Believe it or not the 76ers are more relevant than the Phillies in August. Repeat, the 76ers are more relevant than the Phillies. Andrew Bynum’s arrival in Philadelphia today will command all the headlines, pushing the Phillies day game against the Marlins to the second page.
The Phils have had their fare share of big moves in the past few years, so it’s about time the 76ers had one of their own. The Phillies have Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee (again) and Hunter Pence to the Sixer’s acquisition of Andrew Bynum, but the pendulum has just swung in their direction. In a what have you done for me lately type of city the Phillies and Ruben Amaro will be under even more pressure to make one more big splash.
So where do the Phils go to help fill in the holes?
Filling out a baseball team is a little more complicated than the 12-man basketball roster, but the same principles apply. The Phils will put a premium on third and center, just as the Sixers did at the center position.
Trading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino has left a large void in the outfield. Center field is a premium position, with no obvious internal solutions. Third base continues to be a quagmire, plagued by injuries and ineffectual play ever since Scott Rolen left town a decade ago. On top of that, the bullpen has been an utter disaster despite a wealth of young talent. Another stable veteran presence should be high on Ruben’s wish list.
Third base may be difficult to make a splash with. The two potential big names, David Wright and Kevin Youkillis, are likely to exercise contract options. After that, the list becomes bleak, headlined by vets Scott Rolen and Placido Polance. No thank you.
Center field offers some real possibilities though. Former Phil Michael Bourn has been bandied about as a potential free agent target. He could slide in to the leadoff spot, and reek havoc on the base paths like a young Jimmy Rollins. But, Bourn is no spring chicken himself. He will be 30 by the start of 2013, and there is already a decline in his stolen bases. Players don’t get faster with age, and Bourn may be experiencing a career year (career high .353 OBP) that he will never duplicate. Bourn’s asking price will be a major factor for the Phillies. They will have some dollars to spend, but throwing all their chips in with Bourn wouldn’t be wise.
If the team really wants to make some noise Andrew Bynum style there is only one player they should target, Josh Hamilton. Hamilton may not be a center fielder down the road, but his bat is the best available on the market. Hamilton’s substance abuse issues are well documented, but he has come a long way from the has-been prospect he was back in Tampa. He has won an MVP and is in the middle of another MVP-caliber season. Despite a prolonged cold streak for the past month he has still mashed 32 home runs with OPS+ of 140. Concerns about his age (32 in 2013) are legitimate, but they’re not enough to outweigh the impact he would have on the lineup. The team will need to replace the 110 runs scored by Pence and Victorino (to date) with Hamilton having scored 70. At that rate the Phils would only need to add someone at third who would generate 40 runs to match the team’s 2012 output. If that logic isn’t sound Hamlton’s WAR of 3.4 is higher than that of Pence and Victorino combined (2.0). If the Phillies can outbid their competitors for Hamilton they can target defensive minded players to fill their other needs, who tend to be less pricy.
The team is still a ways away from drawing up their free agent game plan, but having more folks tune in to Andrew Bynum’s news conference than a day game against the Marlins should put them on notice. The Phillies need to bring in a big name to get the pendulum to swing back in their direction.