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October 27, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Philadelphia Phillies

by Marc Normandin, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Philadelphia Phillies—the losers of the NLCS—goodbye.

The overview

The Phillies went into the National League Championship Series as heavy favorites to beat the San Francisco Giants, and instead, they were shut down and knocked out. In past postseasons, the powerful Philadelphia lineup generated a lot of home runs, the foundation of the Phillies' attack, but in this postseason, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley did not hit with the same thump.

Roy Halladay, though, was everything that the Phillies thought he would be and more, and Cole Hamels rebounded from a mediocre 2009 season by improving his conditioning and implementing a cutter. Roy Oswalt was acquired in midseason and was dominant for two months, and at season's end, closer Brad Lidge was throwing the ball better than at any time since the 2008 World Series. Carlos Ruiz continues to be one of the most underrated players in the majors, handling one of baseball's best staffs and developing into one of baseball's toughest hitters with runners on base.

Few changes are on the docket for the Phillies, who can bring back their rotation and their primary bullpen pieces intact, along with almost their entire everyday lineup. The only major question is this: Who will be the right fielder? Jayson Werth is set to become a free agent, and his agent, Scott Boras, is already talking about how Werth is in line for Monopoly money. As the Phillies assess a possible pursuit of Werth, they have to keep their eyes on the big picture—this is an old team that is getting older, and is it wise for them to make another whopping investment in the 31-year-old Werth? And if not Werth, then who should it be? Domonic Brown has been ranked by Baseball Prospectus as one of the top prospects in the game, but he struggled enough that some rival scouts are wondering if his swing will translate in the big leagues—and like so many others in the Phillies' lineup, Brown is a left-handed hitter; the Phillies' left-handed imbalance was probably a major reason why they were knocked out in the playoffs. Werth would help to balance the lineup. Some scouts walked away from the playoffs wondering, too, about Utley's future. The All-Star second baseman did not look good in the postseason, at the plate or on defense, and there are questions being raised in other organizations about whether Utley will be able to again be an elite player. We'll see.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Halladay and Hamels both posted ERAs that were better than their skill-interactive ERAs, and midseason acquisition Oswalt also performed that trick with a 1.74 ERA with the Phillies after being acquired from the Astros in a trade despite a 3.29 SIERA. Joe Blanton struggled out of the gate but had a 3.48 ERA with improved strikeout and walk rates in the second half to help the Phillies overtake the Braves for the NL East title. The starting pitching allowed the team to win 98 games despite an offense that was weak relative to past Phillies teams (it was eighth in the major leagues in True Average). Werth, likely in his final season in Philadelphia before leaving as a free agent, led the offense with the most productive season of his career (.322 TAv, 7.0 Wins Above Replacement Player), which helped to compensate for the injury to Utley and Howard's drop in power.

What went wrong: Blanton recovered, but his first half was nothing short of a disaster (6.41 ERA, 5.4 K/9, 1.7 HR/9). There wasn't a huge difference between playing Jimmy Rollins (394 PA, .264 TAv, minus-7 Fielding Runs Above Average and 1.4 WARP) and Wilson Valdez (363, .246, plus-1, 1.2) at shortstop thanks to his second straight disappointing season. Kyle Kendrick was barely above replacement level with a 4.73 ERA and 4.94 SIERA, but his presence was required once J.A. Happ was dealt to the Astros for Oswalt. J.C. Romero made 60 relief appearances but finished the year just a hair above replacement level.

The key number: 7. The Phillies averaged just under seven innings per start from their Big Three of Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt, which helped keep their thin bullpen from being exposed and allowed Ryan Madson, Lidge and Jose Contreras to pick up the bulk of the important innings and matchups late in the game.

What won't happen again: The Phillies should not have led the majors in wins by any stretch of the imagination—the lone area they excelled in was starting pitching, and they were much closer to average in every other major area. Based on third-order standings, the Braves and Phillies were more similar than their actual records show but Philadelphia won the NL East by six games over Atlanta.—Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

The OF questions: Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez are under contract through 2011, but Werth is a free agent. The expectation is that the Phillies will let Werth walk and insert top prospect Brown into right field going forward. But Ibanez has shown signs of a quick decline and the club's offense needs a boost after hitting .215/.309/.304 in nine post-season games. The Phillies have more than $130 million committed to 15 players, so it appears highly unlikely that a change of heart concerning Werth is in the cards, unless GM Ruben Amaro finds a way to clear payroll space by trading the likes of Placido Polanco, Blanton or Lidge. Amaro could look to find lightning in a bottle on cheaper free agents such as Jay Gibbons or Brad Hawpe in case Ibanez's slide continues, and could look to move Ibanez himself to open up left field for a more athletic and defensively capable answer. Otherwise, the Phillies are relying on Brown to pick up the slack left by Werth's likely departure.

A sneak attack: Considering the payroll limitations, it could be a quiet winter for the three-time defending NL East champions, but it's difficult to believe that the Phillies will stand pat. They could be players for trade-available solutions as they own the necessary inventory in their farm system to compete for impact talent, but it'd surprise most in the industry if they made a big splash, including attempts to lure back free agent left-hander Cliff Lee. If a bold move is in their future, could it involve Rollins or Victorino? Rollins is a free agent after next year and the Phillies could show interest in acquiring a center fielder such as B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays or the Dodgers' Matt Kemp. Shortstops that could be available this winter include Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie in Boston, Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett and Arizona's Stephen Drew.—Jason A. Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

The Phillies got their glimpse of the future since late July, when Brown arrived, although little room in the outfield led to just 70 plate appearances during his two-plus months in the majors. Before the call-up, Brown was arguably the best position prospect in the upper minors, batting .327/.391/.589 in 93 games spread across Double- and Triple-A. A 6-foot-5 pure athlete, Brown can be a regular 20-20 player in the majors—maybe even a 30-30 guy—but he has issues with pitch recognition that could doom him.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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