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Phillies enter intriguing offseason with difficult roster decisions

Even before the Phillies decide whether Bryce Harper or Manny Machado makes more sense for them, they must make choices about several players already on the roster.

After a wildly inconsistent season from Odubel Herrera, the Phillies must decide if this is the time to move on from their enigmatic center fielder.
After a wildly inconsistent season from Odubel Herrera, the Phillies must decide if this is the time to move on from their enigmatic center fielder.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

If the schedule holds, the World Series could end as soon as Oct. 27 or run all the way through Oct. 31.

Sign the Phillies up for a Game 7 thriller — and maybe a few rainouts mixed in, too.

It's not that team officials crave drama or relish chaos. It's just that they must make so many choices about so many players that they need as much time as possible before the free-agent market opens five days after a World Series champion is crowned.

Conversations have been ongoing in Citizens Bank Park. General manager Matt Klentak held additional meetings this week in Clearwater, Fla. Considering the roster isn't set at any position, the agenda must be exhaustive. The stakes can't get much higher, either, after six losing seasons in a row, the last three under Klentak.

Here, then, is a look at some of the most difficult internal decisions facing the Phillies as they chart a course for the most intriguing offseason in recent franchise history.

1. Should they trade Odubel Herrera? Or Maikel Franco? Or Cesar Hernandez?

Herrera's season was puzzling, even by his zany standards. He was the most productive outfielder in the league for six weeks, then vanished for 4 1/2 months. Even worse, manager Gabe Kapler alleged Herrera wasn't in peak physical condition and challenged him to report to spring training in better shape.

If enough is ever going to be enough for the Phillies with Herrera, now is the time. The Phillies might be selling low on Herrera based on his post-All-Star break numbers (.214/.279/.342) and career-worst .730 on-base plus slugging for the season. But he's also signed to a team-friendly contract that will pay him $5.35 million next year, $7.35 million in 2020, and $10.35 million in 2021. At that salary, he could be attractive to a team like, say, the Texas Rangers, who got a .603 OPS from their center fielders this season and happen to be Herrera's original organization.

Some Phillies officials are wary of giving up on Franco. Others are increasingly tired of his inconsistency. And with the 26-year-old third baseman's salary about to rise through arbitration, team president Andy MacPhail might have tipped the Phillies' hand when he recently said, "The other team, maybe they'll find the key" to Franco's ups and downs.

Hernandez, the Phillies' longest-tenured player, dating back to the 2013 season, could also be shipped out to open second base for Scott Kingery. Klentak was said to be seeking a substantial return for Hernandez last winter. He can't expect nearly as much this year after Hernandez had his worst offensive numbers since 2014.

2. Where does J.P. Crawford fit into all of this?

Nobody on the roster had more of a lost season than Crawford, who missed 32 games with a strained right forearm and 69 with a broken left hand. This year was supposed to reveal whether the former top prospect is an everyday big-league shortstop. Instead, his future is filled with as many question marks as the Riddler's green suit.

Don't tell that to Kapler. Last month, he described the Phillies' confidence in Crawford as being "through the roof" and said they are "thinking of this as a 10-year stretch for J.P. Crawford," an indication that he's a major piece of the long-term plan.

Most scouts who watched Crawford this season aren't as sure. So, if the Phillies do gauge his value on the trade market, they're likely to find it doesn't align with their own evaluation of his skills.

And if they fail to sign free-agent prize Manny Machado, it's conceivable they could allow Crawford and Kingery to compete for the shortstop job in spring training.

3. Is Carlos Santana viable as a third baseman?

Nobody knows. But this much is clear: Rhys Hoskins is more comfortable at first base than in left field, and since he's the face of the franchise, the guess here is that he will play a lot more first base next season. That means Santana will see more time at third.

The Cleveland Indians tried Santana at third base in 2014 but aborted the experiment after a few weeks. Back then, though, Santana was still primarily a catcher. A move to third might be easier now that he has spent three seasons on the infield at first base.

Santana started 10 of the season's final 12 games at third base, a small sample size in which he nevertheless made most of the routine plays. The Phillies can also mitigate Santana's limited range by finding a shortstop who gets to more balls in the hole, a description that doesn't necessarily fit Machado.

One possible solution: Hoskins plays first base and Santana plays third behind fly-ball pitchers (Vince Velasquez, for instance), but Hoskins moves to left field and Santana goes to first base when worm-killers Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta are starting. As much as any manager, Kapler values such flexibility.

4. Is the starting rotation good enough?

Klentak wasn't wrong to identify offense as the most glaring in-season need. But it also was reasonable to expect a pitching regression, especially as Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin reached career highs for innings in a major-league season.

If anything, though, Arrieta's struggles in August and September amplified the reality that the rotation wasn't as strong as it appeared before the All-Star break. Health is an issue, too. For the first time since 2008, the Phillies had four pitchers who made at least 30 starts. They can't count on that again.

MacPhail said he would like to add a lefty to the all-right-handed rotation. Three free agents who could help with that: Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, and J.A. Happ.

Of course, adding a starter would raise another question: Who gets subtracted? Pivetta and Velasquez have higher ceilings than Eflin and possibly Jerad Eickhoff, but of the four, Velasquez's stuff translates best to the bullpen. Spring training could decide it.

5. How many players on the roster are "untouchable" in trade talks?

Here's the list: Nola, Hoskins.

That's it.

Everyone else is on the table. And considering top prospect Sixto Sanchez pulled out of pitching in the Arizona Fall League because of soreness near his collarbone after missing three months with right elbow inflammation, the Phillies should listen on him, too, if the Miami Marlins make catcher J.T. Realmuto available — or, certainly, if the Los Angeles Angels ever discuss trading Mike Trout.