Edited July 12, 2012, 6:15 a.m. to correct mistake on luxury tax threshold amount for 2013.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who created a diagram of the human condition that looks a lot like the image you see above. Essentially, he broke down our motivations into a pyramid, the base being the physical necessities of life (food, water, shelter, etc.), and on top of it a succession of layers, each one dependent on the achievement of the preceding layer, culminating with the pinnacle of self-actualization. I think you can diagram a 25-man roster in much the same way. Every contending team needs a base that includes a No. 3 hitter, a cleanup hitter, a No. 1 starter, a No. 2 starter, a leadoff hitter, a closer, and a setup man. The next level of necessity are what I call the “supplements,” which include the No. 3 starter, No. 5 hitter, No. 2 hitter and two more strikeout arms capable of pitching the late innings of tight games. After that comes the complements: No. 6 hitter, No. 7 hitter, No. 4 starter, lefty and righty bench hitters, a lefty relief specialist, a professional hitter that can play the infield, and a multiple innings reliever. And, finally, comes the spare parts: No. 8 hitter, No. 5 starter, back-up catcher, utility infielder, and a long reliever/spot starter.
Or, look at it another way: the positions a team cannot win without, followed by the positions a team cannot contend without, followed by the positions that separate the contenders from the champions.
The most important thing for the Phillies right now is to accurately identify the parts that they currently have at their disposal. Before a front office knows what it needs, it first must know what it has. This can be the most difficult part of the job, since no human being is immune from observation bias. For example, Charlie Manuel will tell you that Chase Utley is a three-hole hitter because he has seen him perform like a three-hole hitter in the past and he wants to believe that he can do it again. Ruben Amaro Jr. might tell you that Michael Martinez is a utility man, because his regime found Martinez in the Rule 5 draft. Pat Gillick might tell you that Joe Blanton is a No. 3 starter, because he traded for him. That’s just the way human nature works.
But human nature can hurt a team. Heading into the season, the Phillies probably weren’t honest with themselves about the potential amount of time they could be without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. They probably weren’t honest with themselves about the likelihood of John Mayberry Jr. succeeding as an everyday player. They probably weren’t honest with themselves about the chances of Phillippe Aumont being ready to contribute as a back-of-the-bullpen arm.
It is a lot easier to fool yourself when you are operating with the psychological security of five straight division titles and six straight seasons of increasing wins. Now, though, the Phillies need to make sure that 2012 is their impetus to take a hard look at everything they thought they knew about the talent at their disposal.
So let’s evaluate:
1. No. 3 hitter: This is a need. At the All-Star Break, Phillies three-hole hitters rank 14th in the National League with a .701 OPS. They are hitting .265/.320/.380. Over the last three seasons, that number has dropped from .805 to .738 to .701. The home run total has dropped from 21 to 15 to 6. The Phillies ranked ninth in three-hole OPS in 2010 and 14th in 2011. Over the last three seasons, the top four teams in the National League have combined to get a .314/.395/.555 batting line out of the lineup slot. Even in 2010, when Utley was mostly healthy, the Phillies got a .280/.372/.433 line out of the three-hole.
The big question: is Hunter Pence a three-hole hitter? The Phillies traded prospects for him like he was. He could make $14 million in arbitration next year. That’s three-hole money. But is he a three-hole hitter? And if he isn’t, is he worth the money he will get? And if he isn’t?
2. Cleanup hitter: The Phillies have no choice but to believe that Ryan Howard will get back to his old self next season. He is under contract at $25 million per season through 2016.
3. No. 1 starter: Roy Halladay can become a free agent after next season. In the meantime, there is enough uncertainty about his shoulder that it is tough to say for certain that he is your No. 1 starter. That’s not to say he won’t put to rest those questions over the last two months of the season. But until we see him back on the mound pitching every five days and doing what he has done for his entire career, it’s tough to say that he will be an ace at 36 years old. Cliff Lee hasn’t pitched like a No. 1 starter this year. And he will be 34 years old next year. I would be surprised if he did not finish the season strong. Still, there is enough uncertainty here that I think the Phillies have to sign Cole Hamels, who is right in the thick of his peak years.
4. No. 2 starter: Lee is still more of a No. 1 than a No. 2. And unless Halladay develops more shoulder problems, you can count on him in a slot like this.
5. Leadoff hitter: Again, time for honesty. The Phillies’ OPS out of the leadoff spot has dropped from .752 in 2010 to .740 in 2011 to .726 in 2012. They ranked eighth in 2010, seventh in 2011, and are currently seventh. I consider this one of the big needs that the Phillies should look to fill for 2013. Jimmy Rollins gives you solid offensive production for a short stop, but not for a leadoff hitter.
6. Closer: Say what you will about the expense, and it is one hell of an expense, but this slot is covered by Jonathan Papelbon.
7. Setup man: This was Antonio Bastardo’s year to prove that he is a consistent go-to guy in the eighth inning. He has not done that. The Phillies do have plenty of potential in arms like Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus and, further down in the system, Lisalverto Bonilla. But they can’t afford to enter another season relying on potential. Which is why this is another big need heading into 2013.
