Try this on for size: for less money than the Phillies will pay to Ryan Howard over the next three seasons, they could have signed Adam LaRoche, Michael Cuddyer, and Luke Hochevar for 2015 and 2016. Those three signed for a combined six years and $56 million this offseason.

That would leave the Phillies with a lineup looking like this:

1. Rollins SS (SHB)

2. Utley 2B (LHB)

3. Cuddyer LF (RHB)

4. LaRoche 1B (LHB)

5. Byrd RF (RHB)

6. Asche/Franco 3B (LHB/RHB)

7. Ruiz C (RHB)

8. Revere CF (LHB)

And a bullpen looking like this:

CL - Papelbon (RHP)

SU - Hochevar (RHP)

SU - Giles (RHP)

LHP1 - Diekman

LHB2 - Bastardo

MID - DeFratus (RHP)

LONG - M.A. Gonzalez (RHP)

Call me crazy, but the lineup doesn't look awful. Old, sure. Susceptible to injury and decline, sure. But also surely capable of putting together a quality AB with power potential in seven of eight spots, with a bullpen that a strikeout arm in every slot. That would leave the Phillies entering the winter meetings trying to cobble together a rotation behind Cole Hamels, with their ability to contend determined by their success or failure.

Instead, they enter this year's winter meetings simply trying to find a few good arms capable of throwing 90 to 100 pitches off a major league mound every five days. Just another reminder that the decisions the Phillies make over the next few months could end up determining their ability to compete three or four years from now. Vegas says only one team is less likely to win a title next year than the Phillies, who you can get at 100-to-1: the Astros, at 150-to-one.

Stay tuned for complete coverage. Hey, the weather's nice.

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