has been playing with over the final stretch of the year. Unfortunately, the pool of free agent 3B is not deep. Also, they have to consider the $6.5 million that Polanco is owed for next season. A hefty fee for a utility player.
Raul Ibanez will also become an unrestricted free agent, and while his numbers relative to other NL leftfielders were decent more than likely the team will let him go. The obvious solution is to plug John Mayberry Jr. in; however, if Ryan Howard can’t go on opening day (latest estimates place Howard out at the very least until June) Mayberry will have to be used at first. Will Dom Brown be ready to play on an everyday basis? It seems the organization has lost some of the blind faith they had in him earlier in his career. One option could be to use Brown as a tradebait, but you have to wonder what his value would still be.
The questions do not stop there. Oswalt and Brad Lidge both have club options that can be declined and its difficult to see either of their contracts being picked up; however, they would be owed a combined $3.5 million for their contracts to be bought out. Ryan Madson will be a free agent and the Phillies might not be able to afford his price tag. Letting Madson go might be the best option. He had an excellent season, no doubt, but this was a contract year for him and previous experience makes me doubt his ability. If Madson walks the team will need a closer. Can Michael Stutes or Antonio Bastardo overcome the late season meltdowns they both suffered from? Only time will tell. Regardless the team will need bullpen help.
Nine players are currently under contract for a total of $106.95 million. That does not leave much room for the Phils to fill out their 25 man roster. I do have complete faith in Rueben Amaro Jr to make moves, but given the current situation this could be his greatest surprise to date. It will certainly make for an interesting off season. This year seemed to be our year (until the hottest team got in the way)—hopefully the same can be said about next year.