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October 10, 2011
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
It was a fantastic regular season for the Philadelphia Phillies, a team with one of the best pitching rotations in history. However, you have to score runs, which they didn't, and it's time to say farewell.
Signs of hope: The Phillies won 102 games on the strength of a deep starting rotation that hosted two former Cy Young Award winners in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, two other former All-Stars in Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, and a candidate for rookie of the year in Vance Worley. Phillies starters led the majors in fair run average (3.55), a figure that was last equaled by the 1992 Braves and not surpassed since the 1988 Mets. After some hunting for a closer, longtime bullpen inmate Ryan Madson stabilized the relief endgame with a 94 percent save conversion rate.
The offense was unremarkable, something that became painfully obvious in the postseason, but trade deadline acquisition Hunter Pence blossomed upon arriving in the City of Brotherly Baseball, hitting .324/.394/.560, and prior to a slow September, center fielder Shane Victorino's season had some fans whispering "MVP."
Signs of disaster: The Phillies are so old that they're the official MLB team of the AARP. With the exception of the three primary right fielders (Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco and Pence), every regular was 30 or older. Worse, the Phillies have arranged to be stuck with some of their declining oldsters. Most egregiously, in April of last year, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. extended first baseman Ryan Howard's contract roughly two seasons before he had to, issuing him a five-year extension that might as well be six years given the poison pill of a $10 million buyout on a 2017 option, when Howard will be 38 years old. Howard, who hit .253/.346/.488 with 33 home runs, is a good-not-great hitter for a first baseman—he has not ranked in the offensive top 10 at his position since 2007—and a poor fielder and baserunner. The latter two qualities mean that his offensive contributions are heavily discounted, qualities that will become more extreme as the Phillies pay him another $125 million. If Howard's injury on the last at-bat of the National League Division Series keeps him out for a significant part of 2012, the decision becomes that much worse.
Signs you can ignore: Relief southpaw Antonio Bastardo was ridiculously effective, holding batters to .144/.242/.282 rates on the season. In doing so, he benefited from a .182 batting average on balls in play, a success rate that will revert to the league average. It's not a question of if but when. The course correction began in September, when Bastardo was pounded for nine runs in 7.1 innings, and there is more punishment where that came from. Though Bastardo is only 26 years old, and therefore a rare younger talent in an organization full of graybeards, they might be wise to trade Bastardo now, at the peak of his value. —Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
The Phillies are expected to let Raul Ibanez leave via free agency, replacing him in left field with Brown and John Mayberry Jr. They hope to re-sign Madson, Jimmy Rollins, and Oswalt, although it will be a financial struggle.
The bold move I would make is to try and keep the team together for another run next year while strengthening and lengthening the bullpen. There are several top relievers that will be on the free-agent market, including Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, and Francisco Rodriguez. Adding a proven, experienced arm (or two) to help with innings seven through nine would really add something to this team. —Jim Bowden
Hopes and Fears
Worst-case scenario: 83-79
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus.