Like all of you I have a blueprint of what I think the Phillies should do in an effort to return to the top of their division and become a World Series contender again in 2013.
The Phillies' greatest needs are known to all. As general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week, "I've been thinking about next season since September."
Let's start with some contract information. For luxury-tax purposes, the Phillies have a little more than $138 million tied to 10 players. Given that Domonic Brown will likely occupy one of the corner outfield positions and at least three or four young relievers figure to make the squad, the Phillies should be paying only around $2.5 million for those five roster spots. Add Freddy Galvis, Erik Kratz, Kevin Frandsen, and Vance Worley to the roster at about $2.5 million total and you have a little more than $143 million invested in 19 players.
There is plenty of payroll flexibility for Amaro to remain under the tax threshold of $178 million. If the Phillies are willing to take a one-time tax hit knowing that the threshold will rise to $189 million in 2014, then Amaro can really go on a spending spree.
Let's begin the roster revamp in center field, because that's probably the first position the general manager is going to address. The three elite free agents at the position are Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, and B.J. Upton.
The first two hit lefthanded and are going to want contracts close to or exceeding $100 million. They also received $13.3 million qualifying offers from their current teams. That means that if the Phillies sign them, they would forfeit their first-round pick next season.
No thank you.
Only nine players received qualifying offers. Upton was among them, too, and that's why I'd cross him off my list. He is young, talented, and a righthanded hitter with power, but I would not be willing to give a four- or five-year deal at $15 million or more per year to a guy who had a .298 on-base percentage last season.
That means the Phillies would have to settle for the second-tier centerfielders, a group that includes Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino, and Melky Cabrera.
From that group, my first choice would be Pagan, a switch-hitter who was an integral part of the Giants' title run. I'd be willing to give him a three-year deal worth $30 million. Pagan is 31 years old, but he has been an everyday player for only three seasons, and he seems to get better each year. He does not have home run power, but his 38 doubles ranked 10th in the National League, and his 15 triples were best in the majors.
My second choice would be Cabrera. Yes, he disgraced himself by testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, but if you can sign him for one season at the same $6 million he made last year, then it's worth it to see whether what he did was all about the PEDs.
The next position to address is one of the corner outfield spots. The Phillies have strongly hinted that Brown will get every chance to be a regular next season. That's fine. I'd put him in right field and let Darin Ruf open the season in left.
The Phillies need a righthanded hitter with power, and if Ruf has not convinced them that he is their man, then there is nothing he can do to convince them.
I would also sign an insurance policy for Brown and Ruf. Cody Ross would be the first choice (three years at $20 million seems fair), but that could get tricky in terms of playing time. Among the cheaper options are Juan Pierre and Jonny Gomes. I'd also be willing to keep either John Mayberry Jr. or Nate Schierholtz as a fifth outfielder.
That brings us to third base, perhaps the most difficult position to fill because of a thin free-agent market. My first choice would be Marco Scutaro, provided he'd take a two-year deal worth $12 million to $14 million. My second choice would be to go with the combination of Galvis and Frandsen and overpay free agent Jeff Keppinger to play third and second as needed.
The Phillies need to upgrade their bench, and it would not hurt having a guy who could give Chase Utley more frequent breaks at second base.
That brings us to the bullpen, and if the Phillies have to overpay to get a quality setup man, it's worth doing. My free-agent talks would begin with Jeremy Affeldt from San Francisco, Joakim Soria from Kansas City, and former Phillies closer Ryan Madson.
Finally, I'd get involved in the bidding for Hyun-Jin Ryu, the South Korean lefthander whose contract has been posted by the Korean Baseball Organization. He is 25 years old, has a great change-up, and can pitch as a starter or reliever. It's always a risk signing an international player, but this kid is worth it.