It's never too early to start looking at 2009 Phillies season
The offseason technically began the moment Eric Hinske swung and missed. For those who root, root, root for the Phillies, that means a hearty celebration that will gradually give way to a gentle afterglow that should warm their souls through the cold winter months ahead.
The offseason technically began the moment Eric Hinske swung and missed.
For those who root, root, root for the Phillies, that means a hearty celebration that will gradually give way to a gentle afterglow that should warm their souls through the cold winter months ahead.
It's different for the organization. Even as the champagne was being cleaned from the clubhouse rug and plans were being finalized for a parade that's been a quarter-century in the making, it had to be business as usual in the executive suites.
The general managers will begin gathering in Dana Point, Calif. next Monday for their annual conclave. A month later, the winter meetings will be held in Las Vegas. There are free agency and arbitrations. There will be trades to contemplate and rosters to be set.
There may be no games to play until next spring. But there's still plenty of work to do.
For the Phillies, the No. 1 task is to anoint a new general manager to replace 71-year-old Pat Gillick who, barring an unforeseen change of heart, is retiring.
His presumed successor for months has been Ruben Amaro Jr., and there have been no recent developments to refute the conventional wisdom.
It is not, however, a choice that club president Dave Montgomery will make lightly. In the giddy aftermath of the first world championship since 1980 - just the second in franchise history - Montgomery praised the homegrown nucleus of the roster. That would be players like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels.
The acquisition of those players can be attributed to assistant general manager for scouting and player development Mike Arbuckle. And if Arbuckle is passed over for a third time (as he was when Gillick and, before that, Ed Wade got the job) it wouldn't be surprising if he began looking for another opportunity.
Once that decision is made, the Phillies must confront an extraordinary number of players who can become free agents (seven) or are eligible for arbitration (10).
Of course, not every call is difficult. Of the free agents, for example, it's considered likely that the team will decline the options on Tom Gordon and So Taguchi. Rudy Seanez is expected to retire and there doesn't appear to be a pressing need to being Tadahito Iguchi back.
The thorniest free-agent issue involves Pat Burrell.
He's the longest-tenured member of the team. He's averaged 30 homers and 90 RBI over the last four seasons. And he's immensely popular with his teammates.
On the other hand, he's 32 years old. He's wildly inconsistent, even by power-hitter standards. And he's reached a point in his career where he no longer runs well and comes out of games for a late-inning defensive replacement.
Burrell reportedly turned down a 2-year, $22 million offer. If an American League team looking for a righthanded slugger who could be at least a part-time designated hitter, makes a huge offer it seems unlikely that the Phillies would match it.
If he does leave, though, the Phillies would probably have to go shopping for a replacement.
The other two free agents are lefthanders Jamie Moyer and Scott Eyre. Both have indicated an interest in returning, so those deals could be done relatively quickly.
Ten players are eligible for salary arbitration, a process that often results in large raises: first baseman Ryan Howard ($10 million in 2008), lefthanded starter Cole Hamels ($500,000), centerfielder Shane Victorino ($480,000), rightfielder Jayson Werth ($1.7 million), righthanded starter Joe Blanton ($3.7 million), righthanded reliever Ryan Madson ($1.4 million), third baseman Greg Dobbs ($440,000), righthanded reliever Chad Durbin ($900,000), righthanded reliever Clay Condrey ($420,000) and infielder Eric Bruntlett ($600,000).
"You have real good players who are going to make a lot of money," Amaro said late in the season. "Which is the great part of it. None of us minds paying players who produce. Guys have had great years and that bodes well for their pocket books.
"Nobody who is contributing is going to leave our club because of finances. There may be other reasons why guys leave, but it won't be because of that."
It appears that the payroll will have to increase dramatically from the franchise-record $104,567,500 it was on Opening Day this season.
Howard could be in line for another huge raise, especially if he finishes high in the Most Valuable Player balloting. Hamels is eligible for the process for the first time, so the Phillies are certain to at least explore the possibility of a long-term contract with the NLCS and World Series MVP.
In fact, every player on that list made a contribution at some point this season. That should make for an interesting offseason, an offseason that started even before the parade. *