8. No. 3 starter: If the Phillies do not sign Cole Hamels, this will be Vance Worley’s spot. He has a 3.54 ERA, 7.9 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 this season. Those are very good No. 3 numbers. But remember: if Halladay or Lee get hurt, he is suddenly a No. 2. Even if they stay healthy, you need to find a No. 4 starter for 2013. Because Kyle Kendrick just is not consistent enough to be considered better than a No. 5 at this point.
9. No. 5 hitter: We are back to Pence. He has one more season left before he hits free agency. He is already making $10.4 million.
10. No. 2 hitter: This is where I slot Utley. At this point in his career, he is a perfect No. 2 hitter. Smart, situational, can wear a pitcher down in front of the heart of the order, can run the bases, move the runner, etc.
11. Setup man No. 2: Look at the great bullpens around the game and they all have at least two strikeout arms who are capable of pitching in late-and-close situations. When the Phillies won the World Series, they had Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero. The Phillies can enter 2013 with Jake Diekman in this role, depending on what happens over the rest of the season.
12. Setup man No. 3: Think Chad Durbin in 2008 or Mike Stutes last season. Again, this can be filled internally. Bastardo would slot here.
13. No. 6 hitter: This is where I slot Carlos Ruiz. He is having a hell of a season, but it is far and away the best of his career. Plus, he is a catcher. Tough to count on that as a significant piece of your lineup.
14. No. 7 hitter: This is where I slot Rollins.
15. No. 4 starter: If you don’t re-sign Hamels, this spot belongs to Kyle Kendrick or free agent. The Phillies could theoretically go after a guy like Anibal Sanchez or Edwin Jackson and perhaps save $10 to $12 million plus a couple of years on the contract. Or they could go even cheaper and pursue somebody like Kyle Lohse or Ryan Dempster or Joe Saunders. The latter scenario constitutes a huge risk. The first one could work, provided the market doesn’t bid up Jackson or Sanchez to a point where you are only saving $7 or $8 million a year compared to what Hamels would cost.
16. Bench hitter, Left-handed: Laynce Nix is under contract for next year. This is his spot.
17. Bench hitter, Right-handed: John Mayberry is cheap, defensively versatile, and gives you a power bat against left-handed pitching.
18. Lefty reliever: The Phillies really haven’t had a true lefty specialist since Scott Eyre. It is not a vital need. But it is certainly a piece to the puzzle, the importance of which depends largely on how the more important pieces of the bullpen fill out.
19. Bench bat who can play second base: The Phillies can’t be caught short again if Utley’s knees flare up. A guy like Jeff Keppinger or Ryan Theriot is the kind of guy they need for this spot.
20. Multiple innings reliever: Again, depending on the strength of the three set-up men we referenced, this could be filled on the cheap, perhaps with somebody from the system.
21. No. 5 starter: Kendrick, who is signed through next season at an average annual value of $3.5 million.
22. No. 8 hitter: You can afford to sacrifice offense at one spot in the lineup. It will either be left field, center field or third base, provided Freddy Galvis or another sub.-300 on base percentage guy isn’t playing second base.
23. Back-up catcher: Take your pick, just make it cheap. Brian Schneider is a free agent after the season.
24. Utlity infielder: This can be Galvis, or a low-cost veteran. Personally, I think this spot should always be filled by a guy making at or near the minimum. It’s why the Wilson Valdez trade made sense.
25. Long reliever/spot starter: Again, think cheap.
So here is your 2013 roster as it stands right now:
- Free Agent or Trade (LF/CF/3B)
- Chase Utley (2B)
- Free Agent or Trade (LF/CF/3B)
- Ryan Howard 1B
- Hunter Pence RF
- Carlos Ruiz C
- Jimmy Rollins SS
- Domonic Brown or FA or Trade (LF/CF/3B)
- Laynce Nix LHB/LF/1B
- John Mayberry Jr. RHP/OF/1B
- Free Agent or Trade 2B
- Back-up catcher
- Freddy Galvis UTIL
- Cliff Lee LHP
- Roy Halladay RHP
- Vance Worley RHP
- Free Agent or Trade
- Kyle Kendrick RHP
- Jonathan Papelbon CL/RHP
- Free Agent or Trade (SU)
- Jake Diekman SU/LHP
- Antonio Bastardo SU/LHP
- Free Agent or Trade (LHP)
- Free Agent or Trade (Multi-innings)
- Michael Schwimer or Internal RP
We’ll talk later about the potential routes the Phillies could explore at each position. For now, know that I have their payroll at $141.245 million for 16 players, projecting salaries for Bastardo, Diekman, Galvis, Mayberry etc. That figure also includes the estimated $10 million against the luxury tax threshold that each team is charged for player benefits.
The threshold is
$189 million $178 million for 2013, meaning the Phillies would have about $47.775 $36.775 million to spend on the following positions:
- Three-hole hitter (LF, CF or 3B)
- Leadoff hitter (LF, CF or 3B)
- Primary setup man
- Starting Pitcher
- No. 8 hitter (LF, CF or 3B)
- Bench player who can play 2B
- Middle reliever 1
- Middle reliever 2 (prefer. LHP)
- Backup catcher
Feel free to spin some scenarios. I’ll lay out mine in the near future.