The Philadelphia Phillies entered 2012 coming off five consecutive NL East titles and a franchise-record 102 wins, and they were expected to be right back in the mix for another playoff spot and a deep run in October baseball.
And then, the season fell apart. The team started slowly and never recovered, along the way dealing with injuries to key players like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay. The entire team will be on the hot seat in 2013, but the following 10 players stand out more than any of the others.
10. Michael Stutes
The Phillies quietly called up relief pitcher Michael Stutes from Triple-A early in 2011, and received surprising success from him. Stutes was 6-2 with a 3.63 ERA, allowing a low percentage of hits and striking out nearly a batter per inning.
He was expected to return in ’12 and play another big role in the bullpen, but Stutes has struggled to stay healthy all season and has pitched just 5.2 innings. Stutes will be back in 2013 – and he’s a near-lock to make the official 25-man roster coming out of spring training – but he needs to show he has recovered from his injury and is ready to make another big impact with the club.
9. Carlos Ruiz
The Phillies have Carlos Ruiz signed to a three-year deal through the 2012 season plus a $5.5 million option for 2013. While the team has made no talk about giving Ruiz an extension – and they may not considering he is nearly 33 years old – they will almost assuredly pick up his option for next season.
After that though, Ruiz is a free agent and the Phillies do have two solid catching prospects at the minor league level in Tommy Joseph (acquired in the Hunter Pence trade) and Sebastian Valle. Ruiz may actually be playing for his future in Philly by next year if the team hasn’t extended him by the start of the season.
8. Jonathan Papelbon
Such is the life of a $50 million closer that you’re on the hot seat every season. Jonathan Papelbon has been as good as advertised in 2012 – he has a 2.85 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 11.1 strikeout rate, and 2.2 walk rate, and he has accumulated the seventh-highest WAR of any National League reliever, which led him to an All-Star appearance in his first year with the club.
But Papelbon will be making $13 million in 2013, an increase from the $11 million he was earning this year, and that’s an absolutely outrageous amount to pay a pitcher, no matter how high of leverage in the situations in which he pitches. Realistically, Papelbon needs to be an All-Star every year he’s with the Phillies.
7. Cole Hamels
Cole Hamels has been remarkably consistent during his major league career, but now that he is making $144 million over the next six seasons, he will become heavily scrutinized if he slips up.
Hamels is an extremely talented young left-handed pitcher with a ridiculous arsenal of pitches. He strikes out a ton of batters, limits his walks, and averages seven innings per start. Hamels is 14-6 with a 2.99 ERA this season and a phenomenal 3.82 strikeout to walk ratio. A repeat of those numbers for the next six years would be great because that’s what the Phillies are paying him to do.
6. Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee finally picked up his third win this season, which really isn’t what you would expect from a $25 million pitcher who has numbers as good as his have been. Lee is leading the National League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings, along with strikeout to walk ratio, and he’s been one of the game’s top pitchers this season.
He still has three years remaining on his five-year, $120 million deal, and at that kind of contract, it becomes increasingly difficult to fulfill the money he’s making. That’s why it’s imperative that he comes back just as sharp in 2013 (and that the Phillies start scoring some runs when he pitches).
5. Antonio Bastardo
After a ridiculously unhittable 2011 season, Antonio Bastardo has been as inconsistent as ever in 2012. Bastardo has a 5.26 ERA and an awful 5.2 walk rate, and the Phillies have no clue what they’re going to get from him each time he takes the mound.
Bastardo was good enough in ’11 that he was used in high-leverage eighth and ninth inning situations, but he really dropped off this year. If he keeps it up, the Phillies will be forced to pitch him in games in which they have a four-run lead or more, so he really can’t do that much damage.
4. Roy Halladay
For the first two seasons with the Phillies, Roy Halladay was unbelievably consistent every single time he took the mound. He won a Cy Young, averaged nearly 20 wins per season, and threw both a perfect game and a no-hitter with the team, while leading the league in strikeout to walk ratio each year.
This year, he struggled to find his form and was then sidelined for two months with a lat strain. Halladay’s numbers are way subpar compared to the norm – he’s just 8-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 19 starts, and he’s about to enter the final year of his $20 million per deal contract with the team. Halladay does have a vesting option for 2014 but if he doesn’t throw at least 225 innings next year, his option won’t vest.
3. Ryan Howard
GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. made a huge mistake when he gave Ryan Howard a five-year, $125 million extension early in the 2011 season. Howard is now under team control through his age-36 season, and he’s going to be bringing in $25 million per campaign regardless of how effective he is.
That’s a ridiculous amount of money for a player who doesn’t play particularly good defense, can’t run well, and has seen a steady decline in his numbers over the last several seasons (.931 OPS in 2009 to .859 in 2010 to .835 in 2011 to just .791 so far in 2012). Howard has been recovering from a torn Achilles tendon that has cost him some of his power, but he’s really not much more than a .250 hitter who hits 30 home runs, doesn’t walk enough, and strikes out 150 times per season.
2. Chase Utley
I really can’t imagine life as a Phillies fan without Chase Utley, but that may be the case if Utley can’t stay healthy in 2013. He’s entering the final year of his seven-year, $85 million deal, and considering he’s missed extensive time in each of the last two seasons due to a bout with patellar tendinitis in first one knee and then both, he has a lot to prove in 2013.
Utley is a terrific five-tool player who plays outstanding defense and runs the bases as well as anyone in the game, but he can’t be counted on when he’s missing the first half of the season. Utley is producing at just a .253 clip in ’12 but his .819 OPS coupled with his defense and baserunning skills has given him a 1.8 WAR in just 48 games. Project that to a full season and Utley is still a top-20 player in the National League even at the age of 33. Next year will be his big chance to show the team he deserves a multi-year deal to come back for a couple more seasons in 2014 and 2015.
1. Domonic Brown
Once upon a time, Domonic Brown was rated as highly as the fourth overall prospect in Baseball America. Now, Brown has stumbled and staggered for so long that the Phillies aren’t really sure what they have in him, and that’s why the rest of 2012 and 2013 are his big opportunity to show the team that he is still going to be a terrific player.
Brown has a lot going for him when you consider he’s a 6’5” left-handed power hitter with good speed and he has an absolute cannon of an arm. He also struggles to hit left-handed pitching, he can’t play particularly good defense, and he hasn’t made the most of his opportunities in the major leagues thus far. Brown will almost assuredly start in left field in 2013 because he’s a cheap option and the team needs to see what he can do.
He better show them he’s a franchise player, and sometime soon.